I have no doubt that the 2018 season will go down as one of the toughest seasons on record for chasing Salmon in Scotland.
From the harshest winter in a generation to the driest and warmest summer in decades, rivers all over the country are having a tough time of it and Salmon Anglers have faced a season of difficult conditions. It's been a long time since anyone could say they have fished in "Ideal conditions".
After a trip to the Brora in March, (where we were frozen off the river), four trips to the river Tay and single visits to the Isla and the Dee this season, I have yet to connect with a single Salmon in 2018 which is obviously hugely frustrating and disappointing.
I think it's fair to say though that it's not only the conditions that is making it such a tough year but as a result of the well known issues that we have discussed and debated as Salmon anglers there are just not as many fish around. I don't get out as much as I would like because of Family and work commitments like most of us however, on the times I have ventured out I will find my self sharing a beat with 4-5 rods and for all those days out noted above, I have only seen one fish hooked and landed. That went to a local on the Dee who knew the river like the back of his hand so it is really hard times at the moment.
Part of being a Salmon angler though is having that thick skin which always helps you find the positives in things after a fishless day, and we've all said things like "Oh it was a great day out on the river though", or "It's better than being in work" or my own personal go to optimistic snippet of "I feel as though I learned more about the river today"...(Aye, like it doesn't have any fish!!). We cling to any possible positive to help us justify it to ourselves that we should come back for more.
What has been keeping me going through this barren streak then is that our fishing team would be once again heading to the North West Coast of Scotland in July to one of our favourite places on the river Ewe.
This is where I caught my first Silver Tourist, a perfect 6lb sea licer from the Sea Pool which was one of 8 fish landed (12 hooked!) that our party had over 3 days. It's a river that with the right conditions can provide the type of action that is becoming rarer in our sport and for such a short river (It's only 2 miles in length) it has more features and known lies than some beats of the bigger Salmon rivers.
Flowing through some of the most majestic landscapes in Scotland the Ewe has a variety of streamy runs at the heads and tails of fast flowing pools such as the incredible Macordies which in higher water can hold a large number of fish.
The stunning Sea Pool fishes in all conditions, my favourite pool on the river
The Sea Pool is aptly named as it is directly influenced by the tide coming in from Loch Ewe and this pool fishes at it's best around an hour and a half before the tide arrives bringing with it fresh running fish.
Throughout the river though a number of croys and gabion cages create changes in water flows and deep pocket water for running fish to rest in. It has some much deeper pools such as the Tee pool which can slow running fish down and it even has what I would describe as it's own small loch at the top of the river between the Middle and Lower Narrow pools and all of which are to be found as you follow the river up into the famous Loch Maree.
The Tee Pool, looking a bit skinny here but has deeper sections that hold fish
So for it being such a short stretch, it has enough features and character to keep you interested as you fish each day.
The pictures of previous visitors including famous fishing faces like Scott Mackenzie holding fresh Salmon over 25lb on the wall of our lodgings in the Manse lodge only serve as reminders and evidence of the type of fish that this small river can produce. It's become an unspoken daily ritual for us to sit and stare at those pictures and day-dreaming that one day we can also hook into a specimen like that and make the Manse lodge wall of fame.
The way this year has gone so far though, I would be happy with another 6lb grilse to be honest!
Due to the amazing summer weather (amazing if you are a normal person that doesn't chase silver!), the water levels were much lower than we had hoped, and prayed for.
For the Ewe to be fishing it's best it has to have water at around 1.3m on the gauge and we knew we were in for a tough few days as it was hovering around the 0.8m mark, but as we all know, as long as your fly is in the water then you have a chance.
The approach was going to be stealthy with mainly floating lines, tapered leaders and smaller flies but in the faster streamier sections then a small sink tip would do the job but we were all prepared to chop and change flies, leaders and tactics to enhance our chances.
All set up and ready to go, the first night out on the water soon produced the first fish. A perfect start.
The first fish of the trip, a still bright bar of silver to the rod of @scotiafishing
A lovely Salmon which had just started to show signs of colouring but was still sporting it's silver garb and weighed around 7-8lbs came to the net from the T Pool. A fast stripped Sun Ray got the job done under the cover of nightfall and gave us all hope that despite the low water, we could yet be in for a productive trip.
The morning after though, we awoke to a cloudless sky, the brightest sun and 27 degrees celsius temperatures which was burning up the river even further and causing the water to fall back again. Despite this weather gorgeously framing the stunning scenery of Poolewe which still makes me stop and admire it every once in a while as I make my way through a pool, it effectively ended our chances of a fish that day.
The conditions continued to be tough and despite covering every lie and run with all sorts of flies from small Stoats Tail tubes to 7 inch Sun Rays on a variety of different tips and leaders, we were still on just the one fish as a party heading into the last day.
There was no doubt that morale was running as low as the water but when you are fishing with good mates and in such an amazing place, it's easy to make your own fun and keep each other motivated. And that is exactly what we did.
After a few bottles of fine red wine on the Friday night, we decided to get the guitar out and write our own comedic version of a famous Scottish Song dedicated to the Ewe! (If you have fished the Ewe yourself then i'm sure you will appreciate some of the lyrics). It's important to be able to not take yourself too seriously in this game and we had fun having a laugh at ourselves in this song.
I have never laughed so much in my life but the version that made it to the video had been edited over the course of about 3 hours so it's definitely worth a listen below and hopefully raises a giggle:
The beauty of a trip like this is that of course we're there to catch fish, but the most important thing is just enjoying yourself (There's another optimistic snippet to add to the collection!).
Fishing trips with good friends really are a brilliant way to escape reality (I really should write a book to capture these!) and just have fun and a good laugh. Do we all want to be catching loads of fish? Absolutely, but we also enjoy the craic and time away just as much.
With the last day having arrived, there had been some much needed overnight rain thanks to a Thunderstorm which gave the river a small but welcome lift that would freshen things up a bit. This gave us another chance before we left to try and get some fish on the board.
We set out early(ish) despite the red wine hangovers with a renewed optimism but aside from a decent Sea Trout and Brownie both around the 1.5lb mark, there were no Salmon that were keen to take our offerings.
That was the case until on one of the last runs through the Lower Narrows pool, one final fish was hooked and landed again on a fast stripped Sun Ray. A very welcome and lovely grilse of 4lb in weight.
The final fish of this year's trip again going to the experienced rod of @scotiafishing
And that was that, tough low water conditions and bright sunshine put paid to the hopes of the bonanza that I was after and ensured that my own personal drought was now lasting longer than this summers!
But what a fantastic trip and I am already counting down the days to July 2019 where we make the next trip up to the North West Coast of Scotland, when hopefully, we will hit the magical 1.3m mark on the gauge and get those "Ideal conditions" that we all crave. Either way though...It will definitely be better than working!