I mentioned in an earlier article that queuing to fish a pool is not my idea of fishing. This time we would pay the extra and find a beat of our own. Spey beats were at that time, and probably still are, prohibitively expensive; unless of course you want to fish at times when there are few fish in the river, or when conditions are such that effective fishing is restricted to the use of extremely large flies on sunk lines, or spinners. After much searching, (remember this was pre-internet) we finally settled on the river Orchy, flowing through the superb West Coast scenery of Glen Orchy, near Dalmally. Our beat was the (apparently) renowned Craig beat, which came with its own fully equipped fishing hut, the Bothy. The Orchy has its best run of salmon in the autumn, or at least, it did then, many salmon being held up at the Awe barrage, reluctant to enter the fish lift. So we broke with our normal tradition of taking a holiday in May and travelled to Scotland in mid-September. Our car was fully loaded with tackle - we had been told that the Orchy salmon responded better to a natural shrimp fished down and across than they did to a fly. So we had fly, bait and spinning tackle with us. Our trips were few and far between. We wanted the tackle to make the most of it. If the fish wanted a shrimp, then they would get a shrimp, but we would have a damn good go with the fly first. To my mind, spinning comes a very poor third - I don't much enjoy it, not for salmon anyway. This year our friend Bert was to accompany us. We had met Bert at one of the trout waters we fished. He was a lovely chap, older than we were, and a confirmed fishing bachelor. He loved it in Scotland and was delighted when we asked him to come with us. We weren't actually staying in the Bothy - it was only when we first went in that we realised it was equipped with beds and washing facilities as well as having provision for cooking. If we had known that we might well have stayed there. But never mind, we had full use of it as a fishing base. Our hotel was some way upstream of our beat, at the Bridge of Orchy. A lovely hotel it was too, offering a much warmer welcome than the Irish Lodge. I hasten to add, before it puts anyone off going, that our Irish trip was 23 years ago. I'm sure things will have changed there by now. From memory the unfriendly host was in his 70's at the time so may well have passed to that great fishing hotel in the sky. I have read recently that the lodge and fishery was up for sale - for £1.8million. That would make a lovely retirement home… We arrived at the hotel and drew lots for the rooms. Dave drew the single room, Bert and I the double. It was still light by the time we had unloaded our bags, so we drove down to look at our beat. The Orchy is a spate river, and spate rivers need rain. There had been plenty of that, too much in fact (here come the excuses again!) and the river looked spectacular, especially the falls at the head of Rocky pool, opposite the Bothy, which was on the far bank and reached by driving across a rickety looking metal bridge. There was an interesting spot for fishing the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. It was very aptly called the Pulpit, which is exactly what it was. Years of wear had created a man-size hole in the rock. You could stand in it in just the manner of a preacher giving his sermon and address the fish with your lures or baits. If they wouldn't take them then you were ideally placed to give the fish a good talking to… On the first morning Dave and I started fishing at the tail of the rocky pool, going on advice from the local Ghillie, Kenny Matheson. Bert went further down to a pool that looked made for the fly, the Sovereign. Like many West Coast rivers the Orchy is very rocky, both in and out of the water. Much of it wasn't suitable for wading, but as I had only brought my chest waders, I wore them. These had felt soles and it soon became apparent how good these are for walking across slippery rocks. I could easily get to the water's edge, whilst in many places Dave and Bert had to be far more circumspect. Felt soles do have one drawback though. On wet grass they are lethal. And there was plenty of wet grass! I didn't fall in the river, but did spend a fair amount of time on my backside when away from it. Dave and I fished the fly all morning, with nothing to show for it. We had arranged to meet Bert at the Bothy for lunch. This became a regular event whereby we would all meet at the Bothy at a set time, and cook our midday meal. It was a very enjoyable arrangement and we had almost as much fun inside our log cabin as we did outside. We had all seen fish jumping, so in the afternoon decided to try the shrimp. The method is to fish what amounts to light leger tackle with a small bullet lead on the line. You then thread a needle up the trace, and tie on a small treble. The needle is then pushed through the body of the shrimp, tail first, and the treble pulled into the head. The needle keeps the body straight. You then fish it like a fly, casting down and across and letting it swing around in the current. Our shrimps were dyed purple, which seems the favourite colour on the Orchy. We had only been fishing for about a half-hour when I had that electric tug on the line, just as the shrimp was hanging at the furthest extent of its travel downstream. Off went the fish, accompanied as ever by a screeching reel. I was fishing an old James CTM 12 foot fibre-glass match rod that I had bought in the late nineteen-sixties, to fish for Avon barbel. This was coupled with a Grice & Young centrepin. The fish gave me a terrific fight on that tackle. It was a salmon of seven pounds, darker than the spring fish I had caught in previous years, but that is to be expected in the autumn, though you do get some silver fish at that time too. This was