Catch salmon on a sin­gle-han­der

Never tried it? Jim Coates of­fers a no-non­sense guide to the tackle and tech­niques you need for thrilling sum­mer sport

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - Contents -

A no-non­sense guide to tackle and tac­tics from Jim Coates

“In low water and par­tic­u­larly in late sum­mer when the fish have seen it all be­fore it’s hard to over­state the im­por­tance of stealth and great pre­sen­ta­tion”

VERY FEW SALMON an­glers use sin­gle­handed rods in the UK, which is a great shame. Lochs and spate streams are usu­ally the ex­tent of things, whereas in Ire­land there seems to be a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion and in North Amer­ica the roots run deep. There are many good ar­gu­ments for dou­ble-han­ders and their place in the first team is as­sured. The real ques­tion is: should we make room for both? Can’t many of the lim­i­ta­tions lev­elled at small rods be re­versed and aimed at long rods, if the con­di­tions dic­tate? As sum­mer ad­vances, it’s the right time to think again about sin­gle­handed rods and their tech­niques. I think it’s time for them to take on some of the salmon work­load. Sin­gle-han­ders can take the del­i­cacy and fi­nesse of our pre­sen­ta­tion to a new level. They also en­cour­age us to think and fish a bit dif­fer­ently than we would oth­er­wise. Per­haps this comes from hav­ing to make peace with the fact that we can’t cast as far. We must re­lax into a more con­sid­ered ap­proach, do­ing what we can re­ally well. In low water and par­tic­u­larly in late sum­mer when the fish have seen it all be­fore it’s hard to over­state the im­por­tance of stealth and great pre­sen­ta­tion. We have to change our ap­proach by care­fully try­ing to turn over the right stones – not all the stones, if you fol­low my drift. Sin­gle-han­ders are great tools for the job. I’m un­re­li­ably in­formed (by a good friend) that the late Ge­orge Melly (a keen fisher) once quipped about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween his ad­vanc­ing years and the demise of his li­bido. “I greeted it with the re­lief of a man es­cap­ing from the back of a run­away horse.” I hon­estly think this could sum up the re­la­tion­ship some con­tem­po­rary salmonfish­ers have with dis­tance cast­ing. When I pick up my sin­gle-han­der I of­ten smile and think about that man es­cap­ing the horse.


Trout-fish­ers and would-be or oc­ca­sional salmon-fish­ers take heart. Dur­ing the sum­mer months and when water lev­els are low, most of our rivers can be very prac­ti­cally fished with sin­gle-handed tackle. You might need to en­dure a bit of leg-pulling, but that’s okay. Play to the strengths of your out­fit and you’re likely to fish the water bet­ter than many fish­ers will with big­ger rigs. Any­way, some of the old guard might be sur­prised by the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of mod­ern rods and lines, es­pe­cially in the hands of crack trout men and women. Why not get out there and mix things up a bit?


If you are new to salmon fish­ing in rivers and there­fore dou­ble-handed rods, but an ex­pe­ri­enced trout-fisher, opt­ing for a good sin­gle-handed salmon out­fit will mean you can hit the ground run­ning. I think this makes a lot of sense: you can re­ally fo­cus on the chal­lenge of tempt­ing a fish to take and see­ing how you en­joy it, rather than im­me­di­ately jump­ing on to the steep learn­ing curve of new casts with dou­ble-handed tackle. Which, let’s be hon­est, adds a lot of cost and com­plex­ity that you prob­a­bly don’t want in your first few out­ings. Why not play to your strengths?


The abil­ity to fish small flies – and the fine tip­pets they re­quire – with con­fi­dence is a big ad­van­tage. A bal­anced out­fit greatly in­creases your chances of land­ing fish when small flies are the order of the day. It makes sense to bal­ance your out­fit in re­verse. Start with the size of fly and work back­wards from there. If fish­ing with size 12s or smaller, swim­ming them on an 8 lb tip­pet is go­ing to feel much more prac­ti­cal on a sin­gle-han­der than a stan­dard nine- or ten-weight dou­ble­han­der. The lat­ter is more pow­er­ful but how can you de­ploy that power when it’s not in bal­ance with the busi­ness end? In these cir­cum­stances a stock dou­ble­han­der is more of a li­a­bil­ity than an as­set. In ex­change for this del­i­cacy, you will trade some dis­tance-cast­ing po­tency, and gain ac­cu­racy in its place. The fi­nesse achiev­able with a sin­gle­handed set-up is beyond what even the

