Saturday, 11 May 2013
They always say, there’s a whole lot more to fishing than catching fish! A statement normally associated with a lean, but never the less, an enjoyable weeks fishing!
Although it can be cold, and this year certainly was, the last few days of April and first in May is always a good time to visit our Scottish rivers, a time where, even during the worst of conditions, in the words of my old boss, there will always be an enchanting moment!
This was certainly the case for my first group of the season from Austria. They visited the Spey, predominantly to fish for salmon, but were reminded that, at this time, the Spey is also a very good trout river. The Deveron at this time can also provide some great sport with both species. This in mind, I organised fishing on both the Gordon Castle Water on the Spey, and Avochie on the Deveron, told the guys [all of whom were experienced trout fishers] to bring their trout rods with dry flies. The sport they had on what were less than good conditions, was extremely good; and this is where the fun begun! A salmon on the first evening settled the party and provided a taste of what was to come; some great fishing on dries both on the Spey and Deveron, but not only for trout!
The group were looked after by my assistant, Tom Brown, who, amongst other things, provided casting tuition, chauffeur service from Edinburgh and a great deal of advice and craic, all of which made for a wonderful weeks for those guests.
Experience told us that, compared to normal, salmon were a little thin on the ground, however, the guests were encouraged as soon as the first March Brown appeared and the emphasis turned to trout, and wow, straight away those trout experts were catching lots of wonderful fish, some really nice ones too. Trout of 50 – 60cm along with some Sea Trout and a few salmon made for some really nice sport!
This type of fishing is available each year during this period when the March Brown begin to hatch and trout begin to waken up for the first time in the year. The combination of friends with no travel worries, first class coaching, nice fishing, comfortable hotel, and great craic made for very nice holiday for all concerned.
Posted by Ian Gordon at 17:53
Friday, 26 April 2013
Whether it be – The destruction of our rain forests, the pending extinction of the white rhino, global warming, or the erection of wind-farms; the “conflicting interests” of “experts” charged with the protection of all of the above, always leads to one place - Polarized debate and the creating two camps of opinion and the good old “more research needed” stalemate!
Wild Salmon and Salmon Farming are a perfect example of this but interestingly, in Canada, the "conflicting interests” of “science with a passion”, finally, has met the one we are more used to - “science linked to politics”. They say if you more too much to the right, eventually you will bump into those on the left! Mmmm, where have I seen this recently! Over the years I have looked at those people hiding behind the mask of “Science” here in Scotland and been totally dismayed with what they have, or have not, done for the welfare of our Scottish salmon. I’m so glad to see this beginning to change. As I always say, a good, “passionate” Scientist is worth his/her weight in gold, just a real shame those others [As we see in the link below] are hell bent on halting progress, purely for their own, or the gain of their political paymasters.
Both Scotland and Norway have classic examples “experts” who have polarized the fish farming debate, just like in the film, all scientists, but with different agendas and paymasters.
Please watch this documentary and make up your own mind before it’s banned.
In it, you can feel the passion of biologist – Alexandra Morton, but also the lies and deception of those others with conflicting interests. Just like those with the same agenda’s here in Scotland, they stick out like a sore thumb !!!
Posted by Ian Gordon at 12:00
Sunday, 21 April 2013
A summary of the early spring fishing of 2013 here on the Spey could be - Cold, low water with a lower than average number of fish running the river.
As with any extreme weather pattern, the long period of cold, dry weather made for winners and losers; wonderful if you happened to be fishing on the lower half of the river, say on Gordon Castle or the Brae Water, both of which performed very well, but really quite poor if you happened to be fishing above the railway bridge at Orton.
Those fishing above Craigellachie experienced their worst start to a season ever, something which could be attributed to the conditions but personally I’m not so sure, the Spey is a large river with no natural barrier to halt the progress of fish should they wish to ascend, and the fact that some fish were caught here suggests the main reason for the poor start was, quite simply, a lack of fish.
The vice like grip of winter finally broke on the 14th April, the warm southerly wind and rain causing a rapid thaw, rendering the following week useless. Now we will see whether there have indeed been a good number of fish waiting to run the river. Watch this space!
