The River Don, Bridge of Alford
After an early start and 4 hour drive, we checked in to the Forbes Arms Hotel at Bridge of Alford . We just had time for a quick glimpse at the hotel's fishing book before setting up our rods. The first entry records a 1 ¾ lb brownie caught by Mr M Haggard esquire on the 8 th April 1898. It would be nice to beat that, even if it was 107 years ago. No time for sentiment though. We were fishing the hotel beat No.2 by 11 am and the weather was good for fishing. Plenty of cloud with light showers and it had rained the day before to put the river in perfect order.
Norrie and Robin went above the bridge and Hugh and I downstream and started to fish at the back of the farmyard. Hugh was first to wet a line – no surprise there then. So I went 50 yds further on and stopped where trout were rising. Mistake No.1 – I shouted that vital info to Hugh. Two minutes later he covered one of them with an olive Klinkhammer and wham! “It's a guid yin Bill” said Hugh standing to my left and then the fish erupted 30 ft to my right. I couldn't believe the size of it and we only had small tennis nets, with which to try to land it! However, that proved no problem as Hugh eventually used the current to ease the fish back end first into my net. Then the fun began! As Hugh unhooked it, it took a really strong kick and clambered right up his neck for a wee cuddle. Luckily I was right on hand to record this special moment for Lainie. A quick measure logged it in at a prime condition 22”. A plaque of another trout the same size hanging in the hotel corridor records it as 4½ lbs.
The big fish goes back
That was the first fish we covered. The question then was “Can they possibly all be like this?” Hugh then proceeded to cover and nail just about every rising fish in the next two streams. I then gave him a wide berth and walked ¼ mile further on and came to a wonderful stream where good fish were rising along the far side below the bushes. But before any thought could be given to them, the half dozen in the main stream in between had to be tackled. I had just started and guess what popped up to my left? Hugh's head! “Please Shug, bugger off and let me have a go here”. That request came from the heart.
There were some very nice fish showing. All were feasting on a carnival of olives. Two fish in particular were feeding inches from the far bank below a bush. Big shoulders followed by bigger backs, the stuff to really get the adrenalin pumping. I tried for them without success. After a few minutes they both moved in unison and re-appeared 20 ft downstream, rising even tighter to the bank and with drag to overcome. Eventually, I managed the perfect cast over one of them …… take it, take it …… and one did. A beautiful 18” fish (approximately 3 lbs) It had come up for my grizzle hackle light olive Klinkhammer.
"Now thats a troot"
Meanwhile, in the stretch above the bridge (hotel beat 1) Norrie and Robin had seen less rising fish, but had still enjoyed a special day's sport. Robin had thrown his cast of wet nymphs down through a stream of the fastest water at the far side of a small island. The line stopped dead and a big trout jumped from the water. In the heavy stream the fish was definitely the boss and travelled across the river to the near bank. As the line went solid, caught in the reeds, the air went blue as Robin shouted that the fish was off. So the disconsolate Robin waded over to retrieve his flies. As he reached the reeds the line shot forward again. The fish was still hooked and was off on its travels again. Six minutes later it was landed, measured and set free. No amount of reasoning for the rest of the day would persuade Robin that his wasn't bigger than Hughie's. In actual fact it was clocked at 21” (approximately 4 lbs).
Hugh finished the day back at the scene of his earlier success, the farmyard stream. He landed a second biggie. A trout of 20” (approximately 3¾ lbs) but thinner than the morning's fish.
Back at the hotel we met up and over a delicious bar supper, the day's adventures were retold. A total of 47 trout over 10” had been caught and returned to the water – Hugh 23, Robin 9 Norrie 8, Bill 7. These included two herling.
Robin's fish. A cracker around the 4lb mark.
The river had been alive with insects all day. The odd olive had been on the water when we arrived at 11.00 am and the hatch lasted through lunchtime and tailed off at about 4.00pm . Sedges were present in abundance all day, as were swarms of hawthorns. Yellow sally's crawled up my waders every time I sat down on the bank and black gnats were also on the water … but it was definitely the olives they wanted.
Apart from a little more breeze, the next day was a carbon copy of the first. But there was one small difference – no olives at all! Nevertheless, Hugh did well with his dry hawthorn imitation. Obviously a case of second choice for the trout as they would not take them the day before during the hatch of olives. It is totally inexplicable how two days with such similar weather and water levels could be so different.
Norrie did well with a Waterhen Bloa and a dry Olive Cul de. Robin's star performer over the three days was a Killer Nymph. I did okay with trout to each of my wet cast of Olive, Partridge & Orange and Gold Bead Pheasant Tail. This fly accounted for the best of the day, a 17” brownie of approximately 2 ¾ lbs.
