The Rapala brand is very well known to most people.  Throughout the world, their plugs are recognised as being excellent lures for virtually every species of predatory fish. Here, in this article, I’ll talk about two of their patterns that I like to use for Autumn salmon fishing, as and when conditions and rules allow.

A few to choose from………………..

Last Saturday, I fished the River Annan, near Lockerbie, on a beat where I’ve taken a season ticket for a number of years.  There had been very heavy rain the previous day and although I have local contacts who could have told me what the height of the river was doing on Friday evening, it could all have changed by the following morning, if there was more rainfall overnight.

The Annan can rise and fall over a period of 24- 36 hours depending on rainfall in its headwaters.  The website river levels are historic and for the reasons I’ve explained, I’ve found the best thing is just to get in the car and go!  If the river turns out to be un-fishable, a bit of retail therapy in John Norris’s tackle shop in Penrith breaks the return trip home nicely.

The Annan running at a nice spinning height

The main road runs parallel to the upper part of this beat, so on arrival, I always stop the car for a preview of the river.  I could see the recent rain had lifted the river and it was clearly at spinning height.  The rule on this beat is that you can spin as long as the river is 2’6” above summer level, as shown on the marker at the ‘House pool’.  If the river drops below 2’6” prior to 11.00 am, then it’s back to fly fishing only.  If it drops below 2’6” after 11.00 am, you can carry on spinning all day.

The marker read 3’ on the guage and whilst the water was coloured, it was very fishable.  Things looked good.

The guage at the Home Pool

My chosen gear for the day was my Tenryu Super Mix 270 rod armed with a Daiwa Caldia Kix custom 3500 reel.  The reel line was 15lb braid (yellow Tuf line duracast) and I’d tied about 5’ of 15lb fluorocarbon as a leader.  One of the advantages of a leader like this is that the knot joining the braid/mono clicks as it goes through the tip ring, so if you are looking elsewhere – you know automatically that your lure is at the end of the retrieve.   The lure is clipped on to the fluorocarbon with a QED micro snap.  As I would be using only wobbling plugs, there is no need for a swivel in this set up.  A devon minnow, flying C, mepps or toby however would have necessitated a ball bearing swivel, to mitigate line twist.

QED micro snaps and ball bearing swivel

So which Rapala lures do I favour for Autumn salmon on the River Annan?  My favourites are the jointed J11 and J13 which are floaters and the countdown CD 9 and CD 11 which are sinkers.   In clear water I like to use more natural colours, ‘brown trout’, ‘blue/silvers’ and ‘hot steel’, but as the river was heavily stained, the ‘firetiger’ was my colour of choice. It’s garish – but it works!

The J13’s and smaller J11’s

The J13 looks quite a big lure, but that doesn’t worry me.  In fact, I’ve caught grilse as small as 4lbs on this lure in the past.  The J13 works at its best, when you have deep water on your side of the river, and the plug has had a chance to dive to that depth.  I cast the lure right across the river, varying between a 10 to 45 degrees downstream angle.  A quick few winds of the reel submerges the lure, then it is simply a question of letting it swing across the stream.  A steady flow is sufficient to make a J series lure work without any line being wound in.  Once the lure approaches the ‘dangle’ it can be wound in, and worked back close to the edge.  As with a fly, takes usually occur either on the edge of the crease between the main current and the nearside deep water, or when approaching the ‘dangle’.

First fish of the day on a J13 in firetiger – (coloured cock returned).

The use of bright yellow braid comes into it’s own with this technique.  You can clearly see the line tracking across the river and get a good visual of how quickly the lure is traversing.  Try and swim a jointed J across the river as slowly as possible, to keep it in front of any salmon, as long as you can.  I work my way down each pool fairly quickly, a couple of casts then a step downstream and repeat, unless I miss a take, in which case I’ll try a few more casts at different angles and ranges.

