1993 - Salmon fishing on the River Beauly, Scotland
He was dressed by Hardy's
of Alnwick but it could have been Hardy Amies. Teeth clamped
around the remains of a Davidoff, standing waist-deep in
clear running water, the fisherman eased back his rod and
cast the fly.
He cast with all the assurance
of someone who had four salmon on the bank in the time it
took to smoke his cigar. They looked like bars of silver-made-flesh,
only silver is probably cheaper.
Fishing the Lower Falls
beat of the River Beauly in Inverness-shire in July is a
heartening experience at a time when estuary netting, drift
netting at sea, disease and seals have contributed to a
decline in the Scottish salmon. On the Lower Falls beat
the fish are there in large numbers, and they are being
There is a price to pay,
however: £70,000 for the right to use one rod in perpetuity
for a single July week. Stalking potential buyers can be
a sport in itself. Further along the bank, a visiting American
had rented a rod with a view to buying if his week went
Clad in black waders, deer-stalker
hat and pale cream waistcoat, he looked part-frogman, part-fisherman.
He had flown over on Concorde, lured by the mystique of
the Scottish salmon. But would he take the bait? He had
caught one fish in three days.
Others were catching bagfuls.
Eighteen had been taken on the Tuesday and 75 the previous
week, the famous Ferry Pool living up to its reputation.
Yet one woman was still inclined to grumble. She had not
caught anything that morning.
'I can't understand the
attitude of some fishers', said William Midwood, managing
director of River Beauly Fishings which owns the beats.
Midwood is fishing -mad, comes from a landed background
and manages to blend his passion for the salmon and its
welfare with the realities of running a salmon river for
The Upper, Middle and Lower
Beauly beats were bought from The Hon Simon Fraser, Master
of Lovat and son of Lord Lovat, whose family had owned the
fishings for centuries, in 1990. The new owners adopted
the fashionable late-1980s trend of parcelling-up river
beats and selling them in 'rod-weeks'. The stigma of Spanish
holiday disasters has led most of the fishing companies
to describe their time-share arrangements as syndication,
but it amounts to the same thing.
The price that fisheries
charge depends on the average catches. The £70,000
asking price for the Lower Beauly beat, for example, was
based on an average of seven fish a week at that time of
year, or £10,000 per fish. Asking prices are lower
at other times of the year when fish are scarcer.
Because some people catch
more than others, and because salmon do not always oblige
by swimming up the river at the appointed time, the wisest
syndicate managers are investing in the future.
The managers of Beauly Fishings
have taken something of a designer-river approach, creating
lies for fish where none existed. If the water is too low
it is raised by the creation of a weir. If the salmon need
rocks for a resting lie, they get them. If the fisherman
needs a light for his cigar there is a gillie on hand ready
Instead of leaving all the
returning salmon to their own devices, the gillies spend
the winter seeding the feeder burns with fry, hatched from
salmon, stripped of their eggs and milt.
The fry are ladled from
buckets, one into every square meter of water. 'They soon
establish their own territories and do not bunch up in shoals,
which is what happens if they are all thrown in together.
This way, I believe, they have a much better chance of survival',
His hatchery programme
is concentrating on breeding spring fish, in the belief
that their fry will also return in the springtime. The Beauly
has an extensive feeder system, spoiled partly by the hydro
dams which have dried up some of the headwaters.
Midwood is conscious that
the company owns 12 miles of the river and not every part
fishes as well as the Lower Beat. While Lower Beauly was
teeming with fish, only 300 had made their way up the two
dams, via twice-daily lifts, to the Upper Beauly where I
was fishing . Still, the fish were there, if not so easy
My salmon fishing experience
is basic. Most of it has been spent not catching fish on
the River Tay in the spring. The three days spent not catching
fish on the Beauly differed only in that I was not catching
them with the fly as opposed to not catching them with the
spinner or the shrimp.
Just once in those three
days a fish rose to the fly, but I managed to snatch it
out of its mouth just in time. The gillie groaned, the man
from Trout and Salmon magazine groaned also and Midwood
groaned too, but I was happy. It has taken many years of
thrashing salmon waters to perfect this ability to avoid
catching salmon. A long time ago I caught a 23lb fish. It
was my first, a big one, and I have not since seen its like.
© Financial Times