Few fish are more challenging to the freshwater angler than the Atlantic Salmon. The first two years of its life are spent in freshwater but, just as it is reaching a size at which it may be caught on fly, it migrates to sea. Here it feeds voraciously, putting on weight and becoming a size that any angler would be proud to catch. A desire to reproduce then sees this fish returning to its native river to start the cycle again and this is where the frustration and challenge really begins.
On re-entering the river the behaviour and physiology of Salmo salar undergo major changes, the most significant being that this most prized fish stops feeding. How, then, does one attempt to catch this fish using natural or artificial baits? What a challenge!
For hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of years man has tried to solve this riddle but so far no-one has managed to come up with an answer that is consistently reliable. Fish are caught on flies of various structures and dressings, spinners of different shapes, sizes and colours, as well as a good array of natural foods. All we know for sure is that if one is to be successful as a salmon angler one needs to be in the right place, at the right time and using the right method. Years of experience may help one to satisfy these three parameters but until one has this experience one may have to rely to a large extent on Lady Luck, aided by advice given by writings, ghillies and other anglers.
On the Lower Reaches of the Wear most fish are taken from the deeper pools on natural baits such as worm and shrimp, or lures such as Tobies, Mepps and Flying Cs. In the shallower, faster moving water, large, bright flies such as Cascades and Ally's Shrimps are often effective. As the fish have been in the river for only a comparatively short time is their brain being stimulated by the sight of things that remind it of marine foods eaten only a short while ago, and hence does this produce a latent feeding response?
As salmon progress up the river it is likely that their memory of marine feeding diminishes and hence the feeding response will become less significant. However, they are still caught by similar methods, if perhaps by smaller patterns. One might presume that new responses come to the fore, particularly those of aggression and self-protection. The way the fish attack flies and lures in the Middle Reaches is often more aggressive than in the Lower Reaches, which could support this theory. What is important is that if aggression is the cause of 'takes' then the angler needs to ensure that the Salmon is 'annoyed' by his fly, lure or bait. Hence he needs to cast accurately, to the salmon lies, or the water through which the fish run, and ensure that the fly or lure is working as soon as it hits the water.
Although a lot of the Salmon spawn in the middle reaches some do travel on to the Upper reaches. Here they take up residence in any deeper water, often lying in the shelter of large rocks. Accurately cast flies will catch fish but upstream worm fishing is very effective, particularly in slightly coloured water following a spate.
The Wear has no significant run of Spring fish, most fish arriving after June. Hence water temperature variation is rarely significant. Most fish are caught using a floating line, with an added sink-tip for deeper or faster water. A twelve foot rod is more than adequate, with a nine weight line. All the standard patterns of fly tend to work, but locals generally use Cascades or Shrimp patterns. On some days a dark fly, such as a Stoat's Tail, can prove to be very effective.