Fishing Lines: No more hob-nobbing

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THE latest tabloid revelations about the Royal Family have almost certainly stuffed my chances of a week's fishing on the Queen's private water in Aberdeenshire.

Just imagine] Six days on one of the most beautiful stretches of the river Dee, fishing in the shadow of Balmoral Castle, for little more than pounds 450. Chris the Antique Dealer and I agreed it was too good to miss.

John Ashley Cooper's The Great Salmon Rivers of Scotland calls the upper Dee 'a fairyland of delightful surroundings'. With Lochnagar (now there's a familiar name), the Cairngorms and other high hills as backdrop, the Dee is justly rated the most attractive of all large Scottish rivers. But there's little chance of us appreciating that beauty, come March.

My wife, a student of history, would love the legends of the area. There is the old keep of Abergeldie Castle, a Gordon family stronghold since medieval times, and the hill to the south, Craig na Ban. It's named after Kitty Rankin, who was rolled down the hill in a barrel and burnt alive at the foot for witchcraft. But my wife won't be doing any history-spotting either.

I could pay a bit more, around pounds 1,000, and share the Dee around Drum, just outside Aberdeen, with three others in early February. That price includes a threebedroom cottage too. I could spend a day on a prime stretch of the Tay (about pounds 450) or come closer to home and enjoy a week on the river Wye near Monmouth ( pounds 6OO) or the river Avon in Hampshire for just pounds 350. But it's not the same as catching royal salmon legally.

For as little as pounds 100, I could fish the mighty Tweed, knowing that my money was going towards better fishing. The Tweed Foundation believes that juvenile salmon have a far greater chance of survival if their habitat is improved, and will be spending heavily on this work. But I had my heart set on chatting to Charles about afforestation and acid rain, or discussing the relative merits of the Blue Charm fly against the Dunkeld with the Queen Mother. No chance now.

The trouble is, you see, that any hobbledehoy with a fat wallet can book the stretches I've just mentioned. They are among the 227 lots in the annual postal auction run by the Atlantic Salmon Trust, a charity that works to preserve and improve stocks of wild salmon. This auction is the organisation's main fund-raising event, and the pounds 35,000 or so plays a vital part in its research work. The Trust can't afford to be picky about its bidders.

So you can just imagine what will happen when Fleet Street realises it can spend an invited week in the Queen's back garden, tearing up the lawns in their XR3is, for less than the average expenses chit. Personally, I feel sorry for the gillie, whose services come free with the water. The poor old chap will probably be required to cart around tripods and scanning equipment rather than to locate salmon.

Media excitement will know no bounds when they discover the names of the river's best pools. I have nothing against David Profumo of the Daily Telegraph - he seems a jolly nice chap - but what can he do when his news editor spots that the Telegraph Pool is only a mile from Balmoral? Goodness knows what sort of puns the Sun and Star will concoct with the river Muick, or the Laundry Pool (for all that dirty washing).

One thing's for sure: come March, there will be some of the strangest salmon you've ever seen on the banks of the Dee, with telephoto lenses instead of fins. And if that salmon sings like Elvis and has two heads instead of one, you'll know that the Daily Sport put in the highest bid.

Copies of the Postal Auction Catalogue are available free from the Atlantic Salmon Trust, Moulin, Pitlochry, Perthshire PH16 5JQ, tel 0796 473439. Closing date for bids is 1 February.