When the opportunity arose unexpectedly and at short notice to get the chance to fish the Brora in the Scottish Highlands, my immediate thought was absolutely, let's make it happen.
We have finally had some rain that has been heavy enough to make a difference to our rivers across the country and with this spate, would come a window of opportunity for fishing conditions to improve.
The Brora was in exactly that condition when we got the call on the Wednesday afternoon that a day had opened up Saturday and it was ours if we wanted it. 2.5 ft on the gauge and in prime condition.
You will remember that earlier this year we were frozen off the river by the Beast from the East but even then I loved the look of it with it's sweeping bends and varied flows it really is a special place so I jumped at the chance.
The fact that it would take a round trip of over 9 hours to get there and back in the same day, and that the wind would be blowing a gale didn't really factor in the decision making process and when you get the chance to fish somewhere like the Brora, you take it.
I have come to learn though that success in the Salmon fishing game often relies upon making the right decisions.
The correct decision on tactics, flies and where and when to fish will more often than not lead to a precious hook up, and with the first decision already made to make the journey North, it was then all eyes on that gauge!
With it being perfect a few days before we were due to arrive, and with more rain in the forecast, you have that fear at the back of your mind that you might miss your window by a day.
We've all experienced the infamous "You should have been here yesterday" line which seems to instantly destroy all motivation to carry on...I was just hoping we would get lucky this time and hit this river spot on.
So with the alarm set for 3am, and the travel mugs filled with strong coffee we set off.
We arrived at the river at 8:30am and at first glance, it looked really good and I was getting really excited about our chances and with such a vast expanse of water and choice of pools to fish here, the decision about which to fish and when was then really important.
The Balnacoil falls separate the Brora from the Blackwater, a 4 mile stretch of river that we have yet to fish and that was really, really enticing. I had no doubt that there would be a chance of a resident fish up in that part of the water however, upon reviewing the condition of the falls, we felt that the water was coming down too fast for fresh run fish to make it over them and up into the Blackwater so we decided to focus our efforts below Balnacoil.
It also gave us the fear that the extra rain over the past couple of days was starting to raise this river quickly but we didn't want to believe that so we stuck our heads in the sand and pretended that everything was perfect.
After the first run through Pheadair, my fishing partner Terry had a convincing pull on the line which was a good sign that we could be in for some really good sport.
The Flat Pool, River Brora
As we made our way through the pools though it was soon clear that the river was rising, and sticking our fingers in our ears to block out the truth wouldn't do us any good.
Soon after we had started fishing the tell tale signs of a rising river started floating past our rods, debris, leaves, piles of foam from the falls and logs resembling tree trunks were charging past us and the river was running at such a pace that we were re-casting every 15 seconds and it was now clear that we had missed that window of the perfect conditions of earlier in the week.
After a 4.5 hour journey and having set an alarm for a 3am wake up call this was a real sickener.
Somehow this managed to make the wind feel stronger and colder and the rain showers even wetter. What was it about us and the weather when we try to fish this place?
We stopped for an early lunch and when Martin the Head Bailiff popped in to see us he confirmed what we already knew and the river had actually now risen over 1ft in height since the day before and with the water now charging through, it would be difficult to get the job done.
He joked that we wouldn't be allowed back just in case we brought a hurricane with us next time but as we got chatting, apparently, we should have been here yesterday!
Fish were running the whole length of the river yesterday Martin went on to say and i'm pretty sure he mentioned something about 10 fish caught before lunchtime but my fingers were back in my ears by this point.
It would have been easy to have simply admitted defeat and called it a day after lunch to set off early for Home. However, in these conditions I always feel that there is still a chance.
The first thing you have to accept is that conditions have changed so now your approach must change as well.
You have to think your way around the river more and although it sounds really simple, you just have to make good decisions.
I decided to change fly, the go to suggestion was a large and weighted Willie Gunn however I felt that with the high winds this would have too much wind resistance which would influence turnover so I opted for a dressed fly, a Cascade/Willie Gunn variant with a nice long tail.
I also had taken the decision to swap the 5ft intermediate poly leader for a 10ft fast sinking version to help get the fly down in the higher water conditions and to cut down through the fast flows to help give me more control over the presentation.
I also then decided to stop aiming for the far bank with my casts and to sacrifice distance for turn over and presentation in the strong winds.
The final decision I made was to then focus on the seams in the pools, the points where a resting Salmon could be sitting just outside the main flows.
When we were here in March, there was a pool that I was desperate to fish called the Stochan pool. Although it was frozen over then, I could imagine the flows and it is a gorgeous section of this river and today, in these conditions I felt it would offer one of the better chances to get into a fish.
When I arrived at the pool, it felt fishy and I was getting genuinely excited. It had a fast flow in the middle which was to be expected but with the higher levels now flowing through it, there was a large seam running along the inside channel which was instantly deep as soon as you stepped off the stoney shore.
I cast my line into the ideal position, quickly threw an upstream mend to help the sink tip get down quickly and as it swung round onto the seam...I got that magic sensation of a strong Atlantic Salmon pulling on my line on the very first cast through the pool.
Three big pulls and line started coming off the reel and I knew instantly that I was into a good fish.
With the strong flows in the middle of the river though it was key that I could keep the fish in the slacker water where I would have the advantage and after an exhilarating fight in the driving rain, a gorgeous Atlantic Salmon wearing it's full Autumn colours was landed.
This is why I love this game so much.
When conditions are against you and you can be forgiven for heading for home, the satisfaction that you get from getting your tactics right and getting your rewards for your perseverance is such an amazing feeling.
The thing about making good decisions though is that you never know if they're good or not until after the event, but on this occasion, it all came together and that has to be one of the most rewarding aspects of our beloved sport.
I genuinely cannot express just how much I love the Brora and cannot wait to fish it again, just next time though, it would be nice to get a bit of luck with the weather!