Fishing large, powerful rivers requires specialist techniques. Here we look at how the many new innovations and developments have changed the way anglers pursue the king of fish…Salmon anglers from the UK have been visiting the Scandinavian countries for centuries. Big, clear, fast-flowing rivers winding through picture-postcard scenery are part of the attraction. The quarry here are multi-sea-winter salmon and sea-trout of a high average size that few rivers in the world can compete with – famous rivers, including the Alta, Laerdal, Gaula and Tana to name but a few, from a legendary roll-call.
Fishing these large, powerful rivers is demanding and specialist techniques have evolved to provide the fly-angler with a means of fishing large flies at long range with ease. The Scandinavian style of salmon fishing has spread quickly around the world and it is now common to find salmon anglers fishing in this fashion on any large river.
The major change from the more traditional Spey style is in the use of shooting head line systems. These are built from a thin “running” line – normally floating – that is attached to the reel backing line in the usual way. The running line has no taper and is a relatively small diameter; this is to allow the line to shoot long distances with ease. Several types are in use, including a level fly line with a conventional braided nylon core and a hollow plastic line with high buoyancy. It is important that the running line is tangle free and it pays to learn some techniques for managing the running line to avoid frustration. Attached to the running line (usually with a loop-to-loop connection) is the shooting head. In the early days, these were made of a section cut from a double taper line. Things have now moved on a great deal and a wide range of shooting heads are available “off the shelf” to cope with most conditions.
A recent advance is in the use of double density heads that will sink, tip first, to prevent the thicker mid-portion of the head dragging the tip down. By simply changing the shooting head, the angler can dramatically alter the way the fly is presented, and only needs to carry a variety of heads coiled up in a pocket. A range of heads from floating to fast sinking will cover any eventuality that may be encountered.
Rods developed for this style of fishing tend to have a shorter handle than double-handed rods designed in the UK and USA. The reason for this is that shooting heads cast best with a crisp, punchy casting style, relying heavily on the lower hand providing the power. This is referred to as underhand casting and is very effective with this style. However, any double-handed rod with a medium to fast action will perform well with shooting heads. Rods that are very soft are not suitable.
It will take a little while to learn how to get the best from a shooting head, but one very important tip is to make sure that all of the head and a little of the running line are outside the rod tip before attempting a cast. The section of running line outside the rod tip is referred to as overhang and will generally be between 20cm and one metre in length. If it is too long the running line will not transmit the energy of the cast through the shooting head to cast efficiently. If it is too short you will not get a tight loop in the head in the forward cast. You will need to experiment to find the sweet spot. In fact it would probably be well worth getting a casting instructor to help you get the best out of the equipment from the start.
Another exciting development that has evolved with the Scandinavian style is a family of tube flies tied on plastic tube fitted with a conehead at the front. This design allows the fly to swim level, even in slow water, as the weight of the hook is counter-balanced by the conehead at the front. These flies sport a wing of soft mobile fur – for example Arctic fox or possibly a soft synthetic fibre. This is tied in facing forward then folded back to create a sinuous teardrop-shaped fly that flutters and darts enticingly in the stream. They are also tied on short, heavy bottle tubes to give the fly more weight. Modern catch-and release-practices have determined that the treble is no longer used and a range of strong, shortshanked double hooks is now used in preference. These have proved to be very effective at both hooking and landing large fish.
There is no doubt that the Scandinavian style has brought many new innovations to the sport, and such developments will continue to influence the way we fly-fish for this – the king of fish.