Scottish salmon fly fishing, it is something I have certainly discovered after its heyday. Whilst it does not offer the almost certainty of a trip to Iceland or Russia, there is still something special about swinging a fly for silver in Scotland. With travel to foreign destinations largely curtailed, my friends and I put our regular Norway salmon week on the back burner and instead planned a half week trip up to the River Dee and the Little Blackhall and Inchmarlo water.
Our trip was planned for the middle of September, very late in the season for a river famed for its spring run. That said, a noticeable change of catch stats are showing an increasingly better late spring and summer run with good chances of fish in the autumn. Like with all trips, with each passing day I found myself refreshing catch stats, river levels and weather forecasts. Good catches all season and the outlook of rain a couple days before our arrival had expectations creeping up, dangerous I know!
For any of you who have made the drive from Wiltshire to Aberdeenshire, you already know it is a long way! So, with that in mind, I chose to break the journey up and fish a little trout stream in Staffordshire that I have been meaning to visit for a few years. A big trout landed and a comfortable night’s sleep saw me back on the road and experiencing a fairly clear M6 all the way to the border. Timing my journey well, I hit the Cairngorms just as the golden light kissed the passing rainclouds and descended into Banchory.
Our base for the next four nights was the Little Blackhall Fishing Lodge, a stunning modern rebuild made to look as if it has stood in that location for decades. It is a four twin bedroom self-catering house with large kitchen-diner, lounge, and a little drying room for all the wet fishing gear. Best yet, it is about a 100 yards from the river.
The Little Blackhall and Inchmarlo fishing offer 1 mile of double bank fishing on the middle River Dee. Both banks offer fantastic fly water at a range of water heights, with classic holding pools and great taking spots for running fish too. The wading difficulty changes from pool to pool, with some places hardly requiring you to step into the water and others having you clambering over large boulders. In the right conditions, fishing can be enjoyed here by anglers of all wading and fishing abilities.
Arriving on the sabbath meant that the rods stayed packed but I couldn’t help have a first look at the water. Eyeing up each pool, I was already plotting my approach, line choice and fly selection. On reaching the lowest pool, the Roe Pot, a salmon obligingly jumped mid pool to peak excitement further.
Monday morning could not come quick enough, and as dawn broke a little after 0600 I had the coffee pot ready and bacon sizzling in the pan. Martin Robinson, our ghillie, arrived a little before 0900 to greet us and get us set up for the next three days on the water. An incredibly knowledgeable angler and forward thinking in terms of setups and fishing spots we were buoyed by his presence.
Starting out on the south bank, Martin gave us a whirlwind tour of the pools. Pointing out holding spots and wading lines for us to try and remember for our time in each spot. We then started on the Roe Pot, giving ourselves time to get back into the rhythm of casting and manoeuvring the rod to change the angle and speed of the fly swing. Before long, we all felt we were getting the fly to fish well and in the right places.
Lunch soon came around and a break was needed to raid the local bakery before heading to the north bank for a further tour of the beat. Amazingly, whilst fishing the exact same water the river almost appeared completely differently from this bank but again it was not long before the flies were swinging nicely in the pools.
Throughout the day we all found ourselves fishing through pools, only to see the fish we had stirred up jump once we had fished through the lie. This offered encouragement that the fish were there and that they were also seeing our flies. That said, it was disappointing to have not felt any tugs on the line.
The wonderfully relaxed approach on the beat saw us wave farewell to Martin around 1730/1800, yet we fished on until the light began fading and temperature started dropping at 1900. Retreating to the accommodation for a well-earned drink and dinner.
On Tuesday we now had a better feel of the fishing so we split into pairs, one on the north bank and one on the south and explored the water in a pincer movement, how could we fail. Rod, line, leader and fly choices were chopped and changed in the quest for the perfect combination.
The morning came and went with little to shout home about, followed by another bakery raid and a changeover of banks. The afternoon again gave little in the way of takes but it seemed with each new cast more fish were being stirred up in the pools. The sun descended on another day, surely one of these fish had to show interest soon. Retiring to a roaring fire in the lounge was a fitting end to a long day.
Wednesday arrived, our last chance to convince one of these Dee salmon that we were worthy. The water had been dropping continuously since we arrived from a small lift of water on the Saturday beforehand. The water was amazingly clear now, and in better light it would not surprise me if you could have spotted the salmon lying in the pools. Longer and lighter leaders were added, small hooked flies replaced the slightly heavier tubes of the night before. Now, it was back to the pools that we were beginning to learn quite well.
Another morning passed, and I got one little nibble which soon revealed itself as a wee brown trout but little else to trouble the scorers. Each cast felt fishy, but it was getting harder to hold onto that eternal optimism that is a necessity for any Scottish salmon angler.
Heading into the afternoon, we had explored almost all fly ideas and line choices, so we were left with few options but to go to the heavy stuff. Sinking lines and horrible looking tubes replaced our delicate flies and we focused on the fish holding locations. The change of approach certainly worked in angering the salmon as multiple fish could now be seen crashing around the pools but still nothing was willing to take hold of our offerings.
With those final casts in the fading light, the sounds of salmon crashing in the pools offered little solace in what was a fishless three days. That said, to fish in such beautiful surrounds knowing that the fish were there was a very welcome break in what has been a very strange couple of years. The experience certainly has not put me off, if anything, it has created a stronger desire to come back and catch my River Dee salmon.
The trip was certainly not over there, for any journey this far north allowed for some non-fishing exploration too. On the Thursday, our journey home began choosing to take the River Dee tourist route up through the stunning Cairngorm Mountains and alongside the Balmoral Estate. It is a landscape of wonder and well worth the trip alone.
Not wanting to do the full 10 hour journey in one sitting, once we reached England we dropped down into the small town of Appleby-in-Westmorland on the River Eden and enjoyed a lovely night’s stay at the Tufton Arms. This is the base for our River Eden salmon and trout fishing trips, you can find out more about those here. Making it home early afternoon on the Friday, my thoughts had already turned to next years salmon adventure in Scotland.
If you would like more details about any of our Scottish salmon fishing, please do not hesitate to contact us on email or call +44(0)1980 847389. Dates for 2022 are becoming available now.