in our early fishing days. Now I would probably return a fish like that, but this one was destined for the smoker. We continued to fish with no further success, fighting either against strong winds, or when they dropped, hordes of extremely determined midges. The midges can be real problem when fishing heather clad banks in September. We fished quite hard for the next two days, enjoying the scenery, and the banter in the Bothy. But though we saw salmon quite often, we couldn't catch them, neither on fly, spinner nor bait. On the Thursday I was once again fishing the bottom of the rocky pool, this time with worm. This can be a very exciting way to fish for salmon, and we had seen the art demonstrated to good effect by "Wing Commander" Davidson, known locally as "Wingco", on the Spey the previous year. You put on just enough lead to allow the bait to trundle slowly along the bottom. Each time it stops moving it is a potential take. When this happens your heart pounds so hard that it makes your hands shake. You wait a few moments, then gingerly lift the rod, The lead will either continue bumping over the stones, or remain stuck. If the latter, then you lift a bit harder and see if whatever has stopped it moves. On about the fifth run down the bait stopped. I waited then slowly tightened the line. I could definitely feel something at the bait, so I struck, quite hard. Out of the water rocketed an eel of about 2 pounds! I wound in, and as I usually do with eels, held it at rod's length wondering what to do next. I'm not too fond of eels. As often happens, the eel solved the problem by falling off the hook, slithering quickly across the damp rocks and back into the river. That was enough for me. I quickly reverted to the fly rod. The Sovereign pool was a few hundred yards downstream, beautiful fly water too. I walked down and commenced casting a small fly on a floating line. For well over an hour I fished down the pool, trying a variety of flies of all shapes, sizes and colours, but to no avail. There were fish there - they kept jumping, but didn't seem interested in the fly. After a while I was joined by Kenny, the local ghillie. I explained what I had been doing and asked his advice. Try the shrimp he said, referring to the purple natural, not the fly. I picked up my old James rod and mounted a shrimp on the hook. I cast on the same line as I had been fly-fishing and before the shrimp had travelled half across the river it was taken violently. My CTM rod is a veteran of many battles and I have caught fish of many species on it. It has plenty of power in the butt, though is probably a bit on the light side for a good salmon. This fish gave me a really good fight making the reel sing out across the glen. I suppose it took about 20 minutes before I was able to kneel by the side of the river and tail him out, a nice cock fish of ten pounds. As Kenny shook my hand I noticed he had a knowing look in his eye. There were still fish showing, and having taken one first cast on a shrimp you could be forgiven for thinking that you were about to do great slaughter. But salmon are contrary fish - I didn't get another take. The following day I moved upstream to the Colonel, a pool where a great number of fish were showing. As you stood at the tail you could see them come across the shallows and into the pool. Whether they stayed for long I'm not sure - they looked awfully like running fish, and these can be difficult to catch. We covered them with fly, spinner and bait, all of which were ignored. I again tried the worm. Third run through and the bait stopped, followed by a series of knocks on the rod top. This is exactly what I had been led to expect from a salmon taking the bait. My heart jumped into my mouth. I held the line between my fingers and could easily feel the fish mouthing the bait, a golf-ball size bunch of lobworms. Then the fish moved off slowly - it had to be a salmon. I tightened and the rod bent down sharply. Just for a second it felt like a big fish, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn't. It put up a good scrap on the light rod, turning out to be a lovely brown trout of about one-and-a-quarter pounds, a big trout for the river. It had completely swallowed the whole bunch of worms and the hook was nowhere to be seen, There was no hope of removing it so we took the fish home and gave it to our land-lady, who was delighted. The next day Bert, fishing the tail of the rocky pool, and in almost the exact spot from where I had caught the seven-pounder earlier in the week had a four-pound grilse, a pretty silver fish that he returned. Later on the same day, fishing the Colonel, he had a fish of around ten-pounds fall off when half in the net. It got away. Dave blanked and was left to seek his first salmon another year. Before leaving we drove down to the Awe barrage and were staggered to see the amount of fish in the river below. They are unable to surmount the barrage itself, but there is a fish-lift there. This a basically a large metal cage, mounted on a cable inside the actual barrage, or dam. The idea is that the fish swim into the cage, and are periodically lifted up and over the barrage to continue their journey upstream. I don't know how true it is that they are reluctant to swim into the fish lift. There were certainly an awful lot of salmon in the river below. It was truly heaving. And neither do I know how true were the rumours that there were fish lorries from the towns in attendance when the cage was lifted…. We'd enjoyed our trip to the Orchy, and had had some great laughs. As ever I was very sad to be going home. I was envious of Bert, who had another week's holiday and was off to spend it fishing the Thurso, in Caithness. During the course of the week he had persuaded Dave and I that this was a river we should try. Next year we would.Alan Tomkins