FIGHTING SALMON WITH A SINGLE-HANDER
With catch-and-release, prolonging the fight is an argument against using a single-hander and I think this concern is valid – up to a point. Modern seven- or eight-weight rods are powerful and with good technique it’s possible to land fish quickly. In my experience the same fundamental aspects apply to fighting salmon on a single- or double-hander, however a single-handed set-up will expose the issues more quickly and leave you feeling undergunned. Watching Alaskan guides subdue large Pacific salmon taught me much about how to carry the fight to salmon on single-handed tackle. Here are some suggestions:
1 Get level or downstream of the fish whenever possible so the salmon battles the pull of your line and the current. Try to prevent the fish getting far downstream of you in a strong current – you will be forced to work it back against the current and this gives the fish a free ride. It’s hard work for you and easy for the fish. Whenever practical, walk downstream and wind quickly to recover line on downstream runs. If you can get level or downstream of the fish in the same manoeuvre, the fish will often respond by making an upstream-and-across run, which will give you much more control.
2 Use side-strain to keep the fish off balance and moving. Letting the fish pause allows it to rest and re-charge. Keeping the fish off balance makes it work much harder. As long as the pressure is firm and steady you can angle the rod (as you want/need) parallel to the water and apply pressure towards your own bank (or in any direction to try and move the fish away from obstacles). You don’t need to hold the rod vertically all the time.
3 Use the power in the rod butt by lowering the vertical angle. As you lower the angle the powerful butt section does more work with less cushioning from the tip. The strength of your tippet will determine what’s sensible. As a test, set up your rod and tie the tippet to some scales or a weigh net. Then get a friend to pull as hard as they dare with the rod at various angles while you take a reading. I think you will be surprised how little pull you can muster with the rod vertical. Either way, it’s handy to have a sense of how hard you can pull before your tippet is at risk. Think about how you can use the angle of your rod to apply side-strain and access power from the butt section.
4 Take every opportunity to recover line. Use a pumping action (lifting the rod and winding down) to recover line when a fish pauses or holds station. It’s tempting to just cling on and have a breather yourself in these situations but always try to carry the fight to the fish.
5 Use a net. Netting a salmon on your own with a long double-hander is pretty tricky, but with a single-hander it’s much easier and will usually shorten the fight considerably. Once the fish is netted, you can let it recover while you organise a quick photo. This minimises the time the fish’s head is out of the water, and that’s the key to it recovering quickly and swimming away strongly.
On small and medium-sized salmon rivers, single-handers are underutilised and offer lots of practical fishing advantages. On big rivers during periods of low water, they also enable a new level of finesse and balance with small flies and delicate tippets, and allow nymphing techniques with flies such as a small red Frances. Let’s not dismiss single-handers as toys or novelties. They’re great fun and many fish are to be caught with them.
“Modern seven- or eight-weight rods are powerful and with good technique it’s possible to land fish quickly”
Nearly there: A salmon taken on a single-hander and retrieved fly on a slow stretch of the River Lyon.