Scotland’s River Spey is to salmon fishing as St. Andrews is to golf: the global heart of the sport. Each spring and summer, thousands of migrating fish travel up the 100 mile river to their spawning grounds. On their way, they are the target of hundreds of anglers, each of whom is as reverent of the river as they are of the fish. The Spey is known as much for its natural beauty as it is for the fat and flavourful fish that are pulled from its depths.
Nature In And Out Of The Water
Both salmon and sea-trout are native to the river and hundreds of each are caught each season. One type of salmon is known to be particularly exciting – the grilse. These are the first generation of salmon to return after their initial year at sea. Usually smaller, they are known to put up a tremendous fight and give every angler who catches one a special ‘fish story’ all their own. In addition, eight lochs feed the river, and many of those are stocked with farm raised trout.
Other wildlife abounds, too. At its upper level, the river winds through a bird sanctuary; at its mouth at Moray Bay are dolphins and seals. In between are miles of wilderness, home to red deer, pine marten and Scottish wildcats.
Unique Terrain Offers Variety
The Spey is the fastest flowing river in Scotland and it winds through both wide flats and narrow canyons. The diversity of its character offers a wide variety of angling experiences, all of which can be accessed at a number of beats along its banks. Fly fishing is the rule, and fly patterns with such colourful names as Gold Bodied Willie Gunn, Orange Flamethrower, Copperass and Blue Charm have been proven effective over the years. Due to the closeness of the scotch pines at rivers’ edge, Spey anglers developed the ‘speycast’, a side thrown cast that avoids the trees – a technique that has become one of the most utilised casts for fly fishers all around the world.
The beats themselves are both publicly and privately owned. They can offer single or double banks, and many offer both swift current and pool fishing challenges. Each beat is unique to itself, and some are limited to a certain number of rods.
Something For Everyone
Fisher-folk of all ages and skill levels are sure to find exactly the Spey experience they are looking for. Permits, boats, tackle and lessons are available for purchase or rental at most beats, or in one of the quaint towns up or down stream. The swift flow and cool water mandate both waders and life jackets. Boats can be anchored and let into the current, or managed by a ‘ghillie’ on the shore as the angler casts. A small stretch of the river provides wheelchair access to selected pools, and there are free permits available for wheelchair users.
The fishing season begins in February and runs through to September 30. The ‘freshest’ fish are pulled at the lower levels and can be found there early and late in the season. As the season wears on, the mid and upper levels offer excellent opportunity as the larger, stronger fish make their way up the river. May and June are regarded as the best months both for size and abundance of fish.
There are excellent accommodations for fisher-folk all season long, including hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, and ‘self-catering’ units (whole house rentals).
Ensure your hotel is angler-friendly, has space to keep your equipment, drying rooms and freezer space for your catches. The Good Hotel Guide gives independent Editors Choice Awards for Best Fishing Hotels which we followed and were very happy with. The local tourist office can point you in the direction of suitable accomodation and there are a number of towns along the Spey. We stayed at one of the luxury hotels in Grantown-on-Spey and found the owner particularly knowledgable, and he had some excellent tips and contacts that made our stay more enjoyable.
Of course, it’s not just the angling the area has to offer as there’s always the finest whisky in the world to enjoy too, itself made from the sparkling water of the River Spey. No wonder the fish keep coming back!