Bit of a long waffle, I've not been on here in quite some time for a variety of reasons but the primary one being perhaps that Angling lost its appeal for me somewhere along the way and I took something of a long break from it. I spent so much time and effort on the match front into qualifying for an Irish team, having the honor of captaining our Home Nations team in 2010 that there was always going to be a lull once that goal had been achieved. Consequence of that amongst changes in circumstance, location etc being I have done virtually no fishing over the past few years. Bits and pieces only but this past year or two, now my young fella is of an age, I've been starting to get back into it again. An advert popped up on my facebook feed for flyfishing for Salmon in Sweden one day, I took the bait as it where, clicked and was spellbound by the images and tales of huge Baltic salmon. I sowed the seeds with a couple of friends and on a whim (and a prayer) we booked our trip. Now, 20years ago, I may have been throwing a small 5wt across the Crana river in Donegal, since then I hadnt ventured near a fly rod, much less a double hander and all that goes with that. We had to learn to cast again, learn to fish and to try and get to grips with a completely new angling discipline prior to our baptism of fire on the might Kallix in Northern Sweden. Glenda Powell from the Blackwater Salmon Fishery worked wonders with us in a short space of time, indeed, I was fortunate enough to catch a lovely grilse about 6lbs on my first training day. I had help and advice from a variety of quarters but it was with little knowledge and even less skill that we set off to Stockholm on an early morning flight. Sometimes its the most ill thought out ideas that pay off, not this time however unfortunately although we all hit huge salmon, Tim and Lee on the spinners in the pool below the falls, myself on the fly further down the river, such is the power of the water and of these fish we didn't successfully land any. They just dont know when they are beaten, Tim had a double figure fish beached only for it to throw the hook and escape as Lee was reaching for it. Such experiences however only harden the resolve, below is a tale from one of my early morning forays down the river, I know its not sea fishing but I hope you enjoy.
Its 2.00am Swedish time as the alarm shrills and I roll over from the half sleep state I was in to quickly turn it off. It doesn’t seem like ten minutes since I hit the pillow but no matter, I roll out of bed and climb into my clothes. Gentle snoring is still coming from the other bunks as my fishing buddies on this trip, Tim and Lee, oblivious to my early morning mission slumber on. As I open the cabin door to a chilly air and shrug on my still damp wading jacket I briefly contemplate retreating back inside to the darkness and the warmth but the low thundering drone from the mighty Kallix surging over the falls 200 metres away shakes this notion from my head! It’s a 2 minute drive to a mark we had fished the evening before and the sun is starting to peep through as I make my down a well-worn path through the pines. It’s hard getting used to the near 24 hour daylight where we are, a few miles inside the Arctic Circle, the body clock is still running an hour behind on Irish time and the sight of sun at the equivalent of 2am is something of a shock to the system! I startle 2 huge hares in a small clearing, taking off at speed as I approach, I’m not the only one up and about this morning it would appear.
Just as I arrive at the bank, in exactly the spot our guide had pointed to yesterday “hotspot…” a huge salmon gently porpoises on the surface causing barely a ripple. Its surfaced not 6 feet from the bank and if there were any vestiges of weariness left, the surge of adrenaline from this sight soon clears! I’m all fingers and thumbs in the chilly dawn air as I hurriedly select a fly from the box. I don’t like the giant Swedish flies at all and I have the words of John McLaughlin in my head, “them fish will hit your Irish flies as fast as anything else…..” as I select a heavy brass tube fly tied in a cascade pattern and thread my tippet through. The Swedish flies obviously work but its hard fishing with something so alien so I’m using something I have confidence in. Using a fly I don’t believe in will be a waste of time, I will be questioning my decision all the time and itching to change at every juncture. A size 12 super sharp Owner treble hook completes the rig while a short 8 foot length of 18lb leader and a sink 4 tip will surely take my offering down to where these Baltic beauties lurk.
