Jim Coates stalks salmon on the Findhorn
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.
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.