Be­tween a rod and a hard place

Our cor­re­spon­dent mo­tors to the High­lands to bag a salmon from the fa­bled Oykel

Country Life Every Week - - Reel Life - David Pro­fumo

IT was -3˚C at dawn as I headed up the A9 on a fine May morn­ing with sun­rise strik­ing smoke from the road­side lochans and the verges glow­ing with gorse. I was head­ing north, to the glo­ri­ous Oykel, in search of a late springer, but it didn’t look as if we were go­ing to get much cloud cover.

I sel­dom in­clude tackle ap­praisals in this col­umn, how­ever, I must tell you about the new rod I was tot­ing—a 14ft four-piece model from the FX1 Graphene se­ries de­signed by Spey-cast­ing cham­pion and all-round good egg Scott Macken­zie. This su­perb weapon in­cor­po­rates mi­cro­scop­i­cally small nano-tubes of graphene, the thinnest ma­te­rial known to Man, dis­cov­ered at the Univer­sity of Manch­ester in 2004, which— be­ing harder than di­a­mond and 200 times stronger than steel— is now be­ing used in the man­u­fac­ture of ev­ery­thing from con­doms to a sieve that can re­move salt from sea­wa­ter.

The pos­i­tive prop­er­ties this in­no­va­tion of­fers to a fish­ing rod in­clude flex­i­bil­ity, light­ness, hoop strength and ex­cel­lent pow­ers of re­cov­ery. Now, I’m as scep­ti­cal as any­one about gee-whizz an­gling in­no­va­tions (über-ad­di­tives to baits, lines that sud­denly let you cast into the next par­ish), but this is no gim­mick. I test-drove two of Scott’s other mod­els last sea­son, catch­ing fish on them in Ice­land and Rus­sia, and was so im­pressed I de­cided to buy one. De­spite cost­ing just short of £1,000, they’ve been sell­ing like hot cakes baked by Mary Berry.

My host was Todd Warnock, the en­tre­pre­neur­ial Amer­i­can pro­pri­etor of Dornoch’s su­per de luxe Links House Ho­tel (01862 810279; www.linkshouse­dornoch. com). As we drove up the Kyle of Suther­land, I re­called the mag­is­te­rial W. L. Calder­wood’s sen­tence ‘the district has ever been fa­mous for its salmon’. I’ve taken fish off the Car­ron, Cass­ley and Shin, but am still an Oykel vir­gin. This historic river (Ec­cial­bakki in Norse sagas) was once the Suther­land county bound­ary and crofters used to ford it on stilts. In Early Celtic, the name means ‘high ris­ing river’, but, to­day, it was reg­is­ter­ing around zero on the gauge.

I was in the hands of Billy Mur­doch, a won­der­fully knowl­edge­able and con­ge­nial young ghillie, who is a friend of the Macken­zie clan, and thus ap­proved of my choice of weapon. He be­gan me at the fa­bled Oykel Falls and told me the spring run had been pro­duc­tive, with more than 50 fish taken off the four beats of the Lower River just the pre­vi­ous week, af­ter a wel­come rise in wa­ter.

How­ever, now, there was a heat­wave—‘chal­leng­ing con­di­tions,’ said Billy the ghillie—as next

‘Hon­estly, this was the salmon rod that I’ve been wait­ing for

we tried the falls pool on the Einig (a tributary), where Todd had moved a prodi­gious fish ear­lier in the week. We swam the Col­lie Dog—a fly in­vented here and first shown to me in the 1970s by Neil Graesser of Rose­hall— but it was on a small Pot-bel­lied Pig that I moved my only fish of the morn­ing, down in the Bends, although he would not come again.

At lun­cheon, how­ever, we learned that Jon Gibb (swami of the west coast Lochy) had very skil­fully win­kled out—and re­turned —a glis­ter­ing 14-pounder, from the cel­e­brated Wash­er­woman’s Pool. Need­less to say, I bom­barded it much of the af­ter­noon and was re­warded with a flash of flank from deep within the pot, but could not man­age a touch, knock or tunk.

Back­ing up the long Junc­tion Pool be­low, I did turn a small fish at the neck and the new Macken­zie be­haved im­pec­ca­bly, even in my hands, be­ing for­giv­ing if I mist­imed a cast­ing stroke and seem­ingly re­quir­ing less ef­fort. Hon­estly, this was the salmon rod I’ve been wait­ing for.

Our party en­joyed a splen­did din­ner back at Links and, af­ter a cou­ple of life-sized cock­tails, I was even able to speak civilly to Jon once more, who made his achieve­ment even more en­vi­able by be­ing mod­est about it (I would have been pon­tif­i­cat­ing like Mis­ter Toad).

Alas, the sec­ond day proved even less pro­pi­tious, with a chilly up­stream wind added to the glare. Still, from a van­tage point above the Rock Pool, we en­joyed watch­ing sev­eral fish re­act to var­i­ous flies and there was even a hefty lam­prey scrawl­ing its way up­stream.

Be­low the bridge over the Long, we teased a cou­ple of low­ly­ing springers, but they ig­nored our an­tics. And so I re­main an Oykel vir­gin, but, one day, Todd will­ing, I hope to be back on the Ec­cial­bakki and per­haps the high-ris­ing river will live up to its name. For more in­for­ma­tion about Macken­zie rods, visit www.macken­ziefly­fish­

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.

You never for­get your first time, ex­cept, that is, if you don’t man­age to catch any fish

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