A short appreciation of Gordon Douglas’s working life and his time spent at Dounreay Fly Fishing Association is given below followed by a history of the Club written by Gordon.
GORDON DOUGLAS 1926 – 2009
Anyone who was fortunate to meet and get to know Gordon would agree that he was blessed with a wonderful but subtle sense of humour along with kindness and thoughtfulness towards his fellows.
Gordon was born in Fife on the third of February 1926 where he spent his formative years and when he started on his lifelong association with the sea and fishing. At the age of 15 he started his apprenticeship on the Clydeside as a fitter. One of Gordon’s anecdotes about this time relates to his interview for the apprenticeship position. All was going well till he was asked which school he had attended. He had been warned about the religious prejudices in the Clydeside at the time so he politely refrained from answering this question. He did, however, tell the board that his father had attended a Catholic school and his mother a Protestant one. At the end of the interview the head of the panel said to Gordon, “Thank you very much Mr Douglas we will let you know the result of the interview by post but you can tell your mother that she can start here next week.” On completion of his training he joined the Merchant Navy with the Brocklebank Line, plying mainly between the UK and the Middle East. He left the company in 1954 with a Chief Engineer’s Certificate and joined a boiler insurance company in Glasgow for six years before making the long journey north to Dounreay. From early beginnings as a charge hand fitter in the Main Boiler House in 1962, he progressed from foreman at DFR to shift operations at PFR before taking early retirement in 1989.
Gordon, of course, will be known to DFFA members for his long and untiring contribution to the welfare of the Club. He was an active member of the Club during its formation and development in the early sixties and held many posts till retiring from the committee in 2001.
CHAIRMAN 1969 – 1972
COMMITTEE MEMBER 1973-1975
SECRETARY 1976- 1985
SECRETARY 1988- 1992
VICE PRESIDENT 1993-1994
During his tenure as Chairman and Secretary many improvements were made to the organization and facilities of the Club. Thanks to Gordon, permission was granted for the construction of a stem on Stemster Loch and, after tireless work by Gordon and the Committee Member volunteers, the job was completed. Those involved will remember the typical Caithness weather in which the stem was constructed.
Gordon was also instrumental in ensuring the continuation of the Club and retention of the boats after the demise of the Dounreay Sports and Social Club.
Much of the above Club information is expanded in the HISTORY below written by Gordon, although in his characteristic unassuming way, he did not mention his own contribution.
Gordon died peacefully in Caithness General Hospital, Wick on the ninth of June 2009. written by Ken Macleod
One of the most obvious consequences of the decision to site the Experimental Fast Reactor at Dounreay was the huge increase of workers to the area. Of course, Thurso had already shown its ability to cope with this influx of people, when, during the war, hundreds of naval personnel, battered into a stupor by the horrendous rail journey, passed through the town en route to Scapa Flow. The Dounreay crowd were different, however, in that when they reached Thurso, they were staying At the beginning, accommodation was required for construction staff and Ormlie Lodge was purchased and greatly extended to serve as a hostel complete, of course, with a bar. To accommodate the construction hoi polloi, Boston Camp, a relic of naval occupancy of Dounreay, was pulled back from the brink and housed labourers and artisans, of every calling. As would be expected, a hostelry was established known as The Sphere Club (the source of not a few monumental hangovers). As construction drew towards completion recruitment of ” Authority ” personnel increased and the two hostels became more or less transit camps as the incumbents awaited allocation of houses at the new estates being built in Thurso. The man given the job of liaising with the local authorities, during this period of what must have been considerable upheaval, was Mr Arthur Parry, a Welshman and Deputy Director in charge of the Chemical Group. In 1958, at his instigation, the Authority purchased a large mansion at Castlegreen on the North edge of the housing estate occupied at that time by the headmaster of Miller Academy. The mansion was called Viewfirth and was made the home of Dounreay Sports and Social Club (D.S.S.C.)
