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Halkirk ceremony marks start of fishing season on River Thurso


By Jean Gunn

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Glasgow doctor Mike Leach (centre), who has been fishing the River Thurso for the past 41 years, with some of the group of anglers from the Glasgow area whom he has introduced to the river. They make three journeys north each fishing season and this year the honour of toasting the river and casting the first fly of the season went to two members of the group. Freddie Sutherland (foreground), an 81-year-old landscape gardener, cast the first fly, while Peter Duncan (second left) toasted the river. Picture: Robert MacDonald / Northern Studios
Glasgow doctor Mike Leach (centre), who has been fishing the River Thurso for the past 41 years, with some of the group of anglers from the Glasgow area whom he has introduced to the river. They make three journeys north each fishing season and this year the honour of toasting the river and casting the first fly of the season went to two members of the group. Freddie Sutherland (foreground), an 81-year-old landscape gardener, cast the first fly, while Peter Duncan (second left) toasted the river. Picture: Robert MacDonald / Northern Studios

THE skirl of the pipes resounded through Halkirk on Saturday morning as the fishing season on the River Thurso got under way.

Piper Alasdair Miller led the anglers down from the Ulbster Arms Hotel to the Comlifoot Pool, a beat of the river that runs through the village, for the traditional opening ceremony.

Making the first cast was 81-year-old retired landscape gardener Freddie Sutherland, from Uddingston, while his close friend Peter Duncan, from Rutherglen, made the toast by pouring the traditional quaich full of whisky into the river.

Mr Sutherland, whose grandfather and great-grandfather lived in Caithness, has been fishing the river for the past nine years as part of a group of anglers from the Glasgow area who travel north for three visits a year – in spring, summer and autumn.

In damp and dull conditions on Saturday morning, 81-year-old retired landscape garden Freddie Sutherland, from Uddingston, casts the first fly of the new salmon season on the River Thurso. Picture: Robert MacDonald / Northern Studios
In damp and dull conditions on Saturday morning, 81-year-old retired landscape garden Freddie Sutherland, from Uddingston, casts the first fly of the new salmon season on the River Thurso. Picture: Robert MacDonald / Northern Studios

A wet and windy start to the morning and a rising river failed to dampen spirits and around 35 fishermen took part in the opening ceremony.

River Thurso fishery manager Geordie Doull, who took over the position from his previous role of head ghillie in June, said: "Fortunately it cleared up and turned out to be a very pleasant morning."

Looking ahead to the 2020 season, Mr Doull said: "It is very hard to predict. In 2018 we had a drought, but thankfully in 2019 we had a wetter summer and we made a pretty good recovery."

Last year 1734 fish were caught on the 12 beats available for rent and, by adding in catches on beat one and the private water, the total for the river in its entirety was brought to over 2100.

"Last season was brilliant," Mr Doull said. "We bounced back pretty well. In looking forward to this coming season we are very reliant on the weather – I firmly believe if we get sensible amounts of wet weather we will catch just as many this season as last, if not more."

Piper Alasdair Miller leads anglers over Halkirk Bridge towards the River Thurso for the opening of the salmon season on Saturday morning. Picture: Robert MacDonald / Northern Studios
Piper Alasdair Miller leads anglers over Halkirk Bridge towards the River Thurso for the opening of the salmon season on Saturday morning. Picture: Robert MacDonald / Northern Studios

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