Following on from my last report two weeks ago, we saw a change in weather conditions in the Highlands of Scotland, as significant amounts of snow fell over the River Findhorn, Dee and Spey catchments, which was indeed most welcome!
By Monday, March 18th river levels were running at 2’2” on the Forres gauge and we had seen an overnight frost, giving us a chilly, but bright start to the new fishing week. The river was looking in perfect order and with great water clarity and I was feeling hopeful of seeing one or two fish moving into the Lower River Findhorn system over the forthcoming week.
My team for the first three days of the week were lead by regular client Iain MacDonald from London, Ben Mack from Midlothian, Tom Watson and Brendan Scallan, who were both salmon fishing for their first time. Much of my time was spent giving Spey Casting instruction and sorting out one or two tackle issues before lunch. However, by the afternoon everything was fitting into place, casting was coming on and it was just a question of putting the fly across the pools and in front of a Spring bar of silver!
A little later in the afternoon, I decided to take Iain MacDonald to cast a fly across the Scur Pool, which was looking in perfect order. We waded in carefully to the edge of the fast stream and I told Iain to cast a shortish line across and let it swing in below us. At this height of water, the fish would be running up our side and therefore, a long cast was not necessary. He listened carefully to my advice and started working his way down. First of all, the heavy tube fly snagged on the rocks as it came onto the dangle. So a change of fly was required, something a little light, a 1” Altyre Dog tied by Leslie Tyson seemed to be in order. Then he carried on working down along the edge of the stream with me right behind him watching every move and every cast!
Within another few minutes as the fly swung around on to the dangle and Iain cursed as he thought he had snagged the bottom again, until he lifted the rod sharply and all hell broke loose as a large flash of silver exploded across the pool, followed by another reel screaming run and Iain was into the fish of a lifetime. After some initial panic and some quick instruction from me, about when to let the fish run and when to reel in, he was soon in control. This fish, however, had other ideas and made some incredibly long runs down through the Scur Pool with most of his backing disappearing quickly, before the fish stopped for a breather. Iain then slowly started bringing the big fish back towards us, and for the first time he was in control of the fish. However, it was not over by any means and the fish repeatedly made some energetic runs back down the pool. At one point I heard Iain say, ”Thank goodness you are with me, I don’t know how I would have handled this on my own”!
Finally and after some twenty five minutes of furious action, I guided Iain back towards the shore and he gradually brought the big fish towards my waiting net and in it went. Fabulous, what an absolute cracker of a fish! We managed to weight it quickly in my weigh net and it topped the scales at around 17 lbs. of pure Spring perfection! The big fish glistened in the late afternoon sun as we took a couple of photos and away she went, quickly back into the stream of the Scur Pool and all was well. This was Iain’s largest ever salmon and needless to say, he was over the moon. We both shook hands and spent a few minutes of reflection and pure joy at this magnificent prize that had given us so many anxious moments. A cracking Spring Findhorn salmon of this quality and just off the last high tide, surely cannot get any better than this. Well done Iain, you done good!
By Tuesday, March 19th, river levels had fallen away slightly and reading 1’11” on the Forres gauge. It was a rather cloudy overcast mild day and quite breezy. Today, James Watson, another guest of Iain’s joined us for the next two days. James, who was also fishing for the first time on the River Findhorn and also needing a little coaching.
Before lunch, Iain MacDonald pulled a fish in the Roan Pool, but that was it and no other fish touched before lunch. A little later in the afternoon and a message on the walkie talky came across whilst I was on the Upper Beat from Tom Watson, calling out “Fish on, Fish on in Roan Pool”! I responded immediately and made my way down to Roan Pool as quickly as I could. By the time I arrived, I saw James Watson looking grim faced as he was playing his first ever salmon, but completely in control of the proceedings. After a little guidance and advice, I managed to get him to bring the fish up on to the surface and slowly bring the fish towards me and into the net. Another cracking bar of silver chrome, a lovely little Spring salmon of around 8 lbs. and hooked on a 1” Purple Cascade tube fly. More congratulations and jubilation as we removed the hooks, took a couple of quick photos and the perfect shaped hen fish shot off like a bullet back into the waters of Roan Pool. This was James’ first ever salmon and he was of course truly delighted and shaking with excitement. I always find so much joy and real exhilaration in seeing the delight on my clients faces as they savour the moment of their fish as they are released.
