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Old 18th December 2009, 15:12
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Default Gamefishing in Scotland

An overview of Scottish gamefishing by Bill Currie

It would be easy, but very misleading, to think of Scotland as one fishing region of the United Kingdom. Scotland has, to begin with, the majority of the game fishing waters of Britain. Particularly, it has the lion's share of waters in which the migratory game fish, the salmon and sea-trout, are found. Scotland has the largest resource of wild brown trout in the UK and has the widest range of water in which these fish live. Indeed, in only one sector of game fishing does Scotland come further down the list than its neighbours, namely stillwater fishing with stocked rainbows, in which the midland and southern reservoirs of England reign supreme.

In terms of its salmon, while there are anxieties about total numbers of returning fish, and how these fish are distributed in spring, summer and autumn runs, Scottish waters remain a consistent, well managed and extensive resource for game fishers, one of the most likely to benefit from recent netting agreements in the North Atlantic and from improved management of the resource at home.

The whole Scottish picture is hard to summarise, but, for the visiting and home fisher, there is an abundance of choice of salmon and sea-trout fisheries and of fishing for wild brown trout in lochs of many sizes and rivers throughout Scotland. The waters are wide in variety, and, for good measure, the season is impressively long. There is salmon fishing somewhere in Scotland from mid-January to the end of November, for example, which makes it the country with the longest open salmon season of any in the northern hemisphere.

Most anglers find it best to think of the gamefishing of Scotland in landscape terms and the three broadest regional divisions of Scotland are helpful in planning fishing, - the Southern Uplands (Borders - Galloway), the Central Lowlands and the Highlands. Of course, broad brush divisions like this, while initially helpful, only whet the appetite for local detail and this Guide will provide a great deal of that, down to fine details of access and costs.

The Southern Uplands covers the high, rounded, grassy and heathery hill lands of Scotland, roughly from the border with England to a line drawn more or less from Girvan on the Firth of Clyde to Dunbar on the North Sea coast. The eastern part of this region is dominated by the Tweed and its tributaries, a very important salmon and trout river system. Tweed also has runs of big sea-trout of a different type and size from anything else in Scotland.

Looking west, the numerous rivers which drain into the Solway Firth with the exception of the Nith, are short, often with good spate fishing for salmon and sea-trout, including some notable sea-trout fisheries such as the Border Esk and Annan and the Nith, draining a lovely land of moors, woods and heathery hills with trout lochs in the interior. Dumfriesshire, Kirkcudbrightshire and the 'Stewartry' of Wigtownshire and Galloway and south Ayrshire are memorable, attractive areas, all with a gentler character than the Scottish Highlands, but they can provide memorable fishing in summer and autumn, given the right pattern of rainfall. Names of interesting waters in this far south west region include the Cree, the Bladnoch and, flowing west through the Ayrshire hills, the productive Stinchar.

The Central Lowlands of Scotland have some interesting small to medium-sized rivers flowing west to the Firth of Clyde. Among these is the remarkable river Doon, a 25-mile long water with its roots in the southern Uplands, which can produce around 2,000 salmon to rods in a season, and its near- neighbour the Ayr, a salmon and trout water flowing through gentle agricultural land. The largest Lowland river however, is the Clyde, for years paradoxically one of our finest wild trout fisheries in its middle and upper regions and grossly polluted in its lower waters. In recent years the Clyde has been greatly improved and for the last decade a growing run of salmon has returned. While the Clyde is not yet established as an important salmon fishery, it is at least a symbol of optimism, - a river partly lost to pollution being brought back in our time into the migratory gamefishing lists.