From the start things moved rapidly at the new club. A management committee was elected from the rapidly growing membership and a constitution drawn up which required the formation of separate sub-sections to manage the various leisure and sporting activities being formed. The first section to be set up was the angling sub-section which was named, not surprisingly, the Dounreay Angling Association. The dozen or so members of the Association moved equally fast and by 1960 had acquired six boats, lets on four lochs and a hatchery situated at St John’s Loch – all expensive commodities. Not surprisingly the Main Club as D.S.S.C. was called, was beginning to look askance at the disproportionate expenses being incurred by the anglers who were told towards the end of 1960 that henceforth they would have to stand on their own, draw up a membership list, charge a membership fee and elect a full committee which would operate under an agreed constitution , but at the same time, remain a sub – section of the Main Club. One would have thought that this would prompt a torrent of paperwork and activity but the anglers seemed to take it in their stride as they already had a group of eight or nine enthusiasts who more or less ran the show. But, except for a bundle of memos and letters, nothing was written down and it was not until the thirteenth of December 1960 that a minute book was opened reporting on the committee meeting held on that date.The first entry reported continued difficulties with the hatchery and the second indicates some reluctance to convene an Annual General Meeting (A.G.M.) which it was finally agreed, would be held on the fifteenth of February 1961.THe Dounreay Angling Association was, on that day, fully constituted.
It has been said that, viewed from the top of Morven, Caithness appears to consist more of water than of land and it was certainly the case that the newcomers found a bountiful place as far as angling was concerned. Local anglers, many of whom found employment at Dounreay, joined the club at the start and no doubt expressed their concerns to the newcomers about the added pressure on the fishing and it was generally agreed that the lochs would benefit from a moderate stocking programme. The idea of a hatchery was mooted and, as soon as this reached the ears of Messrs Parry and Carmichael, the works General Secretary, a twenty by ten foot hut was acquired from one of the contractors, erected at St John’s Loch and furnished with all the necessary pipe work, trays and fittings. That, as it turned out, was the easy part, since, despite expert advice from Dan Murray, who operated a small hatchery at his yard in Thurso and from Mr Wilson, proprietor of the Northern Sands Hotel, the expense and workload involved was very much underestimated. At the first minuted committee meeting it was agreed that £2 be given to a D. Munro for assisting Dan Murray in collecting spawn. In October 1961 it was reported that 27,000 “brown trout eggs ” had been ordered from Ardgay fisheries which rather indicated that old Dan had given up on supplying the spawn and told the boys, “get your own”. The expense involved was questioned at the 1962 A.G.M. but “the political and publicity effect could not be ignored” and on the 24th of February 25,000 eggs were collected at the rail station and put into the hatchery. Mr. Wilson promised to keep an eye on them. On the 24th of June1962 it is minuted that ” approximately 15,000 fry were put into St. John’s Loch and 10,000 into Scrabster Loch” – a remarkably successful hatch but , of course, the word “approximately” should not be ignored. One anecdote from the operation was that, when walking back to the Scrabster road from the loch, one of the party – Cash Newman – noticed that a couple of little fish were left in his bucket and those he dumped into a small quarry hole close to but hidden from the road. However it can be seen from the top deck of a double decker bus and a few years later a passenger was startled to see a fine fish rising as his transport ground its way passed. That evening he was out with his bike, up the hill with rod in hand, took the few steps to the quarry hole and on his second cast hooked and landed a two pound trout trout which Cash claimed as his own – unsuccessfully. Further mention of the hatchery for the next couple of years is conspicuous by its absence until, in September 1965, Mr Wilson offered his services to bring it back into use. Doubts were raised regarding effort and expense and the offer was not taken up. The subject then disappears from the agenda until, at a committee meeting on the 12th of February 1969, it was unanimously agreed that the hatchery hut and contents be given to a recently formed group called the St. John’s Loch Improvement Committee. The D.A.A. chairman was a keen member of this committee but at the first D.A.A. committee meeting after the A.G.M. ( at which a new chairman was elected) this decision was rescinded. Early in 1970, due to changes in arrangements for boat repair, the hut was dismantled and re-erected on spare ground at the Ormlie Crescent garage area, transport being provided by a large lorry belonging to the American Navy based at Forss. A number of thei Personnel were keen anglers and members of the association. Over the next few years the hut served its purpose well but vandalism was a problem and the hut was eventually sold to a farmer at Bower for £30.
While being based on admirable intentions, the operation of a hatchery was out with the scope of an association run on a voluntary basis with limited funds and, if nothing else, served as a good pointer for future reference.
