My first salmon
Charlie Coups recounts the agony of losing her first ever salmon, and the ecstasy of going home triumphant, just hours later.
My Dad is a bit of a hero. Not just because he's my Dad, but because from a young age he introduced me to his greatest passion in life – fly fishing. At the age of 11, I wasn't particularly cool and far more at home covered in mud than shopping for new clothes. My favourite time of year was, without doubt, our family fishing holiday to Scotland and, almost 19 years later, it still is.
Before my brother and I were old, strong and patient enough to try our luck at a salmon, we'd spend hours searching for the perfect rod-like sticks with which to fish for tiddlers in the shallows, or helping Dad select the perfect fly to use from his extensive, self-tied collection – usually the most garish! Not to mention our daily 11am cup of tea using the Kelly Kettle, which became a ritual of collecting piles of dried-out gorse, lighting a fire and filling up the kettle from the river – the best cuppa ever!
The year of 1997 was to be the one. I can't quite remember, but I'm pretty certain that my main motivation was to catch a fish before my brother, who, although four years younger than me, was already eyeing up his chances. I'd practised my casting, donned my favourite blue tweed cap, sunglasses and fishing waistcoat, picked out my fly and was ready to go.
The Junction Pool of the River Beauly is a fantastic spot where the Glass and Farrar tributaries meet the main river. The pool is fished from either the rocky shallows or the roadside, which involves carefully navigating a steep, slightly more treacherous bank.
Convinced that he was going to help me catch my first salmon, Dad and I trekked the mile to the pool laden with all manner of kit so that I could fish from the shallows. After several heated exchanges as he tried to tell me what I was doing wrong (being a typical woman, I thought I knew better), I started to relax and fish down the pool using my new Spey-casting skills that had been honed on the lawn at home.
The next 30 minutes went by in a flash. Amazingly, I hooked into a fish only a few casts from the start of the run and started to panic. The fish was jumping and running all over the place. But, with a few calm words of wisdom from the old man, I kept the rod up and started to reel in slowly when I could. After about 20 minutes, I remember thinking my arms were going to give way and, sensing the fish was also getting quite tired, I was desperate to get it into the net...
I looked over to Dad who stood there empty-handed. He'd forgotten the bloody net.
Plan B involved trying to land the fish on the rocks close to the edge of the river, which meant I had to carefully negotiate the rocky terrain on the way back to the bank whilst trying not to snag the line on the rocks. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. Dad was having cold sweats.
By this point I could see the fish. It was almost within reach. Dad waded in a few steps, and as I guided the salmon's head onto the rocks, he would bend down to secure it. Well, that was how it was meant to go. Unfortunately, the line got caught, snapped and the fish went sailing back into the river without so much as a backwards glance.
I cried all the way back to the car.
Trust me, after all these years, the feeling you get after losing a fish never gets any better. But, after being lucky enough to catch my fair share since, I've learnt that fishing isn't just about catching fish. For me it's about the time spent with family and friends, the amazing opportunity to spend time in some of the most beautiful places on earth, and the amazing stories we have to tell from our adventures – even if they do end in despair!
For those of you wondering, I didn't have to wait long for a second chance, and that same evening Dad landed (in a net) my first ever salmon – a 5lb beauty, caught on a Red and Black Shiela. Thanks, Dad.