Itâ€™s been too long since I last cast a line for Salmo Salar, and having just recently had a splendid day on the Downiepark beat of the South Esk as a guest of Campbell Whyte, Iâ€™m hooked again.
Ok, I didnâ€™t catch or even hook a fish, but I had wonderful company, spent the day on the bank of a delightful river amidst the multi coloured splendour of autumnal Perthshire in perfect October weather and it was a wonderful tonic to the trials of modern living. It certainly rekindled my enthusiasm for salmon fishing.
I am a wild trout fisher by inclination but â€“ just ask anyone who knows me â€“ I would fish in a teacup if I thought there was a chance of a fish. Add into the mix good company and scenery and it really does start to get the piscatorial juices flowing.
As my first fly caught salmon was taken on the Downiepark beat a few years ago this beat has a special place in my angling memory. The area around Cortachy too remains special to me for many years ago whilst at school, I was one of the many grouse beaters seasonally employed by the Earl of Airlie in the Angus Glens of Clova, Moy and Prosen. They were wonderful times â€“ being paid to enjoy hill-walking with your school mates and getting fit prior to the forthcoming rugby season. Good memories.
The general decline of the grouse shooting since my days as a beater is well documented and it has been salmon fishing that has brought me to both the North and South Esks over the last few years â€“ and I am pleased to report that I have had a success rate that is certainly contra to my skill level. I tie a passable salmon fly but I have limited skill in fishing them..
The Esks are both lovely rivers to fish, being of a size that is not too daunting to a Spey-casting duffer like me but large enough to hold a good head of fish when conditions are right. My angling diary notes that I took two fish on my visit back in 2006 on the Downiepark/Cortachy Castle beats as a guest of David Young. On that day to indulge my sense of nostalgia I visited the old beaters bothy at Parkside to sadly find it in ruins. Thankfully this disappointment was not a harbinger for a poor dayâ€™s sport.
The river was running a good height and I was offered the pool in front of the fishing hut to start my day. My diary â€“ which always tries to record the extraordinary events so often part of a day by the waterside â€“ notes that within a few casts I was interrupted by the presence of a seal in the pool. The Downiepark beat is some 20 miles inland, so you can imagine my surprise â€“ and indeed my diary also noted that the then ghillie, Godfrey Darling, when told about this later in the day doubted whether I knew the difference between a seal and an otter. As regarding myself as a countryman I remember taking great offence to his doubting! I am happy to say, however, that the seal did not hang around for long after David sent his dog into the river to see it off â€“ and within an hour I was firmly, if unconfidently, attached to an 8lb cock salmon courtesy of a self-tied size 6 Willie Gunn variant. I wrote in my diary â€œchuffed to bits even though my waders were leaking nicelyâ€¦â€ That afternoon, through pure luck rather than any skill, I took another fish from the sawmill dam pool â€“ which was certainly a wonderful bonus as Iâ€™d last visited this spot 23 years before in order to swim during the summer of 1983. A day to remember and the memories did indeed keep me going this year when no such jammy luck was forthcoming and my lack of skill received its just deserts. Oh wellâ€¦