It is recorded that in 1960 the Association had six boats and a membership of approximately thirty. By 1970 the membership had increased to one hundred and forty nine and the number of boats to eleven, creating a situation where the boats were in constant use and, since all except two were of wooden construction, required constant maintenance. Then, as now, each committee member accepted responsibility for the upkeep of a boat, seeing to minor repairs, annual painting, launching and end of season storage. This involved considerable effort and could not have been sustained except for the good offices of Dounreay Main Workshops, who were approached by the Association secretary J. Gray and agreed to undertake any major repairs required. This admirable situation continued until 1970 when it was reported that a boat had lain for almost a year outside the workshops without receiving the customary attention and, of course, it had become evident for some time that difficulties with the arrangement had arisen – these being the introduction of a bonus scheme which did not accept “repair of angling club boat” as a valid job description.
During the seventies the committees were only too conscious of the need to replace the older boats and this was emphasised by the growing use of outboard engines – a stately old wooden loch boat used to being gently rowed along the bank didn’t take kindly to having a three horsepower machine clamped to its transom. It was realised that glass fibre construction would solve a lot of problems but they were hard to come by although one was acquired from the Melvich area and was berthed at Loch Stemster. It was lightly constructed and, if used with an outboard, would vibrate alarmingly giving ample ammunition to those committee members who could not see past “a good wooden boat”. Indeed, in the mid sixties, two new wooden boats had been supplied by J. Mackay of Scrabster and they were excellent. Unfortunately one of them was taken out by a not very experienced member during a stormy day on Loch Calder and, realising that he could not make it back to the berth, he made for the nearest shore. As he stepped out the boat heeled over and was caught by the wind and came to rest twenty yards up in a field – a heap of firewood. Another wooden boat was purchased from Orkney and this time, despite having the ex hatchery in use for major repairs, the committee was hard pressed to keep up with the work and expenses were rising as they were forced to employ local builders to carry out essential repairs. In the early seventies Jim Bews offered to build two glass fibre boats using a mould in the style of a traditional Orkney loch boat. This presented the Association with the opportunity to try out these boats which were difficult to come by. Both the boats were launched on Loch Calder and, if the boats on Loch Stemster were light, these two were brutally heavy. Nevertheless they sat nicely on the water. Unfortunately they were so heavy that it needed considerable effort to pull them clear of the water. This led to their downfall as one was wrecked on the beach near the dam and the other, berthed on the other side of the loch, disappeared altogether- except for the mooring chain. It was eventually located, sunk a few feet from the berth, but all efforts to pull it out failed. However the local farmer spotted it and pulled it out with his tractor and then claimed it as his by right of salvage. This resulted in protracted arguments mostly carried out in the kitchen and eventually he agreed to pay £50 for the boat which was gladly accepted. If nothing else the Bew’s style boat had proved that fibreglass construction was the answer to boat maintenance problems and a long term programme of the replacement of all wooden boats was instigated. The insistence of the Main Club, quite rightly, that all boats must be insured also necessitated this renewal programme and implied that the new boats be constructed to regulatory standards. The “Lomond” type, constructed at Balloch, fitted the bill and all Association boats are now of this type, the last of the wooden boats having been disposed of in the early nineties. It may be of interest to note that in the 1977 season the Association had fifteen boats available for members.
The 1970 A.G.M. was held on the 24th of February and attracted the attendance of over 50 members. The Association membership for the previous season was 156 and 13 boats were available. With only 62% of fish returns received the total number of fish caught was 3302 from the seven lochs fished. Calder topped the list with 1103 fish. A very lively discussion followed these figures and allegations of trolling and bait fishing were made, leading to passionate appeals by two leading members that strong action be taken. The upshot of this that the name of the club was changed from the Dounreay Angling Association to the Dounreay Fly Fishing Association (D.F.F.A.) and an amendment made to the constitution stating that fly fishing equipment only to be taken on to an Association boat. ( the following season the fish returns for Loch Calder were 726 fish).
In 1960 the riparian owners on the loch were no more than five. Mr. Sinclair Swanson, Banks Lodge ; Mrs. Barnetson, West Watten House : Dr. Dobson; Mr. Barnetson, Lynegar Farm and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, who owned the ground stretching from the battery to the Quoinee burn, i.e. the whole of the west bank of the loch except for the two fields owned by Mrs. Barnetson. D.F.F.A. had two boat lets from the Department – increased to three in the mid sixties – and one from Dr. Dobson. Angling on the loch regulated by the LOch Watten Proprietors Association who issued an annual “term of lease” document which stated, among many other things, that fly fishing only was allowed and that one boat right only was allowed on riparian right. They also employed a Watcher. In 1962 the proprietors ruled that the hours of fishing be between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. or sunset whichever was earlier. This raised questions which were answered when it was proved that the loch had been stocked at some point by the owners thus giving them the legal right to protect the fishery. Although there is no hard evidence, the loch was reputed to have been stocked with fry hatched from Loch Leven and the Watten trout certainly are of a distinctive silver colouring, much like the Leven fish.
