The year's first salmon
An opening day salmon the Tay - the first of the 2015 season. By Sandy Datta.
The alarm clock on my phone made its usual dreadful screeching sound. I had just fallen asleep; that could not be right; I must have set it incorrectly. I reached over and picked up my phone from the bedside table and looked at it; unfortunately it was right. It was 2:45 in the morning and we were in a hotel in Darlington. I could hear the wind howling outside and the rain was beating on the hotel room window. My wife was in bed beside me asleep and dead to the world. I turned off the alarm and rolled back over to get another hour's sleep. It then dawned on me that it was the 15th of January and the opening day of the salmon fishing season on the mighty River Tay.
Opening day on the River Tay is very special. There is a great sense of anticipation among anglers around what the new season will bring. It's a day when old friends meet again after the festive period and new friendships are made. It is more of a social event and a day out, and often very little fishing is done. My wife and I had booked the Dalmarnock beat for the day. Our good friend Colin McFadden had recently just taken over the beat. We have fished the beat for a number of years and thought it would be great to invite some of our friends for a cast on opening day. We had organised a piper for the opening ceremony and a BBQ at lunchtime.
We had to leave early as we were meeting one of our friends in Perthshire at 8am. I shook my wife to try and wake her up. My wife did not respond, so I decided to give her a sharp jab in the ribs. This did not go down too well, but it did have the desired effect. She got up rather swiftly and said in an exasperated fashion, "we must me be either dedicated or mad!"
Within 20 minutes we were washed and ready to go. The weather was atrocious. We drove through heavy showers of sleet and snow. If that was not enough, strong gusty winds were regularly buffeting the car. I did on a number of occasions question whether we were both sane. Why would anyone want to stand knee deep in a cold river on a day like today, trying to catch a fish that does not even feed in freshwater?
Some of our friends had already arrived and were setting up their rods. There was a lot of snow on the ground and our piper, Bob, having a coup? could not drive down the track to the hut. Bob for this reason decided to park in the nearest layby and walk the quarter of a mile back to the hut along the A9, in his full Highland dress and with his bagpipes. It was lashing with rain and a number of motorists on the A9 took pity on him and asked him if he wanted a lift, thinking he was a hitchhiker dressed in a kilt! Full credit to Bob, as he appeared at the hut looking as immaculate as ever. After a quick speech and a wee dram to toast the salmon, my wife had the first cast of the season. The 2015 salmon fishing season on the Dalmarnock beat was declared open.
Most of us were concerned about getting back into the warmth of the hut and having another coffee than actually fishing. From the hut we could see that the river was rising. Colin did not accept this as an excuse and insisted that we all have a cast in spite of the weather.
We could not physically get down to the car park on the upper half of the beat. There was so much water that even a 4x4 would struggle to get through. We therefore had to park on the track itself and try and walk down to the river. We were wading almost chest deep just walking through the car park. To say that the conditions were against us was a bit of an understatement.
Due to the high water we were restricted to where we could fish. We decided to fish the very top half of the Dalmarnock pool.
We all fished in close proximity of each other. My wife was fishing between myself and Grant. Both Grant and I were using Salmo lures while my wife was fishing with her favourite Vision 110, the Western Clown. The wind was howling down the river and it was quite difficult to cast, even with a spinning rod. We had been fishing for around ten minutes when my wife said that she was going to have a few more casts and then go back to the hut to warm up. I was sure that I would not be too far behind her. The lure of some hot soup and a log fire was becoming more appealing than fishing in a gale. I had not been paying attention and had managed to get my lure stuck on the grassy bank at my feet. I released my lure and cast out again, at which point my wife shouted ?Fish!? I looked upstream and her rod was bent double.
I started to reel in my lure and got it caught around her line with the fish on. My wife was not impressed by this. I told her not to worry as it would only be a kelt. I started to pull at her line with my hands so I could untangle my lure from it. At that point, she swore at me a number of times and said some bad things! I quickly freed my lure from her line and walked up to where she was playing the fish.
The fish sat and sulked in the main current for a few minutes and then started to strip line off the reel purposefully. It appeared to be a strong fish. Every time my wife got the fish anywhere near the bank it would slowly and steadily swim back downstream. After 15 minutes of cat and mouse, I finally got a glimpse of the fish and then froze. I looked at my wife with a smile and told her to be careful with the fish. She knew what this meant. This was no kelt; my wife had just hooked a springer on opening day. To be honest with you, I should have said nothing because this made her even more tense. I could see the mixture of excitement and anguish on her face and she was visibly shaking. The fish then decided to just sit in the main current a third of the way across the river. My wife could not move it. Eventually though, after a further run upstream, the fish showed again on the surface. This time there was no doubt that the fish was fresh. I knew as soon as I held the fish it was an opening day springer. My wife let out an almighty roar of delight, which was so loud that it must have been heard in Kenmore!
The fish had been in the river for around a week. After a few more photographs, the fish was returned, swimming away strongly into the murky depths of the magical River Tay. My wife could not hide her delight; she had just caught a salmon on opening day. Colin called the Crockarts tackle shop (where fish caught on opening day are declared) in Blairgowrie. They confirmed it was the first fish of the day reported. I made a few calls to some of my friends ?who are ghillie' s in the Highlands, they also said that there had been no fresh fish caught from the Helmsdale and Thurso rivers, which had opened a few days earlier. It was looking like my wife may have caught the first salmon in the UK in 2015.