October 1st, 2015


A friend wrote to me about our Indian summer. He is coming to fish at FCW in late October and told me that he thought it might be a good time to paint some water colour pictures of the river if the current bright days and low river level continues. Here’s my reply;

Yes, idyllic. In fact I took the dogs out early this morning for their constitutional (which I have to say they take extremely seriously) and wandered down to my vantage seat at the head of Tyndals, tucked under the mature sycamore tree. As I sat there, with the dogs starting to think about breakfast (ie getting affectionate!), I saw a fresh grilse clear the water at the head of the stream, just a matter of five yards downstream of the Webcam Boulder. It was a fresh fish!

9 lbs salmon in net

Even better was an incident yesterday afternoon, with the sun blazing down and the water dead low. Iain had been ghillieing all day for a Mr Symonds to whom I had explained that there was small chance of catching a fish, but that he would have a lovely day fishing all the FCW pools (no one else fishing) in the excellent company of Iain.

Well, two things happened: first, Iain reported on huge numbers of salmon, mostly coloured, splashing about in House Pool, but none was in the slightest bit interested in his or Mr Symonds’ offerings. Then Iain told me that he had seen a veritable monster, as fresh as a spring daisy, or a Buckingham Palace freshly bulled tureen, leap clear of the water at the top of Breadalbane Pool. He was a bit coy about how big, but relented this morning when I pressed him by saying that it was in the upper twenties, or even bigger. A real South Esk Brammer!

Early autumn view in low water from the Red Brae Hut.

Early autumn view in low water from the Red Brae Hut.

Then, to cap it all on a hopeless day for fishing, our friend Mr Symonds, by this time charmed into a bucolic lethargy by the natural assets of FCW, convivial company of Iain, and warm sunshine, was fishing through the Red Brae with Iain beside him. Fishing with a Wetcel 2 and a Willie Gunn weighted cone head they fished through all the streamy bits before getting to the end of the Wall. Iain said to Mr S, “this is the dub where fish lie, but you will need to work the fly (there being no stream of any consequence)”

So Mr S took Iain’s advice and dropped the fly just short of the broken rocks under the south bank, downstream of the end of the Wall. As soon as he started to work the fly it was snatched hard by a heavy fish which turned out to be a splendid 15lbs cock salmon with full kype and glorious tartan. It gave the surprised Mr S a real struggle, as those big sexed-up, testosterone-filled male monsters do, was landed weighed and returned.

Beechesin very low water 9.13

Salmon fishing really is a mug’s game isn’t it?


PS By the way, I am sure there will be water when you are here, with the Indian Summer long gone and your water colours in their box. Leaves may be a problem. We will see.


Memorable Summer Salmon

July 28th, 2015
After a day on AST business in Edinburgh yesterday, I decided to fish just one pool in the gathering dusk of a drizzly late evening. I chose the Red Brae, where the water level was lapping the top of the wall – a perfect height for catching a salmon. Getting to the Red Brae’s north bank from the suspension bridge is much easier, and less like bashing through the Sumatra jungle, after Iain’s work clearing a wide path.  Combined with repairs to the suspension bridge access to the north bank is now fully restored. It is now an easy stroll along the bank to fish the Red Brae itself, from the Lemno confluence at the height of water last night. I should also mention the emergency repairs carried out by William Wells and The Scottish Oak team on our flood damaged suspension bridge. It is as good as new, awaiting the next massive tree rolling down the river on top of a big spate! Thanks Will.
9 lbs salmon in net
9lbs salmon from the dub of Red Brae Pool
A silvery and drizzly dusk.
I was encouraged by the sight of a neat, split fresh, little grilse rolling it’s back and flicking its tail in the way only grilse do. That fish showed just where the current changes direction at the downstream end of the wall. And then I saw a salmon boil a bit further down in the deep part of the pool – the Dub. The water was slightly peat coloured and enticingly clear, so that I could see every cobble and ripple of sand on the bed of the river.
I fished the pool down steadily, plopping the fly just short of the wall on a fast sinking leader with a size 8 Yellow Torrish double with reduced barbs. Below the wall I started lengthening line to get the fly swinging nicely across the widest part of the pool, led smoothly by bringing the rod tip across and parallel to my own bank while gently hand lining to keep up the speed and depth of the fly About ten yards down from the end of the wall, in a lovely swirly bit of water where the current starts gathering pace, I felt a long, firm draw. The rod tip bowed reverently and I tightened into a strong hen fish of about eight pounds, which after two determined runs, gradually came to the net after about ten minutes. She was a bit coloured and the hook came away in the net, so I was able to photograph her in the net and release her without touching the fish. Needless to say, she swam off strongly, with relief expressed in every movement of her fins as she slid away into the peaty depths of Red Brae.
You might be thinking to yourself, “why is Tony telling this story of one very ordinary and not very fresh salmon?” A simple answer from me: it was all about the satisfaction of ending a long and tiring day on a note of perfection. As I walked back in the deepening dusk, with a fine drizzle keeping the trees shiny and dripping, I was reminded of why I go fishing, and of those elemental emotions the hunter in me evokes!



