Swedish version


Scottish Salmon made simple....
a duffer's guide. Lesson 1

By Bill Drew

  For the 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.

  The Brigadoon 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.

No way.
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 later).

2. The cost will be prohibitive.
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.

  Before we 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 vice versa.
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...

  Read the records and the angling press and check out the catches and the fly to spin average. The facts speak for themselves.

  Some find 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.

  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.

  The costs 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 site www.fishtweed.co.uk covers many available beats.

  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 items.
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.

  Expect the 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.

By Bill Drew 2005 ©

Bill 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

Tweed 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.

Guide, permit , access to private water,  waders to rod Tweed Guide can do it all. www.tweedguide.com Contact Bill at


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