The new salmon fishing season opened on February 11th for our local rivers the Spey and the River Findhorn. River levels were running quite high on Altyre Estate for the start of our new fishing season, reading 2’1” on the Forres gauge on the River Findhorn. It was a cold and bright start and river temperatures were feeling chilly underneath the waders, with this onset of early snow melt water running off the River Findhorn catchment.
By Monday, February 12th, the weather started turning unseasonably mild as more of our hill snow melted away, keeping river levels running high throughout the rest of the week. On Wednesday, February 13th, overhead temperatures were recorded at 15 degrees C at Kinloss, which is virtually unheard of in this part of the World at this time of year! The weather became progressively even milder over the forthcoming days and into the week commencing February 18th. This early mini heat wave was somewhat alarming with river levels starting to fall away over the course of the week, as our precious snow reserves were dissipating quickly! There was certainly no shortage of kelts to be caught in these early weeks, which were in fine condition and giving our rods some good early season sport.
I could not help thinking that with this early onset of much milder weather that there would surely be one or two early Spring fish getting ready to run the River Findhorn. On Thursday, February 21st, I was fishing with good friend, Leslie Tyson. River levels were really looking perfect at 1’6” on the Forres gauge, surely today would be the day for our first Spring salmon of 2019!
It was another mild (warm) and overcast day, so I decided to head upstream to fish Soldier’s Hole Pool, whilst Leslie was going to have a cast through the fabulous Roehillock Pool. I set up my Bruce and Walker 15’ Powerlite with a Rio AFS shooting head line and fast sink tip leader. Fly of choice was one of Leslie’s 1” Altyre Dog tube flies. At 1’6” I knew it would be just about manageable to wade out on to the ledge at the top of the pool and fish my way slowly down, fishing off the ledge.
I started off as always, on a short cast gradually lengthening line and let the fly swing through the deep hole. It was coming around perfectly and within minutes of starting a really good solid pull and I was into a strong fish. My first thoughts were, this was the one, it couldn’t be a kelt in here and certainly not as strong as this fish. I called Leslie and within a few minutes he was up beside me smiling as he walked up. I managed to negotiate my way around and off the ledge to bring the fish down into a good beaching position. This fish fought hard and so strong, making my 15’ Powerlite work hard too.
What an absolute thrill to feel that first Spring salmon of the season, pulling hard and making my Hardy Angel reel scream out! Leslie was getting ready to help me, as I managed to finally get the big fish into position and then slowly get his head onto the stones, where he lay for a moment, as I bent down to keep him steady and in the water. This was it, my (our) first Spring salmon of the season and the first fresh fish of the season to be caught from the River Findhorn, wow what an absolute joy as my legs and hands were shaking with excitement. That feeling never ever leaves you, even after several years of hooking one or two fish in my lifetime!
I carefully unhooked the fish, which had one or two sea lice along its back, while Leslie clicked away on the camera and then I pointed the cock fish into the right direction and he shot off back into the deep dark water like a bullet, fantastic! We both congratulated each other and headed off back to the hut for that very important “first fish of the season” dram! My goodness it tasted like nothing else, pure Balvenie Doublewood 12 year old, sheer nectar!
A little later on we had heard of another fresh fish being caught just upstream of Altyre Estate on Darnaway and another from Forres AA a couple of days later. So, they were in the system and moving upstream at last. We took the water temperature a little later on the day and recorded an astonishing 45 degrees F or 7.2 C. I do not ever recall water temperatures so high and so very early. This would mean that fish should be able to ascend the Sluie Falls at Poolie without too much of a problem, although we still have not heard of any fish being caught above the Poolie Falls, as yet. I imagine it should not be too long before one or two fresh fish are caught up on the Middle Beats.
As we moved into late February, river levels were falling away quickly, as the weather remained mild and settled. However, by the week commencing March 4th, we saw a return to more unsettled weather with periods of heavy rain falling over the River Findhorn catchment. River levels were reading 1’10” on the Forres gauge and the river was looking in great condition. I was hopeful that with the onset of some very high Spring tides and with good water levels, we may well see another run of early fish. It was also very noticeable that since the previous February, weeks of very mild or warm weather even, that suddenly there seemed to be a shortage of kelts. In normal February/March conditions of colder weather, we would be catching numbers of kelts every day, well into April, but there was suddenly a dearth of them. We were intrigued by this sudden disappearance and wonder whether the kelts are triggered by warmer water conditions to migrate from the rivers to make their next feeding run back into the north Atlantic. We fished hard through much of the week and were only rewarded with a few well mended kelts and sadly no more fresh fish yet!
For the week commencing March 10th, we have seen river levels running very high for much of the week, as more unsettled weather has kept the rivers topped up and fishing conditions have been rather difficult to say the least! However, we are now also seeing a return to much colder conditions of late and as I write this report, I am delighted to say that there seems to be ample quantities of snow falling over the River Findhorn, River Spey and River Dee catchments at this time.
I am, therefore, feeling hopeful that if river levels settle a little bit for next week, then we should start to see the main Spring run of salmon moving into the river systems before very long. We have more big Spring tides looming up for next week, so hopefully this will encourage more fish to enter the River Findhorn system.
I shall be updating the Salmon Fishing News on a regular basis. In the meantime, if you are interested in booking up any fishing on the River Findhorn, then please contact me: [email protected] for availability and costs.
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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.