MIND GAMES AND ATTITUDE
Chasing migratory fish is not only a test of your skill but also your mental resilience. Most successful fishers that I have spent time with exude a relaxed but focused attitude.
1 Don’t wait to hear of fish being caught. Book your fishing and go. Fish the conditions as you find them; it is all valuable experience. The volume of information available to us nowadays has never been greater, but nothing beats time on the water. You can’t catch salmon by sitting at home.
2 Get into the right mindset from the off: be attentive and confident. Try to maintain this throughout the day. Stay positive and don’t sulk. Concentrate on every cast, believe that you will catch a fish on every swing. Once you become worn down and frustrated you may be casting but you probably won’t be fishing effectively.
3 Become immersed in the environment. We’ve all had “that
fishy feeling” before something happens – this is you tuning in. Pay attention to your instincts.
4 Fish early and late when you can, if you can – especially on a bright day. Growing up, I fished the Findhorn in August when the vast majority of fish came before the opposition had hit the river after a lazy breakfast, and again in the evening when other rods had clocked off for the day. 5 Take a break. Anyone who says they haven’t got frustrated while fishing is either lying or a robot – it happens to us all. When it happens, step out of the river, rest and think. When you step back in you will make smarter choices.
6 Be like a test match fast bowler who keeps putting the ball in the right place again and again until the batsman makes a mistake. Put in the hours and your time will come.
A solid casting stroke with a good working knowledge of the different spey casts is fundamental to effective fishing. If you’re more worried about making the cast than how your fly is fishing, you’re not going to be fishing effectively. Once your casting starts to flow and turnover is consistent, you can then concentrate on tactics.
7 To maximise your casting ability get a lesson from a professional instructor. Time (and money) invested in casting technique is never wasted, regardless of your level of expertise. Maximise your time with the instructor, don’t fritter it by attempting fancy casts with a piece of wool attached – ask your instructor to work through actual fishing scenarios.
8 Learn to make accurate angle changes and don’t just fish the fly at 45 degrees. Think about what you want the fly to do (eg, sink deeper, swing faster) and present it accordingly.
9 Be comfortable with casting and fishing sinking heads. It is now possible to tailor a shooting-head line (eg, float, hover, intermediate, Sink 1 to Sink 8, T16) to fish at a precise depth. Carry a selection with you and make the effort to change them to match the conditions that you face on the day or even on different sections of a pool.
10 Manage your running line effectively. Retrieve line to impart speed and life to the fly as it swims. Rarely do I let the fly come around on its own without imparting some action, especially as it comes towards the end of the swing.
11 A long cast is wasted if the leader and fly don’t turn over properly. If necessary, pull your leader straight as soon as it lands (with a long strip). If your leader hasn’t turned over, your fly is not fishing. Tension is the key to good casting and an effective swing.
12 Learn to deal with wind. Master the different spey-casts (single, double, snake roll, circle, snap T and snap C, and off the opposite shoulder) so you can put a line out regardless of which way the wind is blowing.
13 Fine-tune outfits. The grams, grains and line ratings printed on rods are the maker’s interpretation of how they want the rod to bend. We are all built and cast differently and therefore may prefer the rod to “feel” a different way. Find set-ups (line weights and lengths, and leaders) that work for you.
“Time (and money) invested in casting technique is never wasted, regardless of your level of expertise”
UNDERSTAND THE RIVER AND YOUR QUARRY
Working out where the fish are likely to be is a constantly changing puzzle. The solution comes through the experience of time on the water.
14 Don’t rush in and find yourself halfway down a run wondering if you’ve got the right set-up. Take the time to assess the conditions, work through the reasons why one set-up will work better than another.
15 Listen to the guide or gillie, if you have one – they want you to catch fish. From a guide’s perspective, after days of having advice ignored he or she will be less likely to keep talking – it is much easier to help someone who’s prepared to listen.
16 It’s often repeated that time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted. Map the pools in your mind, visualise where the fish will be and how you should present your fly to tempt them, based upon: temperature (eg, warmer water might indicate a smaller fly); water height (eg, in low water look for well-oxygenated pools); and speed of current (eg, do you need a faster-sinking line? Where is the best position from which to make your cast? What mends should you make?)
17 Network: good salmon anglers talk to each other, and share knowledge and experiences. The more you fish with good anglers, and pay attention to what they’re doing and saying, the better you will get.
18 Don’t forget your polaroids. You may not be sight fishing but investing in the right glasses will allow you to spot movement behind the fly when you’re fishing near the surface. You’ll be able to wade more safely, too.
19 Start fishing high up the pool. Fish a short line in the fast water at the pool neck. It’s amazing how many fish can be taken close to your feet at the top of a run. I see many anglers standing where their fly should be.
20 Think about your wading line so that you don’t end up standing on the fish.
21 I prefer to fish the pool down twice quickly rather than once slowly, where allowed, and with a change of line and fly in-between. Show the fish something different and you may get a response.
22 Fish the pool all the way through the tail. Let your fly swing through the broken water beyond the Vs.
23 Better fishers pay attention to detail. Check your knots are strong and neat and your hooks are sharp. Don’t carry on fishing if you have a wind knot or if the fly’s wing is tangled around a hook. If the set-up is less than perfect, don’t just “make do”. You don’t want to lose the only fish of the week through laziness.
24 Respect your quarry by fighting your fish hard. Give them the best chance of a speedy recovery by ensuring they have some gas left in the tank. It’s called “fighting” for a reason so don’t be scared to bend the rod. If you’ve invested in a quality reel then use its drag. That’s what it’s there for.
25 Fish a lighter fly or tube on a sinking head rather than a heavy tube. A lighter fly on a fast-sinking head
has more movement than a copper tube dragged lifelessly across the stream.
26 Try something different. Fish hitch tubes, try two small flies cast upstream and stripped back, or dead-drift a heavily-weighted Frances as though nymphing for trout. All will take fish when the swung fly fails.
27 There’s no shame in blank days. They happen – just make sure that you learn something each time you fish; something other than just catching fish. Experience doesn’t just come from fish in the net. Time in the river or on the bank, watching or mapping out pools in your mind is all valuable in the long run.
As well as learning different casts, ask your instructor to put them in a fishing context.
If your rod is loaded with the correct weight of line your casting will improve significantly. Ask your casting instructor to try your outfit and suggest improvements to it.
In the “zone”: focus on every swing of the fly and fish instinctively.
Fight fish hard using the power in the butt of the rod and the reel’s drag.
Off at the net: the moment the fly pings out of a fish on the Lower Beauly. Take such moments in your stride.
Checking your fly should become habit.