The interior and eastern counties of the Lowlands have some interesting stillwaters. Of particular note are the well organised and often good reservoir fishings of the Lothians, including Gladhouse and the well-known fisheries of Fife and Kinross. These include Loch Fitty and Loch Leven. Loch Leven, with a very long history of notable flyfishing, may be the most famous historical fishing loch in Scotland, but it has suffered setbacks of late and important efforts are being made to restore it as a rod fishery. Loch Fitty nearby goes from strength to strength as a rainbow and brown trout loch, well organised and productive. To the west lies the Lake of Menteith, set near the upper waters of the river Forth, not far from Loch Lomond, a good stocked fishery with rainbows and browns. Loch Lomond itself, with its main Lowland feeder the Endrick is a very individual and often remarkable salmon and sea-trout fishery. It is only partly Lowland of course, cutting through the Highland line and embracing both landscapes. Loch Lomond has runs of excellent, large sea-trout which are caught not only in the island-studded loch itself, but in the small demanding pools of the Endrick which feeds it.

The Highlands of Scotland form a great reach of land, some of it extremely romantic mountain, moor and loch, but with many areas of woodland, quiet sheltered glens and places of unique local character. There is no doubt in one's mind where the Highlands begin; a prominent line runs from Dumbartonshire, through Dunkeld in Perthshire to Stonehaven on the North Sea coast, looking sometimes like a great wall stretching over Scotland. Some of our rivers, the Tay and the Earn among them, cut through this wall, thus having their middle and headwaters in the Highlands and their lower reaches in Lowland landscape.

The Tay, with its tributary the Tummel, is a marvellous salmon river, famous for spring and autumn runs, but with lots of summer fishing available also. It has lost a lot of its spring clout, but has sustained its great fisheries well and has recently shown considerable improvement of its summer and autumn sport. Tay, Tummel and Earn are also notable wild trout fisheries in spring. Making broad geographical groupings raises difficulties. For example, the North and South Esks in Angus both have long reaches of Lowland-like water on them below the Highland line, yet both are rivers of the hills. These are small, but very productive fisheries, with excellent sea-trout and good salmon in them. The Esks form one of these important pockets of fishing in Scotland, with its own character defying broad classification.

In a way, I find I want to classify the Aberdeenshire Dee and its rather different neighbour the Don as waters on their own, somehow not 'Highland'. The Dee assuredly rises in a mountain mass and flows through high glens, but the highly productive reaches of the middle Dee near Aboyne and Banchory and famous beats on the lower river, flow through estates, rich farmland and deciduous woods. Dee water is gin-clear, not given to Highland spates, flowing in fairly shallow streams over fine shingles and through rocky pools. This river offers some of the finest spring salmon fly fishing anywhere. Its neighbour, the Don is a water of completely different character. It rises in the mountains, but soon takes on a fine pool-and-stream character with excellent trout and some good salmon fishing in its middle reaches. Lower, the Don loses pace greatly and becomes a deep, slow river, again with good trout, but enjoying a good late run of salmon, many of them large.

The Spey fits the pattern of a typical Highland river much more clearly. It has slow upper reaches, with the wetlands of Loch Insh and above marking the end of the high section. Below, the river picks up pace here and there through the Kinrara and Aviemore areas, but it is Grantown-on-Spey before the river takes on its wonderful streamy, pool-rich character and for thirty miles or more is a delight to the angler. The river grows and through Aberlour, Craigellachie, Arndilly, Rothes and below, produces some of the most productive reaches of salmon fishing in Scotland. In the recent past, although its fishings have never hit rock bottom the Spey has suffered a considerable loss of salmon stock, particularly its spring fish, but the recent, very welcome, cessation of netting at Speymouth promises well for the whole river. The river has one of the best runs of good sea-trout in Scotland, and holds a good head of sizeable wild brown trout also.

A very interesting group of rivers flows north and north-east near the Spey, entering the Moray Firth east of Inverness. They include the Deveron and the Findhorn, both fine medium-sized waters with mixed migratory fish and, in the case of the Deveron, good brown trout. At Inverness itself, the heavy, short and notable river Ness drains the largest of the lochs of the Great Glen above, Ness and its neighbour Loch Oich. Ness is a salmon river of note with some spring fish, and excellent summer and autumn runs with some heavy fish among them. The tributaries of the large lochs above also offer good fishing. The Garry, draining the loch of the same name, is still a spring fishery and the Moriston, flowing into Loch Ness is sometimes the focus of the best early salmon fishing of the area.

