I spy...

Jim Coates stalks salmon on the Find­horn

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - Contents - JIM COATES lives in Perthshire and fishes on the Dee, Spey, Tay and Tweed. He takes a keen in­ter­est in con­ser­va­tion and fundrais­ing. He has also fished in Alaska, Rus­sia and Ire­land.

Jim Coates watches salmon in the rocky pools of the Find­horn, but finds tempt­ing them to the fly much more dif­fi­cult

I’D HEARD SNIP­PETS about the Find­horn. Good things. It was not a river I knew much about. Pic­tures in mag­a­zines of spec­tac­u­lar pools had been tan­ta­lis­ing. Then, in May, I re­ceived an in­vi­ta­tion to fish the Lo­gie es­tate. The beats lie eight miles from the tide, above the fa­mous Find­horn gorge and the tem­per­a­ture bar­rier of Poolie Falls. By late April the fish should be clear­ing the falls in num­bers, with Lo­gie the first rest­ing wa­ter. It was a mouth-wa­ter­ing prospect. I called ahead to get tackle point­ers from gillie Ewan Man­son. Ewan was mea­sured and ex­plained that the fish­ing was tougher than nor­mal, there were far fewer fish than ex­pected. But they had man­aged three the week be­fore. Ewan left me with the thought that in the 14 sea­sons he’s over­seen at Lo­gie, they hadn’t known a blank week in May. Lo­gie of­fers fish­ing for four rods, split into two-rod beats. A nice ro­ta­tion of­fers fish­ing on the Lo­gie beat every day and then the mid­dle beat on Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day and the top beat on Tues­day, Thurs­day and Satur­day. The mid­dle and top beats are ex­clu­sive, with no op­po­si­tion. The Lo­gie beat is sin­gle bank, but a gen­er­ous help­ing of 11 pools leaves plenty of scope. I was greeted by high baro­met­ric pres­sure, low wa­ter and a brassy sun. Con­di­tions were against us: Ewan knew it and I knew it. On the other hand, things were set up for stalk­ing rather than fish­ing the pools blind. This is Ewan’s favourite M.O. “It’s not about big num­bers of fish,” he ex­plained. In these con­di­tions a bo­nanza was never on the cards, “but we can have some real fun, don’t worry about that.” His en­thu­si­asm lifted me im­me­di­ately. A switch rod and seven-weight float­ing line was hastily put up, I scooped a hand­ful of polylead­ers into my back­pack along with tip­pet and a fly-box and we were away. Con­di­tions be dammed... AT CAVE POOL, Ewan has clam­bered into po­si­tion high above the lie, flat on his front, head raised just enough to peer over the rock face and down into the wa­ter. In­ter­mit­tently, a clear patch of wa­ter swirls along, a bit like a port­hole. It takes a while to tune into them, but once you have your eye in, it’s pos­si­ble to fol­low these swirling port­holes down­stream for a cou­ple of me­tres. To­day the vis­i­bil­ity is about as good as it gets and Ewan can see right into the lie from his lofty perch. There’s a good fish in res­i­dence. I can’t see it from wa­ter level so Ewan re­lays direc­tions. It’s a short but tricky cast (which, by the way, could sum up a great many of this beat’s be­guil­ing pools). I need to get my line around the rock face con­ceal­ing me, and land the fly just up­stream of the fish with min­i­mum splash. Some of you may have made high­pres­sure casts to­wards per­mit on dis­tant salt flats, or a mon­ster Ir­ish lough trout cruis­ing and sip­ping tiny cae­nis. Well, this was one of those mo­ments. Af­ter miles of search­ing, clam­ber­ing and peer­ing we had fi­nally tracked down a springer, which frankly in the 2018 sea­son may just as well have been a sea-liced Scot­tish uni­corn. The scarcity only added to the ex­cite­ment and we were both bristling. I’ve a small Mon­key on the busi­ness end, dressed on a lit­tle sil­ver bot­tle tube. My cast is de­cent, the leader un­furls and the fly lands with a sat­is­fy­ing plop, an at­ten­tion-grab­ber with­out be­ing alarm­ing. I’m shame­fully pleased with my­self as I wait a mo­ment and then tweak the fly across the flow. Sud­denly I can see the fish as it lunges out from be­hind the rock­face to in­ter­cept my fly. He’s right in front of me.

“Oh, he’s got that,” blurts Ewan. I kept tweak­ing the line, ex­pect­ing it to go solid but it didn’t – the fish had missed. “What hap­pened? I thought he had it.” “Yeah, me too, but he never touched it.” I checked the hook and waited for Ewan to con­firm the fish was back on his sta­tion. It was clearly a fresh cock-fish-shaped uni­corn in the mid-teens, sea-lice sta­tus un­con­firmed but heav­ily sus­pected. I cast again, try­ing to get the fly right back in the slot. As the fly plopped down again, the fish raced from its sta­tion back into my view, for all the world like a stocked trout af­ter a pel­let. We could both see the flash of white as its jaws opened and closed and then a shake of the head. Bingo! Or so we thought. Amaz­ingly, and I’ve no idea what

