2016 entered with a real bang, weather providing the fireworks as we all know but thankfully after the storm’s, some settled proper winter weather arrived. The rivers began to drop as did the temperatures and by mid January the Scottish rivers started opening for the Salmon season, finally a tonic for my cabin fever and the chance to wet a fly, a quick visit to Fishpal (http:/fishpal.com) a couple of clicks and I was booked on the Meikleour and Islamouth beats; 2 miles of the mighty Tay, boat or bank fishing.At the start of every season I get that same child-like excitement, the same buzz and I can guarantee that the night before my first trip of every season will be a restless one. An alpine start, up at the back of 5am I was remarkable fresh and chomping at the bit! Quickly filling the car with the excess of gear that you always seem to need at this time of year, loaded as though I was away for an Artic adventure not a day on the Tay. I manage to squeeze in a quick bacon roll and I was out of the traps for the start of my 2016 season. I might be dramatic but any keen fisher will tell you that the start of the season is like rebirth; exciting prospects await, new adventures new sights beautiful locations and of course that adrenaline inducing, endorphin racing, rod bending moments as a fish takes your offered fly.
Heading South pale blue began to seep skywards across the eastern horizon and the day was dawning with almost perfect conditions, hardly a breath of wind and the temperature only just a couple of points below freezing, with these conditions were set to last the day, bliss! But what would I now blame my generally terrible Spey cast on if not the wind…..I am sure I would find an excuse.The broad rolling farm laden glens of Cooper Angus were shrouded in a veil of mist, drifting between the towering trees and distant hill, at times obscuring the horizon and reducing the world to monochrome. nearing Meikleour the damage of the New Year storms became more evident, debris meters above the river suspended in leafless trees with high water marks in places beyond sight of any River, testament to the volume and power of the waters. but thankfully the river was now at a good height and I was eager to wet a fly and sample the Tay. Greeted by Dan Wright and Callum McRoberts the Head Ghillie with a warm wood burner and a cup of tea, at the inviting Ferry cottage boat house; its hard to tell that only 4 months earlier it had gone up in smoke now sporting its new roof and fire place. I can imagine is a struggle to leave the cozy fire side on days less inviting than this. but I was desperate to be out on the water, a quick chat and the application of several more layers a pair of waders and a life jacket, I was ready to have my first taste of the famous Tay and its world renowned fishing’s.
The BeatThe Meikleour & Islamouth beat sits on the junction of the River Isla and the Tay and is famous for the Junction and Castle pools, 2 of the 14 named pools on the 2 mile beat, which sit 7 miles downstream of Dunkeld and 10 mile above Perth. Nestled in the rolling rich fertile farmland that lines the lower Tay, it is a consistent beat producing nearly 200 fish a year, Meikleour has been with the same family for over 300 years. The current owners have a real passion for fishing themselves, which is reflected in the effort, detail, expense and love that is clearly been put into maintaining and developing the beats facilities. The same passion for the beat is clear as soon as you talk to Callum and is reflected in enthusiasm with which past guests Tweet and speak about the beat. What I hadn’t been prepared for was the beauty of this stretch of the Tay even on a misty Scottish winters day.
The River Tay winds its 118 miles from source to coast through a stunning seasonally changing pallet of colour that takes in some of the most Shortbread box perfect scenery Scotland has to offer, from its mountain and moorland highland Perthshire sources. The Tay flows south through deep once glacial glens now cloaked in conifer and broadleaf, these glens and hills resonate with the past battles and history of Scotland. And Meikleour is a snap shot of Perthshires’ heritage and alluring scenic beauty, its towering tree lined banks draws you along the mighty peaty waters of the Tay.Starting my exploration of this famous beat we motored upstream under the picturesque old red sandstone Meikleour Bridge, Callum on the outboard of the Tay boat a fantastically stable and wide boat with a good keel that cuts through the surging and boiling mass of the Tays’ peaty waters. These boats are reminiscent of the famous Leven style boats comfortable and a pleasure to fish from, this one in particular freshly painted and clearly well cared for. I’ve never river fished from a boat before, simply because most Scottish river are too small to require one, It provides a unique perspective letting you appreciate the shear width of the Tay and the mass of water flowing through it.
Behind us as we motor through the aptly named house pool, the striking red stone of the Meikleour bridge beamed against the monochrome mist filled world, framed on both sides by the towering broadleaf’s and conifers that line the banks of the peaty highway. The towering leafless trees parting to a grassy slope leading from river upwards to the beautiful Meikleour House partially hidden in the slowly drifting mists.Callum anchored the boat alittle further upstream in the Boxbush pool and I cast my first fly of 2016.
the Sharpes Gordon 2 15ft 10/11wt (http://www.sharpes.net/gordon-2—15-0-10-salmon-rod-195-p.asp),
with an Orvis Large Arbor IV (http://www.orvis.co.uk/p/access-mid-arbor-fly-reels/3r44)
teamed with the Rio AFS Shooting head with hover1 sink tip (http://www.garryevans.co.uk)
and the classic early season fly a 1.5in copper tube Monkey (http://www.grahamsonline.co.uk/product/the-long-monkey-copper-tube-salmon-fly-with-jungle-cock).