In 1980 the Department sold the farms to the tenants and there then followed a year of confusion with the new owners having a lot more to think about than people looking for boat lets. Eventually things sorted themselves out and lets were obtained from Mr. Barnetson on the Lynegar side of the loch. From the outset all of the new riparian owners showed interest in maintaining the Proprietors Association except for one who could not see his way to complying with the one owner one boat rule nor, more importantly, with the fly fishing only rule. This more or less rendered the Association ineffectual but they still hold their annual ” Proprietors Competition” so there is still hope that the situation will return to what it was and this great loch will regain the status and protection it deserves. In 1999 at the instigation of D.F.F.A. and with permission of Mr. Barnetson and financial contributions from loch users, a hard core road was laid down the side of the field leading to the berth at Lynegar and an area fenced off for parking. In recent years concern has been expressed regarding algae bloom which appears on the loch in mid summer and certainly there has been an increase in weed growth. These are problems which indicate rising nutrient levels which, in turn, require delicate negotiations and understanding if satisfactory solutions are to be reached.
Stemster lies some three miles to the north of Loch Watten and the two lochs are connected by a man made canal, about 300 yards long, cut on the east bank of the loch which runs into the north end of Loch Watten. The canal is a major spawning area with obvious implications to the fish population of Stemster. The loch is shallow and very dangerous to wade as it was formerly a marl quarry. In the 1960s there were two riparian owners – Mrs. Grenfell, owner of Stemster Estate – and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. At that time D.F.F.A. had two boat lets from the Department. Three of the tenant farmers bought from the Department in 1980 and in 1983 the other three also acquired ownership. D.F.F.A. lets were continued with the farmers without difficulty. The farm on Stemster Estate was tenanted by David Coghill who took a great interest in the locjh and was greatly concerned about the flooding of the fields surrounding the loch due to the silting up of the canal, as were the new farmers/owners, who for years had put up with extensive flooding. During the winter of 1980 some had carried out drain clearing which lowered the level such that the loch was unfishable during the 1981 season. During the winter of 1981/1982 a contractor was hired to restore the depth of the canal using a mechanical digger but this operation was stopped about ten yards short of the loch side when it was realised that the new depth of the canal would allow the whole loch to drain into Loch Watten. Mr. Coghill contacted D.F.F.A. who agreed to participate in the construction of a stem across the canal, making water levels more controllable. After many months, agreement was reached among the various farmers and agencies about the position, final height, the method of construction and costing of the stem. This agreement was legally drawn up by a solicitor. On the third of September 1983 a group of D.F.F.A. members stood by watching a mechanical digger excavate the banks of the canal to allow them to fit the shuttering which they then filled with concrete and reinforcing bars. The shuttering was removed during the following week, exposing the new stem. He remainder of the debris at the loch outlet was then removed, allowing the the loch to run down to its winter level. The fitting and removal of the stem has since been carried out by D.F.F.A., maintaining a water level suitable to all concerned.
Excellent relations had been built with the riparian owners during the above negotiations and it was on suggestions made by them that the idea of a Stemster loch association be formed. This was mutually agreed by all concerned parties i.e. owners and angling clubs (Ormlie Lodge Club, Royal British Legion and D.F.F.A.) Unfortunately, at the last moment, one of the owners withdrew his agreement, stating that he had sold his riparian rights to a time-share company called Salar Properties. This development effectively negated the idea of an association. This was to be regretted as there has been no improvement to facilities except for repairs to the access road, funded by D.F.F.A.
