Wherever salmon fly-fishing is practised throughout the world there are constant reminders of its birth and development in Scotland. Many traditional patterns of salmon flies were developed on the banks of Scotland’s famous rivers - flies like ‘Dunkeld’ (named after the small county town in Perthshire on the banks of the mighty River Tay and a justifiably popular choice of fly for that river’s salmon), and ‘Jock Scott’ (first created for use on the River Tweed during a sailing passage to Norway in 1845 by its eponymous inventor Jock Scott), and the ‘Blue Charm’ (popularised by A.H.E Wood, the inventor of the greased-line method of fishing on the Cairnton Beat of the River Dee). These are different flies in their colour and form – and, in turn, they reflect the wonderful diversity of the great salmon rivers of Scotland.
It is this superb variety that makes Scottish salmon fishing so unique and attractive. The rivers are wonderfully varied – large or small – accessible or remote – slow and deep or rapid and tumbling – superbly diverse. To list the names of Scottish salmon rivers is akin to reciting some sacred litany … evocatively painting mental pictures of the mist-enshrouded waterfalls tumbling over rocks as ancient as time itself, deep, dark, mysterious pools and clear, smooth glides so suitable for fly fishing, and all this set in a landscape of great natural beauty.
If we circumnavigate the entire Scottish coastline, stopping briefly to check out the main rivers in turn, and starting on the north coast, we quickly realise that almost every river of significant dimension possesses runs of Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar). Sometimes, even the smallest of streams – we call them ‘burns’ in Scotland, carry their run of salmon in high water conditions. The northern rivers tend to be more wild and highland in nature - their remoteness a superb attraction - the Halladale, Naver and Borgie; the Thurso, Wick, Helmsdale; the Brora, Conon, Cassley, , the Oykel, Carron, Beauly and the River Ness which runs out of the famous loch of the monster !!
On the north-east coast are the famous rivers Findhorn, Spey and Deveron; the Dee, the Don and the Deveron; the Rivers North Esk and the South Esk, and the huge Tay system with its major tributaries – the Dochart, Lyon, Garry, Tummel, Isla, Ericht and Earn – each salmon rivers in their own right.
Further south are the River Forth on whose estuary sits the Scottish capital – Edinburgh. Further south still runs the prolific River Tweed with its tributaries the Ettrick, Teviot, Till, Whiteadder and Yarrow transecting the border hills between Scotland and England. Over to the south west now to the Rivers Solway, Annan and Nith, the northwards to the Ayrshire rivers Stinchar, Girvan and Doon, then northwards again to the famous banks of Loch Lomond and the rivers Endrick and Leven. We are back amongst the high mountains of the mystical west. In your mind’s eye, can’t you see the rocky peaks of the high mountains, the deep glens, the tumbling rivers ? Can’t you smell the heather and myrtle ? Can’t you see the powerful leap of the great silver salmon ?
But what of the future of the Atlantic Salmon in these lovely rivers ?. Unfortunately, it would be mendacious to claim that everything is rosy in this direction presently. There is an overall decline in Atlantic salmon throughout its entire distribution. The reasons are complex and interactive, encompassing inappropriate harvesting in drift nets, ludicrous netting of food species in the high seas, lack of effective predation control around the coasts and within rivers, reduced juvenile production, poor in-river management and several highly-damaging impacts from fish farming. Other reasons are even more difficult to prove but global warming may be influencing the range of the salmon’s feeding at sea.
Having indicated these diverse problems it seems only sensible to look towards their solution and, not surprisingly perhaps, the remedies are mostly common sense. If there is too much destruction of food species like capelin, krill, and sand eels in the maritime environment – then set out effective regulation measures and ensure that these are adhered to. If there is unacceptable damage to wild salmon stocks by burgeoning populations of seals and piscivorous birds, then tackle this sensitive question head-on and take the necessary steps with the delicacy that is required with a humane and effective set of measures. If drift netting and inappropriate harvesting of salmon still damages stock levels, then settle this deficit through compensating those whose livelihood is affected and cease to exploit populations in this way - at least until they may be restored to the point when they may once again provide exploitable excesses. If fish farming is wreaking havoc with wild fish stocks relocate cage sites sufficiently far away from sensitive areas, take proper steps to avoid pollution, disease and farmed fish escapes, and ensure that farming practices are wholly environmentally-sound.
