Del Spry was lucky enough to go spring salmon fishing on the River Isla before the Covid-19 lockdown kicked in…
Before the lockdown came, we just managed to squeeze a short salmon fishing trip in, I thought in these tough times confined to barracks it would be a good chance to share our experience of chasing Scottish Silver, hope you enjoy.
Salmon fishing in Scotland is often thought of as a rich mans game and on some beats at certain times of the year I would agree with that 100%. However, there are ways you can fish on great rivers and beats without making a massive dent on the bank balance. Generally the cheapest time of the year to fish for salmon is in the spring, when some of the top beats can be fished at a reasonable price, what I class as reasonable is between (£30 – £60) per day, you can pay more but you can also pay a lot less. Look at some of the local association waters such as Perth, Aberdeen and Inverness, there are lots more offering good salmon fishing at a great price with the realistic chance of a fish or two.
Spring Or Autumn Salmon
So why is the fishing cheaper in the spring than the back end? Well, unfortunately its no secret that salmon numbers are in massive decline, especially the spring salmon runs. Although a lot of rivers that are known for their spring runs generally still have quite a few spring fish running up them, so there is always a good chance. Obviously, there are more fish about come September and the weather can be a lot kinder, but in my humble opinion one springer is worth ten back end fish. Let me totally clear, the quality and strength of a fresh run spring salmon is awesome and definatley a fish you will never forget.
Tackle For Salmon Fishing
After a lot of years of experimenting and messing around with different set-ups, I have now gone firm on two rods which generally suit most rivers and conditions. A 14ft 9/10-wt which I can use on medium to large rivers in most conditions married with a Rio Outbound shooting head. My second rod is 12ft 8/9-wt which I use on smaller rivers or in low water conditions (not normally used until the summer months) again with the Rio Outbound shooting head or a longer bellied Spey line. I use Lamson reels, you need a good reel with a good drag system, when you hook one, trust me you need a good drag system! A half decent selection of flies, heavy tubes to small low water flies; the beauty of salmon fishing is you just don’t need boxes and boxes of tackle.
Scottish Salmon On The River Isla
Although I live very close the River Eden which is a well known spring river, there is something special about travelling across the border in search of Scottish silver: a new river, meeting other anglers, getting away from it all, the craic and the excitement of connecting with a big spring fish.
The River Isla was the destination and the Coupar Grange Beat, a lovely beat which is known for its spring fish and lovely fly water. Coupar Grange is generally fishable in all water conditions including low water in the summer months when the Grisle are running but got off the mark very early this year, with a nice 12lb fish on the 17th January! The beat is looked after and run very efficiently by Ghillie Adrian Weber, who has a lifetime of experience in fishery management and conservation, he always sees you right with the flies and tactics. The hut is well equipped and comfortable, its often hard to pull yourself away from the log burner after a cold spring morning fishing. We were here for three days, staying locally in a self catering cottage, which is very reasonably priced, although some beats insist you use their accommodation.
Fast Sinking Tips And Heavy Tube Flies
The beat is split into two and worked on a rotation, the three of us had the bottom beat first. We set up as per the Ghillies suggestion with fast sinking tips with a heavy tube flies. Spring fish generally sit low in the cold water, not always, but I will always listen to someone who is on the river everyday. We took a pool each and started working the water diligently, after a couple of hours, a few fly changes and tippet adjustments, Paul hooked into a fish and after a tough battle managed to net a stunning 12lb Isla springer. Although no sea lice were present it was very fresh and only been in the river a matter of hours, a deep, solid, well built fish – a proper springer! After a quick photo, it soon recovered and was slipped back to continue on its journey. We were all buzzing for such an amazing fish it was time to get back to the hut to re-live and share the story with fellow anglers over lunch. One thing I love about salmon fishing is meeting different people from all walks of life, all with one thing in common. Who would have thought three lads from Carlisle would be sharing lunch with a heart surgeon who was explaining the severity of COVID-19 and the impact it will have on the UK, he was defiantly correct on that one.
Top Beat Of The River Isla
Day two, similar conditions to day one, we tackled the top part of the beat, this is where the River Ericht joins the River Isla and fish often stack up waiting for the right conditions to carry on up to the spawning grounds. Excellent fly water, I was just waiting for the tug and although I had to wait until late afternoon, lady luck was on my side today. It was defiantly worth the wait, I didn’t see the fish for about five minutes so I knew it was a good un, keeping its head down in the deep water. I always play the fish hard in order to give it a good chance of recovering but trying to bully a 15lb springer isn’t easy. Eventually Paul slipped the net under him – what a scrap and what a result, another solid Isla springer. Again, no sea lice but a couple of perfectly round marks on its belly which I suspect a Lamprey had been hitching a ride recently. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good photo of the fish, as I lifted him out of the net he kicked and was away, the shear strength of these fish is unbelievable. Good times, I qualified for bragging rights in the hut that evening.
Day three, we were met with a cold easterly wind, we gave it a go but I always fear the worst when its an easterly and with the rumours of the lockdown becoming more and more realistic we decided to call it a day early and head south. A great little trip that didn’t break the bank, some great memories and we managed a couple of springers on a stunning river.
Only now, in this uncertain time of lockdown do we realise how lucky we anglers are, if there is ever a good time to re-live and remember your fishing experiences, now, is without a doubt, a good a time. Stay safe.
Cumbria based Del Spry is an England River International angler and qualified guide and instructor (Lakes Fly Guide) Del was captain of the 2019 England Rivers Team and is a hugely experienced river and stillwater angler. He enjoys fishing for wild brown trout in Cumbria’s upland rivers and tarns.