Situated some two miles from Mybster crossroads, far into the area known as the Moss of Toftingall, this shallow man-made loch was owned by Mr. Mark Murray Threipland who, in 1966, agreed to allow D.F.F.A. a boat let on the loch. According to old timers, such as Henry Macdonald the postman at Watten who fished the loch man and boy, the area was originally a marshy depression with an inlet stream at the north end and an outlet at the south end – the burn of Achalone which runs into the Wick river.This outlet was stemmed with stones from a ruin known as the castle which is still there for anyone to see who cares to look hard enough. In the 1960’s the loch held a large head of fine hard fighting fish, plump but mostly half a pound in weight – a fish of one pound being a rarity. Although surrounded by peaty moorland, the pH of the water was surprisingly high at 7.8 which encouraged the growth of fresh water shrimp, giving the fish almost red flesh. The high pH of the is due to an outcrop of limestone, stretching almost the whole length of the east bank, which acts as a water conditioner. When the D.F.F.A. anglers started fishing the loch some good baskets were taken by those fit and willing enough to walk the rough track and it was obvious that had it not been for this, bag limits would have had to be imposed. Fortunately another factor which limited the fishing was the effect of wind. A moderate breeze would, in a very short time, stir up the shallow bottom, rendering the water unfishable so that, with the loch being very exposed, the season was effectively reduced. Popular opinion was, however, that the comparatively hard fishing would have the effect of increasing the size of the fish but it soon became apparent that this was not the case and that the stock in the loch was fully grown at a little over half a pound. A committee member, Mr. Iain Hay of Borlum Mill, Reay, argued that new stock would have to be put into the loch to make any difference. This was proposed to the owner, who agreed. Iain then set up a small hatchery at Borlum Mill and, over the next few years, stocked the loch with thousands of fry. The spawn was stripped from Loch Calder trout by Association members who set the traps during winter months, collected spawn and assisted in the hatchery work. The results of this programme were just beginning to become evident but they were overtaken by unforeseen events when the moor was sold to financiers, namely The Plessey Pension Fund, who commissioned Fountain Forestry (FF) to manage the land. The owner, Mr Threipland, initially excluded the loch from the sale and offered it to the Association at a nominal price but this was scotched by FF whose terms were – no loch- no sale. A new boathouse and boat beerth was built complete with picnic table and the Association was informed that the rent for a boat on the loch was to be £350 per annum (previously £30). After weeks of negotiation with a FF agent, it became evident that another party was interested in the let and that this party, a private individual, was preferred rather than an association comprising of many people. D.F.F.A. was eventually informed that this private party had been granted the let at £350 per annum. This protracted negotiation did not do the loch any good and , now surrounded by trees, the loch had completely changed character, no longer being subjected to the winds which stirred it into the consistency of “Brown Windsor Soup” as it was by one angling writer. The loch is now owned by a Dutchman, Peiter Hovig, who has kindly donated a shield, named “The Bloody Foreigner Trophy”, to D.F.F.A. for a competition which is held annually on the loch.
The biggest loch in Caithness and, being the source of the county’s water supply, is subject to a wide variation in level. In the late sixties two dams were built and the water level gradually rose creating a bay, known now as the “new bay” at the south end. At the north end an island was submerged which had been a favourite fishing area. Opposite the wooded land on the east bank there is a deep area which is said to hold very big trout and is also home of char which appear, and are sometimes taken, as they venture into shallower water to spawn, Prior to the raising of the water level , the south end of the loch was comparatively shallow – legend has it that it could be crossed by horse and cart – but in recent years most of the angling activity has taken place in this area. In the sixties the north end was well fished with the boats being berthed in a natural bay close to ancient Pictish dwellings. It was an easy walk from the road down to the berth but some effort was required to climb the slope back up to the road at the end of the day. When an outboard motor became an essential in the angler’s kit, the slope became a mountain and the berth became less and less used until eventually all boats were moved to the south end. The berth at this end was originally at the mouth of the deep burn which runs down from the Brawlbin area. A handy corrugated hut stood close by in which many an hour was spent by diehards “waiting for the wind to drop off a bit”. The hut was dismantled after being badly wind damaged and, about the same time, the Association boats were moved to the other side of the loch when the ownership of the farm on that side changed hands, the new owner having expressed keen interest in the formation of a Loch Calder Association. The berth was on a sandy beach and suffered the effects of changes in water level so once again the berth was moved, this time to the end of the old road leading to Dorrery and now partly submerged. An extensive water supply scheme is now under construction by which the whole of Caithness and the north coast, as far as Tongue, is linked and supplied from Loch Calder. The effect on the loch when the scheme is in operation, will be watched with interest. Calder is a fine loch holding an extensive stock of very fine trout. Many other waters have been restocked with fish originating from this loch.
