Archive for the ‘Fishing Report’ Category


Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Philip's 10lbs salmon


Today was a perfect, slightly misty, autumn day with the light fading away from about 3pm. Our guests were iain Ingledew, Mark Coburn (Fishpal) and Colin Carnie. There were some salmon showing all day long, especially in a Willows, Lower a Boat Pool, Volcano and Pheasantry. They were, as has been the case for all this autumn, very reluctant to take the fly. Nevertheless Mark Coburn had a nice 11lbs hen fish from the taking spot in Willows, immediately after Iain McMaster had encouraged him to drop the fly into the small bay just downstream of the willows. According to Mark the fish took with a quiet authority, as a salmon should! Well done Mark. While enjoying a most convivial lunch, I watched from the DTH veranda a big fresh salmon break the surface no less than 4 times. We tried to persuade it to take the fly by fishing down to it from above the RPJ at the head of the pool. Without success. Tomorrow is the last day of the 2014 season. Our guests are John Wood, Colin Carnie, and Derek Strachan. TA


No-one could deny that 2014 has been a tough year on most Scottish salmon rivers. Rivers such as the Spey, Teith, Dee and Thurso have had a torrid time, and their catches reflect that. Here on the South Esk we have been quite well let and there have been fish in the river since March. I wouldn’t claim that either wild salmon or sea trout have been here in big numbers but I can say with a deal of certainty from my own observations and those of people I trust that the River is holding its own in a difficult year. Thus it was with some relief that I heard that Tony Searle had caught an 8lbs cock salmon in Beeches Pool on Castle Pool in conditions that were nigh-on perfect with falling and clearing water, a nippy frost lowering water temperature, no wind and only a few leaves but it was hard going all day long with only the occasional fish showing. But who better to reach our 100 salmon for 2014 than Tony Searle who has given FCW so much support over the years!

Philip's 20lbs salmon


Monday started the week with the river in perfect ply. The air temperature was unseasonably warm, and a few leaves lingered in the current, but we really couldn’t complain that late October had sprung a high water surprise on the South Esk. We caught two salmon and a sea trout, but not many fish were seen during the day – certainly far fewer than in the previous week. Interestingly, as dusk fell, there was a good show of salmon in Pheasantry. For readers who don’t know that pool, it is the streamy section of river directly opposite David’s Tree House (DTH). Fish were splashing about in that pool well into the darkness. At least one of the fish caught yesterday came from that pool. Have a look at the map – and click on the pool name “Pheasantry” to see the pool in more detail. This morning (28/10) the river is running at 1’6″ at Gella Bridge and “steady” so, leaves permitting, and the overnight rain avoiding another deluge, we should see some action today. TA POSTSCRIPT OVERNIGHT RAIN SWELLED THE WATER IN THE CATCHMENT WHICH THEN SPILLED OVER INTO THE RIVER, BRINGING A 2′ SPATE. While conditions today weren’t good for fishing, the weather forecast suggests that there will be no more rain. More to the point, it is likely that there will be a sharp frost in the glens which should lower the water temperature and bring salmon onto the take. We are eternal optimists as we strive towards the 100 salmon for the season!


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

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

THE LAST FIVE DAYS OF THE 2014 SEASON (and some pictures from the spring & summer)

Overnight the storm blew itself out into the North Sea. This morning the wind is a shadow of its former self – a mere zephyr – and the beech leaves are lying 6″ deep on the lawn. The exhausted trees, after bending and groaning before the full force of the westerly gale are battered and bedraggled, with remaining leaves like shreds of clothing hanging from their skeletal forms. This is the back end of autumn, or the beginning of winter from which we should emerge in five or six months time. It’s a long haul! Today is mild and dull and, although I have yet to look closely at the river, I think it likely that the leaves will be less of an interference than last week. It has also started to rain here while in the West over 6″ of rain has fallen in the last 24 hours. Tony Searle and his two companions will start at 0800 with a meeting at the Milton gate, to be shown the river by Iain. Here’s hoping for keen salmon and satisfied anglers!



Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

My apologies to regular readers of these blogs. I have been remiss in not writing since August and, as a result of my neglect, today received a stern reprimand from Simon, our website advisor and guru. I am abject, and promised Simon I wouldn’t let it happen again. If I have an excuse it is that my mind has been wandering away from FCW website blogs into the world of Facebook, where feedback is guaranteed (if not always welcome) – a pretty paltry excuse by any reckoning.

To make amends I have included some extracts from the FCW Facebook pages over the last two months, and an update on a season that has turned out to be far from easy, despite that optimistic beginning in April.

HURRICANE GONZALO (remnants of) blew in from the southwest, sombrero firmly clamped to his head by a well buckled chinstrap. The wind roared and the chimney pots rattled, and the rain pattered against the windows of our old farmhouse. More rain fell than we anticipated, so that to a leaf filled river came a second flood of the week as the well leached land gave us a clearwater spate.

As I write this post the leaves are being stripped from the trees and outsize sycamore leaves spiral to the surface to drown in the swirling current and provide a brief moment of thrill as they tug firmly at the angler’s fly, just as a 20lb autumn salmon might.


Before the rain and leaves arrived like the densest imaginable minestrone, Will somehow managed to persuade a respectable but somewhat underweight grilse to take his hot orange fly in the Willows. A few fish were showing there and in Lower Boat Pool, but as I fished through those pools I had no tremors of anticipation. The river felt curiously comatose, its inhabitants unmotivated and uninterested. Will did well to catch his fish – his first salmon. Life will change after that moment – the moment when you raised the rod and felt the solid resistance of your first salmon! Nothing will ever be quite the same, Will. Relish it – a moment for lifelong reflection, & the strange alchemy of the salmon fisher’s experience infecting all that follows. Always respect the fish, its Odyssey, resilience, and its habit of making us miss a heartbeat!

Will Batt's 6lbs grilse

Will Batt with his first salmon (6lbs)



Last week we had another first salmon!

OK, it wasn’t a monster but it was a salmon – well, a grilse in fact – but John was the happiest ex-chief superintendent in Christendom as he headed back to the Finavon hostelry to boast his catch over dinner. A happy man, and one extremely satisfied Ghillie Iain, who said to me over the phone, “I couldn’t have enjoyed it more if I had caught it myself”.

My take on this happiest of incidents, which saw one rather coloured 4lbs grilse swim off into the shallow deeps of Beeches Pool on Castle Beat, is that vicarious enjoyment is usually much better than the real thing! Well done John: enjoy your dreams tonight, not to mention the odd libation to settle the brain and inject goodwill and contentment!

While the level of the South Esk continues to drop away gradually, the water temperature is falling as it ratchets down in sympathy with the coming winter. On the Tuesday of their week Colin Wilson’s party picked up three fish, the biggest of which was 11lbs. Ivan had a purple patch in late morning at Indies, with one unlikely encounter with a grilse from the tail of Indies Pool and then another bigger cock fish from the improving stream at the top of the pool.

Three fish against the odds. There will be some wine and spirits drunk tonight in convivial company! A happy occasion.


The week before was a time of the falling river level and gin-clear water.


Last year (2013) was a dry year with consequent low levels of water and catches in the South Esk. It now looks as if 2014, while not as dry as 2013, is to be another low water year.

After a big spate at the beginning of the wek it has only taken five days for the river to drop back and the water to clear. Overnight frosts are nipping and reducing the runoff in the hills. Colder water temperatures may encourage fish already in the river to take more readily, but only the streams are likely to be productive.

In the coming week we have Colin Wilson’s party fishing all four beats. I just hope that they can pick up a few salmon before the water drops right back.

However, there are signs that later in the week there may be some rain; probably not enough to fill the river, but maybe sufficient to freshen it up. The problem of leaves in the water will then become a nuisance to fly fishers.

Just three more weeks of this season with FCW catches on 80 salmon and 81 sea trout.




An aspect of my life is the constant switching from the detail of managing Finavon Castle Water, a small beat on a Scottish East coast river, to the global scale of the migrations of wild Atlantic salmon, which is where my work with the Atlantic Salmon Trust takes me.

For an ageing angler and amateur natural historian, that constant changing from deep focus into the detail of the freshwater environment to the panoramic vistas of the Atlantic Ocean gives me an awareness of how extraordinarily ignorant we are of just about every aspect of the life of the salmon. I am acutely conscious for example of the activity that takes place throughout the seasons below the surface of Finavon’s sometimes limpid, sometimes turgid, pools.

