Season Review 2016.

As we approach the opening of the 2017 season, I thought it might be fun to look back to the 2016 season

The season opened with the traditional Opening Ceremony at Aberlour. There were two fish caught on opening day, both from Delfur, and both by local angler Graham Ritchie. Graham will have the honour of pouring the whisky into the river this year’s opening ceremony.


The Spey is always a river that starts slowly, February has never been a great month for catches and the records suggest an average of around fifty fish is normal, but considering that not all beats are actually let or fished things are not too bad.


March shows a definite improvement but this would be expected, the days are getting longer, and warmer but let us not forget that we are talking of the Scottish Highlands so warmer and longer have to be taken in some sort of perspective. There are always some days lost to floods caused by snowmelt or heavy rain. Last year the monthly catch was just over the one hundred mark, about two thirds of the average.


April showed as it often does definite improvement although the weather was not perfect, I still remember a wonderful morning at Delfur in late April when I landed two fish and lost another as the snow showers were driven upstream by a strong Northerly wind. Would I have swapped it for sitting in front of a warm fire, no!

The river finished with just over four hundred fish almost spot on the average.


Where else would any salmon angler want to be in May but on the river Spey? Temperatures are rising, the birds have returned from their winter holidays and have paired up, the trees are green and the valley is alive. It is time to get rid of the sinking lines and big flies and concentrate on smaller flies and lines that cast more easily. With the flies fishing closer to the surface you can also get a visual notification of the fish taking. Catches, by now catches were starting to build, word was out the Spey was fishing well! The month finished with just over one thousand fish and again slightly above average.


June, another month in which there is nowhere better in the whole world to be. It is not only the quantity of the fish but also the quality. The majority of the fish are into double figures, some in the high teens and the odd one around the twenty-pound mark. These fish do not give up easily and it is not unusual to see the backing on your reel from time to time. Last year I noted more days were lost to flood in June than in March but even so it was one of the best Junes since the fifties. The Spey ended up with just shy of two and a half thousand fish for the month. This is almost a thousand up on the average.


In July after the excellent last two months expectations were high. Some who should have known better were getting carried away and predicting bumper catches. Those who have been salmon fishing all their lives were less effervescent. If the grilse had turned up in any strong numbers, the former would have been correct but as they didn’t the pessimists were proved right. The river finished July with just about seventeen hundred fish landed. A little above the average, but after June a little disappointing!


August continued the trend. The numbers of fresh fish entering the river was not as it was in years gone by. However visiting anglers could not be disappointed everywhere they looked they could see fish, every pool was stuffed with them but they did not seem to be greatly interested in taking a fly. The weather did not help, the river stayed low, in fact August was the first time since the start of the season that there were no spates. The final tally was close to thirteen hundred fish someway below on the average.


September continued the same pattern. Anglers commentating that they had never seen so many fish in the river, surely a great sign for the future of the Spey. The weather stayed benign, great for the farmers taking in their harvests but not so great for the visiting angler. It was the last week of the season before there was a significant rise in the water; most beats showed a flurry of activity but after such a great season September was something of an anti-climax. Catches were around seven hundred and fifty.

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Spey 2016 electrofishing report

The Spey expends considerable resource on monitoring each year, mainly by juvenile surveys (electrofishing) and smolt trapping. This is an important activity for a river of the Spey’s stature; it is essential that management decisions are based on an informed understanding of the status of juvenile stocks in the river.

In 2016 we completed the Spey mainstem annual salmon fry index surveys as well as year 2 rota tributaries, primarily the Avon and Truim. The major event affecting juvenile stocks in 2016 was the extreme high flows that hit the east of the catchment during Storm Frank but also in early January when even higher flows occurred in the Livet. The 2016 electrofishing report can be found here.