The outlet burn from the loch to the sea is no more than a quarter of a mile long and is fitted with a stem constructed and operated by the St. John’s Loch Improvement Association. The loch holds big, beautifully marked trout which display a remarkable reluctance to rise to the fly. It has to be said that when you hook one it’ll be a good one but only the purist would say, with hand on heart, that the loch provides good sport. Nevertheless there are those to whom the long hours of fruitless casting or the interminable vigil on a dry fly bobbing unheeded on the surface is pure bliss – and good luck to them. We were well warned by the locals, while being groomed on the ways of Caithness lochs, never to take an aspiring angler to St. John’s, unless you really wanted him to take up golf instead. D.F.F.A. held two lets on the loch from 1958. One from Mrs Calder on the north bank and the other from Mr. Miller on the west bank and when these two crofts were sold on, lets were obtained from a Mr. Saxby and Mr. Mackenzie. After some teething troubles the Improvement Association got up and running and D.F.F.A. obtained lets from it, having been sponsored by a registered riparian owner. After constructing the stem at the outlet burn, attention focussed on providing a harbour wherein all the boats could be moored and this was sited on the west bank where the remains of a previous landing berth was evident. The harbour, with a good access road, was an excellent facility but, unfortunately, had been located on land belonging to the owner of the House of the Northern Gate who requested a rent of £300 per annum. After much discussion the harbour, with its newly provided picnic table and other facilities, was evacuated in 1993 and another built on the other side of the loch. A hatchery was, from the start, deemed an absolute necessity and, having been unsuccessful in acquiring the shed previously used by D.F.F.A., the Improvement Association set about erecting and fitting out a brand new one. A series of unfortunate accidents over the first few years were experienced and the hatchery became a bit of a disaster area but difficulties were overcome, lessons learned and so successful did the scheme eventually become that anglers were complaining about the huge numbers of small fish in the loch! Henceforth the hatchery was maintained on a two yearly basis but, prior to this apparent success story there was a deal of concern about the lack of fish of any size at all in the loch. To counter this, the decision was made to stock the loch with rainbow trout, to the consternation of not a few of the purists who, quite reasonably, saw the move as a degrading of their pristine loch to the status of a “put and take” fishery. There may be records in existence showing the number of rainbows caught but they are not much talked about and it is generally believed that the bulk of them, having gorged themselves on the rich feeding of the loch, had a look around and, on locating the outlet burn, (being a migratory fish) obeyed their instincts and headed for the open sea, providing a tasty morsel for the seals.
A shallow loch with the reputation of holding very large, shy trout – shy being the operative word. In recent years an association has been set up with the aim of improving the fishery and towards this end a hatchery is now in operation. Prior to 1982, D.F.F.A. made numerous enquiries about a boat let to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries who, along with Mr. Pottinger, were the riparian owners. However it was not until 1982, when the land was sold to the tenants, that a let was acquired from the farmer at Lochend. The loch follows a fairly familiar pattern in that in some years it fishes well and produces fish that give the angler, lucky enough to hook one, a memorable experience. But these years are well interspersed with periods that can only be described as “dismal” and it is this state of affairs that the new association hopes to remedy. Some D.F.F.A. members enjoy the occasional day on the loch and of course there are its devotees. There is always great interest shown when news of a “big one” breaks, giving rise to the old question as to whether it is right to change the character of a natural fishery – time will tell.
The loch forms part of the water system comprising Loch Caluim, the Knockglass Burn, Loch Shurrery and the Forss River. The loch is dammed at its outlet to the Forss River, the dam having been constructed in the late fifties by Dounreay to provide the copious amount of water required for the site. A salmon ladder was provided at the dam and in recent years the dam and ladder have been redesigned and much improved. The single boat let was arranged with Sir David Black, the owner of Shurrery Estate. The loch holds a large stock of 8 to 12 ounce fish and, given the huge overspill of fish from LOch Caluim and the connecting burn, it would be a mighty job to change this. Not that there should be a need to try since the loch is in a beautiful setting and provides great sport, especially if using very light tackle. As has often been remarked by those suffering from depression following a run of blank days on loftier lochs, “That is at place to get one’s confidence back”. There is also the chance of getting into a salmon which, the owner says, the catcher may keep provided it is reported.
