As we moved into the first week of September, river levels had fallen back considerably over the previous weekend and we had briefly entered another period of late Summer weather, hot and dry! Luckily, it was short lived and we soon saw a more unsettled theme approaching, with further outbreaks of heavy rain falling over the River Findhorn, River Spey and River Dee catchments.
After some heavy overnight rain falling through Thursday, September 6th, there were signs of the river levels finally rising by Saturday, September 8th! However, after such heavy rain, the river was looking really very brown and dirty early on, but finally clearing a little by late Saturday evening. Ian Neale managed to hook and release a small 3 lb. grilse and lost another in Roan Pool on Altyre Estate, River Findhorn, on a small Willie Dog tube late Saturday evening.
On Monday, September 10th, river levels were reading 3” on the Forres gauge and 5” on the Shenachie gauge upstream of Cawdor Estate. Ian Neale hooked a cracking sea trout of around 3 lbs. from the top of the Scur Pool on the Upper Beat on Altyre Estate in the morning. A little later on and another grilse was hooked and lost in the top of William’s Run on the Upper Beat. By around 3.30 p.m. the river was rising once again within five minutes it had come up by over three feet, very dirty and that was it for the day, time for an early dram!
Tuesday, September 11th, river levels had fallen back reading 1’ on the Shenachie gauge and 1’ on the Forres gauge. I was joined by regular clients Tim Jessop and Tony Norman for the day. It was a cloudy overcast day and very windy. River levels were spot on, but water clarity was not! Therefore, it was slow going all day and not a fish to be seen on any of the Altyre Estate beats. River levels continued to yo-yo over the next day or two and water clarity was proving to be an issue.
However, by Thursday September 13th, river levels were reading 9” on the Forres gauge with a significant improvement to be seen in the water clarity. Ian Neale managed to hook and release a grilse of around 5 lbs. from the Scur Pool on the Upper Beat, a 4 lb. grilse from Williams Run and another 4 lb. grilse from the tail of Soldier’s Hole, together with several other pulls and tweaks along the way! At last, things were definitely improving and fish were running.
Friday, September 14th, river levels were reading 9” on the Forres gauge and rising slightly. It was a cloudy and overcast morning becoming brighter and sunnier by late afternoon. I was joined by one of my lifelong friends Nigel Warren-Thomas and his wife, Susie from Suffolk. Nigel has never been salmon fishing apart from a one off day with me on the Isle of Mull back in the early 1980’s where he had caught a lovely fresh fish of around 6 lbs. from the Sea Pool on the River Ba. Why it had taken him some thirty six odd years to decide on having another go heaven only knows, but his timing was really looking quite perfect!
A morning of fairly intensive Spey casting tuition for both Nigel and Susie was needed and before very long they were both handling their Bruce and Walker 12’ Spey caster Norway’s with ease. Now, all that was needed was a fish! It was good to see one or two more fish running and some fairly large specimens, as well. Apart from a couple of good pulls in Roan Pool earlier on, we were still looking for that elusive fish! Finally, I had waited to take them to the Scur Pool on the Upper Altyre Beat, which would surely be a good opportunity of a fish. Sure enough just a little way down through the pool and Nigel’s reel screamed out and it was “Fish On” at last. It was a strong fish, which gave Nigel some great sport and a few anxious moments, but he handled it well. Finally, he was able to beach a cracking coloured cock fish of around the 7 lb. mark and we were all delighted. Do not wait for another thirty-six years again Nigel, for the next salmon opportunity!!
On Saturday, September 15th and despite river levels still running at a very respectable 10” on the Forres gauge, it was very quiet with very few fish being seen or touched all day. By late Saturday evening, heavy rain had set in once again and by 8:00 p.m. river levels had risen dramatically reading 2’ at Shenachie and 1’8” at Forres and rising!
By Monday, September 17th, river levels were running at 1’2” on the Forres gauge. The river was running quite dirty in the morning, however, slowly but surely, it started falling and clearing and by 3:00 p.m. was looking far more fishable and with better clarity. Ian Neale managed to pull two fish in the Soldier’s Hole on the Upper Beat and was finally rewarded with a hard fighting fish of around 6 lbs., hooked on a 1” Altyre Dog tube from the top of William’s Run, and quickly released. The rain continued to pour all night long and by Tuesday, September 18th river levels were reading 4’2” on the Forres gauge and it was a case of “Brown and Out”!