In the mainstem the salmon fry counts downstream of the Avon were about half of the previous year but upstream they were close to average upstream of the Avon confluence, with particularly good results from the upper river in the area from Spey Dam to Kingussie. Upstream of Spey Dam salmon fry were limited in distribution and for the first timed more prevelent in the very upper reaches and almost absent in the usual area upstream of the dam. The salmon parr counts in the mainstem were good, the highest on average if the impacted and volatile results from above Spey Dam are excluded. A high proportion of these parr were large enough to smolt in 2017.

The area of most concern was in the Avon where the mainstem salmon fry index surveys revealed a dramatic decline in the fry counts with lesser. although still concerning, declines in the parr. In the Avon tributaries the situation was better with good salmon parr densities. The status of the juvenile trout population in the Avon continues to be good. Given the significance of the Avon the intention is to repeat the Avon mainstem salmon fry index surveys in 2017, along with some of the tributary sites to establish if the juvenile stocks have recovered naturally.

The results from the Truim also exhibited a reduction compared to 2013 but it is important to distinguish between fluctuations in juvenile densities and long term trends. 2013, the last year when the Avon and Truim were surveyed in detail were years with high juvenile stock status. The declines noted in 2016 are explainable; the extreme high flows being the most likely cause resulting in redd washout. In 2015 the comparison with the results from the 2012 monitoring cycle were good with fry and parr densities up in almost all of the tributaries monitored.

In the 2016 burns monitored (those flowing directly into the Spey) the situation was one of stability with little change compared to the same sites when surveyed in 2013. This suggests that the impact of the high flows was higher in the larger watercourses, where stream power is so much greater.

Overall, whilst the winter spates had an impact the situation is relatively good, especially in comparision to other rivers. It is worth recording that declines in salmon fry densities/counts in 2016 were not restricted to the Spey, news regarding declines in Welsh rivers even made the BBC website. The reasons for the widespread nature of these low fry counts are likely to be varied (high temperatures were suggested as a potential cause in Wales).

Our understanding of the status of juvenile stocks in the Spey remains at a high level. In 2017 the major tributaries surveyed will be the Fiddich, Feshie, Tromie and Calder, as well as the annual salmon fry index surveys in the Spey mainstem.


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Spey Catchment Initiative Update 2016

The Spey Catchment Initiative Update for 2016 newsletter has been published and is now available to download here.  The update includes information on the following topics:


  • 2016 UK River Prize Award
  • Reconnecting Disconnected Side Channels – Aviemore
  • 2016 River Spey Catchment Management Plan
  • Growing Riparian Woodlands
  • Salmon Go to School
  • Demonstrating Green Engineering Techniques
  • Tomintoul and Glenlivet Landscape Partnership (TGLP)
  • About The Spey Catchment Initiative (SCI)
  • Looking to the Future

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Week Commencing 5th September 2016

Last week’s forecast was not particularly accurate it seemed to forget the gale force winds which made fishing difficult and the rain promised for the weekend arrived a day or so early pushing the river up on Saturday making conditions more difficult than they were earlier in the week. At the start of the week it was warm and bright, never ideal conditions.

Avon Water Levels

Avon Water Levels

Aberlour river levels

Aberlour river levels

This coming week’s forecast is for bright and sunny at the start and end of the week with some warm humid conditions in the middle of the week and perhaps some heavier rain overnight. The tides are building all week.

Catches, as one would expect with the above weather conditions the fishing could not be described as easy! There is an odd fresh fish coming into the river but the majority are residents some coming into the full spawning livery.

Gordon Castle had another week into the thirties.

Delfur finished close to twenty. Mark as usual managed to find me a photograph.

Howard Masson delfur

Howard Mason delfur

Craigellachie continued to pick away.

Wester Elchies had four.

Carron also had four, as usual the Chesmore girls, out fished their men, this year having a clean sweep. Many thanks to Ruth and Rebecca for the pictures.

Ian Borthwick with Ruth Hosker's fish Carron

Ian Borthwick with Ruth Hosker’s fish(Nee Chesmore) Carron.

