After five solid days of fishing without a touch (plus four solid days without a touch fished alongside me by two fishing friends to whom I raise my hat in salute) I was scribbling notes for my blog post on Friday night just gone along the following lines: Why is the Nith so hard, Part 2?
Scribbled on the back of a note pad commandered from a Dumfries estate agent secured during a mostly angling-free day on Wednesday which I put to delightful use sauntering around the county town I scratched away in a biro only 50 per cent fit for purpose. “How to explain the biggest October salmon drought for 20 years” (Nith stalwart and Closeburn Castle river keeper Howard Rankine’s words not mine)?
I looked about me at the surrounds of my static caravan. An angling journalist in exile but right at the heart of the real fishing world I have always believed in. The caravan was clean, homely and had been the venue for good socialising over the week with August Norway trip friend Bill Chard (Mon and Tues) and since Wednesday night increasingly stalwart friend and Trout Fisherman magazine editor Russell Hill, who had two hours previously departed with a greasy handshake outside the chippy (recently patronised by yours truly – ah I love that curry sauce mixed with vinegar!) in Thornhill with the excuse he had to learn four new songs for a gig by his rock band Burlesque the following night.
About me were strewn items such as semi dry socks, sartorial ‘base layers’, wax jackets, Muckboots and sleeping bags, flies, mobile phone life support systems and, er, consumable life support systems appropriate (we felt) for anglers down on their luck and living in a caravan with rain pouring outside and needing to keep morale up.
And despite the gloom of the incoming Atlantic equinoxial weather fronts, always outside the gorgeous countryside of the foothills of the Galloway uplands and Nithsdale. All so familiar and the hunting grounds trodden by myself and my father (absent on this occasion) for eight years of July and October fishing trips – but now I pondered:
The thousands of casts I had made with fly, spinner and yes I admit it, worm. (Well about 20 casts with the snake but I had to try it with 3ft of muddy flow on the gauge didn’t I?!) The action provided by the salmon? S*d all!! Sightings of salmon?
And yet. I knew I had a trump card up my sleeve. The final day – Saturday – saw me on our most productive beat, 3, and whereas around Tuesday it looked like a wash out forecast, astonishingly the weather held off and by Saturday levels were a ‘mere’ one foot over the spinning mark.
But more importantly, the water was clearing and was perfect for fly. So while I admit to trotting Rapalas through the two Craigs (upper and lower) – twice – I did likewise with the 15ft fly-rod. Once in the morning with the Sink 1 line on which I caught all those Varzuga fish in May (naff all) and then, from 1pm, with Rio’s excellent 2/3 shooting head on my rod.
And that’s when it happened. I decided near the head of Lower Craig’s to change hooks on my Ross Macdonald tube-fly and idiotically let the perfect fly slip into the oily depths via the naked end of the fluorocarbon (sorry Ross!).
Cursing I fingered around and found to my delight another of Ross’s, a half-inch brass tube Calvin’s shrimp – whose reddy hue looked just the job and I teamed this with an obscenely sharp small Ken Sawada treble hook.
As I did so I got a shiver of anticipation. The Force was with me and I knew it and even as this happened a salmon, the first fish I’d seen all day jumped below me. It was like a dream and I suddenly knew. I think it was the third cast when half way round the line jagged very gently away through my fingers then the reel screamed as a substantial Nith autumn salmon ran off very angry indeed and a voice said, “It’s a salmon Henry, you’ve caught one or two of these this year, it’s cool.” But I knew how special it was and I enjoyed every second of the fight (yes, even the head-shaking) and although equipped with a net which I assiduously dragged behind me as the fish ran downstream, I beached it at the tail of the pool.
And later in the hut further up the left bank of the Nith there I located our catch record pictured here and there was my dad’s fish caught in July, and now I added mine further down the page and it was a special moment. Not least because we caught our fish, very similar in size in exactly the same spot.
So there it is for 2011: Varzuga River 71 salmon in a week; River Gaula 2 salmon in a week and the River Nith, one salmon for a whole week’s fishing.
But I tell you what, when that so-welcome fish charged off against a tightened Angel drag at the eleventh hour and once again my heart chugged with adrenaline I knew why it was I had just spent 300 quid and left my loved ones 400 miles away to spend damp days and gloomy nights in a rain soaked caravan. Here was the authentic extreme salmon-fishing experience, laced with the intensively peculiar brand of last day salmon redemption that is just so addictive. So hoped for, longed for and amazingly granted by this iconic and wonderful wild sportsfish fresh from its sub-Arctic oceanic travels.
The Shooting Star hooped over and the RIO shooting head loops passed to and fro through the tip ring I was back in that special heaven that has opened up my life to the salmon adventure. Against the odds, a big salmon in the double figures of pounds (nearer 13 than 12, pictured below) was pulling my string and I was not disappointed. As resolved previously this fresh’un did not go back – it was for the Christmas party and the Orford smokery.
I stood on the shelving stones of the floodbank above Auldgirth and punched the air into an improbable shaft of mid-October sunshine overhead and gave thanks for my best salmon-fishing season ever, a perma-grin etched onto my tired features.
No I was not, and am not disappointed.