The new salmon fishing season opened February 12th on the River Spey and the River Findhorn. However, despite catching a good number of well mended kelts on Altyre and Darnaway Beats on the River Findhorn, there were no fresh fish caught during the opening month. Then, as we moved into early March, which is usually when we expect to see our first early run of fish on the back of the big Spring tides, all hopes were dashed as the “Beast from the East” arrived with a vengeance!
With heavy snow falling across much of the Scottish Highlands and freezing cold overnight temperatures, river levels fell away dramatically, as the River Findhorn became enveloped in a winter wonderland of snow and ice!
Slowly but surely, day time air temperatures started to rise as a slow thaw began to materialise and on March 11th we started to see river levels on the rise at last. There was also news of a fresh fish being hooked and lost by Geoff Holloway on the Forres Angling water and at last it seemed that the first of the early Spring salmon were moving into the lower river system.
The week commencing March 12th saw river levels running at a very respectable 1’2” on the Forres gauge and hopes were running high. However, despite catching several kelts and one or two missed opportunities, we were unable to get our first fish of the season in the book! By the middle of the week, we saw a return to bitterly cold weather conditions with a gale force easterly wind blowing for several days. There was news of some fresh fish, one of twenty pounds, being caught above us on the Home Beat on Darnaway, which was indeed encouraging to hear, but we had just been a little unlucky!
By the start of the week commencing March 19th, river levels had fallen away and reading 8” on the Forres gauge. Then, by Wednesday March 21st and with milder conditions, caused the river to rise by 2’6” overnight! The river was running high and dirty for the next couple of days and no fish were seen or pulled.
By Monday, March 26th, river levels had fallen away and reading 1’1” on the Forres gauge and the weather was starting to feel vaguely Spring like! David Profumo was fishing for the first two days of the week and managed to catch a well mended kelt from Roan Pool, but the fresh 2018 models were still not yielding themselves yet!
On Wednesday, March 28th, river levels were running at 1’6” on the Forres gauge and it was feeling milder with the odd shower of rain falling from time to time. Just after lunch, Ian Neale was finally rewarded with our first fresh Spring salmon of the season. It was a cracking fish of around eight pounds, hooked and released in the Roehillock Pool on the Upper Beat, on a Purple Cascade tube fly. At last we were up and running and had opened our account for the 2018 season!
On Thursday, March 29th, I was joined by Andrew Flitcroft and Leslie Tyson and river levels were reading 1’2” on the Forres gauge, but only two kelts were recorded for the day, which was a little disappointing.
However, on Friday, March 30th, river levels had fallen away and reading 10” on the Forres gauge. It was a cloudy and cooler day with brighter intervals from time to time. In the morning just before lunch, Ian Neale managed to pull a fish twice to the Purple Cascade in the tail of Palamore Pool and hopes were raised. We left the pool rested over lunchtime and returned a little later on.
Leslie Tyson went through the pool and managed to catch his first Findhorn Spring salmon of the season on his needle Monkey tube fly. It was a lovely sea-liced fish of around eight pounds and after a couple of photos, was realised back into the river. Celebrations all round that evening and a well earned dram was in order back at Bradbush for our second fish of the season.
By Saturday, March 31st, river levels were running at 9” on the Forres gauge and it was a cloudy overcast day with a cool south easterly breeze. Leslie Tyson went down to the Roan Pool and after pulling a fish, managed to hook and release another fresh fish of around twelve pounds, suddenly giving us fish number three in as many days and things were looking up! A little later on in the day he pulled another fish in the tail of the St. John’s Pool on the Lower Beat.
By Monday, April 2nd, and river levels had fallen away over the weekend reading 6” on the Forres gauge. This was the first of my two annual Spring weeks with combined fishing on the Meads of St. John Beat together with Altyre Lower Beat. It was a bitterly cold day with a keen north easterly wind blowing annoyingly upstream and apart from one large sea trout kelt from the Tail of Meads pool to Andrew Mcinnes, there were no other fish touched or pulled for the day.
