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  • Lana Richardson

The Last Hurrah '22

2022 has been a very special season for me. I caught my first ever March 'springer', was lucky enough to fish 21 rivers across Scotland, fished abroad for the first time ever and then the second time. Most importantly though, I made some new really great friends through fishing.

Colin and I had been discussing for a while where we would finish our 2022 salmon season. We started together on the Helmsdale in January so it seemed fitting that we fished our last days together too; and anyway, it wouldn't be appropriate to end the season without one last mission. A solid plan came together and Colin journeyed over on the ferry from Lewis to join me in the highlands.

We were going to be fishing three different rivers over three days, this was our last chance to connect with a salmon before the spring.

River Ness

The river Ness is well known for being a very productive stretch of water and it is wide, fast flowing and crystal clear. All of the fish which migrate to the upper Ness systems (Oich, Garry, Moriston; to name a few) have to travel through the river Ness itself. The Dochfour beat can be especially productive due to the weir which connects the river Ness to loch Dochfour, which then opens up into loch Ness. It is thought that lot of the salmon who are continuing up through the Ness tend to get held up in the pools below the weir before continuing their up stream journey through loch Ness and into its many conjoined rivers, many fish of course are returning to the Ness river itself and don't go any higher than the weir at Dochfour.

I had caught a kelt from the Ness before but neither of us had ever caught a pre-spawning Ness fish. The Ness system is also known to boast some especially large fish, we were excited!

We got set up at the hut and met up with Cameron who would be our ghillie for the day. I chose to fish my 14ft 9wt Loop 7x with a float/intermediate 10wt Loop GDC line and an airflo 10ft fast sink poly tip, my first fly of choice was a Willie Gunn snaelda with a size 8 double hook.

Photo by Colin Macleod

We eagerly marched down to the river, dropped our kit off at the hut and then began fishing our way down a bit of water called the 'netting water'. It is a very wide bit of the river which is relatively fast flowing. It is a section known to hold a good number of fish and it didn't take long to start seeing them. We fished down the netting water and didn't connect with a fish, we saw plenty but we were clearly going to have to work harder than 45 minutes of fishing. We made our way back upstream to the hut to change our flies and have a cup of coffee. The view from the fishing hut is so lovely, it looks right out onto the river. Whilst sat with a cup of coffee looking at the river, it almost puts you almost into a trance. It is unusual for me to want to have a break in the morning if I haven't yet caught a fish, but on this occasion, I was very happy to take it easy and knew that if I was meant to catch a fish that day, then it would happen regardless.

After a good blether about fishing and a refill of caffeine, we headed back out to the river. We walked up stream to the weir pool, which is one of the most productive pools on the beat, if not the whole river. I let Colin go in the hotspot, which I thought was quite nice of me! He fished the run out of the weir and I went further down river to the next pool below the weir. I was very happy with how I fished it and every cast felt 'fishy', once I reached the end of the pool I got out and headed back up to see how Colin was getting on. Just as he reached the spot that I had started at, he hooked into a fish! Obviously one which I had missed! I was so excited for him, his first Ness fish was on the end of his line. Cameron asked me if I wanted to net it, of course I did, but I was very nervous...Colin would definitely be very forgiving if I messed it up, but I couldn't allow that to happen. I should have definitely waited until the fish was in shallower water and had tired a little more, but I was so apprehensive, I just wanted to quickly get the job done. I put the net under the fish and gently lifted it up. Luckily the salmon ended up safely in the net, much to Cameron and Colin's surprise I'm sure. It was an absolutely beautiful hen salmon of a chunky 10lb. I took the fly out which was a small red Francis and Colin released her back into the pool.

