Dee Day land­ings

Our cor­re­spon­dent ac­cepts a wel­come in­vi­ta­tion to the open­ing day on the ‘Sil­ver Dee’, the Ab­erdeen­shire river on which he caught his first fish at the age of five

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - David Pro­fumo caught his first fish at the age of five, and, off the wa­ter, he’s a nov­el­ist and bi­og­ra­pher. He lives up a glen in Perthshire.

David Pro­fumo vis­its the open­ing day on the ‘Sil­ver Dee’

‘The river is seen as the lifeblood of the com­mu­nity and its pride’

BORN 4,000ft up amid the high cor­ries of the Cairn­gorms, in one of Bri­tain’s most re­mote places, the Sil­ver Dee makes its way down from its cold cra­dle through pines and rowan and royal purlieus for nearly 90 miles un­til it reaches the North Sea at Aberdeen.

Al­though I’ve grassed more salmon from other wa­ters, this re­mains my favourite of Scot­land’s larger rivers—not least be­cause, in 1961, I caught my first ever fish here, up at Brae­mar (Mrs Reel Life thinks the hum­ble Slug­gan burn has much to an­swer for). Since then, I have glit­ter­ing mem­o­ries of Deecas­tle dur­ing Easter snow squalls, cast­ing af­ter din­ner at Din­net and Park and night­caps in the Gin Palace at Water­side. Dee af­fi­ciona­dos tend to love her with a pe­cu­liar fer­vour —Au­gus­tus Grim­ble pro­nounced it ‘the best an­gling river in Scot­land’.

That was back in 1913 and, in its hey­day, this was an un­par­al­lelled spring river—many es­tates even hung up their rods in June. One can only imag­ine what the runs must have been like dur­ing those years that Arthur Wood was a ten­ant at Cairn­ton—be­tween 1913 and his death in 1934, fish­ing with a 12ft sin­gle-han­der, he ac­counted for 3,490 salmon to his own rod. ‘This is a large num­ber of fish,’ drily ob­served the great John Ash­ley-cooper, no fan of the man who pi­o­neered greased-line meth­ods here and re­quired his guests to fish 14-hour days.

Largely be­cause it runs clear off gran­ite and of­fers shal­low, streamy fly wa­ter, the Dee re­mains pop­u­lar with an­glers from around the world—in­clud­ing many Scan­di­na­vians, who visit be­fore their own sea­sons open. How­ever, in com­mon with cer­tain other Scot­tish rivers, there have been re­cent con­cerns about dwin­dling catches. Pat­terns of loy­alty are also shift­ing.

Partly thanks to the in­ter­net, some sports­men are be­com­ing more picky and the days are gone when par­ties would ar­rive at the same beat ev­ery year, ir­re­spec­tive of con­di­tions. Some beats are be­ing sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­fished and the rod re­turns are there­fore in dan­ger of be­com­ing a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy.

This sit­u­a­tion was not helped by the an­nus hor­ri­bilis of 2015, when just 2,500 fish were recorded (an all-time low) fol­lowed by the dev­as­ta­tion of Storm Frank over the New Year, which caused the worst floods since the ‘muckle spate’ of 1829, ru­in­ing hun­dreds of lo­cal homes and busi­nesses. Is it re­ally a dooms­day on Dee­side? Last Au­gust, I went to find out.

Per­haps more than any other Scot­tish val­ley, the Dee seems to wel­come you. The river is still seen as the lifeblood of the com­mu­nity and is treated with col­lec­tive pride by most of the lo­cals—wit­ness the large num­ber of non-an­gling vol­un­teers who turned out to clear up the bank­side in the wake of Frank.

It’s not just that the Dee sup­ports some 500 ru­ral jobs (and is worth £15 mil­lion to the econ­omy); you re­ally feel its liq­uid his­tory and the sense of ca­ma­raderie that fos­ters. Also, the sur­round­ings are peer­less.

On a brisk Au­gust morn­ing, I be­gan at Cam­bus O’ May beat in the ex­cel­lent com­pany of young Craig Mcdon­ald and we soon had a nice sea trout from the Clarich pool (nowa­days, the sum­mer sport on Dee can ex­ceed the spring and the healthy sea trout runs are no longer an open se­cret). In her lively book A Por­trait of the River Dee, artist Mel Shand pro­filed some 51 gil­lies with an im­pres­sive spec­trum of back­grounds—quan­tity sur­veyor, oil worker, up­hol­sterer, slaugh­ter­man—and Craig is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the new breed; an ecol­ogy grad­u­ate from Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity, he re­ceived one of the River Dee Trust’s an­nual bur­saries and used it to qual­ify as a pro­fes­sional in­struc­tor. There are oth­ers like him and I’d say the sport’s fu­ture is in good hands.

It also strikes me that the river is very sen­si­bly man­aged by the Dee Board, whose chair­man is the pop­u­lar and knowl­edge­able Richard Gled­son. Al­though his day job as Bal­moral fac­tor meant he couldn’t join us to fish (I have to con­cede that Her Majesty must take prece­dence over Coun­try Life’s fish­ing cor­re­spon­dent), I met some of Richard’s col­leagues over din­ner at the ex­cel­lent Ban­chory Lodge Ho­tel and learned some­thing of the is­sues cur­rently fac­ing the lovely Dee.

River direc­tor Mark Bilsby and fish­eries devel­op­ment of­fi­cer Ross Macdon­ald (the renowned fly dresser) ex­plained that smolt sur­vival was a key is­sue—their track­ing pro­gramme seeks to de­ter­mine why a quar­ter of tagged smolts never suc­cess­fully leaves the river—and that funds were bet­ter spent on habi­tat en­hance­ment rather than any hatch­ery scheme. The trust has built 37 fish passes and planted nearly 56 miles of na­tive wood­land to shel­ter the head­wa­ters. There are signs of im­prove­ment, too: the 2016 rod catch was up by 41% on the pre­vi­ous year, but all con­cede there is still a fair way to go be­fore the river re­gains its full po­ten­tial.

I was in­vited back for this year’s open­ing-day cel­e­bra­tions. On Fe­bru­ary 1, in a marquee on the Ban­chory Lodge lawn, there fore­gath­ered some 300 as­sorted well-wish­ers to see the river blessed by a li­ba­tion of Dee dram from a cer­e­mo­nial quaich and the first of­fi­cial cast be­ing made by co­me­dian and Point­less pre­sen­ter Alexan­der Arm­strong. (Ross tied me some spe­cial flies that I ap­praised with the star guest; I al­most said I hoped the hooks weren’t point­less.)

Then, I was off to his­toric Cairn­ton it­self, where gillie Brian Bro­gan was just putting his net un­der a fresh run 8lb springer— a tri­umphant start. He had ear­marked for me the leg­endary Grey Mare pool, which Wood of­ten kept for him­self, and there, in the grey af­ter­noon light, I landed a bright lit­tle kelt, thereby modestly open­ing my own sea­son.

I’m not sure what ‘the best an­gling river in Scot­land’ ac­tu­ally means, but I do know where I’ll be fish­ing again this year.

For in­for­ma­tion about avail­abil­ity of fish­ing on the Scot­tish Dee, visit www.fishdee.co.uk. David Pro­fumo stayed as a guest of the Ban­chory Lodge Ho­tel (01330 822625; www.ban­chory­lodge.com). For de­tails about Ross Macdon­ald’s flies, visit http:// mac­don­ald­salmonflies.co.uk

Clock­wise from far left: Deep in the Dee; Alexan­der Arm­strong and David Pro­fumo; Richard Gled­son opens events

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