Spoofing for salmon
Richard Donkin tries his luck on the River Findhorn
AFIRST VISIT TO THE FINDHORN in June. We’d been shown the beat the previous evening but memories of this section, called Mini Daltra, had been all but wiped after a day of fishing other pools. I’d been dropped some way from the river and had no idea where to go. Cutting through trees, I found a sheep on its back with one of its forelegs stuck fast in the cleft of two saplings. I put all my weight on the thinner branch, prising it open and freeing the leg, but the sheep looked in a sorry state. I left it comfortable and lying upright but didn’t give much for its chances. The river was grievously low for June and catches were thin. I’d spent the afternoon in the gorge at Altnahara, a tough section, scrambling among the pools. One of them goes by the name of Black, where a deep channel of water curls around a rocky outcrop covered in lichens and moss. With no more than a pair of wellingtons for grip, I lowered myself into some water-scoured pots and then wondered how I might get out again. There was time to ponder since this is single-bank fishing and I’d just seen a chap leaving the pool on the other side. In his tweeds and Loden hat he looked like a cross between Jacques Tati and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls, a throwback to a bygone age. I put on a Newfoundland Bomber and dabbled a bit with a dead drift. A fish came up, opened its mouth, then thought better of it and returned to the depths. Climbing out of those pots was tricky and something of a lesson. This is not a place to get stuck, particularly in a dry spell when a downpour in the hills can cause a flash flood bringing a wall of water through the gorge. Inside the gorge, a network of platforms and roped sections winds below steep access paths. It’s not a place for those with vertigo and weak knees. Walking boots or wellies are a better choice of footwear than studded boots or thigh waders. The morning’s fishing was exhausting. A switch in the evening to the gentler Daltra beat proved less challenging, though this also has occasional roped parts. Mark had made his way down to a promising pool at the far end. He could choose since we’d “spoofed” for the rota the previous evening. If you’re poor at calculating odds, then try to avoid spoof as a means of apportioning anything, in this case, fishing pools. No matter how I try to understand the strategies in guessing how many coins – from naught to three – the others have in their hands, I always fail. So it was that mine was Hobson’s choice. I’m quite happy anyway to fish the less favoured pool or to follow someone down a section if they’re keen to go first. Mark was perched at the neck of a classic-looking pool called Dalnashaugh. He’d already fished the stretch below and settled on this one as the best bet.
“In his tweeds and Loden hat he looked like a cross between Jacques Tati and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls”
I headed to the next pool down, a frothy narrow section called White Stream, rated a low-water pool by Ewan Brodie, whose family own and run the Lethen Estate, including the Dunearn beat below and above Dulcie Bridge. In the distant past, the Brodies also owned the Glenferness fishings on the right bank but were forced to sell it when an imprudent ancestor ran up gambling debts. I dare say he was a poor spoof player, too. Lethen provides maps of pools with detailed notes on how they perform at different depths of water, a welcome aid for first-timers such as ourselves. More estates should do this. The well-oxygenated water of White Stream was sure to hold fish, a judgement confirmed after a few casts with a size 13 Crathie fly on 10lb monofilament. The take was nothing remarkable but it was soon clear the fish was larger than I’d thought. It wasn’t for giving in and there was a dearth of slack water apart from one small inlet. Mark arrived after a few minutes and told me how he would be playing the fish if it were his, guiding it around a slab of rock to an easier stretch of slack water further down. I ignored him. The rocky outcrop would obscure my view and the line could scrub on the stone. Besides, it was my fish to lose. All the same, he had a good net, and it was becoming clear when the fish showed, that my net was too small for the job. As fish go, though, this one was quite well behaved. It made a run or two, stubbornly held midstream for a while, then began to weaken before it was scooped into the net. How big? We reckoned about 16lb, a firm-bellied hen fish, safely returned. On the way back we noticed the sheep had gone. “Karma,” said Mark. “It’s because you saved it.” Now I’m not a religious man but I do wonder if good deeds are sometimes rewarded.