It’s always hard to justify fishing another river when you have in my eyes the best and most prolific river literally on your door step (well 300 yards away to be precise), but when there’s the chance of a Big Fish reunion with the smiling assassin Emma, the coarse king Ripon and a weeks salmon fishing the river Lochy there was only ever going to be one answer…….Road Trip!
As Ripon has never cast a line for salmon before we though it would be wise to get him on the Tyne a day before our Lochy adventure just to give him a taster and a good bit of practice, as using a double handed fly rod was totally alien to him. Along with Rip coming up my fishing partner in crime Phil decided to come up for the weekend to try his luck with us. The next day didn’t quite start as planned after a very heavy night in Newcastle, I was woken up by Phil at 7.30 am coming in the front door at my surprise, I had left the keys in the front door after crawling out the taxi! So after a few more hours sleep myself and Rip managed to pull ourselves together and go down to the South Tyne to meet Phil, it was all going fine until I had a relapse and the hangover got hold of me harder than an angler grasping his prize catch, so a few hours sleep on the bench at the Bend pool was in order. Going home for a few hours made me feel half human again so back down the river it was to see the lads who unfortunately hadn’t had a touch but was good a good bit of practice for Rip. I decided it was a good time for a move further down river which when we arrived was totally empty and not another angler in sight, things were looking up.
Phil kindly let Rip fish the pool through first as we were determined for him to get his first salmon, we headed to the boat and baddox stretch where there’s always a good chance of a fish when the waters up. The weapon of choice was my 7’6 Rovex Ceratec FLX light spinning rod as always with a blue and silver flat rap at the business end, which after only 3 casts got nailed by a strong fish which sent Ripon into hysterics – the fish went ballistic dancing across the water surface and trying to throw the hook, I still don’t know who was more nervous me with the net or him playing the fish but thankfully a few minutes later we had the fish in the net, his first ever sea trout a cracker around 6lb. We all went crazy! Luckily know one was there to notice. Once we had calmed down the fish was unhooked in the water then photographed then returned, which I was proud of him for doing. After pulling himself together he went back in to finish of fishing the pool through and only 5 minutes later we heard those magical words FISH ONNN, the jammy sod was in again! This time the fight and fish was totally different, the fish kept deep making some fantastic runs and some huge head shakes, this had to be a salmon… but we were never to find out as the hook pulled and the fish disappeared, which was absolutely devastating! Ripon didn’t seem as gutted as we were but as salmon anglers we know that chances don’t come that often!
As I was watching the guys fish the pool through Rip gave me the rod and told me to have a few cast’s while he had a stretch, he would totally regret this seconds later as on my forth cast I connected with a fish which had power I hadn’t felt for a long time – I instantly knew I was into a huge fish that would give me a fight to remember. Part of me was absolutely gutted for Rip but the other half was full of adrenaline playing this huge beast thinking I may have ended my 20 year search for a 20lb plus salmon. With Phil at the net I guided the enormous fish deeper than anything I’ve seen with my own eyes towards him and with his first and only attempt lifted the net perfectly with the fish safe inside, it looked colossal and is by far the biggest salmon I’ve ever caught! I had finally done it, this fish was over 20lb easily but we didn’t have any scales to get a genuine weight but we all decided it was over 20. After calming down and getting the fish to some well oxygenated water I got my trophy which are always photos then watched him swim alongside Phil like a well trained dog as he slipped off into the depths, what a sight and what a fish…..!
The next morning was the day of the journey but I wanted to give Rip a few more casting lessons which he picked up no bother at all, so good that he some how managed to hook a salmon which put up one hell of a fight and that he played like a pro but devastatingly came off just at the net, not again, he was gutted but a quick reminder of the week ahead pulled him round and made us come back to the house to get ready for our road trip.
The car was packed and we were ready to roll. A quick goodbye to my girlfriend Vic and so long to Phil who was heading home and we were on our way with heads full of fishy thoughts and hearts full of hope and after what felt like a lifetime constantly stopping for food (if you know me and Rip we don’t stop eating) and to admire the amazing views and also getting lost (we blamed the Sat Nav) we eventually arrived to Ivy Cottage where Emma (from the Big Fish) and Harry her son welcomed us with open arms. The cottage actually overlooks the river and what a river, absolutely spectacular and even tho it was 3 foot up it was as clear as a fortune teller’s crystal ball, everything was looking great and falling into place and the morning couldn’t come soon enough.
Day one we woke to clear skies and a forecast of bright sunshine and high temperatures but this didn’t phase us one bit as we were as excited as kids at christmas, theres something about the build up to fishing new and unchartered waters the mystery and expectations run riot in your head especially when the river produced 25 fish the week before. It was time to head down to the water to our first beat, now the way the river Lochy beat system works is that due the the length of the river being just 10 miles long it is split into 4 beats which have 4 available rods to fish per beat and they rotate as each day passes which is great as you get the opportunity to fish each beat during the week. We were to start on beat 4 which is closest to the tidal stretch so we decided to split up so myself and Ripon on the bottom half and Emma and Harry on the top and with the height of water would give us a great chance but after a few hours fishing for some reason it all seemed void of fish and with no fish showing and us being new to the water it all seemed rather intimidating so we decided to do a little exploring and it didn’t take us long to find so amazing pools and runs with truly spectacular scenery but yet again we had no luck, hopefully Emma would have some news she did but unfortunately it was bad in the sense she lost a fish at the bank it was coloured and around 12-14lb but Emma had managed a small sea trout around 2lb on a black and orange tube fly which was great news and a good start to our trip. We finished the first day overlooking one of the pools with the sun setting in the background and sausages sizzling away on the barbecue thoughts moved to tomorrow a new day and chance of our prize.
