As we moved through into late May, river levels remained really low and fishing was slow on the Rivers Spey, Dee and Findhorn. High pressure had established itself over the Scottish Highlands and with all snow melted away. We were now in need of rain, lots of it! However, there was certainly still no shortage of fresh fish running off the high tides during this period even in these low water conditions. I was on Altyre Estate through the last week with Hardy/Greys on Monday May 16th, who were filming a new promotional video for their fishing tackle and gear. We were seeing fresh fish each day of the week but they were proving difficult to tempt in these difficult conditions! Then through the weekend of May 21st/22nd, clouds began to move across the Highlands of Scotland, bringing some heavy spells of rain, which gave us a welcome lift in river levels by May 23rd.
River levels had risen significantly and reading 12″ on the Shenachie gauge by Monday morning with the water clarity spot on. I had managed to book myself the day on Glenferness Estate, Mini Daltra Beat, which at this height should be perfect for fly fishing. My guest for the day was Lukasz Materek.
We decided to go and take a look at the Garden and Kennel Pools before we went further downstream. We were both really excited as we walked down the sixty-nine steps and found the Garden Pool looking in perfect order. I went through the pool with Lukasz following me. The water was looking superb and yet no fish showing and then I got a good pull off a fish, but it came to nothing. A few minutes later and Lukasz hooked into a fish behind me, which was on and quickly dropped off! Not a good start so far! I walked back up to the top of the pool to take some photos of Lukasz. Just at that point and as he was finishing the tail of the pool, I saw him hook into another fish, which luckily stayed on. I went down and watched him manage to beach a cracking fresh spring fish of around 10 lbs. covered in long tailed sea lice, it was a real beauty. These fish were really running hard from the Lower Beats. We took a couple of photos and released the fish back into the river. Wow, this was looking more like it!
We decided it was time to move on downstream with a view to returning to the Garden later. We walked from the cemetery along the footpath leading down towards the Island Pool. It is a breathtaking walk in many senses with occasional glimpses of the River Findhorn winding its way downstream towards Island Stream and Maharajah Pools. The sense of expectation and excitement never leaves you and this is one of the most stunning and productive beats on the river given the right conditions like today. I decided to walk down to the top of the Island Pool and suggested to Lukasz that he should go and have a cast below me on the middle and tail of the pool, then to try the Island Stream below. I was fishing with my floating line and a 5′ fast sink tip poly leader with a ½” Purple Cascade tube. I had only been in the pool a few minutes and slowly retrieving the fly when I got a good solid pull but the fish was only on briefly before it dropped off! Meanwhile below me Lukasz moved further downstream to the Island Stream Pool and very quickly hooked and landed another cracking fresh fish of around 10 lbs. on an Orjok 1″ tube.
Three fish hooked before lunch and he was a very happy chappy! I moved on upstream from Island Pool towards one of my real favourites, the Lady’s Pool which was looking in superb order. I fished through the tail carefully, but saw nothing and never got a pull. I changed fly and fished it through again but still nothing to be seen or touched! Lukasz came up and joined me a little later a fished through the pool with a Sunray Shadow and got a follow but that was it.
We decided to head off back up to the cars and have another cast in the Garden Pool as time was getting on. Overhead conditions were also changing and we were losing our cloud cover as it was getting bright and sunny becoming quite warm. We saw a fish show a long way down just after we arrived. We both fish through the pool which still looked in good order but not a touch. I was thinking of leaving for home and decided to follow Lukasz through one more time. The sun was bright and right over the pool and we thought that the best of the day was over. I started a little further up this time in the faster water and had only been in the water for a couple of minutes when I got a good pull off a fish and it was hooked. This time another lovely fresh fish of around 9lbs landed and quickly released. What a day, three fresh spring fish landed and another two hooked and lost. Fantastic fishing!!
As we moved through the last couple of days of May and into early June, river levels soon fell away as high pressure took control of our weather system once again. However, the fish still kept on moving into the river system on the Lower Beats despite river levels reading just 3″ on the Forres gauge! The Leslie Tyson party had booked three days fishing from May 30th through June 1st on Altyre Estate. With water levels so low, it was a case of fishing very early in the morning and very late in the evening. Early on Monday, May 30th, Leslie hooked and lost four salmon up to around 14 lbs. from Williams Run and Roehillock Pools, all on hitched sunray shadow tubes. By way of consolation, he hooked and landed two sea trout of around 2 lbs. and 3 lbs. from the Upper Beat. It was incredible to hear of such runs of these larger multi-sea winter fish still pushing through the beats in such low water conditions.
