Archive for the ‘History’ Category


Friday, July 11th, 2014


Iain MacMaster comes from a well-known family of west coast gamekeepers. Introduced to the all-round delights of rivers and fishing by a fisherman father, Iain has told me that he is keen to learn the skills and gain the experience to become an a salmon and sea trout fishery guide & manager. As our readers will see from his blog that follows this introduction, Iain is already getting involved with all aspects of FCW – from greeting and advising visiting fishers to dealing with our horrendous outbreaks of giant hogweed. His description below, likening the task of achieving our zero-tolerance objective with GHW and other invasive species to WW11 knapsack spraying napalm in the humid jungle of Guadacanal, is very visual. The blog that follows is Iain’s first as an FCW team member. Wish him well, as we all do here at Finavon, and thank you Iain for infecting us with your enthusiasm – not to mention your hard work. TA

Red Brae Wall

Red Brae & Kirkinn from the right bank – the heart of FCW


The first thing that struck me when Tony led me down the Milton beat track last November, was the enchanting little wooden hut perched nobly above Craigo Stream. Stepping inside, I felt keenly that I was entering a sanctuary of memories and experiences. Over the mesmeric rush of the pool below, I could almost hear the whispered remnants of the conversations left by anglers past. Immediately, I sensed that here was a place which was loved and appreciated, not just by Tony, Alison and their family, but by many anglers from many places. The second thing that struck me was an almost overwhelming desire to be wading down the gravel shelf at Red Brae with my Bruce and Walker.

Since that day and the months following it, when I spent most of my days off-shift travelling to and working at Finavon, Tony and I have come a long way. I knew that I wanted to be involved with Finavon in a big way, and that desire grew just a little bit more every time that I came and went. So it didn’t take very long for Heather and me to start thinking about moving our life slightly North East…and here we are.

One of the first tasks which I undertook at FCW, back in those cold winter days was to harvest, trim and gather sheaves of willow canes. Anyone who fished at Finavon in the first month of the season, may remember seeing buckets full of them sitting outside every hut. I planted these in many of the soft edges up and down all four of the beats with the intention that the roots would take hold and help shore the banks up. Willow is fantastic stuff to plant, as you simply need to stick a cane into the ground where it will remain moist, and usually it will just grow. We seem to have had quite a successful take from the little wands, and once they grow bigger it will become necessary to keep them trimmed back so that they do their job without encroaching on casting space; which is always an issue with willow because it grows so quickly.

Beeches in very low water 9.13

Beeches on Castle Beat, where Iain has done much of his work.

Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time planting other things too, Oak trees next to the Boat Pool, Honeysuckle around three of the huts, bird cherry scattered widely and Birches in a forest clearing adjacent to Harry’s Bar on Bogardo beat.

There have been many days spent chopping and trimming my way down the edges of various pools to open them up for easier fishing. It’s particularly satisfying to get to the bottom of a pool, look back upstream and see the difference that you’ve made. Beeches had this treatment at the beginning of the week and will now be much easier to fish effectively as the foliage on the North bank was really starting to impede when trying to form the loop of your roll cast. It is also possible to fish down the pool much more quietly now as you can wade it at ankle depth rather than knee depth, and stealth of course is of crucial importance when fishing for night time sea trout.

For the past couple of months the most important job has been dealing with the infestation of Giant Hogweed at FCW. This nasty plant from Asia was another ill-conceived introduction by the Victorians, who have a lot to answer for considering the proliferation of species such as Himalayan Balsam and Rhododendron as well. The attack on the Hogweed has been simple and brutal, carried out mostly by spraying the leaves directly with our new specially sanctioned herbicide which is completely non-toxic to mammalian or piscine life. One of the problems however has been that some of the seed heads were 10-12 feet high and probably 10 inches in diameter, so spraying the leaves wasn’t really an option. These sinister looking monsters have been hacked down with saws and billhooks and the herbicide has been sprayed directly down the hollow stems and into the root system. We’re hoping that this will utterly destroy the rhizomes.

I’ve been ending the day looking like a cross between a Pictish warrior of Finavon Hill and an Astronaut, thanks to the mixture of the blue dye from the spray, and the waders, overalls, gauntlets and safety goggles that I’ve been wearing! It has been a very hard and tiring task, but a very necessary one. It crossed my mind when stumbling and crawling with the heavy spray pack through the thickest of the dense cover that here was just a tiny flavour of what carrying a flame-thrower through the jungles of the Solomon Islands might have felt like! The spraying is still ongoing, but I’m confident that the worst of it is done. So if you happen to see any healthy looking thickets of Hogweed at Finavon, please do let Tony or myself know!