Posted by Ian Gordon at 08:53
Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Having driven the road between Aviemore and Perth so many times over the past 10 years, I could not help notice, during this latest trip, the number of Mountain, Blue/White Hare’s lying dead on the road.
The above reminded me of stories told to me by my father and the older Ghillies at Knockando, stories about huge numbers of Hares present in the 50s and 60s, before, it would seem, almost disappearing altogether, their population shrinking to near extinction by the end of the 1970s. Much the same could be said of the Brown Hare, very common and present in huge numbers at the same time before suffering, it would seem, the same fate as their white cousins and all around the same time. So what happened? How did something present in such huge numbers go from being culled in huge numbers each year, to near extinction? And, what has changed to see them make a recovery?
As someone who has grown up in the countryside, watched those changes come about, I have always been interested in such questions and the possible and probable answers.
My first and only experience of shooting/culling Brown Hares was in 1977 when, as a 14 year old, I accompanied my father on an organised shoot early in the spring. Two lines of guns, one walking, one standing, would drive those toward one another over ploughed fields, shooting as many as possible. This, I have to say, was also my first experience of feeling sadness for my quarry whilst shooting; the reason being, the noise made by those wounded Hares, as a soft hearted 14 years old, the cries [ like a child], was just too much, and although I carried on shooting all my life, I never did shot hares again. I remember we shot 38 hares that day, a number many of those older people shooting that day could believe was so low. Their numbers, by this time, were already in serious and many said, terminal decline. So what has caused this comeback?
The answer to this could be fairly complex, or, by the same token, fairly simple, it really depends on how your head works, or possibly your agenda. To be very simple – We, or those organising the culling of those animals, failed to recognise the speed of the decline, shooting them until not enough remained to repopulate, during a time of naturally decreasing numbers due to long term weather/environmental change, something very natural, but unfortunately taking place over a period of more than one lifetime. To all intent and purpose, this sentence answers the question! However, if you want to be more complex about it all, you could also ask, why to this question too? Although 99% of the answer is obvious, there are always those who seek, or make a living out of, seeking 100!
No matter what we are managing there are simple ways and more complex ways of doing this. Looking at this in a simple way – If we are managing Grouse, a “wild” bird that cannot be bred, then there are two important things we can influence to help them, namely – Habitat and Predators. Simplistically, if you have too much of one and not enough of the other, i.e. if those are not properly managed, then, even if environmental conditions are naturally suitable for the birds during this period, you will not have a sufficient population to harvest. Period! The population of anything totally wild will always fluctuate due to those factors above. Everyone who has a good Grouse moor knows exactly what’s required to manage it properly and that this does not happen naturally by itself!
Pheasants and Partridges on the other hand are very different, in that both can be bred and as such their population controlled by us, man, the world’s No 1 predator!
So, managing something wild over something that can be bred requires very different strategies. The brown and white hare are good examples of this. Because they are totally wild, the Brown and White Hare population will fluctuate naturally, their population will grow and shrink depending largely on man and how he manages their Habitat and potential Predators. Although a by-product, indirectly and through change in farming practice in the 1940s [more intensive arable farming, ploughed fields over the winter providing them with cover and good food supply in the spring] perfect habitat was created for the brown hare. Perfect that was, until their increasing numbers begun to be noticed by man who did not relish the fact they were eating his crops and damaging their trees; two simple things which ultimately led to their demise. Of course there will be environmental factors involved too, but those are things we have no control over either in the short, medium or long term and in actual fact have only a small part to play in the overall demise of the Brown Hare in the late 1970s. The fact of the matter is, much like the wild Atlantic salmon, they were culled to almost extinction at a time when naturally the chances of recovery were slim.
So why after 40 years has the Brown and White hare begun to make a slight, but never the less, visible recovery? The answer is again fairly easy, we are not now culling them, and have not done for some time. Add to this, more favourable environmental conditions and they have a chance. Compared to those days of mass culling their number is still small, however, given proper protection I’m sure they will continue to recover as, other than man, they have very few large predators. Just as long as environmental factors remain favourable the recovery should continue.
