As your mind wanders while sat on the riverbank during a slow day, try conjuring up the perfect stretch of water for the best salmon fishing in the world, says Sam Carlisle
Day dreaming is a large part of Atlantic salmon fishing. To be effective, you must imagine a fish lying just to the left of that boulder or holding tight to the edge of this seam. When you make the cast, you must believe a salmon might take the fly. This power of positive thought keeps you alert and enthused. But day dreaming also plays a part in helping soften the blow of hours, days or weeks without success. On such a week, plagued by drought, my mind wandered to the best salmon fishing in the world: which pools had I fished that, in my imaginary watery world, would I put together to form one extraordinary river?
From Acronyms to Zander, via Dredging and Water Companies, John Bailey assesses the numerous challenges our waterways face today and how to promote river health with his A-Z of river health.
How do you communicate your passion for fishing and encourage children into the sport? There are a few things to consider, says Tobias Coe.
WHERE TO GO FOR THE BEST SALMON FISHING IN THE WORLD
Litza Falls Pool, Eastern Litza river, Russia
The highest pool on the river would have to be the Litza Falls pool, at the top of the Eastern Litza, on the north coast of Russia’s Kola Peninsula. It is a short pool, headed by a waterfall that stops the fish dispersing further into the tundra. At just six miles long, the Litza is not a long river. Close to the entire run will, at one point or another during its migration, visit the pool, before dropping back downstream, looking for a patch of perfectly-sized gravel to call home. I am still haunted by the lazy sip of a salmon, surely in excess of 30lb, that rose to the drift of my bomber. It was lying next to a boulder that you can only cover from the far bank, and its jaws locked around the fly before disappearing with it back to the depths. When I struck, there was no resistance and the fly ended up tangled in a young birch tree behind me. This pool is an experimental salmon fisherman’s dream. You can trot a heavy nymph off the cliffs next to the waterfall, swing a fly through the centre of the stream, drift bombers around boulders or dibble in rough water as the pool vanishes into a procession of rapids. On one occasion my friend and I landed eight fish from the pool, including a 17lb hen, bright from the ocean, that ripped line from my reel at full drag as it disappeared down the rapids. Hopping from boulder to boulder in an effort to keep tension, I am still astonished that I didn’t slip and break a leg and that we managed to land the fish amid the turbulent water.
McCordie’s, River Ewe, Scotland
The 1909 book Salmon Rivers and Lochs of Scotland decreed of the River Ewe that, “It is doubtful if any district in Scotland surpasses this for grandeur, combined with singular beauty. Seen under almost any weather conditions the picturesqueness on every hand is striking.” Rare amongst west coast rivers, the Ewe is not narrow and spatey. Flowing from Loch Maree, with no other burns or tributaries, it rises and falls at the gentlest of rates. You need a decent Spey cast to cover most of the pools, and the fish are far from small. The weeks I’ve visited in early July have invariably produced a sea-liced 20-pounder to at least one of the four rods. The finest pool on the river is McCordie’s, with every swing full of promise. Your mind wanders to the tall tales of Edwardian keeper Osgood Grant, who landed a 50-pounder on the fly here, one of two recorded catches of that size from the Ewe. Boils betray underwater boulders and as you make your final casts, fluttering the fly across a small gap between two croys, there will inevitably be a tightening of the line and a furious head shake.
Ivy Bridge Pool, River Finn, Ireland
The River Finn, winding down from Donegal’s Blue Stack Mountains, is one of the finest spate rivers anywhere. It offers a spectacular level of feast or famine for the visiting angler. Hit it just right in late June or early July, and you’re more likely to have a dozen than half-a-dozen for the day. Two days without rain later, and you’ll do well to winkle one out at all.
The most beguiling pool on the river is the Ivy Bridge pool. The current is not smooth, the wading is not easy and the path is not strimmed. But there are a number of seams, lips and boulders that all hold fish. Arriving around noon one day, when it was my turn to fish the fabled pool, I asked the angler who was just leaving how he’d got on. “I hooked nine,” came the matter-of-fact reply. Of course, I didn’t quite follow in the same suit, but standing on the stone bridge and surveying the pool at a perfect height, knowing you’ll be the first to cast a fly through it that day, must be one of the most exciting prospects in all of salmon fishing.
