A salmon Shangri La
When in spate, there are fewer better places to be than on the River Alness.
The day before my visit it had absolutely chucked it down. A proper Highland deluge, sounding like thrown gravel on the window, that causes even the most innocent trickle to swell into a blistering torrent. After two weeks of aberrantly warm weather, this spelt good news for my Alness adventure. Very good news.
As rivers go, the Findhorn is the only other I have heard talked of with the same superlatives in terms of vivid beauty. You can forget the wide expanses of the Big Four where a belter of a Spey cast is a fundamental part of your armoury. This is the Shangri La of intricate Highland spate river fishing.
Happily, due to the man-operated barrage at the head of the river by Loch Morie, the river is never forced to bare her skeleton when dry summers threaten to choke the flow of water. On this occasion, there was plenty to go around.
Waking up to the dawn chorus - a stunning time of day in such utopic surroundings - I crept my way down the forest track onto Beat 4. The river had fallen to an alluring level and the peaty stain weakened. It wasn't a case of whether or not I would hook fish, but rather how many.
I stumbled across a quixotic problem soon after piecing together my Hardy Demon and rolling a 2" Comet across Dalreoch Bridge: the pool below. Each turn and twist of the river offers something new - no two pools are the same. While fishing one, my eyes gravitated to those below and I fought a recurrent itch to skip through the riffles with polyamorous affection.
Such is its character, the water requires thought and examination prior to casting, to determine where the fish may be lying. In such heavy flow, close into the bank proved to be the golden spot, with salmon snatching at the fly as it came out of the surging current onto the dangle. The action was as exciting as the scenery was beautiful, and as frantic as the solitude was serene.
With the river in good spirits, I had one of the most memorable day's fishing I've ever known - three fish banked (5lb, 6lb and 9lb) and another four lost after brief contact. Pools such as the Hoch, Wagtail and Cunningham's are, to me, as close to fishing perfection as is physically possible.
The last turn of the beat, the river's postcard pool Raven's Rock (top image), provided the perfect place to slow down and take it all in. Beat 4 is one of six Novar has access to, each about a mile of double bank fishing with 15-20 named pools. The five-year average for Novar Fishing Rods is 360 salmon and grilse, with the peak of the runs generally from mid-July until the end of October. And when the water is right, believe me you are in for some euphoric sport.
If wading up to your armpits with a 15-footer is more your cup of tea, the Alness may not whet your appetite. But if you enjoy deciphering a pool's currents and rolling a delicate line over likely taking spots, occasionally scrambling over rocks, while in utterly perfect seclusion, then this is the river for you.
Given one more day's salmon fishing before being sent across the River Styx, there is no contest: take me back to the Alness.
Although, I'm yet to fish the Findhorn.
Photographs: Andrew Dowsett & Glyn Satterley