This verdant area is where a spring bubbles up from the rocky ground. Not a particularly unusual occurrence you may feel – except that, in this case, the spring is the source of a mighty river. A river which is the largest in Scotland, an important navigational asset, hugely consequential in tourism-related terms but perhaps above all, as a justifiably–famous salmon fishing river. The river is the mighty River Tay and superb Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) have returned to their natal streams and pools in prodigious numbers since the retreat of the last ice age.

It is the fifteenth of January and we are in the picturesque village of Kenmore in the heart of Perthshire. It is here that the opening ceremony of the Tay salmon fishing season takes place. Kenmore is a place rich in Scottish history, due in part to its strategic location where the River Tay slips, sluices and slides sedately out of Loch Tay. It was here in 1774 that the five-arch bridge was built, spanning the river just a few metres downstream from the loch’s outflow. In more romantic and ancient times, in 1122 to be precise, Queen Sybilla, the wife of King Alexander the First of Scotland and a daughter of King Henry the First of England, died and was buried on the little island opposite the bridge. Exactly what brought about the Queen’s demise has been lost in the swirling mists of time but tradition has it that she and the king had come to Kenmore to fish for salmon in the loch and river. Queen Sybilla has slept peacefully on her little island for many centuries, perhaps dreaming of the leaping silver salmon that still excite anglers and visitors to Kenmore today.

In the village square there is a bustle of activity. Crowds are gathering, friends are renewing old acquaintances , chatter fills the crystal-clear, frosty morning air. The sun is bright, the sky is azure blue, the mountains are starkly snow-capped and crowd’s excitement is mounting and palpable. The Tayside Police Pipe Band pipers tune up squeezing the bags of their pipes with lusty enthusiasm (there is no truth that a wee dram has enhanced the vigour of this musical energy !!). The drums rattle as the waiting crowd stamp their feet to keep their circulation going. The celebrities stream out of the hotel, short addresses are made, and to a traditional Scottish pipe tune the assembly falls into step and marches behind the band towards the riverbank. Tartan kilts swings, bonnets are set a jaunty angles, cheery faces smile and greet each other, fishing rods are held erect like weapons of more-ancient times, the hard streets ring with the sound of marching footsteps. It is a scene of tradition, pleasure and optimism – the winter’s close season is over and a new season is about to open.

We have reached the waterside where a fishing coble is moored to the bank. The popular television actor and angling presenter, celebrity, Paul Young eloquently toasts the Tay salmon and the start of the 2000 season, then with a flambuoyant pouring gesture, offers a generous measure of gleaming golden uisghe beatha from a silver quaich over the boat and into the river. The crowd respond with a hearty cheer. The boatman steers the boat out into the current where Paul and his fellow co-celebrity, Scotland rugby star Rob Wainwright, make the first casts of the season. The season is open !! And, lest anyone believes that to pour the golden liquor into the river is something of a waste, keep in mind that it is an offering to the river’s gods and is intended to be returned many times over in handsome salmon catches throughout the season !!.

The anglers disperse, upstream and down, to ply their skilful craft over the great pools of the Tay. With above-average rainfall the river level is on the high side but it is running suitably clear. A few salmon have been seen, but most will be fish that spawned towards the end of 1999 and are now called ‘kelts’ – out-of-condition following their long months of fasting and the rigours of spawning. Adult salmon do not eat when they are in freshwater and may arrive in the river many months before spawning so they are in poor condition once spawning is over, and are carefully returned if hooked – in the hope that they will return as even larger fish next year.

It is the fresh-run silver ‘springer’ that attracts the angler in the early weeks of the season – a salmon straight in from the sea, as fit and hard as any athlete, and a highly-desirable sporting quarry. Paradoxically, most anglers will return any springers which they hook in the trust that they will survive to reproduce spring-running offspring. There has been a decline in spring-running salmon over recent years and anglers, fishing organisations, fishery biologists, gillies, fishery managers and proprietors have been trying to find ways of reversing this decline. In fact, this season sees the introduction of a highly innovative scheme where rod-caught springers will be kept alive in a hatchery until they are ready to be stripped of ova and milt, and their offspring will be ‘seeded’ into poorly inhabited parts of the Tay system. This is surely a very telling sign that anglers and fishery staff are caring and far-sighted when it comes to the aquatic environment.

Later in the day the reports of fish caught, and lost !!, accrue. The best of the day has been a wonderful twenty-seven and a half pound fish from Loch Tay which took a Rapala lure. A springer of around 9lbs was also taken from the Lower Newtyle Beat of the river. But catches have been patchy and the true test of the season will be later when more complete information comes to hand. The day has been very special, however. Not only was it truly beautiful and enjoyable in its tradition, setting and weather but it is a time for optimism. Atlantic salmon are not enjoying their best ever time presently – they are in need of support and careful management. It seems likely that over-exploitation in the sea of adults and juvenile (smolts), aggregated to an ever-burgeoning seal population, destruction of food chain species in the sea, too many fish-eating birds, the devastating effects of poor fish-farming practice and climatic causes are threatening the numbers of the Scotland’s king of fish. But steps are being taken to remedy those problems which may be corrected, and the future for the lovely salmon should be assured. It will take time, significant resources, open-minds and careful effort but it is undoubtedly worth it. For those who have not yet felt that heart-stopping thrill of the first sustained pull of a strong wild salmon – believe me it is simply superb. Come to the great River Tay in this new year and experience the warmest of famous Scottish welcomes and enjoy the chance of catching Salmo – the king of fish !!. We look forward to seeing you at the riverside !!

Tight lines !!