In­clu­sive Ness

Craig Somerville rec­om­mends a club that of­fers af­ford­able sport for all the fam­ily, with a ter­rific chance of a salmon


Craig Somerville finds pas­sion­ate mem­bers and great fish­ing at the In­ver­ness An­gling Club

IN­VER­NESS AN­GLING CLUB, de­spite its ac­com­plish­ments, mod­estly lays lit­tle claim to them. What should be screamed from the moun­tain tops is that it is a bea­con of com­mu­nity en­gage­ment, good prac­tice and great fish­ing – a tem­plate for pub­lic and pri­vate fish­eries. I be­lieve this 101-year-old as­so­ci­a­tion – formed in Au­gust 1917 – has got it right for all of to­day’s an­glers. Most of us worry about where to fish. Mod­ern life con­strains our time and we’re un­sure of the value of what’s on of­fer. On a pub­lic-run fish­ery, price, catch re­ports, so­cial-me­dia ac­tiv­ity and how we’ll be treated as an out­sider de­ter­mines whether or not we turn up. There’s lit­tle you can do about the peo­ple you meet on the river­bank. Which is partly why many of us choose to book pri­vate beats. When you turn up at a pub­lic beat for the first time, other an­glers could be awk­ward, rude, neg­a­tive or even threat­en­ing. Is it safe to leave gear in­side your car? Do you need to look over your shoul­der? But with­out giv­ing it a go, how are you to find out? Be­sides read­ing ar­ti­cles like this. What I took away from my week­end on the In­ver­ness AC wa­ter last Au­gust was the sense of com­mu­nity and the warm High­land wel­come – such a breath of fresh air. Hope­fully this is true of other pub­licly owned fish­eries. Forc­ing cups of cof­fee down me at the hut upon ar­rival, show­ing me – a stranger – their 30-year-old fly-boxes packed with only two or three pat­terns that clearly work, of­fer­ing ad­vice and giv­ing their time – there was no end to their gen­eros­ity. This wel­come came from young, old, male and fe­male. A re­fresh­ing restora­tion of my opin­ion of oth­ers in our often cliquey sport. How­ever, these warm-hearted lo­cals will not lie down to those who abuse their fish­ery. They are proud of what they have, vol­un­tar­ily com­mit­ting count­less hours to the river, and ev­ery­one goes out of their way to share what they and their fam­i­lies have shaped over gen­er­a­tions. They feel obliged to pro­tect it. I have so much re­spect for this cen­tury-old pub­licly-owned fish­ery leased from the Com­mon Good Fund of In­ver­ness. I met a French­man in shorts and wellies at 5am on Sat­ur­day morn­ing. He was bran­dish­ing a brand-new bud­get spin­ning rod with a cou­ple of Tobys he’d bought from the lo­cal shop to “ave a go”. I met a fam­ily from down south that asked me how to get per­mits for their kids. I met sea­soned fly-an­glers tak­ing it all in their stride, com­pletely okay with an­glers and passers-by on “their” wa­ter. And then there were young an­glers who treated the fish­ing as if their lives de­pended on it, cast­ing Spacex-like spey lines across the river, but leav­ing room so that the less able an­glers still had a good chance. The dog-walk­ers and pic­nick­ers, schoolkids with chips and Lu­cozade, cy­clists, zim­mer frames and jog­gers all me­an­dered among the an­cient stands of pine, beech and oak through which the Ness just hap­pened to run. What a per­fect scene for a town wa­ter. My visit co­in­cided with a well-at­tended ladies’ day led by Anne Wood­cock of Fish­pal, who vol­un­teers her time for the cause. The days take place all over the coun­try through­out the sea­son and raise funds for lo­cal char­i­ties. This time “the girls” were hosted by Sue Munro, IT man­ager of High­land Hospice. The Provost, coun­cil­lor He­len Carmichael, also gave her time, pre­sent­ing a cheque to the hospice. What in­ter­ested me was some­thing I’d not con­sid­ered be­fore as a 6ft 2in bearded male. If

turn­ing up at a new river is daunt­ing for many men, I was told it is dou­bly daunt­ing for women in this male-dom­i­nated sport. Who knows what wel­come they’d get, what sort of tongue-in-cheek com­ments would be whis­pered, or in the case of one fe­male an­gler who has worked in the an­gling trade for more than 20 years, what as­sump­tions would be made about her as a woman – she told me about the time she was talked down to like a novice by a brat work­ing in a high-end tackle-shop. All very dis­cour­ag­ing. These fan­tas­tic ladies’ days re­move any ap­pre­hen­sion by group­ing like-minded women an­glers to­gether, cater­ing for all skill lev­els. The in­clu­sive­ness of the club also helps. Sue Munro said, “They love the ladies here on the Ness. On some beats on other rivers you feel barely tol­er­ated as a woman and wouldn’t go back, es­pe­cially on your own. And then there are places that are bril­liant – this is one of them. “The num­ber of lady be­gin­ners that say I’ve al­ways wanted to go fly-fish­ing, but never found the op­por­tu­nity. Well, this is the best way for them to get started. There are lots of other ladies’ days go­ing on around the coun­try, so more ladies will get into it. These days are op­por­tu­ni­ties for us to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, too. Oh, and some of the ladies go be­cause of the huts. Fa­cil­i­ties are a fac­tor and I think In­ver­ness is go­ing to have a new hut next sea­son.” Scott Macken­zie, for­mer world cham­pion caster, was also part of the gang, sup­port­ing his lo­cal fish­ery and the hospice by giv­ing a demon­stra­tion and of­fer­ing his ad­vice. The Ness is his home river: he was gillie at Ness Side, just up­stream, for 12 years. He said “The ladies have an ad­van­tage. His­tor­i­cally, they’re the ones that catch the big­ger fish. When I tell the be­gin­ners that, it al­ways takes the pres­sure off.” Then he pointed to the neck of Lit­tle Isle pool. “That’s where I caught my first salmon in 1978. It’s still a great place for any­one to catch a fish.” He’s right. Peo­ple came from all over Scot­land to fish the Ness last July and Au­gust. It was one of few rivers that were do­ing well. In one week, 53 salmon were caught. As I spoke to Sue, we were in­ter­rupted by a fish splash­ing in front of us. A woman known as Tesco Tracy im­me­di­ately cast for it…

