Salmon on the River Ness

Wednesday 11th February 2015

Early start; up at 6am never a problem when it’s for early season Spring Salmon fishing. Even with the recent cold weather making my body think its anything but Spring, the sky Nearly cloudless slowly turning a pale blue with the rising sun, milder than its been a beautiful day lay ahead. Throwing on Plenty of thin layers and thermals to keep the cold out. Warm soup in the thermos. I headed for Huntly Train station, loaded down with kit to get the first train to Inverness. The hopes and expectations for what the day ahead would give took hold. bubbling away in me, It happens every time I go fishing, I revert to being an excited kid.

Mark a regular fishing sidekick, when he is onshore met me from the train.  We chatted excitedly about the day ahead, realising that it is 20 years to the month since I caught my first salmon. On the very River we were about to fish, caught on the association town water. The beat that comprises the lower section of the river before it meets the Moray Firth, and it was in conditions not dissimilar to today.  We negotiated the traffic and the roadworks that seem to clog Inverness, and before long we were heading South down the northside of the River Ness on the Drumnadrochact Road.  Heading for Dochdarroch and the locks at the head of the Caledonian canal, we were to meet Grant Sutherland our ghillie for the day at the wee hut nestled behind the old lock-keepers cottages.

Greeted by Grant and his furry companion Duke, we chatted about the season now a week old and the tactics for the day. The Rver running at 10in/250mm, we quickly changed in to our waders and life vests as Grant kindly set up our rods and reels. I opted to use my Sharpes Gordon4 13ft 9WT (www.sharpes.net) matched with the Rio Scandi AFS shooting head with a floating tip, 6ft leader with a copper tube; long tail monkey fly.

Packed lunches on our backs we crossed the canal lock gates and headed for the riverside hut, nestled in the trees on the top pool below the weir. We had the beat to our selfs, the only rods booked so we had Grants undivided attention. I headed out along the weir to the top of the first pool, quite an interesting wade.  On one side the black depths of the canal, the other the cobbled weir. The canals water flowing over the 200 year old weir at ankle depth, In some spots knee-deep where the water is channelled into streams. These streams meet the main River generating nice eddies and greasy water, with deeper pockets and gravel bars along the north bank below the weir.

Looking west back towards the Weir that divides the confluence of the River Ness and the Caledonian canal were the waters of the Loch Ness now enters the River Ness on its way to the sea

Looking West upstream towards the Weir that divides the confluence of the River Ness and the Caledonian canal were the waters of Loch Ness enters the River Ness on its way to the sea


looking down stream from the weir, were contact was made with the first fish

looking down stream from the weir, were contact was made with the first fish

I start fishing down the pool under Grants watchfull eye and guidance, fishing a fairly short line as the fish tend to run close to this North bank.   The long winter off season was showing its effects, as my casting can be best described as rusty. I’m sure the ghillie would have privately called it something far worse.  Making steady progress down the pool with little sign of any action, apart from from the occasional enticing splash from elsewhere on the pool as fish moved and jumped.   Approaching the confluence of one of the larger streams that surge over the weir in to the River, I notice a nice greasy section of water behind the chop of the surging in water. A perfect spot to target a waiting fish…. I cast out across the river careful to control the length of my line.  The fly fished down and across nicely. Insuring I get the fly were I want it I drew in a little line. But a few feet from where I want it the fly and line gets slowed up in a the competing currents, and is just not fishing as I’d wanted. Quickly I mend the line downstream which helped to fish the fly across my target but nothing.  Briefly My attention is lifted from my line to further downsteam and Mark fishing. Leaving the fly on the dangle, I quickly regain my focus and retrieve some line before I start lifting my rod tip; Knock, knock, bang! The line begins stripping through my fingers, fish on! Then stupidity kicked in and the trout fisherman in me came to the fore, I struck! like it was a brownie supping at a dry fly.  The Salmon now starting to run across the river and in my haste I wrenche the fly from the Salmon’s mouth! sending the fly whistling past my ear. Damn! Pulse racing and colourful language subsiding, a smile spreads across my face. The day is still young, there will be another chance….hopefully

Time for a coffee and a move, on to the next pool. In the hour spent fishing the first pool the river had risen 4.5in/110mm, a combination probably snow melt in the surrounding hills and input from the hydro.  We fished through the next pool with out much action, having to adopt a double Spey cast to cope with the growing down stream wind, which at times was bitingly cold, persueded us it was time for lunch.  Grant suggests we move to the lowest pool after lunch as it hasn’t been fished yet this season. He didn’t have to suggest it twice! The Tantalising over lunch show supplied by the Kelts jumping and splashed all through the pool in front of the hut spurred us on.

looking downstream  on the bottom pool of the Dochfour beat

looking downstream on the bottom pool of the Dochfour beat

The river seemed to be holding its height between 14-15in/250-275mm. I slipped in mid pool, and began putting out mid range casts. Fishing the fly round nicely producing better casts than earlier in the day, I felt quite confident in myself. Slowly fishing down the pool getting a couple of good knocks but not much else, I manage to suppress the urge to change my fly And continue fishing. A nice well presented cast, a quick mend up stream and the fly is fishing down and round nicely. It just felt right! And with that a sold take! The line runs though my fingers and I slowly lift into it. The rod doubles over, a quick run from a kelt too lacklustre to be a springer. I slowly bring a well coloured spawned cock fish to the net.  And with that its quickly released, A quick chat with Grant and I get back to flinging casts out. Within 2 casts I was back in to a fish, smaller this time but more of a fight,  the fish shows itself on the surface with a brief flash of silver in the afternoon sunshine, and my hopes surge for a springer. Gently playing the fish to the net, I am soon dashed on the springer. But it’s still a nice Hen Kelt.

Grant Sutherland the Ghillie removing the hook from the 8lb Hen Kelt

Grant Sutherland the Ghillie removing the hook from the 8lb Hen Kelt

With the day drawing to a close and the sun now low dropping behind the hills above loch Ness. A couple of more takers but nothing sticks, so we call it a day and head for the hut. The hut that we had started out from 7 hours earlier. A great day, in a beautiful location had been had. A lot of that enjoyment was Thanks to the excellent Ghillie Grant Sutherland.

If you get the opportunity to fish the Dochfour beats on the River Ness take it!  though the beat tends to fish better in the back half of the season its a beautiful venue and stretch of water year round.

Book Through Fishpal at (http://www.fishpal.com/Scotland/Ness/Dochfour/?dom=Pal)

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