Archive for October, 2014


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!