Last week I was fishing on the Cairnton beat of the River Dee. I had booked it way back in January and with it being such a famous beat I thought I'd better give it a go. The beat was made famous by Arthur Wood in the early part of the 20th century when he was the fishing tenant on the estate. He was the pioneer of "Greased line fishing" and developed his technique right here on the banks of the River Dee. He was a master angler and during his tenure here he caught in excess of 3000 Atlantic salmon to his own rod. Bearing in mind they only fished until June in those days too. It must have been some place!
They say first impressions last and it was certainly was true for Cairnton as I was immediately struck by the immaculate gardens and paths down to the fishing hut. The banks were also looking very good and I struggled to stay below the 10mph speed limit set by the beat as I eagerly meandered my way along the road to the hut.
I arrived the beat around 8.30am and was met by ghillie, Brian Brogan. Brian has a wealth of knowledge and knows his beat inside out. When he said we had a good chance of catching fish today that was all the encouragement I needed. The gauge was reading 5" and was falling away slowly after a lift late on the previous week. Brian suggested that small rods in the 12-13ft foot range would be ideal and floating lines with a short intermediate tip would be ideal. With that in mind I set up my 13ft Hardy Uniqua with a 8/9 Rio Scandi head and a 5ft intermediate tip. My fly, an #13 Executioner, was chosen by Brian so that's what I tied on as I firmly believe in taking as much advice from the ghillies as possible. After all, they are the ones on the river every day and know what works and when. I also set up my 12ft 6in Guideline LPXe and matched this up with an 8/9 Rio AFS and a Rio 1.5ips versi leader. A #11 Cascade was the fly of choice for this set up.
I was drawn to fish on the upper beat. This made my first ever cast at Cairnton was to be in the famous Grey Mare pool. Not a bad place to start. Incidentally, Mr Wood kept this pool to himself when he fished here all those years ago and I can see why. Brian pointed out the hot spots and talked me through the wading lines etc before tending to the other guest upstream. I began at the fast water at the neck of the pool and a small grilse made itself known just on the other side of the main current. I covered the lie as best I could but to no avail. On fishing down the pool there were a few older fish showing as I went. Despite having the feeling that a fish would take at every cast, nothing took a fancy to my offerings so Brian showed me down to he next pool.
The next pool I was to fish was the Cottage Run. The car park for this pool was directly opposite the famous rod room which was built by Mr Wood when he had the fishing here. Brian asked if I would like to have a look around and I he didn't need to ask me twice! When you enter the room you just cant help but to think back to when Arthur Wood and his guests would have been sitting around the table discussing the fishing or who caught what and where.
The display cases show off some of his prized fishing gear. The Blue Charm fly which was used extensively at Cairnton back then has probably caught more fish than any other fly on this fabled beat. These rightly take pride of place in the cabinet and display on the wall. The old gaffs hanging on the wall must have been well used too as salmon were certainly not in short supply in those days. Large wooden wheels are fixed to the wall and these were used to store and dry off the old silk lines which were commonly used then. They tended to sink when wet and it was greasing these lines to make them float that made Arthur Wood famous. The old catch records lie on the table and even just having a quick flick through you can see just how abundant the salmon were back then. Days of 9 or 10 in February were not uncommon and most seasons (Feb - June) consistently produced hundreds of fish. It would be great to travel back in time and have a day on the river just to exactly what it was like.
As I arrived at the Cottage Run, the rod on the opposite bank shouted over that he had 3 grilse in the space of an our earlier that morning. All took a small #16 Ally Shrimp. I was hoping that some of his good fortune might transfer across the river and on to me. I fished down the pool eagerly anticipating a salmon having my fly. I fished through all taking lies that Brian had pointed out without a touch but just as I got to the tail of the pool, as fish grabbed my fly. It was a short, but sharp tug on the line but for some reason the fish didn't hook up. Most probably a fish running and my fly got in the way. Unfortunately, the rest of the pool, as well as it was fishing, produced nothing more so it was off upstream again to fish Upper Ferroch before lunch.
The top fishing hut at Cairnton over looks the Upper Ferroch pool and whilst tackling up in the morning there were several fishing showing in it. I waded out into the top of the pool and as soon as my first cast hit the water it was snaffled by a fish. Sadly, it was grabbed by the salmon's cousin - a brown trout but at least it got the heart going for a split second or two. It was swiftly returned unharmed and I carried on down the pool. The rain began as I was adjacent to the and despite the clear presence of numerous fresh looking fish I just couldn't temp any of them. This was as good a time as any to stop for a bite to eat.
