Salmon made simple....
a duffer's guide. Lesson 1
By Bill Drew
uninitiated fishing, like any craft, can seem inaccessible. Fishing
thrives on a secret language, " Fishing spoken here", as one
tackle shop used to advertise. Angling skills can take a lifetime, or
longer, to acquire but Atlantic salmon fishing in Scotland can be
simple and accessible to any visitor.
view of a Scotland rich in tartan, tweed, malt whisky and ancestral
castles is widely available. High quality fishing hotels offer deep
baths and idiosyncratic charm together with salmon and sea trout to
test your skills. The Tweed alone accounts for 10000 salmon caught per
year. No bears but the odd grizzly gillie (guide) all add to the mix.
Deep pockets and high levels of skill may be required and the
discerning visitor is seldom disappointed. But for the average weekend
trout or bass angler with a more limited wallet or level of ability
Scotland is wide open for a unique salmon experience.6
Let's blow away some
of the myths.
1. Skill/technique will defeat me.
Start from a basic trouting background and you can enjoy fishing for
salmon within the course of 1 day. You will not be an expert but you
may be hooked.
- You will be able
to Spey cast and improve your trout fly casting in return.
- You don't need to
be able to Spey cast if it scares the hell out of you.
- You may spend the
entire day spinning depending on the time of year ( more on that
2. The cost will be
Is $50-$100 beyond your means?
- You can afford it,
£100 buys you 2 good guided days in the spring, £200 buys you
the kit for a number of years as a semi novice
- You will have a
10% chance of a fish at the above prices, 10 times the ticket cost
buys you prime autumn fishing and a 40% + chance of a fish.
- · Scotland has no
national or State license scheme (unlike our unfortunate English
neighbours) you pay for a permit from the riparian owner, as all
water is private.
Now all of the
above is controversial so some meat on these bones.
tackle some thorny issues, beware CULTURAL WARNING. Scotland is not in
England. Calling a Scot English is somewhat more insulting than asking
a Canadian if he is from the States or possibly a Swede a Norwegian or
A serene smile may mask silent scorn but emphasise that you know the
difference between Scotland and England when you are in the land of
heather and mountains and helpful doors will open and whisky measures
will magically increase.
A gillie is of
course a kind of guide, only he isn't. A gillie may show you the best
holding lies on the beat (stretch of river) and then disappear to
return 8 hours later. He may sit and watch in silence. Then there are
the good gillies who will tailor their service to your needs but
standards vary enormously. A decent gillie will give you the basics of
Spey casting. You can pay many bucks for superb tuition. You pays your
money and you takes your choice, but if you can throw a trout line you
can fish on most of the Tweed without a Spey cast. If all else fails
remember that despite the rash of articles on salmon fishing and the
wonders of the fly most salmon anglers spin. Now not on all beats and
not at all times and indeed some will be spinning for the first time
in their graves at these crass comments but...
records and the angling press and check out the catches and the fly to
spin average. The facts speak for themselves.
salmon spinning tedious. Ultimately it can be boring but very
effective. In some waters spinning is the only feasible way to deal
with a torrent of water. More often it is simply more efficient.
Efficiency and fishing are not necessarily your real source of
pleasure. Dynamite is also efficient but it is illegal. So with total
bias let us turn longingly to the joys of fly fishing for salmon.
fly-fishing is delightful. Hooking, and playing a fresh run "bar
of silver", after successfully executing a Spey cast is sheer
pleasure. The whole thing is a little zany and illogical really. First
Atlantic salmon do not feed when they enter the river system as they
return to spawn. Secondly salmon can vary from lithe 3 to 4 lb grilse
to 30lb plus monsters that weigh as much as a toddler but with 5 times
the energy. Finally you have to resist the urge to strike but let a
couple of feet of loose line whip away before planting the hook.
Almost inevitably that means that if you are an experienced trout
fisher on your first salmon sortie you will whip the hook out of your
first salmon's mouth. You may even say blast or darn.
given below are for 2004/5 and in particular the reasonable month of
May. April July and August can be cheaper and September to November
will usually be considerably more expensive. £50- £70 buys you a
reasonable rod day in May. A minimum £10 per day tip to the gillie is
courtesy. Multiply by 5 for a discount on 6 days with Sunday a
Scottish holiday for the fish and a weekly tip of £30 for the gillie.
This amounts to £250 -£400 or so for a week (6 days). £600 a day in
October is not uncommon with related multipliers or call it £3000ish
for the week. Nevertheless good quality salmon fishing on the Tweed
can be had in late September for £60 a day all in. The excellent web
You can hire
all the necessary kit or you can buy your own and let's face it any
angler worthy of the name needs no excuse to buy another rod and a few
Rods line etc. second hand or fishing mag specials will see you
equipped for £175-£200. A new rod and a revered name such as Bruce
and Walker will sting you £400-£500 including reel and line/lines.
It will be worth it if you have the cash.
You will need
a sink tip intermediate and probably a floating line in case of low
water. You will want a 15-foot rod for the middle to lower Tweed. A 13
foot will do higher up. You can pick up a cheapie spinning kit for
£40. More likely you will have a mate who will lend you the basics be
it originally intended for pike or perch. Compare it all with trout
and it is not frightening. Let's get real. If you want to salmon fish
reasonably badly you can afford it.
Of course it
is unlikely that you will bump into many celebrity fishers in April or
May. The ability to drop $2-3000 in the autumn does boost the chances
of a fish. Some dedicated "names" will spend as big a part
proportionately of their vast income on salmon fishing as I do from my
modest wage. Good luck to them. Some may fish for 5 days a year at the
best beats at the best time and be quoted as experts. Read their
articles and work it out for yourselves.
beats to be well kept and also full of excellent trout. Trout fishing
is from April to October. Salmon fishing is allowed on the Tweed from
February to end of November. In some cases the trout are left
unbothered for most of the season. Similarly sea trout and grilse in
July are priced at near May rates but often seen as poorer fare. A
select few say it is the best fishing of all. Grayling fishing in the
Tweed is also of the finest quality and available all year with
September to February the prime time. Grayling abound and average
about 1-2.5 lbs of deep boring head shaking fun. But the salmon is
king. The reality is that game fishing is a two-class system with the
high paying salmon fisher at the top of the pecking order.
By now you
will realise that salmon fishing in Scotland is not that simple. It is
simply seductive. Visit and you will be able to wax lyrical about the
tackle; flies, spinners and line together with the differences between
the middle stretches and the broad final miles to the sea. The timing
of fishing and the pattern of the day will all be part of your memory
of the Tweed. The gillie where all is doomed and the odd glorious
salmon drifting in off the tide and the bars of silver careering like
a band of startled ponies through a pool is simple in one way. It is
fun and really it is quite simple, so simple that you can spend the
rest of your life getting it just right.
Bill Drew 2005 ©
Drew lives near Edinburgh and fishes on the River Tweed in the
Scottish Borders. He works as a Project Manager and has acted as a
guide since 1999 before establishing
Guide at the beginning of 2005.
Tweed Guide offers a complete fly fishing package for
wild brown trout and grayling on the River Tweed. He can also
organise salmon fishing.
permit , access to private water, waders to rod Tweed
Guide can do it all. www.tweedguide.com
Contact Bill at