Salmon Fishing In Scotland

Fishing For Atlantic Salmon In Scotland

A Guide To Fishing For Salmon On Scotland’s Famous Salmon Rivers With Additional General Scottish Salmon Fishing Tuition Advice

Scotland has over 400 salmon rivers and many of them resonate globally due to their well established fishing fame. Scotland is a remarkable global epicentre for salmon fishing as all of its salmon rivers are within fairly easy reach and especially the big four rivers Tay, Spey, Dee & Tweed. Atlantic salmon is the species of salmon that are found in the Scottish rivers and they do indeed have the most amazing life cycle.

A salmon's life begins in the shallower streams and burns of the Scottish rivers where they hatch from the gravel as the water warms up during late Spring. These juvenile salmon fry will grow into ‘parr’ and will spend anywhere up to 3 years in the river feeding before they turn into ‘smolts’ and start heading downstream to the sea. Once these juvenile fish enter the North Sea they migrate as far away as Greenland & the Faroe Isles and they can spend anywhere from 1 to 4 years in these oceanic feeding grounds and will significantly increase their bodyweight many times over.

When the ‘call of nature’ returns once again these fish will head all the way back to their native Scottish rivers to start their reproduction cycle all over again. Salmon have been captured that have made 4 spawning seasons so the careful handling of kelts (which are salmon that are caught in the river during early Spring and are fish that are out of condition) is important too for obvious future beneficial salmon stock reasons. Making the transition from fresh water to salt water and highly astute navigational qualities are only two of this special creature’s fine attributes which is known globally as the ‘King of Fish’. Scientific research has shown that a salmon like most creatures is tuned into the magnetic fields and also have an acute sense of smell. Both of these attributes are what this incredible fish uses for its highly accurate navigational purposes.

Scottish Salmon River Fishing Seasons

On the bigger East Coast & North Coast rivers of Scotland the salmon runs appear throughout the various different Scottish salmon river fishing seasons which are open on average between February and September each year. One of the earliest opening Scottish salmon rivers is the River Tay in Perthshire and this big salmon river opens its doors on the 15th of January each year and closes on the 15th of October. The North East River Dee opens on the 1st of February and closes on the 30th of September & the River Spey opens one the 11th of February and also closes its salmon fishing season on the 30th of September. One of the latest closing big Scottish salmon rivers is the River Tweed which is open all the way through to the 30th of November each year from the 1st of February.

There's been many significant changes to the global climate over the last few decades so these fishing dates should go under review periodically to keep relevant to these naturally occurring adjustments that have altered the seasons slightly since these original seasonal salmon fishing dates where set many decades ago. On the shallower and often totally local rain dependent East coast Scottish salmon rivers most of the salmon that are caught appear on the back of the first late Summer & early Autumn spates. Although the West coast salmon rivers have a much shorter salmon fishing season West Coast fishing can be explosive if you can react and move in line with the rainfall patterns. As a boy I used to fish for salmon over on the West Coast of Scotland often and I’ve seen 9 salmon landed in just over an hour in such water conditions as did I once land 49 sea trout in one afternoon from the Bridge Pool on the Argyllshire’s River Fyne. 

Planning A Scottish Salmon Fishing Trip

If you’re planning a Scottish salmon fishing trip my advice would be to stick to the bigger Scottish river systems as they are far less water dependent and many of them (especially the Tay) are fed by huge headwater lochs which keeps fishing water levels good during all low water periods that may be encountered from time to time. Many of our clients ask us to prepare Scottish salmon fishing itineraries that allow them to fish multiple Scottish rivers which is a fantastic thing to do for those who have more than just a day to go salmon fishing on. The most important part is knowing exactly where the best chances of salmon fishing success will lie throughout every month of the salmon fishing season and this knowledge is only obtained through a lifetime of being involved in the industry as you can well imagine.

Like most multi faceted natural pursuits there's a full range of factors that need to be carefully considered (and properly matched) to a salmon fishing client’s requests when selecting Scottish salmon beat(s) for their fishing trip. Proper qualification as to the client's skill set and preferred salmon fishing methods are only two basic points to consider as a conscientious Scottish salmon fishing agent. Pairing these Scottish salmon fishing requirements up with suitable accommodation is always usually phase two of professionally handing a salmon fishing booking enquiry. Recommending hotels or self catered accommodation is equally as delicate and good accommodation is obviously just as important as locating good & appropriate Scottish salmon fishing venues for clients.

