For most anglers, the ultimate fish to catch is an early season spring salmon. There are few other fish which pound for pound put up a better fight. The Scottish springer is typically quite deep and short with big shoulders. It really is a creature of beauty. There is no better place in the world to chase a spring salmon than in Scotland. The experience of salmon fishing in Scotland during the spring months is one that is truly unforgettable and highly addictive.
A fin perfect Scottish spring salmon
The spring run has been improving year upon year on many Scottish rivers which has been great to see. The quality of many of the fish caught at this time of year are second to none and there is always the opportunity of making contact with that big fish. That is why anglers from all over the world come to Scotland each year to chase these elusive creatures. So where and when in Scotland are the best places and times to chase spring silver? The Scottish salmon fishing season starts in mid-January on a handful of rivers. In January, we are still in the midst of our Scottish winter so “spring fishing” is quite a loosely held term. The weather can be quite inhospitable with often sub-zero temperatures, gale force winds and snow showers. From a salmon fishing perspective, options are limited as only a handful of rivers are open. Highland rivers like the Helmsdale, Halladale and Thurso all begin their season on the 11th of January. With the Helmsdale river being open to the public for the first few days of the season, there is always a chance of catching a springer on the fly. Indeed, for several years the Helmsdale has produced the first fish in Scotland during the first week of the season. As long as the river is not running at an unfishable height, the Helmsdale river is always worth having a cast on, if you have aspirations of catching that elusive January salmon on the fly. The Helmsdale’s close neighbour the Thurso has also produced springers in January but as not as consistently. In recent years fresh salmon have been caught in late January. Ideally, for the Thurso a height of water between twelve and sixteen inches is perfect. If the river is too high then often water flows down the fish pass at Loch More (at the top of the system). If this is the case, it will encourage any springers running hard to enter the loch, resulting in a lack of fish in the pools on the upper beats on the river below Loch More.
Loch More, Thurso River in spring Spate
In January, the River Tay is also another option. If the months of December and January have been particularly cold, then the lower Tay is most likely to be your best bet. Traditionally, the beats below the weir at Stanley have fared well in cold water conditions. It is believed that the weir is the first temperature barrier on the Tay and often fish hold up downstream from it, until the water temperature rises. The next temperature barrier on the river is the mighty Linn pool. Again, this pool can fish well in cold high-water conditions. Conversely, if the weather has been mild and the water temperature is warmer, beats on the middle river could be a better bet. In such conditions, springers run hard as they make their way towards the head waters of Loch Tay. If this is the case, beats around the Dunkeld area can be the place to intercept a springer on the fly.
The mighty River Tay offers excellent spring fishing
As we move into February and March many other rivers in Scotland open. Rivers like the Dee, Spey and Tweed all provide the angler with a decent chance of producing a spring salmon on the fly. If the weather has been cold and the water temperature has been low the lower beats on both the Dee and Spey can be productive. On the River Dee, you would expect beats downstream from Banchory to hold decent numbers of clean fish. Similarly, on the Spey, the beats situated between Aberlour and Fochabers are likely to provide the bulk of the action. If, however, the weather has been mild, beats further upstream on both rivers are likely to produce fish.
The magnificent River Spey can produces excellent spring specimens
The beats on the lower Tweed from Kelso to Coldstream can also be productive in February. Some of these beats can be quite difficult to book but opportunities from time to time do become available. If conditions are favourable, the lower Tweed can be the place to make contact with that Scottish spring salmon on the fly. In addition to the rivers that open in February, the Highland rivers like the Thurso and Helmsdale also begin to produce fish more consistently in March.
As you move into April and May, the number of salmon entering our Scottish rivers increase dramatically. Usually, water temperatures rise and river levels drop. Toward the end of May often rivers can drop down to summer levels. If this is the case, then any remaining snow on the Scottish mountains can be a big ally to the salmon fisherman. If the weather does become mild often this result in some snow melting which in turn can lead to the river rising. The rise in water from the snow melt can encourage in springers in late May to run the river.
In April and May, the majority of rivers in the Highlands have a decent head of fish in the pools, as long as there is adequate water. Rivers like the Thurso, Helmsdale, Brora and Beauly can all produce good sport on the fly. Moving further south rivers like the Ness and Findhorn can also be productive. As the water temperature rises the springers run further upstream. This means that beats from Grantown downstream will begin to fish well on the River Spey. On the Dee, usually, the more productive beats would be on the middle and upper river as the bulk of the spring run have moved through the beats on the lower end.
April and May are prime salmon fishing spring months on the River Tay. It is also the right time of year to catch a big salmon on the Tay. With water temperatures rising, the best bet to catch a springer on the fly is usually on the middle river. However, some of the tributaries of the Tay like the Lyon, Tummel and Islay can also be productive. Indeed, April and May are prime months on the River Tummel. Salmon often lie in decent numbers below the dam at Pitlochry and the ascend the salmon ladder when the water warms up, usually in late May.
Moving further south, beats on the middle River Tweed can produce fish consistently as the bulk of the spring run push upstream past Kelso. Just like the Tay, tributaries of the Tweed like the Teviot and Whittadder should also not be forgotten, especially in May. If the water gets very low towards the end of May, the beats below Coldstream on the bottom river often start to produce a few springers.
The prolific River Tweed can offer some great sport in the spring months
As you can see the opportunities to catch a spring salmon in Scotland are truly endless, with many rivers to choose from. From mid-January, through to the end of May, there is always a good chance of making contact with that elusive springer. So why not give spring salmon fishing in Scotland a go? You won’t be disappointed!