D.F.F.A. never had a boat on this loch, in the late fifties, did have permission to bank fish from the owner of Scrabster Farm. The loch was one of the first to be stocked with fry from the hatchery but some questions about the access routes being used discouraged anglers. Maybe the place was a little too close to Thurso and therefore too handy but, in any case, its fate was sealed as an angling venue when Public Health Authorities found the water was contaminated and advised against use of the water, or anything in it, for human consumption. Apparently the source of contamination was the large number of seagulls which roosted overnight on the loch, having spent the day feeding on the local rubbish dumps and sewage outfalls. As it was said at the time, “threat of a dose of the runs is more effective than any five barred gate.” Some good fish were taken from the loch when it was fished and no doubt there still is a few in it.
A narrow but deep burn running into the south end of Loch Calder originates from Loch Olginey which no doubt benefits from the connection. D.F.F.A. secured a berth on the loch in the mid sixties but the boat allocated was a heavy monster not suited to the shallow water, especially during the summer months. However, a shallow draft cobble, previously berthed at Stemster, was launched on the loch and provided an improved facility. The cobble had been extensively repaired at Dounreay and was an excellent drifting boat but even its shallow draft and flat bottom proved a bit of a chore when launching or beaching and the loch fell out of favour for a period. The advent of fibreglass boats put a new aspect on the situation and this, coupled to the agreement of the farmer to the fitting of a stem at the burn outlet, has greatly improved the fishery. The stem, tended to by D.F.F.A., consists of a simple plywood barrier placed across the outlet burn which maintains a satisfactory level during the season and is easily removed, if need be, by the farmer.
Pronounced “Doonagay”, this is a typical hill loch situated about a mile from the bridge over the Sleoch burn at the Dalnawillan end of Loch More. It was rarely fished but had the reputation of holding some good fish. Its unpopularity was due to the hard slog over rough moor to the loch side. However with the advent of forestation, a fine forestry road has been laid from the turning at the bridge all the way to Altnabreac – and further if you venture across the railway which passes within a short distance of the loch. D.F.F.A. secured a boat let on the loch a few years ago from the estate with the intention of carrying out improvements but no progress has been made in this direction due to some anomalies which have arisen regarding the terms of the let. The loch is now surrounded by trees which, of course, alters its character completely by providing more sheltered conditions as opposed to the wild exposed place it used to be. Undoubtedly the loch would benefit from stocking and hopefully this may be tackled.
The Associations takes a rotation beat on the River Thurso each year which extends from the opening day in mid January until the 15th of March. This allows members who have been tied down to the house decorating and the like, since the end of September, to get on to the water and have a cast. That is about all they get as the fish are few and far between at that time of year! Hope, however, lives eternal and it is a rough day indeed that doesn’t see an angler on the beat.
Situated not far from Keiss, on the east coast of the county, Wester is fed by the Lyth burn and its outlet, the Wester River, enters the sea little more than a mile from the loch. The fishing remains open until the end of October and, when D.F.F.A. had a let there, a boat was taken from one of the lochs which closed at the end of September and launched on Wester. Many a good sea trout was taken and not a few salmon over the years that the berth was available. Ultimately the owner acquired a couple of boats and preferred to hire rather than offer a let. The loch is still popular with those after a sea trout and the extensive oil pipe construction site, which has been built alongside the river, seems to deter neither fish or fisher.
Situated south of Wick and in a handy position, close to the main road, the Association boat lasted for only a short time before it had to be removed due to vandalism – its proximity to the main road probably leading to its downfall. The only other boat that can be recalled as having suffered similar damage was one berthed at the Lhais on Watten in the late fifties. The wooden boat was found to have a six inch circular hole punched neatly through the bottom plank. This was found to have been caused by a bull which frequently chased anglers making for the boat, apparently copying the anglers by stepping gently into the boat with one foot and half a ton behind it.