“We could both see the flash of white as its jaws opened and closed and then a shake of the head”

went wrong, the line re­mained limp. As far as we could both tell he was fully com­mit­ted. “Let’s give it a mo­ment and let him cool down,” coun­selled Ewan from up top. I quite liked hav­ing an all-see­ing coach fig­ure. “Should I change fly?” “Sil­ver Ally’s,” came the re­ply from on high. Great medicine for fresh-run salmon and I felt con­fi­dent with the choice. By the time I’d changed, the fish was back on sta­tion. Some thin cloud had scud­ded away and Ewan could see him as clear as day. As the small Ally’s swung closer, the fish started to flare its pec­toral and dor­sal fins “This fish is tick­ing,” chor­tled Ewan, clearly lov­ing every mo­ment. With the sub­tlest ad­just­ment, the salmon rose in the flow and be­gan to fol­low the fly, and once again I could see him. Then the cur­rent caught the belly of my line and the fly ac­cel­er­ated away, rem­i­nis­cent of a bun­gled dry-fly drift. In­stinc­tively, I cast again, but too quickly – the fish wasn’t back on sta­tion. Big mis­take, the body of my line went right past his nose. The game was up. Our uni­corn bolted up­stream. Bug­ger! We re­grouped over cof­fee and slabs of cake at Lo­gie Steading. Then, fit to burst, we re-joined the fray. We clam­bered, peered and searched pool af­ter beau­ti­ful pool in vain. Fi­nally, at the es­tate’s far­thest pool from the tide, we found a small pod of fish. Scum pool is a cracker, un­for­tu­nately named af­ter a dark back eddy on the far bank where beech husk and tree pollen were gath­er­ing. We hadn’t no­ticed un­til now, but the gravel beach at the head of the pool showed the tell-tale sign of a ris­ing river. Wa­ter ten­sion on the dry stone be­trayed the small­est rise. It hadn’t rained on us, but there must have been a cloud­burst up­river in the early hours. The fish had sensed it, though, and we could clearly see four springers jostling ex­cit­edly in the shal­low stream at the head of the pool, wait­ing to run. There was an in­ter­mit­tent flash­ing in the wa­ter. Their flanks were catch­ing the bright sun­shine. It was quite a sight. My small Ally’s was com­pletely ignored. So much for

fresh springers hav­ing a go at any­thing. A big­ger and flashier Mon­key soon got a re­sponse: one of the fish peeled off and chased the fly be­fore mak­ing a splashy slash at it. This hap­pened twice more but then the fish got bored. That was the last ac­tion, my time was up and I’d blanked. I felt bit­terly dis­ap­pointed for Ewan, he was des­per­ate for me to catch but de­spite painstak­ingly cov­er­ing the beat we just couldn’t force it. Some­times, salmon just won’t take. I’d had a ball and although I had blanked, some­how I still felt I’d had some sport – I just hadn’t won the con­test. The late-spring and sum­mer fish­ing in 2018 won’t be noted as a vin­tage sea­son. Sport all over the Bri­tish Isles was wor­ry­ingly below par. I even heard a ru­mour that Del­fur (top dog on the Spey) had a blank prime week. I think that’s one of the signs of the apoca­lypse? Would I rec­om­mend Lo­gie to you? I think we have to look be­yond the failed runs of 2018 and hope for bet­ter times in the sea­sons ahead. This year wasn’t a Find­horn thing, it was a na­tional cri­sis. Lo­gie of­fers dif­fi­cult, tech­ni­cal fish­ing in parts with each pool pos­ing a new chal­lenge. I found it ut­terly ab­sorb­ing and to stalk a big fresh springer is a real and rare thrill. It’s not some­thing that catch stats can ex­plain. On larger rivers the vis­ual di­men­sion is usu­ally miss­ing. Fish­ing blind, when con­di­tions are un­favourable and few fish are show­ing can be de­mor­al­is­ing. The dif­fer­ence be­tween blank­ing like that and tar­get­ing vis­i­ble fish, but fail­ing to catch them is sig­nif­i­cant. For this rea­son, I feel that Lo­gie is well worth a visit. In good con­di­tions, fish spot­ting may be harder but the chance of suc­cess and a stun­ning lo­ca­tion com­pen­sate. If con­di­tions are un­favourable, you can take on the head-to-head chal­lenge of tempt­ing a vis­i­ble salmon. The springer that evaded me at Cave pool is etched on my brain. I’ll be back – I want a re-match.

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: CORIN SMITH

LEFT One of Jim’s Mon­key flies tied on a small bot­tle tube.

ABOVE Jim's view­point at Slate pool.

Some­thing or­ange and shrimpy emerges from Ewan's pocket. FAR LEFT

LEFT Wellies or hik­ing boots are bet­ter than waders to ne­go­ti­ate Lo­gie's steep banks.

LEFT They must all run up this chute and that thought con­cen­trates the mind.

LEFT A bright Lo­gie fish, taken on an­other day.

RIGHT Jim cov­ers the streamy wa­ter at the head of Scum pool where springers were glint­ing un­der the wa­ter.

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