Seeing the abundance of darting juvenile fry and parr in the riffles and pool tails sensitises me to the colossal levels of regeneration that routinely take place in the river. Knowing that these tiny animals are connected directly with the endless horizons, relentless currents and violent weather patterns of the Ocean itself is somehow counter intuitive.

Why should there be such a connection?

Why don’t these little fish stay safe in the relatively unthreatening environment of the South Esk?

Why not stay at home?

Why risk themselves to the vagaries of weather, threats of predation and activities of man by exposing themselves to the limitless volumes of salt water?

Cerebrally I know the answers to these questions, but emotionally I haven’t fully taken them on board. Can I really directly relate the sight of a pristine spring salmon of (say) twelve pounds to those impatient little fish in the tail of the boat Pool? No wonder our ancestors failed to see the connection!

The ‘Big Picture’ of Ocean, geophysical cycles and deep global rhythms, changing climate, massive species migrations, variable planktonic blooming, availability of the right sort of food etc etc is all stuff that I have read about or been told. My own observations confine me mostly to the beginnings and the ends of the salmon’s great journey. But sometimes there are opportunities to raise my view above the parapet……


During the last few months I have followed the voyage of my brother John, as he sailed his yacht, Suilven, into the high Arctic Ocean in an attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage, past Devon Island into the Pacific Ocean and down the North American West coast to Vancouver. He didn’t make it because the ice that blocks the NW passage did not clear to give him time to complete the journey. He is now sailing down the Labrador coast to winter moorings in Newfoundland.

Do visit his logbook and blogs (written by my sister-in-law, Linda). You will find her blogs on:

< > ‘John Andrews Great Northern Adventure 2014’ some of the photos, also taken by Linda, are highly evocative in the context of the Ocean odyssey of our spring salmon!

For me John’s voyage helps to connect the cerebral and the emotional, or the wide ocean with two inches of ivory!

John and Linda’s voyage, from Oban to Iceland, Greenland and into the icy regions of the high arctic, through Atlantic Ocean, Irminger Sea, Greenland west coast, Labrador Sea, is the very same journey taken by those iridescent animals whose juvenile years are spent in the riffles of the South Esk.

Enjoy the Suilven blogs!


Fresh Salmon into the South Esk

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
Yesterday afternoon I walked down Milton Beat and was stopped on the way by a gesticulating Mark Holden, our tenant this week. He told me (somewhat breathlessly!) that he had just lost two big salmon in quick succession in Willows. The River was still purling down, well above 2’0″ on the Gella Bridge level marker, but had cleared substantially during the day to enable Mark to fish the fly. I had seen him earlier in the day, after Monday’s washout, when he had shown me a 3″ Waddington he proposed using in the heavy water. I made no comment because I thought it rather unlikely in the heavy flow that any fish would take a fly, no matter how big.
This photo was taken from the Red Brae Suspension Bridge during the run-off of the Hurrican Bertha spoate on 12/8/2014. We saw salmon and grilse using the spate to migrate upstream. Among these fish were some large salmon.
The fly he was fishing in the late afterenoon, after the water had subsided significantly, was a 2″ tube (Willie Gunn I think). The first fish took very quietly in the lower section of Willows. For a few minutes it cooperated without much drama, until he applied side strain, at which point the fish took off like a banshee, stripping all the line and most of the backing off the reel before the leader snapped under the strain. The salmon was somewhere near Volcano – a distance of more than 100 metres – when it disconnected. Mark was in no doubt that this was a big salmon, well into the teens of pounds, if not bigger.
Soon afterwards he hooked another salmon a few yards further down the pool which, after 3 or 4 minutes, reclaimed its freedom by throwing the hook. In Mark’s opinion this was also a big fish. He also commented that he had seen many other fish, mainly MSW salmon but also the occasional grilse. As far as he was able to see, all these fish were fresh run.
It is not surprising therefore, that when I met Mark on the riverbank after his two encounters with big salmon fresh in from the sea, he was a bit shaken and emotional. Such are the excitements encountered by salmon fly fishermen, not perhaps as often as we would like, but in my reckoning worth the wait…