Iâ€™m not ashamed to admit I am a fan of John Denver. His lyrics to â€˜Annieâ€™s Songâ€™ could so easily have been penned for a wild trout or salmon fisher. If being in the wilds of this wonderful land of ours, on the bank of river or loch doesnâ€™t fill up your senses, then shame on you. Being a countryman at heart (I call Bridge of Earn â€˜the big smokeâ€™) time spent outside experiencing fresh air and the vagrancies of our â€˜interestingâ€™ weather is time seldom wasted. Time spent fishing is particularly precious but so much of the pleasure is just being outside and letting my senses take over.
This was reinforced for me this September when I was fortunate enough to have two days on the River Lyon immediately followed by a day on the Spey. I was immensely fortunate to have marvellous and interesting company on all three days plus experiencing wonderful September weather in which these two parts of Scotland (which are beautiful at the worst of times) looked stunning.
Early morning mist and Frost, Glen Lyon September 2012.
I can report that over the three days, as befits my lack of skill, I caught no salmon â€“ although I was to be very briefly connected on three occasions â€“ but I enjoyed myself immensely savouring the wonderful tonic of beautiful scenery, stunning rivers and good company.
The Lyon was certainly sleeping for the two days I was there. Having never fished it before and with no positive fishing â€˜intelligenceâ€™ to go on, a prior search on Google unfortunately did nothing to improve my optimism. Almost top of the list was an article by the Fisheries Scientist Dr David Summers â€˜Whatâ€™s gone wrong with the River Lyon?â€™ This piece chronicles the reduction in the catches of migratory fish on the river and certainly isnâ€™t a piece you want to read just prior to being treated to two days on it. However, ever the optimist, I decided that a bad dayâ€™s fishing still beats a good day at work, so off to the Lyon I would go and maybe I would get lucky.
Tackling up in a light Autumnal rain, the wood smoke of the Bothy hanging in the airâ€¦
Too still for salmon fishing, but if a view like this doesnâ€™t fill up the senses, take up another pastime.
Luck, of course, can be measured in many different ways. I was lucky that my Cambridgeshire-based best friend Sean Elliott could make the trip north to the Inverinian Lodge and provide wonderful camaraderie. I was lucky that our hosts Bill Tibbits and Tom Taylor proved to be fine company as well, with many a dram and bawdy story being told in front of the roaring log fire that night. We were all lucky that the September weather was benign and treated us to the soft light so wonderful in Scotland as well as a brief morning frost to remind us all this was to be one of the last opportunities of the year to fish for our silver tourists. Perhaps not all the luck was ours, for the river â€“ whilst at a lovely height â€“ was not full of fishâ€¦but who wants it all their own way? I will certainly return to the Lyon, if not with Salmon rod in hand, certainly a small trout rod, for we caught some wonderful wild browns of up to 2lb in weight and thereâ€™s nothing not to like about that.
Lost in the pleasure of casting a line.
I drove two days later up to the Spey, a happy and refreshed man, through stunning scenery to continue my quest for a September salmon. If the Perthshire I left was picturesque, then the Speyside I arrived at was equally charming. Passing the numerous distilleries of whose product I regularly enjoy was a delight. Stopping to sample their wares would have been even better, but I had a date to keep with my hosts for the following dayâ€™s fishing on the Craigellachie beat. I met up with my fellow anglers Stewart Cobb, Tom Allan, David Herring and Jamie Christie at The Archiestoun Hotel where we spent a pleasant evening getting acquainted and being treated to a splendid meal. If I was somewhat quieter than normal then I only had Seanâ€™s heavy hand on the whisky bottle the previous evening to blame.
Sean Elliott soaking up the Highland Experience, River Lyon.
The next day dawned cold and clear and the river looked in fine fettle. In contrast to the Lyon, it was certainly full of fish. The beat was immaculate and my only complaint was that we would be required to throw our lines in a single Spey cast. Apparently in common with many duffers I find a double Spey easier, however counter-intuitive that might sound, and so my number was up â€“ I would be shown up for the salmon angling charlatan that I am. I therefore secretly hoped I would be consigned to the furthest pool on the beat where I could practise my single Spey without the embarrassment of onlookers.
Luck once more helped me out. Whilst I was given a mid-beat pool to lash into a froth, it was thankfully hidden from too many prying (and pitying eyes) which allowed me to enjoy the Zen of salmon casting and for the next few hours I lost myself as I watched the countless times my fly swung round in the rushing waters of the river always hoping, but not expecting, the take of a fish.
The Zen was good. I gazed up at the ancient woodlands that fringed the river, I listened to the birds and the tumbling water, I felt the sun shine on my face and with my senses full I cared not (well, not too much) that I never felt the pull of a fish. I did have a â€˜momentâ€™ that brought me back to full alert when with my second cast of a Collie Dog style fly (self tied with a lock of hair from my good friendâ€™s dog Alfie) a fish rattled into it, but alas, this did not convert into the steady pull that all salmon anglers (even duffers like me) know means a fish has stuck on.
Experiencing the Zen, River Spey.
At the end of the day I was relieved to find that my competent companions had fared equally badly in the â€˜catch a fish stakesâ€™. I just hope they fared as well as I had in filling up their senses.
And no, I didnâ€™t play any John Denver on my way home in the car.
It was Abba.