Iain MacMaster writes about his impressions of FCW and his first seventeen months looking after the fishery. Please make contact with Iain if you want to come and fish Finavon’s lovely pools. His mobile number is 07824 428 825.
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MY LIFE AT FINAVON CASTLE WATER – SEVENTEEN MONTHS OF A NEW LIFE.
Seventeen months passes quickly when doing what you have always dreamt of doing. It feels like last week when, on an icy November day in 2013 I came to Finavon to meet Tony, who greeted me warmly, before showing me the four beats of Finavon Castle Water. His commitment to the South Esk, and the obvious pride with which he showed me the water, convinced me that Finavon is no ordinary fishery.
That impression was reinforced when I entered the hut overlooking the Red Brae. As I looked down that famous pool to the bend where the greenish snowmelt water flowed over those deadly low water lie-stones along the edge of the wall before being nudged back into midstream, I knew I was looking at the tail of an iconic salmon pool; a magical place. I find it difficult to describe the allure of Finavon Castle Water, with its long and sometimes mystical history. Perhaps the way to describe FCW is as a ‘thin place’ , an appropriate term used in Scots tradition. It feels as though the residual energy of experiences past hangs in the air. Anglers become as ‘one with nature’ in ways that a rambler or hill walker moving through the landscape is unlikely to experience. I feel that the visiting angler can easily fall under the spell of the influences of hill, landscape and the mysterious history of the surroundings. I shall trey to put into words what I mean as I try to do justice to the glories of this unique stretch of the South Esk.
THE FISHERY, WOODLANDS – AND MY NEW HOME
FCW is divided into four beats; Milton, Castle, Indies & Bogardo. Each two-rod beat has good holding water interspersed with streamy water and glides. There are over twenty pools and each beat has its own exclusive access and a warm hut. Let me take you on an angler’s tour of some of our best pools and describe some of our projects along the way.
Tyndals Pool from the South Bank
TYNDALS – SIMPLY A CLASSIC
Let’s start at Tyndals. That big stone in the head of the run looks familiar? Oh you’ve seen it You may have seen the big stone at the head of the pool – the ‘Armchair Boulder’ – on the South Esk webcam. It makes a handy seat while waiting for dusk at sea trout time. Note how the water is just filming over the top and bubbling over the shoulders? That tells us that Tyndals is running at a perfect height today.
Oliver Reeve fishing Tyndals
In low water we’ll catch them right at the head of the run, and sometimes from the gravel bar on the north side which you can’t see today, but today I’d expect to pick one up a little further down. The main lies are along the edge of the south bank, underneath all that lovely “popply” water. That’s perfect; get your fly close-in and then mend the line, Tyndals fishes beautifully in a classical manner. I spent a memorable dawn here last July. It was early in the day and misty. The mist was starting to burn off the water, but still hung over the river at head height I was fishing my way quietly down the pool with a trout rod. At the little sandy bay next to the bench I had the most fizzing take and watched a beautiful fresh grilse cartwheel its way down the pool with my fly in its scissors. Now you see that croy down there? we’ll fish it down to there and then it’ll be getting a bit deep to wade today, but just above the croy in midstream, can you see where the river is showing you that there is a big stone? That could be the lie today.
Willows in low water
WILLOWS – MAGIC POOL!
Tyndals failed to produce this morning, but now it’s dusk, and we find ourselves studying Willows for any sign of sea trout. Quietly we enter the pool down the stone steps to the river. Those steps have been there for about twenty years I think, but were buried under feet of silt. I spent some time excavating and restoring them during the winter. We wade about twenty yards back upstream from there and then start when it’s time. But look at the willow trees on the far side while it’s still light enough to see. We never cut those willows, those are just about the most important willow trees on the whole river! Can you see how they drag in the surface slightly? I know it doesn’t look like much now, but with another few inches of water on it, those dragging branches form a run which holds a lot of fish. Now quietly does it, let’s get that fly as close to the trees as possible. That’s the way, keep it moving ever so slightly, just keep in touch with it. Was that an offer? Very likely. Did you hear the owl? There used to be a Guinea Fowl which roosted in a tree on the other bank, it would apparently scare the unwary senseless at night with its screeching!
