It's often said "don't go back to the places of happiest memory, for you shall surely be disappointed". Despite having this in mind, when invited to Tomatin House, the base of so many very happy memories, for a one-off week in September, I leapt at the chance. It wasn't wholly for the fishing - it's not a premium beat and is completely water dependent - but rather for the breadth and balance of the whole package. We would be there with old and comfortable friends to enjoy each other's company; eat and drink together; and undertake all manner of activities from golf to walking via bridge and reading as the weather dictated. This year's trip to the Gaula had given me a salutary lesson on the value of balance, and the return to Tomatin, the birthplace of Just One Week, would be balance exemplified. On the other hand, this is a fishing blog, so you'll understand if I do focus on the fishing.
The build up to the week was completely out of character. Normally I busy about doing all manner of things in a well established order whilst fretting incessantly about the weather and water levels. Posts like 'D-14 - The Countdown' and 'D-7 - Divine Madness' describe this in detail: my wife considers the title of D-7 especially apt. However, this year was different: the family complete with grandchildren, bumps (joy, two more on the way) and dogs occupied the second half of August. Laying out a fly line for cleaning and polishing would have been seriously high risk: the two toddlers would have tied wonderful knots; the Jack Russell would have buried one end whilst the Puggle chewed the other (he got the rain gauge again) and the Ridgeback got tangled up and ran off with the middle section. Pedantic preparation was off the agenda: my primary responsibility was to be the avuncular grandfather, so it was just a quick check of the car boxes and lock the garage. After the family departed my wife and I headed off to Provence to spend a week with friends, enjoy the food and sunshine, and soak up the relaxation. It was the perfect cure for salmon neurosis and weather anxiety. It was so sybaritic that I was disinclined to view the Fort Augustus weather forecast more than once per day. We left the beautiful Luberon warmth and returned home around 11pm on an autumnal Saturday night. We had barely unpacked before we were stuffing the car for Scotland and on the road before 9am. Amazingly, only one item was left behind, my wife's waterproof trousers (outdoor kit therefore my fault). The significance of that omission would become apparent all too soon.
France had worked its magic and I was remarkably relaxed, despite the annual phenomenon of the 'Vanishing Rain of Inverness'. It started in earnest as we crossed the border into Scotland. I suppressed any elation, because so often in the past, rain in the Lowlands has been succeeded by camels on the A9 in the desert north of Perth. However, on this occasion it was chucking it down on Tayside and all the way to Bruar. We perversely crossed the highest point in brilliant sunshine, but my morale was lifted by the ramparts of cloud out to the west and the strengthening wind. Viewed from the viaduct the Findhorn was low, but no matter, I was being balanced (or rather, even my amateur meteorological skills told me what was coming).
|Dalnahoyn @ + 5'|
7.15 am Tuesday
|Churan @ +4'|
3 pm Tuesday
|11 lbs cock fish|
Churan 10.15 am
MCX Dark #8 double
Morning Glory' hefting another coloured lump. Six years later he was even more delighted after a serious battle in a pool that gives ample opportunities to a strong fish. It was a great day's fishing all round with everyone getting a share of the action, including Charlie's wife Camilla catching her first salmon, which took her 400 yards downstream.
Our morale was sky-high: despite losing a day to high water the book was already in the teens, and the river seemed set to fall a mite more, further improving the fishing. Generally, as the density of salmon grows as the water falls and running slows, the friction between cohorts builds up, and the likelihood of takes increases. Put another way, active, alert and agitated fish are much easier to catch than calm residents. Furthermore, amongst the melee in Churan we had spotted the first fresh fish arriving.
Nemesis follows hubris as night follows day: it rained and the river went back up to + 4' while the water temperature went down to 8C, leading to another tough and largely unproductive day's fishing for those who braved the rain and near gale force wind. Indeed, from this point on the rain hardly stopped, and on Thursday night the river shot up to +6'. An improving forecast gave grounds for optimism, but the river was unfishable on Friday morning: the young departed to the golf course and I joined the wives' bridge crew (that's real balance in action).
|Garden Pool tail|
Fishing the 'turning point'
|River Findhorn Shenachie gauge|
Image and data courtesy of SEPA
|Garden Pool @ +3' 6"|
Fishing the 'Pocket'
7.45 am Saturday
Note the 'turn point' is down at the little promotory
in the distant left of the picture
Garden Pool 7.50 am
MCX Dark #8 double
The conclusions are simple: don't be seduced by the far bank; and play the percentages.
|John with 16 pound hen fish|
Despite the challenges posed by the weather and water levels, which reduced us to around 4 full days' fishing time, we had a tremendous week with 26 salmon and grilse in the book, our second best ever result at Tomatin. Everyone caught some fish and a lot more were hooked and lost. And throughout we had a lot of fun in good company. I respected my age; didn't fish too hard or too long; caught 7 fish and lost 5 without any regrets; played some bridge; read half a book; and came away happy and thoroughly rested: that's a well balanced result.
The next sessions are on the Ure, so we'll see how Yorkshire compares to Scotland this year. I'll pick up the novice learning points from the Tomatin week in a separate post. meanwhile, have a great autumn's fishing and tight lines.