Below is a blog I wrote in 2013 but I found interesting given the initial findings of the Missing Salmon Project.
Why can I not find salmon fishing on the River Spey?
An interesting question and using the River Dee as an analogy, one that’s fairly easy to answer!
Prior to the “perceived” collapse of rivers run the 1990s, irrespective of social background, or anything else for that matter, the chances of fishing those classic beats of the River Dee during prime time, at best, would have been slim! Basically, like every “good” Salmon River at this time; fishing was by invitation of the fishery owner, with only those poorer weeks, outside prime time available to rent, and never on a daily, but always a weekly basis. However, as with everything, change is inevitable, and in the case of the Dee, the “perceived” collapse of the salmon run was the catalyst for the exodus of number of long term tenants, leaving many beats empty and the river in need of new fishermen.
I use the word “perceived” because, many of those fishing prior to this collapse seemed oblivious to the long and short term fluctuations which naturally occur on our rivers and, as we are all a little guilty of, arrived on the river each year with overly inflated expectations, particularly as the ravages of a growing population of predators were now adding to the problem. The Tweed at the same time whet through a fairly abysmal time with many tenants giving up, in fact, looking at most rivers around this time, things were changing!
An interesting thing on the Dee was - This “collapse” happened also to coincide with the birth of the internet and mobile technology, something which would play a very important part in how the river responded to the exodus of rods and people’s perceptions of what was good and bad. Roll the clock on 20 years and we have a “recovering” river with a completely different system of management, day rods readily available via Fishpal. However, no matter who you are, “prime time fishing” or “perceived” good fishing, is in such demand, it remains out of the reach of most of us. Quite simply, it’s all about “Supply and demand”! Using Alta in Norway, or Delfur here on the Spey as an example – Even if we wanted to, or had deep enough pockets to buy it at “prime time”, as with most quality salmon fishing, there is no chance, a classic case of demand outweighing supply by at least 100 - 1. In a capitalist society, anything which is unique, in my opinion, should ever come with a cheap price tag and salmon fishing is no different. Hell would need to freeze over before you and I will ever see the first week of July at Alta. Such places will neither be cheap or available and only a complete collapse in fish stocks will change this. Add mobile communication to the above and places such as Delfur and Alta, which were inaccessible before, have become almost mythic!
However, fortunately for us salmon fishers, due to our “long season” and “varied run timings” here in Scotland, such “prime” fishing represents only a very small percentage of fishing actually available each year, which is why 80% of salmon fishing here is both accessible and affordable. Quite simply, its infrastructure, people, culture and history make it the best option for those wishing to have a realistic chance of catching, not as in the past, dozens or scores, but a few fish at reasonable cost and in a very special place.
A special place because we knew very little about it, a little like salmon fishing itself, although so many now want to know everything, something which will eventually spoil it all [bloody boffins]!! When I begun Ghillieing we were told in no uncertain terms, never to disclose catches to anyone as this would encourage poaching! Interestingly, this begun to change with Bailiffs visiting beats and encouraging the sharing of information, something I remember at the time being frowned upon by
many guests and owners, most of whom felt there was no need for this sharing of information and although I didn’t necessarily agree with at the time, I could appreciate why. How different today, where we have this as a matter of course and failure to disclose catches seen as having something to hide. Although year on year, over exploitation by man and other predators has led to a diminishing number of salmon in the North Atlantic, here on the Spey our “collapse” and associated change has not yet materialised, something which for owners and most visiting anglers means, its business as usual. Here on the Spey, almost all “prime” private fishing is let, as it has always been, by the week, but as explained above, most of the “available fishing” is not in fact prime time fishing.
Over the past ten or so years, since beginning to write the Trout and Salmon reports, I have tried to raise awareness of the fact that good fishing is readily available here on the Spey, and, as long as your expectations are reasonable, you have a great chance of both enjoying yourself and catching a fish or two…
The bottom line is predation of salmon both in salt and fresh water has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, leading to less smolts reaching the sea, so less adults returning. Sadly, because we are powerless to do anything about this, the only thing we can now do is lower our expectations and protect the declining population of fish that remain and enjoy the good days spent on the river. This said, as we have seen on other rivers, change will undoubtedly come to us here on the Spey but maybe just over a slightly longer period of time and on the terms of those owning the fishing.
As a footnote – If the whole river fished well each month of the year, every year; it would be like Alta in prime time!! A mythical wonderland with no visitors tickets! Much like what we had here in years gone by. Me thinks it might be better as things are, OK, with a few more fish than this year!
Lots of good fishing available here on some of the most fantastic fly water in the world, all you need to do is drop me an e mail.