However, the day was far from over, as my guests decided to head off for another well earned drink or three at the Kimberly Inn at Findhorn. I asked if they would mind if I went up for a cast up on the Upper Beat in Roehillock Pool and they gladly obliged. The pool had been a little on the high side to fish it easily, but was steadily falling away to a decent fishable level by the early evening. I waded out very carefully towards the big pink stone, which was still just covered. Once in position, I started putting out a line and gradually lengthening each cast, letting my Purple Cascade tube swing round below me. This is a great cast and a great place for a big fish and I was feeling optimistic of a pull here. It’s a tricky deep wade and one has to be careful, a wading stick is mandatory! Eventually I was putting out a good long line and the fly was swinging round perfectly. As I was just retrieving line, a solid pull below me and once again all hell broke out. The big fish surfaced and cart wheeled across the tail of the pool below me around six or seven times and it took off downstream, taking line all the way. This was something really special and I tried to get in control of it, but this leviathan was having nothing of it, he wasn’t happy! Yet again, the fish took off downstream towards the head of Palamore Pool, surfacing and cart wheeling most of the way. Wow! What a truly amazing experience to hook such a huge fish, which I felt sure was the biggest salmon I have ever hooked on the River Findhorn or maybe on any river in my life! There really was not a moment that I could truly say I was ever in control of this magnificent fish, because I wasn’t! After another long run and more surface cart wheels, the line just went slack and that sickening feeling came over me, as I knew it had finally thrown the hooks! It is difficult to estimate the size of such a fish as one does not hook really large salmon like this every day, so I will never know. I suspect it was well over twenty pounds and it gave me a good whipping, that’s for sure! I hope that he or she makes it up to the spawning grounds safely for next Autumn to spawn and regenerate more of its kind. I had the excitement of hooking something rather special, albeit for only a matter of some few minutes, but it will surely live in my memory for the rest of my life!
By Wednesday, March 20th and on the back of snow melting water, the river was running high reading 3’4” on the Forres gauge and 2’10” on the Shenachie gauge and running quite dirty. It was another mild day and the water was slow to fall and clear. Later on in the evening as conditions were just starting to improve, Leslie Tyson came over for a cast. He was fishing down through Palamore Pool and just as I was about to leave, his line tightened and it as “Fish on”! The fish had taken his Secret Sunray, just as it came round on the dangle and Leslie knew it wasn’t well hooked right from the start. Sure enough, after several minutes and much head shaking the hooks fell out and fish was gone. Incredible and Leslie’s first fish of the season was quickly denied!
By Thursday, March 21st, I was joined by Eugene Burzler, originally from South Africa and now resides near Hexham and his friend Guy Hemur from near Lichfield in the Midlands. This was the first time fishing on the River Findhorn for both of them. Unfortunately, river levels had risen once again overnight after further snowmelt and levels were reading 3’6” on the Forres gauge and 3’5” on the Shenachie gauge. The signs were not looking good! The river was also running much dirtier than the day before and once again, it was slow to fall and clear. Despite seeing a couple of fish in Palamore Island earlier, it was pretty hopeless and we would have to be patient and hope that the next day would improve.
By Friday, March 22nd, river levels were finally falling away and reading 2’5” on the Forres gauge. It was another cloudy/overcast day with a chilly wind blowing from the North East. However, at last the water clarity was improving and I was feeling more optimistic of our chances. After fishing all of the high water hot spots on the Upper Beat, we decided to move downstream to the Roan Pool. I put Guy Hemur into the top of the pool and Eugene was going to fish down through the main body of the pool. Once again, because of the high water, I advised Guy to just fish a short line, as the fish would be lying right under his feet. Before Eugene had even had made a cast, Guy called on the radio, “Fish on Fish on”. After his third cast into the neck of the pool he was into his first ever Findhorn Spring salmon, which turned out to be a cracking sea-liced fish of around 8 lbs., quickly photographed and released back into the river. The fish had taken his favourite Willie Gunn 1” tube fly and he was delighted. A little later in the day, Guy briefly hooked and lost another fish up in the top of Palamore Pool on the Upper Beat.
On Saturday March 23rd river levels were still falling away to a respectable 2’2”on the Forres gauge and water clarity was looking spot on. It was a bright and sunny day, but windy once again. Early on Guy Hemur managed to briefly hook and lose another fish on the dangle in the Roan Pool, just off the rope rock. Then a little later on in the morning, he hooked and lost yet another fish in the tail of the Roehillock Pool on the Upper Beat. It was getting a little frustrating to be seeing so many fish hooked on and off like this. But it often happens at this time of the year, particularly with very fresh running fish.
After lunch I decided to head back down to the Roan Pool and see if we could change our luck. Guy went up to the top of the pool and I put Eugene into the middle part of the pool and watched him fish down towards the Darnaway hut on the opposite bank. Finally his line tightened and he was into a good fish, which I was able to net for him, another cracking deep fat fresh fish of around 8 lbs. Guess what fly? It was a 1” Willie Gunn kindly donated by Guy, from his selection of the under garment drawer, I shall say no more on this subject! This was also Eugene’s first fresh fish of the season and he too was truly delighted to meet up with this little Findhorn beauty. A little later on in the afternoon, we went back up to the Upper Beat, where Eugene briefly hooked and lost another fish just off the Walrus in the Roehillock Pool. A little while after this another good pull in the same pool which unfortunately came to nothing.
So all in all, it had been a really exciting week of ten fresh fish hooked and just the four Spring fish netted! I think that considering the challenging conditions, all of my guests did really well and they certainly enjoyed themselves and have already booked to come back the same time next year. I don’t blame them either!
As we move into early April, there seems to be another change in the weather approaching, one of more unsettled and colder conditions, with further snow falling over the hills, which I have to say could be perfect. River levels have fallen back over the last few days and reading just 1’1” on the Forres gauge today, March 29th. Next week also sees some further big Spring tides approaching once again, so hopefully this will encourage more of these early Spring salmon to move into the river Findhorn system through the upcoming weeks ahead. I shall be reporting from the Altyre Estate and the Meads of St. John beat, at Darnaway, River Findhorn through the next two weeks, in due course.
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.