As children, I think most of us would remember paddling about in some sort of water, whether that be a pond, a stream, the sea or a river with brightly coloured nets on painted pieces of cane hoping to catch something and recall the joy when you found something in the bottom of that net, the squeals of delight at the tiniest of minnows. Some would then progress on to catching trout with a spinning rod with the help of family members, I remember fishing when very young for trout when we were on our summer holidays travelling to Scotland from England with my cousins at White Lodge, Tomatin, Inverness-shire, what an adventure, so much fun and excitement and a memory that has stuck with me forever.
These childhood memories of feeling free, being outside, on a waterway with the anticipation of catching a fish without having a care in the world do not just mean memories however to a large population of the world. Fishing is something that can take you through adulthood and can mean so much more than when you were a child. With the stresses and strains that the modern world keeps throwing at us, getting away from it all on a riverbank is good for the soul and the brain. Water has always been known to have a calming effect but throw fresh air and peaceful surroundings into the mix and you have nature’s natural stress reliever.
But do not think fishing is boring, when you get that nibble at the end of your line and you hook into a fish, your adrenaline levels go through the roof. The heart starts pumping, blood rushing through your veins and all of a sudden you could have 20 minutes of action and anticipation to land the fish, it could be a fish of a lifetime. The fear of it coming off but hoping at the end of it you will be able to take a photo to prove you did actually catch a fish, then have the fun of telling your friends about the leviathan you caught.
Part of the joy of my job running the bookings for a Scottish salmon beat is speaking to the anglers and being part of their journey to catching their fish of a lifetime. Conversations begin for most of our clients many months before they are due to visit us. I would normally open up the diary for the next fishing season around October/November. Each river has its own season however I am located on the middle section of the River Dee in Aberdeenshire on a beat called Cairnton & Middle Blackhall and our season runs from 1st February to 15th October and we fish Monday to Saturday, there is no Sunday fishing on the River Dee, we let the river rest.
The process of filling up the diary can be quite complicated and I have a few months of dealing with a huge jigsaw with the goal being by the end of January for all the pieces to have slotted into place and I can then see where we have space to fill. Firstly all clients who booked weeks, half weeks and full fishing parties will get offered the same dates they had the previous season and they can either accept, decline or opt to try and change dates, this is where it can become quite complicated trying to juggle dates and make sure everyone is accommodated and happy with their dates. Once the year-on-year clients have been offered fishing I can then contact new clients who have expressed an interest to fish with us. Sometimes anglers want to try somewhere new, try a new river or add extra fishing dates to their diaries and it is always lovely to be able to welcome new parties to the beat who more often than not then also become regular clients.
Then I can take bookings for single rods, single days, etc., up to last-minute bookings. Some clients like to just come for a day when they see what conditions or catches are like, some don’t like to commit too far in advance so we have quite a mix throughout the season of full fishing parties to single rods but all are welcomed. We are very lucky at Cairnton & Middle Blackhall that we have so many returning clients and the relationship that is built between us and the clients is extremely important to us.
My next contact with the clients is usually 3 to 4 weeks before they are due to visit when I give the last bits of information needed on directions, contact number for the ghillie etc. The tone in people’s voices on a call or an emoji in a message conveys the joyous anticipation of what lies ahead. Brian, my husband, is the ghillie on the beat and has been a ghillie for over 35 years spending over 25 years on the River Tay and now in his 11th season on the Dee. Not only is fishing his job but it is his hobby and a passion and this is definitely felt by the people that have fished with him. Fishing on a beat with a ghillie can enhance your experience immensely. A huge piece of advice that I can personally give anyone is to please listen to the advice the ghillie of the beat you are going to fish on gives you. Every beat is different, even on the same river, pools can fish differently, and what line and fly might be right for one beat may not be right for another. The ghillie is there for a reason, they want you to catch a fish, and they want to be able to add your fish to the catch returns – their knowledge and advice is worth its weight in gold or even a silver salmon!
So the angler’s excitement begins to build, a call to Brian in preparation for coming to make sure they have got everything they need, check water conditions and discuss tactics is all part of the fun. It’s almost time to step back, unwind, breathe and enjoy. After the anglers have arrived at the beat the completion of my job is then when I see the anglers out on the water or in the fishing hut. It’s lovely having a chat or even just a wave when I am out with the dog in the afternoons but even better when I get sent the photos of their catches to add to the website and social media. It’s great putting a face to a voice to new clients, catching up with old clients, seeing new people get into the sport and giving the extra personal touch we like to do here at Cairnton and Middle Blackhall. Going to fish anywhere should be a complete experience, even if you don’t manage to land a beautiful silvery salmon you should leave with a smile on your face and a story to tell. Our clients are more than just a name and telephone number, they are part of the fishing family. It is a privilege to be a part of the entire experience from beginning to end and for it all to start again the next season.
Don’t let fishing be a childhood memory, you can start at any age with little to no experience, there are people out there that are willing to help you get started, you don’t need lots of fancy gear to get hooked and improve your health and wellbeing as well as being part of a global community with the common language of bent rods and smiles.
Let’s go fishing.