The Secrets of Salmon Fishing in the rivers of Scotland
This article highlights the secrets of salmon fishing in Scotland. Here are the main topics
- Atlantic salmon in Scotland – an overview
- What to expect, when fishing for salmon in Scotland
- Why salmon fishing in Scotland can be so challenging
- Ownership and access to salmon rivers.
- Fishing rights, rules and permits
The Atlantic Salmon in Scotland – an overview
Salmon fishing has been an integral focal point in Scotland for centuries, it’s ingrained in our folklore and part of our culture. Long before the invention of whisky, before the mills created tartan and maybe even before we evolved to walking around on two feet, salmon ran the rivers in Scotland.
Salmon have been part of Scotland’s cultural heritage for tens of thousands of years. The salmon is ancient king of fish and a symbol of Scotland.
Recent years have seen a decline in numbers of salmon. This has led to a cultural shift in thinking amongst anglers. Most fisherman nowadays practise catch and release, when fishing for salmon. In fact most fisherman are extremely active in supporting bodies and charities that work hard to protect salmon.
Despite the pressures on the salmon, there is still some great sport to be had.
Scotland – an ideal habitat
Scotland is blessed with clean running rivers and streams (burns) ideal habitat for salmon to return from the ocean to lay their eggs. The eggs hatch into small fish (salmon parr) which grow and feed in the rivers for a few years. The parr develop into young salmon (smolts), and then migrate to sea.
They travel to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, where the food source is plentiful. There is an abundance of krill, sand eels, squid, shrimp, fish and crustaceans in these water. This allows tohe salmon to quickly gain weight.
After a period of feeding (varies with salmon) they return to the river in Scotland where they were born. GPS could not compete with the accuracy of the homing instinct of the salmon. They are able to travel thousands of miles to return to the very stream where they originated, to spawn again. It is a remarkable feat and has baffled scientists for years.
A remarkable journey
Around 0.1% of the eggs laid in streams and rivers, result in a salmon completing this remarkable journey. Unlike Pacific salmon, a small percentage of Scottish salmon (kelts) survive this spawning process and return to sea, however the majority die. Scottish salmon usually range from 3 to 35lbs with most in the 6-15lb class.
Anglers in Scotland realise the pressures that the salmon faces and most practice catch and release. Certainly if you are a passionate salmon angler, this would be second nature. Most permits you buy will be catch and release only. This is a great thing for our sport. In an effort to protect the spring run fish, it is pretty much universal across most rivers, that all spring fish are returned.
There’s an expression in Scotland “dead fish don’t spawn” and because the salmon faces many pressures, we anglers want to practice sustainable fishing to preserve the sport, and protect this magnificent species.
What to expect, when salmon fishing in Scotland?
Salmon fishing in Scotland can be hugely challenging. This sport will not appeal if you are focused on quick wins, and catching large numbers of fish. Salmon fishing in Scotland is more of a quest and romantic adventure, a test of your will. River fishing in Scotland for Salmon is demanding and you need to be dogged, determined and focused.
These fish do not give themselves up easily. However the exhilaration of catching the ‘King of Game Fish’ is unforgettable. It ranks in the top ten things to do in Scotland (by VisitScotland) indeed the world! The good news, that if you speak to any experienced salmon angler, they would know that catching an Atlantic salmon in the home of fly-fishing is not easy. So hooking, playing and landing a salmon will give you bragging rights worth sharing!
Why it can be challenging
- Atlantic salmon in Scotland do not feed when they are in freshwater. They are fixated on breeding. They take a fly or lure sometimes through a conditioned response or aggression. There’s no rhyme or reason. There’s certainly no formula!
- Access to fishing is somewhat complicated and being at the right place at the right time is part of the planning process. That is where our team at Alba Game Fishing can help.
- Salmon fishing requires an element of skill. If you’ve never tried fishing with a double hand 15ft fly rod, don’t be phased! We can help and get you up and running very quickly.
- Finally you will need to be persistent and focused. Reading a river and covering likely salmon lies requires experience and skill, this is where Alba guides can help. Salmon Fishing Packages Here.
Ownership and access to salmon fishing in Scotland
Salmon Fishing in Scotland is controlled by the land owner, who also owns the fishing rights. Salmon fishing is spilt into stretches of the river, called ‘beats’ that are typically a mile or two in length, and from one or both banks.
For a full description of the beats along the length of the River Tay, read this article.
The fishing rights for a salmon river can be worth from thousands to millions of pounds, depending on how productive the beat of the river is. The river fishery board determines the number of people who can fish on each ‘beat’. Most beats employ a resident Ghillie, who manages the beat and controls the day to day running of fishing.
Fishing permits are sold by owners of salmon beats. Illegal fishing is controlled by water bailiffs. They also ensure nobody fishes without a permit.
A salmon beat of two miles in length, may allow a maximum of 6 rods. You never get overcrowding on Scottish rivers. Anglers buy permits to fish, as there is no license system in Scotland.