Salmon on a dry fly? Sounds tricky, right? What about a barbless size 18? Mr Kingfisher, Paul Hanley, explains how he recently targeted grilse with his dry fly rod on the River Lee in Cork:
The water was about 6.3 on the gauge, great water for salmon fly fishing especially as the clarity was good but not so good if one is targeting salmon on a very small dry fly. The pace of the water was causing the fly to drift unnaturally fast so I had to give a few false mends into the line to facilitate a drag free drift. The salmon are being heavily fished at this time with anglers spinning, shrimping, worming and even the odd fly being thrown across them so they are hugging the bottom and staying out of harm’s way.
Early in the morning or again at late evening they are moving about and this is when they can be targeted with dry fly. My setup is simple a 5wt soft action fly rod using a floating line and about a 3ft furled leader of about 7lb breaking strain copolymer combined with a 9ft tippet of 6 or 5x tippet and a size 18 barbless dry fly. Some size 18 hooks won’t take a 5x tippet because of the thicker diameter so you have to step down to a 6x instead so a soft rod has to be used to protect the lighter tippet.
There is still enough back bone in the 5wt to turn a salmon but I would recommend that if anybody is thinking of trying this they’d be better served fishing for large rainbows on the same tackle first to get a feel for the rod, line and fly size in dealing with the bigger fish. It’s very easy to bend one of these dry fly hooks but there is a balance between playing a fish fast and breaking the tippet. I played the salmon hard and landed it on soft weed before removing the barbless hook and holding the salmon for release.
It is very important at this time of year to hold a fish a bit longer and let it recover well before releasing it back into the river. I hooked and released another grilse later on in darkness using the same method, it worked well for me last year and the harder the fishing pressure gets this seems to be the best method for catching heavily pressurised fish.