This story is from more than 25 years ago, in 1986! I was a little lad away at boarding school and it was coming up to a weekend where we all got to go home for Fri-Sat night. This happened to coincide with my 11th birthday on the 2nd October. Anyway, I’d been doing my research in the Trout and Salmon and had decided that I neeeded a sink tip line to get down deeper in the autumn as I was determined to catch my first salmon on the fly. Believe it or not, at school I ran a fly-tying hobbies class and I had tied myself a Garry dog. With that and the sink tip line I couldn’t fail!
I was playing rugby on the saturday so the fishing would have to wait until the next day. So, on Sunday lunchtime, with only 5 hours before I had to be back at school, Dad and I headed off to Warden on the South Tyne, not far from Hexham. I was armed with my 10ft single-handed trout rod, my new sink tip line and a 12lb leader with my Garry dog tube.
The pool we were heading for is a very long holding pool, just upstream from the paper mill. The stream runs into a rock face and is pushed 90 degrees left, with lovely shallow gravel on the near bank and a vertical drop into deep water at the far side. It creates a lovely piece of water. After about 50 yards it widens and deepens into the main body of the pool and the flow starts to slow. I had fished down from the neck of the pool without a touch, but was optimistic having seen a few fish show. I had reached as far as i could go and was millimetres from going over the top of my wellies (I wasn’t allowed waders, as I always got wet and Dad thought I’d drown myself!).
I fished as far down as I could, as I’d seen quite a decent fish showing, but as is so often the case, it was just out of reach. I asked Dad if he could wade out a yard and cover it for me, as it was bound to take because I had killer fly on and a new sink tip line! (At the same time I argued my case for some waders!!)
Dad cast across, stripped off a few yards of line and handed me the rod back. The slack in the line very gradually came tight and the line began to swing very slowly across the current, then it stopped. I figured it must be caught on the bottom, with all the slack line and slow current, so I lifted the rod to try to free it. The bottom began to move. I felt that very familiar now, but not so much at the time, slow powerful shaking of a big salmon’s head. “It’s a fish! It’s a fish!” came out of my mouth a few times, and “Calm down! calm down!” came the reply from Dad, followed by, “What weight line have you got on?”
I had 12lb.
To be fair, the fish didn’t do a lot initially, probably because I was afraid to put on much pressure in case I should pull the hook. Under Dad’s instruction I stepped back out of the water and moved down parallel with the fish to apply a bit of side strain. This worked, as the fish began to move upstream taking line as it went. Dad adjusted the drag on the reel and my little 10ft rod began to bend, but the reel still sang and the fish responded by accelerating away faster. Then there was a horrible click click click sound of the backing knot sliding through the rings!! What?! My little heart sank – it went slack. What’s happened, have the hooks come out? Has it snapped the leader?
No, in fact the shoelace-type knot I’d tied when swapping my floater for the new sink tip had clearly not been up to the job!! The realisation of what had happened hit pretty fast. My bottom lip protruded and began to quiver, my eyes welled up…. but almost before despair had engulfed me I was distracted by a “ninja in a barbour”, who leapt into the water and snatched the end of my new fly line as it was snaking its way off into the peaty depths. Dad to the rescue!
Somehow, perhaps feeling the sudden loss of pressure, the fish stopped running. Under very specific orders I was handed the fly line and told not to put any pressure on the line. I stood motionless with about 3-4 yards of fly line in my hand not knowing whether the fish was still attached or not and not daring to take up any of the slack belly that was now building in front of me. I managed to get a few more yards of slack line in, without putting any pressure on the fish – if it was still hooked?! Dad frantically re-threaded the backing line through the rod and tied a proper knot between fly line and backing. (I’d never had a fish take me onto the backing before. I’d previously caught a few seatrout on the fly and they hadn’t, so I figured backing was just a luxury!!)
With a furrowed brow and a few mumbled comments along the lines of ‘you lucky little bugger’, I was handed the rod. I slowly began to wind up the slack, with the loose belly of line gradually straightening. Unbelievably it went tight again and the fish was on… or was it the bottom? No, once again, the bottom began to move steadily upstream.
After another 15 minutes we still hadn’t seen the fish. My poor little 10ft trout rod was bent double but was having little impact. It was stalemate. Once again I found myself standing at right angles to the fish, only about 10 yards away, applying as much pressure as I dared, but I couldn’t move it. Plan B was initiated.
Dad waded in a couple of yards further and commenced with a bombing raid, tossing a couple of large rocks just downstream from where the fish lay. The first couple had no effect., so I urged Dad to throw one a bit closer… “but definitely don’t hit the line!”
Bullseye! Dad didn’t disappoint as the next rock found its mark and the reel screamed. Again the fish charged upstream, this time into the fast water at the neck of the pool. My line ripped through the water as the fish bolted. Other fish leapt due to the commotion but we were still to see what was connected to the other end of the line, by now 30 minutes or more into the battle.
Gradually the side pressure in the fast water was beginning to have more effect, turning the salmon’s head in the current. I managed to inch it closer, only for it to steadily cruise back towards the far side. This scenario played out 3-4 times, with the fish pushing back into deep water each time I brought it close. 10 more minutes passed. I moved further downstream on a 45-degree angle and really leant back into the fish. I don’t think the fish liked this, as there was a sudden shaking and an eruption on the surface. Still we couldn’t make out the size of fish.
“It must be at least 10-15lb, Dad?”
“I think a wee bit more…”, came the reply.
The fish suddenly decided on a change of scene, span 180 degrees and put the afterburners on, charging about 100 yards downstream into the main body of the pool, with me at full sprint after it across the shingle. Thankfully it stopped and gradually we managed to persuade the fish back, almost to where it was hooked.
With the light fading and the fish tiring, we began to make some progress. I was below the fish and tried to draw it into the shallows where Dad waited with the landing net. It wallowed and then rolled over, flicking its tail out of the water. There was a huge gasp from me and a few adult words from Dad followed by: “We’re gonna need a bigger net!” (no joke!).
Dad threw the landing net back onto the bank and made as if to tail the shovel-like caudal fin when, from the darkness, a voice called out: “Need a hand?”.
Help had arrived in the form of another fisherman armed with a tailor. After a few efforts to draw the fish into the shallows, Dad and the mystery saviour managed to get a good hold – Dad grasped the fish with both hands while the mystery angler stretched the noose over its tail. He was ours!
It weighed in at 28.5lbs. Not bad for a first fish… in fact I’ve never beaten it!
Apparently I smiled until Christmas.