1902 Encyclopedia > Angling > Salmon Fishing. Salmon Flies.

(Part 5)


Salmon Fishing

The salmon is the noblest and strongest fish on which the angler essays his art, and fish from 40 to 50 lb. In weight, and sometimes of even more, are occasionally taken by the rod and line; though for the ordinary purposes of sport, fish form 7 or 8 lb up to 20 are far more generally taken. When a salmon in good condition is first hooked he makes a strong and violent resistance, dashing through the water frequently for a distance of 60 or 70 yards or more at a time, and compelling the angler to let so much line off the reel; springing out of the water, often to a height of several feet, several times during the struggle; and finding that force is unavailing to break the line or withdraw the hook, he will often have recourse to cunning, and cut the line or rub the hook out of his nose against some rock; or, hiding himself at the bottom behind big stones and boulders, he will sulk and remain immovable for a long time. Occasionally he will run up or down rapids or falls in his terror and rage.

Salmon image

Fig. 21 -- The Salmon

To control all these vagaries, to combat his cunning, the angler, with his bending rod and practiced skill, lets him take out line when his struggles are dangerous, cautiously winding it back again when he is able do so safely, and thus keeping a certain strain upon the fish he gradually tires him out and wears his strength down, and at last, when unable to resist any longer, he is led in towards the shore, where upon some convenient rock or strand the attendant gaffsman stands or crouches, with a sharp-pointed steel hook attached to a short ashen staff called a gaff, waiting his opportunity. As the salmon is led past or near him, almost on the surface of the water, the hook is extended beyond the fish, the gaffsman makes a short sharp stroke with it, and digging the hook into the side of the salmon, with a sudden and instantaneous pull drags it out of the water to the land; a rap on the skull from a stick or stone terminates the poor salmon's life, and henceforth he becomes mere provender. Sometimes a large landing-net is used to land the fish, but though this prevents the spoiling of a portion of the fish by avoiding the need for making a hole with the gaff, it is less convenient and of more risk to the safety of the fish.

The most favourite plan of fishing for salmon is with the fly, though in many places they will also take both worm and minnow freely, and are thus fished for. The salmon-fly is a most wonderful conglomeration of feathers, silks, and tinsels, and oftentimes is as brilliant as the most glittering humming-bird. What the salmon mistakes it for is not easy to say, for there is nothing like it in nature. Probably a semi-transparent shrimp or prawn reflecting the gorgeous tints of the surrounding sea vegetation may be the nearest approach to it. The manufacture of the salmon-fly is given hereafter. They are made of various sizes, -- the longest for the early spring when the rivers are much swollen and very turbid, when hooks of 3 inches in length, and sometimes even longer; are employed; and from this extreme size they diminish gradually to a large sea-trout size, which is about in accordance with the hooks numbered 6 and 7 in the scale given in the illustration. These are used when the rivers have sunk down to their summer level, and are very clear and still, and the flies in the intervening sizes are carefully adjusted to suit the size and clearness of the water.

There is a great difference in the method of using the trout and the salmon fly. In salmon fishing there are certain spots in the river upon which salmon are known to rest and to feed, and these are called salmon-cats, throws, lodges, or stands. They may be but a few yards in length, and comprise a favourite, or a rock or two, behind which salmon like to shelter, -- for a salmon always has his lair or resting-place behind some projecting rock or stone; or they may extend for 100 or 200 yards, or even more. There are, too, in many rivers plenty of place where salmon may be seen sporting and jumping about, but where, owing to the depth of water or some other reason, they never feed or at least take the fly.

The angler, therefore, who knows thoroughly the cast he is about to fish, has a great advantage, for he knows where the big stones and the particular eddies are in which a salmon may be expected to rise, and how the fly should be drawn over the fish so as to show itself in the most tempting manner; whereas the angler who has not much knowledge is often apt to dwell upon spots that are comparatively bare, and to pass quickly over those that would perhaps repay particular attention. In fishing a cast, the angler casts diagonally across down stream, and draws the fly up stream towards him, softly raising and lowering the top of the rod so as to check and loosen the fly alternately, and to make all its fibres open and shut so as to counterfeit life.