The J11 is also another cracking salmon lure, but it weighs less than the J13 and so doesn’t cast quite as far.  Also, in a river situation, it only dives to around 3’ whereas the J13 goes down to around 5’.   If you want to, you can sink your rod tip underwater and gain another couple of feet depth on both lures.  I’ll use the J11 in shallower water, or if the river drops back to nearer 2’ above summer level.  The J’s are great lures in Autumn, when fallen leaves in the water can be a pain.  You can feel the lure has fouled a leaf straight away, as it stops its wriggle on the rod tip.

When the river is running high, many of the smaller pools are un-fishable because of the speed of the current. The best areas are those with calmer water, where the fish will rest briefly before moving on.  Try and find areas of deeper water, moving at a slow walking pace. If these are located upstream of a length of shallower rapid water, there’s every chance a salmon will stop to take a rest.  When the fish are running, they enter pools in small shoals.  If the water looks right and you don’t catch, come back in an hours time and fish it through again.  There’s every chance some more salmon have moved into residence.  Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to try new areas.  I caught two fish within 20 minutes on a part of the river I’ve never fished before!

I took two salmon from the water shown on the left hand side in the foreground

I’m convinced that you need to get your lure close to the depth that salmon lie, and that’s where I feel so many people go wrong with spinning for salmon.  On Saturday, I saw a couple of guys on the opposite bank that were using either flying C’s or tobies, judging by the splash.  The second their lures hit the water, they were winding!  Had they been fly fishing, I’m sure they’d wait for the sinking line and fly to sink, but there you are!    Whether you’re fly fishing or spinning, you want to take your lure as close to the salmon’s nose as you can – so in my eyes, presentation at the correct depth is critical to success.

One of the fish from the water in the photo above – an 8lb hen salmon.

And the lure it fell to (CD 9)

The countdown series of lures, the CD 9 and 11 are both sinkers and sink at roughly 1’ per second.  I use them to cover the water that the J’s can’t – deep water on the far side of the river for example.  They’re really adaptable lures too, in that you can cover all sorts of depths from 2 – 10’ depending on how long you let them sink.   I cast these across the river, anything from 20 degrees downstream to 20 degrees upstream (if I want to give them time to sink).  The countdowns work best retrieved at some speed, a turn of the reel handle every 2 seconds or so.  They don’t vibrate the rod tip like the J’s do; their action is more subtle, but they do catch fish. Expect takes on any stage of the retrieve, as the lure arcs round in the current.

CD 11’s (left) and CD 9’s (right)

The first fish I caught on Saturday was from a pool that another rod had fished half an hour earlier with a Countdown lure.  Using a firetiger J13, I had a missed take, then four casts later a solid take, from a coloured cock fish that I landed.  Sometimes, it pays to change lure types. On more than one occasion, I’ve raised or caught fish on either a J when the Countdown has failed or visa versa. The QED mini is a nice neat and secure clip and makes changing lures quick and dead easy.  The clip also allows full articulation and movement to the lure and avoids the necessity of tying the lure on with a ‘Rapala’ knot.

This small cock grilse took a CD 11

One of the guys fishing the same beat as me was in his first season and this was his third trip of the year.  I’d seen him casting flying C’s earlier in the morning and I’d told him he was almost certain to catch as levels were perfect.  We met again at lunchtime, when he told me he’d only had one missed take. So he packed up and left.  I couldn’t believe it, as the river was slowly dropping and opportunities like this don’t come round that often.

Whilst the Annan had seen a few rises in the River, the spate on Saturday was the first decent lift in river levels this Autumn.  As such, it had brought both fresh fish in from the Solway Estuary, as well encouraging the resident summer fish to continue their upstream migration.  It turned out to be a cracking day for me, and I landed five salmon up to 8lbs and lost another three, which were only briefly hooked.    Two of the fish I caught were clean, but the rest had been in the river quite a while.

A heavily coloured cock salmon

Next time I see the rod who left to go home at lunchtime, I’ll have to let him know just what he missed.  I’ve even got the photos to prove it!