There Goes The Neighbourhood

Three locals coming home accompanied by two sea trout in the River Ness; filmed by the Ness Fisheries Board

The occasional observer on the river bank may be unaware that migratory Atlantic Salmon native to these islands, who have never had it easy as they flog over to their Icelandic feeding grounds and back again to their home rivers, face increasing threats to their well-being which are becoming beyond worrisome. 

Using a drone on the Ness to locate spawning 'redds,' of the Pink Salmon

Using a drone on the Ness to locate spawning 'redds,' of the Pink Salmon

The last few years have seen numbers returning to their home rivers in decline from Canada all the way over to Norway. Salmon fishermen and those who study migratory salmon have so far been unable to identify any single reason for the decline. Similarly, the pattern of behaviour which we have seen in salmon since the early sixties appears, in some rivers at least, to be changing with returning fish coming back in large pods at different times of year than has been the way for at least a generation. It is likely that a combination of factors are responsible and probably include their feeding grounds being pushed some 250 miles further north because of sea warming, unrestricted growth in predation in native coastal waters because no one wants to kill seals and many local factors such as agricultural pollution and sea lice from salmon farms on the West Coast. Not forgetting of course the invasive American Signal Crayfish which has decimated some rivers in South West Scotland and the demented introduction of beavers in some areas. 

Part of the fishing community, having consulted the dusty records of the past, believe we are simply going through one of natures down-cycles and a natural reversal of the trend will come in good time. At best though, only 5% of smolts survive the sea journey, (it was 30% in the 1960's), and now, after that long trip, a new threat awaits.

Pink or Humpback Salmon. Normal catch & release rules do not apply; catch, kill & report.

Pink or Humpback Salmon. Normal catch & release rules do not apply; catch, kill & report.

Some new folk are moving in. Pink, or Humpback salmon as they are also known, are ugly brutes and are not native to our waters. About a month ago a couple were caught on the Ness and since then they've been appearing in rivers up and down the Scottish East Coast from the Helmsdale to the Tweed. They have occasionally appeared in the past, just not in the numbers being seen this year. Although native to waters off Canada and Alaska the travellers we are seeing have probably come from the Barents Sea where they were introduced in 1956. I wish they would bloody stay there.

Pink Salmon spawning on the Ness filmed by the Ness Fishery Board

Broadly speaking, no-one in the fishing world is getting too animated about it. We're a stoic lot and lord knows there's enough to worry about without sweating over a few illegal immigrants. The clip released today though by the Ness Fisheries Board of two Pink's spawning won't help. The last thing we need is for these buggers to take hold and potentially squeeze out our native salmon for its not exactly something that the poor fish get a vote on.

An update posted on 15th August from Fisheries Management Scotland may be found here.

Craigellachie Hotel

Craigellachie Hotel

Craigellachie Hotel

I recently stayed at the newly refurbished Craigellachie Hotel on Speyside. Under the new ownership of London based private club owner Piers Adams the hotel, which had reached the sad and forlorn stage with an indifferent reputation, is enjoying a fresh rush of investment and enthusiasm. That manifests itself throughout the operation, for it is a drilled operation, in a designer-evident interior rebuild, menu’s and service. All though, is not yet perfect.

Without wanting to be trite or sour one or two pretty fundamental issues quickly came to light on arrival. No television in the room, (“awaiting delivery” although a small one was later found),  only one bathrobe in the bedroom, sketchy and intermittent WiFi, ("persistent BT problem, we’re using a dongle,”) nowhere for guests to relax before dinner, (“the refurbished whisky bar will be opening soon), a fine 2 metre view of a skip from the “garden bedroom,” and a radio with Chris bloody Evans blaring away every morning at breakfast, (although the staff did kindly turn it off when I objected to listening to the traffic report from Uxbridge while enjoying my bangers & bacon.

The staff seem to have been almost entirely recruited from Glasgow. No doubt some hospitality consultant has stuck his oar in about the highlander and the highlander’s approach to service. They may or may not have a fair point but it’s a bit of a central belt cliché and it would be good to have more local staff to inculcate a local feel. Nonetheless, the well rehearsed staff are trained, hard working and anxious to please if somewhat uncertain when hit with something non standard but issues are dealt with very quickly and efficiently so. In fact, the guest ends up hoping for them that quick resolutions are found to small problems and that’s good because it creates a “can do, will please,” atmosphere from both sides.

