Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Salmon Fishing on The River Ness

September 21st - 24th 2008

I have just been lucky enough to enjoy 3 days fishing at Ness Castle on the River Ness in Ross-shire. The River Ness is only some 7 miles long and connects Loch Ness to the sea. There are only 4 private beats plus the town water in Inverness itself and the season is relatively short from July to October so it is always a privilege to get a chance to fish it. This is enhanced at Ness Castle by the splendour and comfort of the fishing lodge and "fishing bothy" allied with the excellent food and service that go with it. If all this coupled with wonderful fly water for 5 rods was not enough, the icing on the cake comes with the presence of Gordon Armstrong the world casting champion and David Stewart who has such a depth of knowledge and understanding of the river as your ghillies. When an invitation comes to fish here no is not an option!

One of the thrills of salmon fishing is the glorious uncertainty of it. This was perfectly illustrated on our first morning. Having tackled up a vast array of rods that John Noriss's had lent me for various friends to try who had not got any tackle. I set off to the Ladies Stream with Nick who had never fished before to get him introduced to casting and fishing. A nice surprise was when he grapped the oars and proved a far more adept boatman than myself and admitted to a lifetime spent sailing and racing yachts. The river was in excellent condition running at 1ft 9ins and a great height for the ladies stream. However we were on the left hand bank with a fairly stiff downstream wind so Nick had to start of with learning left handed double speys. After the usual few abortive attempts Nick soon picked up a serviceable cast that was getting a reasonable amount of line out. Some casts went impressively out to the end of the leader and I explained how this meant that the fly was swimming properly for the whole cast and more likely to take a fish. Other casts did not go as well and Nick started wanting to know what was wrong with each cast when it did not extend. We were in the process of analysing such a cast when suddenly the line moved and he said "I think I've got one". I had gone through the rudiments of playing a fish and Nick did a good job and soon got the hang of it and we ended up beaching a 6lb grilse within 40 minutes of him commencing fishing. Gordon arrived and we could not stop laughing at the improbability of it all. Nick could not understand why we found it so amusing so we told him a few tales of friends who had taken seven years or more to catch their first fish to try and put things into perspective. Amazingly Nick went on to catch 2 more fish the following day to prove that it wasn't luck and will take some persuading about how difficult salmon fishing is!

No mention of Ness Castle would be complete with out reference to celebrity chef George Mckay in the kitchen and his excellent team of girls who look after you like kings. After being lucky enough to sample George's food last year, this year we came armed with an impressive collection of wines designed to do the food justice. Thanks to the generosity of my hosts we were able to match a rare roast fillet of scotch beef with a 1998 Beaune, Clos de Roi, Phillipe Dufulour, 1999 Vieux de Telegragh, Brunier with roast grouse, 1997 Mersault Perrieres, Drouhin with Turbot and 2000 Puligny Montrachet, Les Folatieres, Drouhin with a fruit de mers of lobsters, langoustines and crabs.

My 3 day trip was made perfect on the Wednesday afternoon by a lovely 8+lb sea liced cock salmon from the lady's stream netted by David. As it was so fresh I kept my first fish of the season which will then be sent to Neves our fish suppliers in December to have smoked for Christmas Day. If you can it works far better to keep the fish frozen and then have the smoked salmon back fresh than it does freezing smoked salmon.

As always it was a pleasure to fish with Gordon again. There is something about having the world casting champion walking along the bank towards you that renders one incapable of casting properly. The previous casts may have been going out superbly but human nature being what it is, you somehow try that bit harder and the results are awful. To Gordon's credit his enthusiasm and easy going nature soon relax guests and enable them to start improving their casting. I am currently trying to re model my spey casting to try and get both hands equally into each cast as I am starting to get elbow pains from my spey casting relying too much on the top hand. Having Gordon to give advice and the odd demonstration during the three days has helped alot though some more practise is definitely required!

Our week was along way behind last years catch of 40+ fish but somehow was just as enjoyable. We did get to double figures with two fishermen getting their first fish Nick and Paul. Frank my host also caught his largest fish to date an 18lb hen having being introduced by Gordon to stripping a collie dog which induced a thrilling take followed by a lung busting pursuit down the bank. Thanks to all our company and everyone at Ness Castle for a special time.

Salmon Fishing
Vintage Wines

The Highs and Lows of Running a Grouse Moor

With this seasons weather continuing its inclement course having an interest in one of the highest driven grouse fells in the UK can be a very mixed pleasure. Having counted our grouse in late July and discovered record numbers for our fell, anticipation and excitement have known no bounds. Sadly this was tempered when Frank our keeper informed us of some damage to our 4 mile long track up the fell caused by the heavy rains in early August. Probably a result of the day when 62mls of rain were recorded at Warcop. However a trip to assess the damage and see if we could get through for a day over pointers on the first saturday of the season revealed that it was far from a large disaster and a couple of days with a digger have sorted it out.

The day over pointers was great fun though frustrating in the morning when the cold weather and strong winds made the grouse very skittish and reluctant to stay on point. We were very privileged to be shooting over Colin Organs pointers and setters and it was fascinating to watch the skills of the dogs and their handler in these adverse conditions. Thankfully the sun did come out in the late morning and the sport improved. Lunch was taken al fresco outside the hut around a large table at 2,400 ft and I think was something of a surprise to a group of walkers who stumbled upon us. The afternoon was superb and though we did an area of the fell which had the least grouse on according to our counts there were still plenty of grouse. The day finished with 17 brace of grouse and we were able to enjoy the first young grouse of the season for dinner that night.

Our first driven day on the last saturday in August took place in perfect clear conditions with a useful wind from the south. Unfortunately I could not shoot but I invited four guests all old friends to represent me. I did manage to entertain them the night before when we had almost by chance the most stunning meal. Adrian had brought with him from Aberfeldy some young red deer liver that we served lightly cooked as a warm salad with a magnum of Jean Grivots 2000 Vosne Romanee. Several guests had never had deer liver before and what an introduction! This was followed by a large saddle of lamb from Ewbanks carved from the trolley which we shared with another large shooting party to get the 20 people you need to put one on. The lamb was so sweet and tender with a just wonderful flavour that fully maintained the reputation of our local lamb. We washed this down with magnums of 2000 Haut Pontet, St Emillion, Grands Crus to complete a most memorable meal. My guests enjoyed an equally good day on the moor. However when I caught up with them in the evening there were sheepish grins and much talk of strong winds and October like grouse and how difficult grouse are on the high fell! Some gentle probing revealed a bag of some 33 brace at what they thought was a cartridge ratio of about 4 to 1.I must confess I was a bit crestfallen as I was hoping for a bag double this. A chat with Frank in the morning over coffee got to the nitty gritty. The guns had had just short of 400 shots a ratio of 6 to 1 and he had seen plenty of grouse. Our long third drive had been into the wind and this early on in the season they had not been able to get the birds to the guns. I finished the conversation much happier that we had got sufficient grouse for the shooting season that we have got planned

Grouse Shooting in Cumbria