On Tuesday, May 31st, Leslie was rewarded with a cracking sea-liced fish of around 5 lbs. from Bertha Pool on the Lower Beat, again on a small sunray shadow tube.
On Wednesday, June 1st, Lukasz Materek was also on the water very early in the morning with his friend John Fyfe. They headed up to the top of the Scur Pool where John hooked and released a fresh sea-liced fish of around 7 lbs. on a small hitched tube. A few minutes later and Lukasz also hooked another smaller fish of around 4 lbs. on a small red Ally shrimp fly. Considering the water conditions, the party enjoyed some really great sport through their three days and it was heartening to know that so many fresh fish were still running including the early arrival of some grilse.
Over the next couple of weeks, high pressure dominated our weather system and river levels remained extremely low. Fishing became quite slow and many beats were struggling to catch the odd fish. However, the good old boys at the Met office seemed to be suggesting a change was imminent and that Atlantic lows would be moving over the Highlands of Scotland before too long! This was looking a little promising for our upcoming trip to Cawdor Estate and fishing on Drynachan in mid-June.
On Wednesday the morning of June 15th, river levels on the River Findhorn were reading just 2″ on the Shenachie gauge. The rains had finally arrived late on Tuesday afternoon and it poured and poured throughout the day on Wednesday, so by early evening levels had shot up to 2’9″ on the Shenachie gauge. Needless to say there was a lot of muck and debris being carried downstream after such a long dry spell, but we were hopeful that it may just be fishable by the Thursday with a little luck.
By Thursday, June 16th, river levels had fallen and reading 1’9″ on the Shenachie gauge and I was feeling hopeful that we may just be in luck as the water fell away and cleared. I was joined by David Tisdale for the next three days and we were both excited at the prospect of three days of some good sport. Our beat for the day was Dalbuie, which like all of the Drynachan Beats offers some great high water pools, including the Dalbuie Pool itself. The weather was still decidedly unsettled feeling quite cool and windy, with further frequent rain showers throughout the day.
We arrived at the Dalbuie Beat and decided to take a look at the Deer Ford Pool, which is one of my old favourites and can be very productive in higher water, however, the water was still very high and quite dirty at this point. We fished through and only one small brown trout was in the mood for taking a fly! We then decided to move on upstream to the top of the beat and explore some of the other pools over on the far bank. We arrived at the fishing hut and we both had a cast through the Red Stream, but it was still racing through here. I only saw one fish show way below me on the far side of the Pool Verastie. We then headed off to the big Dalbuie Pool, which looked in good order, but it was still very quiet and we just saw two fish, one on the tail and one just off the fence half way down. I was still feeling that the water was still a little too big and too dirty, but it was falling quickly and things could only get better!
We enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the hut and watched the water starting to fall away and clear slowly, but surely. One or two fish were also starting to show in Red Stream and Verastie, the signs were looking promising. I fished through the Red Stream again and had only been fishing a short while when the line tightened and at last I was into a fish. David was quickly on hand with the net and after a good strong fight I was able to bring the fish over the net, a cracking hen fish of around 14 lbs., slightly coloured, but very welcome none the less. At last we were off the mark!
I could not help feeling that the Deer Ford Pool should be coming into good order by now and suggested to David that it may well be worth a cast on the way home. The pool was looking much better and clarity was improving all the time. I got David to start much further up this time and he soon got a good pull off a fish and it was “fish on”! It was big and very strong and took off line on several good runs down and across the pool. After around ten minutes or so, David had the big fish on the top and I was ready to net it for him. It was a big cock fish of around 18 lbs. and David’s biggest salmon so far, what a cracker!
