Since hosting the online salmon fishing workshop calls I have had some truly fascinating questions asked, I really didn’t know which one to give the first mention in this blog. One question that came up more than once, has seen some recent social media activity and recently landed in my mailbox was about fishing for Salmon here in the UK & Ireland with dry fly. With it fresh in my mind I thought I would share my opinion on using the dry fly here at home.
The East coast of Canada is without doubt dry fly heaven for Atlantic Salmon. I consider myself very lucky to have experienced the fishing on the Gaspe peninsula, home of some of the worlds clearest rivers, giant salmon and very big caterpillars. In these rivers you can sight cast to the Salmon, upstream dry fly fishing just as if they were large trout. Long leaders, drag free drifts and hundreds of casts are really the name of the game during dry fly season. To see a 20lb salmon lifting up from the bottom to come within inches of taking your bomber is a mesmerising experience, so mesmerising that I never bothered to set the hook the first time it happened to me. After experiencing this the first time at Camp Bonaventure I decided I would employ the same tactics on my home rivers and catch an Irish salmon or Grille (grilse) as the guides call them.
It was the following summer before I got what I thought to be ideal bomber conditions at home. I waited for low water so I could really target the fish in an effective way, after all, I no longer had the luxury of being able to sight cast to the salmon. My idea was to work the holding areas where I knew there were several fish. I had spent a few days already fishing the river using my other low water tactics but now I would only bring the bombers that had worked so well in Canada. So, single handed rod, exceptionally long leader for such a large fly to enable a drag free drift and a big collection of bombers. This style of fishing goes against everything you know about fly casting, you do not want to make tight loops, you almost kick the fly up into the air so it drifts as lightly as possible down to the waters surface, just like an insect falling out of the sky. The long leaders can feel awkward to cast as well on our small rivers, but an absolute must to get that drag free drift. So as planned I targeted these lies, cast after cast went out just as planned, bomber after bomber came out of the box to see if I could get any reaction from the salmon, again with the dry fly fishing you are constantly changing flies until you find the flavour of the day, sometimes its small natural coloured flies produce the take other times its large brightly coloured bombers.
I came to a lie that I knew had several fish, the first cast must have went out just as all the planets aligned, the wind dropped, the bomber fell in exactly the right place and after a drift of no more than 18 inches a large explosion of water, I set the hook only to have the line come back towards me. The fish hadn’t taken it. Another cast in the same spot, no reaction. So as practiced in Gaspe, I let the fish settle for a moment and changed down to a smaller bomber of a different colour. First cast again the fish came up and slapped at the bomber, I set, only to have the line come back slack. You must set the hook on the salmon when he takes that dry fly, otherwise you will forever be known as a fish burner. Another rest of the pool and another fly change, another cast and the same reaction from the fish. I tried everything I knew to try and get that fish to take the bomber, changed flies, sizes. colours, changed the drift time, changed the side the fly was presented on, tried the bomber skated across them but I could not get those fish to fully commit to the bomber. I have tried it more than once and often in absolutely perfect conditions, only to be met by the same result, slashing at the fly, hitting it with their tail, even trying to drown it with their chin but for whatever the reason, I can not get an Irish salmon to commit fully to the bomber.
Now like I said in the workshop calls, the first rule in salmon fishing is that there are no rules, I am sure that if I keep doing it then someday it will produce a result, I am sure that someone reading this blog will announce they have caught a salmon on the bomber. When I go fishing I want to make the most of my time, often using the word efficient. As much as I like experimenting with different tactics I feel I have gave this one a good go and know there are better ways to entice our native salmon.
If you ever visit the Gaspe peninsula, Quebec, pay some attention to the nature, it’s as much a part of the experience as the fishing. One thing I noticed every year is the enormous hairy caterpillars on the river banks and in the trees. If you tied some white calf in as a tail, added the two wings and a size six single hook you would have yourself a bomber, they are even pre wrapped with the most perfect genetic hackles. This is in my opinion the reason the bomber is so effective in the region. I would have no doubt the salmon take these caterpillars at some stage in their life cycle, its a serious food source for them, failing off the trees into the pools. You are almost trying to emulate the same thing with the casting. The salmon actually haven’t written this down in a book yet, it’s only speculation, but perhaps part of the reason the bomber works so well in this part of the world and is not as effective here at home.
Now don’t give up your hopes on catching a salmon on the surface just yet, there are ways you can tempt them on your home rivers, it just takes us to look at nature and see what we have falling on to the waters surface. I have personally caught salmon on the hitch and skated muddler minnows, in my mind this is representing a sedge/caddis skating across the pool. In fact I really enjoy using the hitch to locate the fish in our peat stained pools, if they show any interest at all in the hitch, usually you will get them next cast on the sunk fly. I have witnessed masses of daddy longlegs getting blown into Donegal spate rivers and salmon taking them just like a big trout, I have seen anglers catching fresh grilse on dry daddies. This year in the low low waters during the summer I watched a small group of salmon taking olives just as they were emerging, I only wish I was carrying my trout gear with me more often. The same week a French angler was catching grilse on tiny cdc ‘f’ flies. I have even had several salmon on the bibio when using it as a dropper and holding it in the runs, I wish I could find an image of the insect that looks just like the bibio fly, I have seen them In the bogs of Donegal, this was before phones even had cameras.
What I am really trying to say is that when in Rome, do as the Romans do. If you are going to Canada, use the bombers, they work for sure. When fishing your home waters, take a look at your surroundings, what flies do you think the salmon may have sipped down when he was a small parr in the river? Sedges, daddies, mayflies, grasshoppers, beetles, spiders maybe you have seen the real life bibios as well. The next time I get the urge for some dry fly action here at home the bombers are staying in the box but always remember…….
…….there are no rules!