Keep moving on down the pool quietly. That was a heavy splash in the tail, and another! It’s a good, dark night for it; we’ll get one. I met a few very happy sea trout fishers here last summer. Now be careful as we approach these stones, we put them in to try and help shore up this bank, as it’s becoming rather eroded, so when we get out we’ll wade quietly back up to the steps and use them as our exit point as well. You’re just coming into the creamy spot now, keep that fly moving a little as it comes round. There you go, fish on! Heavy hard pulls from a 4lbs sea trout. Better than a fish! Is it downstream of me? That splash forty yards upstream. My line is pinging like a piano wire. That upstream fish is mkine! Suchy power! Now it’s airborne! Wow, what a short, stocky beauty ofd sheer power and energy. Sea trout! The very best of the best. Who needs more than a summer’s night on a fine sea trout pool? Such can be the excitement of Willows at night!
After a breakfast of sea trout fillets fried in oatmeal it’s time to move downstream and look at Castle Beat.
RED BRAE – OUR CITADEL AT FINAVON!
We haven’t time to fish everything this morning, so we’ll head straight for Red Brae and then go down to Beeches. Well here’s that stream – Craigo – at the head of Red Brae that I told you about. The water has dropped away a little since yesterday so we’ll concentrate on the head of the pool. Remember those lie-stones? We needn’t wade very much, we’ll just be covering our toes and no more here. Can you make out where the stones are? I’ve never seen them breaking the surface, it’s too turbulent. But you can see where they sit by the way the water breaks on them, just next to the where the Lemno Burn comes in.
We caught a number of fish right behind these stones last year in very low water. That’s right you can use quite a long line at a shallow-ish angle at this point hold that rod tip fairly well up to give you some cushion because if one takes the fly in that fast water, it’ll thump it! Isn’t it beautiful the way the gravel bank a little further down slips away into the deep water down the edge of the wall? You need to get your fly as close to the wall as possible, on it if you can and stay low! Tony tells me he’s seen fish lying with their heads underneath the wall in low water here, which explains why they can be so hard to catch in that mid-section! Now, you seen where that current bounces back to midstream in the tail? It’s a little low for it today but still worth a comb through. That’s one of the places for a spring fish early in the season. Nothing? Not to worry, we might well get on in Beeches. Let’s just stop on our way down there though, and sit at the picnic table beside David’s Tree House. It’s possibly the most palatial treehouse you’ve ever seen, and it’s a special place. Look back upstream to the bend at the head of Red Brae, isn’t that a beautiful view? It could be anywhere in the world – except there’s nowhere like it!!
BEECHES AND THE AQUEDUCT – SALMON COUNTRY!
Beeches is a funny old pool. The head doesn’t seem to fish very well at all, but we have plans to change that by altering the wooden croy which was put in by a previous proprietor. It sticks out a little too far and causes much of the current to be squeezed down one side, resulting in shallow water for most of the stream’s width. However, the tail still fishes very well indeed, so we’ll start about half way down.
Opposite the biggest of the Beech trees. We’ve done a lot of work with this pool already. We had to trim in back extensively on this side last summer to open it up again, we’ve planted lots of willows down this side as well, look how they’ve taken, they’ll soon need trimming themselves! You see where that post sticks out of the water down there, from there down to the aqueduct footbridge is the best of this pool. There’s a deep scoop behind that post where you can see the little stream, we had lots of fish sitting in there at different times last year.
Somebody caught their first ever salmon from there which was a fantastic moment for me, as well as them. Can you see that gravel ‘ramp’ that looks as though it’s propping up the far side of the bridge? That was the result of a big job we had to do to fill a very nasty bit of erosion which was eating away the bank behind the bridge piling. We plugged it up with silt catching ‘sausages’ made from pine boughs and wire mesh and pinned them into place. Then we filled the hole with loads of webby brushwood and logs to trap more silt, before filling the whole lot with all those stones you see which form the ramp. Every single stone there had to be brought up from Indies wood and carried across the bridge. It was quite a bit of project work! Enough of my remi8niscences: back to the job in hand – fishing the pool!