Ruth Hosker Carron.

Ruth Hosker Carron.

Rebecca Chesmore Carron

Rebecca Chesmore Carron

The lift in river levels helped Grantown and I predict there will be a few more catches yet to be reported. Many thanks to Jimmy for the picture of local member Cosimo Imperiale playing a spirited fish in The Lurg on Saturday morning.

Cosimo Imperiale Lurg Grantown

Cosimo Imperiale Lurg Grantown

Kinchurdy also had a few salmon and sea trout finishing with four sea trout and a couple of salmon, Dot Potter with the biggest.

Dot Potter Kinchurdy

Dot Potter Kinchurdy

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Mainstem electrofishing survey results 2016

I should begin this blog with an apology for the lack of news from the research team recently; a combination of solid fieldwork during the summer weeks and house renovations at home has left little time for updates. Hopefully normal service will be resumed from now on – there is a bit of a backlog to publish!

This blog will focus on the mainstem juvenile monitoring which is such a prominent and important part of our work. It’s importance is a reflection of the quantity, and quality,  of available habitat in the Spey mainstem. Our primary monitoring technique for assessing the mainstem are a series of replicate salmon fry index surveys conducted mainly in shallow riffle or run habitat i.e. salmon fry habitat. These sites are surveyed annually for three minutes (actual electrofishing time counted down by the Efishing kit). The main target species and life stage is salmon fry but we also catch parr plus other species such as trout, eels etc.

The Efishing backpack was purchased in 2012 and the sites have been surveyed in a consistent manner since.  The salmon fry index results from these surveys over the last five years are shown below.


Spey mainstem salmon fry index results 2012 to 2016 (number of salmon fry per minute). Results are ordered from the lower river (top of table) to the upper limit of salmon distribution above Spey Dam (bottom of table).

Looking at the results as a whole the mean salmon fry counts in 2016 were the lowest in the sequence, although the pattern was not consistent across the river. We normally begin these surveys in the lower river and it was obvious from the first day of surveying this summer that the fry counts in the lower reaches not as high as recorded in recent years. This remained the case until we reached the sites upstream of the Avon confluence. The Avon joins the Spey between sites S096R1 and S104L2. Upstream of the Avon the results were better, more akin to those recorded in previous years. The change in the colour coding in this area of the river should be apparent from the table above. Note that the colour coding ranges from red (lowest 20% of results) to dark green (highest 20% of results) with amber, yellow and light green between.

Looking in more detail the average fry count in sites downstream of the Avon confluence was 10.8/min in 2016 compared to over 20/min in each of the preceding three years. Upstream of the Avon confluence, to Spey Dam, the mean count in 2016 was 21.7/min, just below average for the last five years and the third best mean count for this part of the river. There were some good results in this part of the river with much more green in the colour coding.

Upstream of Spey Dam should really be treated separately as the fish passage problems known to exist at Spey Dam have their own impact on fish numbers in what should be extremely valuable spawning grounds for early running grilse and salmon. In 2016 we found that salmon fry were limited in distribution upstream of the dam, the greater prevelence being in the upper reaches; the opposite of the more normal situation when counts are usually higher in the lower reaches, closer to the dam.


An example of the typical good spawning habitat available in the very upper reaches of the Spey mainstem, in this case, a short distance downstream of the Allt Yairack confluence.

The picture therefore is one of lower fry counts, better in the upper mainstem; although it is worth noting that overall the counts were only a little lower than recorded in 2012.

Salmon parr are also captured during these surveys. The salmon parr counts are shown in the table below. The survey sites are a combination of historic sites (some of which had been surveyed for a number of years prior to 2012, although with different electrofishing equipment, which cruically lacked the in-built timer) to more recentlt selected sites. Habitat quality varies across the sites with some more suited to fry than parr and vica versa. A good example of this habitat variation can be seen in the part of the river from the lower Abernethy site (S163L1) to the Kingussie area (S254R1). Here substrate sizes are dominated by pebble rather that cobble and boulder. The larger substrates normally provides more cover (hidey holes) for parr whereas the smaller fry can find shelter within, or alongside, smaller material. Whilst parr counts are generally low in this part of the river the fry counts are generally good – reflecting habitat suitability at our survey sites.


