May 2006 – Three
men and a dog
Three men and a dog went to Scotland fishing
last month. The team had been handpicked: Jerry for his
cooking skills, Will for his Range Rover and Dougie, the
West Highland terrier as picker-up and guide.
It was more of an escape committee since
I was forced to flee the house when my wife returned from
Africa and found various stuffed fish and other angling
antiquities that had arrived in her absence. She was barely
over the threshold before the storm clouds began to gather.
A welcoming embrace might have calmed
things had I not decided to seize the moment, suggesting
a display of fine old rods in the hall. Some ideas fall
on stony ground. This one was trampled in to unrecognisable
pieces. No matter how I describe them – “investments”
is my favourite phrase – she does not want them where
she can see them.
To rub it in, she was flushed with success
after catching some tiger fish in balmy Botswana, whereas
I had been fishless and frozen from a brief trip to the
Tay in one of the coldest Aprils on record.
My long-planned “lads week”
on the Dee was the last chance for a spring salmon this
year. It didn’t start well when a hook pierced my
waders. It’s amazing how much icy watery water can
seep through the tiniest hole, drenching your socks.
How to fish in damp waders? The solution
came from John Norris, the Penrith-based fishing shop, where
we stocked up with unnecessary tackle on our way north.
The plastic carrier bag it came in made a great boot liner,
far superior to anything you get at Tesco or Sainsbury;
so useful I bought more stuff on the way back to make a
The key to successful spring salmon fishing
is a comfy hut with a wood burning stove and gas lights.
Our Dee hut had carpets and a sofa. Even the coldest, wettest,
most miserable fishless days can be sustained in such a
sanctuary when accompanied by a nip or two of whisky.
We had more than a nip on the evening
that Jerry cooked haggis for my birthday. Staggering back
to our cottage we mislaid the dog while trying to find Cassiopeia
among the stars. It turned out that the dog knew where he
was all the time which was just as well. Somebody had to
guide us home.
It was midweek and still not a fish between
us. One of the great challenges about spring salmon fishing
– apart from dealing with hangovers - is the variation
of water temperature, height and air pressure that makes
the fishing more of an exercise in problem solving.
Early in the week we had been persevering
with sinking lines and weighted tube flies to get down to
the fish until some Norwegian fishers on a lower beat showed
me the tiny yellow flies that had been tempting salmon when
combined with a floating line. I switched to something similar
and caught a fish finally – a beautiful 10lb hen -on
our last day when the textbook methods had failed.
Returning the fish earned a bottle of
malt whisky from the ghillie. The dog was taking no chances
and went to sit in the car.
Sportfish (www.sportfish.co.uk) had given
me some new Irish flies – Donegal Salar doubles –
to try out and I did hook, and lose, a big fish with one.
They were large flies and I have often wondered if larger
flies are more likely to catch bigger fish (although I know
from summer fishing that small flies can catch them too).
At £3.50 each they seem expensive,
particularly since the cost makes no difference to the fish.
These escalating prices have prompted me to photograph my
open fly boxes as an insurance record. Whether hand tied
or bought singly, it is easy to overlook your accumulated
spending on flies. Some anglers I know rely tactically on
small but frequent outlays of cash to keep their angling
finances under the domestic spending radar.
The conspiracy is maintained in bar room
cabals that congregate after a heavy day on the river. On
the Dee, the bar staff in our closest pub had introduced
a novel phenomenon - the smokers’ lock-in, similar
to the old after-hours version - flouting the newly introduced
smoking ban in Scotland’s pubs and restaurants.
As the last diner departed, the lock was
turned, cigarette packets came out, and the room turned
blue with smoke. In this clandestine atmosphere one businessman
I met confessed he was spending £50,000 a year on
his fishing. But even he had balked, he said, at the £32,000
he had been quoted for a five-rod October week on the River
Tweed’s Junction beat at Kelso. If you want one this
year, forget it. The beat is fully booked.
The fish themselves are costly too. At
£30 a kilo wholesale on London’s Billingsgate
market a 10 to 11lb wild salmon would fetch upwards of £200
in a shop. These high prices are bringing back the poachers.
Forget the romance of “one for the
pot”. Today’s salmon poaching is organised crime.
A water bailiff, just starting his night shift as the sun
set, explained that a skilled team in wet suits could make
its way down a pool, slipping the catch in to Hessian sacks
inside two minutes, leaving no trace of its presence.
The catches are hidden among boxes of
farmed salmon, driven south and sold, often to continental
buyers who turn a blind eye to the “net caught”
You might think about that the next time
you see wild salmon on a menu. Watch out for smoked fish
too. You never know how long the poachers have spent in