If you are looking forward to the salmon season starting there is no better place to begin your campaign than Scotland! This guest blog post by Salmon Fishing Holidays Scotland explores the best spring salmon rivers north of the border.
As a salmon angler, the highlight of any season has to be if you are lucky enough to catch an early season spring salmon on the fly.
These magnificent fish are highly prized among the salmon fishing fraternity and rightly so. The salmon caught at this time of year are usually large in size and put up a terrific fight.
As our salmon fishing season in Scotland starts in mid- January, you could probably classify early season spring fishing as being from January through to the end of March.
So, is it all about luck at this time of year, or are there some ways in which you can tilt the odds of catching an early springer in your favour?
As with any salmon fishing, a lot does have to do with luck, but by making some informed decisions, and choosing your fishing locations carefully, you certainly stand a better chance.
It is a bit of a misnomer to refer to salmon fishing in Scotland as “spring fishing” from January through to March. Often, at this time of year, river levels are high, and the water is cold.
As anglers we are regularly dodging bitterly cold winds and snow showers. So, conditions are far from spring like and regularly more akin to winter. In such testing conditions, you want to maximise your chances, as often because of the weather and the limited hours of daylight, you have a short window of opportunity through the course of the day in which to fish.
When you are considering salmon fishing locations so early in the season, you need to take a few factors into account. Firstly, fresh spring salmon can be quite aggressive and can often readily take a fly. So, the difficult part is trying to locate the fish. This is much easier to do on a smaller river. In the Scottish Highlands, many of the rivers are much smaller compared to their central and southern counterparts, and with the season opening early in this region of Scotland, there are some excellent opportunities to bag some early season silver.
The Thurso river opens on the 11th of January. Over the years, the Thurso has consistently produced decent numbers of fish during the early part of the season. Each year is different, and much can depend on water heights and temperature but usually the first fresh fish is caught from the river towards the end January or at the beginning of February. From mid-February onwards, a steady stream of fish are caught and catches build through March. With the Thurso being a relatively small river, it can be easily covered with a fly rod. So as an angler, you can be reasonably confident that if there is a fresh fish in the pool, it will most likely see your fly. This can be such an advantage when the fish are few and far between.
Another river in the Highlands that has an excellent pedigree for producing early fish is the Helmsdale. The Helmsdale river in recent years has produced fresh fish on a number of occasions in mid-January. The Helmsdale is slightly bigger in size compared to the Thurso but most of the pools are still easily covered with a fly rod. Each year, the Helmsdale River Board offers locals and visitors the chance to fish the river free of charge from opening day onwards for a few days. This is a fantastic opportunity for hardy fishers to wet a line on one of Scotland’s most famous salmon rivers, and also to have a realistic chance of catching an early fresh fish.
The River Morrsiton makes up part of the Ness system. It flows into Loch Ness at Fort Augustus. It is another river in the Scottish Highlands which has a good reputation for producing early season salmon. The river opens its banks to anglers in mid-January and fresh fish can be caught from opening week onwards. The River Morriston is similar in size to the Thurso, making it a perfect location to ambush a springer. Catches on the river improve through February and into March, and given adequate water this is one Highland river well worth considering.
Over the past two seasons, anglers on the River Spey have enjoyed some terrific early season sport. Indeed, last year there were decent numbers of fish caught from the river in February and March. The Spey opens in early February and much depends on the water temperature and height, as to where the best sport is likely to be had. If both the water temperature and height is low, then the beats between Craigellachie and Fochabers are likely to produce the best sport. However, as we move into March and the water gets warmer, the fish tend to run upstream in greater numbers, and anywhere between Grantown and Aberlour can be well worth a cast. The Spey is such a magnificent river, that for most anglers, it does not matter if they are catching fish, as it is such a joy just to wet a line on.
For many years, the River Dee has been one of the most prolific early season salmon rivers in Scotland. The river opens in early February and consistently produces fish from opening day onwards. In recent years, the early spring fishing has not been quite as good, but last year there were still some lovely fish caught in February In March. Most of the pools on the river can be quite comfortably covered and some of the water is just made for fly fishing. Just like the Spey the best places to fish on the River Dee are dictated by water temperature. Usually in February, it is the beats below Banchory that seem to perform the most consistently. As we move into March, anywhere from Aboyne Bridge downstream can be well worth a cast. If it has been an especially mild early spring, then even beats further upstream can be quite productive.
Finally, we come to the mighty River Tay, which opens on the 15th of January. The Tay produces fresh fish from opening day onwards. Usually, at this time of year the majority of the fish caught are heading for Loch Tay and the headwaters of this vast river system. However, as we move through February and into March, fish destined for the River Tummel (one of the rivers main tributaries) start entering the system. This usually coincides with an increase in catches especially for the beats located on the middle river. As well all know, the River Tay is anything but small, so it can make finding that early spring salmon a little more difficult. However, if the water is at a reasonable height, the Tay can also produce some good numbers of salmon early in the season. In January and February, if the water temperature is low it is often the beats on the lower river which can perform the best. There are a couple of temperature barriers in this area of the river like the famous Linn Pool and Catholes Weir which the fish have to negotiate prior to heading further upstream. As water temperatures rise, the beats on the middle river usually come into their own. At this time of year, the Tay has some excellent salmon fishing opportunities to offer, at a very reasonable cost.
There is no denying the fact that fishing early in the season can be tough, with fresh fish often being few and far between. The Scottish weather can be inclement, and river levels unpredictable. If, however, you carefully consider your options and make informed decisions about where you are going to fish, you can certainly improve your chances of making contact with some early season silver!
About the author: Salmon Fishing Holidays Scotland (SFHS) are a bespoke holiday tour operator offering the most immersive, inspiring fly fishing holidays in Scotland. So if you need a perfect start to your season then get in touch with SFHS here.
Should you need further inspiration, be sure to give them a follow on Facebook, or check out the free SSFS ezine, which is simply jam packed with fantastic salmon fishing imagery, stories and tactical tips.