Article - Game

Catching a salmon (part one).

By Nick, added on 01/03/2009

The wait.

My first contact with salmon fishing was with a Winfield Devon Minnow in the late seventies. I saved up for a few weeks, marched into Woolies and purchased a bright- eyed red and black Devon. At that time my fishing was mainly gudgeon bashing on my favourite bend of the Sussex Ouse, all ways in hope of a dace or chub. I never knew how to fish with the Devon Minnow or to be frank, what it was used for, I just liked the look of it, so it sat in my tackle box for years, redundant. It was only later while flicking through my fathers Where to Fish Book of 1952 that I found that the Devon Minnow was used to spin for salmon (not that useful on my little stretch of river) so it was retired to the back of the drawer.

Almost twenty years had past with not much as a thought for the salmon until about eight years ago when a friend of mine Tony, talked of his trips up to the Devron and his tales of silver torpedo’s, broken trebles, arm aching battles and gripping yarn’s from tweed clad ghillies that … no wait, that never happened? Tony would come back year after year from the Devron and the Thurso with tales of fishless weeks, run-less runs and eventually on one occasion, a lost fish! It was in fact eight years before Tony caught his first salmon, my apprenticeship was pending!

After a few close calls I was persuaded to join Tony and a friend John, on a trip to Scotland. We booked the Alness in November 2007 and we were due there on the third week of September 2008. To whet my appetite I received the Doomsday Book of Giant Salmon by Fred Buller for Christmas and soon became familiar with tales of salmon, about the same size of a canoe!

I knew the river was quite small, only 11 miles long and at best 40 feet across, so a 12 to 13 foot salmon rod was more than ample. I kept an eye on that horribly addictive auction site and after a few lost bids I eventually became the owner of a very reasonably priced Hardy Jet 12ft 6 in rod from 1972, a great year for music and so I was told, a good year for glass fibre rod construction. When it arrived in the post I weighed it on the kitchen scales and thought 14 oz’s was reasonably light, for god sake they used to fish with broom handles with a block of wood for a reel!

To partner the rod I went modern with a Flueger Trion reel, solid looking with a good smooth clutch, I really didn’t want to lose my first salmon with some antiquated clutch exploding in my hands. Flies were to be sorted out in Scotland; I was ready to rock and roll.

After six months of reading up on salmon, spey casting, roll casts, flies, lies and videotape it was time to leave London (just Tony and myself). We decided to drive up on the Saturday and meet our other friend, John in the Lake District and then carry on up to the North East of Scotland on the Sunday. It had taken me eight years to finally get to this point and I thought it was only right to pace us and savour the trip. Once north of Birmingham the route was A and B roads only, all the way to Ulverston in the Southern Lakes. I thought time spent in the car would be a good chance to talk tactics and perhaps learn from Tony’s long apprenticeship. It was also a chance for a catch up, we were after all old friends who despite only living four miles away in the big smoke, we saw very little of one another.

The pace was nice and slow, up through the Peak District, across the Yorkshire Dales and into the Southern Lakes, we arrived at John’s farmhouse late in the afternoon, secluded in a valley just north east of Ulverston.

After the ubiquitous first night of drunkenness we, (now being three) continued on up to the Alness taking in the breath taking scenery of Scotland that was showing signs of turning to rust. I slipped into an H V Morton daydream travelling in his open top Morris, as we continued up through the Highlands along the A82. We alas in a Volvo arrived at the estate of the Hector Munro’s mid afternoon where I saw my first sight of the river.

First impressions, surprisingly small, fast flowing with the colour of stewed tea, without milk. Soon, Roger greeted us; an Englishman who looked more like an accountant from the city, blushed with Port rather than the weathered Scotsman clad in tweed I was expecting to find. Just like a good ghillie, Roger gave us encouraging signs that the week was looking good, plenty of water, and mutterings of running salmon. It should be mentioned that Roger runs the fishing on the estate and was not our ghillie for the week. So with us all feeling optimistic we settled down for the night in our house miles from anywhere, just a few wild sounds from the valley and the river rushing through the end of our garden.

Monday 15th September beat 3

After completely disregarding the ancient Scottish laws of alcohol consumption on the Sabbath, we arrived at the bank around 8.00 am, not quite days break but we were here, on the Alness, on an over cast Scottish Monday morning with some light drizzle, a hangover but more importantly a salmon rod and a river to fish. Tentatively I taped up the joints on the old Hardy and approached the river. I got John to quickly try out my eclectic salmon set up and with a smirk he mumbled, “ Yep it’s fine” so I decided to disappear up stream to engage in some Spey casting. As Captain Oates once said “I may be some time.” Having the space to get use to a new bit of kit, a new style of fishing, and a new river, I settled down to a new rhythm. I cast across the river at about two o’clock then put a ‘mend’ in the line to stop the fly dragging and then let the fly ‘fish’ the water, drifting from the far bank until it came to rest down stream, two quick pulls, then lift and re-cast.