Can we use the same analogy when looking at the Atlantic salmon? Well, my feeling is yes and no. Yes, and for similar reasons as above [mass culling and failing to understand the decline], the population is only a fraction of what it once was! Looking at the above, because they are 100% wild and now cannot be bred, then our only hope of managing them is to deal with Habitat and Predators. Some rivers have seen serious loss of habitat whilst others very little. But one common denominator is predators. To use the above as an example, what we now have with the protection of Seals, Cormorants, Goosanders, Mergansers Otters and every other predator, leaves the salmon with no chance of recovery, it would be like having a Grouse Moor with a dozen fox dens and a dozen pairs of Hen Harriers, no chance at all, well, certainly not in the short term.
The problem and answer is there and obvious but I’m afraid people are overly busy creating a side show, leading those away from the real issues and tackling this obvious decline head on. There are two choices –
- If we are to continue managing salmon as a “wild” animal then. Like the Grouse, we simply must manage their natural predators. Period!
- If not, then we must farm enough to feed those predators [Bad, but only other option].
There are no other options. Can anyone imagine managing a Grouse Moor purely by creating the perfect habitat and not killing predators? I think not, lots of work for no return! Wild salmon are exactly the same and those promoting habitat improvements only as some sort of saving grace to our wild salmon know this more than most!! To some this may seem a step in the right direction, but in actual fact, on its own, just like on the grouse moor, or like we saw with the brown hare, the decline will continue until their killing by predators is stopped.
Posted by Ian Gordon at 00:32
Thursday, 7 March 2013
The beginning of the 2013 season, although not bursting with fresh salmon, never the less has proved very busy for me with fishing customers already enjoying our Scottish rivers.
My season got kicked off with a group of six from Munich enjoying a nice week of casting and fishing tuition in the wonderful Tulchan here on the Spey, a fantastic place, with fantastic ghillies, facilities and staff, which collectively, make this one of the top salmon fishing destinations in Europe at this time. As I said to Thomas, the team leader, “If you don’t enjoy fishing here, you should take up golf”!
This first week finished with six extremely happy customers; the decision to attend the opening ceremony and fish the first week proving to be the perfect one as when it comes to learning about fly fishing, there is no substitute for the real thing. All learned a great deal about fishing for salmon with sinking lines as well as reading the river. This, along with an education about the culture of salmon fishing in Scotland from both the Tulchan ghillies and myself made for a memorable stay on Speyside. The comfort of those fishing huts here only added to the whole experience, with team leader, Thomas, head chef in the Hilton Munich, making much use of the cooking and dining facilities offered in the luxury fishing hut and turning out a wonderful meal for everyone on the Friday evening. Yip, there’s a lot more to salmon fishing than catching fish! Mind you, the group were not without those either; all in all a great week for all concerned. One of the most interesting comments from the group was from writer and journalist, Marcus Ruoff, who, after a couple of trips to Iceland thought salmon fishing was not for him, however, one week with us on the Spey changed that resulting in a new found interest in salmon and double handed rods.
The second week of the season was also a sinking line course at Tulchan, this time the week was split in two, the first half with a local group, the second again from abroad. The results were much the same as the first week with those attending enjoying what was described by two attendees as their best fishing experience, having fished only in Alaska, amazed at the strength of the Atlantic salmon! Yes, whilst most of us take the wonderful fishing and culture for granted, those who have never experienced what we have are completely blown away by the “real deal” which is salmon fishing in Scotland. This fishing ticks all the boxes, add some good tuition, ghillies stories, good food, one or two fish, and, importantly at this time, comfortable facilities, and, like I said, there is nothing and nowhere better than what we have on our own doorstep!
Here at Speyonline the whole team takes pride in understanding and focusing on the bigger picture, working hard as a team, as much as we can, to ensure the expectations of our customers are met, something which, given everything we have here on Speyside, is fairly easy; the vital ingredient to the recipe ensuring success however, is passion! Something I learned from my ex employers, Sir David and Martin Wills of Knockando, both of whom not only held a strong passion for the river, but also, and importantly, for the wider community; true visionaries who could always see much more than merely a fish on the end of a line and tuned totally into the bigger picture!
