River Fork Press

When I was in Scotland a year or two before the trip to Quebec I asked the Scottish lad who was with us what the salmon would eat.

"They'll take it, Dale," he said in full Scottish brogue, "but they won't eat it."

I didn't make that mistake again.

The horrific strike was out of anger. Putting the fly over the fish multiple times "pisses them off", according to the guides in Quebec, who seemed more gruff and less in touch with the traditions found in Scotland.

While there, I hoped to see just one fish roll, and thought I'd be satisfied with the entire three days on the Tay. Upon arriving in a drizzle at the river there were salmon rolling everywhere! Amazing. Within the first few minutes of fishing, one of the other fellows hooked up and landed a bright fish, fresh from the sea.

Well, thought I, maybe it won't be too much to actually feel one on the line.

As the morning passed every other angler in our group hooked a fish. Not me.

After lunch I asked if I could fish a run on my own. They'd helped me with the spey casting and line control; I thought I'd do it on my own. While fishing the spot there was no one around. It was still between drizzle and rain - is that the gloaming?

I became mesmerized by the spot, the flow of the river, the gray cast of light reflecting and the raindrops making little spots on the water. Ah yes: and, rolling salmon. The water was rising; the fish were moving.

At one point, one of the ghillies came through in his boat, another sport perched on the bow casting. Gordy said, "Nice casting Dale; that's a good spot lad."

I perked up.

He left, moving the boat upstream. Again, I was alone on the water, rhythmically casting away, trying to stay in contact with the fly. I'd tied it before the trip in hopes of seeing a rolling fish. The first Atlantic Salmon flies I’d ever tried.

On one cast, the magic happened. How is that so? I just knew something was about, and sure enough at the end of the swing, as the fly was moving to the surface near a large boulder, I saw a bright fish roll. Then the line lurched, the rod bent, and I was full of Atlantic Salmon and praise to God for His blessings.

The fish was fast to the fly. Leaping, pulling, lurching, charging. Line left the reel one turn after another. I held the tip of the 15' fly rod up and allowed its length to resist the fish while cushioning the leader material.

As I felt the fish was more or less under control I began the trek to the river's edge, stumbling over the slick boulders while being pelted with raindrops. Wetness was about; an Atlantic was hooked.

As I turned to the river's edge I noticed a Scottish gentleman in full wool and plaid, brimmed hat protecting his head from the falling rain, standing next on the bank, puffing his briar pipe and observing the fight at hand. Did he know? A brace of setters sat beside him, observing with similar if not equal interest.

Then, the younger ghillie came down the bank - I hadn’t seen him since lunch two hours earlier - net in hand, rooting me on.

"Well done, Dale; well done. Keep the rod tip up. Let him take it. Well done, Dale." It sounded like doone; weill doone, Deale.

It was cool, Gordon.

As the fish was gasping in the net, lying on the grass, a photographer came and took a few shots. The gentleman, his pipe and dogs continued their walk along the burn and the ghillie continued his, weill doone, Deale, weill doone banter.

To say I was at that moment aware of tradition would be an understatement; aware, but not informed, if you catch my drift.

"What do we do with the fish?" I asked.

"It's your fish, Dale. What would you like?"

"I'd like to release it."

He looked at me and asked, "First salmon, eh?"

"Yes." (I knew he meant Atlantic Salmon.)

The sudden flash of light was his knife opening and slashing the gills of the fish. His hand followed as he lathered it with blood, then smeared it all over my forehead.

Ah. Scots and tradition.

I hope you hae a fein dae, then, laddie.

My first day of salmon fishing on Scotland’s River Tay; the fish, below.

Scotland: The River Tay