Within an hour or two I felt comfortable exploring most lies and trying different combinations of mending the line to slow or speed up the fly. The water levels had risen due to some light rain over the weekend and the sluice gates were opened below Loch Morie to increase the flow. Prospects were looking good. The water rushing around my ankles was brown and clear but as the water deepened it turned to strong black coffee until it eventually turned inky black, this was very un-like any river I had fished before in my usual lair of the English southern rivers. By lunchtime Tony and I had to swap with John between the upper and lower beats, and to our surprise John came strolling up to the half waypoint with a small grilse swinging from his side, announcing, “dinner is served.”

After lunch and on the lower beat my peace was broken by an electrifying jolt. A salmon rose up out of the water like a porpoise and exposed it’s silvery flanks then slid back into the blackness, this fish was on the move and wasn’t waiting around for a clumsily cast fly. As the afternoon ran into early evening it started to rain a little harder, it dappled the river with white beads and the rocks turned to black glass. My first day was coming to an end. By 7.30 it was getting dark and our surroundings had turned monochrome, so we retired back to the house.

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Tuesday 16th September Beat 5

After a night of heavy rain and drink we arrived at beat 5 with the river rising. We started to fish along our beat and once again the rhythm of step and cast took on what was going to be, the pace for the rest of the week. After an hour or so a large salmon leaped out of the water 20 feet down from me, breaking the white noise with a accentuated splosh. I continued to fish but I was starting to tire from the weight of my rod so as lunch approached I decided to leave Tony and go and see how John was doing on the lower beat, (it turned out he had caught a 7lbs salmon) John was obviously doing something right so despite the salmon running I decided to sit and observe. Watching someone trotting a float, batting a centre pin or in this case casting a salmon fly is a pleasurable thing to observe especially when an angler knows his quarry. After 40 minutes or so we returned back to Tony’s beat and as we got closer I could hear him screaming out, “Niiiiick!” From a leisurely stroll to a sprint we both arrived to find Tony looking like, well looking like he had been fighting a salmon for 15 minutes! Soon after John, landed the salmon and another 7lbs silver torpedo was on the bank. Two salmon in one morning was exceptional.

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After lunch, we returned to the river still rising and with fish noticeably on the move. I guess if we were truly dedicated salmon fishers we would have skipped lunch but I think after two fish that morning, a breather is not such a bad thing and I was enjoying the rest from casting the glass rod!

In the afternoon we had the lower beat and with favourable conditions and potentially one of the best beats on the river, my confidence was up. 15 minute into our afternoon session, Tony was into another smaller grilse, surely my time had come, salmon were showing everywhere, they were mocking me! I continued to fish all afternoon with confidence, I was enjoying the fishing but never once did my fly tempt a fish.


Wednesday 17th September 2008 Beat 1

We were now two again as John had to leaves us due to family commitments so with no real urgency to get fishing that morning we took our time before fishing beat 1 the uppermost beat, just down from the sluice gates of Loch Morie. This beat is considered to be one of the prettiest beats on the Alness. Beat one is very different from all the other beats. As the river rises up from its dark dramatic valley and into open moorland, the views soften. It was quite a pleasant change to be out of the valley and to enjoy a bigger vista across the hills, it made me realise just how loud the white water was when standing deep in the valley as it resonated off the high cliffs. Now we were standing on a heather and gorse landscape with a meandering river at our feet, more the classic Scottish scene you would expect. Once up on beat one I felt less pressure from the valley below, a chance to take in the gentle hills, and warm autumn colours.

Tony named it “dress up Wednesday”, tweeds, plus fours and silly hats, a good opportunity to relax have a few snifters of malt. Imagine the front cover of Country Life, warm rolling heather hills, a tumbling slate river and then two plums prancing about in tweed, then you get the picture!

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With most of the day spent messing about we did very little fishing but I did manage to catch a stunning tiny wild brown trout with beautiful deep red spots not quite the sport I was expecting on a 3 inch tube fly and a 12ft 6 in salmon rod but pretty all the same. The day soon came to a close, a stunning red encore painted the far hills as we walked back to the house; we were half way through our adventure…

Nick

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