Adam Radwan is a professional rugby union player with Premiership club Newcastle Falcons and was first called up to play for England in 2021. Join him as he swaps his rugby boots for waders and embarks on a day’s salmon fishing alongside good friend and ghillie, Adam Turner on the Riverdale Hall Hotel water on the River Tyne.
I’ve been going fly fishing for around twenty years and I love it! For me it’s all about escapism, getting away from the competitive rugby field and finding solace in nature.
The night before a day’s salmon fishing is always filled with chaos and excitement, tearing through various tackle bags and boxes, checking and double checking that I have everything in order for a day on the river.
I wasn’t planning to be on the water until around 2pm as I was waiting for a fresh release of water from Kielder Reservoir and no rain was forecast. As reliable as ever, the North East climate threw me a curve ball and the heavens opened at around 10am. However, the weather had not dampened my spirits and I was still eager to get out. Lunchtime rolled around and it was time pack up the car, make a coffee and get on my way.
Salmon Tackle Setup
I had arrived, pulling off the road and driving across the fields to the bankside. Once parked up, I leaped out of the car and took a good look at the beat for the first time. I immediately had two thoughts - one of excitement and the other was feeling somewhat out-gunned. Having only fished for salmon on the River Whiteadder in Scotland, I was used to fishing smaller rivers so only had a single-handed rod with me. My setup is a 8wt Sage Sonic, 8wt Sage Spectrum reel with a RIO floating line. Adam brought his double-handed set for me to use, however I was keen to use my trusted single-handed setup as it had always done me well and I didn’t want to waste time learning how to use a double-hander when I was already tight for time.
Whilst setting up Adam made a slight tactical change, deciding it was best to use 15lb leader as the water was high and there was a good chance of some big fish moving through the beat. This would later prove to have been an excellent decision. The next decision was which fly to use. With endless options of various colours and sizes, after much back and forth, Adam decided that for the first run down we would fish a ‘Calvin Shrimp’.
Let's Get Fishing!
Once set up we began the short walk from the cars to the top of the beat. This beat is a fairly straight, long stretch of water with some faster-flowing water at the top and slower in the tail where it adjoins the River Rede and becomes a junction pool. While walking to the top of the beat Adam began to talk tactics, pointing out the various ‘hot spots’ so off I went and waded out into the river to start fishing.
I soon realised this wasn’t going to be a simple task, as I had to try and get my fly out around 30-40 yards which, for me and my single-handed rod, was by no means an easy task! My plan of attack was to get my fly as close to the far bank as possible then start to mix my retrieves up, from letting it swing to stripping it back. I would then take a step or two down the river and repeat. I wasn’t there long before I started to see signs of fish moving and, on the odd occasion, a fish leap out of the water – a really encouraging sight.
Right on cue, the weather changed again... from a warm July afternoon to torrential rain in the blink of an eye. The beauty of this however was, because as it was such a nice day, I decided to leave my coat in the car and had only a thin fleece on. Not wanting to stop fishing, I cracked on and the downpour only lasted around five minutes - just enough time to make sure I was completely soaked through!
I approached the tail of the pool where it widens slightly and the flow slows with the River Rede adjoining from the left-hand side. To the naked eye, this wouldn’t appear to be a ‘hotspot’, but Adam reassured me that it was. He also mentioned that it doesn’t tend to get fished as much as the rest of the stretch, probably because the wading here is more challenging and, to be honest, due to the speed of the water, it doesn’t look very fishy. As my fly hit the water on the far side under an overhanging tree, Adam shouted over “You’re right on the money there, mate” and, just like that, my line went tight, fish on!
Instantly the fish started taking line, but as soon as I got some back on the reel, it would take it straight back off. I had to slowly navigate my way across some rocky boulders and climb out of the river to fight this fish on the bank.
I had the fish on for around 5 minutes before we managed to get a peek at it. We were both pretty sure it was a salmon and not a sea trout due to the take and the way it was fighting. With a sudden leap, it didn’t take long for us to determine that what we had encountered was indeed a salmon and an impressive one at that! After another 5 mins of back and forth, I finally got the better of the fish and Adam netted it. I popped my rod down and hopped back in the water to get a closer look. It was a hen fish, estimated at around 12lb! After a few quick photos, it was time to get the fish back in the water and let it continue its vital journey upstream.
More Salmon Hooked
We headed back to the car and had a quick drink and snack. Both of us were thrilled to have got into a fish on the first run down. Eager to get back fishing, I didn’t wait too long before returning to the top of the beat. Approaching the tail of the pool, passing where I’d managed to hook the previous fish, my nerves had just about settled. Now fishing in the widest section of the pool, I had to make sure I was getting a good line out if I wanted to cover the area I was expecting the fish to be. My casting at this point had come on and I was impressed with myself as I managed to cast my fly right over to the far side of the pool. On the following cast, as my fly was just starting to swing around, I felt a quick yet distinct pull.