I shuffle through the trees and carefully enter the water about 50 metres above where I have seen the fish moving. This is big water, the Kallix is a wide, fast moving river, a far cry from our training grounds at Kilmurry on the fabulous Blackwater in Cork. Never the less, it is the lessons learned here that come into play as I let the head of my fly line downstream and strip another 30 feet off the reel. The Snap C was taught to me in a well spent half hour 2 weeks previously by Glenda Powell and it is this cast I’m using as I begin to fish. On this side of the river with my right hand on top, I’m much more comfortable with it than the left hand dominant Double spey I’d learnt initially. Snap, Sweep, Swing…… Snap, Sweep, Swing…. There’s no upstream mending here, instead we have been told on completing the cast to swing our rod downstream and across until its pointing directly downstream laying as much line across the current in order to move the fly as fast as possible. It’s another alien tactic, but when in Rome!
With the evergreen spires of pine trees stretching to the sky all the way down to the waters edge, the odd branch makes it presence felt as realistically, you can’t wade much further than a couple of yards out. The bottom is a mixture of hard rock and odd pockets of gravel that is secure enough underfoot but the current and the fast drop off keeps you uncomfortably tight to shore at times. There’s no room or time to let a proper D loop form so it’s some sort of bastardised touch and go variation of the Snap C cast that I’m using with probably more force than is necessary. Ugly it may be but it’s also effective, the 14 and a half feet of Hardy carbon I invested a ball of money in is powering the heavy set up out there, straight across the current exactly as we were told. With every cast and retrieve, the mind is emptying, it’s a feeling I’m sure shared by many anglers. The only thought in my head is on the next cast, utterly focussed on the end of my flyline as I cast, sweep across, let it swim its path and retrieve before stepping a yard downstream and repeating the action. Nothing is intruding, thoughts of work, family, home, everything banished as waist deep in the mighty Kallix, I watch my fly swing round.
A sudden jolt on the end of the line snaps me back to reality, for an instant I think Salmon but a half second later it’s immediately apparent it’s something smaller, a Grayling with dorsal fin erect kiting across the heavy current. It’s one of a half dozen or more I will contact on this lovely morning. On another day the beautiful Grayling would be a prized catch with its stunning purple sheened flanks and massive dorsal fin but not today. Still, a fish is a fish as they say and it’s a sign anyhow that the fly choice, albeit smaller than anything generally used here is being seen and picked up by predatory fish! What sport you would have with these on a 4-5wt single hander, I almost feel guilty being so dismissive of them as I slip it back into the water but bigger things beckon.
Bigger things beckon indeed as something larger hits as my fly swings into a small eddy of slack water. There’s little in the way of fight but to be fair, my 10wt outfit is geared to a different class of fish as a surprise jack pike of maybe 4lbs has fallen under the spell of the Cascade. I wasn’t expecting that to be fair and it’s lovely to see, another first in this anglers budding fly-fishing career and I take a quick picture or two before releasing him back into his spot. The sun is higher now and I contemplate heading back to the cabin for breakfast but my watch is showing 5.00am only and I can’t imagine the 2 sleeping beauties would appreciate the disturbance so I placate the grumbling tum with a few squares of nut chocolate and continue.
This beat is changing slightly and ahead of me as the river swings round a gentle bend more features become apparent. Big water is daunting, it’s hard to know what to do when even in my most limited experience I’ve been able to cover the majority of the width of a river with a single decent cast. The Kallix is hundreds of metres wide in parts and to the untrained eye looks the same throughout, where on earth will the fish be hiding? “Fish the river within the river….” Sound advice from Simon Cassidy, an absolute gent, who I had the good fortune to meet on the Blackwater shortly after his return from a successful trip to this area. There’s a channel formed by two large boulders close in and its created a pool below that’s different to what I’ve been fishing so far, the increased current at the head has over the years scoured out a deeper hollow. 30 metres downstream a small stream enters the main flow which will have its own deep hole below too. It screams fish and it’s another “hotspot” as Patrick our guide had pointed out the day before.
I’m in a heightened state of anticipation now, it reminds me of my first time conger fishing in the early days of my sea angling career. It’s almost as if you are afraid of a take. All the preparation, all the effort, but not knowing what to expect, are you ready for what’s coming next….? This is approaching the end of this beat and in a few casts I will be finishing my run down this section. If I ignore the rest of the river thundering by, this is just like fishing some of the sections of the Blackwater back home. My arms and back are beginning to ache from the constant effort of hauling up the heavy sink tip and fly and it’s probably for the best that this run is finishing as my timing is starting to go on the cast. My fly is swinging round perfectly into the calm patch just below where the stream enters and I can’t believe as it enters this area for the third time I haven’t had a hit and I start to strip the fly back in preparation for the next cast.