The late Peter Ward fishing the head of IndiesPool from the South side.

The late Peter Ward fishing the head of Indies Pool from the South side.

I’ve enjoyed meeting a lot of new and interesting people over the past eight months, and hopefully sown the seeds of some friendships too. I’ve been touched by the number of people asking for my input and advice, and I’ve been delighted to help out to the best of my ability. It has been a source of immense joy to me that some of this advice has even paid off with a fish for the odd angler. I’m always delighted to come and meet you when you’re fishing and try my best to help with any questions or needs you might have, so don’t hesitate to give me a shout when you come to FCW.

DTH on 27 April 2013

David’s Treehouse (DTH) at daffodil time.

Finavon is a magical and evocative place. You can’t help but think about the ancient Picts who must surely have fished those very same pools for the Salmon they so revered. And what history has been trodden upon those riverbanks? Did Pictish war bands follow the river on their way to the great battle of Dunnichen? Did Roman legionaries stop by the river to wash, drink and even fish on their way North? Finavon is more than just a place to come and fish for Salmon, it is utterly enchanting and I, like many others have fallen in love with it.



What a way to run a country!

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

These bulletin blogs represent news about Finavon and the South Esk, and my views as a riparian owner. While I may digress at times to write about other places, these are not the views of any other organisation, nor are they designed to promote the interests of any individual or organisation other than Finavon Castle Water and factors affecting the fishery. Tony Andrews

I saw the post below on the Salmo Proboards Forum and thought it so apposite to the current situation on the Esks that I thought I could do no better than quote it in full in one of my bulletin blogs.

The author calls himself/herself ‘Adipose’ and this is what Adipose wrote:

Very few fishery owners make money from letting their fishing. Costs of managing  a rod fishery are huge and rents, especially on beats showing average catches of  less than 150 salmon each year, are insufficient to cover those  costs.

Let me give you an example of one 150 average catch fishery I know  on the South Esk

Annual rent from all sources is just under £20,000

Fishery Board levy £8000
Maintenance and cleaning of huts £1500 – £2500
Cutting of grass paths and maintenance of pools £5000  +
River watcher and Ghillie wages about £8000

The owner, who manages  to let a good proportion of the available weeks at an average of £60 per rod  day, ends up subsidising the people who come to fish. But he doesn’t resent  doing that (see below).

So why would someone do that? Why would they  knowingly lose money? The answer is very simple (and I am now thinking of three  owners on well known east coast rivers). They enjoy managing a fishery, living  close to the river, meeting their visiting fishers, looking after the natural  riverside environment and wildlife. it is a way of life. None of the three  people I have in mind wants to make a quick buck. Nor do they want to sell their  beats and benefit from the very considerable capital locked up in their  property. Actually, the only possible profit they might make would come from  selling their beats. And then they would have lost their way of  life.

Isn’t it a wonderful thing that there are idiots around who are  prepared to look after our rivers and lose money in the process? Most of these  beats are well looked after too!

It is an absolute myth that riparian  owners are “pocketing” huge amounts of cash. There is no such cash available,  except on the very few big river or famous premium beats. If you disagree with  me please give me examples and amounts of money involved. I think you will find  it hard to find a single example of profiteering by riparian owners on ‘modest  beats’ (150 salmon per year average).

Now, let’s put that scenario in the  context of what the netting interests are doing:

Their levy is far less  than the riparian owner’s levy. why?
They reap huge amounts of money from  selling dead spring salmon. In May 2011 Usan Fisheries killed 2307 salmon worth  over £300,000. Just one month!!! If you want to know who is profiteering from  our salmon you need look no further. The Usan company employs very few people,  pays very little money to conserve salmon and sea trout and kills 100% of their  catches.
What a way to run a country!”

Read more:

It is time for riparian owners and angling club owners/long lease holders to retaliate for all the first-nation-type (you know the argument: “we are Scotland’s poor, working class workers being exploited by the super-rich toffs & foreigners”) garbage propaganda being pedalled by the netting community!

Perhaps, if anyone agrees with me, they should let me know. Maybe we should mount a campaign of truth? I say that because the Scottish Government is either being duped by, or is conniving with, the propaganda which is ‘un peu economique avec la verite’ as my schoolboy French might have it.

