Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Early Season Salmon Fishing on The River Dee

On an early season trip to Lower Crathes near Banchory on The River Dee for the first time in my life I encountered “grue”. I was aware that suspended ice in the water could prevent fishing as my Father had encountered grue many years earlier on the Tweed and I could clearly remember his frustration of not being able to fish Hendersyde at the time.

We stayed overnight at Comrie on the Sunday night and set of early in the morning to miss the rush hour traffic through Dundee and made good progress. The route through Fetticairn was blocked with snow so we carried on to Stonehaven and cut across to Banchory. Although very cold it was now a lovely sunny morning and as we turned inland the scenery in the snowy landscape was lovely. Our spirits were high and as we got to within a few miles of the river we noticed several fields where the snow was sparkling as if there were a million diamonds embedded in it. We stopped and tried to take photographs but unfortunately they could not do this natural phenomenon justice. Doubtless it was caused by the temperatures of -10c creating ice crystals that were refracting the sun, but it was fantastic.

We carried on and rapidly reached the bridge downstream of our beat and were horrified by all the ice floating down the river and Father became a prophet of doom with gruesome tales of grue. On arriving at Crathes we met up with Cleeve and started learning more about grue. How many days it could last for, what was required for it to stop. Apparently a rise in water could stop it which would be associated with a rise in temperature, however as the prospects for Monday were non existent, we went and took possession of our two holiday cottages on the Inchmarlo Golf Course. Strange to be on a golf course under 5ft of snow and I still have no idea where the fairways and greens are, and will have to go back and have a look another time.

After a good first night and a bit of session to put the worlds to rights we did not rush to the river, as Cleeve reported that there was still grue everywhere but he hoped it might clear by the afternoon. Sadly it did not, but being of a inquisitive nature we did try and fish for the hell of it. There were now big rafts of ice coming down where the the grue had been compressed together by ice narrowing the channels from each bank. The only choice was a wet cell 2 and a big tube. It was quite fun in that there were small areas of clear water between the rafts of ice that were moving quite quickly and to hit them was a bit like dry fly fishing with a 15ft rod! We got better at it, Cleeve thought I am sure that we were mad and there was definitely very little chance of a fish, but at least we tried. I felt very sorry for Paul a friend who was on his first fishing trip after having some casting lessons on the Eden a few weeks earlier. I had thought that it would be a great introduction to Scotland and Salmon fishing and that he would at the very least get hold of a few kelts. I have fished for 20 years for salmon in February and March and never lost a day to grue and he had already lost his first 2 days.

After an excellent evening where Paul revealed well hidden culinary talents to produce a quite awesome curry, that will make him even more welcome on future trips. Rose and I decided to drive up the valley to Balmoral and see if the grue coming down was getting any less further upstream. Driving past Potarch Bridge we saw a ghillie breaking ice in readiness for his rods and were encouraged a little by this. The temperature was still – 10 and the gritters were out in force going along in tandom which I had not seen before as we arrived at Balmoral. The castle was shut up, but we stopped on the charming bridge built by Brunel and looked at the water and there was not very much grue present. After a stop in Ballater always a lovely little town I think, we returned to Crathes full of optimism. When we got there the river was still grued over. Robert the ghillie from West Durriss paid us a visit and we found out more about the vagaries of grue. It forms in the large pools on plant matter or on shingle where small portions of ice form in the water which is at freezing point. As these get bigger they start to float and rise to the surface a bit like the crushed ice you get from supermarkets. The bridge over the Dee at Balmoral had little grue because it is in a long rocky part of the river where the water cannot get a fixing to freeze the same. Apparently there can be grue above Banchory and some beats below Banchory can still fish. Fascinating but still no good to us!

Finally on Friday morning we could fish, the grue was largely gone, but there were large chunks of ice coming down, some of which were 10 metres across and several inches thick making wading very dangerous. But at least we were all fishing, sadly the two Pauls and Father had to go home at lunchtime and John Young and big Gavin from the River Earn had arrived to take their place. Conditions were improving in the afternoon and the ice rafts had passed through, however the river was starting to rise a little and colour up, I therefore decided to put a brighter fly on and chose a Dee fly that Paul Zissler had copied the year before on a brass tube that had some orange in it. Third cast once I had lengthened I had a take, quite gentle, my first thoughts were a kelt and I did not disturb John Young fishing downstream of me. The fish went on a little run and I started to hope that it was a springer as there was none of the head shaking movement that kelts often give. I put some pressure on and moved the fish back towards me, it came for a bit and then it was off downstream a solid 120 yard run. No chance now of not disturbing John, and he went for the net. The fish came back steadily and I got the backing back on the reel and we had a good tussle until it went on another long downstream run, this time I had to get out the river and chase it down the bank, trying to not let it get too far away. I had got to within about 75 yds of it when to my horror I saw a large chunk of ice about the size of A2 paper moving down my fly line. Helplessly I watched the ice move along the line and force the salmon to the surface, so that I saw the ice with the salmon's head above it. There was then a jolt and a lurch and the ice had gone, amazingly I still had the fish on the end of the line but something was wrong with it. The fish was wallowing in the side of the stream and drowning and appeared foul hooked in some way. I carried on down the bank retrieving line and managed to get some sideways pressure on the fish which could not fight at all and rapidly I was able to sweep the fish over John's net. A relief as it was a lovely hen fish of some size and I was in danger of killing her. The hook was stuck in her anal passage and this explained her inability to swim. We rapidly got the hook out and resuscitated her in the 32 degrees water, thankfully she was soon away with no harm done. John pronounced that it was a good “wee fish of some 15lbs” I argued that it was heavier having held it and felt its weight and put it in the records at 16lb.

As a sequel on looking at the photograph of myself and the fish and attempting to gauge the length I think that it may have been more than the 16lb. On discussing this with John Young he told me that actually he had had in his land rover a proper net for weighing fish but had forgotten it in all the excitement. I commented that this was a pity as it would have been nice to have settled the discussion to the fish's weight. John answered “It does not matter, the net would not have made any difference at all, the fish would still have weighed 15lb!” Which I guess proves it is impossible to have the last word with a scotsman! John did manage to catch a fish the next day which suggested that we could have had a decent week with out the grue.

Salmon Fishing at The Tufton Arms