3 pulls into the retrieve it happens, the moment we had waited 6 months for from booking our trip, what all the advice, the casting lessons from Glenda, the instruction from our guide, the time invested, the money spent were for…. The tranquility and hypnotic hum from the river shattered by an act of pure violence. My line casts its own wake as it zips across the surface as with a huge swirl in close to the bank 20 metres below me as a monster of a Baltic Salmon hits my tiny fly, turns and runs. I give it 10 feet of line and lift in hard. “Don’t be afraid to pull the head off it, if it gets away from you you’ll never get it back….” More of Simons’ advice springs to mind. Thump, thump thump… The cork in my hand bucks and leaps as the savage power of this fish becomes apparent. It’s properly taking off, line screaming from my reel as it surges and leaps. All I am doing at this point is holding on, trying to get myself back on the bank onto higher ground so I can try and regain control and follow it downstream if I have to. My bright red braided backing is coming out as this fish continues its run, my drag is set hard but it’s not stopping this fish. My closest experience to something like this was the first run of a 42lb Co. Clare Tope in a brisk ebb tide in a narrow channel. That day I had 14 feet of finest ZZiplex carbon and a Penn 525 mag to tame the beast, today my 10wt Hardy Marksman seems somehow undergunned!
I’m anxious not to let this fish past the bottom of the pool I’m in as my path is blocked and I can’t follow any further on the bank. I raise my rod tip and try to bully it into turning. It’s too much, the fish cartwheels in the air and as suddenly as it arrived it is gone. My rod springs back and my line falls slack on the surface as my howled curses are heard by noone. Not today Pete, not today. That was it, that was my moment and it’s gone. I wind in my line forlornly and sit on a large rock in contemplation as the adrenaline rush is replaced by bitter disappointment. I inspect my fly, one of the prongs on my treble is bent, I’ve paid the price for my bullying it would appear.
As my heart rate returns to normal and the sound of the blood thumping through my head is replaced by the droning song of the river I’m struck by one thought and one thought alone. I’m going to have to come back….. I’m going to have to return to this wonderful place, this beautiful country, this magical land of water, rock and trees. A land of stunning scenery, beautiful animals, friendly people. A land where in the heights of summer time it doesn’t get dark and where in the depths of winter it doesn’t get light. A land where the rivers run high, hard and fast and the fish are built to match them. A land where the harshness of the environment is reflected in the fighting capabilities and brutality of its fish. This is a land and a scenario the salmon angler dreams of. I shall return next year I decide and in that knowledge I am happy as I make my back up the river, up through the forest and back to the car.
I am new to this game, I swung a double hander for the first time this year but if this is salmon angling, then I am happy to be a salmon angler. Fly fishing for salmon is about so much more than catching fish. If that was the be all and end all, I’d cast spoons, tobies and flying Cs all day long. No, there is so much more to it than that. There are small victories, like when you ping a cast out and it swings over a lie within a foot or two of where you intended. The delight when you master a new cast. Salmon are indeed the quarry but the part they play is not as much as you may think. There are the hours spent waist deep in a river, as you seemingly become part of it as the minnows and fry dart around in front of your legs, hoovering up the small critters from the river bed you have disturbed with your feet. The brief flashes of colour as kingfishers dart overhead or the thumping sounds as an ungainly heron takes flight from its station. The sudden surprise as an otter or mink makes an appearance whilst amongst it all you cast your fly. Then there is the close season, a time for studying the fly box, making crude attempts to tie my own, each one tied with little skill but a huge amount of hope! Anything to dull the hunger that will only be sated by a return to the river on opening day. On that day, I shall take to the river again, standing tall in the cold water, cork in my hand, Snap sweep swing…. Snap sweep, swing…..
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Last edited by petekd on Sat Nov 05, 2016 4:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.