A Very Poor Season for Anglers

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

These bulletin blogs represent news about Finavon and the South Esk, and my views as a riparian owner. While I may digress at times to write about other places, these are not the views of any other organisation, nor are they designed to promote the interests of any individual or organisation other than Finavon Castle Water and factors affecting the fishery. Tony Andrews

October remained mild to the last, which may have affected the willingness of salmon to take the fly. Certainly it has been very strange year, dominated by low water in the 122 days between the end of May and the beginning of October. There might be some compensation if it was a good vintage in Bordeaux!Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Very low water in the summer of 2013

Salmon and sea trout have been hard to catch, except for a brief flurry of catches in April and May, and again towards the end of October. The height of the sea trout season in June and July was severely affected by low water. There were large shoals of sea trout lying up in the Boat Pool for a short period in July, which I mentioned in a previous blog.

The late Earnley Gilbert, son of H.A. Gilbert, author of ‘Tales of a Wye Fisherman’, made a perceptive comment about the South Esk at Finavon in 1990 when he remarked during a dry spell in September of that year, “Nae water, nae fish”. How true! Even with a few fish in the pools, as indeed there were all summer long, without water, and with the low river exposing stones seldom seen, the chance of catching a fish was remote. We ended our season with 57 salmon and grilse and 31 sea trout. That is Finavon’s lowest catch since 1984.

Usan Nets 4

Regular readers of these blogs will recognise these nets in Lunan Bay belonging to Usan Fisheries Ltd. As we learn more about the extent of the ‘influence’ of this mixed stocks fishery and of the potential threat to ‘the rivers in-between’ (See previous blog; ‘Rivers in Between’ dated 22 September 2013) we have to answer the question, “How can fishery managers of any Scottish east coast river take effective action to conserve fragile populations while this indiscriminate anachronism continues?” If politicians are worried about fair play let us call their bluff and close the whole South Esk District to all forms of exploitation (rods and nets) of both salmon and sea trout. Noone, not the netting interests, not recreational fishery owners, has any right – commercial, legal or human – to exploit a threatened natural species. Conserving wild salmonids must be our number one priority.

Did other South Esk beats fare any better? As regular readers of these blogs will know, I make an assumption that the declared catches from 4 major South Esk beats probably represent two thirds of the total South Esk rod catch. Here are the 2013 catch returns from those 4 beats:

Beat Salmon before31st May 2013 Salmon total Sea Trout
Cortachy & DP  24 110 74
Inshewan  23   84 31
Finavon Castle  20   57 31
Kinnaird  54 156 57
Kinnaird nets  22
TOTALS 143 407 193


Upper Kinnaird did well in the spring and Middle Kinnaird caught up in the autumn. Cortachy and DP caught reasonable numbers of fish in the spring and back end, although their seasonal total is well below average. Inshewan did better than Finavon for salmon and grilse, and caught the same number of sea trout. Both beats’ catches were well below average, especially Finavon with about 30% of its ten year average for salmon.

With a season’s total of 407 salmon and grilse from these four beats we might expect the total rod catch for the whole river to be in the order of 610, which is a bit over half the long term average. As for sea trout, if we apply the same crude formula as above, the total rod sea trout catch for the South Esk could be as low as 290.

In an extended low water year, as 2013 certainly was, we cannot expect a high rod catch. Similar previous dry years, such as 1975 and 1976, show catches of sea trout at Finavon as 12 and 17 respectively. Catches of salmon and grilse were 17 and 15 in those two dry years. But there are anomalies such as 1994 when, in another dry year, Finavon caught 242 sea trout. In that same year the net and coble fishery in Montrose Basin caught 2,200 sea trout, c.650 grilse and about 280 salmon. That was the last year the Basin was netted.

A low river, low angling effort, and a shortage of both salmon and sea trout could not add up to a successful season, as indeed it did not! Put in those stark numerical terms it is all too easy to argue that the South Esk’s stocks have collapsed. But, if we look at the big picture, the last hundred years as opposed to the last five, we can see that we have been here before. Of course the most dominant ‘big picture’ factor is marine mortality, which is currently about 5% survival for MSW salmon and maybe between 6% and 10% for grilse.

Our natural freshwater smolt ‘factory’

While there are undoubtedly improvements that need to be carried out within the river catchment, it is perhaps fair to claim from observation that the South Esk is sending reasonable numbers of smolts to sea. With more than 90% of those smolts dying at sea and some serious doubts over the viability of certain populations within the stock, is it really wise to continue with a commercial fishery, let alone a mixed stocks one, in the South Esk District?