Salmon fishing, Helmsdale, Scotland

Well, it must be 40 years ago! The first day of the annual visit to Scotland, salmon fishing the Helmsdale. A beautiful day in April. Taking my time to choose a fly I started fishing in Little Rock, gently tumbling shallows running into a deeper pool. Just silence and sheep around me.

Mike (now my ex but still a great friend) was fishing 200 yards or so upstream, on the opposite bank. My floating line, carrying a newly tied silver stoat, was flirting with the lovely smooth stones which formed such a pleasing pattern to the eye. A firm tug took me greatly by surprise (but fortunately not enough to cause me to strike). I lifted into a very strong fish which shot downstream with me running excitedly after it! It seemed well hooked so I put on the pressure and a gorgeous silver bar was revealed. A good fight later had a bright, fresh, 15 pounder lying in the grass. What a superb salmon. The ghillie administered the coup de grace, which was the accepted thing back then.

Off I trotted and started again in the same place. Almost immediately I was greeted with another pull and an identical scenario was played out. This time a lovely 18 pounder was laid beside the first, in one of those lovely woven basses.

It seems incredible now, but after about 45 minutes there were five beautiful salmon lined up ready for the smoker. All from the same pool.

In I went again (same spot!) and sure enough, after only a short time, another tug. This time my line was being pulled off the reel at the rate of knots while I went leaping along the bank trying to gain ground and line.

What on earth was this? I quickly began to tire with the weight of this fish. Not only that but it was getting the advantage by heading for deeper water. After half an hour or so it showed signs of tiring also, and I got a glimpse of it. What a monster! The ghillie was beside himself and I was praying that I wouldn’t lose this most glorious specimen.

Lesley Thomas salmon Helmsdale

At last the ghillie managed to scramble down and get his net under this giant of a salmon and, with some difficulty, lifted it up onto the bank. What a dream of a fish! A fresh 30 pounder caught on a fly! Sparkling silver on that Scottish riverbank.

I was so excited I ran along to Mike.

I yell ‘I’ve had 6 fresh fish and one’s a 30 pounder!’

‘Yeah, I’m sure…’

‘No really!’ I’m jumping up and down, red in the face, heart thumping. ‘It’s true’.

Eventually he was convinced and came along to see them. Needless to say he was speechless. Six fresh Scottish salmon lined up for a photograph. What a privilege!

Every night in the bar Mike was ribbed rotten. He had no fish the first day, none the second and so on throughout the week. I had no more either, thank goodness! On the last day we returned to the river after dinner, Mike to fish, me to watch. His perseverance was rewarded with a lovely 21 pounder. What a relief!

And what an experience.

With the benefit of hindsight, I would change only one thing. I would love to return those fabulous fish to the water.

You live and learn.