Beeches from the Aqueduct
Now you can start lengthening line to get your fly to swing underneath the bridge where fish lie in the deep water. Doesn’t it fish nicely? Try to keep lengthening that line until you’re about to hit the bridge with your fly. Work it a little as it comes into your own side, it’s still in deep water directly below you so let it hang for a few moments and keep working it.
Oh my! That’s it – a slow deep pull bending the rod and increasing my heart rate! Tighten up, he’s on! Now we need to try and stop him from going any further down because we can’t follow him from this side! Good work, let’s get him back into the river above the aqueduct.
Would you like to try again this evening further down? We might do Indies and then go down to House pool, which is particularly exciting at the moment.
This is Indies, one of our well known pools. It is a big pool isn’t it? But it’s one of the first pools where you notice a drop in water level. In a bigger water, you might fish every last inch of the pool, right into the tail and pick fish up off this side of the current, but now we’ll do the top half and there’s always a chance of something in the run. Do you like the Viking style table? That was built by Derek Strachan who fishes in our syndicate.
There was a big old Bird Cherry standing behind it but it blew down in the winter and we spent a week cutting most of it up with hand saws and disentangling the table from the branches. It had only just been disentangled the first time after a huge spate took it into the tree! We’re developing this lawn here too you see, all these tree roots will soon be covered by a rolling plain of grass and the erosion upstream fixed by man and machine! Anyway, let’s have a cast. We’ll start in the head of the run, fishing it from well above, in case there’s a fish sitting tight up there.
Once we move down into the pool itself you’ll find the wading very easy.
There’s a lot of depth on that far side, so you need to get your fly well over there and try not to let it get ripped off of the current too quickly. There is a lie just behind that little croy, where the stream glides past that cut willow trunk. We couldn’t fish that properly with a fly last year because the trunk hung right over the river. It was a job to take it out but worth the effort as we had a Springer from that lie a few weeks later! We’ll fish down to the first growth of willow bushes on the far side, and then it’ll be getting a bit thin. Try lengthening the line and cutting the angle down a bit like we did at Beeches earlier. Good work, your fly will stay in the holding water longer that way. We’re just approaching the spot now, tweak the fly as it comes off the current again, well done. There was a touch! Give him a minute and put another cast in the same place.
BOGARDO BEAT – A PLACE OF PERFECT PEACE
No joy this time, let’s cross at the tail of the pool and walk down to House pool where we can wait for dusk.
As we walk down the track on the Bogardo side of the river, you feel very much apart from the rest of the world. You are right beneath Finavon Hill and can hear only the murmur of the river to your left and the jovial chuckle of the jackdaws as they flight into their roosts. You can’t help but look at that ancient hill fort above you and wonder what remains of the people who lived there and knew this area so intimately. You wonder if they walked this same route to go and catch the salmon that was much more abundant in their time, and decide that they must have. You wonder what all the water you’ve seen looked like in their time. Would they know any of it if they saw it today?
HOUSE POOL – ONCE NEGLECTED BUT NO MORE
We’ve arrived at House pool and have little while to wait for dusk. So let’s make ourselves comfortable in the newest addition to the infrastructure of FCW. Behind a ranch style fence lies a lawn sown with grass and meadow flowers, on which sits some rustic wooden furniture in the Indies style, and tucked into the trees at the back of the lawn is a beautiful wooden shelter. The Dacha. Look out of the side window up to the head of the pool, see that run? In low to medium water heights that run can hold a few fish.
A first salmon from House Pool in October 2014
I saw someone lose a big one in there last September and a young chap caught a very big red cock fish there too. If you look out of the front window, can you see that little willow growth on the far side? There is a little bit of current behind that which often holds a few fish as well, but you can pick them up anywhere down the pool. The tail fishes marvellously in high water. House Pool is almost my favourite pool. It’s the most out of the way and always feels fishy. Since we put The Dacha in here, we’ve had more fish out of it. It gives people a base camp and an environment to spend a whole day in.
Now when it’s almost dark, you start up at the top and work very quietly down the pool. You’ll be able to fish right down to the last willow stump on this side at this height and expect sea trout anywhere! There’s loads of fishing, it is a long pool. You might even spend the whole night here and then try for a salmon at dawn. I’m going up to Willows again. Let me know how you get on!
Ghillie & River Keepere
Finavon Castle Water