Fishing: When salmon rise and dive like synchronised swimmers

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THE FIRST sight of a particularly good salmon river always makes me catch my breath. They are always more powerful than I remember; with a raw and awesome beauty that, you fancy, the river saves just for you. The Carron lies in the highlands of Scotland, very, very far north. It is perhaps the most beautiful salmon river I have ever fished. Unlike some Scottish rivers that - like faded starlets - live on past glories, the Carron has no particular reputation to uphold. It is not up there with the Tweed, Tay or Spey. And yet she is a magical river. If I could fish no other salmon river but the Carron I would not fret.

The Carron is a peaty river, so as she laps against the banks her waters look like black coffee. The air here is pure and frisks the lungs, even in July. I was staying at Glenmorangie House (a recently opened country house that, as its name suggests, belongs to the distillers) and it was on the Cornhill beat that my salmon fishing for two days had been procured. Thus I fished during the day and drank whisky at night by a peat fire. Let it not be said that the life of a fishing correspondent is easy.

Cornhill is a long beat with lots of pools of varying speeds, thus making for interesting fishing. Until 31 May only one salmon per week is allowed here, and quite right too. After this and until the end of the season (30 Sept) the limit goes up to two. All hen fish must be returned during the months of August and September. It was also my great good fortune to meet the Scottish ghillie Allan Donaldson who was looking after the upper beats but came to show me the river.

We fished all morning. I with a Hardy Ultralite, a rod I had been waiting to get my hands on for many months. Just setting up this Aston Martin of salmon rods made my hands shake; it is a handsome rod with an excellent fast action. It held a floating line with sinking leader and a 10lb tippet but, as Allan told me later, I would have been better off with an intermediate or even sinking line as the fish were low. I put on my Ally's Shrimp and went to it but with not much luck. Not getting much chance to practise Spey casting means that at the very least a morning is used up with inferior casting and getting caught up on everything. After lunch Allan came back to spend a bit of time with us. He started fishing the Wall Pool whilst I marvelled at his ability to doubt Spey cast to Aberdeen. Within 10 minutes he had hooked a fish.

I have never caught a salmon, so Allan beckoned me down on to the very narrow gravel bank to play it in. Because I had heard so many tales of what salmon do when hooked - they turn and bolt downstream, taking the backing line with them; they fight hard for hours etc etc - I was a little nervous of what to expect. This wasn't helped by Allan holding onto the back of my jacket. When I asked, "Why, what's going to happen?" Allan replied that I was shaking so much from excitement he feared I would fall in. No drugs could possibly match this feeling. Within 10 minutes the salmon, actually a grilse weighing 43/4lb and 24in in length, was in the net. He was still carrying a few long-tailed sea lice, which probably meant he had come in that morning with the tide. He was so handsome that I couldn't stop looking at him for the rest of the afternoon.

Within 15 minutes Allan had another fish on, this time on a 1in Kyley tube (Allan's own fly) which I played in again. This one fought much harder, my back ached getting a bend in the rod. He was hooked in the Gledfield Pool, another grilse, this time of 6lb and with a 25in-long suit of silver. With hindsight I wish I had returned him. One was enough, but as it was we had him smoked and ate him some days later. He was delicious.

My fishing buddy, Pete, pleased for me but sulking because he was casting atrociously, caught nothing except himself. With a size eight Ally's Shrimp on he hooked himself in the cheek. Allan got the fly out whilst I administered handkerchief dapping to the forehead.

The second day's fishing passed without much incident except that I, exhausted by air bereft of pollution, slept in the car for four comatose hours with my Hardy rod for company. After this bonding my casting was much improved. But the best it of this day had yet to come. Allan came back to join us and then took us up to some of the upper beats of the Carron. To places of such utter beauty one could only clutch one's chest and whisper "Oh, my God" into the soft wind. Truly some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen. It is here than Allan does his "every day" fishing.

We all three of us stared down at the river from a high bank, silent, watching salmon rise and dive down again like synchronised swimmers. You hear of them doing this, but I had never seen it. Then we went up further, the river far below us to where the Carron crashes over rocky waterfalls and ladders lead down to ledges for fishing. Standing here so far away from anything stressful, modern or ugly it was difficult to believe anything had changed in a thousand years. There were no signs of civilisation, except for the leaping salmon as they made their way back up to the Redds. And they were magnificent.

Glenmorangie House

Tel: 01862 871671

a.barbieri@independent.co.uk

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