April 2007 – A trip
to the Dee
What makes a great place to fish? For some it might be
the exhilarating prospect of saltwater flats off Cuba, for
others, the quiet contemplation of nature on a sparkling
Hampshire chalk stream or the solitude of some small hill
There is no doubting the drama of a shoal of bonefish,
their tails glinting in the sunlight, heading your way as
you prepare to cast. Once the hook is set, that first powerful,
zinging run never fails to impress.
Equally, it’s hard to beat the surface take of a
hungry trout on a water humming with insect life. The intimacy
of the contest, the stalking of the fish, has an ageless
I love them all in their separate ways. But if I could
choose one venue above all others, it would be the banks
of a Scottish salmon river in spring. If I could be extra
choosy it would be the Aberdeenshire Dee.
Where better to spend the morning of my 50th birthday,
as I did last week, than on a prime pool in the middle Dee?
All it needed was a fish and, like the ubiquitous London
bus, two came along in quick succession, both within the
hour. That was my lot for six days of fishing. But the timing
Had I failed to catch I would have been disappointed but
not downhearted. It’s a privilege to fish a river
like the Dee. There’s a wonderful sense of history
about the place. Every hut seems to have been chosen for
its perfect setting and you feel you are sharing in some
The river is one of those rare places in our modern world
where it’s possible to stand almost unobtrusively
among every other living thing – the oyster catches
and sandpipers, the dipper and the heron; the banks coated
with wood anemone and violets and the trees bursting their
buds in a variety of vivid greens.
If nature is saying anything it has to be: “Relax,
take it easy, go with the flow, just cast your fly and let
it happen.” But that’s hard when you have driven
500 miles from the south of England.
On the way we stopped in Penrith to visit the John Norris
tackle shop and Fifteen, the café opposite that does
a fine Bri and bacon sandwich. I am in the market for a
new salmon rod so the staff at John Norris lent me a 15ft
Loop Opti. Sportfish of Reading had also loaned the Sage
Z-Axis and the Hardy Angel rods so we were spoilt for choice.
I should point out that I am not a tackle snob although
I know some who are. The rod is a tool – a spring
for getting out line, a lever for getting fish back. But
there are rods you like and those you don’t. The Loop
Opti, at just under £600, is a rod you will like.
Trust me. It has a forgiving action that can make a journeyman
caster look better than average.
The Sage is very similar but more expensive Hardy was a
big disappointment. It shoots line but it’s heavy
and stiff and, at £1,100, it’s nearly £400
more than the Sage with, as far as I can see, no added value.
The river was deceptive this year since low rainfall had
created summer conditions. One fisherman on the beat below
caught five fish in his week, fishing the same pattern -
a size 10 stoat’s tail and silver fly.
I just couldn’t do that. I’m constantly chopping
and changing. Yet the fish I caught went to the same fly
– a large black Frances, popular in Iceland, that
had caught a fish for me on the Tay two weeks earlier.
It shouldn’t have worked since I was heading down
the best holding pool on the beat that had been heavily
fished all week. Sometimes it pays to flash something big
through the water, drawn fast over the lie. I’m sure
it irritates the fish and if there is one skill I do possess,
it is an ability to irritate.
The other fish was notable since it fell to the only first
time salmon fisherman in our party, Bryan Kruse, who was
casting like a natural and thoroughly deserved the catch.
I had forgotten what that first salmon feels like until
I saw Bryan pumping the air with his fist.
Another attraction of the spring river is the mystery,
the sense of not knowing whether the fish that will take
your fly will be a 6 lb grilse or something in the 20lb
class, or - we can dream - something bigger still.
The river was teeming with life, providing great sport
for trout with the odd hatch. Salmon parr were everywhere.
Credit for that must go to sensible fishery management and
to the prodigious efforts made by the North Atlantic Salmon
Fund in buying off netting interests.
The work of its chairman, Orri Vigfusson, was recognised
this week when he was given the prestigious Goldman Environmental
Prize in San Francisco. Since the late 1980s Orri has raised
$35m and negotiated a series of deals to buy out salmon
netting operations from commercial fishermen, while helping
to establish sustainable alternatives.
Who knows how much we owe our catches today to these efforts?
All I do know is that the 80s and 90s were dark days on
the Atlantic salmon rivers as indiscriminate fishing at
sea reduced stocks to dangerously low levels. Orri’s
intervention cut the Gordian knot of political and environmental
debate. So I toasted him on my birthday. He couldn’t
have sent a better present.
See also: God
dog, bad dog and Flies
for Scotland - spring salmon fishing from my blog Donkin