David Profumo attempts to fish the pools of Laxford after their driest early summer in over half a century.
It was the driest early summer for 57 years and, even before breakfast, the glare was so great on my house loch that the trout wouldn’t venture from their weed cover to gobble any catapulted pellets. Anglers heading for the Highlands in July were greeted with an apocalyptic landscape of ghastly ragwort and stream levels well below gauges. As deadly dog days go, these were Rhodesian ridgebacks.
Nonetheless, The Doctor and I were determined to make our precious expedition Out West.
I crammed the car with dapping gear, trout rods and everything but my Hebridean hand-lines and advised my father-in-law that, although a solar topee might be in order, he should forget those tropical shorts, as I’d heard the cleggs (horse flies) were something terrible.
En route, we visited the lovely kirk at Tongue, where I hadn’t been since 1964, and we prayed for an Act of God (although I suspect the Presbyterian Doctor and I may worship slightly different deities).
The burn beside the lodge was silent and there was scarcely a river to be fished. The Laxford possesses some of my favourite pools in all Caledonia, but they’d suffered 52 days without rain and there was but one salmon in the record book for the entire season.
I eschewed my usual tweed breeks and it wasn’t worth wearing waders – my shiny new Korkers Hatchback boots from New York would have to await their first wetting. At least there was a little cloud cover.
On the Rock pool, The Doctor drew first blood when he hooked poor John the gillie in the cheek with a small Conehead (gene-rously, he waived his usual fee for surgical removal).
Upstream, in a canyon below the footbridge, a couple of fish had been spotted the previous week skulking from the noontide blaze, but, in the thin flows, an orthodox approach was contra-indicated; I opted to go deep, Icelandic-style, with a tungsten-headed shrimpy-nymphy concoction, but nothing budged from its sullen holt.
In desperation, gillie Robert sent our photographer (Snapper Glyn) to try the run with my rod, but, by lunchtime, we were nearly stumped for ideas.
I’d been advised to bring some surface flies, which occasionally work in extremis. The spectrum is surprisingly broad, yet use of the dry fly proper for salmon – a surface lure drifting free of any tension – is still rarely used in Britain.
It was a method promulgated by that late American maestro Lee Wulff, although pioneers tried it a century ago. Wulff once landed a 26-pounder on a size 16 dry and, in the 1950s, he taught the techniques to my uncle, who showed me how to do it on the Restigouche in 1976.
If you have a fresh fish marked down in warm water, a short, precise drift with a greased-up Bomber is often worth a try (more recherché flies include the Rat-faced McDougal and the Moose Turd).
It’s also worth a throw with a riffled hitch and a micro-tube, scratching the surface with a dibbled dropper at the neck of pools, or animating a lure by steady stripping – a Collie or Sunray, for instance. However, even had I been the Vicar of Dibbling, it seemed my prayers were not to be answered.
The hill lochs were deemed to be too warm and shallow for daytime visits, but our resourceful hostess arranged a morning trip round the sea lochs aboard a splendid new launch and we happily jigged mackerel feathers and scoured the crags for the sea eagle’s nest.
At first, as I excitedly swung aboard my ‘full house’ of coalfish and codling, The Doctor merely looked supercilious, but he quickly waxed competitive and, soon, we had a bucket full of coppery lobster baits – cuddies, pirries and poddlies. The Snapper whipped up his trademark Champagne cocktail and, temporarily, we forgot our woes.
Just before high tide on the last afternoon, we traipsed down to the Sea Pool and there, making its purposeful way around the headland and arrowing up the shallow estuary – pushing ahead ‘nervous water’ like some bonefish – came a brave, lone salmon intent on sniffing the stream in case of any fresh sky water. This was my chance.
I readied myself, false cast my Executioner – and promptly entangled the fly-line around the counterbalance of my reel handle. By the time it was free, Señor Salar was heading back out to sea in a contemptuous vee. I reckon I know how he felt.
Perhaps I should just stick to poddlies.
David Profumo caught his first fish at the age of five and is still trying to get the hang of it. When he’s not travelling with rod and reel, he lives up a Perthshire glen with Pompey, a spaniel that only speaks dog Latin.
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