Buying a ticket to go salmon fishing is just like buying a ticket for the National Lottery.
Most of the time you win nothing and you wonder why you bothered. Occasionally, you fluke a tenner. But every now and again, someone hits the big one.
Thats what drives me to spend my hard earned on Autumn salmon fishing on the River Tweed.
Right up to the end of the season, on the 30th November, you could find yourself connected to the jackpot; a massive 30, or even 40lb ˜silver tourist.
In early November, my first two days were booked on the Fairnilee beat of the River Tweed for the 24th and 25th November. The previous week had seen the Cumbrian floods.
So with the rivers in the borders and Cumbria running out in the fields, the chances of the Tweed dropping to a fishable level were slim.
Wattie Dodds, the ghillie, thought there no chance, as the river was running 10 above summer level, running bright yellow and out in the fields. We cancelled the hotel and smarted over the cost of the tickets.
A lot of people ask me why you dont get your money back, but its not like booking a boat to go to sea, where its a matter of whether conditions are safe or not.
I suppose there was nothing to stop us trying to fish on those two days, but the chances of catching anything in those flooded conditions was so remote, that it just wasnt worth making the effort.
My friend who I was to be fishing with, rang me last Thursday, to say that he had been watching the river levels and there were 8 vacancies left on the Fainilee beat for the last day of the season.
Would I risk another ticket and go with him? The river had been dropping steadily all week, there was no rain further rain forecast, so I had to agree, prospects looked ideal.
A ticket was purchased online on Friday and I followed the river levels on the Tweed website each day. Saturday night gave 22 at Peebles and falling.
At this rate things were looking good, as the beat fishes really well between 1 to 2 above summer level! On Sunday morning, I discovered the forecasters had got it wrong “ the river levels were now 34 and rising. Typical!
We took a decision to fish regardless and set off at 5.30 am. As we drove up, we logged onto the Tweed website and were delighted to see the update at 6am gave 26 and falling! There was a chance.
We arrived at a little after 9am to meet up with Wattie. We could see the river was full, but at least it was running clear.
The beat fishes 9 rods and Wattie had received a call the day before from the owner, asking him to fill the remaining spaces.
I guess it pays to keep in with these guys! Unfortunately, something had gone wrong with the booking system and one of the rods had been double booked, so there were 10 rods fishing in all. It was going to be a bit of a squeeze!
Tackle wise, I was using a 15 Bruce and Walker #10/11 Norway speycaster rod and their K1 reel. The line I use is the Rio Windcutter, which is a multi-tip spey line.
I selected the fastest sinking tip, which sinks at 8-9 inches/second. 5 of 20lb stiff fluorocarbon and a gold bodied Willie Gunn brass tube fly with a Partridge size 8 treble, completed the setup.
Wattie, who is some 80 years young, put me on Russells Rock and with the river being too big to wade, I started casting from the grass bank.
A steady downstream wind blew over my right shoulder, but a single spey cast, kept the fly safely away from me. I was casting at a 45 degree downstream angle, which gave the fly time to sink, before swinging round towards ˜the dangle. In a big swollen river, any salmon would be near the edge in these conditions.
I worked steadily down the pool and occasionally felt the fly snag on debris close to the bank. At least the fly was getting down!
I reached the tail of the pool after 20 minutes casting, when suddenly the line pulled tight and I was into a fish! The fish kept deep in the fast water and it took a good few minutes before I saw it.
With no landing net with me (conscious decision when we set off) it was not going to be easy to land the fish, as all the shingle was underwater. I played the fish right out and managed to tail it “ a beautiful 7 ½ lb cock fish.
An hour later, about 50 metres below Russells Rock, I had another take! This was a small fish which slashed on the surface. I got the fish ˜on the reel and was looking for an area where I might beach it, when the line went slack and the salmon dropped off.
At 1pm we stopped for lunch and found there had only been one other salmon caught “ a small hen fish of about 6lbs, but like mine, it was a nice clean silver fish. After lunch, Wattie sent us further downstream and described where we should concentrate our efforts.
I walked on down the beat, not quite sure exactly where I should be, but trusted my instincts and fished the slacker water down the edges. Fish kept showing further downstream still, so I worked my way down until I reached what looked like a likely lie.
My fast sinking tippet was snagging too much, so I changed it for a slower sinker and at the same time substituted the Willie Gunn for a Whitewing pattern.
A whitewing is a popular pattern to fish on the Tweed, particularly in the last hour of daylight. It was now gone 3.30 pm. Not 10 minutes after changing I got another take! This time it was a smaller hen fish of 5 ½ lbs.
We fished on till 4.30pm, by which time it was dark. Back at the fishing hut, Wattie had already started on his whiskey, together with a couple of the other rods who were toasting the finishing of the salmon season with him.
I asked Wattie how long he had been ghillie at Fairnilee, to which his response in his glorious Scottish drawl was Ever since we beat Hitler! That gave him more than 50 odd years at his post!
The final tally was 3 salmon from the Fairnilee beat and 19 salmon in total from all beats of the Tweed that day. No really big fish were caught that day, with a 13lber being the biggest and caught from another lower beat.
At least I won a couple of tenners, but as ever with the lottery of salmon fishing, the jackpot rolls over for another day!!!