Our annual trip to Tomatin is now just a fortnight away and the anticipation level is rising rapidly. It's especially high this year because in the absence of fishing water I've only been out on the Ure once since May (to do the Loop Cross S1 and DDC evaluations); and poignantly, this may be our last year at Tomatin House. 'Just One Week' may have to be re-titled 'No Week Whatever', which will be very sad. We've had lots of fun over the past 12 seasons, interspersed with all the effects of the total unpredictability of both weather and salmon. We may go elsewhere next year, but at this stage we don't know when or where; team leader John with Patrick in support has been doing a reconnaissance on the Deveron this week, but his Wednesday report recorded an even lower level of water than Yorkshire.
It is of course entirely typical and a manifestation of Murphy's Laws of Fishing Meteorology that one's anticipation and the river level move in exactly opposite directions. The harder you wish for rain and the more often you consult the BBC forecast web-page, the less likely it becomes. Over the years I've noticed a strange phenomenon - the Vanishing Rain of Inverness. On Friday, when I started writing this post, the forecast said that there would be some rain from next Tuesday onwards. However, based on 12 years' experience, I confidently forecast that by Saturday it would have slipped to Wednesday (it did), and when we reach Tuesday the rain symbols will have migrated to next Saturday. It's always 4 or 5 days away, but it never actually appears. How do millions of tons of spare water hanging in the sky just disappear? Can evaporation happen twice, and if so, what does the water become then?
When I did geography at school nearly 60 years ago, the big lump of air over the eastern Atlantic in summer was called the Azores High for the simple reason that's where it was, most of the time. When it wasn't, for example when the French blew it to pieces testing nuclear bombs in the Sahara in the late 50s, we had wet summers as well as amazing sunsets. Now, for the past 12 years of salmon fishing it's spent most Septembers in the big gap between Ireland and Newfoundland, as far distant from the Azores as London. If it gets any further north and west it will have to learn Danish in order to relate to the locals who will re-name it the Greenland High, something they've only previously achieved by eating fish fermented in buried barrels and washed down with Skidoo fuel additive. I wrote that bit in the hope that the insulted Greenlanders will send it back where it belongs - venligst: vi vill vaere meget taknemmelige og sende dig mange billeder af laks.
In a vain attempt to console myself I also look at the Fort Augustus forecast covering the area to the west of the Monadhliath catchment that supplies the Findhorn, but that usually makes the condition worse. "How can it be?" I rant to the dog, "that somewhere a mere handful of miles from Fort William, the wettest place on the planet this side of the Congo Basin, gets less summer rain than Hull, which has Manchester to draw the incoming fire?" Or more correctly water, but you'll get my meaning, even if my wife doesn't. This is the worst time of year for her, when I'm preoccupied and thus more than ordinarily deaf, domestically useless and snore more loudly. In that respect I failed to give you this advice in Walking to the Water: you can't practice a Single Spey in your sleep lying on your side; only on your back can you freely swing both arms to form the D loop whilst minimising the divorce risks of the forward cast that unfailingly delivers a perfect V loop - if only.
When fully awake I can inflict serious domestic damage. Checking and servicing reels must be done in the kitchen. It's got big, hard, oil-proof work surfaces and bright overhead lighting. However, Murphy's Domestic Law dictates that your timing will be infallibly wrong, and the reel servicing will always coincide with an essential requirement for pastry rolling and activities involving lots of flour. There are some serious risks here. Vital parts of your reels, especially the legendary Vision Koma flying circlip, will end up in the bread and subsequently require at best embarrassing and difficult recovery, or at worst an expensive visit to the dentist. On the other hand, self-raising flour is a useless reel lubricant.
Wishing to avoid domestic discord I head outdoors to complete an essential part of the preparation ritual, servicing the lines. This is best done on a dry, warm, bright sunny day, after you've cut the grass. We've had plenty of those recently. The 5 step process comprises:
- Unspooling and easing. Good modern fly lines have a marked resistance to 'memory' or holding the shape of the spool. All you have to do is unspool the line and lay it out on the grass in the sunshine to ease for about 15-20 minutes whilst you're setting up for the washing. Don't pull or stretch the line to take out bends and minor kinks. It will only spring back, so it's a complete waste of effort. Let the warmth do your work.
- Washing. Fill a bucket or spare washing-up bowl with lukewarm water and a small squirt of detergent. Hotter is definitely not better. A small flat sponge is easier than a cloth, but it must be clean. Fold the sponge over the line, submerge in the water and then pull the line through with the other hand. When you reach the backing, reverse the process.
- Drying. Using an old towel remove the excess water from the line by pulling it first one way, then the other, before leaving it on the grass to dry for 10 minutes.
- Lubricating. Fold a piece of porous kitchen paper to about playing card size. Apply a
- Polishing. Pull the line briskly to and fro through a clean, dry non-linting cloth to polish the surface. Complete the action by winding the line back onto the reel through the cloth.
The process of stripping the line off the reel will confirm the adequacy of last winter's pre-storage service. If everything is running smoothly just remove the spool and have a look to ensure that there's no debris, muck or flour in the frame. If it isn't, then it's back to the kitchen for a full strip and service: hoping everything will be OK is not a good maintenance regime.
The other useful activity to start at D-14 is the development of the honest shopping list of what you really need. The Spice Girls' question ("tell me what you want, what you really, really want") is a real fun-killer but certainly protects one's wallet. In common with most English anglers heading to Scotland, my route to Tomatin is via John Norris in Penrith. If you enter his shop without a disciplined list you are vulnerable to fancy, temptation, poverty and worst of all, large numbers of flies that you will never use. I suspect that over the years Mr Norris has done very well out of those human weaknesses, and his beautiful shop is carefully arranged to enhance their effects. To minimise restraint he has cunningly placed everything that most interests my wife at the furthest point away from the fly selection. There is no line of sight through the displays. When she inevitably arrives at the till area before me (unknown elsewhere), all the items in the vicinity are either low price or on deeply discounted special offers, which no doubt is intended to create the impression of universally modest economy. The truth is that Mr Norris, whose experienced staff always pack the densely opaque carrier bag with the lowest price items on the top, is in league with the angler - he wants you to survive to return next year!
One tip for the older angler based on my experience: don't buy flies on the basis of cloudy memory of what you think is in your boxes. Go, look, count, write down the result and put the piece of paper into your wallet. Then at least you'll be able to find it, provided you haven't left your wallet at home along with your left wading boot and whatever else. On that note I'll leave you to your dreams until D-7; or if you're there on a river already, tight lines and I hope the clocks stop for you whilst it rains.