On Wednesday, September 19th, river levels had fallen away reading 1’2” on the Shenachie gauge and 1’10” on the Forres gauge. It was another wild and windy Autumnal day as Storm Ali made his appearance felt! The river was running quite dirty early on, falling away and then rising once again by around 2:00 p.m. I was doing a little “beat hopping” between Glenferness Estate and Altyre Estate throughout the day. After lunch, Ian managed to hook and release a cock grilse of around 5 lbs. from the Island Pool on Mini Daltra Beat on Glenferness Estate. Then a little later on another 5 lb. fish from the tail of Roehillock Pool on the Upper Beat on Altyre Estate. Finally, fish number three was hooked from the tail of Roehillock Pool, on Altyre Estate. It was a cracking deep hen fish of around 12 lbs. All fish were hooked on a 1” Altyre Dog tube fly tied up by my very good friend, Leslie Tyson. All fish are quickly released back into the river. By 7:00 p.m., the river was on the move once again, reading 3’11” on the Shenachie gauge and 4’ on the Forres gauge!
On Thursday, September 20th, I was back on Altyre Estate, River Findhorn with complete beginners, the brothers Andrew and Alasdair McDonald, who were enjoying their first taste of Spey casting and salmon fishing. River levels were, needless to say, running very high and still dirty and reading 3’3” on the Forres gauge. There was still a sting in the tail from Storm Ali and so I decided to take the two brothers up to Palamore Pool, which is the most sheltered pool on Altyre Estate. We spent the whole morning just getting to grips with the basic roll cast and progressing to the right handed double Spey cast off the right shoulder. Andrew and Alasdair soon got to grips with the task in hand and before long were both putting out a really good line over the water. River levels were also falling away and water was clearing quickly, so I was keen to get them into a fish later on in the afternoon as levels continued to fall away. By around 4:00 p.m., levels had fallen away and reading around 2’2” on the Forres gauge with much better clarity and suddenly one or two fish started showing in Roan Pool on the Lower Beat. It was Andrew who caught the first fish, a small 4 lb. grilse from the Roan Pool on a size 6 Purple Cascade fished on a floating line, and safely released. A little later on in the evening I managed to hook and release another fish of around 8 lbs. on a Purple Cascade tube, also from Roan Pool. There were another two fish pulled in Roan Pool, which didn’t connect, but things were certainly looking up now.
On Friday, September 21st river levels were reading 1’7” on the Forres gauge with water clarity improving all the time. It was a cloudy overcast morning with more rain falling until around lunchtime. I was also joined by one of my other regular clients Robert “Bob the Builder” Mull who was on his way down from a small building assignment up in Sutherland, complete with white van and cement mixer on board!
Alasdair McDonald didn’t take too long to hook his first fish from Roan Pool, a small grilse of around 3 lbs. hooked on a small Orjok tube fished on a floating line. Robert Mull also enjoyed a great day of sport with a fish of around 8 lbs. from the Scur Pool and another two fish of around 9 lbs. and 5 lbs. from the Roan Pool, all hooked and released on small Monkey tube fly.
Finally, a little later on in the afternoon, I decided to take Andrew and Alasdair to the Scur Pool to finish off their final day of salmon fishing. Alasdair was first up and I put him into the top of the pool and he made his was way down through the pool. About half way down and just as the little Orjok tube swung through the stream followed a scream off his reel as a really big fish took hold of the fly and headed off downstream at a rate of knots! It was clearly a big fish and fought with that big fish attitude and strength, testing Alasdair’s stamina as the fly line and backing were stripped away within a few minutes of the hook up! Bearing in mind until this time his only experience of playing a salmon was a 4 lb. Grilse just the day before, he suddenly found himself in another league, but handled the situation with aplomb! Finally, with a little guidance and instruction he was able to bring the big fish in closely and I was able to get the net underneath the big fish. It really was some brute of a fish and an estimate of around 15 lbs. plus was given, before a quick couple of photos and the magnificent cock fish swam away with as much aggression as it had shown in the battle! Well done Alasdair and what an introduction to salmon fly fishing on the River Findhorn.
