April, no showers

The weekend past fell in the middle of a fairly remarkable period of spring weather. I say spring, but it’s really been more like summer, with temperatures well above 20C, a very light south westerly and a general feeling of the goodlife. I say summer, but as local residents of this country will attest, such words don’t always inspire memories of beaming sunshine and melting ice creams.

Saturday awoke like a world with dew still on it. I say this not just for the well-placed Norman McLean reference, but because it was true. Beautiful, big drops of dew all over the grass. Promising start.

I decided to head for water which I’d skipped at the last moment the week before when I opted for a closer-to-home season opener. This time I made good time, arriving at the waterside, new polaroids at the ready, before 11am. A few olives peeled themselves off the water and lazily fluttered upstream in the slightest drift of a breeze. An upstream breeze here is quite rare, and even rarer when coupled with pleasant weather.

I watched the water for a good half hour. Plenty of time to make up the season’s first 15 foot dry fly leader. The season’s first olive-hatch-matching dry fly was a deer hair emerger. Nothing new to see here..

A few fish were rising in a run on the far side, but to get there would require a short hike upstream to cross in shallower water. The minds ticks slowly at moments like this, as it weighs up the likely benefits of going to all that hassle, possibly for a couple of small fish, while a sixth sense (also known as prior experience in this case) suggests it’s worth staying put and waiting. I waited.

A large, water-pushing rise in mid-stream. A second fish just upstream of my right-bank position. I opted to try for the nearer second fish. After a couple of ‘come-short’ rises where my strike resulted in hooking thin air, finally a solid take and an enthusing tussle before a beautiful 12oz spring brownie came to hand. Thoughts of taking fish like this on a dry fly in April take up large chunks of musing-time between October and March.

Time to concentrate on the creature pushing around all that water in mid-stream. I watched for another 5 minutes as olive after olive met their demise, with a few March brown’s thrown in for measure. I made some pleasingly drag-free drifts (at least I thought they were drag-free) with no response. Feeling a bit desperate, I added the secret weapon of a mini leopard-print skirt to the DHE and tried again. Suitably dragged-up, the fly was annihilated in a large splashy rise and I watched with some disbelief as my fly line payed out in a quick-step across the river.

A long fight followed, during which I had time to variously contemplate that I might be about to break my personal brown trout record, I might be about to loose an amazing fish, I’m sure I’m going to loose this whopper, and finally I’m about to wet myself. Some minutes passed, but I could barely move the bulk of fish attached to my line, and held on in hope as it repeatedly stripped off huge reams of fly line. At last it decided to investigate the nearside bank, and I managed to gain most of the line back. As the fish swam around and around in front of me, I got my first proper glimpse. What I saw was not very brown, or very trouty. It did, however, make my net look quite comically small.

Some careful maneuvering and as much side-strain as my 5-weight rod could bear and the silvery fish swam headfirst into the aforementioned comical net. The tail remained thoroughly beyond the rim. I threw my rod onto the bank, and paused for a handful of seconds to cradle the fish. And what a fish. Shining silver, deep-forked tail, a smattering of spots above the lateral line. I’m not a migratory fisherman, but I believed then, and do now, that it was a fine spring salmon of about 8-9lb. Not huge for a springer, but in excellent condition (with the exception of some possible net damage on the head). And caught fairly and in good faith on a size 16 deer hair emerger during a spring olive hatch.

A bit bizzare, and a one-off I’d have thought if it hadn’t already happened 2 seasons ago. I’ve since been in touch with a fisheries biologist to recount these unexpected spring catches, and he has confirmed that such things happen every season in Scotland. Quite why salmon feed on fly hatches like this is not clear. Whether they gain any nutritional benefit is also unclear, and probably unlikely given that the stomach lining of a salmon begins to disintegrate in fresh water. But rise they do.

I must confess to feeling a bit short-changed at the time, given the several minutes during which I thought I might have a genuine whopper-trout on the line. It’s been quite a few seasons since I’ve had that privilege. In retrospect, however, that’s perhaps a bit of a silly way to think. I now feel rather grateful to have had an encounter with a fish that’s been to Greenland and back, and that it so-appreciated my dragged-up deer hair emerger.