This all sounds so trite and straightforward – but it isn’t. There are huge financial pressures and inadequate political will in high places to succeed. It is therefore up to all game anglers to play their part to ensure that the Atlantic Salmon enjoys the very best of conditions into the new millennium. Wherever and whenever you can, please take the opportunity to maintain pressure on those who may influence our salmon’s future.
To balance the picture of declining stocks and rather gloomy forecasts – is it possible to enjoy salmon fishing in Scotland ? Unreservedly, the answer is ‘YES – of course !!’ It is not necessary to hook huge numbers of fish to enjoy wonderful fishing. Indeed, if fishing is too easy the element of challenge disappears. It is a better proposition as a discerning game angler to have to beat the odds to gain success rather than to find everything too easy. The lovely thing about your visit to Scotland is that you may still hit the ‘purple patch’ when fishing is easy and the fish are very readily tempted, but it is during the other times when fishing is much more demanding that your resolution to succeed is tested !! This is where the other factors play an increasing role in your enjoyment of your visit. The welcome which you will receive is simply unparalleled anywhere. Everyone who visits Scotland remarks on how friendly and genuine the Scots are – always ready to make you feel at home in the warmest of ways. The countryside around Scotland’s rivers is simply superb – a wonderful mixture of wilderness and cultured landscapes which truly delight the senses.
So there is no question that you will enjoy excellent accommodation, good food, superb company, challenging fishing for simply superb salmon in a varied landscape of great natural beauty ……… Does this not sound just a bit like heaven ?
Now that you have decided to try for a millennium Scottish salmon, the next questions are when and where ? The question of ‘where’ is almost unresolvable – you must decide which part of the country you would like to visit for there is scarcely anywhere without close proximity to a river with salmon – and access is relatively easy and often moderately priced. Clearly, the very best beats attract high demand and consequently high prices but it is possible to fish on a different beat of a different river on every day of a season in Scotland for around the price of an overnight hotel stay – and that’s not expensive !!.
To deal with ‘when’ you should visit is also difficult to recommend - for each season has its own attractions. The salmon fishing season starts not long after the traditional Scottish New Year celebrations with what is laughingly termed ‘spring-fishing’. If you have spent a few hours in the Arctic blast of mid-January wading deep amongst the ice of a Scottish river let me assure you that the climate seems far from spring-like. It is curious however that there are days in the deepest winter which are a real bonus for the salmon fisher to be out-of-doors seeking the greatest prize of all – a big silver ‘springer’.
Winter melts imperceptibly into Spring and the freshness of a sunny Scottish day in May is unequalled anywhere in the world. The sun is warm again - birdsong fills the glen - the high mountains are still snow-capped while the new vegetation is the brightest of green, the air is crystal clear and the river sedately retains its secrets. Is there a fish deep in the pool ? You cast your fly out over the cool glide in trembling anticipation, the line stretches slowly, then sets firm …. a salmon pulls against the weight and a mighty battle commences – simply magnificent.!!
Spring gives way to the height of the Scottish summer and the rivers benefit from runs of grilse (small salmon which have spent only one ‘sea-winter’ away from freshwater) along with wily sea trout (migratory brown trout : Salmo trutta). This is the time of fishing into the long evenings of Scottish summer days when the warm skies colour into intense hues of purple and gold as dusk chases day over the western horizon. Keep in mind that summer nights do not get truly dark in midsummer in these northerly climes and the best sea trout fishing is during the hours of near-total-darkness. At this time you fish ‘fine and far-off’ using light tackle and exercising great stealth – demanding fishing which is suitable for the most discerning game angler.
Autumn follows summer, and the drought is broken by autumnal rainfall. This freshening of the rivers encourages the ‘back-end’ runs of large salmon to fill the pools in prodigious quantities. The main runs of Scottish salmon may be expected during September, October and November. In some rivers the angling season closes during, or at the end of, October, so spawning fish are protected – allowing them the peace to lay the eggs that will hatch out and replenish our rivers with the splendid king of fish – the Atlantic Salmon.
We look forward to the new year – a very special year……. A year in which we hope that you will join us and will enjoy catching a Millennium Scottish Salmon !! Tight Lines !!