It requires a hard slog up the hill from the Strath Halladale road to reach the gentler slope which leads to Caorach ann further on to Seilge. A track of sorts was made some years ago when a water holding tank was constructed on the lower side of the slope but the going was tough. There being only one boat on the loch, belonging to Melvich Hotel, bank fishing was the modus operandi. If lucky enough to obtain a hire boat, at least two anglers were required – one to bale while the other fished. Caorach is dammed at the outlet part of the water supply system and since Seilge is connected to it by a short burn there is no problem with fluctuating water levels. Both lochs hold good fish which, in the right conditions, are free rising. The news that D.F.F.A. had secured a let on the loch was welcome. A good walk and a day rowing or bank fishing being just the thing to sort the men from the boys. However the estate keeper will, for a modest fee, transport parties to the lochs and back at the end of the day.
An impressive array of silverware has been amassed over the years and no fewer than eight competitions are currently held during the season, each having its own trophy. In addition to this, a further five are awarded for specific accomplishments. A points system is worked for attendance and results in the competitions which is then used to qualify members to represent D.F.F.A. in local, national and inter-club events.
Trophies held as at 2003 :-
1. “The Rusty Cup” donated by friends and family of the late Russell Bush. This replaced the Calder Bank Trophy donated by Keith Lorimer.
2. The Ian Hanna Trophy fished on all lochs.
3. The Ian Hay Trophy, a former President of the Association, donated by his wife Grace, also a former President. Fished for on a hill loch.
4. The Hoskins Cup donated by Ken Hoskins a former President of the club. Fished for on Loch Watten.
5. The Berry Trophy donated by Mr Berry, an annual visitor from Stirling. Fished for on an all night competition held on Loch Watten.
6. The KSL Trophy donated by Konsberg Simrad Limited to replace the Osprey Trophy fished for on Loch Watten.
7. The Bloody Foreigner Trophy donated by Pieter Hovig, now the owner of Loch Toftingall. Fished for on Loch Toftingall.
8. The T.A.Parry Trophy donated by Mr. T. Parry the first Association President. Fished for on Loch Watten.
9. The Matheson Trophy presented by Mr. Matheson of Wick. The first Association member subsequently given life membership. Initially the trophy was a barometer purchased and presented each year but this was replaced in recent years by a trophy. Awarded for the heaviest fish caught on Loch Watten from a D.F.F.A. boat.
10. The Castle Trophy presented by Tony Castle, former Association Chairman. Awarded for the heaviest trout from a D.F.F.A. boat on any loch.
11. The Grouse Trophy presented by Grouse Whisky for the heaviest boat catch of the year.
12. The Junior Champion Trophy presented by Jess Murray, widow of Martin, former Association Chairman.
13. The Club Champion Trophy for the competitor with most points.
An annual competition is held with the Shetland Angling Association, the participants on the D.F.F.A, team being drawn from the Club Championship.
The constitution, first drawn up in the early sixties, has been amended on several occasions over the years but in essence not much changed. In it the aims of the Association are laid down as well as requirements for financial matters, types of membership and the holding of an A.G.M. at which a quorum is required and the office bearers and committee members for the next year are elected. Amendments to the constitution are proposed and dealt with at the A.G.M. and the meeting is closed after any points raised by the membership are discussed. A set of rules, under which the competitions are fished, has been drawn up and set out in a document entitled “Competition Rules” and these, in the spirit of fairness, are strictly adhered to. A newsletter is published at the start of each season listing all available fishing and the conditions and rules pertaining to each. Safety hints are included at the same time stressing that every angler is responsible for his/her safety.
The Dounreay Fly Fishing Association has, over the years, maintained its role of providing angling facilities for members whose only qualification is membership of Dounreay Sports and Social Club. This provides for Full, Associate, Junior, Ladies and Visitor Membership. Fees have been set, from the start, at affordable levels designed to cover running costs and to provide a very modest float. Outlay has been incurred on improvement projects at various fisheries and the over-riding principle has always been to provide facilities and set of rules designed to maximise safety. Over the years, the occasional scheme has been dreamt up, aimed at exploiting the extensive angling potential of the Far North but D.F.F.A. has resisted any temptation to become involved since, in the first instance, it would be difficult to reconcile any profit making venture with the constitution and, secondly, competent visiting anglers are always welcome as visitor members adhering to the Association rules. There has, for some years, been rumours regarding the closure of Viewfirth and the demise of D.S.S.C. but it should be recognized that the second mentioned will not necessarily follow the first. However, should there be any closure, earnest discussions will no doubt ensue and the participants would do well to remember that D.F.F.A. in its present form as a sub-section of a main club has existed for going on forty five years and other organizations in the area appear to have benefitted from similar arrangements.