That's it then. Last week brought us to the end of the 2011 salmon season on the Aberdeenshire Dee. It started off well, with good water, good catches and boundless optimism, but by June it all began to go downhill and the decline gathered pace as the year went on. Overall, catches were down nearly 700 on last year's figures. That's a lot of fish. We don't know exactly how many fish came into the river, as the Dee doesn't have a fish counter. It did, but it was considered to be in the 'wrong' place and when it was dismantled, the powers that be couldn't decide where it should be resited, they still can't and so we still don't have one. So whether there is an abundance of fish or a few specimens that are unlucky enough to get caught time after time, we don't really know because tagged fish are also few and far between.
However, there is a consensus of opinion among the syndicate members that numbers are down because the grilse haven't returned this year, and there are a few theories being postulated as to why this could be, the main contenders being that more fish are being netted at sea or, and this is probably the most likely, that they are having to go further afield to feed and this had delayed their return to their spawning sites. The fact that some sea-liced whoppers (28, 30, even a 40 pounder) that should have been here months ago were caught in the dying days of the season, would add some plausibility to this notion. It is still open to debate. No doubt the official watchers at Fishdee will have their own take on it and release their report later.
The water itself hasn't been too bad overall, even though levels have been up and down like a carousel horse - a few days of bare bones, followed by a spell of medium water, interspersed with a spate here and there to clear and freshen the river and spur the fish into activity. Many are looking to the mountains now, hoping a good winter's snowfall will be packed in there good and tight ready to supply clear fresh snow melt to entice a good run of springers next year. But that's a long way off yet.
So what do we do now? It's a long time until February, even with Christmas and Hogmanay to sleep through. Some will be lucky enough to have the wherewithal to be able to travel to pastures exotic and productive - Russia, Norway, Canada - and we left at home will weather the empty period with barely concealed envy, experiencing their successes vicariously through photographs and reports, Tweets and Facebook status updates. It's not quite the same, but it will have to do until those 6 lottery numbers come up.
Just for fun, I have my own take on how your regular angler might approach the close season:
"We should all take a moment to spare a thought for those poor souls in the world, and there are many, who have been seized by the short hairs by a particularly pernicious and cruel addiction – angling. Those already in its tenacious grip will admit, ashamedly and through tremulous lips, that angling is not a sport, but a disease afflicting both mind and body, and complete with its own set of symptoms. The closed season will drive the dedicated angler to twitchy distraction. Obsessively counting the days until the opening of the next season, he marks off each one on his calendar with a pitiful sigh. A fisherman with redundant tackle and nowhere to go is, indeed, a heart-rending sight.
Checking the condition of his tackle and handling his rod at frequent intervals brings short-lived relief. Compelled to browse magazines, catalogues and the internet, he searches for that elusive, prohibitively expensive new piece of kit with which to console the burgeoning emptiness of his life. He convinces himself, and his wallet, that a new rod or reel will bring him ultimate success next year and make him the envy of his fellow anglers. Buy both, and it is guaranteed. He tries to persuade his spouse that the purchase of his latest piece of tackle may even make him a more satisfying lover. Truly, there is no depth to which he will not sink to relieve his torment.
Often suffering withdrawal symptoms concomitant with any addiction, the distraught angler may be found satisfying his lust for all things piscatorial by lurking around the fishmonger's stall in the local supermarket, breathing in the heady, stomach churning aroma of a freshly gutted salmon as if it were Chanel No 5. The four months between the end of September and the beginning of February are a depressing time for the committed game angler…but, courage mon brave, he will weather with resilience the angling-free desert, until at last, the first day of the new season dawns and he will emerge from the gloom with shiny new tackle, renewed enthusiasm for success, and the prospect that this will be the year he will catch 'the big one'. Bless his little neoprene socks." ~ Foreword to On The Fly
As for me, the scribbler, I shall keep myself busy in non-angling ways. I am about to go into purdah for November's National Novel Writing Month; December will see the publication of my fifth book and I shall while away the remainder of the cold weather drinking hot chocolate and working on two outstanding manuscripts. Bliss.
And so I will bid you all a warm and woolly winter and see you in the spring to wish you all a new and productive season of tight lines!