I fished Lough Conn on Saturday morning before family commitments called me back to town then had a quiet hour or soon the Moy on Sunday evening. No fish but it was nice to be out. I’ll let the photos do the talking:
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!
I came across an old cardboard box in the shed with some fishing related odds and ends inside. There was my father’s old tackle bag for a start. I washed and dried it and it will give me some more years of service even if it is a little faded. A filleting knife from an Aberdeen fish house was in there too and I can bring it back to good condition with a little elbow grease. These knives were wonderfully flexible and easy to sharpen so it will come in useful later this year when the sea fishing picks up and I have some Mackerel and Pollock to fillet.
Then there was a small bag containing my long lost repair kit for rods. A spare reel seat, lots of whipping threads, hot melt glue, some rings and a few corks. Now I have been looking for these corks on and off for a year or more as I have a Hardy fly rod which is out of commission due to a broken handle. So this morning I set about using my newly rediscovered goodies to repair said Hardy. The rod in question is a ten foot six, 3 piece Sirrus which I used for grilse fishing. It had accounted for many, many fish but was in good condition until the third cork from the top of the handle gave way. Any other cork would have been only a cosmetic issue, but this one is directly where my thumb sits when fishing so the rod effectively became useless. It has been gathering dust for 2 seasons now and its replacement (a meaty Diawa 11’3) is now my preferred rod.
I started the repair by cutting off the broken cork. As soon as I had done that the source of the problem became evident, there was a layer of filler which only extended half way up the broken cork meaning it was not fully supported.This is very shoddy workmanship and it is so disappointing that Hardy have let their previously high standards slip since production was shifted to the Far East. Next I cleaned up the exposed area of the rod blank and wrapped the whole are with silk to provide an even base. This was an awkward job but it is vital that time was spent making sure I didn’t repeat the same mistake as before.
Next it was time to get messy. Araldite was mixed up into a milky gloop and then spread on the new whippings and the exposed ends of the corks on either side of the gap.
The excess glues was wiped off and the job set aside to dry before I shape the new cork to match the rest of the handle.
At the very bottom of the old cardboard box I unearthed my fishing wallet. Dating from the early ’70s this cheap brown leather wallet accompanied me everywhere in my formative fishing years as it held that most precious of documents – my ADAA fishing licence. The Aberdeen and District Angling Association (ADAA) controlled most of the fishing in and around Aberdeen so when my application to join as a junior in 1974 was accepted my fishing setted into a new world of possibilities. No. 1328 made the maximum use of these opportunities and I learned how to fish on the hard pressed waters of the Don at Parkhill and the wonderful Machar Pool on the Ythan. When I became a full member on reaching the ripe old age of 18 I was issued with a photo ID card. Where oh where have all the years gone?
Finally I came across numerous small tins of humbrol paint which I used to paint devon minnows. Unbelievably some of these are still usable after 35 years! I will give some of my baits a tidy up with this new found treasure during this spell of bright, hot weather when there is no fishing.
Stories from an anglers unhealthy pursuit of all that swims
Fishing in Ireland
Fly fishing in Scotland and Beyond
Lets Talk About Fishing
Exploring the 48th state through fly fishing