On Saturday, September 22nd, river levels were reading 1’4” on the Forres gauge and rising. It was another cloudy/sunny day with a brisk breeze southerly blowing. Leslie Tyson was up early and managed to hook and release a couple of grilse of around 4 lbs. and 5 lbs., both from Roan Pool. I was also joined by Jean-Francois and Genevieve Laroche from Canada, who had booked a half day of salmon fishing and Spey casting instruction with me on Altyre Estate, River Findhorn. They were soon putting out a great line across the Roan Pool and suddenly it was fish on for Jean Francois, as the Hardy reel screamed out, but he put the brakes on too soon and that was it, fish off! It was such a shame to hook and lose a fish, just down to inexperience really.
Meanwhile, Robert Mull was enjoying another great day, with three more fish hooked and released. He had one fish of around 9 lbs. from the tail of Palamore Pool and another couple of fish, of around 12 lbs. and 5 lbs. both from the Roan Pool on the Lower Beat and all three fish hooked on the monkey tube fly. A little later on in the evening and I managed to hook and release another fish of around 5 lbs. on a small Purple Cascade tube from the Roan Pool. Leslie Tyson also hooked and released a sea trout of around 2 lbs. from the tail of Roehillock Pool on the Upper Beat.
All in all, it was another really great week of fishing, with a total of sixteen salmon and grilse, plus one sea trout from the Altyre Estate, River Findhorn Beats. As always, it was such a great pleasure for me to introduce beginners to the noble art of salmon fly fishing and to see all of them hook at least one fish, was indeed rewarding enough.
By Monday September 24th, river levels were reading 11” on the Forres gauge and 11” on the Shenachie gauge. It was another breezy day with some strong gusts blowing from time to time, but not feeling too cold. It was going to be another day of “Beat Hopping” for Leslie Tyson and myself. We were moving from Altyre Estate, Lower Beat and Mini Daltra Beat up on Glenferness Estate. I was up on Mini Daltra beat early and left Leslie to start on Altyre Estate. I thought that my luck would be in on the Garden Pool, but sadly not a tweak! I then walked to the Kennel Pool above and put out a long line across the fast flowing stream. As the fly swung around below me, it was taken solidly and another big fish of around 14 lbs. was hooked, taken on the Purple Cascade tube. It was another cracking big strong cock fish which was quickly released and swam away strongly. A little later on and another small cock grilse of around 4 lbs. was hooked from one of my old favourite pools, Secret Spot, in the tail of Lairds Pool on Mini Daltra. Meanwhile, back down on Altyre Estate, Leslie was enjoying some great sport with another four fish of around 8 lbs., 6 lbs., 5 lbs. and 4 lbs. all from Roan Pool on the Lower Beat and all fish hooked and released on the Altyre Dog tube. We decided to switch beats and Leslie Tyson, managed to hook and release another two fish from the Garden Pool up on Glenferness Estate, Mini Daltra Beat.
A little later on, I was back on Altyre Estate, where things had gone a little quiet in Roan Pool. However, just around 6:00 p.m. a small run suddenly started to appear below me. Within ten minutes, I had hooked and released another two strong cock fish of around 6 lbs. and 7 lbs. apiece, both on the Purple Cascade tube. Just as quickly as it had got busy, it suddenly went quiet again, the run had gone through and that was it for the day. However, a total of ten fish up to 14 lbs. between us was really amazing and what a great day of fishing sport from the fabulous River Findhorn. But the week was not over just yet!
On Tuesday, September 25th, river levels were reading 10” on the Forres gauge and another windy day was in store for us. Leslie Tyson managed just the one fish of around 4 lbs. from the Roan Pool on a small Altyre Dog tube. In fact, it all went a little quieter over the next couple of days, with few fish being seen or pulled all day on Wednesday, September 26th, despite good river levels for us on Altyre Estate.
By Thursday, September 27th, river levels were reading 1’4” on the Forres gauge after further rain falling over the River Findhorn catchment. There was no shortage of fish to be seen running either, but they were not for stopping by and large. I managed to finally hook a nice fish of around 7 lbs. from the Roan Pool later on in the afternoon and that was it for the day!
