Fresh Salmon into the South Esk

Yesterday afternoon I walked down Milton Beat and was stopped on the way by a gesticulating Mark Holden, our tenant this week. He told me (somewhat breathlessly!) that he had just lost two big salmon in quick succession in Willows. The River was still purling down, well above 2’0″ on the Gella Bridge level marker, but had cleared substantially during the day to enable Mark to fish the fly. I had seen him earlier in the day, after Monday’s washout, when he had shown me a 3″ Waddington he proposed using in the heavy water. I made no comment because I thought it rather unlikely in the heavy flow that any fish would take a fly, no matter how big.
This photo was taken from the Red Brae Suspension Bridge during the run-off of the Hurrican Bertha spoate on 12/8/2014. We saw salmon and grilse using the spate to migrate upstream. Among these fish were some large salmon.
The fly he was fishing in the late afterenoon, after the water had subsided significantly, was a 2″ tube (Willie Gunn I think). The first fish took very quietly in the lower section of Willows. For a few minutes it cooperated without much drama, until he applied side strain, at which point the fish took off like a banshee, stripping all the line and most of the backing off the reel before the leader snapped under the strain. The salmon was somewhere near Volcano – a distance of more than 100 metres – when it disconnected. Mark was in no doubt that this was a big salmon, well into the teens of pounds, if not bigger.
Soon afterwards he hooked another salmon a few yards further down the pool which, after 3 or 4 minutes, reclaimed its freedom by throwing the hook. In Mark’s opinion this was also a big fish. He also commented that he had seen many other fish, mainly MSW salmon but also the occasional grilse. As far as he was able to see, all these fish were fresh run.
It is not surprising therefore, that when I met Mark on the riverbank after his two encounters with big salmon fresh in from the sea, he was a bit shaken and emotional. Such are the excitements encountered by salmon fly fishermen, not perhaps as often as we would like, but in my reckoning worth the wait…

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