|Evening view of the Dee upstream from Waterside|
It's been a while since I last wrote a post, simply because I didn't have anything especially interesting to say in advance of actually doing some fishing. Then the postponement of the day on the Tweed in March meant waiting until April and our trip to the Dee.
Of course, as usual, my anticipation rose steadily as departure day approached. Business didn't get in the way: from hotel rooms in Arabia you can track the Braemar weather forecast, SEPA river levels and the Dee's daily catches (or not) on FishPal with the same ease as from home. The luxury may be greater, but the dearth of a refreshing beer after working in 30 degree warmth is a serious downside. On the other hand, it was so cold when I was fishing last spring that we had to use the microwave to defrost the lunchtime drink (microwave? that's Tweed fishing hut luxury for you).
My anticipation and excitement was tempered by a degree of trepidation. I'd not fished on Royal Deeside before, so sought advice from Patrick who has been an annual pilgrim to this salmon Mecca for a decade and more. Would I have to wear a tie whilst fishing? (No). Would my Simms thermal ninja pyjamas be acceptable? (Yes, provided I didn't wear them for dinner at the hotel). Would I have to dress for dinner (aka black tie)? (No, but at your age do check that your trousers are on and done up properly). Will the ghillie laugh at my rubbish casting finely honed on smaller rivers? (No, he's seen far, far worse. Anyway he likes a tip, and therefore will even laugh at your awful jokes).
Patrick's responses moderated my concerns, although the size of the water caused me to sneak off to the Tyne for a casting lesson with Alan Maughan. He's an excellent instructor who's put immense thought into teaching methods and effective communication. The challenge I gave him was to sort out my Single Spey, which is the cast I've used least in the 12 years since I started with a double-handed rod. Think about it: if you fish rivers that flow generally east into the North Sea (Findhorn, Ure, Tyne etc) and the prevailing wind is westerly, then upstream winds are abnormal. More often than not you've got a downstream wind, which makes you a dab hand at the Double Spey and the Snake Roll (in my case usually left handed because most of my fishing is left bank). Finally, although its 'Single' title implies a certain simplicity, the Single Spey is undoubtedly the hardest cast to do well. To make matters worse, it has the smallest margin of error in terms of anchor placement: joy and gloom are separated by a razor blade. You can get away with all manner of sins with a waterborne anchor, but the airborne anchor of the Single can drive you to distraction. Thus, with the aim of getting a decade's worth of embedded bad habits out and a sound technique in, I spent several hours in the wintry Tyne focused on getting the anchor placement right. Persistence is a virtue, and I'll go back shortly for another session to polish the delivery. That said, for 3 days on the Dee we had strong downstream winds, culminating in a near gale on the Saturday, so the new Single only featured for about 5% of my casting effort.
Fully prepared, armed, trained and reassured I set off on the Wednesday morning, via a brief stop at John Norris to buy a new lifejacket to replace the faithful item seized and destroyed by Royal Mail when I sent it off for servicing. I'd failed to note the change in their postal policy last autumn - CO2 cylinders, however small are now totally forbidden. Mine showed up on scanning and was then sent under guard to Barnsley to be blown up. They rejected all entreaties for mercy and offers to collect - boom! Be warned: no doubt MCX is now in MI5's files as a potential postal bomber.
As it was mid-week, far too early for tourists and caravans and there was little snow on the Cairngorms, I took the route from Perth to Braemar over the Glenshee Pass. It's amazing what the Scots will grade as an A-road, but that does give you more time to admire the stunning scenery. And as you descend from Glenshee you observe an ever-expanding snow melt stream sparkling beside the road, hurling itself exuberantly off the mountains, liberally accumulating the oxygen essential to all life and the Dee's quality as a salmon river. By the time I reached Dinnet and the Loch Kinnord Hotel I fully understood what had so inspired the Victorians.
|Waterside Pool - sparkling in the spring sunshine|
Day 1 - +18"
|Upper Kirk viewed from the wading line|
The running line is up the right side
Using the MCX Scoring System Upper Kirk pool where I began Day 1 scored 2 for level, 3 for speed, 3 for temperature, but only 1 for clarity. Indeed on the gin scale the clarity scored about 70 Proof (or 37% ABV for the younger reader). With a point knocked off for the brilliant sunshine I arrived at an aggregate of 8 points, which suggested a lightly weighted 1" black and yellow Dee tube and a 10' sink tip. The system isn't designed to be precise, but rather to lead you to a logical and sensible choice that isn't likely to be far wrong. Indeed, about an hour later Davie the ghillie appeared and endorsed my judgement. Over the 3 days the air temperature remained above the water's throughout, from a morning low of 7C to a tropical 16C on the afternoon of Day 1.
|Upper Kirk - knee depth, mid-morning light|
This extreme clarity caused a wobble of confidence in my choice of fly. Having never been to Iceland or Norway to fish snow-melt fed rivers, this was beyond my experience. So too was the counter-intuitive paradox of rising air temperatures raising the river level. Nevertheless I stuck with the Dee tube for most of the first day: I'm not much convinced by frequent changes of fly, which seems to do more for the fisherman than the fish.
|Waterside Pool - thigh depth|
|Bank Pool - Day 2 - +15"|
|Duguid's Pool looking down towards Upper Kirk|
Day 3 - +12"
|Upper Rhunavella looking down towards Waterside|
Day 3 - +12"
End of fishing Day 3 - +10"
Thus my Dee trip ended without a fish, which puts me in good company with lots of other people this year. With the unusual warmth the salmon appear to have run straight through the Lower Dee (which normally fishes very well) but then came to a halt just above Banchory, to the delight of those fishing at Ballogie. In the Upper river pickings have been very thin. The beat above us caught one fish (a nice 20 pounder) whilst we were there, and a Swedish rod took a single fish on our beat in the previous period. Otherwise the ghillies have been in a general state of gloom, lightened only by my dreadful jokes (thanks Davie, your laughter was good for my morale!).
LessonsSo what did I learn from the experience?
- Wading in cold water and casting in strong winds on a bigger river is tiring work. Take regular breaks to warm up (important at my age) and rest your casting. If you fish on relentlessly your casting will get progressively worse, deprive you of much pleasure and ultimately depress your morale.
- Unless you're a seal, don't even think of wading the right side of Kirk - it's lethal.
- Use the MCX Scoring System as a guide, but a waterproof camera provides a very useful cross-bearing on sub-surface visibility.
- Bright spring sunshine makes the green slippery stuff grow very quickly, so never go into the water without a wading stick (I never do). It's most slippery in the shallows.
- As I noted in last year's spring post after fishing on the Ure, putting out a good line in strong winds depends on sound basic techniques, which you can only acquire through proper instruction, so take a pre-season lesson. I'm not a good caster, but I could cover all the water required on all 3 days.
- Be realistic about your chances. With a 5 year average around 16 fish in April between 4 rods over 20 days' fishing, in a good year your catch probability is about 25-30%, and in a bad one as low as 3-5% (i.e. like 2013 and where 2014 is headed). So don't fuss and fiddle, forever changing flies: just keep on doing the right thing and wait for the dice to roll your way.
- There's more to fishing than just catching fish! We had a thoroughly good week and we're already looking forward to next year, provided my wife discharges me from the secure psychiatric unit.
And NextMy next post, which will follow shortly, reports on the new kit that I tried on this expedition. This included:
- A comparative test of Guideline Scandi and Loop GDC sinking shooting heads
- An evaluation of the new Rio Connect Core running line, with its thickened grip section