Here we go again?
It only seems like yesterday that ghillies were padlocking fishing huts and waving adieu to a dismal 2014 season for salmon and grilse. Yet here we are again, just days away from the start of the 2015 season, with both the Helmsdale and Tay kicking off this week.
This year's excited is punctuated by large doses of concern - a concern for the state of our Atlantic salmon. Fingers crossed that 2014 was an anomaly. For thick-skinned anglers lining the banks during these early winter months, the most revered prize within the realms of fly fishing is on offer: a pristine, muscle-strapped springer, the epitome of piscine perfection.
For both the Helmsdale and Tay, and many others alike, the opening day is a revered occasion, with dignitaries and pipe bands leading a procession through the local town before toasting the river and performing the ceremonial Opening Cast. The allure of springers attracts anglers from far and wide, whatever the weather.
When working on an Inverness-shire sporting estate in 2008, I ventured north to the second of the Helmsdale's free-for-all days. After sliding helplessly down a frozen-slick tarmac driveway and demolishing a farmer's gate, I ditched the car, apologised profusely and slotted in among the locals belting lines out into the grue beneath Kildonan falls on Beat 6.
A few rusty Spey casts in, I was struggling with frozen guides and continuously having to snap off chunks of ice clinging to my line. A stout, impressively-bearded man shook his head in mock horror some 30 yards below me. Taking a sympathetic view, he lay down his rod and wondered up the bank to impart some wisdom.
"Nae frae aroond haur ur ye?" he asked with a grin. My bloodshot cheeks, snivelling nose, watering eyes and 48 layers of clothing provided his answer. He prompted me to take a scoop of Vaseline and to lubricate my guides, before hobbling back to his rod and thumping a line out across the river.
I did manage to land a well-mended kelt, and despite it not being the titanium-flanked springer I was hoping for, the initial excitement at the prospect of netting the first Scottish salmon of the 2008 season was more than enough to get the blood pumping and restore the feeling to my face - until it came to returning the 10lb fish, whereupon my fingers morphed into shrivelled cocktail sausages.
The emphasis on the early part of the season is pure quality rather than quantity. You have to really work for your fish and you remember every one intricately.
For those of you heading to the riverbank, do let us know how you fare. We'd love to hear from you. In the meantime, tight lines for 2015 - may it be a good one!