The Great Glen to the west produces Loch Lochy, drained by the river Lochy, and this river, swollen by the Spean, flows to the west sea at Loch Linnhe, near Fort William. The Lochy has had its great years of summer and autumn salmon and sea-trout, but it has suffered some set backs recently, as have other western-flowing mixed fisheries in Scotland. Now the later summer appears to be the best season here.

A wonderful range of territory unfolds north and west of Fort William, embracing Loch Shiel, Loch Eilt and Loch Morar. These are sea trout and salmon lochs and they have had varying fortunes in recent years, suffering from lack of sea-trout, yet in 1992 Morar had one of its best ever years for summer salmon. This whole area looks out westwards over the sea to a romantic panorama of islands, the Inner Hebrides, with Mull and Skye dominating. Mull and Skye both have small salmon river and salmon and sea-trout lochs, as well as trout hill lochs in atmospheric settings. The Outer Hebrides, reached through Ullapoool lie as if on the rim of the world, low, hilly, rich in hill trout waters and small salmon and sea-trout rivers, and blessed with that remarkable attraction, the machair trout lochs, lying lime-rich over shell-sand raised beaches which produce large, beautifully marked brown trout.

The Northern Highlands run spectacularly north and west from Inverness, giving hundreds of miles of fretted coastline and promontories rich in trout lochs and some salmon streams. Loch Maree is the most famous Wester Ross sea-trout loch, but others of fame lie near. Maree is the home of dapping offering long, evocative drifts along Highland shores and among forested islands. The short river Ewe which drains Maree, is a fine salmon and sea-trout fishery. Further north, in Wester Ross and Sutherland beyond, lie other excellent large inland waters such as Assynt, Stack and More, each a good sea-trout and salmon water. A profusion of smaller lochs and streams are found throughout the north west, offering wild brown trout fishing in wonderful hill and moorland landscapes.

To the north of Inverness, on the east coast there is a remarkable succession of fine small and medium sized salmon rivers. The Beauly, with spring and heavy summer runs, and the prolific Conon flow east into their own sea lochs. Further north a number of good small and medium salmon rivers flow into the Kyle of Sutherland, -Carron, Oykel, Cassley and Shin. Oykel has often distinguished itself as a spring water as has Cassely. Further up the east coast we find the Brora, an excellent early spring river with consistent sport throughout the summer on the lower and the upper river, above the trio of lochs. Twelve miles above this is the remarkable Helmsdale, possible the most productive salmon fishery for its size in the whole of Scotland. It fishes from early spring to the end of September and is prolific in its summer runs.

Caithness is sometimes called, "The Lowlands beyond the Highlands", because it is typically low-lying and moorland country. Caithness may lack mountains, but it does not lack wonderful seascapes and cliffs, magnificent northern beaches and, right beside them in some cases, some memorably good trout lochs, - St John's Loch and Watten for example. There are several salmon rivers, principal among which is the Thurso. This river fishes from Easter to the end of summer and can yield good bags on its faster upland waters as well as its slower middle and lower reaches. The Thurso and other salmon waters of the north coast of Caithness and Sutherland, - the Forss, the Halladale, the Naver, the Borgie and the Dionard - had some of the best salmon runs in living memory in the early summer of 1993. They may well be the first of our waters to benefit from the Faroese and Icelandic agreements, virtually eliminating harvesting salmon at sea. They may also be the first to feel the benefit of the splendid new Greenland salmon netting arrangements, which have been operating since 1994. These buy-outs and other agreements initiated by the NASF (see nasfworldwide.com) are designed to restore salmon stocks in the North Atlantic to better levels than they have attained in recent years.
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