Why do we visit the river spey? Well, like the salmon itself, the answer to this could be very simple, to catch a fish. Or, it may be much more complicated - To spend quality time with friends, to put you fishing theory to test, to unscramble your busy head, to be at one with nature, to enjoy casting over beautiful salmon pools, or simply sit with a drink or cigarette and listen to the river. Maybe it’s a combination of all of those but one thing for sure is, here on the Spey for 30 weeks of every year we can provide for the personal requirements of everyone who wishes to visit providing a service impossible to achieve elsewhere.
Posted by Ian Gordon at 23:49
Sunday, 17 February 2013
The height of the river could not have been better for the opening day of the season here on the Spey, around one foot on the gauge and perfectly clear, made for very good fishing conditions, albeit with a nasty cold wind, mind you, a drop of Speyside’s finest spirit and this was soon forgotten.
Depending on your mood and thoughts, “The Spirit of the Spey” can manifest itself in many ways; from the finest malt whisky, to Salmo Salar, the king of fish and his timeless migration, baffling and intriguing to the point of infinity. Or, the souls of those departed, who, like us, loved this place as well as the former; and possibly, a gathering of kindred people on a cold riverbank!
Although slightly different this year, each year the opening ceremony provides us salmon fishermen/women with a focal event, providing a sense of community, a coming together, celebrating with common purpose the new salmon fishing season and through the ritual of blessing the river and sharing our appreciation for what it provides. However, as the last drops from the bottle fall to the river and the piper played his final lament, formalities over, this group, brought together by a passion for their sport and river, disperse, retreating initially to sub groups, before retreating to comfort of their personal beat and soon the solitude of the river bank, where, like generations have before them, they quietly contemplate their own personal approach to fishing the first pool of a new salmon season. Did nature ever provide such a powerful drug of intrigue to man as the Atlantic Salmon?
Although social, ultimately, salmon fishing is an individual sport, one where experience leads us to the formation our own opinions and theory , which as individuals we put into practice in seclusion of the riverbank, or, more often, in the solitude of our own thoughts!
The full potential of the Spey, I believe was intended to be shared, not with everyone, as this would be both unpractical and impossible, but with those fortunate enough to appreciate and understand the true value of combining both river and its people. For me, the opening ceremony, itself fairly recent, is the beginning of something special, embracing this sense of community amongst not only salmon fishers, but those with any interest linked to the river. So it comes as no surprise to me that the “spirit” of this gathering was itself initiated, not by the fishery board, but by two of the longest established businesses on Speyside, Walkers of Aberlour and Glenfarclas Distillery, both of which have adapted to massive change since their beginning. The secret to their success and longevity is evolution, having foresight and confidence in their product to develop their, originally small Speyside businesses into global brands. Both businesses have embraced change, adapted and moving forward with common purpose, whilst at the same time not losing sight of the traditional core values of their business; similar in fact to that the salmon, never staying still and constantly on the move and evolving to change.
Much more than individual famous beats, ghillies, owners, apathy and jealousy, all of which will eventually succumb to the tides of change, the evolution of the River Spey and associated businesses as a “global brand” I believe, will have its roots in community similar to that seen in the opening ceremony and a sense of common purpose.
Without its people, no place has spirit, not even the mighty Spey. If the River is the life blood of the valley, then the people are the life blood of the river!!
Posted by Ian Gordon at 14:58
Monday, 21 January 2013
The funeral of an old friend on Hogmanay brought back pleasant memories of a man who had led a long and interesting life.
When I arrived at Lower Pitchroy In 1985, beat ghillie, George Shepherd, had been there for more than 20 years and was much respected and regarded by those who had fished there during that time. My first hour with George left me thinking, my god, this guy has so much fishing and people experience, how will I ever live up to and fill the boots of this guy!
