Saturday, 23 November 2019

My Salmon Fishing Highlights 2019

Despite the cloud of doom and gloom that hovers of salmon fishing these days, my own season was a very good one. I finished up with 31 Salmon/Grilse for the season which I was pleased with. This was in no small part down to the upturn in fortunes with the River Don where it had it's best season for a number of years. Catches were up around the 800 mark from just over 400 the previous year.

A River Spey springer finds the net in April of this year.
This year was always going to be earmarked as a poor one. This was based on the notion that the fish running this year would have been the first adults from the Storm Frank spawning year of 2015. Next year may well see a drop in multi sea winter salmon returning but given that the grilse run wasn't too bad, I remain optimistic that things may not be as poor as forecast. We'll soon see how that pans out!

January

As usual, my season started on the banks of the mighty River Tay back in January with our annual pilgrimage to Lower Kinnaird for the opening Saturday of the season. The day is always a good one as its spent with good pals. It's also a fine way to blast off the cobwebs.The cold certainly wakes you up after the 5.30am start as I don't think the temperatures have ever been above freezing in the years we have been going!
Early January on the River Tay at Lower Kinnaird. 
February

Opening Day on the River Dee (1st February) is really when my season kicks off though. However, this year I had to wait just a wee while longer as the Dee was frozen solid and full of grue (ice floes) which meant there would be no fishing until it melted. This took a week or so but thanks to the generosity of William Foster, Park Estate, we were given 2 days fishing for the dates we lost. On the 25th February whilst using one of my days from William, I was fortunate enough to land my first Salmon of the season. It was a lovely wee springer of around 6lb from Park North. I lost another fresh fish just a few minutes after landing this one. It was great to open my account with another February Salmon from Park. I am already counting down the days until we are back there for Opening Day 2020.

No Fishing! Opening Day on the River Dee at Park. 
My first of the season. A lovely, February springer from Park 
March

March turned out to be the only month of the season in which I didn't land a fresh Salmon. My annual 3 day trip to Ballogie was disappointing and we only landed a few kelts for our efforts. This trip is usually my best bet for a March springer but it wasn't to be this year. Hopefully next year will see normal service resume.
The Top Gannet at Ballogie in March.
April

April was a good month for me. I was fortunate enough to land a lovely fish from the famous Murthly 2 beat of the River Tay. Well known ghillie and expert Salmon angler Tony Black went out of his way to get me a fish and his skill with the boat and knowledge of his beat paid dividends as he netted a lively springer around the 6lb mark for me. The fish rounded off a great day in the company of our wee band of brothers who we call ourselves "The Salmon Nutters". There's never a dull moment when we meet up.

A fresh run Tay Springer from Murthly 2
Another significant fish I landed in April was from the River Spey. I took a last minute rod at Tulchan D with another good fishing pal, Sean McGarry. I was fortunate enough to land the only fish of the day which was a beauty of around 8lb from the March pool. It was also my first ever River Spey springer after a long time of trying! It snaffled a wee Monkey tude. I managed to capture the footage on my GoPro camera. The clip be be seen by following the link.

A cracker from the River Spey at Tulchan D.

May

May is usually a quiet month for me. As the days get longer and the nights short, the best fishing tends to be done during the unsociable hours of early morning or late into the evening. Neither of these times are practical for me with work and family commitments but I did manage to land a few fish for my efforts.

My first fish of the month was an absolute belter from the River Conon on the 18th of the month. I received a call from Philip Black and Gordon Mackenzie inviting me for a cast as one of their party had to go home that evening. Fishing the Conon would mean a 3 1/2 hour drive for me and as my wife already had plans for the Saturday evening it meant I would have to be home by 6pm. I deliberated the prospect for most of the night but when I was awoken at 5am by my daughter, my mind was made up! I jumped out of of bed and hit the road North. It turned out to be a good decision as I was fortunate enough to land a spilt fresh fish around the 12lb mark. It hammered a size 11 Kitchen Sink as soon as it touch the surface of the water. It was obviously meant to be!