Not wanting to pull the salmon fly away from the fish too soon I left it to continue to swing around. Just as the fly was on the dangle, my line ever so slightly began to tighten. As the line got tighter, I gave it a steady strip and quickly realised I was into my second fish! Off it went, taking line off my reel and well into the backing. This was my cue to wade back across the boulders, scramble out the river and fight the fish from dry land.
In an attempt to get the upper hand, I kept tightening the drag on my reel as it had been 10 minutes and I still couldn’t keep my line on the reel. The water in the River Tyne is very dark and peat-stained which meant that we still hadn’t been able to get a look at the fish when all of a sudden, a tail broke the surface and it was a complete bar of silver! The tail remained above the surface for only a few seconds, but it was more than long enough to realise that not only was this a cracking fish, it was also fresh from the sea.
Again, off it went on another long run, only this time it was running upstream, fighting against the flow of the river and still managing to take me back into my backing. I couldn’t tell who was more excited about landing this - Adam or myself. What felt like hours passed by (it was probably circa 10 minutes), Adam got in place ready to net the fish. I was starting to get the upper hand as its head slowly appeared and it swam straight towards where I was standing on the bank. With one quick but careful swoop, Adam managed to get the fish in the net!
Once in the net, we both began to jump around screaming like a pair of lunatics. I clambered back in the water to get a look at the fish and what a fish it was! A pure bar of silver - fresh and, by my books, an absolute monster. Both of us were keen to get a few quick snaps and weigh the fish so we wanted to act fast – it has been a long fight and we wanted to get the fish back on its way. Tipping the scales at a smidge over 15lb, I was ecstatic! It was now time to get the fish back in the water.
I held the fish carefully until it had enough strength to crack on with its journey. After 5 minutes, I could feel it begin to kick its tail, indicating it was almost time to send it back on its way. A few moments later off it went like a rocket back upstream. Still on a high, it was time for a celebratory Diet Coke and Wispa Gold back at the car!
Fishing had been tiring with my single-handed setup, so the quick break was wholly necessary. Despite this, as soon as I’d finished my Wispa, I grabbed my rod and scurried back up the beat to continue fishing. Once again, I had fished down most of the beat and was approaching where I’d had all the action on the previous runs down. I had seen no sign of fish this time down and was starting to lose focus, just chatting away to Adam. We were mid-conversation when I felt the unmistakable tightening of the line. I spun around and got myself into gear for my third fight of the afternoon.
Again, this fish was putting up a great fight - all of the recent fresh water had turbocharged the fish and it was making the day’s fishing all the more exciting. So, for the third time of the day, I was hooked up and making the challenging commute across the boulders so I could settle into the fight and net the fish! My little voice was telling me that this was another salmon.
A few fishermen who’d fished this beat recently had said it was full of sea trout, so it was quite a surprise however, I wasn’t complaining by any means. With some fish acrobatics and a few long runs, we eventually managed to net the fish and much to our satisfaction, it was in fact another salmon!
Probably the most coloured of the three and at around the 13lb mark, with a few more quick photos to add to the collection, it was time to let the fish recover and get on its way. While holding the fish as it regained its strength, I couldn’t quite believe the day’s fishing I’d had. Three salmon in the short space of three hours was difficult to comprehend.
Once I had released the fish, I wasted no time and walked straight back to the top of the beat to fish it down again.
This time I only had to wait a couple of minutes before some more action however, this time it wasn’t a fish. Right in front of me, an otter emerged with what looked it a small trout in its mouth. It was amazing to see as I’d never actually seen an otter in the wild before. It stared at me for a moment before hurrying off, with its dinner still in its mouth. I continued to fish down with plenty of signs of movement but unfortunately, I couldn’t manage to hook up in this run down.
Reflecting On An Incredible Day Of Salmon Fishing
Whilst in the very tail of the pool I was having my last few casts and thinking about what an exceptional day I had had, I concluded that it couldn’t get much better. So, I made my last cast and let the fly swing right around before winding in for the day.
Adam was very surprised when I told him I was calling it a day. To be honest, I think he thought I was completely mad! Not only was I over the moon with my afternoon’s fishing but I was also absolutely knackered. So, I began to pack up my gear and get on my way. It was only then that I realised I was soaked through from the earlier downpour. An afternoon’s fishing I will never forget.
Once packed up my salmon fishing tackle, I got on my way and I’m pretty sure Adam shot off to get his rod while conditions were so good. Whilst driving back across the field and approaching the road a thought popped into my head - it was time to upgrade my never-ending tackle collection and invest in a double-hander, then I would be set up for bigger rivers, bigger fish and bigger adventures!