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Fighting King Salmon – From Start to Finish

Posted on February 12 2016

Fighting king salmon on a spey rod.
Good fighting position. Photo: Tosh Brown.

Last week, Deneki regular, Stuart Foxall, presented us with a great post on proper fly presentation when swinging for king salmon. In case you missed the post, make sure to check it out, here!

Stu’s back today with a great follow up on what to do when all goes to plan – you know, when the fish eats your fly.


Fighting King Salmon – From Start to Finish

Okay, so we’ve found out how to present our fly to give us a good chance of getting a king salmon interested. What do we do next? This is the addictive stuff!

Obviously king salmon can take the fly in different ways –  from the smash and grabs to nothing more than the line “going heavy.”

Regardless, a few rules still apply.

As your fly swings across the current, your rod tip should be leading the fly into the bank. If you feel a fish take your fly, it’s important to wait until you feel the line get heavy. This could be after a few knocks or taps, but you will feel your rod get heavy as the fish turns with the fly in its mouth. At this point, set your hook swift and hard. Strike into the downstream bank, hard. If you don’t think you’ve set the hook hard enough, set the hook again.. Hard!

By setting the hook downstream you pull the hook across and into the corner of the fish’s mouth. If you strike upstream, or just straight upwards, you are likely pulling the fly out of it’s mouth.

Once the hook is set, let the fire works begin! Every fish is different. Most will run hard back towards the sea, while some will dash across the river doing a “hippo charge” and other tricks and treats. But, either way you need to keep your rod tip low and at about chest level, pointing into the downstream bank. Even if the fish is a hundred yards or so downstream of you, by holding the rod tip towards the downstream bank you will form a little downstream belly in the skagit head which will pull the hook backwards into the fishes mouth. Most fish usually have the habit of swimming away from the pressure applied on it’s hook hold, so this belly in the line will hopefully give the fish incentive to swim upstream.

After a while, big fish have the tendency to lie “doggo,” meaning lying on the bottom of the river bed, pulling a bit. You must not let the salmon get away with this.. Keep it moving at all costs!

Thats how you tire them out quicker. If it wants to lie doggo, just move your rod tip towards your fish and reel in at the same time. Then, lift your rod tip a few feet backwards towards the bank and reel down again. This is called “pumping” and keeps the fish on the move.

As the fish tires, you will be able to move backwards in order to find a comfortable depth to land your fish in, preferably in a slower flow of water. Usually the fish will make another couple of runs as it approaches the shallower water but just let it go under tension. This will help tire the fish quicker which is exactly what we want.

Soon, you will notice the fish start to go “unbalanced,” and begins to show it’s sides. This is a sign that the fish is becoming tired and  is close to being netted.

The best way of netting a fish is to work as a team with your guide. Get the fish slightly upstream of you by moving the rod tip to the upstream side of you (avoid too many upstream/downstream angle changes as this can open up the hook hold), and the fish will follow like a dog on a leash. As you lift the fish’s head, try and lead it downstream towards your guide’s net and immediately walk backwards. If the fish startles, it will dart straight into the net. If it cooperates, simply lead it straight into the waiting net as it is unbalanced.

Congrats! You’ve just landed the fish of a life time! Most importantly, Be careful with your catch, and take a sensible photo with the fish in the water. Never hold the fish away from the river. These fish are far too precious to take chances with. Always treat them with the utmost respect.

Remember, don’t panic and listen to your guide. He knows best and he’ll enjoy the excitement as much (if not more) than you do! Big fish require team work!

More on Fighting Big Fish


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