Experienced and well know Lomond angler Dick Dickson was blissfully unaware of what the day would hold as he sailed calmly out of Balmaha on the 15th June on what seemed like just another day on Lomond.
Little was he aware of just how the day would unfold resulting in the day being anything but ‘just another day’.
Later as word quickly spread by phone and social media it became clear that seasoned angler Dick had a battle on his hands with a “Lomond Leviathan” and needed assistance, below is Dick’s account of his adrenalin filled encounter on that special day this month.
The One That Got Away
My old boat Iasghair Bhreac headed out from Balmaha on Tuesday 15th June with a good weather forecast of decent cloud cover and predominate SW winds. After an hour or so I had trolled at a steady early summer speed past Strathcashell, Carrick Rock and the Ross Isles. During this time I had replied to an e mail query received from Jim Raeburn and closed with the words “no screaming reel yet but just may be ………?
Prophetic words but little did I know what was to unfold soon? I passed Colin Lewis at Mill Of Ross Bay and he hand signalled to me the big “O” salmon sign but indicated two sea trout had taken his trolling lures.
As I passed Rowardennan I started to think about organising my flask and sandwiches for lunch afloat, and soon the fine Victorian Youth Hostel was behind me and then the boat crossed through the big shingle bay just past the burn mouth.
Suddenly the reel on the poker rod burst into life. It screamed violently and accelerated at a speed I had never witnessed before. I though the rod holder was going to be yanked off into the water and could only stare incredulously as the reel drum emptied relentlessly, but after what seemed an eternity it stopped for the first time. I guessed the fish was at least 100 metres behind the boat now.
I started to reel in the other rods then unbelievingly the poker commenced to revolve for a second time soon whining at a high pitch and 250 metres of line was nearly gone when the fish stopped for a second time. The boat was turned slowly out towards deeper water.
When the outer and inner rods were shipped safely I quietly lifted the poker and started to reel in slowly. The boat was well out in the deeps with the engine turned off. I saw a massive seal like swirl on the top of the water as I retrieved line slowly and although the fish was coming quietly its dead weight alone was unbelievable but I had not yet seen the fish clearly. When it came to within 10 metres of the boat it unexpectedly made a beautifully arc curved head and tail controlled leap clean out of the water then took off again. I sat down quickly with some shock at what I’d just witnessed. I honestly thought salmon of these proportions were no longer in the loch but I now have in my minds eye a permanent mental picture of this full on side view of curved silver from nose to tail which I will never forget.
But as I sat while collecting my thoughts, there was a slow realization that fishing solo it would be very difficult for me to successfully play, land and photograph this salmon. Its girth and length were enormous and over a long angling lifetime I’ve had the good fortune to catch a few fish in the upper twenties of pounds from the Lomond System. But this one was in a different category.
Approximately half an hour had passed since first contacting the salmon and when things were momentarily calm I took a single photo of the curved rod while standing in the boat.
Time 13.10 – 30 minutes gone Poker bent into this unbelievable fishTaking stock, I was out in the deep with a leviathan on the end of the line and rather ominously the S.W. wind was picking up with 2 ft waves as I drifted in the general direction of Ptarmigan Lodge a half mile further north. Thankfully I was wearing my life jacket throughout, but as the wind increased my mind turned to personal safety. I scanned the shoreline north and south but there was no sign of any fishing boats approaching.
Simultaneously I started to deliberate which strategy offered the best prospects of catching, photographing and returning the huge salmon. As the boat drifted nearer the shoreline I had two options. Either engine back out in the increasing wind and wave or beach somewhere on the approaching Ptarmigan shore line. The onshore wind was gathering momentum and after careful consideration I decided on the shore landing option. The fish seemed contented to be dragged along behind the boat and I kept as much strain on the rod as I dared, but it had ceased to embark on any more powerful runs.
Eventually I could hear the waves crashing on the approaching shore as I caught a glimpse of the fine Ptarmigan sandstone dwelling house behind the trees. I donned my chest waders and prepared to jump ashore with the rod held high and maintaining a tight line on the fish. This I managed to do with some difficulty and it was a relief after stumbling ashore when I felt the great fish taking a relative short run back out to nearby deep water. I again I took a picture of the rod bend as it took line and this shows the time to be 13.30 hrs. I had been playing the fish now for approximately 45 minutes.