Booking Your Scottish Salmon Fishing

Scottish salmon beat these days are mainly all split up into small sections (beats) which usually average anywhere up to 3 miles in length. By comparison 100 plus years ago entire river systems in Scotland would likely have been owned by one estate or land owner. Individual beats these days are often owned by multiple owners and sometimes you can have one half of the river owned by different owners with one owning the left hand bank and the other owning the right hand bank. In that type of ownership scenario it is normal to see salmon beats split into two halves with the Upper half being fished on alternate days from the Lower half. Salmon fishing permits access is sold in many cases by the day for 1 or more rods or by the week on average up to 6 rods per day.

Time share access is also present (& occasionally available) on many prestigious salmon beats on the Scottish salmon rivers where certain fishing weeks of the season are pre-sold to the same time share owner(s). On most Scottish salmon rivers there is usually always 'single permit single day' access and this ease of fishing access is one of the other fine attributes salmon fishing in Scotland has to offer. This actual salmon fishing access can be purchased directly with the owning estate’s office or through an agent who’s involved in marketing that estate's salmon fishing. Salmon fishing access (permits) in Scotland vary considerably in cost and can range from £30 per fisher per day to several hundred pounds per fisher per day. This unguided salmon fishing access is only beneficial to anglers who have all the required salmon fishing equipment & technical salmon fishing ability. These huge variances in fishing access prices are entirely down to historic 'catch statistics' which vary through the different months of the salmon fishing season. A word of warning regarding assessing a salmon beat via this 'catch statistics' method which are not consistently accurate as the fishing pressure varies considerably between salmon beats as does the effectiveness of the salmon anglers that are present making this a completely flawed method for assessing a salmon beat's true fishing potential.

In this business a salmon pool that has been well rested (not fished) is always going to give the fishing advantage as the less salmon see the more curious they often become when a fly or lure appears. In addition to the above cautionary words wild Atlantic salmon are completely oblivious to our modern day numbered week system and will appear in the Scottish salmon rivers when water & temperature conditions are suitable 'only' to them.

Guided Salmon Fishing In Scotland

When fishing for Atlantic salmon in Scotland on the first couple of occasions if can be worthwhile to invest some extra money for the company of a professional Scottish salmon fishing guide to make sure your tactical approach, equipment levels and salmon fly selection are all correct. If you take on board the finer points of what you’re guide is advising you’ll be ten steps ahead of the average Scottish salmon fisher. Scottish salmon fishing is very much multi facetted and the deeper the insight you have the greater the chances of success you will enjoy. Typically a guided Scottish salmon fishing day which includes all the correct salmon fishing equipment, tactical tuition and access to a good salmon fishing beat runs between £365 & £395 per head with per day with discounts given for multiple guest daily parties.

Salmon Fishing Gift Vouchers Scotland

Guided salmon fishing gift vouchers are available in digital format for instant email delivery or in a card version if not instantly required. This is an ideal way to ensure a quality introduction to Scottish salmon fishing on Scotland famous rivers Tay, Dee, Spey or Tweed for a loved one or colleague. These fully guided salmon fishing gift voucher packages include the personal services of a professional salmon fishing guide, all required salmon fishing equipment (incl. waders & life jacket), all required salmon fishing tactical tuition and access to a quality Scottish salmon fishing venue (beat).

Until you’ve spent riverbank time with a 'seasoned' professional Scottish salmon guide (or ghillie) you’ll possibly not fully understand the real benefits of hiring one of these men for the day(s). A guided salmon fishing day also includes Spey casting tuition with a 15ft double handed salmon fly rod along with training on river bank movement and how to set the hook properly when a salmon takes the fly (seldom taught correctly or even discussed). On Scotland’s biggest & famous River Tay this service also include tuition on the use of a 10ft salmon spinning rod if required which is an acceptable salmon fishing method on this significantly deeper Scottish salmon river.

'Permit Only' Salmon Fishing Access In Scotland

A ‘permit only’ supply is only of value to experienced Scottish salmon fishers who have a good understanding of Scottish salmon fishing tactics and all the correct Scottish salmon fishing equipment levels. It is highly recommended that unless you fit this qualification it is advisable to book a professional salmon fishing guide for some or all of your Scottish salmon fishing trip days in order to gain value and be in with a real chance of salmon fishing success while on the Scottish rivers. In all too many cases the salmon fishing entry point (for those looking at Scottish salmon fishing for the first time) is not qualified correctly by the agent who is usually only wrongly focussed on the least 'course of resistance' route to the permit sale without qualifying the client's exact needs correctly and offering the correct & appropriate solution. Most agents either don't understand qualification and the importance of advising correctly or they are not able to arrange a professional salmon fishing guide who carries the sufficient salmon fishing equipment levels to be able to cater effectively for any size of 'guided' salmon fishing request.