Day Two saw us move to beat 1 which is the top beat and luckily about 100 yards from the cottage and an endless supply of food, the conditions were again against us with bright sunshine and temperatures of around 24 degrees which after a mornings fishing saw the others retreat back to the cottage i was determined to stick it out and resorted to trout reservoir tactics using my cortland 7 weight with a di 5 line and sunray shadow which was allowed to sink right to the depths which some of the pools can be over 20 feet deep then stripped back at a hefty old pace to try and get a reaction out of a fish as nothing again was showing at all, it didn’t take long to work but unfortunately the wild brownies of the river took a liking to it but i did however get a reaction off something more substantial as the line got ripped from my hands but unfortunately didn’t hook up this would turn out to be the closest i would get to a salmon or sea trout the whole trip.
Day Three Couldn’t of started any better with a phone call from Jason who had just arrived the day before with his son Will saying he had just landed and returned a coloured fish of around 8lb (early bird gets the worm) from beat 2 which was fantastic and gave us all hope but again the conditions were against us with scorching temperatures and constantly dropping water we decided to stick to early morning fishing from 5 to around 11 then 6 until dark when the sun and temperatures drop. We literally tried all manner of fly’s, lines and retrieves but nothing wanted to play game and Jason’s fish turned out to be the only of the day.
Day Four had us on probably the most spectacular beat being beat Three which has pools and falls that look like something you’d see on a painting or a blockbuster movie. Again we fished the morning waiting and dreaming of the solid take as the fly swings across the pool, it never came not for any of us which was mind blowing as the pool’s looked and fished perfect but again the weather conditions were against us so morning then turned to afternoon so a plan of scoping the pools out while the sun was at its highest planning the attack the evening. Myself and Rip decided to fish totally different tactics id fish deep with a mix of tube patterns and he would fish closer to the surface with cascades and bright patterns to try an entice some grilse that surprisingly hadn’t been spotted yet, the bites were instant but from the insect type those horrendous like cretins midges that were unbearable and persistent but we battled through them and managed a few sizeable brownies to half a pound but our silver friends were being illusive as always. Tomorrow would be our last chance and things would have to change or we would be traveling back empty handed.
Our last day began with an early start and clear focused heads ready and armed to take on beat Four with the advantage of already fishing the beat and its spectacular pools on the first day with the added bonus of clouds and rain forecast at some point was going to be our best chance. Between 4 of us we went through every option fishing the pools through quickly and thoroughly so that we covered the whole beat and didn’t miss any fish but again the river was unwilling to give up its secrets and was very quiet and stayed that way until an hour before we had to leave from home. The conditions seemed to change in an instant with solid cloud cover and heavy rain, the fish obviously sensed this and just like someone turning a tap on started running harder than Usain bolt. I would say we saw more fish in that last hour than we did the whole week but thats fishing for you and even tho its frustrating thats a reason why we love it so much as a blank day or in this case week spurs you on harder for the next time and it makes that next catch so much more rewarding. It was time to leave and say bye to Emma and Harry, it was so nice seeing her again she is an amazing women and so very kind to invite us to such an amazing and spectacular river which on its day can be phenomenal but it just wasn’t our week but we will meet again!
After getting back to Hexham late on Friday night we decided to have a well deserved lie in well until 9am as i was determined to get Rip his first salmon on the fly so it would be back to my local stretches on the South Tyne where i new there would be fish but it would be hard in summer low conditions and clearing waters but the sight of your home river is hard to beat. I gave Rip the choice of picking what fly he wanted to use which he opted for one of my Stokoe shrimps which i thought was probably a bit on the large side but he was adamant that he wanted to use it which i eventually gave into which 10 minutes later turned out to be the right decision as those words id waited to hear all week came shrieking from his mouth Fishhhh Onnnnn, I couldn’t believe it he’d done it he was into a fish and again the runs and head shakes it had to be a salmon it had only taken a week and a 600 mile round trip but the fight was on. The fish was really going for it and giving head shakes even a punk rocker would be proud of which is a horrible but great feeling, the minutes were passing and the thoughts of the fish coming off were increasing by the second and as the fish kept coming close but not revealing its flank ready for the net, Rip starting pleading me to hurry up and net it but stabbing at a fish that isn’t ready with a treble in the corner of its jaw is a disaster waiting to happen but in an instant the fish turned within reaching distance and bang it was in the net, Rip went crazy dancing and singing like lunatic which i cant deny that i joined in with as for me seeing someone catch their first salmon (around 10-12lb) is as close to catching one myself. Again Rip played the fish like an absolute pro and the only time it left the water was for a few quick photos before being released.
Even tho 3 of us had a fish-less week on the Lochy it truly is a spectacular place with pool’s and runs that miranda through the most breath taking countryside in the shadow of the one and only Ben Nevis and i can promise that i will be back to fish its waters in the future if i’m lucky enough……..!