It is Friday, September 28th and after further heavy outbreaks of rain falling over the River Findhorn catchment river levels were reading 1’1” on the Shenachie gauge and 1’1” on the Forres gauge, with perfect water clarity up on the Upper River. I had a feeling that this might just be another great day coming up here with a little luck! However, the Lower River was not looking so clear and it seemed that between hopping beats, looking over the River Divie bridge, the water was introducing more sediment and generally more coloured water. It was also another day of beat hopping between Glenferness Estate and Altyre Estate water. It was a really lovely day, weather wise, mild and a little overcast with some sunny spells.
Leslie Tyson enjoyed something of a red letter day with a total of seven fish between 5 lbs. and 15 lbs., with four fish from the Garden Pool, one fish from the Lady’s Pool, one fish from Island Pool and one fish from Maharajah’s Pool on Mini Daltra at Glenferness Estate. I managed to hook and release a grilse of around 5 lbs. on a small Purple Cascade tube from the Maharajah’s Pool.
Unfortunately, the water clarity back down on Altyre Estate simply did not improve all day and the beat was blank! I decided on taking one more last swing up through Mini Daltra on Glenferness Estate before darkness fell. I went up to the Garden Pool and felt optimistic of getting a fish here, but nothing, not a tweak and not a fish to be seen! I then decided it was worth going back up to the Kennel Pool and try my luck here again. A long cast across the fast stream and just as the fly came round below me, another solid pull and another big fish was on. This was incredible and such a strong fish to play in this strong current. I played the fish hard and finally was able to beach a cracking summer run hen fish of around 18 lbs. to 19lbs, which I was able to get a quick photo of before releasing her back in the River Findhorn. She swam off strongly and I was quite delighted to hook up with my biggest fish of the season on the penultimate day of the season, what a thrill! So, that was another nine fish between us for the day and all nine coming from the Mini Daltra Beat on Glenferness Estate, great stuff!
On Saturday, September 29th, river levels were reading 1’1” on the Forres gauge and it was another wind blowing day. However, water clarity was still by no means perfect on the Lower River and it was disappointingly quiet throughout the day. Leslie Tyson, finally manage to hook and release a grilse of around 4 lbs. from the tail of the St. John’s Pool on the Lower Beat of Altyre Estate.
So that was another great fishing week, with a total of twenty-two salmon and grilse, thirteen from Glenferness Estate and nine fish from Altyre Estate. What a great way to end our season, after what can only be described as rather frustrating for much of the Summer, as low water and heat wave conditions prevailed. However, it was not all bad news, as I have already mentioned the Lower River Beats on Forres AA were simply stuffed full of salmon and grilse for much of late June through to late August. If you would like to see the recording of these fish, click on the following link: https://youtu.be/sW9BOh2qPVU , which takes you to an absolutely superb piece of underwater footage, where the fish can be seen lying from nose to tail in these pools from Roadside Pool off the A96 all the way down to the Sea Pool below. It is quite astonishing to watch this footage and really uplifting to see so many salmon and grilse in the River Findhorn pools. This is not a scene from Alaska, but the River Findhorn right here in the Highlands of Scotland!
So, with that thought in mind, as frustrating as it may have been for all of us anglers, it is so very heartening to know that our beloved rivers are in such good shape and bodes well for a successful spawning season ahead for these fabulous fish.
We are now taking bookings for the 2019 salmon fishing season, which will open on February 11, 2019. We have some great fishing opportunities available for the Spring, Summer, and Autumn fishing for the upcoming fishing season on the River Findhorn, River Spey and the River Dee, so please do contact me, [email protected] to discuss your requirements and availability.
I shall resume updating my reports for the 2019 fishing season once again when the fishing season reopens in February, 2019.
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Ian Neale, known as the Speycaster, is a seasoned fishing guide with extensive experience in renowned global fishing locations like the Ponoi River in Russia and the Rio Grande in Tierra Del Fuego. A published author, he has written extensively on salmon and sea trout fishing, with his first book, “Shadows in the Stream,” released in 2000. Ian has also appeared on various TV programs, demonstrating his expertise in Speycasting and discussing the importance of wild Atlantic salmon stocks to local economies. His passion for fishing and respect for nature are evident in all his endeavors.