On the dry fly, down the River Don

September beginning to tick by and the seasons’ inevitable end looming, taunting the Trout fisher that very soon the fun will be over, much like the better half arriving to take you home from the pub. The night feeling far to young and the humour not having yet reach the gutter, that feeling of impending finality now lingers over the trout season too, a period of mourning soon to be upon me. One more for the road, before the better half drags me from the pub sulking, I needed a last few trout fixes. A couple of more days on a trout laden river or loch, and the Don offered a new adventure, with a chance for some excellent trout from its’ fertile waters. the Don rise high in the Cairngorm mountains, before it winds and meanders itself eastwards down Strathdon, weaving its way through the beautiful county of Aberdeenshire. Streaming past the Towns of Alford, Inverurie and the flanks of the iconic Bennachie. The Don’s pale tea coloured waters that often run as colourless as a chalk stream are so inviting, with the long ribbons of weed waving in the fertile waters. At this time of year the purple heather clad hills gives way to glens and the flatter lands of the East, that wear a patch work quilt of green and golden fields that make this county a true bread basket and larder. The Don’s waters run for 82 miles with 263 named pools from source to sea where it empties, only 2.5 miles along the course golden sands of Aberdeen beach, from where the famous Dee spills it peaty waters to North Sea.

Looking downstream toward the Elphinestone Road bridge on the on the Port cooker& Bridge stream pools

Having fished the MonyMusk and Kildrummy beats of the Don in the past, I rolled the dice and opted for the Inverurie Town water. This beat consists of 3 miles of Don water and about the same of the River Urie, a small but deep muddy bottomed river that meanders eastwards never far from the Inverness – Aberdeen railway line. The Urie rises near Insch and flows ever eastwards till its union with the famous Don just East of the ever-growing commuter town of Inverurie. But I wasn’t there to fish the Urie, the Don was my focus for this days fishings

Inverurie fishings

And the day couldn’t have started better. A cloud laden sky, thick with the haar that had rolled in the previous evening, a common occurrence only 14 miles from the Aberdeenshire coast and the North sea. Thankfully under this grey veil the air had kept some of its temperature and only a light wind blew from the West/North West, near perfect conditions a position that hadn’t presented itself many times this excuse of a summer.

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Upstream, looking westwards on the Inverurie town water

As I trudged a across the Elphinstone road bridge rod in hand, the river stretched westwards below. fish after fish rose the rings and ripples growing outwards from the sip and disappearing on the greasy looking surface of the tea coloured water.

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rings from rising fish on the Bridge stream pool

My appetite was well and truly wetted. I made down to the rivers edge and headed westwards upstream, away from Inverurie and the hum of the A96 traffic. I wanted to be away from the sight and sounds of the town before I rolled my first casts, on to this truly inviting stretch of water.

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Managed by Aberdeenshire Council along with several other beats on the Don the fishing comes at a very reasonable price, for both county residents and non resident and it can all be done on the internet the night before (https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/communities-and-events/fishing/) Great for the early bird fishers like myself, the permit can be quickly printed off and taken with you on the day, no waiting for the tackle shops to open; the wonders of modern technology!

The Don at Inverurie is a mix of rocky riffles and streamy sections with deeper muddy bottomed slower glides that are in areas sheltered and shaded on at least one bank by large beautiful mature broadleaf trees that add a challenging aspect to casting. And contribute tremendously to the beauty of this great setting for a days fishing.  Due to the nature of these deep muddy pools wading can be tricky and access at this time of year through the dense summer growth of reeds, rushes and flag Iris requires care, and clearly its more the Salmon fisher that fishes this beat going by the access points and with an average 115 salmon a year. The trout are however plentiful and today rising fish are to be seen on every stretch as I headed up stream and some of the brownies making their presence known were exceptionally good fish, a pound plus and bigger. All this and more and only 20 mins walk from a main train line with a half hourly service from Aberdeen.

