You'll remember I was wading down a submerged sandbar, formed at the tail of an island that was set long-ways in the middle of the river. Having taken several dace on my first run down the pool, I was almost halfway down for the second time when the fly was seized with great force. Then the fish started running. I was fishing with a ten foot #7/8 trout rod and hooked the fish at about twenty yards. The fish then put in a searing run of fifty yards before I managed to stop it. I eased it back upstream, gaining about ten yards, but then losing another twenty. I'd never seen so much of my backing disappear - my fly-line was out of sight completely.

Being in the middle of the river on a deepening sandbar I wasn't able to follow the fish. If I relaxed the pressure the fish just continued running. I had to hold it quite hard and gain line where I could. I shouted loudly to Dave, and a little while after that I heard a big splash. In trying to rush across to the island he had slipped and fallen in. He had managed to struggle back to his own bank and was now watching from there. The fish ran down for about 80 yards before I managed to stop him. It was then a case of gradually working him back upstream. Ordinarily in this situation you would get out of the river and walk along the bank, getting the fish on a shorter line. This would have made things a good deal easier, but from where I was standing, it was impossible. It was fifteen minutes before I had the fish opposite me. I then started walking back towards the island, holding the fish on a short line, and giving a few yards here and there as he ran downstream. I just kept walking backwards and managed to bring the fish round to the sheltered side of the island where I eventually tailed him out in the slacker water. It wasn't a salmon, but a superb sea trout of six pounds. The fish had taken a fly of the same pattern as my first Spey salmon, this one dressed on a size 8 Drury treble. Would a sea-trout qualify for the champagne, we wondered?

After drying out, (well, to some degree…) Dave decided to join me fishing down Kilmurry's. Spacing ourselves about twenty yards apart we continually fished up and down the sandbar during the afternoon. As there was no one on Maxwell's we were able to cast to both sides of the bar, but all we picked up were some ambitious dace. I was continually amazed at the size of flies these fish would take. They were fairly hooked too, and gave you quite a start when they took, hitting the fly with some force.

Around early evening, with Dave fishing below me, my fly swung round for the umpteenth time. As it got level with where he was standing and halfway between him and the far bank, there was a big boil in the middle of the river. Dave was about to cast to it when my line lifted from the middle of the swirl. This was followed by a very loud screeching from my reel - this fish wasn't going to stop. The remainder of the fly line left the reel in about one-second flat, followed equally quickly by many yards of backing. I just couldn't stop this fish. I was still using the trout rod, with a small fly, a size 6 Blue Charm/Hairy Mary hybrid, tied to a ten-pound point. The fish just kept running and running - 50 yards, 70 yards, no let up, no suggestion of slowing down. When it reached approximately the 100-yard mark it leapt before continuing its downstream rush even faster. When my 150 yards of backing begun to appear a little thin on the reel I began to worry. I was as far down the sandbar as I could get and wasn't able to follow the fish. It seemed clear that he intended returning to the sea. It had now run around 140 yards. There was only one thing for it - I clamped down hard on the reel and held. The rod pulled down; everything was straining - would the line hold? It was do or die, I couldn't let the fish go much further. With the rod bent into an impressive hoop, gradually the fish stopped. I waded backwards a little trying to walk him upstream. This worked for a while and I gained almost twenty yards before losing it to his next run. Again I had to clamp down hard as the fish once again took me dangerously near the limit of my backing. It was some time since I'd seen the knot between backing and flyline. Now I began to worry about it. This fish wasn't going to come in easily. I stopped him at about 150 yards distance and gained probably 30 yards of line before losing it again. This went on for a good five minutes until at last I felt I was getting somewhere, gradually easing the fish upstream, gaining more line than I was losing. It took another 10 minutes before the backing knot slipped through the rings and onto the reel. Then followed some very nervous moments as for a minute or two, the knot clattered up and down the rod as the fish made short runs. But I was winning. Another 5 minutes and I had him on a short line, holding him in the fast water on the far side of the island. Occasionally he would turn broadside to the current and it took both hands to keep the rod from being pulled flat. I could see him clearly, a lovely salmon, just 5 or 6 yards from me, swaying from side to side in the strong current. I prayed the hook would hold - there was tremendous pressure on the line and the fish had been on for nearly half-an-hour. Now I was in a predicament. I wanted him on the other side of the island, where the water was slacker, but by pulling with the rod I couldn't move him at all. So I held the reel tightly and walked backwards, moving into the slower water, pulling the fish along like a dog on a lead. Soon he was swimming in the quiet water by the island. The problem was, I was now halfway to the other side of the river. The salmon was between me and the island. I needed to be on the island to land him. Winding quickly to maintain a tight line I walked towards the fish. As I approached him he went over on his side and Dave bent down to try to grab him by the tail. That really upset the fish, and he shot out of the shallows, going straight between my legs! There was only one thing for it - with the line now caught around my waders and in obvious danger of being broken I walked as best I could towards the island dragging the fish behind me. Dave waded around the back of me and this time got a good grip on the tail. We had him, a beautiful fresh run silver salmon with sea-lice on his tail. Coincidentally, he weighed exactly the same as my first salmon, the twelve-and-a-half pounder from the Spey. But what an epic battle. It's the best battle I have ever had from a fish, and I can still remember it clearly even though almost 25 years have passed since that day. One of my fishing ambitions had been to catch a salmon on the fly. I'd achieved that in Scotland, on the mighty Spey. I had then wanted to catch one on a trout rod, and now I had done that too.

We returned to the hotel triumphant. On seeing the fish, the owner looked as gob-smacked as we had been on that first evening. Dave immediately demanded our bottle of champagne. He gave it to us later that evening, in the bar, though he didn't seem too happy about it. Later on, around 11pm, we were sitting drinking the black stuff, talking fishing and swapping knots with other anglers. Suddenly, without warning, the bar shutters were rolled noisily down and all the lights turned off. I was left in the dark holding a half-finished double-grinner! The owner wanted to watch television - the television was in the next room. We could join him if we liked. Slowly we filtered from the bar to the TV room where sat our host on a huge chair, planted in the centre of the room like a throne. The television was, it seemed, on full volume. Conversation would have been impossible. One by one we left and returned to our rooms. A funny fishing hotel this one.

Despite our best efforts we failed to hook another salmon that week. Again all the excuses were turned out, lack of rain being the most common. I don't think there were any fish caught by any of the other guests, though we all saw plenty. Mostly they were running, and seemed to stop in a beat we couldn't fish, a beat owned, from memory, by the Duke of Devonshire. Of course, he wasn't there. But we didn't dare to poach it. So our Irish adventure came to an end. As our boat set sail, the sun was just setting, silhouetting the following gulls against its gold backdrop. It seemed fitting that we had arrived at dawn, and were departing as the sun set. Back in England we were again pulled over by customs. They eyed the long parcel containing the frozen salmon very suspiciously. Dave's fault you see, it's those eyebrows! But at least this time we weren't accused of being coppers!


Alan Tomkins