Photo by Colin Macleod

Now it was up to me to get one too. I decided to take myself back up stream above where Colin had hooked his fish. I swapped my fly onto a similar red Francis to Colins, changed to a size 6 single hook and got stuck in. Although I was delighted that Colin had just caught a fish, the low-key competitive side to me told me that I also needed one, and fast! I was casting away with Colin and Cameron around 100m downstream from me, all of a sudden my line came taught, I couldn't believe my eyes, I had a fish on! I think I got their attention by a rather nervous squeal and they both quickly came up stream to my aid. I could tell that it was quite a decent sized fish, but it wasn't exactly sure how big yet. My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking, I almost had a shortness of breath; I was so excited. After a good fight for a few minutes, Cameron successfully netted the fish for me. It was a brilliant cock fish with beautiful 'tartan' colours, we weighed him and he was 11lb. I won't rub in the fact that it was 1lb heavier than Colins fish... We got some quick pictures of him and I released him back on his way. Those fish will probably only have another month or so to wait in the river until they begin to think about spawning.

Photo by Colin Macleod

After both catching a fish we were quite happy to stop for lunch. There's something about

having lunch when you've caught a fish beforehand that is just amazing. After lunch, Colin fished down the pool in front of the hut and Cameron took me out in the boat. A strong down stream wind got up whilst we were out on the boat so snake rolling out the back of the boat was the best option. I really enjoy snake rolling, especially with big roads and heavy lines, so even though I didn't have a fish in the afternoon, I had a lot of fun trying. We decided to head back up to the weir pool for one last attempt at connecting with another fish. I had a few casts but decided that I was happy to stop. I lay down on the bank and fell asleep for half an hour whilst Colin fished the pool down, you cant beat a river bank nap! We didn't end up coming in to contact with another fish and decided to call it a day around 5pm, although feeling very accomplished!

Photo by Colin Macleod

River Deveron

My alarm went off at 06:30 and I sprung out of bed, getting up for a days fishing is never difficult. I headed up to Inverness and met Colin and his cousin Dave. From there we headed over to the Deveron together, via Harry Gows in Keith of course. We arrived at Laithers beat near Turriff. Laithers is owned and managed by the lovely Cruickshank family, each time I have been there I have always been made to feel very welcome. It is such a picturesque beat with a variety of lovely fly water. Colin and Dave had never fished the Deveron before so I was really excited to show them it. We got set up and the conditions looked great. It was forecasted to brighten up as the day went on so I was keen to take advantage of the overcast morning, lots of people aren't bothered by the sun whilst salmon fishing but I personally don't like it. Dave hadn't yet caught his first salmon, I had my fingers crossed that today would be his day!

I made my way down to Miaggie pool with my 13ft double hand Loop Opti nxt with 9wt GDC float/intermediate line and a 5ft poly sink tip on the end. Miaggie's is known to be a great holding pool, I had fished it many times over the summer and autumn but unfortunately never shared the same success which others usually have there, although I did always see fish. I had lost fish off of the Deveron before but never landed one, I had high hopes that my luck would change! I carefully waded into the river half way down the run which flowed into the pool. I began making long precise casts landing my banana fly into the slackening water where the run met the pool. On what felt like my first cast of the day, within 10 minutes of fishing, all of a sudden I hooked in to a fish! Colin and Dave were still getting set up and they ran over to see me and helped me land it. It was a coloured grilse of 4 or 5lbs ish. I was totally delighted but I was so calm throughout hooking, landing and releasing it as I totally didn't expect it! I have learnt something about myself this year, the more effort that I put in to hook a fish = more excited / shocked I am. If I hook into one within the first 10 minutes then I am usually very relaxed about it! I was so delighted to have finally caught my first Deveron fish, although now all I wanted was for Dave and Colin to continue the trend. I got back in, fished down the remainder of the pool and momentarily had a very big fish on...I know for a fact that it was huge as it almost felt like i'd snagged a rock in a deep area of the pool where there are definitely no was on for a few seconds and then came off. I have intentionally not thought about it much since, but that was a serious salmon for sure.

After starting quite central on the beat, the three of us continued fishing down until we got to the bottom pool called Powan Daff. We fished Morrisons on the way and a good sized fish showed there, we got a couple of pulls from fish, which were signs of things to come. We reached Powan Daff which is another favoured pool on the Laithers beat. As I had already had a fish, I felt it was only right to let Colin have the first run down. Just as his fly reached the known 'hot spot', he was in! I was so delighted for him. We were on a roll; another really nice grilse was safely released. Little did we know, the best part of the day was yet to come...

