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One last cast

Making that final cast for salmon with expectation… and success at last!

One last cast...
One last cast...

I guess most fishing days end with the same announcement… “one last cast…”. I know I say it, even if I’m fishing alone. As ever, that cast is made with the same hope and expectation. Of course, sometimes something happens; the chances are always there. As I like to say, “It only takes one cast to catch a salmon”. So why shouldn’t it be your last one?

A few weeks ago, the river had come up after rain. I’d come down to the river straight after work, fished two pools already for naught, and was now running down the third for my final run. I was getting hungry, the sky was clearing, the air was getting cooler, and my hopes were dwindling. You need hope to function for salmon fishing. I once spoke with Magnus Angus about salmon fishing, and he was astonished to hear that I believe I might hook a fish on every cast I make. Similarly, I was surprised that he fished for salmon more by going through the motions and hoping to get lucky. I couldn’t fish for salmon like that.

And so, on this particular evening, when I saw a hefty, wide-shouldered and coloured fish swirl towards the pool-tail, my expectations surged. I was mid-pool, and it would take me another 15 to 20 minutes to get down to that point, but that fish could be making its way up to me, in any case, I thought. A few minutes later, another, smaller, fish – again slightly coloured – jumped right in the tail. This one had to be running, it wouldn’t normally be there in the powerful draw at the pool-tail. Encouraging, all this movement.

My focus had been on where I’d seen the big fish wallow earlier, but by now I’d fished over that lie. But then another fish moved, as if my fly had disturbed it as it passed over. I backed up two paces, changed the fly for something smaller, then cast out the same length of line, let it swing, took two paces down, and made another cast, so the new fly could now pass directly over its head, if it was still lying there. Nothing.
I backed two paces upstream, and switched back to my favoured fly, a size 10 Kenmore Gold. Then re-presented this fly to the ‘previously interested’ fish. No, not at all interested this time. In my mind’s eye, I could see Magnus shrug his shoulders as if to say “I told you so…”, but this is salmon fishing, and that sort of thing happens all the time. Maybe the fish I’d seen were running and had already gone past me? I still had the pool-tail to fish, probably another dozen casts or so.

Here’s a funny thing. I’ve fished this pool for over 20 years now and have never, ever hooked a fish in this final part of the pool. And yet I always fish it out. Always with an element of expectation. You see, I can remember at least two people who have hooked fish at the very tail of this pool. I struggle to remember names in my normal working life, but I can tell you exactly who was fishing, and even what fly they were using. So, as usual, I fished right into the pool-tail, with a passing thought to Bob and Mark. When I was deep into the tail, I made the customary sign-off: “One last cast”, saying it to a merganser, passing overhead.
As the fly swung round on the increasing flow there was a satisfying and unmistakable bump, bump, bump, and then a draw, draw draw on the line and I lifted into a seven-pound fish.

As I lead it upstream to land it, I could see that this was a fresh fish. I was thinking that the coloured fish that I had seen wallowing and jumping were possibly resident fish, which may have been disturbed by this fresh fish – and maybe some others – arriving at the pool-tail. A jumping fish is often a sign that another may have arrived in the pool.

I was very pleased that I’d finally managed to take a fish from the tail of this pool, especially with my “One last cast”. Although, of course, an hour later, I was repeating exactly the same phrase, having worked down the pool once again, thinking other fish might have arrived in the pool along with the fresh seven-pounder. It’s funny what catching a salmon can do to your plans. This time, my “one last cast” swung over the pool-tail unmolested, just as it had always done for the previous 20 years. That’s salmon fishing!

Mark Bowler hosts the FF&FT Salmon Schools in October and November. Details: http://www.kirkwood-lockerbie.co.uk/experiences/outdoor-schools-and-rural-courses/salmon-school-2/

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