THE HUT WHERE YOU AR­RIVE af­ter an easy drive from In­ver­ness over­looks a per­fect pool. It’s left bank with an­kle-deep wad­ing on the in­side bend and fish run­ning up your bank. Lit­tle Isle is 200 yards long, de­pend­ing on height, with a lovely head and a slow tail; 2ft-5ft deep through­out its length. It pro­duces a huge num­ber of fish. In Au­gust 2018,

“Ev­ery sin­gle one was fresh. What other beat in Scot­land could say that last year?”

more than 150 were caught. Yes, you’ve read cor­rectly and I have dou­ble-checked. Ev­ery sin­gle one was fresh. What other beat (or river) in Scot­land could say that last year, never mind in one month in sum­mer? For only £30 a day for a vis­i­tor, or £150 a year, I thought Lit­tle Isle would be the only pool worth fish­ing and the rest of the wa­ter would be poor, but how wrong I was. From top to bot­tom of the three-mile beat ev­ery cast is fishy. It’s rel­a­tively quick-flow­ing and shal­low – per­fect for the fly. The river is con­trolled by a dam, mean­ing it nearly al­ways runs clear, and in long hot spells the com­pen­sa­tion flow is very fish­able. Some an­glers adopt the old-fash­ioned “try fly then win with spin” tac­tic; how­ever, far more fly-rods than spin­ners were be­ing used by the lo­cals when I was there. Worm­ing is also per­mit­ted, but worms didn’t seem to be any more ef­fec­tive than the fly. With one caught and one lost early on my first morn­ing, lo­cal an­gler Davie Dyce hooked a fish be­low the hut in a lie for rest­ing fish just off the tide. He turned around and gen­tly walked up to Mandy Reed. In the finest spirit of fish­ing, they swapped rods and Mandy ex­pertly played the fish to the gye net. An au­di­ence clapped on the river­bank; like-minded com­pany shar­ing the cel­e­bra­tion. Well done, Davie and Mandy – a great fish for ladies’ day. I headed off to ex­plore the rest of the beat. At the top, on the right bank, is a gor­geous fly pool called the Weir with Mill Stream be­low. On the op­po­site bank is a me­mo­rial to Davie’s fa­ther, a sil­ver salmon gleam­ing in the sun­light. Well-known an­gler

Steven Black, my guide for the morn­ing, said that when the wa­ter is high it laps the salmon and is a spe­cial sight. Mill pool seems end­less and can be fished from both banks. It takes a morn­ing to fish it just once from the new road bridge to the tail with count­less boils po­ten­tially hold­ing fish. Be­low Mill is Macintyre, best fished from the left bank (in­side bend). It is a lovely pool in thick de­cid­u­ous for­est with the tur­rets of mil­lion­aires’ man­sions pok­ing through the canopy. I kept go­ing all the way to Lit­tle Isle and then on to Sil­ver Wells, be­low a foot­bridge and with the back­drop of In­ver­ness Cas­tle. A sub­merged croy on the left bank at the bridge slows many run­ning fish and the right bank proved suc­cess­ful for Sam Mut­ters, who caught a beau­ti­ful salmon dur­ing the week­end. An­other bat­tle that at­tracted spec­ta­tors, this time the fish was net­ted by Stephen Stronach, hus­band to Tesco Tracey, as she was nick­named by the other ladies, and dad to the coolest and youngest lady an­gler of the week­end, Cheyenne. Stephen was in the right place at the right time to run across the foot­bridge and net the fish in his shoes and socks in 2ft of wa­ter.

IF YOU ARE LOOK­ING for a great fish­ing lo­ca­tion with one of the best catch records in Scot­land at very af­ford­able rates, eas­ily ac­cessed by the A9, with wel­com­ing an­glers, then the Ness is for you who­ever you are and wher­ever you are from. The beat runs all the way into the town where res­tau­rants, shops and ho­tels line the wa­ter. Your kids will be safe and your fam­ily won’t be bored, and there’s a very good chance that your next fish will be sil­ver. I think I’ll get a per­mit this year – and I’ll in­vite my daugh­ter to join me.

CRAIG SOMERVILLE works for Castabroad Me­dia ( A videog­ra­pher and mar­keter, he pro­vides me­dia for sport­ing es­tates and river trusts.

BE­LOW Provost of In­ver­ness He­len Carmichael takes a les­son from in­struc­tor David Ma­teer.

BE­LOW Sam Mut­ter’s beau­ti­ful fish with its dis­tinc­tive Ness shape.

An evening cast on one of the most stun­ning pools in Scot­land: Lit­tle Isle.

ABOVE AND LEFT Chris Con­roy and Chris Daphne of the Ness DSFB demon­strate ju­ve­nile fish habi­tat.

Hold­ing the cheque for the High­land Hospice (left to right): Provost He­len Carmichael, Sue Munro and Gra­ham Macken­zie. In the red top is promis­ing ju­nior an­gler Cheyenne Stronach, 14 years old, who re­cently won the River Spey's Alan Smith tro­phy for most im­proved ju­nior an­gler.

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