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 (castabroad.co.uk) 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.