On Tuesday, April 3rd, I was joined by Leslie Tyson. River levels had crept up a little, reading 7” on the Forres gauge. It was another bitterly cold morning with heavy and persistent snow showers falling even down to lower levels! We decided to make a slightly later start and after a leisurely lunch in the hut, we made a start. Leslie headed off downstream to cover the Cottall Island Pool, New Pool and the St. John’s Pool, whilst I went upstream to fish the Scur Pool. I hadn’t been fishing long when Leslie called me on the walkie-talkie to say he was playing a belter of a fish in the St. John’s Pool! I reeled in and quickly made my way down to St. John’s just in time to get a couple of photos of a cracking deep fish of around twelve pounds.
It was a classic Findhorn Spring fish, deep shouldered and full of muscle! Leslie asked me if I would like to have a cast. I insisted it was his pool, and that he should go in again, as there was always a chance of another fish. Sure enough, with his first cast back into the pool, he hooked and landed number two, another lovely fresh spring fish of around eight pounds. This was truly superb fishing, two fresh spring salmon in two casts! It was turning into something of an afternoon for sure.
After the excitement, I headed back off upstream to carry on in the Scur Pool where I had left off. I had not been fishing for long as I was slowly drawing the fly line back in and bang, the Purple Cascade tube fly was taken hard. After a short while and with a really good scrap, I had fish number three safely beached of around 9lbs and managed to get a quick photo, before I released it back into the pool. Meanwhile, further downstream in the St. John’s Pool, Leslie, “The Tysonator”, Tyson had hooked his third fish of the afternoon, another sea-liced fish of around nine pounds to his favourite Needle Monkey tube fly. We fished on for a bit longer into the evening, but that was it for our short afternoon, four fabulous Findhorn Spring salmon, all taken in a two hour period! This is spring salmon fishing at its very best. What an afternoon to remember and all in early April!
On Wednesday, April 4th, river levels had risen to 11” overnight on the back of the rain from Tuesday and a small release of snow melt water. It was a mixed day of weather, with snow, sleet and rain, but brightening up later in the day. There was still a keen north eastern breeze blowing upstream. I was joined by Ian Gordon for the day, who was fishing on the Meads beat for the first time. We fished hard all morning, but it was really quiet and not a fish to be seen anywhere! However, later on in the afternoon we returned to the St. John’s Pool on the Meads Beat, which was looking in good order. I watched as Ian made his way down the pool and decided to make my way up to the Cottall Island Pool for a cast. I had only just gone around the corner when I heard a loud whistle and Tulla responded immediately, by heading back down to the St. John’s Pool. When I arrived, sure enough, Ian was playing a good sized fish, which was a cracking Spring salmon of around ten pounds, an absolute belter!
After a couple of photos the fish was safely released back into the water and took off like a bullet. This was also Ian’s first fresh Spring fish of the season and he was clearly delighted, as was I. The fish was hooked on a 1½ green bodied Willie Gunn tube fly.
On Thursday, April 5th, I was joined by the Adam MacDonald party, who was fishing with his wife Mia and friend Andy Sutherland from Helmsdale. River levels had crept up once again and reading 1’1” on the Forres gauge. It was a more settled day with some long sunny spells, but still with a chilly breeze. Conditions looked really perfect and my clients fished hard all day, but unfortunately no fish were seen or touched!
By Friday, April 7th, river levels remained at 1’1” on the Forres gauge, rising to 1’4” later on in the afternoon. Adam was joined by friend and newcomer to salmon fishing Adam Wilshire, plus Ron Sutherland from the Helmsdale Company (www.helmsdalecompany.com). Adam MacDonald pulled a fish in the St. John’s Pool and shortly afterwards hooked the same fish, but the hooks pulled out and the fish was gone! Later on in the afternoon, Ron Sutherland hooked a cracking fresh Spring salmon of around thirteen pounds from the Tail of Scur Pool on the Meads Beat. This was also Ron’s first Spring salmon of the season and he was delighted to open his account for the season on the River Findhorn!
By Saturday, April 7th, river levels were reading 1’1” on the Forres gauge rising and 1’6” at Shenachie as a result of melting snow water. The day was cloudy and cooler to start with, becoming much warmer as the day wore on and with air temperatures reaching the dizzy heights of 13.C! The river continued to rise for much of the day and despite seeing a few running fish early on, there were no offers or pulls anywhere. However, we ended up the week with six fish landed and another fish hooked and lost, which was a really great result and leaving all of my clients feeling extremely happy.