The flying visit to the Conon was more than worth while!
A Don springer is a prize worth pursuing as they're usually as rare as hens teeth. This year however, was different. The River Don had been fishing really well and I made a point to using my Saturdays to try and get one for myself. Come Saturday the 25th, the water levels were on the drop following a nice rise at the beginning of that week. As the fish were running, I decided to book a day on the Kildrummy Water. Again, I was up early but as permits for Kildrummy are only collected from the hotel at 9am, I decided to have an hour on the ADAA water at Kemnay before hand. This turned out to be a very good decision as within my first few casts, I lifted into a nice fish. It was soon landed and after a quick photo, I released an older hen fish of around 8lb back into the water. The pressure was off before I had even got to Kildrummy and my first Don springer of the year was in the bank.

A springer from the ADAA beat at Kemnay caught early in the  morning.
When I arrived at Kildrummy, I was 4th in line to collect my permit, the other 3 rods fishing that day were trout anglers. I headed off down to the beat upon collecting my permit but the 3 trout lads were all parked up at the hut. Instead of going there myself, I tackled up at one of the pools. I wasn't being anti social but just thought it would be best to make my own decision of where to start fishing. Luck was definitely on my side this season as within minutes of starting my second run down the pool I was into a fish. It took the Sunray Shadow on the way down after it jumped about 3 feet in the air. It turned out to be a lovely fresh run fish around the 6lb mark. Two Don springers in one day is not to be sniffed at!

A beauty from the Don again but this time at Kildrummy Fishing.
June

June has always been kind to me in terms of catching salmon and this year was no different. On the 22nd I had the day off work and so I booked a day on the River Dee at Commonty. I met Ian Fraser, the ghille early in the morning and we discussed tactics before he set off. I took all Ian's advice on board and I set up with a floating line, slow sink tip and a size 10 Cascade. I got down to the taking spot in the Otter Trap when my fly was grabbed by a very aggressive salmon. It tore off like a runaway train and after one of the best battles I've ever had with a salmon ever, I finally tailed a fresh run salmon around the 12lb mark. It had a gaping wound in it's flank which may have been the reason it fought so hard. Upon removal of the hook I also noticed that one of the points of the hook was buckled so I was lucky to have got this fish in.
A fresh run Summer Salmon from Commonty. This one was estimated at around 12lb.
On the same day but in the afternoon, it was by this time bright and sunny and there was not many signs of fish showing in the pools. I had already fished the Loop and Bend twice when I saw what looked to be a fresh fish show near the neck of the pool. I tied on my trusty Sunray Shadow tube and began to work it through the pool. I had fished a cast out and was just starting to lift the rod when a fish took the fly on the lift! It took off down river but I soon beached my first grilse of the season. A fresh fish around the 6lb mark which was swiftly returned. Not a bad day in less than ideal conditions.

My first grilse of of the season from the Loop at Commonty.
My first sea trout of the year was landed on the 25th whilst salmon fishing. It was a nice fresh fish around the 2lb mark from the Kelpie Pool at Ballogie.

My first seas trout of the season from the River Dee. 
July

On the 6th July I found myself fishing the Ballogie beat of the River Dee. I was on the river early as it was going to be a bright and sunny day and the river levels were on the low side. I started my day off in the Flats and as the Sunray Shadow had been doing the business for me, it was my go to fly on this particular day. I was just coming into the taking part of the pool when my fly was hit with some venom! A monumental tussle took place before I finally got my hands on the prize. It was a superb looking salmon estimated to be around 13/14lb. It was fat as a barrel and a proper summer salmon. It's always great to have a fish on the bank before 8am when you're out for a day's fishing.

Probably my best looking Salmon of the season. This belter was caught on a Sunray Shadow at Ballogie. 
That turned out to be my only salmon of the month but I did land a few nice sea trout from Carlogie during my annual summer days with Ade Warburton and Philip Black. Sadly, unlike the bonanza we had last year, the salmon were just not there in any numbers this time round.