Where to Fish For Salmon In Scotland

With over 400 hundred Scottish salmon fishing can appear somewhat confusing if you’re looking at this for the first time. I’m about to simplify things for you based on easy to understand logic where access availability and suitable water conditions can be found through the Scottish salmon fishing season. In most of the smaller Scottish rivers the fishing is mainly sold by the week and often this fishing let will include accommodation beside the river or somewhere on the estate and this full week let with accommodation request can certainly be provided for. As most salmon fishing requests for Scotland these days are smaller groups (or single fishers) I’ll not dwell too much on the traditional bigger party full week salmon fishing let scenario.

For the smaller fishing groups with less time for their salmon fishing trip look to the bigger Scottish salmon rivers like the River Tay, River Dee, River Spey & River Tweed. These are referred to as the ‘big four’ and due to their sheer size accessibility is always going to be easier and in most cases readily available for single party fishing trips or smaller groups who wish to salmon fish for only a few days. These big four have good runs of salmon through the Spring, Summer & Autumn months and always have sufficient water in them to hold fish and are always accessible even through the busy fishing periods of the Scottish salmon fishing season. If you’ve limited salmon fishing time and don’t want a scenario where you’re stuck on a Scottish river where there’s no water and no fish then keep to the bigger Scottish salmon rivers I’ve mentioned above.

The Best Mental Approach To Salmon Fishing In Scotland

Scottish salmon fishing requires patience with good water coverage consistency along with some reasonably well understood fishing techniques. The best mental approach to Scottish salmon fishing is to switch off the salmon urgency thoughts in your head and relax, breath in the fresh Scottish air and take in the perfect riverbank scenery. Settle yourself into an advanced state of riverbank relaxation and enjoy your water coverage skills as you're working your way through the various salmon pools. it is always when you're in this relaxed frame of mind that a salmon will co-operate.

Wading In The Scottish Salmon Rivers

Wading too deep is a common fault in salmon fishing as a pool gets easily spooked by an angler moving too close to the the salmon lies. In addition to this the angler is more likely to stumble and get wet if he’s wading through a pool too deeply. Train your feet become your hands as you feel your way along the riverbed and do not to commit your body weight to the next step until your are certain of a firm footing. Use a wading stick to assist where you cannot see the riverbed clearly & polaroid glasses will help you to see through the water's surface glare and also protect your eyes from the fast moving salmon fly. In faster streams you can reduce the water pressure on both legs by wading sideways (facing the far bank) down the pool where the water pressure is on one leg instead of both legs (which would be the case if you were only facing downstream).

Be aware that there’s always a deep pocket on the riverbed directly downstream of all biggish stones so never step over a big riverbed stone but always wade around it carefully on the inside edge. During most salmon fishing conditions shin to knee depth is about the optimal depth for wading while fishing. Always wear a pre-serviced automatic life preserver for your own personal fishing safety when on or near the river. These automatic life jacket do not interfere with mobility for casting in any way and could save your life one day.

How To Set The Hook When A Salmon Takes Your Fly

Having served as a professional Scottish ghillie on 2 high profile River Tay salmon beats I’ve really seen it all when it comes to hooking salmon (or not as the case may be) when a salmon comes to investigate your salmon fly. The most important part of this is not letting the excitement of the initial tug from a fish make you panic and react too soon. This discipline for effectively hooking a salmon is seldom discussed or taught to any competent degree which results in thousands of missed opportunities each year on the salmon rivers of Scotland. Salmon on any river in the northern hemisphere are not the easiest fish to catch for the majority of the time anglers are pursuing them so making these hard earned ‘golden opportunities’ count is a very important factor as you could image.

If the hook on your salmon fly is not set properly after a salmon takes it the fish more often than not will shake out the fly shortly into the fight which is worst feeling of all after the excitement of contact. A few years ago I was tasked with making sure one of the UK's best all round course fishermen succeeded in catching his first ever salmon. You'll hear in this video Keith Arthur repeating exactly what I advised him to do after he successfully hooked his first ever salmon following several years of trying. I had Keith into his first ever salmon within the first 20 minutes.