After lunch I was to fish the lower part of the beat. I knew what the pools were like down there having fished some of them from the Middle Blackhall side back in May. The river was low then too so I had a rough idea of what to expect and where the fish might be lying. Brian took me down and showed me onto the water. First up for me was a pool called the Spout.
The Spout is a narrow pool which cuts through the bedrock which forms both banks of the river here. It was just a short cast required to cover the pool effectively. Brian advised changing to a heavier sinking tip in here due to the speed and depth of the water. On went a 4ips versi leader and a #11 Minx Cascade. The pool was fishing very nicely at this height but no fish were fooled by my offerings so it was off downstream to fish Glisters.
Glisters is a continuation from the Spout where the river widens and slows into a more evenly paced pool. There was one or two fish showing mid way down the pool and I decided to give a Sunray Shadow a go in an attempt to provoke a take from one of them. I fished the Sunray fast, slow, square, downstream 45 degrees but nothing worked and the fish were undeterred by the wake it created on the surface and it was off down to the Sandy Bay.
As I arrived at the pool the rod on the opposite bank was just finishing up. He had managed to land a nice, fresh grilse from the pool just after lunch. This was the same rod who had three fish in an hour during the morning session. Four fish for his day was great going! I changed back to the intermediate tip here as the pool was much shallower than the two above. I also put back on the #13 Executioner. The pool fished the fly very well and I fished it all the way down until I was opposite the lower hut. As well as it fished, the salmon were still avoiding me and by the time I finished the pool it was near 5pm.
Brian was cutting the banks around the hut I made my way over to say goodbye. I was to fish on for a while after hours so we had a chat about where to fish next. Brian suggested giving Rock Heads and Salt Vat a go as it hadn't been fished all afternoon. He pointed out and explained the good taking lies so I made my way over the rocks to have a cast. The pool itself is a cracking one. A really nice holding pool which fishes well through out the season and in various heights of water. Although I was well briefed on where the fish were likely to be, none were keen enough to take my fly so it was off further down river a bit to finish off my day in the Salt Vat.
Salt Vat is a nice pool in the middle of some turbulent streams above and below. It seems the ideal place a salmon would stop for a rest and sure enough one small grilse made itself know just where Brian said they would be. Brian had suggested trying a larger fly in here due to the speed and depth so on went a #9 Ally Shrimp. The Ally does very well this time of year but on this occasion it remained unharmed. I fished out the pool and decided to call it a day around 7pm.
Although the closest I came to landing a fish was just a brief encounter in the Cottage Run during the morning session, I can honestly say I had a great day. Brian went out his way to make sure I was giving myself the best chance of catching a salmon. He pointed out every lie in detail and kept my confidence high throughout with his infectious enthusiasm. This was my first visit to Cairnton but it certainly will not be my last. I will make a point of fishing it again very soon and hopefully the salmon gods will be looking down on me when I do.
|Looking upstream from the hut on the top beat which over looks the Upper Ferrochs pool.|
|Following in the footsteps of A.H.E Wood.|
|The Grey Mare. A salmon pool which is steeped in history.|
|The Cottage Run. 3 grilse were landed in quick succession by a rod fishing on the Middle Blackhall bank just before I arrived at the pool.|
|A.H.E Wood's famous rod room at Cairnton.|
|Some of the relics on display in the rod room including boxes of his favourite fly, the Blue Charm.|
|Mr Wood kept meticulous records of every salmon caught during his time at Cairnton.|
|A frame containing all sizes of Blue Charms.|
|Looking downstream from the neck of Upper Ferroch. Not a bad view at all!|
|The interior of the well equipped hut at Cairnton. A nice big window to watch the river go by too.|
|Fishing down the Spout after lunch.|
|Glisters. Another pool flanked by rock and a lovely cast.|
|Looking upstream in Glisters.|
|Looking downstream from the bank of Sandy Bay.|
|Looking across to the Middle Blackhall hut from the Cairnton bank.|
|Rock Heads. A really nice cast at this height.|
|Salt Vat. Another one of Cairnton's many classic fly fishing pools.|
|Looking upstream in the evening light from below the bottom hut.|