Looking East over the broken down old mill weir at the bottom of the Black Pot pool

I throw out the odd cast as I meandered up the winding river toward the top of the beat with little success, a few connects that I couldn’t keep stuck to the hook and a few turnaways as I cycled through a selection of favourite flies trying to match the plentiful fly life on the water, hoping to dial in on what these brownies were snacking on. Adding to my frustration, the warming sun was fast burning back the blanket of cloud and the little voice at the back of my head (doubt) was nagging that “ if you don’t get a fish now, with that sun you never will”.

Rowe head Pool, looking NorthWest upstream

Rowe head Pool, looking NorthWest upstream

I fruitlessly fished upstream past the old mill and it’s disused mill pool that sat in deep shade below the trees that tower on its southern bank. Hidden behind the wall of reed on my bank I could hear the repeated confident sip and splash of feeding fish, behind that a combine hungrily consumed the gold barley in the field that sits in the large meander of the Don here. The sun made the barley glow on this beautiful harvest day that normally I would have been relishing but I had the anxiety that at any moment the glorious sunshine would drive the trout from the surface and off the feed.

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The Mill stream pool that produced so many nice fish, looking East down stream

But the very opposite seemed to be happening, if anything more fish appeared to be feeding in the deeper fast water towards the far bank rising on the break between bright sun shine and shade. This constant rising seemed to be a response to the prolific fly life that was fast filling the air, Claret spinners, large dark olives and a plethora of other fly life I couldn’t name.

Lunchtime fast approaching it felt more like an early springtime sunny day when the trout are feeding hard after the long winter. I instinctively reach for a spring time favourite of my own design, a Cdc emerger that rarely lets me down. I slipped into the muddy bottomed pool, feet sinking into the treacle like mud pulling at my boots as I slowly wade out to limit the disturbance, fish sipping all around me. I could see a decent sized fish repeatedly rise in a feed line picking off olives. I was going to have to roll cast – high above me where high voltage lines so I wanted to the line and rod tip to stay low. It was safe to cast but doubt airs caution with thousands of volts a 100m above my head but I was determined to get this fish. Keeping the tip low I roll out a line, thankfully with the wind behind the tappered leader coils out and the fly lands 3ft upstream from the fishs’ last rise. I track the fly as it ‘s carried on the current, nothing rises to the fly and I am sure its passed over the fish. I begin to draw the rod to roll the line back out but as the fly twitches on the surface I see a flash of gold in the tea coloured water through the polorisers, the water erupts, the line tightens and I am hooked up with a cracking River Don Brownie. The fish runs down stream taking a little line and turns in to the faster flow holding me dead in the water, neither of us give an inch but slowly I begin to retrieve line. I am wondering how big this brownie is or is it simply using the current against me. That’s what I love about wild river brown trout their strength and use of the waters power against the angler, which at that moment was producing a joyous fight. Eventually I bring the fish to the net and I am still pleasantly surprised by this pound beauty which fought like a lion.

Quickly returned I inch my way downstream, a muddy slick rising under my feet and creating a ribbon of coloured water thankfully clear of the rising fish. I roll another couple of casts straight out at right angles as I edge down stream but no takers then on my third cast it no sooner hits the surface than a its sipped from the surface and I am into another good fish.  This time it tears up stream and fights me hard as I wrestle it back towards me and it feels like another cracking fish.  And I wasn’t disappointed, my second pound wild brownie in 4 casts, which to be honest was a surprise after such a poor morning. With each fish I move further down the pool I am wading at just above waist height on the soft bed. I was not feeling completely comfortable as I rolled out another cast still weary of the overhead danger.image

And again within moments of the fly landing I was hooked up, not as good as the previous two but this feisty wee monster ran me ragged up and downstream through the thick fast water, it was great fun and to be honest I was more worried of parting my 2lb Rio tapered leader but with a breath of relief I scoop it from the water remove the barbless hook, release and watch it rocket off into the peaty waters with beautiful clarity. Feeling quite out of my depth now with my wading I decide to retreat from the water and have a bite to eat and savour the quality of the Dons fish.