The most effective salmon hooking procedure I’ve found is to 'absolutely' ignore the initial series of tugs from a salmon as at this point the fish has not turned on your salmon fly. You must have the composure to wait until the salmon turns and starts heading back to the lie he came from with your fly in its mouth. This is easily identified by a steady & consistent draw of line coming off your fly reel. Personally I give the draw part of the take approx 5 slowly counted seconds before I set the hook. This 5 seconds of draw is in addition to the initial seconds of tugs that most takes from an Atlantic salmon incorporate so in total you could easily be a total of 10 seconds into the contact before you’re ready to set the hook. 

To set the hook keep the rod tip down pointing in the direction of the fly line as it get pulled off your reel and simply clamp your fly reel to stop the line flow dead until you feel the line tighten up and the weight of the fish. Feel this weight for a further 2 or 3 seconds before lifting the fly rod and releasing your grip of the fly reel. When you feel a salmon’s weight like this you know for certain that you’ve applied enough hook point pressure to set the hook properly and logic will endorse that theory. A high percentage of a salmon’s mouth is tough (not soft) tissue so if you don’t follow this procedure and the hook point micro hold has taken up position in the tougher areas then obviously unless you follow the above procedure the hook will not necessarily get set properly.

This hooking method will secure you a good hook hold on over 90% of the takes you receive and once you master it you will gain much confidence in hooking salmon that take and turn on the fly properly which they do most of the time. In the colder water of Spring the initial take and draw can take a few seconds longer to develop so don’t rush it and take your time until you know for certain that your salmon has turned and is drawing line consistently off the fly reel before setting the hook.

How To Move Through A Scottish Salmon Pool Effectively

Not only is it good salmon fishing etiquette to move through a salmon pool fairly quickly and not hold up other salmon fishers because you’re moving too slowly but it also increases your chances significantly of finding a 'taking' salmon. The best movement I’ve personally found is approx 3 feet between each cast which give you good salmon fly swing separation and doesn’t show the salmon too much of your salmon fly. On that note it is important to realise that by showing a salmon too much of your fly you’re actually conditioning the fish to accept the presence of the fly in the pool. To gain the desired reaction from a salmon it is best to give it a fleeting glance of your fly and a good reason to investigate and hopefully intercept it. 

This 3 foot movement between each cast can be applied when you’re hand lining in after the fly has come to a stationary position in the stream below you or the split second your fly lands on the water after your forward delivery is applied. On big salmon rivers like the rivers Tay, Spey Dee & Tweed where you’ve big salmon pools to cover it is important that you fish all of the allocated pools for your morning or afternoon fishing session so this type of movement will also help you with maximising your water coverage.

Different Methods Of Controlling The Swim Depth & Speed Of Your Salmon Fly

When wishing to slow the salmon fly up in a fast stream you should throw an upstream line mend as the fly line lands on the water after each forward delivery (cast). This narrowing of the angle of the salmon fly line reduces the water pressure on the line’s surface by shallowing the angle and will slow your fly up in the fastest of stream where you’ve gained control of the fly and therefore you’re fishing correctly. If an additional reduction of speed is required you can also hold the rod tip out and in a high position for the first half of the swing so again you’re reducing fly line contact with the fast water which will extend further the fly’s swim time even in the fastest of fly fishing streams.

These are very useful tactics to master especially while fishing a long line in fast water where without these tactics the salmon fly would swing around naturally far too quickly when the fast water makes contact with it. Your upstream mend will also assist your sink tip (if you’re fishing one) to bed in and sink your fly down before the current tightens your fly line and your fly starts to effectively swim. 

Your Riverbank Approach To The Scottish Salmon Rivers

You should always avoid showing yourself to a salmon pool prior to fishing through it and a stealthy wide-berthed walk to the neck of a pool is better than walking directly up the side of the river. Wade quietly into position and avoid wading too deeply and creating a bow wave or disturbance. Be aware that trying to cast to the far bank of a large river is not as important as effectively covering the water 25 yards in front of you with a controlled evenly spaced fly.

Focus your fishing effort on the type of water a salmon will lie up in where there’s a steady 'non taxing' flow and a bit of depth for security. Salmon don’t like to sit in the boiled up turbulent flows and will lie up well behind or to the sides of these areas. The differing water heights moves these salmon holding areas around and you should always be looking out for water that is suitable for a resting salmon to be lying in and avoid wasting time on other less suitable areas especially when you're fishing on a big Scottish salmon river.

