Having fished for salmon all my life here in Scotland and had experience of Atlantic Salmon fishing in Norway, Russia and Canada, I have to say, fishing in Iceland reinforced my opinion that this was the best model with regard managing the fishery. The first things that really strike me are how well the resource is both understood and managed. The second is how fragile it is. Oh, and the small matter of salmon being very good takers of the fly. This is another thing that I’ll talk about in more depth in another article.
I’ve always felt that is difficult to properly manage anything unless you know what it is your actually trying to manage! In the case of fisheries, this can be particularly challenging, especially when technology, apathy and human greed are added to the mix. The latter of those is especially toxic with regard the welfare of wild salmon and angling, but as most of us know this will never change because it is the nature of the beast.
When it comes to Salmon Angling and it’s management, there are two trains of thought.
1. Pack in as many anglers as possible, charge less, but leave the resource vulnerable to over exploitation.
2. Limit the number of anglers fishing the river, charge a higher price to catch those fish available.
Countries such as Norway operate on principle number one, where in Iceland, where they are much more aware of the number of fish they are managing, they follow the second model.
In Scotland we tend to move between one and two. Some beats/rivers are run more exclusively, following model number 2, whilst others follow the 1st.
As someone who has looked after clients predominantly on the Spey in Scotland, Theres no doubt in my mind that the only method that can be sustained by the wild resource is number 2. However, this is assuming that everyone has a decent chance of catching a fish. The Spey has a few beats which, given the size of today’s salmon runs, are over rodded and over fished. Due to constant disturbance, Salmon are never given a chance to settle properly in pools. Salmon which are settled offer the angler a good, realistic chance of catching one.
Interestingly, the pandemic and subsequent lock down of 2020 saw the rivers of Scotland open (to locals) at the end of May. The closure in March meant that no fishing took place until lockdown ended, something which, due to financial pressure, normally, would never happen. What we saw on our return to rivers was fishing, a level like had never been seen in living memory. Individual rods were catching 10 or more salmon on a regular basis prompting many to think the good old days had returned. In essence they had, in respect that, instead of being fished with 200 rods at prime time, it was being fished with 40. Similar to the “good old days”!
Those fish available were exploited by only a tiny number of rods, in essence, and indirectly, the river was back to being managed similar to that in Iceland, like number two above.
There’s no doubt in my mind that if fish were left quiet and not overly disturbed, we would still enjoy fantastic fishing here in Scotland every year, particularly at the beginning of the season. . However, for this to happen, as they do in Norway, the season would need to begin at the end of May.
Obviously this will never happen in Scotland; however, because they know the size of stock and when “most” fish come into their rivers, The Icelanders now this is the only way to properly manager their resource. Over exploitation would have a negative affect on their salmon fishing in the long term. There’s no point in fishing over empty pools and having lots of people going home with negative stories. It’s important the integrity of the fisheries are protected.
As someone who’s job it is to try and get each person in the group a fish, I know this to be the best method of managing a salmon fishery, especially during this current decline. Personally, I look to such beats/river/countries to bring my groups of people fishing. Although expensive, this model will always provide best value for money.
Fishing on the Blanda river this year was, for me, a real breath of fresh air. The management knew exactly how many fish they had in the system, which pools they were likely to be in and how to best target them.the river is 60km long and fished with 8 rods, which, given the dynamic of the fishery, is just right. Any more than this would end with more rods catching nothing. Fishing 8 on this river means everyone should catch fish and only very unlucky people will return with nothing.
Only when method 2 is applied, 9 times out of 10, will the outcome be like this. Looking at the Norwegian model, this can never be the case because there are simply not enough fish to go around everyone.
However, if fishing the best beats at the good times, Norway is the most amazing place to fish too, especially on those beats fishing limited rods, most of those also follow method number 2.
My experience of the Blanda this summer 100% reinforced my opinion that, in Scotland we still have the most amazing salmon fishing potential, as long as it’s properly managed. A good rule of thumb as to whether your week/Day/beat is being managed properly is, at least 70% of anglers should be catching, or hooking salmon. My guess will be that on most this will not be the case and those fish available are being targeted by too many rods..
Is there room for both method one and Two?
Yes is the answer.