July 26th, 2015


Today we caught and returned two grilse and three salmon, all of which were fresh from the sea. After last night’s better-than-expected news about the South Esk there is a spring in our step and renewed hope for the river. Two pristine, bright silver 12lbs salmon are the pictures that make a thousand words (photos coming soon).

Gordon shows 12lbs salmonGordon McCallum with a 12lbs salmon from Indies Beat’s Frank’s Stream

The river hasn’t fully recovered from last weekend’s mighty spate. The water is unusually cloudy which I suspect is coming from a major bank collapse somewhere upstream of Finavon. We are not seeing many fish, but there is undoubtedly a run going on.

Let’s see what the next few days bring….

TA 27/7/2015



the meeting tonight was very informative and there was even a note of optimism. John Armstrong of Marine Scotland gave an excellent summary of research on South Esk spring salmon from which it may be inferred that stocks are not as weak as we all feared he would report. The information on the tracking project was of particular interest, especially in the success of identifying where spring salmon spawn and where their juveniles grow.

While there is no room for complacency, it seems that recruitment of spring salmon juveniles in the upper reaches of the South Esk is encouraging. Nearer the sea the tributaries in the coastal plain – the Lemno Burn, Noran Water and Pow Burn are presenting very different data sets on densities and condition of salmon parr, with the Lemno Burn a really serious cause for concern, while the Noran is showing high densities of parr in good condition.


 A perfect spring salmon from the South Esk at Finavon

John Armstrong recognised that angling effort has declined since 2009, but that catches per Unit effort have remained remarkably consistent over the last decade. It would appear that the decline of salmon in the South Esk may derive from a number of different sources, including a reduction in fishing effort and serious problems of recruitment of fry in the lower catchment.

The discussion with Marshall Halliday and Tom Sampson during the meeting was good natured to the extent that most of the concerns of anglers at the meeting were resolved. The decision of the government to institute a killing licence system for wild Atlantic salmon and to phase out all coastal netting throughout the country from 2016 provided a background to the meeting which could hardly have been better for a constructive discussion to follow.

My personal view is that this meeting confirmed things that many people who know and love the South Esk have felt intuitively or observed for some time. The people who manage the river, or whose jobs depend on its revival as a reputable salmon river and a top sea trout fishery, should feel reassured by these developments.

At last we have reason to smile and to make sure that these signs of optimism become substantial and sustainable. There is a lot of work to be done….

TA 25/7/2015



Tomorrow at 1830 at the Northern Hotel in Brechin there will be a meeting organised by the Esk District Fishery Board. Among the speakers will be John Armstrong, who is the head of the Freshwater Fisheries laboratory at Pitlochry. It should be an interesting meeting which I hope will be well attended by an audience who come with open minds.

STOCK ASSESSMENT The raw data on the condition of salmon stocks in the North Atlantic Ocean is provided by an international organisation called ICES (international Conference for Exploration of the Seas). ICES collates returns from all the wild salmon countries of the North Atlantic based on catches and some other indicators.

The scientists and statisticians of ICES are all too aware of the limitations of using rod catch statistics as a primary tool on which to base management decisions, and they are currently looking at ways of improving their assessments. It is ICES that is telling us that numbers of salmon in the Ocean have declined from about ten million in the 1970s to under three million today. No-one is contesting that disastrous decline in abundance. Nor are any of the managers with whom I discuss such matters in the least bit complacent about the shortage of salmon in the South Esk. We recognise there are problems, as there are with other Scottish rivers, but we do need to improve our messaging and communications.