By Sunday, April 8th, river levels had reached 2’2” on the Shenachie gauge and 2’8” on the Forres gauge, which was looking promising for the week ahead.
On Monday, April 9th,, I was joined by regular clients, David Tisdale, Des Dunlop, Robert Mull and a newcomer to salmon fishing, Mark Pearce from London. We were starting our second week of fishing on Altyre Estatebeats and the Meads of St. John Beat on Darnaway. River levels were still running quite high reading 2’3” on the Forres gauge. It was cloudy and overcast, but feeling much milder than of late. Robert Mull managed to hook a well mended kelt from Palamore Island Pool, which gave a good account of itself!
By Tuesday, April 10th, river levels had fallen to 1’10” on the Forres gauge and looking in perfect order and with good clarity. It was a cloudy and overcast day with some light rain falling through much of the afternoon. David Tisdale was the first to see some action, by hooking a large kelt in St. John’s Pool. A little later on, he hooked and quickly lost a fresh fish from the tail of Scur Pool from the Meads bank. Robert Mull managed to hook and release the same kelt that he had hooked the day before in Palamore Island Pool and in exactly the same lie, which was incredible and the fish has now been named Roberta in his honour! After lunch, Robert Mull hooked and lost another fresh fish from the Scur Pool on the Meads Beat, Darnaway.
I took Des Dunlop up to fish off the big rock in the tail of Roehillock Pool, which was looking in perfect order and within a couple of casts, he soon hooked into a fresh fish. However, after a really good scrap and almost to the net, the hooks pulled out and the fish was gone, this was turning into something of a disastrous day on the river! Des then went up to Soldier’s Hole Pool and managed to hook another fish right in the tail of the pool, which tried hard to leave the pool and head downstream into William’s Run. I managed to get Des to walk the fish upstream and finally we had it in the net, a cracking fish of around eleven pounds and covered in long tailed sea lice. The winning fly was a ¾” Purple Cascade copper tube. This had certainly been a day of great excitement with three fish hooked and lost and finally another landed, great stuff!
Wednesday, April 11th, river levels had risen once again and reading 2’3” on the Forres gauge, but still perfect clarity. It was another cloudy and overcast morning becoming brighter and much warmer by the afternoon. David Tisdale managed to hook and release a lovely fresh fish of around seven pounds from the Scur Pool on the Meads Beat, Darnaway bank. The fish was hooked on a 1 ½” Altyre Dog tube fly.
On Thursday, April 12th, river levels were reading 2’ on the Forres gauge and falling. I was joined by another new client fishing on the River Findhorn for the first time, Rob Newton from Yorkshire and Leslie Tyson. Ian Gordon and his friend Chris from Norway had also come over for the day. It was another bright and sunny day, feeling very warm once again. Water clarity was spot on and we were feeling hopeful. Leslie Tyson managed to pull a fish twice in the tail of Palamore Island, but that was it!
Later on in the afternoon, we started to see good numbers of fresh fish running through the pools, which was an encouraging sign. Leslie Tyson stayed on with Rob Newton and they decided to head down to the Garden Pool on the Altyre bank for a last cast into the evening. Leslie guided Rob into the pool and he waded down towards the hot spot and sure enough, a good pull on the reel and it was “fish on”! The fish fought really hard in the strong current and finally Rob was able to beach the fish with Leslie on hand to help him. It was a really stunning fresh Spring fish of around fourteen pounds, an absolute cracker! The fish was hooked on a 1”Altyre Dog tube fly tied up by Leslie Tyson. After a couple of photos the fish was quickly released back into the water.
Over the next two days river levels remained on the high side at around 1’10 and we were seeing fewer fish running, which was disappointing. Apart from a couple of well mended kelts from Roan Pool and Palamore Island Pool, that was it and no more fresh fish were caught. However, it had been another great week with three fresh hooked and released another three fish hooked and lost!
As we move into the middle of April, I am hoping that we still have good reserves of snow and ice melt to keep river levels topped up over the forthcoming weeks. Hopefully, we will also start to see the main runs of Spring salmon moving into the Lower River Findhorn and looking forward to more great sport to come. Please do contact me, [email protected], for further information on availability for guided salmon fishing on the River Findhorn, River Spey and River Dee.
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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.