Sadly, we are living in testing times and my first Fishing News report for the 2020 season may well be the only news report for the time being at least! Hopefully, by May we may start to see some signs of improvement and a lifting of restrictions.
Due to Coronavirus (Covid-19), all of our salmon rivers have been closed for fishing at this time under Government restrictions and we can only hope that our salmon rivers will be back up and running in the not too distant future!
The salmon fishing season opened on February 1st, for the Aberdeenshire Dee and February 11th for the Rivers Spey and Findhorn. The river Findhorn announced its first opening day fish on the Forres Angling Association for local angler Peter Green, on February 11th. It was an absolutely cracking Spring fish of between 18 lbs.-20 lbs. and just off the last high tide!
On Altyre Estate, river levels remained at a good fishable height as we moved through February with good numbers of strong well mended kelts being caught each day.
On Monday, March 9th, river levels were running at 2’5”on the Forres gauge and with good clarity. Alison Alston’s guest, Hector Low, hooked and released our first fresh fish of the season of around 6 lbs. from Palamore Island Pool. River levels remained at a good steady height throughout the rest of the week, falling slowly each day on the back of snow melt water.
By Thursday March 12th river levels were reading 1’7” on the Forres gauge, which is just about as good as it gets for us on Altyre. I was fishing with my good friend Leslie Tyson and weather conditions were also behaving, feeling pleasantly warm in the early Spring sunshine. Our hopes were running high as we fished through the morning.
Just before lunch, Leslie Tyson hooked a fish just above the Darnaway hut, which took off line and took off downstream at quite a pace! I was just on my way back to the hut for lunch, when the phone rang, “I think I’ve got a fresh one here, Ian”, said Leslie. I speedily headed back to the Roan Pool where Leslie’s rod was well and truly bent into a very strong fish and still continuing to take line. Leslie played the fish steadily and just keeping good pressure and every now and then reeling more line back on to the reel. He finally managed to get the fish close enough for me to gently slide the net under the fish and that was it! Leslie’s first Spring salmon of the season. It was a lovely fresh hen fish of around 12 lbs., hooked on Leslie’s Monkey tube fly and quickly released. Wow, what a relief and what a great feeling, we were both so excited and after high fives etc, a wee dram back at the hut was duly poured in celebration of the fish!
After lunch, we were keen to get going again and headed back to the Roan Pool for another cast. We fished on for much of the afternoon and I decided to head off home. Just as I arrived back at Bradbush, the phone rings and Leslie’s voice was loud and clear I just banked another one Ian, it was around 16 lbs., right down in the tail of Roan, an absolute Belter”! Two fresh Spring salmon in one day is really amazing and at last the fish were on their way and it was looking promising for the rest of the week. However, unfortunately that was it for the week and nothing else to be reported.
As we moved into the week commencing March 16th, I was joined by regular clients, Iain MacDonald, Dan Gazzard, Ben Mack and Tim Foster. River levels had risen slightly over the weekend reading 2’1” on the Forres gauge, and again with perfect clarity. After lunch, Iain MacDonald briefly connected with a fish in his old favourite pool, The Scur. Then Ben Mack got a good solid pull of a fish in the tail of Soldier’s Hole.
The following day, Tuesday and levels were reading 2’2” on the Forres gauge. It was another bright and sunny day with a stiff cold S.E. wind blowing. Ben Mack hooked and lost a big fresh fish down in the tail of Roan and that was it for the day. By Wednesday, March 18th, levels had fallen away reading 1’10” on the Forres gauge. Tim Foster got a good solid pull off a fish above the Darnaway hut just before lunch and before heading back home!
On Thursday, March 19th river levels were reading 1’4” on the Forres gauge. It was another bright and sunny day, but still with the persistent chilly South Easterly breeze blowing across the river. The river was looking in perfect order, but unfortunately no fish were seen or pulled.
On Friday, March 20th, river levels had fallen away slightly overnight, reading 1’3” on the Forres gauge. I was feeling hopeful that my clients may just bump into a fish at some point. Eugene Burzler and his guest ,James Stokoe had reported seeing a fresh fish head and tailing in Soldier’s Hole Pool, just before lunch, but couldn’t tempt it.
A little later on in the day after fishing down through Roan and Garden Pools, Eugene and James headed down the lower end of the beat to fish through the Tail of Meads (St. John’s) Pool, Clerks and down to Lime Kilns Pool. They fished on, diligently covering every inch of fishable water with Eugene finally fishing through Lime Kilns. At around 5:00 p.m. Eugene waded down and across from the tail of the pool and decided to have a cast in Geordie’s Hole which is right at end of the beat. Suddenly his Willie Gunn tube was taken hard and it was “Big Fish On”! Eugene is a good experienced salmon fisher and all of his knowledge was now put to the test as he played this Leviathan. James had been following down behind Eugene and soon spotted Eugene’s rod bent double and moved down at top speed with the big landing net!
After some fifteen minutes or so, James waited patiently and finally he was able to get the net underneath the big fish and it lay there quietly as Eugene was able to remove the hooks from the lower jaw. They measured the big fish at 42” x 20” girth, quite magnificent and estimated at around 30 lbs. A solid multi-spawning hen fish back on a return run to her beloved River Findhorn. For Eugene, this is his biggest ever salmon and most definitely a fish of a lifetime. Well done Eugene, you have set the bar very high!
On Saturday, March 21st, river levels were reading 1’2” on the Forres gauge and it was another beautiful Spring-like day on the River Findhorn. Eugene and James had decided to fish through the morning on the Lower Beat and head to the Upper Beat after lunch, before an early departure, with the news of Guest houses/ Hotels etc being closed for the time being!
Therefore, after a cast through The Soldier’s Hole and Roehillock Pools, they decided for a last cast through Palamore Pool. James lead the way and just off the bend at the top of the pool, the line tightened and another solid pull off the reel before James was playing his first ever Scottish salmon! This was another very big and strong fish, which gave him some great sport and a few anxious moments, before Eugene was able to net the fish for him. It was another absolutely beautiful deep Spring salmon of around 18 lbs, and I think that James’s smile in the photo says it all! So, two Spring fish in the last two days, estimated at a very respectable 58 lbs!
Since that time we are now all in total lock down across the country and we are both well here, quietly self isolating in our lovely home at Bradbush.
It seems so very strange not to be on my beloved Findhorn, guiding and looking after all of our lovely guests and clients who come to stay with us at Bradbush, year in year out! At the moment, much of our time is spent getting the garden in good shape, grass cut and is going to look its’ very best when we can once again open our doors to welcome our many loyal guests and friends!
We are thinking of you all and our other good friends and relatives at this terribly difficult time in our lives. I feel we are in the best of hands and very fortunate to have our fabulous NHS looking after all of us through these dark days. We look forward to meeting up with everyone again in the not too distant future when we can enjoy a wee dram and relax with each other on the banks of the River Findhorn.
God Bless and stay safe.
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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.