In these days of reduced salmon runs there seems to be an understandable move away from spinning in favour of fly fishing. While I am personally primarily a fly fisher I do still enjoy using the spinning rod when conditions dictate it would be more effective. This season I will be fishing the River Moy and the long, deep, slow stretches of that river demand proficiency with spinning gear. For what it’s worth here are a few of my ideas on this form of salmon angling. I need to stress that I am no expert with the spinning rod, just an enthusiastic amateur.
In my opinion spinning is both a useful and productive way of fishing when the fly is not an option or simply when you want a change from fly casting. So for example small, heavily overgrown parts of rivers that are impossible with the fly can fished effectively with a short spinning rod. For those anglers (like me) with physical limitations, spinning can offer a viable option to wielding a big fly rod all day. Sometimes just a change does you good and an hour spent fishing water which is not really suited to the fly can be a welcome break.
In terms of gear, in general I prefer a powerful rod, one that can handle big fish if required. As for reels I fluctuate between multipliers and good sized fixed spools. They both see action, the multipliers for the heaviest work. For reel line I favour 18 – 20 pound with a trace of 15 pound breaking strain. My traces consist of a BB swivel at the reel end and a snap link at the other so I can swap baits easily. Overall trace length is two and a half feet. In deeper pools or faster flows I add a hillman or Wye weight above the BB. In low water conditions I suppose there is an argument for a lighter spinning set up but I would much prefer to fish the fly at that sort of water level.
My earliest encounters with salmon on a spinning rod involved the use of the devon minnow, a bait normally overlooked by modern day anglers. This is a shame as fishing a minnow is a lovely way to cover the water and it can still be very effective in certain conditions. Think of a river which has been high but it dropping back now, still too high for comfortable fly fishing but clearing up nicely. I would happily get out the spinning rod and those old devons in conditions like that. The technique is to cast at an angle downstream of straight across. The actual angle will vary on the speed of flow and the depth, so the skill and enjoyment comes from working out where each cast needs to land so the devon reaches the correct depth. The rod held high, the bait is allowed to fish around in an arc with minimal interference from the angler. Just keep in touch with the bait and if required wind in slowly through any slower flows. When the minnow is directly below you wind in rapidly in preparation for the next cast. A step per cast downstream is the normal rate of progression through the pools. I like the minnow to fish deep and find the occasional bump on the bottom reassuring that I’m not too high in the water column. Think of fishing a deeply sunk fly, long casts, the lure slowly sweeping around in the current below you and try to emulate that with the minnow and you won’t go far wrong. I have a twist of lead wire in my pocket for ‘fine tuning’ devons by adding some wraps of the wire to the mount.
Keeping the rod tip up is crucial otherwise the line will belly in the current, dragging the minnow across the river too fast. Aim to have the minimum amount of line in the water. While I am talking about line I better nail my colours to the mast and say that I like to use old fashioned nylon when spinning for salmon on the river. Yes, I know all about the benefits of modern braids but I want the springiness of nylon when casting with a fixed spool reel. If you prefer braid go right on ahead, this is another case of personal preference and you can make a perfectly good case for either material.
Size and colour of minnows is a matter of personal choice. I have caught fish on just about any colour over the years but I’d hazard a guess that Black /Gold has possibly been the most effective for me in 2 to 3 inch sizes. Yellow bellies and ruby red ones are also good. Having said that anglers on big rivers use 4 inch minnows and I have landed fish on tiny one inch baits before now.
Of course you can substitute other baits in place of the devon and fish in the same manner. The reliable Swedish Toby is effective too. Sizes vary from the elephantine ‘Salmo’ pattern which weigh in at a hefty 30 grams down to 7 gram ones for lower, warmer water. Again, colours are a source of rich debate. What one angler swears by another swears at! If you limited me to only one it would have to be a silver and gold in 12 gram size (Swedish original of course!).
The Toby had an interesting minor tactic which used to be very successful but I believe is now frowned upon – the upstream cast in fast water. A big Toby was cast directly upstream and wound back as fast as possible. Tiring work but it used to produce fish. The trouble was that unscrupulous fishers would snatch fish using this technique so it lost favour.
Here in Ireland spinning for salmon means one bait above all others – the Flying C. If you spot an angler on a salmon river the chances are that they will be using one of these spinners. Fishing them is very simple, pick a spot and cast into it, then wind back. Upstream, right across the current, downstream – it doesn’t matter. Just cast and wind back. Colours are in legion but black, red and yellow are probably the most favoured. The same trace you use for the minnow will do just grand for the Flying C. While I admire the sheer fish catching ability of the Flying C its ease of use rather takes away the enjoyment for me. Yes, I do own and occasionally use the Flying C but it gets a bit boring for my liking. I much prefer the leisurely down-and-across slowly moving devon to all the haste and effort of the rapid retrieve of the Flying C.
Although not commonly used in these parts I like the Rapala in 7cm and 9cm sizes. The range of designs and colour combinations takes my breath away and I guess they all catch fish on their day. I stick to silver, gold and orange/gold in floating and countdown models and find they are dependable fish catchers. The Rapala is fished in the same way as the flying C, the only difference being you may have to add a weight above the bait to get it to sink to the right depth.
I have caught salmon on large Mepps in the past too, size 4 and 5 work well after summer spates. These can be fished in the same manner as the Flying C. There are some big old ABU Droppens lurking in a tackle box which I might try out later this year on the Moy. You would imagine these would work just as well as a Mepp of similar size.
When it comes to hooking the salmon on the spinner I adhere to the old adage, let the fish pull first. There is usually nothing more to be done than tightening into the fish when it grabs the bait. Hook ups in scissors or front of the mouth are normal and this helps to facilitate the quick release of the fish. De-barbing the hooks will make the process of release even easier.
If all of the above makes spinning for salmon sound very simple I guess it is. What sets a good spin fisherman apart is his/her ability to read the water and employ the right bait, in the right way. You can chuck out a flying C and wind it back to your heart’s content and you will catch fish. The good fisher will usually catch more though as they think more about what they are doing. I still believe that the fly is more a enjoyable way to catch salmon and in lower flows it tends to be more productive. However I will keep spinning in high water or in places where my long fly rods are useless. Give it a try sometime, it is not as bad as you might think!