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Catching Salmon In September - Luck, Skill or a bit of both?

The first two weeks of September saw me on the river with three separate groups of customers, two on the Spey at Arndilly, and one on the Beauly. 

Head Ghillie, Euan Reid holding the boat, making the fishing easier for the customer at Arndilly.

The way the river is managed at Arndilly is, well, special to say the least, and even with the lack of proper Autumn running salmon, provided all our customers with some great memories of fishing some of the loveliest and best managed beats on the river. 

Hosting a split week with the threat of further COVID regulations, although a little stressful, was never the less, made much easier with the help of the three really great Ghillies, all of whom gave 100%, whilst following the sensible guidelines laid out by their employers.

The team of fishers we had in the first three days at Arndilly is amongst the strongest I know, a team I “know” will catch fish on this beat; but what makes the difference? 

To this point in the season, River Eden angler, Paul Davidson had already caught 58 salmon to his own rod, a great season by any standard, however, even more impressive when you find out they were mainly caught in the hours before and after work. 

Paul Davidson playing a fish at Arndilly

But why, even with the lack of fresh fish running the Spey at this time, why did I know he’d continue his impressive run? One thing I can say with confidence is, those stats don’t come by accident! It comes down 100% to his skill and determination as a salmon angler. Experience tells him where, when and at what time to fish, also with what method and, if necessary, to ring the changes. Looking on with my guiding head, I also see someone who properly engages those whom he knows that stretch of river better than him, I.e. the Ghillie. Armed with the information and his own experience he will approach the water, not with one simple plan, with an “ever changing” one, ringing the changes. One of those is fishing parts of a pool less frequently visited by other anglers. 

During the month of September, seeing older resident salmon jumping around the main holding pools in any river can be both exciting, but at the same time, frustrating. The thing is, the greater the number of fish showing in the pool, the more anglers are drawn to them and given the better spring and summer run as seen this year, some pools appear to be a lot more busy than others. A sprinkling of fresh Autumn fish would make such a difference with this, even a few will stir up the older resident fish. However, as with the 5 years previous, 2020 has seen none of those, so it’s up to  skilled fishermen to use all the tactics and knowledge available to them to catch one of the old timers. Did it surprise me that Paul ended up as top rod during the first 3 days at Arndilly? No! But Why? Because he’s a hunter! Salmon that have seen so many flies tend not to take until something changes, perhaps water or weather, and very often a very small fly or even one fished on a dropper will do the trick. That or the tactic of getting down to them, using a sinking line and heavy fly, or maybe even a lighter one! However, another trait fish have at this time of the year is, because the fish are searching for gravel, so they can be found in shallow water at the neck, but more so the tail of a pool. Fishing such places can often bring a fish when all parts of the pool have been flogged and appear impossible. 

The ghillie holding the boat on the Piles pool on a bright squally day at Arndilly

Run the clock forward one week and I’m on the Beauly. Unlike at Arndilly, here the Ghillies have been told by their agents not use the boats so clients must either row them themselves, or not at all. Asked by my client to take a rod and have a cast, he says, where would you like to fish? Knowing he wants a fish caught, I say, I’ll take the boat, cross over and fish a small part of a pool that’s been left quiet. Not only this, but I’m going to target this in a very different way, in that, I’m not going to target the deep water on the side everyone fishes. My thoughts are on the shallow gravel ridge, which at this height is about 18 inches under the water and where most people tend to wade, a tactic first shown to me by One of my mentors, Jonathon Taylor. As I Wade carefully to where the Ghillie has told me to go, I can hear Jonathon’s voice, “If you don’t disturb them you’ll catch them in 18 inches of water at this time o the year”! Stealth is very much required. A combination of Ghillies advice and Jonathon’s experience saw me catching one salmon and losing another in only 30 minutes of fishing. No need to flog the river to death, just fish a place where fish haven’t seen the fly.

Two Spaniels very interested in Irvine Robertson's salmon being returned on the Beauly

Ian Vann with a good fish on in the Cobblepot at Arndilly

Another tactic I’ve seen working well and again shown to me by Jonathon, was that of targeting a specific area of the the pool with a deep lure fished fast over their nose. This was normally in the neck of a deep pool.

His method was using the case of a .303 bullet, adapted and spun through the pool. He’d throw it slightly upstream, wind hard and let it flick past the nose of fish lying there at speed. I saw him take a few fish using this method and whilst you’d think it may increase the chances of foul hooking fish, with him, he obviously knew what he was doing, this never seemed to be the case. I think knowing the pool, how deep the fish are lying in it, and adjusting the angle of cast, thus the depth of the lure accordingly kept the lure above the fish. I’m sure if the rod were in the hands of either an amateur or someone with malicious intent the outcome may have been different!

Roll the clock on 40 years and in most beats we don’t have spinning, but with Skagit lines, we have  the capability of delivering a very heavy fly, similar in size to the bullet above, over fish in specific parts of the pool using the same tactic as above.

Personally I like the small fly, dropper or even a hitch fly more than the method above. 

It’s been some years since I had such a busy time on the river through September, the lack of a proper Autumn run being the main reason. However, a combination of COVID and demand from clients bored with not being able to enjoy their normal fishing weeks, has seen me changing my fishing program from the more normal spring months until now. Although in their spawning colours the fish are undoubtedly less beautiful, they are, never the less, still provide us with the most amazing sport and a reason to come together on the riverbank with friends, new and old. After months of sitting at home the past few weeks have brought it home to me just how much I have missed the interaction of people. Personally, I’d trade the great fishing I had on my own directly after lockdown for those weeks just passed. It reinforced what fishing, hosting and guiding means to me personally, it’s about helping others and being part of a happy group of people.

With one and a half more weeks of the season to go its back to the Spey at Gordon Castle and Arndilly this week and next. Looking for some frosty nights now!

Dinner beginning at Arndilly

I’m currently putting together my program for next year. If you are interested in any Hosted fishing in the Scotland, Iceland or Norway in 2021 please feel free to drop me an email. 

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