It’s more than just catching fish

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When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Invited by close anglng pal Martin Gardner to fish on his rod on the Aboyne Castle beat last Saturday, I arrived there in huge expectation despite the fact that the great River Dee was as low as many ghillies had ever seen it in 25 years, and the majority of the thousands of salmon which had been milling about the harbour mouth waiting for a spate, were now said to be lying in the mud of the Navigation Channel as dolphin poo!

My eternal optimism stems from over 50 years of catching Scottish salmon in all kinds of rivers from wee burns to the “Big Four” of Spey, Dee, Tay and Tweed, in all conditions, too. Experts like me would not be put off by the mere matter of nae water and virtually nae fish...if just one salmon was in the beat, then there was always a chance of success if my long experience led me to choosing the one fly which might tempt the beastie to take hold. So it was throughout the long day, I changed tactics from wee flees fished on a floating line to bigger ones fish in the depths, then big flees fished near the surface followed by wee ones ugging the bottom. I fished them fast. I fished them slow. I altered the angle of cast to offer any fish a different view of each fly. I figure-of-eighted, twitched and pulled the fly line to try to trigger a taking response. I fished hard all day, in the face of a wicked swirling wind which made a mockery of neat casting and forced me to constantly improvise throughout the day (roll cast, single spey, overhead, snap-T and circle-C, for those fly-fishing connoisseurs amongst my readership!)

In what was his last (and probably least productive) season of a lifelong career on the river, the ghillie Alex Coutts stuck with me all day and certainly did his utmost to sustain my enthusiasm. “Aye sir, that would be the top taking place in the whole pool ye are jist approaching the noo, so fish it hard. Aye, man, that’s a bonny cast you are making.” And then the honest bombshell. “Mind you Davie, I hivnae seen a fush there for three months, but yet never know.” And he was perfectly correct..the streamy pool in question might have looked as fishy as any other in the bare-bones Dee, yet the one vital ingredient - Salmo salar - was definitely missing. But the company of men like Alex is never wasted, and we sat on the high riverbank for lunch, exchanging tall stories and watching as the last of the year’s swallows dipped and wheeled aver the river, a family of goldfinches targetted some seeding thistles at the far bank and the odd lizard scurried amongst the boulders as it hunted grasshoppers, stoneflies or other delicacies.

Meeting up with the other angler at 4pm, we were delighted (honestly!) to learn that he had newly inveigled a seven-pound grilse by savagely stripping a five-inch “Sunray Shadow” fly across the surface, which had evoked an equally savage response from a fish which might otherwise have looked with complete disdain upon smaller flies fished across his (sorry her,) nose in time-honoured fashion. The Sunray (a brand new Scandinavian invention but in reality a fly which we Scots have fished for fifty years as the “Collie Dog”) is a tactic I have used before to good effect on the Spey, Findhorn and Dee.