Nymph Fishing for Salmon on River Test
I have just had my first outing nymph fishing for salmon on the River Test and found it very challenging and frustrating!
For anyone considering trying this method the following post from our sister forum www.flyforums.co.uk should be very helpful and I wish I had read this in full before I went. Next time!
Has anyone else tried this unique method to catch salmon?
I too have had tremendous fun nymphing for salmon and think you will like this story from Donny Donovan. He is a keeper on the Test who taught me this fascinating technique. It might answer a few of your questions as well.
Salmon on the JW weighted nymph.
There is a chapter in the classic Frank Sawyer book “Nymphs and the trout” where the author describes his attempts at catching salmon using his weighted nymphs both on the Avon at Somerley and on the Test at Broadlands. If I were to teach a complete novice how to fish for salmon using a weighted nymph at Nursling in this year 2004, I would show them that particular chapter and say that is exactly how to do it. It is both perfectly written and perfectly descriptive of how we fish for salmon today using weighted nymphs. The incredible thing is that Frank Sawyer wrote it very nearly fifty years ago. So much for progress. Frank Sawyer was a river keeper way ahead of his time in both fishing techniques and in his ideas on fisheries management and a lot of what is now regarded as standard fishing practice, is testament to the brilliance of him.
Having said that Sawyer’s nymph technique for salmon cannot be bettered, I would still like to give one or two examples of my own observations at Nursling and hope that the great man wouldn’t think that I was in any way questioning his thoughts. Incidentally, Vic Foot (Nursling keeper for 56 years) remembers well Frank Sawyer coming to Nursling and failing to catch a salmon using the more conventional flies. Perhaps that is when he decided on trying his weighted trout nymphs?
When I first started at Nursling I was shown this extraordinary technique by the Testwood keeper and everything that I have passed on to other anglers has come from him. He developed the nymph fishing method on the Lower Test through trying various colours and hook sizes etc and says he was completely unaware of Sawyers efforts fifty years previously.
At Nursling I fish for salmon using a 9’6 sage rod rated for a six weight, although I use a seven, floating line with a 15 lb leader about seven feet long. Not your normal salmon set up but perfect for the Test at Nursling. I have caught a salmon of 20 lb on this rod but would think that this would be about the limit. All salmon caught on the Test are now returned so they need to be played hard, brought to the net as quickly as possible and returned to the river. A salmon of 10 lb can be hooked and landed within five minutes if played properly and netted smartly. The 20 lb fish took nearly forty minutes to land and pushed the rod to its limit and throughout the fight I can remember thinking that I wouldn’t want to catch anything bigger on such a set up. Without snapping the rod, there is very little you can do with such a big fish using a trout rod. I have fished the weighted nymph on the Tweed in Scotland using the exact same method only fishing with a double handed 15 foot rod which would give much more control on such a big river with the possibility of much bigger fish. With practice the weighted nymph can be Spey cast and fished in the same delicate manner on the Tweed with a 15 foot rod as we fish it on the Test using a 9’ 6 trout rod.
The whole idea of the weighted nymph and without doubt the most important part is to get down to the fish. You must lift that nymph through the salmon’s eye line. The great advantage of fishing at Nursling is that you can normally see the salmon and so you are basically stalking it and can see everything happening in front of you. I have watched with fascination a salmon completely ignore a nymph not more than six inches above it’s head but cast a little further upstream, a little more time to get the depth, bounce that nymph on the gravel in front of the fish and slowly lift through it’s eye line and it cannot help but follow it to the surface as if magnetised. I should add that this is of course not a 100% guarantee and as with all fishing, there is always thankfully the exception to the rule.
Most of the fun fishing this method is in the actual stalking of the fish, having a target to aim for and in seeing the take which is the same enjoyment I get from fishing a dry fly to a rising trout. That said, there are occasions when you can’t see anything in particularly deep or coloured water but there is still that same feeling of excitement as the nymph slowly makes it’s way to the top likely to be ambushed at any moment. Since fishing the weighted nymph I have not once foul hooked a fish as with at least 75% of all takes you can watch the salmon have the nymph, strike instantaneously then hang on for dear life whilst he makes that amazing first dash for freedom.