When a salmon rises to the fly he either makes a big bulge or boil in the water, or, if he is unusually eager, he throws his head and half his body above the surface, rolling over like a porpoise in his endeavour to seize the fly; but a salmon very often misses the fly in his eagerness, and when he does, the very worst the angler can do is to pull it away from him, as after such a miss it is not at all uncommon for a salmon to turn round hastily and to make a second snatch at the fly, which he then rarely misses; but if the fly is whipped away from him, he is frightened and disgusted, and goes down sulkily, refusing to rise again.

It is therefore the safest plan to wait till you feel your fish, and then to strike, and even then it is not desirable to be too rough. A violent stroke is not the best one, - a slight elevation of the rod so as to fix the point, and then a steady strain, enough to force the barb of the hook home in the next minute, is the best way of getting a firm hold. Many fishers strike the moment they see the boil of the fish, under the belief that the boil is made by the tail of the salmon as he turns to go down, and that they do not see him till he gets the fly in his jaws. This is true, provided he does not miss his aim altogether; if he does (as he certainly often does, for it must be remembered that the fly is constantly in motion, which of course renders it not very easy to see), then to strike is to pull the fly away and to deprive the salmon of another chance.

When he has hooked a fish, the angler should look round and study what dangers there are which may prove destructive to his hopes, and determine if possible so to manage his fish as to avoid them. He must, therefore, always retain his coolness and presence of mind; flurry and confusion are often fatal to success. If a salmon jumps out of water the point of the rod should be lowered, so that the line be slackened, for if it be tight the sudden weight is apt to pull it out of the fish's jaw. If he sulks, the only way is to frighten him out of his hole by poking a long pole into it, or by throwing stones, or by some other devices.

If he runs for the edge of a fall or rapid, it is often a very good plan to let out a lot of loose line, and the salmon, fancying himself free again, will not go over, but will head round and face up stream again. As the devices of the salmon to escape are numerous, they cannot be dealt with fully here. No two salmon-casts are alike, therefore no two can be fished in the same way; each one must be fished to suit the particular capabilities it possesses.

The method of casting the salmon-fly is similar to that adopted with the double-hand trout-rod; the only difference being that the rod is larger and heavier, running up to 21 feet, and even more sometimes, and seldom less than 16 or 17 feet. The line is stout, well-dressed, 8 plait silk; the casting-line a yard or two of treble-twisted gut, and a yard or two of stout single salmon gut. Having mastered his rod well, the angler will find it comparatively easy to cast up to 20 yards of line; from this up to 30 yards every extra yard he can throw proves him more and more a good fisherman, while every yard he can cast beyond 30 shows him to be a master of his craft. The angler should never cast more line out than he can work and fish comfortably; if he does, he has a slack line when he requires a tight one, and he will often raise and scratch fish, and spoil his own sport and other people's when a yard or two less of line would have enabled him to catch his fish. Very long throws are only necessary under unusual circumstances; 25 yards will generally cover fully all that the angler really needs to fish.


We may give a short list of general salmon-flies such as the angler will find it useful to have always by him, and which he can employ if he does not know the general flies used on the river, and every river has some pet fly, some different comebination of feathers and fur from its nieghbour. The flies given are all standard flies, and may be had at any respectable tackle-maker's. The method of dressing them is the one which experience has shown to be the best for attracting the notice of the salmon.

The Claret -- One of the most useful general flies. Beginning the dressing at the bend of the hook, which is the tail end of the fly, a turn or two of gold twist and golden-coloured floss silk is taken for the tag; above this is lashed on a tail formed of a golden pheasant topping and some strips of blue and red macaw. Over the stump of the tail is fastened the but, a sort of ruff made of two or three turns of the herl or strands of a black ostrich feather. Then comes the body-first three turns of orange floss silk, then reddish claret pig's wool wound on to the top of the body; over the wool spirals of stout gold thread; and, beginning halfway down the body, a hackle of reddish claret to the shoulder, and at the shoulder two or three turns of black hackle. The wing is made first of tippet feather of the golden pheasant, which forms a sort of short under wing; above that is a mixed wing of fibres from the golden pheasant tail, turkey, bustard, and peacock wing, with a few fibres of green and red parrot; above all a single topping, with a rib to either wing, of blue macaw fibre, - the head of the fly being black, either ostrich, herl, chenille. This fly may be used of various sizes, and is a very general favourite in most waters.

