The anticipation was always a bit too much to cope with. Full of promise and excitement, but you always knew that you were hoping for too much. The nearer the river you got, the more you’d be telling yourself that the signs were there. It was greener than ever before and the peaty pools by the road less stagnant. And there it would be, resplendent in the only sun there’d been during the whole journey. The Naver, down to its bones.
This type of built up excitement and promise of great things to come, followed by abject disappointment is nothing new. I’ve learned to deal with it through years of salmon fishing, and prior to that following the England cricket team in the pre-Strauss era.
I fished the Naver for a good few years, for which I am eternally grateful to my good friends who kept inviting me. There is no substitute for knowing a river when learning the craft of salmon fishing, and fishing the Naver was in July was the perfect opportunity to learn to fish small rivers in low water.
And it was always low water, with the exception of the time I had my first fly caught salmon. I think it was my second trip to the Naver, and the river was nothing but a burn again. But then on the Friday it rained like it can only do in the Highlands. I don’t think at the time I really realised the implications for the fishing. I was all but ready to give up on salmon, but I knew deep down the rain wouldn’t make conditions worse.
If I could have that day again, I’d be fishing through the rain without stopping, but as it was I think we got drunk indoors instead. We were greeted by a clearly agitated Tommy the ghillie the next morning. He was desperate to get going, but thwarted by guests who were fannying around trying to find matching waders, wondering what flavour crisps to take and so on.
I can still picture what happened later. I was fishing a double hander, overhead casting of course, and covering a beautiful piece of fly water adequately. The sun appearing from behind high altitude cumulus cloud.
I never knew if I first saw the flash of deep flank barely concealed by the brown tinged but clear water, or felt that incredible feeling as the rod tip bangs across the current and the reel starts screaming.
Let’s just say that all hell seemed to break loose. This was a bright silver mid-teens cock fish, that must have just run the two or three miles from the sea at Bettyhill within the last half an hour. He cartwheeled all over the place and my heart was in my mouth. I’ve caught a fair few salmon since, and that feeling is still wonderfully familiar.
I’m sure I played that fish a bit over-gingerly, and I think Tommy was more desperate to get it on the bank than I was. 14lbs he weighed in at. I followed with another fish, around 6lbs. I think there was one other fish that day to 6 rods, so on that occasion I felt on the right side of luck.
By the end of the day when the ghillies had gone home, when everyone was sat in the Lodge starting on the g&ts, I had figured out how special the day was. So I headed out again, back to the pool I caught my first fish from. And wouldn’t you know it, same cast as in the morning I hooked a carbon copy.
I wasn’t so lucky this time. Inexperience caused me to allow the fish to run into the pool below, and after ten minutes of exhilaration the line snapped, probably at a wind knot.
Full of well-earned excitement, I headed back to the Lodge to tell my story. But before I went in I quickly tied on a new cast and literally ran down to the pool in front. Last few casts of the holiday. And, a spanking 5lb grilse absolutely smashed the fly. I made no mistake this time, and he was smartly banked.
I really don’t think I’ve bettered this day yet, so I have no choice but to keep on trying….