I usually prefer to fish downstream to a salmon as much more control can be felt whilst trying to get the nymph in the right place and loops of slack can be roll cast upstream to buy the extra depth. I have caught fish using the more traditional upstream method but because we only use a short leader and have to cast quite a way in front of the salmon to allow for the drift, it is very easy to spook the fish. With salmon I have found them more difficult to catch once they are aware of you and although they tend to stay in their lay they seem to switch off and ignore your attempts. Sea trout on the other hand, are gone as soon as they see you so a stealthy approach is a necessity although on many occasions your first sighting of a sea trout is as it disappears into the depths. It does surprise me how little consideration fishermen give to concealment and if I see a fisherman crawl on all fours towards his target then the more confidence I have in him having a successful day. Keeping out of sight is one of the most important things when nymph fishing in any gin clear chalk stream especially when you are after salmon or sea trout.
Over the last five or six years we have experimented with all kinds of different nymphs of all colours and of every size and we now have what I believe to be the perfect salmon catching Nursling nymph although it must be remembered that it might not necessarily suit other waters! When you read of Sawyer and the development of his nymphs he was basically trying to replicate the trout’s natural food and so size and pattern was absolutely critical. As we all know there is really no natural food in the rivers for salmon as they have more important things on their minds once they have entered fresh water and whilst some salmon flies might represent shrimps etc in the hope of triggering the memory of what might have been it’s last meal at sea, our nymphs are not an imitation of anything in particular. I think that the salmon takes a nymph through a mixture of annoyance and aggression and that the colour is not of particular importance (apart from the last couple of weeks in September) although the weight is because unless it is fished through the eye line, then it is very rarely successful.
It is always an exciting time when John White (Inventor of the JW Nursling nymph) turns up with something new to try whether a different colour, size or weight. Most of our nymphs are black with a silver bead and I would use nothing else in clear water. In coloured water I change to a red one although this is as much for the convenience of me being able to see it. I also sometimes fish a red nymph later in the year when the cock fish seem to become more aggressive and do seem attracted to the colour. The point I am trying to make is that our way of fishing the weighted nymph for salmon at Nursling in the year 2004 is nothing as precise or as exact as what Frank Sawyer was doing for trout over fifty years ago at Netheravon. As I have previously said, he found that he could catch salmon using the same method although with the trout his deception involved replication where as ours, whilst being just as exciting, is more to do with annoyance and perhaps aggression and the more cynical fluff chuckers amongst us might say that that is one of the many differences between trout fishing and salmon fishing. You trick the trout where as we just eventually **** the salmon off!
To see a salmon rise from the depths in pursuit of your nymph is fantastically exciting and half the fun is to actually see the take and strike accordingly which I do as soon as the fish’s mouth closes on the nymph. I find it very difficult to fish in Scotland and to let the salmon run with the fly before lifting into it because at Nursling the nymph will very often be spat out within seconds unless set very quickly. The unfortunate thing about this method of salmon fishing is in having confidence in it to begin with and in persisting until successful. As soon as you catch the first fish – or at least raise one to the surface, you’ll know what I’m talking about but it is easy to lose faith. Un-successful fishermen often complain that they don’t feel as if they are fishing properly and that they would feel more comfortable casting thirty yards of pointless line taking a step forward each time and working methodically through a pool on a big river until something grabs the end. I also like casting but what works on one river may not necessarily work on another and once you have seen the nymph fishing technique work, you are of course well and truly hooked.
Donny Donovan. 2005"
Re: Nymph Fishing for Salmon on River Test
Richard the only experience I have of fishing with a nymph for migratory fish is for sea-trout in Iceland five years ago. We were driving over a bridge on a small river whose name I'm afraid escapes me. And the guide leant over literally from the car in the bridge and spotted sea-trout in the pool then reversed and we got out and stalked them from downstream.
Photographer Peter Gathercole caught a fresh 3.5lb sea-trout and I took one of 2.5lb. I just followed intructions from the guide on the bridge above and struck when I saw the line move away.
It sounds like a return visit to the Test's salmon may be in order :D
Re: Nymph Fishing for Salmon on River Test
I would really like to nymph for salmon someday. Thanks for the read from Donovan.