A young ghillie working on the Glen Tanar Estate has been nominated as a top young tourism ambassador at the 2015 Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards.
Craig McDonald, 24, has secured a nomination in the Young Ambassador category of the respected tourism awards thanks to his hard work ethic and determination to provide his guests with a superior experience on the River Dee.
Having been taught to fish by his grandfather at a young age, Craig grew up fishing and knew quickly that he was destined for a life on the banks of the river. After gaining a BSc Honours in Biological Sciences (Ecology) from Edinburgh University, he headed back north to the River Dee.
Craig says, “The Dee is a special place, and people from all walks of life come from all over the world to fish here. I have always been interested in wildlife and the outdoors, so to be able to spend all day every day outside doing something I love is fantastic. And while the fishing is fantastic, it’s not just about the marine life: I’ve had otters fishing beside me in the river, and deer coming up really close.
“There’s no such thing as an average day when you’re a ghillie – each day brings its own challenges. I enjoy meeting the guests as they arrive at the river, finding out about their tactics for the day and offering advice on where might be best to fish depending on the conditions. I meet so many guests throughout the year, and see many of them return again and again that a lot of them become firm friends.
“There are also often opportunities for me to share my knowledge of the river with guests. I remember one time I helped a young lad catch his first fish. It was his first ever time fishing, and I taught him how to cast – within half an hour he’d caught a salmon. His dad was really proud of him, and it was great to be able to help out.”
As a recipient of the River Dee Bursary, awarded by the Dee District Salmon Fishery Board, Craig has been able to focus on his career. He continues, “Being a ghillie isn’t necessarily an easy job to get into, but if you have that passion it’s an achievable goal and it’s an incredibly rewarding job. The River Dee Bursary is a great help with allowing people to achieve their goals, and I’m really grateful for the funding, training and work experience it has provided me.”
Fiona Martin, sales manager at Glen Tanar Estate, says, “From the start Craig has had a good understanding of excellent customer service. He understands the importance of maintaining the environment both for the enjoyment and benefit of his fishing guests, and for the health of the river and the fish themselves.
“He has quickly learned how to assist guests with their fishing gear and how to ensure they fish safely and effectively, thus maximising their enjoyment of fishing on the River Dee.
“Due to his desire to improve his skills, Craig has learned how to tie a number of local salmon flies, and has also travelled to the River Orkla in Norway to assist Jean and Tom Marshall – two well respected guides – who were hosting a party of fishers.
“We feel Craig’s greatest achievement is winning over the fishermen on his beat. The regular summer fishers were used to fishing without the aid of a ghillie, and some were adamant that they would not need help, however they soon changed their minds.”
Up against Craig in the Young Ambassador category of the Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards are Stuart McPhee, assistant manager with Harding Ltd at Siberia Vodka Bar, and Adelle Chessor, digital media executive at VisitAberdeen.
Glen Tanar Estate itself is also nominated for the Creative Ambition Award, alongside the Thistle hotels in Aberdeen and Visit Royal Deeside.
Finalists in the Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards will have to wait until January 30 to find out who has won, at a glittering award ceremony held at Ardoe House Hotel and Spa in Aberdeen and hosted by broadcaster Tam Cowan. Further information about the awards is available at www.acsta.co.uk