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My appetite for food was quenched but not for Trout so I while my afternoon away in the glorious early autumn sunshine fishing my way downstream to Inverurie.  The hatch died away and with it the intensity of the rise but there there were still fish showing on the surface so I stick with dries and see another 6 fish to the net.  Sadly not as large as the first two but they are beautiful quality fat bodied, full fined and hard fighting.

My fishing companion for the day, now this chap really nows how to fish, looking West towards the old Mill pool

I really can’t recommend the council owned stretches of the Don enough, great price with good sized quality fish.  A statement that is true for the whole of the River Don I will soon be back on this stretch of the Don and come next season the other council stretches will doubtlessly see me in search of Don Brownies.

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Brown Trout Addict is Born

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Deveron In late June splendour, with Yellow on the Broom

The Bug had bitten!  Phil had popped his cherry so to speak – he had caught is first wild trout but he was now chomping at the bit to get back on the water. With fine conditions fishing was on the cards, broken cloud, 14 degrees and very light wind 2 days after Phil’s first experience on the River.  The Deveron was in fine Trouting condition, so it was an easy choice. Myself and Phil made for the upper beats of the Huntly association water.  This upper section really doesn’t see as many anglers as the lower sections, because of laziness mostly, as it can be a bit of a walk or wade. And as the season winds on the over growth can be a shoulder height battle, but with the battle comes rewards; plentiful half pound 9in to 12in brownies and a few monsters lurking in hidden spots.

We wondered up stream fishing at choice locations and drinking in the beautiful Deveron in June. I opted to just guide and let Phil fish on with his team of PTNs (pheasent tail nymphs), with an eagerness to explore every possible lie that could hold a fish; through fast water, deep water and slack water apparently unfazed and undaunted by difficult wading. The addiction had clearly taken a firm hold, Phil was determined to find more fine Aberdeenshire Brownie bars of gold.

Phil in search on Deveron brownies

Phil in search on Deveron brownies

And I have to admit a huge amount of satisfaction as a guide comes from watching a client like Phil develop in confidence and skill’s and more so when he hooks into a fish. With the satisfaction there also comes some anxious moments; seeing some of the positions Phil was getting himself into wading fairly quickened the pulse. And having seen what can go wrong very quickly as an experienced fisher you tread more cautiously and risk asses. But Phil was steady on his feet and moved with real experience. Importantly he was putting his flies where they needed to be, above all he was loving every moment and every cast.

Phil exploring upstream on the River Deveron in search of Aberdeen Brownies

Phil exploring upstream on the River Deveron in search of Aberdeen Brownies

Seeing a few upwings lift from the water above us, I couldn’t contain myself and took the opportunity to fish. Tying on a size 16 Hares ear Para dun, I take the opportunity to indulge myself and demonstrate some dry fly fishing. I love dry fly fishing, the pleasure of targeting a fish or lie, watching the fly land and move with the current and running water then waiting and hoping for the take. Then the visual feast of the take which could be a subtle sip or thundering splashy train like take is truly one of the most exhilaratingly, enjoyable and satisfying experiences. Further upstream we could occasionally hear the familiar, repeated sip and splash of a rising fish. We stood on the bank and both watched the water, waiting to spot the sign, any sign of the rising fish. And there in an area of broken fast water just off the main channel flow, through this bouldery riffled section the fish was lying. I cast out my first line, “ another 6ft up and out” comes the shout from Phil who hadn’t lifted his eyes from the water and the fish.

I lift a long line from the surface and with a single back cast and a double haul, I send it streaming out towards my quarry. The fly line rolls out and the fly gently kisses the surface, the satisfaction of a good well-placed cast is almost immeasurable, and the reward was quick to arrive. A firm confident take, that didn’t  seem to even break the surface, I strike! The rod bends over “Fish on!” And I am into a cracking hard fighting Deveron Brownie, on a long line in fast water with a light leader, a tricky play but I get it to the net.