There was no fine dining room when I stayed and I understand that options for that remain under consideration. Eating then was in the ground floor “Copper Dog,” which is best described as “gastro pub,” dining. Nothing wrong with that when done well and its done very well here. The menu is simple, fair value and in their words, (locally sourced, sustainable etc etc). The wine list mirrors the food and is perfectly acceptable. The average table is goiing to do far more damage to their credit card with over effusive ordering of obscure whiskies than they will with the wine. Dining there is very casual and very busy, (160 covers one night we were there which is pretty extraordinary locally). Indeed, the Copper Dog is so popular with locals that guests would be advised to book before arrival. Inviting the ghillies from the river can’t have harmed the cause and echo’s the inviting London cabbies to new clubs and restaurants thing to jack up referrals. On one evening a live country singer started belting out some songs of the seventies and initially I contemplated stabbing myself with my fork or applying for an emergency ASBO. Actually, a couple of hours later I’d made some new best friends with some bearded Austrians and was well on the way to drinking too much Aberlour and starting a new chapter of the Dead Country & Western Singers Appreciation Society.

Despite a few odds and ends of fishing paraphernalia on the walls, the hotel isn’t really a fisherman’s hotel in the style of Burt’s and the Townhouse in Melrose or the Ednam House in Kelso; at least not yet. Its somewhat understandable given many, if not the majority, of rods on the Spey rent houses or lodges, (many having done so in the same spot for generations), although they frequently eat out. The hotel’s real economic market is the Whisky Trail market. That is the earnest American, Japanese and European tourists tramping up and down Speyside visiting the distilleries, which are quite flash these days and fully geared up for the sector, and tasting. I could tell them that many of those distilleries add caramel colouring to the whisky to make it more appealing to what their eyes think a good whisky should look like but why spoil their fun.

Fiddichside Inn

Rods looking for a fisherman’s rest to repair to for a blether and dram really need go no further than the  Fiddichside Inn at the other end of the village. Run by Joe, an ex ghillie on the river, the place has been in his family for about 100 years. It’s small, with no music, no machines well actually, not much at all apart from the booze, Joe and a wealth of dubious tales of fish, fishing and fisherman. The Fiddich is easily, one of the top ten pubs in Britain and if you happen to have caught a salmon that day, probably the best pub in the world. Unfortunately, some dullard has added the Fiddich to a Whisky Trail app so you are actually just as likely to see the bearded Austrians there as you are at the Craig.

Back to the hotel and all in all, there is little significant criticism  and one can see they have the will and drive to iron out teething problems, “it’s not the problem, it’s how you react to it.” There is a lingering thought though that by booking over the web without knowing these niggly things one is somewhat oversold the value proposition. Mr Adams is no Mrs Carmichael (previous legendary proprietor of old), and they haven’t got it quite spot on but they will do and I expect in twelve months’ time, if not before, it’s going to be pretty difficult to get rooms there. It’s professionally managed and run, the Craigellachie now just needs to discover it’s own charm and soul and that only comes with time. There you go, who needs TripAdvisor?

Fishing In Gods Early Morning Sunshine

The other week I hurtled up to the Spey for a few days fishing with one of the Crumble Kids, having dropped the other off to go bimbling over the Cairngorm. The fishing was challenging, (when is it not?), given the low water. Still, if it's not low water it's humidity, air temperature, water temperature, no cloud cover or simply just fishing like a muppet. Anyway, young CK and I with unrestrained enthusiasm hit the water very early one morning. A modest grilse was all we had to show for our effort but dawn over the Spey was simply beautiful. Meanwhile, our famine was anothers feast. A beat downstream was pulling them out in scores. That will be the salmon for you. The Fishing Omerta precludes mention of the beat name, or indeed numbers, but salmon rods will anyway know where. 

A bad day fishing is better than a good day in the office.....


Cobble Pot, Arndilly, River Spey

My biggest worry is that my wife (when I'm dead) will sell my fishing gear for what I said I paid for it.  ~Koos Brandt

Being a diligent and circumspect lot, all five of my avid and loyal readers out there in Blogland will have noticed that posts have been somewhat infrequent over the past week.... in fact, there haven't been any. 

I decided to repair to my spiritual homeland to feed the soul and dust off the winter cobwebs by standing waist deep in freezing water for a few days, waving a long pointy thing around.

The Spey is a majestic river and somewhat moody and atmospheric at this time of year. Arndilly though, is a heavenly beat and it was a privilege and a lot of fun to fish there. The water there wasn't cold, it was bloody freezing. We had it all, wind, rain snow...... just the thing for the weary commuter who spends too much time in the office.

Back now though, and normal service is resumed and this; this is what it's all about; an 8lb springer caught by my companion.

8lb springer caught in Jock's Tail, Arndilly