Panorama from Summerhill
Pitlochrie centre and left, Benchil downstream to the right
The Tay is unlike the other Scottish salmon rivers I've described on this blog:
- It's huge: the average width in the panorama above is around 140 metres (a long roe stalking shot or a full 7-iron). In contrast, Commonty, the biggest pool on the Spey, is only 70-80 metres. Salmon can run into and through the Tay at virtually all water heights. One's judgements based on experience on spate rivers are irrelevant.
- Its size generates unfamiliar activities involving boats, spinning and harling. I've fished from boats on the Tweed, but I hadn't cast a spinner since 1967, and harling was an entirely new experience. When casting a fly it is just a tiny speck in the vast volume of the Tay, so you cannot just rely on chance.
- The beats on much of the lower and middle river are lined with truly magnificent trees. The Murthly Castle arboretum is majestically beautiful. The rivers from the Findhorn northwards to the Helmsdale are mostly treeless. On the Tay you feel that you are somewhere else, amidst fertile farmland and prosperous estates: it feels different, softer and less edgy than the Highlands. But whatever the differences, the Tay is beautiful and delivers the same soothing potion to the soul.
- First and most important, there weren't many salmon about. During our week the major beats reporting on FishPal were catching a total in the range 12-15 fish daily, which amounted to 10-20% of what used to be expected. Taymount was consistently above the average, but with a larger number of rods. Bearing in mid that a proportion of that 12-15 figure were taken by harling and spinning, fly anglers were having a very thin time. Indeed, on Pitlochrie I caught the only fish taken in the week. There was an awful lot of gloom around and some very subdued ghillies.
- Second, a lot of these beats fish best in lower water, which concentrates the salmon into clearly defined running lines and holding areas. We arrived to find the Tay at +2' 8". While this would have been a cause for celebration at Tomatin, it created additional challenges for us on the Tay. The small numbers of salmon present were dispersed across huge acreages of water: they could run and rest wherever they chose, and it was only on the last two days as the level fell towards +1' 4" that the features became more defined.
- Third, on some beats the higher water made it difficult to wade to a position from where you could hope to reach the target areas. I spent a demanding morning wading waist-deep on Stenton with a big rod and full Spey line, just touching the near edge of the running line without so much as a nudge.
|Stenton - upper wade|
Showing near edge of target area
|Murthly - harling|
It's with some trepidation that I display the product of my harling, a stale cock fish of around 6lbs. With a substantial Hardy glass fibre spinning rod and an Abu multiplier, it took me little time to bring him to the net. Of all the salmon I've caught, this must surely have yielded the least pride.
|The tail of Tronach|
looking up to Summerhill
Benchil, directly downstream from Pitlochrie, is primarily fished from two boats, with a 350 metre stretch of right bank wading below the hut within reach of the nearer of two running lines into the lower pool. While Benchil may appear bland - certainly the other rods in the party thought it rather dull - as the river fell you could see the running lines and short halts increasingly clearly. To assuage their feelings I reduced the rods on Benchil to two, and took two compensating extra slots on Murthly Top Water on the Thursday and Saturday.
|Benchil - Saturday|
I was fishing Benchil on Thursday when a succession of pods of salmon and grilse came through, with several dozen fish showing either side of lunchtime following high water downstream at 1030. We didn't connect with any of them, but interestingly they must have come to rest around Cargill later in the day, when the rods up there enjoyed an unexpectedly brisk afternoon.
|Pitlochrie defile - a 16 metre river|
from the mid-point of the old croy
1. Look for the rivers within the river.
|Balance and happiness|
The Brigadier gets a fish!
3. Balance. The fishing is the core of the week, but it's not everything. I shared the week with a delightful group of close friends, and their good humour, banter and company more than compensated for the dull and largely unproductive fishing. The surroundings were stunning and the lodge wonderful. In any event, in the current state of salmon fishing across most of Scotland, you have to be both philosophical and balanced.
|Tay standards - a dishwasher in the Murthly Top Water hut!|
Now the autumn is approaching and I am looking forward to the delights of fishing the Ure. My unheard prayers for less water on the Tay should now be cancelled!