Archive for the ‘River Report’ Category


Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015


I walk the mile to Red Brae every day to give my two ageing Labradors their constitutional, not to mention the same for their master. At this time of year the river is deceptively quiet. At the winter solstice one could be forgiven for thinking that the river sleeps….

The confluence of the Lemno Burn with the South Esk provides a perfect vantage point for looking down the Red Brae. The ambience is much enhanced by the original FCW hut, which, like a Grimms Fairy Tale woodcutter’s dwelling, serves to keep our visitors warm and dry, or a place to sleep through the quiet hours of the night, depending on the time of year.

Red Brae Wall

The view from ‘The Broch’ in the summer

My favourite place is the stone circle, which we call ‘The Broch’, like a winkle shell, where there is a stone seat. From there is an unrivalled view of the RB Wall right down into the tail of the pool, Kirkinn and the head of Pheasantry. That view enables the observer to see fish entering the pool, after which they often show briefly at the end of the Wall as they either settle into a lie, or prepare to move upstream through the neck of the pool into Craigo Stream and on upriver.

An aspect of sitting on the stone bench at the ‘ Broch’ is that the viewer is concealed and in a perfect position to witness wildlife movement. The Broch is slightly raised above the level of the banks and woodland, which gives it the characteristics of a high seat. After a few minutes the surroundings return to their natural rhythms following the brief rupture caused by a human arrival at the Broch. From there you have an uninterrupted vista of about three hundred yards of river and riparian woods. On your right is the high bank of red soil and stone which is the ‘Red Brae’ itself. That Brae gives the place a sense of enclosure, like being inside the nave of a great natural cathedral.

On many occasions over the last thirty years I have seen roe deer and red squirrels coming to the pool to drink. Sometimes they swim the river to the south bank, scarcely pausing before plunging into the river. Generations of otters and their families use the Lemno and Red Brae sanctuaries as home, raising their families and using the place as their play and hunting grounds.

Sometimes, while fishing for sea trout at night, otters have surfaced within a rod’s length of where I was standing. occasional ospreys, blizzards of buzzards & wood pigeons, electric blue flashes of passing kingfishers, obsequious dippers bowing and scraping to the visitor as they feed among the stones, and dainty watery wagtails scooping ephemerids from the water surface, are all part of the daily rosta of our own local wildlife through the seasons.

John Wood's 17lbs salmon from Beeches

John Wood’s 17lbs spring salmon from Beeches

Sitting on on that stone bench in the Broch can be a chilling experience, so a waterproof cushion is a useful comfort for the wildlife watcher. In these mid winter days the River is unrelenting in the force and flow of its clean mountain water. The tangential low light of a Scottish winter solstice gives the water an impenetratable reflection like the blade of a mediaeval broadsword, so different from the translucence of summer. There is very little surface movement, save the occasional bobbing dipper or diving goosander. No sign of parr taking flies from the surface, very few salmon or kelts showing.

To those who live beside the river through the months of the year the lack of activity is felt to be deceptive. We know that within the river there is abundant life. Kelts struggling against the winter current as they slowly move down river, tail first. Ephemerids at the chrysalis stage of their metamorphosis, freshwater mussels filtering organic matter from the flow, and above them the honking skeins of pinkfoot and grey lag geese on their daily feeding and roosting rhythms.

Osprey 2

Osprey at Finavon

That is winter at Finavon for the interested visitor. I feel the power of the coming year in subtle changes in colour and texture to the end-of-branch foliage of alder, birch and willow. On the shortest day I feel rather than see the darkening light and the promise of the surge of growth and renewal that post-solstice light and Spring warmth will bring. In the darkest day lies the prospect of the luxuriant abundance of May and June, which is the outcome of the unseen activity of today, the shortest of the year.



Thursday, 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.


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