Wild West salmon trail

For the angler in a fruity frame of mind Viaduct Fishery in Somerton, Somerset offers a double delight. Six lakes full of game and coarse fish — and pick-your-own strawberries on site.

I like strawberries as much as the next man but what really drew me to Viaduct one summer was the prospect of fishing for something unusual – Stillwater salmon. This is one of the few fisheries in Britain where you can catch landlocked salmon. First stocked by owners Tim and Lisa Chapman in 1992, the fish are genuine landlocked salmon, originating from the north-eastern USA.

salmon flies: Hopper, Gold Head Hare's Ear, Red Bead, Gold Head Damsel

A quartet of flies tied to the taste of Sebago salmon. From left to right: Hopper, Gold Head Hare’s Ear, Red Bead, Gold Head Damsel.

A young angler plays a rainbow in the beginner's lake

A young angler plays a rainbow in the beginner’s lake. Two other fly lakes on site hold larger browns and rainbows, with the bonus of salmon in one of them. Bill discovered that landlocked salmon really take a fly with violence. He had to borrow a pair of heavy-duty pliers to release his fish since the hook was embedded right in the hard top palate.

“They just lose their rag. If you irritate them, they send an electric quiver down their body, then really explode at the fly,” explains Bill. Yankee cock salmon. At around 4lb (1.8kg) Wild Bill Rushmer flaunts his Yankee cock salmon. At around 4lb (1.8kg) it’s above the average size for a Sebago and certainly big enough to cause a bit of a rumpus. Instead of running to the sea, landlocked salmon live in the lakes of the north-eastern USA and spawn in the rivers that feed the lakes. In particular, Moose River and Roach River are famous for their run of landlocked salmon. Their average weight is thought to be around 2lb (0.9kg) – though the state record for Maine is a fish of 22 1/2lb (10.2kg), caught in 1907.clip_image008When there is enough wind the salmon rise to flies on the surface. Hoppers are a particularly deadly pattern for this work.

East coast cousins

Landlocked salmon are freshwater cousins of our native Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) — the same species adapted to freshwater. These ‘Sebago’ salmon (named after Sebago Lake in Maine) are thought to be survivors of the ice age which have become trapped in the lake systems of Maine.

In Campbell Lake (one of three game lakes at Viaduct Fishery) the average weight of salmon is thought to be well over 3lb (1.4kg), which is good by Sebago standards. Between five and ten per cent of the fish in Campbell are salmon — the rest are trout. But when I arrived at Viaduct the anglers hadn’t fathomed out how to get the best from the unfamiliar species. Tim advised me to walk around the lake to look for salmon before fishing. Because of the terrific heat he expected to find plenty around the inflow pipe, where cooler, fresher, oxygen-rich water was coming in.

The pipe is calling

It was virtually windless, hot and bright as I walked down to the lake. But I could see fish in the margins – mainly rainbows with the odd brownie.

At last I came to the inflow pipe. I looked into the water and saw eight salmon and a large rainbow bathing in the flow. An angler nearby told me that everybody had tried for them but the salmon were non-takers. Not to be deterred, I set up my rod with a 6 ft (2m) leader. I selected a Gold Bead Damsel fly, cast out to the salmon and worked the fly back under their long noses.

I knew that I would really have to irritate a salmon to catch one. On my next cast the fly nearly dropped on a salmon’s nose and I pulled it away so fast the fish must have felt the rush of water. Its gills puffed up in anger but it left the fly alone.

On the following cast I repeated the goading and this time the fish was really bugged. Gills swelled and the enraged Sebago flew at the fly like a bee-stung bronco. I struck very hard as the salmon took out all the loose line and the reel screamed. The power of the fish was startling. It jumped, tail-walked and tore off on terrific runs like the very wildest of fresh-run salmon.

After a vigorous battle the fish finally tired and I netted it. It was a brilliant cock fish of about 4lb (1.8kg), similar to an Atlantic salmon but a bit spottier. It certainly fought as well as any salmon I had ever seen — and much harder than any rainbow trout!