One of two sea trout from Carlogie that I caught in bright sunshine and in the middle of the day.
August

August 2019 will live in my memory for the rest of my days. I had taken a week off during the school holidays to fish with my son, who joined the ADAA this year. It just so happened that the River Don had risen at the beginning of that week (w/c 12th) and grilse run decided to run in good numbers. On the 14th, accompanied by my son (who is 7) headed off to fish the Lower Fintray beat. We had the pools to ourselves which was surprising but only a few casts into our morning, Liam's Flying C was grabbed by a lively fish. He was nervous at first and was reluctant to play the fish in fear of losing it but with my encouragement he played it well. Landing a fish with 5ft of bankside reeds is not the easiest task fro even the more experienced rods so to avoid the risk of losing his first salmon, I had decided to climb into the water to tail a fresh run fish out past the reeds. It was a beauty of around the 6lb mark. I was up over my wellies and soaking wet but I couldn't have cared less! I am not sure who had the bigger smile; me or Liam!

Liam playing his first ever salmon.
The prize! A fresh grilse around 6lb. A fine fish for his first Salmon.
It didn't take long for Liam to land his second and then his third salmon of his young life. We ventured out the next day to fish Parkhill. After a fruitless morning we went and did the shopping before Liam decided he wanted to try fishing again. With the shopping in the boot we headed up river to the Kemnay beat of the Don. Again, we had the pools to ourselves and literally with the first cast of the day we hooked a fish. It was another fresh run grilse and again, I was up over wellies landing the fish as the reeds made it impossible to beach. It was a sea liced grilse around 5lb. It was quickly returned and we were straight back fishing again. Unbelievably, with just a few casts later, we were into another fish! It was another fresh grilse around the 5lb mark. After a spirited fight, Liam quickly had his second fish of the day in the book. It was a day to remember and we headed home soon after as we were soaked to the skin but at least we had huge grins on our faces!

Another Salmon for Liam the very next day.
And another! Three Salmon in 2 days for Liam is pretty good going for a 7 year old!
The very next day I decided to go out fishing again. Liam didn't come with me on this occasion though. I started at Parkhill and once again, on my very first cast of the day, I hooked into a lively wee grilse. It was quickly landed and after a photo I sent it on it's way. The grilse still seemed to be running. This proved to be the case as only a short while later, I hooked 3 more fish but only manged to land one of them. Losing one in the reeds as I tried to land it. Still, a brace was not a bad result at all for just a couple for hours on the river.

One of two grilse I landed from the River Don at Parkhill for my day.
September

Outwith the early Spring months, September is probably my favourite time to be on the river. The pools are usually filling up with fish and the first cold snap tends to see them come back on the take after the summer temperatures warm the river up and switch them off. This year, I had a very good month and landed quite a number of fish for my efforts. I won't bore you with details of them all so I will just relay the capture of a few of them. One fish in particular will live long in the memory.
I had been fishing my rod on the beat below the Ballogie Bridge on the 7th of the month. I had a small fish around 4lb in the morning but I was invited by ghillie, Sean Stanton to have a cast on the lower pools above the bridge. It didn't take much persuasion and I soon headed off upstream to fish the Sands and Slips. 

A slightly coloured wee grilse from Ballogie.
My first run through the Sands saw me get a couple of half hearted offers which didn't stick but there were a few fish showing which kept my moral up. I carried on into the Slips but decided to change tactics so I opted for a 10ft 7ips tip and a big Pink Franc N Snaelda tube. This change of depth did the trick almost instantly and I was soon into a hefty fish just opposite the hut. It jumped out the water to reveal itself and my initial delight in hooking a fish turned to anxiety! This was a BIG fish! A 20 minute battle ensued and I let out a huge sigh of relief as I tailed the fish. It was a stunning hen salmon which was built like a torpedo! I took a few photos before measuring the fish with some nylon. I first estimated it to be around the 21lb mark due to the size of its girth but going by it's 94cms length, it was booked at 19lb. Whatever it weighed, it was a beauty and I was delighted to have landed it!

A lump of a Salmon from the River Dee in September. My biggest fish of the year.
A head shot of the same fish above.
A tail like a shovel!
The 14th September saw me fishing the famous Cairnton beat of the River Dee. I had fished Cairnton only twice before but in the early Spring months. I had never landed a fish there but I managed to end that run by catching a small grilse from Glisters. Not a fresh fish nor a big one but it had always been a goal of mine to catch a fish at Cairnton so it was great to tick that one off my bucket list. 