David was fishing his old favourite fly, 1″ Willie Gunn and he was delighted with his first ever Drynachan salmon. David decided to head off home as time was getting on. I was really keen to go and have one more cast up on the Red Stream Pool before going home. As soon as I arrived, I saw a couple of fish showing and I was feeling confident. Sure enough in almost exactly the same lie as before, I got a good pull off the reel, but it did not stick. I cast the Purple Cascade tube over the same spot and started a slow hand retrieve and bang it was on. It was another lovely deep hen fish of around 12 lbs. and was beached and quickly released. This had been a great start to our three days with three fish hooked and landed. With river levels falling and clearing we were feeling confident of our chances over the next two days.
On Friday, June 17th, river levels had fallen a little reading 1’4″ on the Shenachie gauge and water clarity was looking perfect as we arrived on Ballachrochin and Shenachie Beat. It was another overcast, damp and windy day, still feeling quite cool for the middle of June. At least the wind was keeping the midges at bay! I have to say that Drynachan offers such a variety of stunning beats, all double bank and miles of fishing. This Ballachrochin Beat is the upper most beat on Drynachan and just driving up over the heather clad hills looking down on the River Findhorn winding way down below you is as spectacular as anywhere one could wish to fish in the Scottish Highlands. We arrived at Quillachan Pool on the bottom end of the beat to start the day. It looked in perfect order, but not a fish to be seen. However, within a couple of casts and I was soon playing a fresh fish of around 10 lbs., which was beached and quickly released back into the river. We both fished the pool for quite a long way down, but it was quiet and so decided with so much good water above us, to move on.
I took David up to the tail of the next pool just above us, Poll Beag. This can be such a tremendous pool given the right levels and conditions, today it should be spot on! I put David in here first and showed him how this pool was best fished by wading up along the gravel ledge, as far as possible, to be able to cast across the tail of the pool effectively. As soon as we waded in fish were showing above, opposite and below us, perfect! He had only been fishing a short while and I suggested he stripped the fly back slowly and bang, he was into a fish straight away. It was a strong hen fish of around 14 lbs. with just a little colour.
David was really pleased and then told me to get in and have a cast. Yet again, and within another few minutes another fish was hooked and played to the beach. It was another hen fish of around 12 lbs. and quickly released. The pool was absolutely stuffed full of fish and it was not long before David hooked his second fish of the day of around 10 lbs. I went back in again after David and sure enough another couple of cracking fish hooked and beached of around 10 lbs. and 12 lbs., including our first cock fish of the day. Both fish were quickly released and shot off like bullets.
Just after releasing the last fish, which was our sixth fish of the day, we were joined by my good old friend Michael Leach who had driven up from Loch Lomond side to join us for the rest of the day and the following Saturday. He was absolutely amazed when we told him that we had already caught six fish before lunch! I told him to get tackled up and waders on as fast as possible and then showed him the “hot spot”. He waded out and upstream along the gravel ledge until he was in position. He had only had around three or four casts and his orange cone head Macartair tube fly was taken hard by another fish of around 10 lbs. and Mike couldn’t quite believe it.
This was some amazing fishing, seven cracking salmon before lunch on this fantastic River Findhorn. We decided to take a break for a quick wee dram and a bite of lunch before moving further upstream. I was keen to explore some of the other pools above us and show Mike and David the rest of the beat. We drove on up past the hut at Poll Beag and on towards the Boat Pool, which was looking in good order, but nothing showing here.
After a little discussion, we decided to split up. Mike was keen to see the upper pools as he had never been up this far before. I suggested to David that he might like to go back to the tail of Poll Beag, as this pool had clearly been so productive all morning, which he was happy to do. Mike and I continued on our journey all the way up to the Oxon Pool. The wind was blowing quite hard upstream and we only saw one fish on the far side showing. After a while, we decided to head back downstream and explore some other pools. We finally drove back down to the Ballachrochin Pool, which was looking very inviting, so I suggested to Mike that he should have a cast and I would go back and join David in Poll Beag. David reported that the pool had been a little quieter since he got back and no more fish caught.
Meanwhile, back up in Ballachrochin Pool Mike, had bumped into another run of fish hooking and losing one fish and landing another of around 12 lbs. from the tail of the pool. He said that there had been a lot of activity for a while before it also went quiet. David was thinking of heading homeward, so I thought I would go and have another cast in the Quillachan Pool, but there was nothing doing here. Mike came back to the tail of Poll Beag Pool for a last cast before I decided to head home also and suggested he might like to try and catch one more fish to make it an even ten for the day, which he did! One last cast down through the pool produced another fish of around 8 lbs. This was some red letter day, indeed, with a total of ten spring salmon between us, quite superb and yet again the fabulous Findhorn produces some incredible sport. I was hoping that the continuing drizzly conditions would keep levels pegged for a little while longer so that we could enjoy our third and last day with equal success.
