Speak to any stockbroker and they’ll soon tell you that a falling market presents great opportunities. It’s just the same with salmon fishing. There’s little doubt that Scottish salmon fishing right now is in a bit of the doldrums, but premier beats (where dead men’s shoes were usually earmarked for generations to come) are now becoming quietly available to those of us willing to do a bit of homework.
Take the River Lochy – the largest and most productive salmon river on the West Coast of Scotland near Fort William. Something quite strange is happening on that river right now. Yes, the summer grilse for which our western rivers were most famous have declined quite markedly – but what has remained is the Lochy’s famed run of huge and powerful multi-sea winter salmon. These fish average 17lbs in the Spring (May and June in this part of the world) and, the Lochy being the first 8 miles of river system from the tide, they run hard and fresh. There is probably no greater sporting fish in Scotland today than a fresh-run Lochy springer straight off the salt – Lochy regular Tony Price landed a May bar of silver weighing a stunning 42lbs a few years ago and described the fight, the landing and the release as ‘not really like playing a fish at all…it was a different creature entirely….just a gigantic slab of pure muscle and raw power… trying to unhook the fly it felt more like fighting with a small man than releasing a big salmon!’
- The stats seem to have gone below the radar too along with the overblown tales of woe about the decline of Scotland’s grilse and the end of the West Coast – only 2 years ago the Lochy private beats recorded their highest number of MSW salmon for 30 years. It is also the only river system in Scotland to have won the Malloch Trophy twice since its revival back in 2009 – once for a spanking fresh fish of 32lbs on the tidal beat caught by local rod Sandy Walker and again in 2016 for a fish in excess 38lbs caught by local ghillie John MacIssac on the Spean (the top tributary of the Lochy). Clearly the locals have been keeping this secret to themselves for too long!
- They say fishing is not just about catching fish (frankly, I have yet to be persuaded) but where the Lochy differs from your average Scottish beat is exactly what you get when you secure fishing there. There are 4 long double-bank beats offering complete privacy for 4 rods and they rotate daily – no more glaring at the opposition as they wreck ‘your’ pool or thrashing the same stretch of dull single-bank water day after day. Access to the tidal beat is also included, which can be a real banker in low water conditions. The beats vary in character enormously. One minute the Lochy feels like the gravelly open pools of the middle Dee, the next (on the dramatic gorge on Beat 3) you could be on the River Findhorn, perched high above the river spotting tide-fresh salmon running up into the pool below you and curving your little Red Francis gently into their path, the adrenaline thumping in your chest. There can be few other rivers where around every corner lies another ‘perfect’ salmon pool – a choppy neck extending into a smooth and deep run that just screams ‘take’ at every cast, and a big holding pool emptying out gracefully into a wide and gliding tail, surely made for hitching a Sunray Shadow (a very popular fly on the crystal-clear waters of the Lochy).
- And what a view! With Scotland’s highest peak Ben Nevis towering above the river valley like a wise old man (usually snow-capped throughout the Spring), the river meanders through the western end of the Great Glen sliding through gravelly banksides of impossibly blue lupins before slipping past silent and ancient oak woods and emptying quietly into the sea. Simply put – it’s just a lovely place to be even without a rod in your hand.
- Most of the Spring fishing is taken already but the beat has added their latest (fairly limited) availability in the last few days. Bookings are taken either for 2 or 4 rods for 3 or 6 days and with prices ranging from just £30 to £81 + VAT per day this is fishing priced in the real world (the Lochy has actually dropped its prices slightly in 2019 for the whole season in recognition of the general challenging state of Scottish salmon fishing). There are many great local accommodation options ranging all the way from cheap and cheerful B&B’s to a fully catered Shooting Lodge sleeping 20! Ghillies can be booked locally, including a qualified casting instructor who can provide tuition for beginners (or those just wanting to improve) and full equipment can be provided if required.
- Gone are the days when a good morning on the Lochy meant landing a decent basket of lively little 5lb summer grilse. But they have been replaced by the chance of something many times more special – the real possibility of a fish of a lifetime of twenty, maybe even thirty, pounds. When John Ashley-Cooper in his fishing classic ‘A Salmon Fisher’s Odyssey’ described the Lochy as the ‘Queen of Scottish Salmon Rivers’ he was a regular guest on the river back in those halcyon days. But the accolade applies just as much today on this stunningly beautiful river and what’s more, for those in the know, the Lochy’s spring and early summer weeks quietly remain some of the best exclusive salmon fishing in the whole of the country.
Jon Gibb. River Lochy Association