Pentland Firth APHAThe wild Atlantic Salmon’ survival at sea is the biggest challenge for scientists. 40 years ago about 25% of smolts returned as adults. Today it is far less than 10%. This is the Pentland Firth in the far north of Scotland.

The Scottish Government uses the catch statistics tool to assess numbers of salmon spawners in each river. In the Esk District our fishery board applies the catch statistics tool religiously, and bases its management actions on the results, despite repeated claims by proprietors such as myself and anglers represented by their clubs, that restrictions on fishing methods, mandatory catch and release and a decline in angling effort are not being taken into account. I sometimes wonder if a nil return from a beat whose manager has decided not to fish at all would be treated by the board as an indication of stock decline. That has actually happened already with one well known middle beat. In other words a nil return means zero effort, no salmon caught. Logically, using the catches tool, without taking effort into consideration, means that the stock of the river will be described as having lower abundance.

I believe we need to encourage the fishery board to develop a more sophisticated way of measuring the river’s stock. It should for example not be too difficult to devise a crude method of measuring effort based on rod days fished in each month of the season. That would at least be a start!

Over time we can improve the way we measure angling effort and who knows? During that period we might even initiate an integrated stock assessment project using all the methods available to us, and not depend on one rather unreliable indicator on which to base our management decisions.

Perhaps tomorrow’s meeting might include a discussion on options for improving stock assessment, after we have heard the report from Marine Scotland.

TA 24/7/2015




Time passes quickly when you’re enjoying yourself, they say, and I certainly enjoy my outdoor life on the river. Time also seems to pass quickly when you observe the seasonal changes in nature. We are at the height of summer and the apex of growing season just now, the foxgloves are standing proudly alongside the melancholy thistles and campanulas. Within this seasonal label, however, there are observable changes almost daily. One notices how the shades of green on the trees deepens as they photosynthesise ever more quickly, and how the fruit on the grozet bush is suddenly ripe for picking even though the berries were hard and sour three days ago. This is the time of plenty, when our hunter gatherer forebears would have been collecting as much of nature’s larder as possible and drying or smoking it as a safety margin for the leaner time of year, which will be upon us before we know it. There is still yet a satisfying sense of ‘stocking up’ by picking fruit for jams and preserves and freezing trout.

Head of Tyndals

  Tyndals Pool on Milton Beat in low water

This is also the midway point of our fishing season on the South Esk. This season has been full of interest and excitement in equal measure. We have seen one of the best sea trout runs in recent memory which has been greatly encouraging. There have been times this season when we have observed shoals of fish numbering well into the hundreds in the pools at FCW. At the time of writing we have caught 134 of these wonderful creatures, most of which have been returned to continue their journey upstream; but some which have, quite rightly, been harvested for the hunter’s table. While the main run en-masse is beginning to peter out, we should still be picking fish up until the end of the season. I know that some fresh fish are still being caught further downstream and this too is encouraging. With any luck, there will be some good sport to be had with the ‘white trout’ for a

Willows in June

The famous Willows Pool on Milton Beat at sea trout time

Salmon fishing has been less prolific, but this isn’t too surprising considering that there has been little fresh water (until now) and that the bulk of angling effort has naturally gone into nocturnal forays for our aforementioned sea trout shoals. Right now, I am listening to the rain smashing off of the window panes like buckshot as it has been all night long. We are sure to have a river in full spate by tea time tonight and there will certainly be fish arriving on the back of it. Whether they will pause long enough on their journey for us anglers to catch a few next week remains to be seen, but they will be coming into the river and that is the important point. Good luck to those fish who steam straight through the beats, un seen by anglers and scarce stopping until they reach the pool in which they decide to hole up until, full of amorous intent, they emerge once again. Noble beasts they are!

Will Batt's 6lbs grilse

                                                                                      First salmon. A happy customer!

By this time next month we will be beginning to think about early autumn fishing. The nights will be interminably drawing in, actually they already are! And most of the fruit will be just about gone, either into jam jars or back into the earth. Nature will be have dropped a gear and will be preparing to wind down. We, on the other hand, will be still going very much at full speed, trying to catch some of those lovely autumn salmon for which the South Esk is known. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a good back end run!

IMCM 20/7/2015