On Saturday, June 18th, river levels had fallen a little bit, but still looking at a good fishable height reading 1’1″ on the Shenachie gauge. Today we were on the delightful Daless Beat, which should offer some good opportunities providing the water did not fall away too quickly. The weather remained overcast and cloudy for the morning, but it began to get much warmer and brighter by mid-afternoon as the sun broke through the cloud cover.
The Bridge Pool can be a really productive high water pool right down to the tail, but I was feeling slightly concerned that it was falling away and losing its’ flow rather quickly. Mike started in at the head of the pool and soon hooked into another fish, which after about five minutes dropped off! David and I went down to the Carnoch Stream, but it was quiet and so we decided to head off upstream to the Daless Pool, which is one of my favourites and can produce a fish here at almost any height. The pool looked in really good order and we both fished through the pool, without so much as a tweak. I left David to fish through it again and went back down to see how Mike was getting on in the Bridge Pool. As I arrived, I saw several fish showing in the tail of the pool below the bridge and suggested to Mike to move down and fish the tail behind me. The flow was really slowing down here and we needed to hand retrieve the fly to give it some movement. Just down towards the very tail, the flow starts to pick up again and Mike had seen some fish coming into the pool. At this point the fly was swinging nicely and suddenly another hard pull and Mike hooked his first fish of the day. It was a fresh hen fish of around 9 lbs. and Mike and I were both delighted.
It was already lunchtime and I then decided to take Mike down to the Carnoch Stream for a cast, whilst I met up with David and after a bite of lunch we headed on back upstream towards the top of the beat. We crossed over the river above Daless and headed up towards the Quillachan Ford Pool, which is a really great long glide of a pool and lies in one of most picturesque settings. The pool looked in perfect order when we arrived. I went in near the top and David followed me down, it looked fishy! However, it was fairly quiet until about half way down I got a pull, but it did not come again. Then a little further down and another pull as I was retrieving the fly, this time, no mistake, it was on!
The fish pulled very hard and stayed deep as it hugged the far bank, moving slowly upstream and I could feel a much bigger fish this time. David came down with the net and after a while I was able to bring the fish towards him and over the net. It was a really big cock fish of around 18 lbs. with some colour on it, but my biggest salmon of the season so far. What a belter it was! We took a couple of photos and the released him back into the river and off he went. This could well have been one of those big boys that had been flying past us on Altyre in April and had now found refuge up on Drynachan water.
Meanwhile, downstream below us, Mike had been having some good sport yet again with a 12 lb fish from Carnoch Stream and a cracking fresh fish of around 8 lbs. from the top of Daless Pool. He was having a really great day of fishing. It was around 4.00 p.m. and after three days of cloudy drizzly weather the sun broke through the clouds and it was suddenly becoming very warm as we started taking off our heavy layers of clothing. Before we knew it, we were literally bathed in warm sunshine and I had a feeling our good run had come to an end! I must say the warmth of the sun felt pretty good on our backs, but it was not going to further our chances of any more fish, unfortunately. Mike came up and joined us at the Red Rock Stream where we had seen a couple of big fish showing but we could not move them. Mike said he had seen other fish down in Carnoch Stream earlier on and suggested it might be worth David having a cast here before heading home.
I was keen to try the Daless Pool for one more cast, but although we saw a couple of fish showing, yet again, they were not to be tempted. I think the bright and sunny overhead conditions had pretty well finished off any further hope of getting a pull for this day and it was time to head home for a well earned dram!
It had been indeed a most memorable three days of salmon fishing with seventeen fish hooked and landed and another couple of fish lost. It was wonderful to be back up here on these spectacular fishing beats of Cawdor Estate, in such perfect fly fishing conditions. It was also good to see these beats so well stocked with spring salmon and this bodes well for our future fishing in years to come. It is now late June and we are getting ready for the summer run to start moving in to all of our rivers in this part of the Highlands through July, August and September. Can’t wait!
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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.