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Whopper that didn't get away restored to its former glory

By Will Clark

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Mike Shepley makes the final touches to his restoration of the 47-pound Thurso salmon.
Mike Shepley makes the final touches to his restoration of the 47-pound Thurso salmon.

Berwickshire-based artist Mike Shepley has been working on the 47-pound salmon which over the years had deteriorated. His finished work will be handed back to its home in the Ulbster Arms in Halkirk tomorrow night.

Mr Shepley, who worked as a trainee architect in Thurso in the 1960s and completed his planning postgraduate degree in Caithness in 1969, has a passion for fishing and wrote his first angling book, Salmon, in 1974.

During his time in the county, he was intrigued with four giant preserved salmon, all caught in the River Thurso, which were kept in the Ulbster Arms.

The first of the fish used to hang in the bar of the hotel when Mr Shepley first came up in the early 1960s, but over the years it became target practice for wayward darts and was removed to safety in storage.

A few years ago, when Mike asked Thurso fishery manager Eddie McCarthy what had happened to the great fish, Mr McCarthy wondered if he would like the see it again, together with the three other huge salmon caught nearly 100 years ago.

So started a multiple challenge for Mr Shepley to restore all four specimens to their former glory to be admired by the new generation of anglers who fish the river. The first was completed in October 2010 and was hung in time to celebrate the river’s all-time record season of more than 3000 salmon for the year.

The second fish, completed in June the next year, left the most difficult of the remaining fish to come.

Mr Shepley said at the time: “The first two were difficult enough, but this will ultimately be my biggest challenge – and the remaining fish may ultimately get away.”

The good news is that after more than 100 hours of review, research and restoration, the third trophy travelled to Caithness this week in time for the closing days of the 2013 season. The 47-pound cock spring salmon was caught on May 10, 1923, by ghillie Alex G. Sinclair on a Childers fly.

Mr Shepley said: “One more salmon to go and sadly most of the original paint has gone, but I’m always looking for a challenge and don’t want this final one to slip the net either.

“I also hope to have a cast on the Thurso before the season ends this coming Saturday.”

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