As I scrambled ashore while doing some forward planning I threw my two landing nets out of the boat on to the shingle and unfortunately the ring joint handle sprung loose on the big net. It was far too early to worry about that. For some strange reason I observed that the boat had landed alongside the drain pipe running into the loch from Ptarmigan Lodge.
There came a series of ever decreasing runs and each time I reeled the fish back it simply stopped on the bottom in about what I judged to be about 4 metres of water where the shallow meet deep. It once again became an immovable object.
After a while it would run to the deeps but the runs got shorter each time and its sulking rest periods longer. I adopted a strategy of exerting maximum rod pressure but it seemed glued to the bottom although at intervals a pulsating vibration travelled through the rod into my hands, perhaps caused by heavy gill movements? I had previous experience of this same sensation with a bottom sulking salmon which took 3 hours to land and weighed 28 lbs. I knew within myself this was a much larger fish.
The war of attrition was seemingly endless with unfortunately not one fishing boat in sight. An hour or more passed and I now desperately needed assistance. As a last resort I contacted the Bailiff’s number hoping they may be patrolling the loch. I succeeded in speaking to Sam who wasn’t on the loch but undertook to seek help. I later received texts from Gareth Bourhill and a phone call from John Bell who informed me that assistance was on its way. This was great news and I sat in the boat now and waited.
The fish took two more short runs and then parked the bus not very far off shore and once again where the water dropped steeply to approximately 3 to 4 metres.
Sitting down in the boat absolutely exhausted, after a while a Merry Fisher speed boat appeared on the north horizon. I have never felt so relieved in all my life. The cavalry was arriving from VOLDAC! Soon Jim Scanlon and his friend Craig jumped ashore. I asked them to secure my own boat which had been getting pummelled on the shore and to retrieve my landing nets
During the following hour with sterling help from Jim we tried everything possible to bring the fish to the surface. Meanwhile Craig took copious photos/films of our best efforts which included Jim and myself going out in the boat encircling the fish while exerting maximum rod pressure in an attempt to draw it out of a deep underwater cleft ledge it seemed to have found.
Later we resorted to other methods of moving the fish, some perhaps ill advised, but all unsuccessful. The end came suddenly as Jim probed to locate the salmon with my 8 ft long landing net handle and the line suddenly broke under the water. I put the rod down disconsolately and felt a terrible wave of disappointment.
Jim and Craig kindly offered hospitality at the North end for that evening, but I declined this and thanked them both for their efforts. I was keen to take the long trip south to Balmaha and has lost track of the time. In retrospect it must have been around 5 p.m. more than 4 hours since first hooking the fish. Myself, and mobile battery were now running on empty. We shook hands and I headed south.
In retrospect, losing the fish of an angling lifetime is no big deal in relation to the tragedies which have befell so many people during this past Covid year. In essence I have an incredible memory to keep, including a permanent mental snapshot of the great salmon glistening in the sunlight when it erupted from the water near the boat.
Could I have done anything different? On careful reflection not really, and I have no regrets. I once played a big loch salmon, eventually landing it after three and a half hours approximately two miles from where it had first been hooked. (Angling on Loch Lomond and its Rivers – page 189 by R. Dickson).
After an initial run this fish had adopted a similar strategy of permanently staying on the bottom throughout the duration of the struggle. There were different circumstances in that a nearby fly angler Angus MacRitchie observing my struggle came onto my boat stayed with me for 3 hours and eventually netted the fish for me.
Also there was a light soft east wind blowing which presented no difficulties. And the 12 lb B.S. line which I still use to this day was strong enough for me to comfortably keep a constant pressure on the fish.
Finally there is the question I am now being asked by other anglers “What weight do I think the salmon was?”
Based on the following;
1/ My unforgettable perfect close sighting of the magnificent salmon leaping cleanly out of the water approximately 10 yards from my boat. It was a massive bright silver summer fish and its girth was huge. I had to sit down quickly after seeing it!
2/ The speed, power and distance of its initial two runs which almost emptied the reel.
3/ Its dead weight while it sulked on the loch bottom for prolonged periods.
4/ The long period of time it resisted all efforts to bring it near the surface.
5/ A comparison I can make of previous struggles with salmon weighing into the upper twenties of lbs
Taking all of these 5 points into account there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the fish weighed well in excess of 30 lbs.
It’s really great to know there are still some salmon of this size and calibre in the Lomond system for us to seek. I can’t wait to get out there again!
Author and Angking Columnist
Tuesday 22nd June 2021.