A History Of Dounreay Fly Fishing Association 1958 – 2003 By Gordon Douglas
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 June 1962 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 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 their 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).
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:
- “The Rusty Cup” donated by friends and family of the late Russell Bush. This replaced the Calder Bank Trophy donated by Keith Lorimer.
- The Ian Hanna Trophy fished on all lochs.
- 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.
- The Hoskins Cup donated by Ken Hoskins a former President of the club. Fished for on Loch Watten.
- The Berry Trophy donated by Mr Berry, an annual visitor from Stirling. Fished for on an all night competition held on Loch Watten.
- The KSL Trophy donated by Konsberg Simrad Limited to replace the Osprey Trophy fished for on Loch Watten.
- The Bloody Foreigner Trophy donated by Pieter Hovig, now the owner of Loch Toftingall. Fished for on Loch Toftingall.
- The T.A.Parry Trophy donated by Mr. T. Parry the first Association President. Fished for on Loch Watten.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Grouse Trophy presented by Grouse Whisky for the heaviest boat catch of the year.
- The Junior Champion Trophy presented by Jess Murray, widow of Martin, former Association Chairman.
- 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 Rule” 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.