12in Deveron Brownie taken on the surface. the most inspiring way to Fly Fish

12in Deveron Brownie taken on the surface. the most inspiring way to Fly Fish

Phil can’t contain himself anymore and is in to the water and wading off up stream, moments later fishing through some nice pocket water by a huge bolder and he is into his first fish of the day. Both invigorated by the first fish of the day and Phil’s huge contagious smile.

Phil with his first river Deveron Brownie, the smile says it all

Phil with his first river Deveron Brownie, the smile says it all!

Sadly we see little else over the next hour as we fish onward to the top pool, which consists of a broken stream tumbling in to a couple of deep pools below a small braided waterfall. From these churning pools the River flows past a nice gravel bar flanked with a deeper riffled channel on the right-hand bank, a simply great looking pool that holds plenty of opportunities for fish.

I retire my rod to the bank and just guide Phil, targeting the best locations with the sun steadily climbing in to the sky. Beaming brightly through broken cloud the fish had inevitably retreated from the surface and ignored the fly life hatching as not a fish moved on the surface. Having retreated to the darker deeper waters seeking shade they would most probably still be feeding, only now in the more oxygenated shady churning below the falling water.  `Or lying just behind this boil waiting for whatever morsels of feed arrived on churning current.

looking East upstream on the top pool of t6he river Deveron

looking East upstream on the top pool of t6he river Deveron

In this situation the nymphs offered the best chance of a fish, like a pro Phil perfectly presented the nymphs landing his first couple of cast in the chaos of the falling water, retrieving the line as the casts are swept down through the pool and back towards him.

Phil Like a Pro

Exploring along the churning water in search of waiting fish hopeful with every successive cast, almost immediately he was into the first of 4 fish.

Phil Casting on Top PoolIt was great to watch! And these fish where coming from one of my favourite spots on the River. As I said its bit of a walk, but an excellent spot that can feel quite remote and when its in good fishing condition well worth the trudge. With every fish Phil whooped and his enthusiasm surged, as did his confidence. I couldn’t see him now returning to the Darkside, and just being a stocky basher any more.

Having reached the top of town water, the fishings gone quiet, lunch beckoned. We came off the River and headed for home, but we weren’t finished for the day. Following our evening meals, and an afternoon fly tying for me, we wondered on to a lower section of the Town water. A nice section of fast riffled water with nice pockets that can at times hold a considerable number and quality of fish. It was close to the house and personally I had an ulterior reason for choosing this stretch of river; having lost a very good fish here a week earlier I was out to get it to the net this time and would use this opportunity to try

And try I did with little success, my escapee didn’t show itself, but plenty of other fish did. Phil fished up through the fast rocky and pocketed water pulling fish from here and there. he had become quite adept at the short line, upstream Nymphing and was now eager for an elusive monster. A monster that could be hiding in any of the pockets but he coxed a further 5 fish from the water. One a real beauty of a brownie touching a pound. Considering that 3 days earlier Phil had never even tried fishing for wild Trout he was now confidently pulling them from the peaty tea like waters of the Deveron, where 3 day earlier he was unsure of where to start. He had now gained new skills, improved his cast and began to understand the mechanics of his cast. Importantly learning to identify and hopefully address the faults, that creep into all of our casts with time and fatigue. He was developing the skills and techniques needed for wild brownie River fishing and as I have said in an earlier article, all he needed now was hours (time out actually fishing) because experience is the basis of all knowledge with fish; where the fish lie, where and when they feed and general behaviour.

Phil hooks yet another beautiful Deveron Brownie

Phil hooks yet another beautiful Deveron Brownie

2 days after our final session I was over joyed to hear that Phil had gone out fishing on the Deveron on his own.

Mission complete!

Stocky basher converted to wild brown trout fisher.