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Salmon River Spirits

By 27th March 2023

Some fantastic experiences have happened to me on the riverbank throughout my professional career which could only be described as paranormal but never in a scary way. Over the next few paragraphs I'll enlighten you to a few of them which I dare say a few of you will be able to relate to.

Having The Second Sense

To start with I'll tell you that my late mother had an uncanny knack of sensing things that others couldn't see and as an example my late father while building a significant builders merchant business in Scotland throughout the 60's & 70's used to use her skill for recruitment purposes. If he ever ignored her astute & instant advice it would always 'back fire'! I wish I'd picked up my mother's astute skill and had shut out the many abusers of 'good deeds' I've encountered over the decades but I guess it's just part of life.

Beginning An Amazing River Friendship

My relationship with my late colleague and professional Tay ghillie Willie Laird began in 1970 when I was just a mere salmon parr! He steered me to my first salmon that year and many thereafter however I still believe that long after his passing in 1991 he lead me to many more. Call me insane if you wish and I would take that as a form of promotion from many but here are a few classic examples of what I'm referring to which I've never been able to explain but my gut 100% tells me it was my late friend's doing.

Knowing Before You Really Know

About 1 week before I was offered & accepted the Head Ghillie's job on the Newtyle beat of the Tay where Willie had spent his entire life I recall being down at the fishing hut late one night. Something had drawn me there that night even though I hadn't been staying in the area at that time. There was an intense full moon sending the most 'amazingly' charged beam of light straight across the shimmering Tay almost as if it was pointing straight at me like a spot light. The message I was receiving 'loud and clear' was get ready for action Jock! All I could do was stand there absorbing this intense moonlight in a state of sheer elation even though I couldn't see what was about to unfold as a new ghillie had only recently been appointed on Willie's beat. Within 2 weeks I was offered the job and within point eighth of a second accepted!

That Old Salmon Tube Fly

On another occasion soon after starting on Willie's beat my first clients were a team of guys up from the south who fished one week every year during February. I was on boat harling duty that week and as I was giving serious thought as to the tube fly to tie on the salmon harling rod I found an old 'Orange & Yellow' salmon fly Willie had given me 30 years prior that had been tied by a local taxidermist called Hugh Dale who I used to frequently get sent up to his Birnam shop as a boy to collect salmon flies for Willie. On day one of my appointment and within about 6 swings of the boat that old faded salmon fly was seized by the most perfect 16 pounder which was one of 2 perfect Springers taken that week and both on that same fly!

A River Tay Baptism

Not long after that experience I recall the most beautiful sunlit Spring day later that February when I was out with my waders & fly rod fishing down through the neck of the Cottar salmon pool. I looked away downstream to the jetty at the fishing hut some 300 yards below and noticed a 30ft high water spout forming which was amazing as there didn't appear to be any wind where I was. This whirling swirling wall of watery magnificence immediately and within about 2 seconds shot straight up the Tay and hit me face on before I turned to watch it instantly disappear upstream in the distance at the Deans Burn Pool. That water spout mini tornado of Tay water was the quickest thing I'd ever seen and left me completely drenched and wondering if my late pal was laughing at me!

How Did The Other Salmon Fisher Get On

Another event not long after that I had a very keen salmon fisher up on the beat from Edinburgh who liked to fish on for a few hours after 5pm. He walked downstream to fish from the fishing hut as I went to strip down the boat for the night. When he arrived back at the fishing hut he asked me did the other guy you were with catch anything! I quickly informed him that no one else was on the beat but he knew what he'd seen and swore that he'd seen me in the boat at the jetty with what he was certain looked like an older chap!

Claire Voyant Reading

My partner at the time was a great girl but struggled with the time restrictions of being in a relationship with an obsessed career ghillie who was virtually invisible from January to October each year except for coming home each night in a state of absolute exhaustion following the hosting of up to 12 guests or massive physical unassisted riverbank maintenance activities. As our relationship was deteriorating she went to a claire voyant for any kind of insight. She was asked in no uncertain manner as to who my older male friend was!

A Salmon Fishing Lucky Charm Indeed

I recall being at one of my late colleague's favourite salmon pools with my fly rod and a little picture of him which had been taken as a copy of a lovely oil painting that one of the local Birnam lady artists had painted of Willie in the 60's. As I was fishing the pool I thought to myself I wonder what that little picture would look like on my fly rod positioned just above he cork handle as a lucky charm. Within a split second of me placing it into position above the cork handle of my rod my fly was instantly taken! There's a better account of that if you fast forward to 22.40 minutes on the Chris Webster produced Turas A Bhradain masterpiece.

Watch Mid Summers Night On The River

My mentor was a great man who had only ever left the Tay on one occasion to go and fight in North Africa in the desert during the 2nd World War. He had received one of the highest military honours for his bravery but seldom showed or told anyone about it as it had involved the loss of many of his closest army colleagues. I recall Willie telling me about being out on mid Summer's night fishing for sea trout at the bottom of the beat and as he approached an old fence in the darkness on his way back the entire fence started 'dancing violenty' forcing him to drop his rod and the sea trout he had caught and run like hell. He told me that the only other time in his life he had been as scared was when the incoming German artillery shells were destroying his battalion in the heat of battle. He also advised me it was only the picture in his mind's eye of the Dunkeld hills that got him through that dreadful war experience. He warned me sternly that I should never kill a wild creature on mid Summer's night as that was the spirit world's annual night out!

Friendly Sand Martin On The River Tay

On another occasion I recall a sand martin circling and chirping away as it 360'ed me while I was out fishing opposite the fishing hut with my fly rod. The bird appeared from nowhere and there were no other sand martins around. It landed on my rod several times and I was finding it difficult to fish so I even took a video of me telling this wee bird to get off my rod as I was laughing at it. On one of these occasions I flicked the bird off my rod after dipping its tail feathers in the Tay and it flew around behind me and re-landed on my rod a few inches above the cork handle! On reflection and with further thoughts of that highly unusual experience I just wonder if it was my old pal saying hello again! 

My Personal Thoughts On All Of This

I personally believe that for those kind hearted men of Scotland who have taken the professional ghillie route in life and who are true 'non selfish' honourable dedicated souls who would kill themselves if required for the welfare of the rivers of Scotland that their spirits are never too far away and often in a state of 'overwatch'. The river without a shadow of doubt enhances the human soul so when the human body eventually says goodbye the soul is only heading to one place and one place only! Call me mystic Monteith if you wish and the above are only a few of the more believable encounters I have had the good fortune to experience on the fabulous River Tay.