With the day feeling like it was rushing away from us and lots of water still to be fished, we quickly made our way back up towards the middle of the beat where we began fishing that morning. We grabbed a quick lunch on the move and relocated ourselves to the turning wheel pool. The heavens completely opened with a biblical style rain shower but we decided to brave the elements and carry on fishing. The last time I had fished turning wheel, around 6 weeks prior, the river must have been around 2 feet higher, the pool was totally unrecognisable and I was unsure how to approach it at first. We got Dave in fishing the run into turning wheel which was really nice streamy water with a few nice lies for fish to hold up in prior to continuing their upstream journey. I headed further down the pool from Dave. I was becoming a bit damp & cold at this point so I started to mess around with some casting; the concentrated fishing had temporarily ceased... Colin came and joined me and had a shot of my rod and line, I think he too was feeling a mild dip in motivation.

We were sharply pulled back into the game by Dave shouting down to us to tell us he had hooked a fish, his first ever salmon and neither of us could take any credit for it as we had abandoned him! He hooked it totally under his own steam. Colin raced up to help him, I quickly reeled my line in, threw my rod onto the bank and followed behind. Dave was totally calm and composed. Colin and I on the other hand...My heart was racing, I was praying that the fish stayed on. No one deserved this fish more than Dave. After 10 minutes which felt like an hour, Colin netted Dave's first salmon. They had fished many times together in the past and Colin was always eager for Dave to catch a salmon; the special moment was finally here. After a quick photo, the fish was gently released. This was a moment which wasn't going to be topped. We all soaked up the first fish joy and made a plan for the remainder of our afternoon. We decided to head further upstream to the top of the beat, where the heron pools are. Colin ventured right to the top of the beat to the cupboard pool, I fished mid heron and Dave fished lower heron. The weather had changed from the total grey and murky downpour at lunchtime to a warm and sunny afternoon. The river had began to rise and colour up again, the sunshine made the waters change in colour very noticeable. My least favourite part of the day was at mid heron, I took an absolute clunker on the bank, the rain had made the bank really slippery, I am admittedly clumsy, if there is a chance to fall over I will usually be the one to take it! I thought I had managed to suffer the embarrassment without anyone seeing me, but I later discovered that Colin had witnessed the whole thing, and even caught a brief second of it on film...!

We headed back down the beat to Miaggie's. I had one last run through with a different fly, I didn't connect with a fish but I was totally content that the day was sufficiently awesome so I began packing away. Now, Colin does have a habit of being 'jammy', but this time he really excelled himself. Just as I was about to take my waders off, I turned around to see Colin in Miaggie's (which I had just very carefully fished down) with a fish on! I was so excited for him, especially after I put my own nose back into the right alignment. He was as cool as a cucumber as he fought it, tailed it, released it and casually made his way back up to the car to pack away; like I said, Jammy!

We were also lucky enough to be blessed with a stunning sunset view on our drive back through the Aberdeenshire and Moray countryside. An awesome day was had, 4 Deveron salmon, 3 first Deveron salmon and 1 first ever salmon!

River Glass

The river Glass is an upper major tributary of the Beauly, near Inverness. I had fished the Glass a few times in tough summer conditions and sadly didn't manage to cross paths with a salmon but I was excited to try again. The drive up to beat 1 on the Glass takes around 40 minutes from Beauly and is very scenic. Colin had never fished the Glass so it was cool for him to visit a new river. The Glass is a hydro river, this means that even in low water conditions, the twice daily water compensation release gives the river a small lift and freshen up. We joined Ali my stepdad at the beat, him and my Mum have a rotation on the Glass and he kindly let us fish the last day of the season there with him. We were lucky to have landed on having beat 1 which is right at the top of the river Glass just before the hydro. This beat has lots to offer, within approx 1.5 miles long, the fly water is very varied and keeps things interesting. For one pool you might want to have a switch or single hander set up and the next you might want your 13 or 14ft double hander to hand.

