We chat to Ian Farr, head ghillie on the Bemersyde fishing beat, about what makes this particular beat so unique as well as being incredibly popular.
I’ve been the head ghillie on the Bemersyde beat of the Tweed for the past 28 years and absolutely love it here. I arrived here aged 24 and thought it would be a stopgap but it’s such a wonderful spot that I’ve been here ever since and hope to be here until I retire.
Our section of the Tweed is just above Dryburgh, about 40 miles upstream from Berwick. We have a mile of the south bank and half a mile of the north bank, which means five major pools. On an average year, if there is such a thing these days, we catch about 240 fish on Bemersyde. We’ll get a couple per month in January and February, 5-6 in April, 15-30 in May, 10 or so a month over the summer, and then 50-60 in both October and November. We catch about 25 sea trout a year but then we don’t really fish for them much.
There are some very big fish caught here. On 24 October 2012 one of our regulars, Jim Reid from Edinburgh, caught a cock fish that was 50 inches long, with a girth of 25.5 inches and which weighed comfortably in excess of 40lbs – we think it was about 44lbs when caught and over 50lbs when it entered the river. He hooked it in the Top Corbies pool, which is one of the worst places to catch a big fish, but it didn’t do anything unexpected so didn’t snag the line on one of the many rocks down there. It took Jim over 150 yards downstream and then took the best part of an hour to land. It was such a magnificent fish that it won the Malloch Trophy. Although we’re only compulsory catch and release until the end of June, like 90% of the fish we catch, we let it go.
The biggest fish whose weight can be absolutely verified because it was killed, was a 42lb beast caught in the Victorian era, although the average size of fish caught here is still about 10lbs although it’s gradually getting smaller. The biggest Spring fish we had this year was 16lbs. Jim caught his big fish from a boat on a Willie Gunn tube and a G Loomis 15ft rod. The flies that locals find work best here are the Willie Gunn, cascade, black and yellow collie dogs, junction shrimp and the sunray shadow, especially if you’re stripping in summer.
This section of the river fishes best at 1ft 6in, and the colder it is the deeper you need to fish. I recommend sinking lines and big flies early on, and floating lines with sink tips from April onwards. You can fish with a single-handed rod early on, but you’ll need a 14-15ft rod in the back end. A syndicate fishes the river until mid-September and from then on things change a bit. We go from one ghillie with four rods to two ghillies with six rods, with days going from between £120 to a maximum of £250 a day.
The river is tricky wading even at the relatively benign Boat pool, with three of the four remaining main pools being accessed by boat. On one of the trickiest areas we use a special boat that’s like an aluminium bath tub with a big wooden surround, which I push while wading in the river while the angler fishes. It’s hard work, but I love it and wouldn’t ever want to be anywhere else.
To see more of Ian’s articles, including advice and product reviews, please browse his expert profile.