Day two totals – Hughie 8, Robin 7, Norrie 4, and Bill 4.
From the left, Bill, Norrie, Robin and Hugh
The third day was scheduled to be the highlight of the trip with fishing pre-booked 10 miles downstream at beats 2 and 3 at Monymusk. The water was a bit wider and generally faster; much more salmony. Once again there were virtually no olives and much fewer sedges and hawthorns about. Unlike further up, the river bed had a generous covering of weed and was populated with par, which quickly took any wet fly presented to them. Hardly a rise from a decent fish was seen all day.
Third day totals were Bill 2 to a Goldbead Pheasant Tail Nymph - best one 1 lb. Norrie one on an olive, Robin one on his Killer Nymph and Hugh 1 on a dry olive.
A total of 75 fish over 10” were caught, mostly during the first two days. The best trout were – 22” (approximately 4 ½ lb); 21” (approximately 4 lb); 20” (approximately 3 ¾ lb); 18” (approximately 3 lb) and 17” (approximately 2 ¾ lb).
The Forbes Arms Hotel has it all – brilliant food, particularly the breakfasts. Even Robin's massive hangover on Sunday could not stand between him and his plate. Great staff, lively locals, two dart boards, a pool table and a juke box for Norrie to play The Clash's “Complete Control”. And to top it all, the perfect location right by the riverside.
A few years ago, an article in a National magazine claimed that the River Don possibly had the best wild brown trout fishing in Europe . How did that claim bear up to our scrutiny? On 19 May 2005 the River Don certainly gave us the best sport for wild brown trout Scotland has to offer. Hughie would say the world and who could argue with him!
Up and away at 5.00 am and after a five hour trip, we finally approached Afford around 10.00 am . As we neared the outskirts of the village, Gordon, a bit punch drunk from all that driving, said “Gowsh, look at the size of that big black bull”. “That would be a statue Gordon” said Alex. Good start with the wildlife spotting then Gordon. You'll be seeing pink fairies next.
What a scare at the check-in! It looked for a minute or two that we were doubling up on double beds, to obvious panic. The hotel sorted it out and we set off to fish. Not so easy when the guy we had arranged to get the permits from had disappeared off to play golf!
Not a cloud in the sky and 24 o. - It's tough at the top …..Of Scotland ! Nevertheless, nineteen trout over 10” were caught. Successful dry flies were mainly small olives. Ducks Dun for John and the wee grey for Rab. Downstream on the Castle Forbes beats, Hugh and Gordon arrived for their interview with the Maister of Forbes to find fish already rising. They took seven on the Big Brown, all in the first hour. The best was 2lbs +. Down at the hotel bottom beat, after switching to an intermediate line, Alex took trout with a Cruncher and Peasant Tail nymph. Fishing the Forbes Arms water, Peter had fish on a Waterhen Bloa and a Gold Ribbed Hares Ear.
After enjoying a high tea of delicious oat and rock cakes, the boys retired to the bar where Gordon conducted a pool lesson to the strains of “Kumbaya”.
The next day clouded over, giving much better conditions, but very little flies hatched. The odd olive appeared in the afternoon. Seven trout was the disappointing second day total with no big fish. Olives and GRHE were the successful flies. Bill had heard that thunder storms had been forecast. So, when he heard a noise around midday , Bill remarked “listen to that thunder”. Gordon replied “That's an aeroplane Bill!.... perhaps its going to land at Thunder airport tho'” ha, bloody ha.
Back to base camp for refreshing G & Ts on the hotel lawn before dinner. A pink fairy did flutter past (Laura, the barmaid on her way to a children's charity do). An entire evening of eloquent discussion was spent on Crown Fly Fishers consistently favourite topic of conversation and no, it wasn't fishing.
Up the next day to rain and freezing temperatures of only 4 o at 11.00 am and decision time for the boys. That was fine, apart from an endemic dose of anti-decision sickness that had swept the company the night before. Only one thing for it – take a vote. The vote was 4 for a sly reckie to the Tummel, 1 for Strathdoon and 1 abstention. In the best democratic traditions, the abstention carried the day and we headed up river to purchase permits at the Colquninnie Hotel. The rain had stopped, but was still chankin! Up in the hills, the river has a completely different character. In its upper reaches, it is narrow and bendy, with short streams and runs. Beautifu,l wild country with curlews and eagles flying and hares running. A complete joy to be there. Most of the fish were not very big, but they were hungry. A few nice ones were spotted rising to olives later in the afternoon. Eleven trout over 10” were caught and returned. All except one fell to olive imitations.
Taking the scenic route through Braemar, we were back home for 10 pm . Although never reaching the dizzy heights of last year's expedition, an excellent three days, (with varied weather conditions, mixed water, good company and very comfortable accommodation), was had by all.