Ali headed down stream to his favourite spot on the beat and Colin and I headed up steam. Colin started in the run pictured to the left, it wasn't too deep and had a good flow to it but was somewhere which definitely held fish. It didn't take long before Colin started to get a few grabs at his fly, sadly nothing stuck. We fished for another few hours and then we decided to stop for lunch. After a sausage roll, a coffee, a cuddle with the dogs and a change of fly, I was ready to go again. This time we headed further down the beat towards where Ali went to first of all. He had lost a fish there in the morning and after Colin getting a couple of pulls, we knew there were definitely fish about. Colin fished down the pool pictured below, it looked like the sort of place which would be a non-negotiable for definitely hooking a fish, the water was amazing although there was a big back eddy with a downward current on the near bank which made it frustrating to fish; I find back eddy's very frustrating! One thing I have learnt over the years, if somewhere looks especially 'fishy' it sometimes isn't at all and you'll more likely hook fish in the places you least expect to.

I made sure I was fishing a different fly and at a different depth to Colin and then fished the pool down after him. I was quickly envious of him as whilst I did that he took a riverbank kip for 20 minutes.

Just as I got to the bottom of the pool my phone rang, it was Ali who was another few hundred meters down stream of us and he had just landed a salmon! Without hesitating I woke Colin up so we could head down to Ali and get in on the salmon catching action. We went down and first of all asked him which fly he caught it on, which turned out to be a huge orange tungsten Francis which can fairly be described as a carrot lookalike! Ali got back in the same spot and within minutes had another salmon on, there must have been some really good lies with lots of fish in that area, and they were obviously 'on'. I netted it for him and then Colin and I ventured down stream from Ali to the pool which marked the bottom of the beat. Just as we were about half way there, Ali shouted down to us, he had a third fish on, all within the space of 15 minutes! I left my rod behind and ran back up to help him net it. As I got into the water and got ready to net it, I quickly realised that it wasn't a grilse like the other two were, it was a huge river brown trout! (we all agreed from its characteristics that it wasn't a sea trout). I absolutely love wild trout, probably more than salmon, dare I admit it, so I got VERY excited! Technically the trout was out of season but he didn't seem to care as he tried to munch the massive orange Francis which Ali had on. I hadn't seen such a beautiful trout in a long time. After all of this excitement Ali had to leave, which I think we were secretly happy about as we could get in and fish the fishy spot which he had just scored his hatrick in!

We rested 'Ali's pool' for half an hour or so and then without hesitation I eagerly jumped in, on this occasion I was very happy to go in before Colin! hah! As if it was a given, within the first few minutes I was hooked up! This really was a great spot... After netting the fiesty little cock fish (and almost falling in in the process) I fished the rest of the pool down, I unbelievably had 4 or 5 pulls before I finished fishing it through, at this point I was surprised that I didn't wangle a second one out! It was now Colin's turn to fish the pool which so far had produced us 3 salmon and a chunk of a trout.

Again, as if by magic within a few casts, it was game on and his Loop classic began to sing! He had hooked into a hard fighting grilse, a little bigger than the ones which Ali and I had caught. After releasing it, I think we both needed a minute to realise our luck and express our gratitude to the salmon gods!

We didn't have much daylight left so we made our way back up towards the car. Because the track down to the river bank was quite muddy, Ali had driven us and our kit down in his pickup down to the river and I left my car at the main road. When Ali left we just left our kit out in the field next to the river. When we got back to it, we discovered that a cow had enjoyed a good rummage through it and tipped it all over, luckily everything was alight; they are the true thugs of the Scottish Highlands!

As close to home fishing trips go, this one will be hard to beat. We both fished on 3 different rivers over three days and caught 7 fish between us. The highlights for me are undoubtably Colin's cousin Dave catching his first salmon, Ali catching that chunky brownie, and I suppose Colin should also get some credit for catching a salmon on the Deveron within 5 minutes of leaving to go home.

Here's to the 2022 salmon season and roll on the fishing adventures of 2023!

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