Spoof­ing for sal­mon

Richard Donkin tries his luck on the River Find­horn

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - FIRST CAST - n Richard Donkin is a jour­nal­ist and has fished in Nor­way and Ice­land. His favourite river is the Aberdeen­shire Dee.

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.

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