A plump wee grlse from the famous Cairnton beat of the River Dee.
Another fish that sticks in my mind from late September was a coloured cock fish around the 14lb mark from Ballogie. I had got up early one morning as I had to be home for the afternoon. I got to the beat just after 7am and arrived to find two rods on the opposite bank fishing the same pool. This kind of  took the wind out of my sails as it was the only pool holding fish on my side and it was already being heavily fished. The rush to get on the water was over so I took my time tackling up and sat on the bench awaiting my turn to fish the pool. I decided on fishing a very large Red Frances as I felt I needed to show the fish something they may not have seen that morning already. I waded out and began to fish to my optimum length when all of a sudden a fish grabbed the fly! I quickly beached the fish which as I mentioned was a coloured cock salmon around the 14lb mark. It was extremely satisfying landing a fish from a pool that the opposition had both fished through before me without any luck. The early bird doesn't always catch the worm it seems! I landed several more fish for September and details of all these fish can be found by looking back my earlier posts on this Blog.

Patience pays off! A good sized Salmon fish from Ballogie. 
October

I had a very good October on both the Dee and Don this year. Not to be out done by my Dad who landed 3 salmon just a few days before, I was lucky enough to land 4 for my day on the 11th October. The first of the 4 was a grilse around the 5lb mark from Lower Fintray. I then headed up river to fish Manar where I landed another 3. All in the space of 90 minutes! This was my best day on the Don and although all fish were coloured, it was great to see the river with healthy numbers occupying the pools; especially on the lower and middle sections.

1 of 4 from Lower Fintray on the 11th October.
2 of 4. A wee grilse from Manar which took a Pink Franc N Snaelda.
3 of 4. A 7lb cock Salmon which also fell to a Pink Franc n Snaelda.

4 of 4. Only a few casts later I landed this coloured fish around the 5lb mark. A cracking day on the Don!
I finished off my Dee season on the 14th and 15th October at Carlogie and then Ballogie thanks to an invite from Sean Stanton. I had 3 fish from my 2 days and between us all we had a cracking couple of days. It was nice to go out on a high by filling up the catch book a bit more. Hopefully next year things will improve as a total catch for the entire river of less than 3000 salmon is a very poor return for the rod effort the river sees on a daily basis. I am an optimist though and I firmly believe that the river will bounce back next year like it always has done. 

An older fish from the Dee at Carlogie on the 14th. 

A hen Salmon from the Boat Pool at Carlogie.

My final Salmon of the 2019 River Dee season. A feisty wee cock fish from Ballogie. All 3 fish fell to the deadly Pink Franc N Snaelda again.
The final few days of the season were successful ones for me and I was fortunate enough to land a few fish for my efforts. My final fish for the season was landed on the last day from the Kemnay beat of the River Don. It was just a small, coloured grilse but it was nice to end the year with another fish in my book.
Last but not least! My final Salmon of 2019 from the River Don on the 31st October.
I hope you have enjoyed reliving some of my highlights with me and I will look forward to updating my Blog on a regular basis next season with hopefully plenty more salmon. Until then though, it is time to get the fly boxes stocked up again with my favourite flies for attracting the coveted prize that is a fresh run springer!

Franc N Snaelda tubes. Absolutely deadly!
To all my fishing pals and ghilles, who have as usual, massively contributed to my salmon fishing enjoyment this year. You guys have done this by passing on your wealth of knowledge and, of course by putting me onto the fish! It is always much appreciated and I cannot thank you guys enough. Here's to doing it all again next year. Slange Var!

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Closing Day Salmon From The Don

I had a few hours out on the River Don today as it was the final day of the fishing season. I wasn’t expecting much action as the fish seemed to have switched to spawning mode this week but I did manage to land a wee grilse from the Aberdeen & District Angling Association beat at Kemnay. It was a nice way to round off my season. Roll on next year!

No.31 My final salmon of the 2019 fishing season.