best cast­ers can man­age with reg­u­lar Bri­tish-style dou­ble-han­ders. Switch rods are trendy but they come with pretty chunky and ag­gres­sive lines (I be­lieve one well-known brand even named one the “Chucker”). These switch lines are a bit of a com­pro­mise and I would ar­gue that the out-and-out sin­gle­handed out­fit has the edge when it comes to del­i­cacy.


I favour a 10 ft seven-weight rod. How­ever, any strong sin­gle-han­der be­tween 9 ft 6 in and 10 ft 6 in, rated for a seven or eight line, will do a good job. A six-weight will work at a pinch, but your fish-fight­ing tech­nique will need to be good to avoid un­duly harm­ing fish as a re­sult of a pro­tracted fight or trig­ger­ing a trial of the rod’s guar­an­tee pol­icy. I would rec­om­mend a mid­dle-to-tip ac­tion rather than some­thing faster. Roll and spey casts will be eas­ier and if you want to fish a drop­per at some point, you’ll not be wishing for tight loops. The reel is more of a con­sid­er­a­tion than with a dou­ble-handed set-up. I don’t worry too much about a fancy drag (that’s a bonus) but you will need rim con­trol, a de­cent re­trieve rate (to keep up when fish run at you) and de­cent back­ing ca­pac­ity. I can tell you from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence that play­ing a fish by hand (not from the reel) is an ac­ci­dent wait­ing to hap­pen, so please trust me and re­cover any slack line rapidly and play your fish from the reel. USE AL­TER­NA­TIVE TAC­TICS For a stealthy, small-fly ap­proach, dry-fly or rif­fling, most in­ter­na­tional fish­ers would make the sin­gle-han­der their first choice. How­ever, sin­gle­han­ders can be used with more earthy tech­niques. From late Au­gust, as the nights start to draw in and the water be­gins to cool, it’s well known that Frances-style flies can be very ef­fec­tive. A sin­gle-han­der and a spe­cial­ist line (see be­low) can pro­duce fan­tas­tic sport with oth­er­wise un­co­op­er­a­tive fish. The sin­gle-han­der al­lows nymph­ing tech­niques, which are in my opin­ion the best way to fish Frances and Snaelda flies late in the sum­mer. Care­fully tar­get­ing known lies with stealth and an up­stream nymph­ing style is in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing. If you equip your sin­gle-han­der with a shoot­ing-head, you can work long­winged flies over smooth glassy water or thin flows with a win­ning com­bi­na­tion of con­trolled an­i­ma­tion, stealth and easy water cov­er­age. The shoot­ing-head al­lows you to work the fly all the way back to you, and then you can re-cast eas­ily with­out the need to first lengthen the line to load the rod.


One of the great things about sin­gle­handed rods is their ver­sa­til­ity. Where space permits and there is room for an ex­tended back-cast the over­head cast is easy, ac­cu­rate and presents a fly with min­i­mal dis­tur­bance. In tight spots, un­der trees or with high banks, im­pro­vised roll and spey casts can keep us fish­ing in places that are dif­fi­cult with longer rods. If you are a com­pe­tent trout-fisher, pick­ing up spey cast­ing with a fa­mil­iar sin­gle-handed rod is much more straight­for­ward than the change to two hands. Use your non-cast­ing hand to pull back line dur­ing the back-cast­ing stroke, just as you would with the dou­ble­haul cast. This helps to load the rod and is a good trick if you need to find a few ex­tra yards of dis­tance.

Close con­trol of the fly is needed on the in­ti­mate pools and runs of the River Finn in North­ern Ire­land, but that’s hard to achieve with a clas­sic dou­ble-han­der.

With a sin­gle-handed rod you can fish small flies and lighter tip­pets with con­fi­dence.


Jim Coates fishes a sin­gle-han­der on the Dee in low, clear water.

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