The Black and Teal -- Another very general favourite, the leading points of which are a black body with silver spirals of twist or tinsel; a single topping for the tail; black hackle up to shoulder, over which either a teal feather or a gallina feather (with the large spots), and a wing of teal or rather pintail, and over it two jungle cock feathers with or without a topping. This fly also may be used of all sizes; dressed small, it is good for either lake or sea trout.

The Blue Doctor -- Tag, a few turns of fine gold twist; tail a topping; but, scarlet crewel or wool; body, pale blue floss silk, with a hackle a shade darker, or a blue jay's feather; silver tinsel (in large flies with silver twist beside it); grouse, partridge, or bustard hackle at the shoulder; a blue jay feather or blue hackle over it. The wing is mixed of fibres of the bustard, dark turkey,, argus pheasant, claret, blue, and yellow fibres of dyed swan; sometimes a topping over all and a head of scarlet crewel.

The Silver Doctor
-- Also a very great favourite. Tag, silver tinsel; tail, a topping; but, a turn of red crewel; body of silver tinsel entirely; hackle, blue, with brown hackle at the shoulder, and a small speckled gallina feather hackled on over it; wing chiefly pintail, with a few red and blue fibres and a topping; head, red crewel.

The Butcher -- A very killing fly, and generally used. Tag, gold twist and dark orange floss; tail, a topping; but, black ostrich herl; body two or three turns of scarlet. The same of a medium blue, then of red, and lastly of dark blue pig's wool' broad silver tinsel; a medium red claret hackle with a gallina at the shoulder; under wing a tippet and rum feather of the golden pheasant, and over them strips of brown mallard, bustard, or peacock wing.

The Parson -- If a gandy fly is required, there are few more showy ones than this. Tag, silver tinsel and mauve floss; tail, two toppings, a few springs of tippet, and a green kingfisher feather; body, two turns of gold floss silk, golden pig's wool merging into orange; silver twist,; golden orange hackle, red orange hackle above it; three or four short toppings tied on at the breast; wing, a tippet feather of the golden pheasant, a strip of pintail on either side, seven or eight toppings, and a cpuple of kingshifer feathers at the shoulder on either side; black head. A more subdued peraon may be made by using a jay's hackle at the shoulder instead of the short toppings, by reducing the number of toppings in the wing, and adding some darker fibres of golden pheasant tail, bustard, &c.

The Drake Wing -- Tail, tippet sprigs, and a yellow toucan feather; body, orange red and black pig's wool; silver tinsel; hackle, a coch-by-bondu stained of a dark range red; a lavender hackle at shoulders; wing, two strips of drake or pintail. Bodies of orange, claret, dark blue, and black pig's wool graduated up to the head, are very great favourites, and, wedded to various hackles and wings, kill extensively.

The Orange and Grouse -- Flies with orange or golden floss silk bodies, and various hackles and wings, also kill widely. The above fly is tied with a tag of silver tinsel. Tail, a topping and kingfisher feather; but, black ostrich herl; body, three turns of magenta floss, and the rest of light orange floss; hackle, grouse with the tips snipped off-not on the back- with three or four toppings over the long grouse fibre for wing; blue jay tied sparely at the shoulder; blue macaw ribs; a black head.

A very good series of plain flies, very much used, can be made thus: tag, two turns of tinsel; tail, a topping and some tippet sprigs; body, a turn of bright orange brown followed by yellow in the centre, and the rest of lightish blue pig's wool; a broadish silver tinsel, the wool rough and picked out, with a black hackle, and wings of peacock wing; sometimes with a tippet in the centre or a topping over. By varying the wing hackle, a very taking series of flies can be had.

With this list of flies the angler ought to able, in default of knowing the special flies suited to the river, to fish any river with confidence, and, if the fish are in the humour to rise, to get sport in it. The colour, and particularly the size of the fly, are things to study in catering for a willing salmon. Too large a fly often causes a false rise; when this is found to occur, the size should be reduced.

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