Thursday 4 April 2013

Rod, Reel, Flies & Satellite?

An old military adage says "time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted".  The Staff College trained purists would argue that It's not wholly true, because the phrase 'well-planned' is missing.  In salmon fishing we have rather more planning time than soldiers: indeed the anticipation of the day or week is  a big part of our enjoyment.  I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only sad fisherman who has nailed to his browser favourites bar at least 3 weeks before departure the websites for the BBC weather forecast for Inverness; the Fishpal latest catches report; and the SEPA river levels.  Hope rises as each low pressure approaches, then falls as it gets swallowed by the vast and seemingly immovable area of high pressure over Murmansk, leaving the water level unmoved.  This emotional roller coaster accelerates as we traverse the A66 and M74 in pouring rain; enter the blazing sunshine of the great Perth Desert; and kid ourselves that there is water in the Tummel and Garry.  As we cross the Upper Findhorn on the A9 Tomatin Viaduct I can hardly bring myself to glance down upon reality.  Well sometimes I can convince myself that there's a little water.  Or is my wife right that I am uniquely and very sadly daft?

At least low water has one consolation - the opportunity to look closely at every pool to find the hidden boulders and otherwise invisible dips in the  bottom that become fish-holding lies once the water rises.  Any disturbance of the fish is useful, because things can't get worse - or that's what we thought in 2002, until 2003 and 2009 came along.  Actually, in those ultra clear and bright conditions the salmon tuck themselves away in the deepest and darkest places they can find and switch off until their noses tell them new water is coming.  Only that stimulus, excruciating boredom or a nuclear weapon will wake them.

If, however, you are going to a beat for the first time, without a ghillie and in moderate water, how can you conduct this well planned reconnaissance?  Help is at hand, in the form of technical wizardry that costs you nothing - Google.  Almost all of their satellite imagery is taken in summer when the sun is highest and the water lowest and clearest.  This allows you to view the bottom of all but the deepest pools in remarkable detail.

This is the Churan pool at Tomatin, shown at one level of magnification below the maximum for clarity.

Image by Google
Churan Pool, Tomatin House
Submerged rocks show as light grey spots; gravel banks light brown; and deeper water in progressively darker shades.  The mid-water running line is in the upper half, just beyond the middle of the pool.  Even at this lower magnification you can spot the likely lies, some of which are highlighted on photograph below.

Image by Google
When the water level is in the range +10" - +20", those 4 lies account for the majority of the fish that our party have caught in this pool over the past decade.

This Garden Pool, which was the basis of the 'Reading Railways Maps' post, again at one level of magnification below maximum.

Image by Google
Garden Pool, Tomatin House
The tell-tale signs here are the large boulders on and near the centre line, which are lighter in colour on their lower/southern side, and cast a shadow northwards.  You can see a series of groups are you progress down the pool (the flow is north westerly).  You will observe from the changing tone that the water shallows towards the tail, so the last of the groups only really comes into play as a holding lie once the water is above +12".

It's not infallible, and of course it doesn't work so well on rivers that are heavily treed like the Allness or Upper Exe, or have beds with a uniform colour.  But I suggest it's worth a look when you have an idle moment, even if only to concur with my wife's opinion.  Anyway, we need all the help we can get, even when it wears a white coat, so beam me up Scotty.



  1. Love this blog, very informative

    Thanks very much sir!

  2. If I could suggest perhaps maybe you could write a future article explaining suitable fly water. As a novice I struggle to identify where I can successfully chuck a fly out and where I'm wasting my time. I'm probably walking past miles and miles of good fly water thinking to myself its too slow or too deep or both.