Implementing Salmon Fly Mentality In Scotland

The most important thought process you can have while salmon fishing is actually concentrating on the speed and depth of your fly rather than getting caught up with thoughts about the arial performance of your fly line. Try to understand that the speed & depth of your fly is the more important part of salmon fishing and that a fly can be slowed up with an upstream mend as it is presented to the river in fast water or even speeded up with a downstream mend in slow moving pools when required.

How And Where To Play A Scottish Salmon

The important things to remember after you’ve hooked a Scottish salmon are to keep the rod tip in a high position as this acts as your shock absorber and significantly reduces the salmon’s chances of wrapping the leader or fly line around a sub surface obstacle. Keeping a steady pressure on the fish is important too so as the fish has to expend energy resisting the pressure you’re applying. Without this pressure you’ll be there all day so be firm and when the fish starts pulling back simply release your hand from the fly reel and let it take line. This game of 'to & fro' can last anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour with a big salmon in big water conditions so take your time, relax and enjoy the fight.

While the battle proceedings are underway you should be scanning the pool and its riverbank for a suitable area to play the salmon in once you gain reasonable control of the fish. The type of area you should be looking for will have some reasonable depth and be out of the main current. This area should also not contain any signs of boils or swirls on the river surface which could mean the presence of sub surface features which the salmon could to break the leader with or dislodge the hook hold.

The best position to take while playing any salmon is the 'side on' position opposite the fish and try not to let your salmon get downstream below your position as you’ll not only lose all control of the fish but the hook point pressure will be focussed at an outward angle if the fish starts shaking its head in an attempt to dislodge it.

How to Effectively Land Your Scottish Salmon

The biggest mistake made by salmon anglers when playing a salmon is trying to rush them to the landing net too soon. Even some guide’s have a bad habit of standing with the net far too early into the fight which puts pressure on the angler to rush proceedings. The last thing to be considered (until the time is right) is reaching for the net. When a salmon starts to tire itself out it will show physical signs like showing its flanks at close range and will become far more controllable. It’s very important that you wait until you see these signs before attempting to land the fish as if you try to net the fish too quickly it will likely bolt quickly away with often disastrous consequences. When the time comes to land a fish it’s simply a case of sinking the net and letting the angler (in one continuos movement) draw the salmon over the net then lift the net. The salmon under no account should be chased about the margins of the pool with the landing net.

Unhooking And Photographing Your Salmon

It is important to carry a pair of unhooking forceps with you while fishing for salmon as they will provide a firm grip of the fly even if the salmon is deeply hooked and make the unhooking procedure easy. These forceps should be clipped onto your fishing jacket or waistcoat so that they’re readily available and having them attached to a retractible lanyard is the most efficient way to carry them and stop you losing them. When a salmon is in the landing net make sure the fish is lying flat or in an upside down position which gives you the best chance of stabilising the fish.

Once your salmon is unhooked keep the fish in the landing net and take a few good in frame shots of the salmon with its flanks turned towards the camera and all of (or most of) the fish visible. There’s immense natural beauty in all wild Atlantic salmon so capturing a good quality shot of the fish is always a nice thing to do and provides a memory of the capture. If you’re fishing with a college have him take a few shots of you with the salmon in the landing net. If you hold the landing net mesh and lift it slightly you should easily be able to tilt the fish up so that its flanks are facing the camera with the fish lifted to the waterline. Make sure the camera lens on your camera or phone is clean for a sharp quality shot of your salmon.

Releasing Your Scottish Salmon

After you’ve unhooked and taken a few photographs keep the salmon in the landing net and walk it into some deeper water where there’s a steady flow and give the fish a few minutes to regain its composure after the stresses of being caught. Your landing net should always have a fine soft or rubber coated mesh as this type of mesh bag does no harm to the fish unlike the wider mesh bag designs which should be completely banned with ‘Catch & Release’ in mind as these types of mesh bags will often split the salmon fins. Avoid handling the salmon if you can however if you have to remove the fish from the net to assist in its revival then do so with sub surface wet hands and never dry hands which will harm the salmon’s mucus membrane protective coating.

There’s a real art to handling a salmon correctly and the optimum goal is for your fish to fully recover from the capture and go on to spawn in the river successfully so sending them back to the river in optimal condition is the number one objective for these obvious reasons. If the salmon revives in the net it is simply a case of lowering the rim of the landing net frame and the fish will swim out un-assisted. If you’re cradling the salmon at the side of the river with its nose to the current you’ll feel it flexing when it’s ready to be released. Whichever method of release you use there’s great satisfaction in seeing your fish swim away strongly which adds another positive dimension to the excitement of catching one.