First Ribble Salmon
Its Friday morning 05:30 hours. I am a fanatical salmon fisher. It’s the ONLY time you’ll see me up at this hour to drive 250 miles to Lancashire to get on my favourite river – the Ribble. But, it’s no secret we have had our ups and downs. I blame the river, the fish and of course the weather. I know my lack of catches and lost fish are entirely outside of my control. Like most of us I KNOW I’m an awesome fisherman.
Ok reality check. No, I am not that good. But I try REALLY hard, and I never ever give up. Today will be a test of that statement.
I am that idiot
I arrive on the Ribble after a few Finygo related phone calls, totally relaxed and settling into the ‘zone’, casting the fly. The river is up +0.75m and no one else is fishing… Why? Simple, it’s a fly fishing water, and to cast the salmon fly you need to wade… Only an idiot would wade a river which is at this height of water. Getting to a long section of water which I know holds fish, I climb down a ladder into the water which is normally some 4ft below… today only the top rung is above water! Finally touching the bottom, the water is just 2 inches below my wader tops. And it’s cold! Even though I’m dry and wrapped in fleeces and thermal bottoms.
No matter I am fishing for salmon, the anticipation is high! I fish the pool, a foot a cast, then 10 minutes in, as the fly swings across the turbulent current bang! The salmon grabs the fly, turns tail and immediately heads down the pool. As it runs I tighten the clutch on the reel, zigzigzigzig still the reel whines as the fish strips the line. 30m downstream still running, the backing line on the reel passed through the eyes on my rod.
This is bad… really bad! I can’t stop the fish and I’m 5ft deep in water with a vertical bank to climb out. Option 1 – run after the fish. So, I start wading / running fast after the fish… I make it all of about 10m (the fish has now taken another 15m of line) hit a rock, stumble, trip and fall fully into the river. Waders now 8 inches under water and I’m floating feet first serenely down river… apart from the zigzigzigzig… 30m of backing gone. Maybe not so serene as I’m now getting towed!
I can’t run after the fish. Option 2 – I need to get out. I wade some more to find a young willow and jump / haul myself up on to the grass grabbing fistfuls of the stuff to stop sliding back in. This is made more difficult because one hand is on the rod, which has about 12Ibs of pressure directly downstream of me, zigizigzig, this fish is taking the p$%! 50m of backing gone and the fish is now over the weir below me, about 60m away!
On the grass
Time to run downstream. I set off running…. immediately hampered by the fact that my right wader boot lace has come undone and the boot is half falling off. As I run / hop after the fish I finally start to gain some backing back, I also get to tighten the drag some more. The rod arches over my head. The fish slows behind the weir.
Just 15m away
I keep running. I am 43 years old. I run three times a week for about 3-5 miles. I now feel like an 84-year-old. I can barely put one foot in front of the other. I am drenched, carrying about 10 kilos of extra weight in water in my waders and sodden clothing. I get to 15m from the fish, which decides to swing under my bank directly under an overhanging tree. I cannot follow the fish downstream any longer.
Walk the fish
An image of Obi-Wan Kenobi appears in front of me and says ‘Chris… walk the fish’ (ok this didn’t happen) but I was told once that a fish can be walked up stream. This is my only chance now. I stop pumping the rod and start to walk slowly back up the river. The fish follows! It’s working! But the line angle is bad. 20 degree angle straight into the fish directly downstream…. The hook pulls. I never see the fish. I swear… very loudly. I am exhausted.
Never give up
I grab a brew from my flask, empty the water out of my clothing (this takes a while) and text Finygo fishpert Harry. He is all sympathy. ‘No pain, no gain’ he says. I need better friends…. With that I get back into the river sodden and shivering, but keep going. Screw it, I’m going to get a cold but today I will win. Then it happens again…
Just a few meters from where I hooked the last fish, I connect with another Salmon! Having spoken to its friend, it decides the same tactic is in order, and heads off downstream. I am however too exhausted, and cold to chase. I have 15Ib line, and I tighten the drag … zigzigzig … and tighten it more … zigzigzig … the reel screams, then zig…..zig……
It stops turns, and jumps!
Harry is a big fan of bullying his fish quickly to the net. On this occasion I follow his mantra…. after a short battle I net the female salmon at 12.5 lbs, and release her back into the river. Still not giving up over the next 4 hours I had 3 more swims in the river and destroyed my phone in my jeans pocket (water). Finally, at 8:30pm, cold shivering and wet, I left the Ribble having lost another salmon and netted another one at 11Ibs.
What a day! The total Ribble tally: 2 sea trout and 2 salmon on the bank, plus the 2 salmon lost. You can see the trips and tactics I used here
The next day
I am nursing a slight cold. But this has to be my most memorable fishing day ever. Not my biggest fish, but certainly the most deserved.