B3, River Bonaventure, Canada
“Welcome to my cathedral,” Bruno, our guide for the day, declared. His arms held aloft, palms upturned and head raised; full of worship. From Christ calling fishermen to be his disciples to Izaak Walton penning The Compleat Angler, which some scholars believe is really code for ‘The Complete Anglican’, there has been an inextricable chord between faith and fishing. And no more bucolic and perfect scene exists in salmon fishing than the verdant banks of the Bonaventure on the Gaspé peninsula in Canada, as they rise above a pool of miraculously clear water that is full of oversized salmon. Underwater visibility here is around 150ft, and salmon are routinely targeted on an individual basis. You cast large bombers and dead drift them over specific fish, watching their every reaction. A flutter of the pectoral fins might mean the next fly is larger, a rise through the water to inspect the fly without committing probably means the next fly is one size smaller. And when one does take the fly, you strike with all the gusto of a trout fisherman: something unusual for those who mostly chase Salmo salar. The B3 section of the Bonaventure is one of the loveliest. From a small and nameless pool one morning my father and I landed three salmon in quick succession, each weighing 20lb exactly. That salmon was his first ever, and Bruno held him by the scruff of his jacket as he was towed downstream by the fish.
Ryagaba Home Pool, River Ponoi, Russia
While some salmon rivers are intimate, visual and technical, there is much to be said for the majesty of giants. The Ponoi is one of the great giants: wide, brooding, difficult to decipher, and stuffed with salmon. The game here is long Spey casts, combing every inch of water as you hope to connect with one of the legendary fall-run fish, known as osenkas. The Home Pool at Ryagaba Camp is perhaps the most productive 400 yards of salmon fishing on the planet. One September week I visited the home pool for a few casts before breakfast on each morning of my trip. Like an addict returning for yet another hit, I would dozily arrive just as dawn first glinted over the horizon, lighting the mist that was rising from the river. The boreal forest all around was ablaze with autumn colours, and on colder mornings my rod rings would occasionally freeze. Every day, as a cast arced through the powerful current, a bright salmon would intercept the fly. Battling one of these osenkas is an adrenaline-filled wake-up call, far more effective than caffeine.
Nursling Little River, River Test, England
From mighty to mini, this side stream of the fabled River Test requires the angler to have an open mind and dispense with much of the perceived wisdom in fly-fishing for Atlantic salmon. Single-handed rods and heavy nymphs is the form here. And what makes it so beguiling is that many of the fish are visible: coaxing them into taking your fly requires the stealth of a deerstalker. Arriving after some big tides in early August, the Little River can feel like an aquarium, with salmon dotted over every patch of chalk. Studying these fish, and how they react to different presentations of a fly, has taught me more about their behaviour than anything else, and informed how I fish everywhere.The traditional approach is to drift a nymph close to the riverbed into likely spots, and then draw it to the surface. The action of letting a fly slide towards the face of a salmon and rapidly pulling it away is meant to reignite that latent predator instinct. Often a silver submarine will rise from the depths chasing your fly, causing a sudden shortness of breath. Falter and slow the fly down, and the fish will turn away. Keep the tempo, and the odds start to tilt in your favour.
The Falls, Laxa i Adaldal, Iceland
For much of its path, the Laxa i Adaldal, or Big Laxa as Icelanders know it, meanders through a quiet alluvial plain. Just before it enters the sea, the river braids into three or so streams that become a maze of tumbling waterfalls. The latticework of cliffs, bubbling pots that look like overflowing cauldrons and turbulent rapids is as far from traditional salmon water as it is possible to get. As eider ducks fly overhead, you search for a minor break in the water that might enable a salmon to hold momentarily. In such fast water it is difficult to slow your fly down or fish it at the right depth. One of my favourite spots here is lying at the top of one waterfall, peering over the edge into the maelstrom below. So close that the spray speckles your face, you cast a fly into the force of falling water, in the hope that it is carried beneath the distorted surface. Across the bay, black volcanoes topped with snow, looking as stark as a freshly poured pint of Guinness, touch the sky. There is little that is conventional about fishing these falls, but the improbability that a salmon might be caught in such ferocious water, and the sheer grandeur of the setting, make it one of the finest places on earth to try.
How to fish these pools
Eastern Litza: Justin McCarthy 07460292170; atlanticsalmonreserve.co.uk
Ewe: Inveran Estate; email firstname.lastname@example.org
Finn: Glenmore Lodge on +353 (0) 868133869 or email email@example.com;
Cloghan Lodge tel +353 (0) 872929888 firstname.lastname@example.org
Bonaventure and Laxa i Adaldal: Aadvark McLeod tel 01980 847389; aardvarkmcleod.com
Ponoi: Frontiers on 01285 700940; ponoiriver.com
Nursling Little River: Upstream Dry Fly on 01264 560976; upstreamdryfly.com