My First Salmon

The story surrounding my first ever Salmon is an amusing tale of breaking rules, being under gunned, and pure luck.

On my gap year in 2001, I spent 3 months working as a pony boy on a Deer Stalking estate in the North West Highlands of Scotland. It was undoubtedly one of the most exciting times of my life. The estate was 10000 ha of mountains, lochs and streams all full of Brown trout. I fished more in those few months than I had fished in the previous 3 years. I had some memorable times chasing small Brownies in tiny lochs high up in the hills. I could not believe how there seemed to be Brown trout in every tiny piece of water, of which there was no shortage. There were not a lot of Salmon around and the last one out of the Kishorn River had been caught about 10 years before, but little did I know, that was about to change on my first weekend in the Highlands.

I was at the pub on the Saturday night with Callum the Gamekeeper and he asked me what my plans were for the weekend? I replied, “On Sunday I want to go and fish in the Kishorn River to try catch a few tiny Brown trout”. “Ooooh nooool, ye can’t de that”. As you can imagine I speak my mind after a few beers and inquired why? Or more like WTF, why not? “Ye can’t fish on a Soonday oop heeer”, and I replied ” well I couldn’t give a shit, I don’t believe in God anyway, I’m going fishing! I think the pub had fallen silent as my voice obviously rose a note or two. I was astonishment at how such a place still existed in the 21st century, in a first world country. Apparently they don’t even cook on a Sunday, all they do is sit indoors and read a bible. Well that’s what they are meant to do anyway. The We Free church were actually the very reason that my great grandparents left Scotland and they still have a strong but thankfully weakening influence in the rural communities in the Scottish Highlands.

The next day I asked my boss if I could go fishing on the Sunday. He told me that one of the locals had reported me to him. He asked me just to tone it down a bit and that people had obviously been upset about what I said the other night. I think he found it quite amusing to be honest.  “Just stay out of view of the main road please, but otherwise go ahead”, my boss told me with a glint of amusement in his eye.

Now if there’s one thing worse than fishing for trout on a sunday, it’s fishing for Salmon. I was planning to semi-innocently fish for small Brown trout in a tiny stream no wider than 4 or 5 m with supposedly no salmon. This was only bending the rules. As planned I was fishing a long way out of view of the road and having a wonderful time catching small Brownies. While walking downstream to fish a different section, I saw a large swirl down stream from me. Holy shit! That’s a big fish! I fumbled for my fly box and took off my size 16 dry fly and stuck on a size 6 Muddler minnow. I swung the fly across and down over where I saw the swirl. I saw a gentle bulge under the surface where my fly was. I struck and I was in to what felt like something very solid. It swam lazily up and down the pool as if it never knew it was hooked.  Then the fish decided to head down stream. I was fishing with an Orvis #2, 7ft 1 oz rod with 5 X tippet. I might just as well have been using a piece of spaghetti. This rod was definitely not meant to for anything bigger than a few pounds. I had no control over the fish and it just casually swam downstream for at least a km and then around the corner into full view of the main road! Forget the main road, I was now following the fish towards the village church at 11am on a Sunday morning! As I was fighting the fish along side the main road the gamekeeper drove past. You should have seen his face when he saw me fighting this fish just upstream from the church, as the congregation was arriving for its morning dose of fire and brimstone. I had no time to explain  to him that I had hooked it way up stream and I had followed it all the way down here. Either he really wanted to help me to land the fish, or either he wanted to save me from being burned at the stake, but Callum sped off to go and fetch a net at his house a few km down the road. We eventually landed the fish after about an hour or mores fight and a 2 km walk downstream following the fish. That was an unforgettable fish in every way. The situation, the fight, the species and what rod I landed it on.

This arrogant young South African was the talk of the town for a while after that. I suspect some people were horrified, some were angry, and others were excited that a Salmon had just been caught in their local river. It wasn’t a great specimen. Probably 8lbs, but it would have been at least 12 if it had been fresh run. It had turned a brown colour from being in the river a long time, and it didn’t exactly put up much of a fight other than use the current effectively. Purely for the situation in which I caught the fish, it has to be one of my most epic fish ever.

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My tiny little rod and the trusty old Mudler Minnow.
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