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Privilege Does Not Mean I'm Rich!

My Life In Salmon Fishing. A lesson for all. 

Those wishing to skip the back story, head to paragraph four! 

Netting a Salmon on the River Spey
Almost in the Net


The older I get, the more I see the injustice and inequality in life.  

I'm not a cut-throat businessman, but a “fixer” who cares about other people and their welfare. I find watching the news now difficult. However, I'm smart too and know all of this this is simply a by-product of human nature. 


Through the 1990s and 2000s, for no personal gain, because i knew salmon would be there till I retired, I tried hard to warn people as to the obvious decline in the salmon population, and the consequences should we not act and adopt a precautionary approach. I now find myself, 30 years later, being told by those who denied the problem existed in the 90s, that we now have a problem. In fact, as I pointed out back then, without this precautionary salmon would become endangered. Amazingly, they are still collecting data to help produce "the master plan", most of which is now irrelevant because, as we all know, both as juveniles and adults, salmon behave very differently when they are in high, to when in Low densities.


"Stop scaremongering and being a merchant of doom", I was told back then, we still have lots of salmon. The Spey is still catching 10,000 salmon per year and has done since 1952 I was told by the then Chairperson of the Spey Fishery Board in 1997. My reply was, take it from me, by 2015 we most certainly won't be. What we are now catching by rod and line is much more that the 10% or so of the total number we did in the 1980s. Rubbish, was what I was told back then! This was the first inclination that those in charge, in fact, had no idea!

To now see a growing number of people making a living from the fact we now have an endangered species, I have to say, the cynic, and fixer inside me finds extremely hard to swallow. 


But now my happy head.  

Playing a Salmon In Russia
The Author Playing a Salmon on the Ponoi River


Salmon fishing has been my life, a life that only today I described to someone like this - If I could go back and change anything, personally, I'd change nothing. It's been amazing. I have lived the most charmed and privileged life. The business of salmon fishing has provided myself and a great many others before me with the most fantastic life. The people, places and experiences have been, well, almost surreal. Special, beyond belief! Looking back retrospectively, like a fantasy world, and thinking about it rationally, quite simply, it truly was, another world! Today’s world is quite different! Gone are the days when we could “manage” the countryside. Everyone is terrified to do or say anything that may upset a particular group of people. We live in a world where everyone should think and act the same as a select few. Very strange indeed! 


As a boy, being unable to sleep the night before going fishing with my dad, having that feeling like you did as a child on Christmas Eve, how magical this “feeling” was. This was a by-product of Salmon Fishing. 

A feeling of sheer excitement, expectation, and happiness exactly like Christmas, but happening every time, prior too, and on arrival at a salmon beat. This was a by-product of Salmon Fishing.  

This was and has been my life, every day spent on a salmon fishing beat genuinely felt like Christmas. Inwardly, how valuable would this be to people today. To genuinely feel like I am in an environment where each day is Christmas? This is what salmon fishing was like to a boy, with privilege, growing up in the 1970s and 80s, when it wasn’t a question of will we catch a Salmon, it was how many! And all because, the “limited” resource was managed properly, by people who knew what they were doing. Who knew the survival of salmon relied on “abundance” and not, as we would later be led to believe, ‘just enough”!  

To then, aged 23, be taken on a Ghillie on a prestigious beat on the river Spey, OMG! Remember, I’m a fixer, I love helping people, fixing things, and solving problems. To be given this opportunity where I can not only fish, but help other catch fish, now I have Christmas every day. Even the poor days where no fresh fish arrived on my beat, or the river was in spate, we still had the camaraderie and fun of those visiting, knowing full well that the following day, or the day after, the fish would arrive. 

A Gaula River Salmon
Brett Richings With his first Gaula Salmon


Having people arrive on my fishing beat with a genuine chance of catching a salmon, knowing that beyond any doubt, a combination of my knowledge and hard work would almost certainly put a fish on their line, for someone like me, a fixer, is the stuff of dreams, a dream that for many years I would live each day. Each day was either my birthday or Christmas, what a life!  


Here was something so special, a bonding agent bringing people from all social backgrounds together but seen by those who did not know or understand, as being a pastime for the rich. However, one does not need to be rich to be privileged. Those born in Grantown on Spey, Fochabers, Aberlour, Turriff, Aberdeen and many other Scottish/British towns with angling associations, or were friendly with the Ghillie or beat owner, were privileged indeed! For all of us, the bounty of Salmon and Sea Trout provided us with not only the ultimate escape, but an amazing source of food at this time too.  

Fishing Ghillies at Knockando
Ian Gordon Sandy Smith and Sandy Milne Ghillies at Knockando in the 1980s

Those of us who understood and embraced this “privilege” also understood the wider value of the bounty. However, as with every gift of nature, it needs to be understood. In the case of wild salmon, the resource was never large enough to become a “Free for all.” It was something which, if understood and managed properly, would be there for generations. 

For this was the ultimate story of “golden egg,” a gift from nature to the people of the UK. Something that provided so much to so many, yet massively undervalued by our politicians.  

Fishing with two dogs
Casting on the Garmouth Water on the River Spey


When people say to me salmon fishing is for the privileged, I say, 100% right, but never mistake privilege with being rich!  

Only a minuscule number of people will ever get what I get from salmon fishing, however, each one that does know they are massively privileged, and for the record, unlike the picture painted by our dimwit politicians and those with “Braveheart, Anti English agenda”, come from working families and backgrounds.     

It provides those privileged enough with an escape, embracing, not catching, but the “chance” of catching a salmon.  

As long as I feel I have a chance, even a slim one, then my love of salmon fishing will remain. However, take this chance away and the walls to my perfect life comes tumbling down! 


Two fishermen enjoying the River Spey
Abby Duncan and Gordie Young enjoying a day at Easter Elchies

2023 saw the most awful season for salmon fishing and for the first time in my life I found myself in a position when fishing a beat, with the feeling there was nothing there.  

How many more times will I find myself in this place?  

As someone who had a Birthday and Christmas each day, let me tell you, back in the 1990s and 2000s I could see that this goose that laid the golden egg was well worth trying to save, so don’t confuse this passion with being a merchant of doom. To coin a phrase - How dare you! The problem should have been highlighted and fixed long ago.

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As an angler who has fished for salmon ,albeit only on" Holidays" for many years,and on rivers like the Spey,Nith,Tyne and a few others,I have only ever seen a handful of fish caught.Even employing the services of a ghillie and fishing with 5 or so others,I am accustomed to blanks all around each year ,Fishpal kindly publishes annual catches for many beats which does at least prepares us for the likelyhood of hooking the King of Fish.Take for example,a beat which produces 70 salmon in a year..divide that by just 24 decent weeks..and again by 6 rods fishing, and the picture becomes have to be lucky to get the slightest of chances of a bending rod ! of cours…


No truer words ! and lessons for all.

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