A few weeks ago, at a time when I thought there were few fresh sensations for me to feel in freshwater fishing, I cast a fly upon the Wye expecting to attract one or more of its perfect brownies – a pounder, perhaps, though heavier fish certainly swim the river at Llanthomas.

His Wyeness Geoffrey Maynard of Hay was a couple of hundred yards upstream perfecting his roll-cast with a brand new line he’d got on finance that morning. His Wyeness is prone to mumbling at times so when he’d earlier told me how much it had set him back, I guardedly remarked (as one with no roots in game fishing and game tackle) “That doesn’t sound too bad to me…fourteen quid?”
“A HUNDRED and fourteen quid, I said!” came his exasperation.
“Bloody-hell, Geoff! That’s more than I earned last week!” I truthfully told him, but was told that the investment had been worth every penny.
“Watch this” he ordered. Predictably, the initial demonstration-cast resulted in an unholy heap of washing-line, but the second attempt produced the sweetest, longest, straightest cast I’d ever witnessed; that it didn’t take a fish is neither here nor there: it had been a great cast.

Now, I was close to the tail-end of The Beach – the fastest stretch – delighting in the action of a 10ft #5 fly rod and reel generously loaned, then given to me, by that very knowledgeable Sportfish consultant, Steve Hunt. Boy, do I owe him one!
I’d taken a visually-perfect brownie of six ounces at least and was now hoping for something to put a decent curve in the carbon. Numerous casts and as many ‘inch-backs’ later (is that what it’s called?) I noticed how the fly, a red tag, had lost one of its silver eyes, but I simply wasn’t inclined to tie a fresh one at that moment and carried on regardless.

Another cast onto the simmering flow and my line was soon downstream and about to swing the submerged fly around. In a fraction of a nano-second the line was yanked straight and the reel was whizzing backwards like a Catherine Wheel – only faster! I dared not grip the line or lift into the fish as this would have been certain disaster; the 5lb tippet simply wouldn’t have held. Then it leapt! A double-figure salmon came best part of two feet out of the water and crashed back to resume the fight even further downstream. The 3” reel resumed screaming and a flash of Day-Glo red dropped my eyes: what was this? I was fleetingly puzzled but then I realized I’d never seen the backing before!
Geoff scrunched-up behind me. He was cool and I wasn’t. “Step back onto the bank” he instructed, but I was too mesmerized by the rapid depletion of my flame-red backing to do anything other than hang on and hope. He had eight fish under his belt already. Veteran-cool still…“That’s it. Let him go” I had no choice! It was unstoppable! Not quite so cool now, His Wyeness tentatively offered another little snippet of advice…”For f***s sake don’t let him go over the rapids!!!!!”

With around sixty yards of line separating me from this beast and a mere rod-length separating it from the fall into the Pulpit Pool, I felt able to exert a little pressure, then enough to bring the fish’s head upstream. That’s what it felt like anyway. Then I was furiously winding the line back onto the ingeniously-geared 1:1 plastic reel as Salar came rushing back upstream – phew! That the wand-like rod retained a bend was, I’m sure, only due to water-pressure on the line because I’m damn sure he was swimming freestyle for much of the way.
I eventually caught up with him and a more equitable battle ensued. It lasted twenty minutes according to His Wyeness; a third of an hour which saw my adversary kick-off with astonishing speed and strength time after time after time. I confess I was worried. Not just that the hook might fall out or the tippet break, but about my own lack of experience with a rod where the reel is right at the very end of a six inch handle! Where was the rubber button you lodged between your folds of belly fat? The reassuring 1:5.75 retrieve? The silky-smooth rear drag? Now this truly was fishing – straight through to the wildest of water-beasts with just a flimsy stick and a glorified cotton reel!
With painstaking caution, the salmon was gradually played into shallower water where its gorgeous form was stark against the evening-sun-lit stones. I hardly dared breathe for fear of the hook pulling. Geoff was poised stock-still with the net as my 5-weight slowly steered the fish into the mesh: yes! My first-ever salmon – and on trout gear!
All salmon are precious, but Wye salmon have special status and must (naturally!) be handled swiftly and with the greatest of care. Congratulations were brief but truly heart-felt. With the fresh, silver fish in the net and on an even keel, I got ‘my man’ to do the honours – only to be shown the fly stuck firmly in the mesh!


Cliff Hatton 

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