George had grown up in Perthshire and was taught to fish by his Uncle in the 1930s, a time when fishing was for food and not so much sport. This grounding created an interest in all aspects of fishing, Trout, Salmon and Salt Water, also, an in depth knowledge of our sport second to very few people. As is often the case with such modest people, he was a man of few words, keeping all that knowledge locked up, imparting it only to certain people who could find the key! I knew one other who was exactly the same, Jonathon Taylor was the ghillie at Forglen on the River Deveron for around 60 years when I met him as a young boy in the mid 1970, and on meeting George some years later, I instantly recognised the character, or at least this “quiet” but knowledgeable trait shared by both.
After spending 3 months with George at the end of 1985, dawn broke on the season of 1986 and I found myself, for the first time ever, alone with my own thoughts and ideas, most of which had been gleaned from the fishing I had done with Jonathon and my father in the autumn on the Deveron, a much smaller river of very different character. However, the Spey was a very different river, and thus, a different challenge. My searching personality and relationship, based on respect, for those older ghillies and guides and, it has to be said, fishing clients, ensured their confidence in me, something which in turn meant I could draw on their experience at any time, leaving me in a very fortunate position indeed, privy to all that information at the other end of a phone, or better still in the case of George, an invite back to the beat he knew so well.
After he had retired from the beat George returned to the beat many times, as guest of both myself and those he had fished with for many years, my relationship with him meant the knowledge base of all those years was ready available to both myself and importantly, my guests, something which I have to say was invaluable not only to my own development, but, as the years rolled on, also that of the beat.
His grounding as an angler made him one of the most knowledgeable and interesting people I have ever met, creative and radical ideas years ahead of their time. Nothing about this man was regular; his box of sea trout flies, pieces of wood, pens, very lightly dressed home-made Waddington type flies and shiny hooks, typified him as a fisherman from an era where money was tight and, without the plethora of materials available to everyone today, ghillies had to be imaginative, making flies and lures from whatever was available. Baits made from .303 bullets, copper pipe and even parts of old shoes, not to mention the refill from a parker pen, something which I can honestly say was one of the best I ever saw for catching sea trout and grilse. He used soft fibreglass rods if fishing a dropper, no need for distance or tight loops, indeed, open loops saving tangles were the order of the day. Wading; something that was done only if necessary and not as a matter of course; I heard one guest ask one time “Am I wading in the right place George”? No, yir far too deep, came the answer in his strong fife accent! After moving to the shore a little, he shouts again, “is this better George”? No, a yiv deen is scared the fish awa we a yir thrashing aroon Sir!
Away from the great times we had on the beat after he retired, some of the best lessons I ever got was from watching how he fished for Sea Trout. Wellies and never waders, small flies, typically trout flies to begin with, sometimes a dropper, fished in the fast choppy water of the neck of a pool as the light was beginning to go, then, as it darkened, the small Waddington fished a little deeper followed by the parker pen fished o the sink tip and always at the end of the session, and once it was dark, the balsa wood, a home-made surface lure which he had been catching fish on since around 1930. My first experience of the latter came whilst fishing in front of him one dark evening. I had become aware of a strange periodic “plop” beside me, looking around all was dark, then, not feet from where I was standing, a commotion on the surface of the water followed by a screaming reel and fish cart-wheeling all around me. This must be a salmon I thought, but in actual fact it was a 10 and a half pound Sea Trout, what a scrap! What did you get him on I asked, have a look he said, and to my amazement all I could see was this rough piece of wood sticking out of it mouth. Holy Moses, I thought you were only joking about that I said. For the next 20 years my sea trout fishing and that of my guests followed this pattern, well, on that type of night they did; and I have to say, the sport enjoyed by those I encouraged to burn the midnight oil, was nothing short of epic, something neither I nor they will ever forget; amazing sport for countless people, many of whom would praise me for knowing all those tricks, however, they would and always will be corrected, this was not down to me, but to the ingenuity and experience of a great angler before me, all I ever did was invite him back to his old beat for a cast!!
Posted by Ian Gordon at 01:08