A last-gasp last cast
On a bright autumn day, Will Martin throws everything he has at landing a fish on the final weekend of the salmon season
Iwas on the over-crowded, over-priced, First Great Western service to Devon when I realised I had left my hat and fly box on the bannister. Such forgetfullness is nothing new and I smiled as I rememembered an incident some years ago when I got to my peg, only to realise my flatcoat was still curled up in front of the fire at home.
As the journey continued, frustration and nostalgia faded away, replaced with childish excitement. This was it, the last weekend of the salmon season. It would be a culmination of a hard few months pursuing these elusive beauties, especially so in this, the driest summer on record.
The key, as with any salmon fishing, is to try and try and try. And try we would. We met on Friday, 28 September — two days left. At supper, we began discussing tactics for our last day of fishing. Should we use a sinking line or a sinking tip? Should we fish large or small flies? Max even suggested that we fish a Hitch fly. With consensus hard to come by and with the belligerence of old Labradors, we all decided that we each knew best and would fish just as we liked.
Disagreement was not unexpected, as autumn salmon fishing can almost be described as “kitchen sink fishing”. Everything seems to work but, at the same time, nothing seems to work. There is almost no pattern. Four years ago, Max and I were fishing the Mole and I caught a lovely 5lb salmon in a size 16 Cascade, a small beautifully tied mix of orange, red and yellow. Max caught a 19lb monster on a 3in furry Carrot.
It was with thoughts of monster autumn salmon that we retired to bed, eagerly awaiting that last chance. When my alarm went off at 7am, however, no part of me was eager to see it. As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and peered out into the inky darkness, salmon aside, I could have done with a couple more hours in bed.
Max and Tom, though, were already moving through the house, kettle on, music blaring, my father at the Rayburn preparing bacon sandwiches. I dressed quickly, aware that this lot meant business and I had better get with the programme. I checked my phone and there was a text from the river keeper Chris Taylor: “See you in an hour!”
“With autumn salmon fishing, everything seems to work but, at the same time, nothing seems to work”
Fifteen minutes later — with either adrenaline or a very strong coffee running through my veins — my heart was pounding with excitement as we loaded up the Land Rover with rods, nets, flies and waders. We piled in and headed to Chittlehamholt.
The beat we were fishing is a mile stretch of the river Mole owned by the