I felt like I could have used a rod twice the length and still fallen short.The Tay is a river I have never really fished well certainly not the lower Tay, I have fished the head waters of the Tay; River and Loch Tummel as well as the River Garry for trout and grayling but never Salmon. So this trip was a whole new world of experiences, for several reasons; the shear scale of the Tay, it is several orders of scale larger than what I usually fish wider and deeper it presents you with a huge body of water that truthfully intimidates as you contemplate trying to cover the water with a fly. unless you have a champion class cast, which I most certainly do not have, but what I lack in distance and length I make up for with trying…or so I’ve been told.
This casting requirement relates nicely to the other reason this trip was a new world, the fishing techniques! As its says at the top of the page and in the very name I am a fly fisher so with the Tay at 3ft above summer levels the most productive methods are spinning and harling. I can hear the collective gasp and in truth the thought of using any technique other than the fly generally elicits derision at best and at worst a high pitched girlish scream of shock from myself, but as the collective “they” say “When in Rome”. So after a hour of ham fistedly casting the fly and angrily muttering insults at myself, I relent to the wisdom of Callum and pick up a spinning rod, to fish through the remainder of the pool. Approaching the tail Callum cautioned; a take if we are to get one is most likely here. But not a touch, the activity of earlier with fish showing had vanished and the water was quiet and a distinct chill was now in the air. We move on downstream to experience a new technique, that is all together alien to me.Harling; a method I believe originated on the Tay certainly the name did. Most loch fishers will know it as Trolling, 3 lines with lures and spoons set at different lengths to the side and rear of the boat, and slowly the boat is motored back and forth across the the pool occasionally holding position in the current and over known lies, it is apparently one of the most productive methods at certain river heights and time of year and a complete eye opener to me. As we explored pool after pool slowly dropping downstream the air was developing a real chill and with it we saw little movement on the surface and not a touch. The boat taking the load of the casting the chat flowed from fishing to farming and much more as the morning slipped away unnoticed enjoying the chat with Callum and the refreshing pleasure of being out on the river after a long closed season. Reaching the Castle pool and still not a touch, Callum called lunch and we went in search of the wood burner warmth.
A quick lunch of my homemade newly christened “lucky steak” pies, which I hoped would bring a fish come the afternoon session, opting to fly fish I waded the castle pool slowly moving downstream through the pool. With every step I relaxed and my cast improved but still not a touch. Callum was determined to find me fish, so we took to the boat once more crossing the river to the famous Junction which sits opposite the Castle pool. A cracking, fishy looking deep greasy watered pool where the waters of the Isla and Tay meet, boil and churn together. In higher water this pool produces fish consistently and within moments fish began to top and show, my spirits soared and hopes of a fish raced. I returned to the Spinning, casting to the greasy boils where the water meet a couple of quick jigs to sink the lure and then a slow retrieve to the boat, and with every cast comes anticipation of a Take. I send a cast out behind the boat and sink the lure with a couple of jerks of the reel a brief pause and I begin a slow retrieve, I can feel the the lure flutter and bite into the surging water of the junction pool. My anticipation waning, when the faintest knock, and before I can acknowledge it I feel that familiar adrenaline inducing take, the whole reason we fish! “Fish On!” Waves of excitement and relief course through me as I play the fish back to the boat, but its quite evident I’ve got a Kelt on the end of the line, alas no springer. But you couldn’t tell from the smile on my face, it just very enjoyable putting a bend in the rod and seeing a fish coming to the boat, regardless of it being a springer or not. Three casts later and I am shouting “fish on” as we approach the tail of the pool, another kelt more coloured than the first has take my lure, but it sheds the hook within feet of the boat and is gone with a splash into the peat darkness. Moments later Callum too is into a fish and as quickly as its on its off. Its the last fish or touch we see for the day but At least we have had a fish and put a couple of bends in our rod.
Returning to the Boat house and its warmth at the end of the day I was already planning my next Visit to this Beat, No springer but thats Salmon fishing it is a privilage just to see fish and to fish on a beautiful, well kept beat like Meikleour I really can’t praise it high enough; brilliant setting, quality facilities, with a real passion for the sport and its future. I can truthfully say i have not enjoyed my time more in a boat on a cold day; Callum is great Company and an invaluble source of Knowledge about the beat, the lies and fishing in general. if you intend to experience the mighty Tay I have to say try a day or more on the Meikleour and Islamouth Beat.