In contrast to the lower mean fry counts the parr counts in 2016 were almost the best in the sequence, beaten only by 2013. If the results from the river upstream of Spey Dam are excluded the parr counts downstream of Spey Dam were 4.9/minute compared to 4.6/min in 2013. That year was one of the few when good parr counts were recorded above the dam. Interestingly these findings chime with comments made by anglers and many ghillies this year who have remarked on the greater numbers of parr seen rising and latching on to small flies.

In addition to the network of timed sites on the mainstem we have also, since 2014 at least, completed semi-quantitiative surveys at three sites in the mainstem; at Aberlour, Blacksboat and Advie. These sites are quadrat sites, in relatively stable habitat with the site boundaries defined by boulders. These sites are completed at the end of the summer survey season and provide an opportunity for cross referencing with the timed surveys. I have commented before on the need to understand the size distribution of the salmon parr and consequently the proportion of the parr stock that is likely to smolt the following year. These end of summer surveys in the mainstem provide the sort of data we need to investigate this issue. Incidentally semi-quantitative surveys means those involving a single run through the site and in this case without stop nets (it would be virtually impossible to set up stop nets in a quadrat site in the mainstem anyway).

Results from the semi-quantitative surveys in the mainstem 2014-2016

Results from the semi-quantitative surveys in the mainstem 2014-2016 (density per 100m2). In two out of the three sites the salmon fry densities were the lowest in the sequence in 2016, matching the general findings from the salmon fry index surveys. And, similarly, the salmon parr densities were the highest in the sequence at all three sites.

Site S7 in Aberlour

Site S7 in Aberlour. This site has been surveyed in exactly the same way for the last three years at the end of the summer. 100 salmon parr were captured within the marked area, with many more evading capture within the luxuriant fronds of ranunculus which grows so well in this area.



This table provides data on the mean length of each size class along with the proportion of salmon parr likely to smolt the following spring. For example in site S7 (Aberlour) 85% of the parr were larger than 90mm (the end of summer size threshold likely to result in smolting). Within that site the actual number of pre-smolt parr was also 85; twice the number recorded in the 2014, the year with the second highest count. In each of the three sites, even though the mean parr length were smaller than recorded in 2015, the actual number of pre-smolt parr was the highest in the sequence, although with only three years data it is not really a long term series – yet.

The results presented here today are therefore mixed. Salmon fry counts in the lower mainstem are lower than recorded in recent years but the parr counts, and densities, in the mainstem appear to be good, indicating thaat the mainstem should produce a healthy smolt run in 2017. The parr  of course need to survive the winter; some level of mortality is inevitable with the main risks being extreme flows (although maybe less of an issue during the winter), predation and the avaibility of overwinter habitat.

Potential reasons for the reduced salmon fry counts in the lower mainstem this year will be the subject of the next blog; but from discussions with other biologists it is clear that this is not a phenonema unique to the Spey.


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Week Commencing 12th September 2016

Well the weather forecast was reasonably accurate; the timings might have been slightly out, but not too much. Next week is pretty similar some days warm and sunny, the next cloudy and overcast. Temperatures remain around the mid teens with no sign of overnight frost! The tides peak overnight and there will be no new water all week.

Catches: The River has the end of season look about it, there are plenty of fish in all the pools, but they are hard to tempt into taking a fly.

Gordon Castle managed to stay in the mid thirties. Delfur had a relatively poor week failing to get into double figures, Mark tells me the fish were very dour.

Mike Weaver Delfur

Mike Weaver Delfur

Eric Waddle’s party managed nine from Rothes.

Arndilly were around the same finished with seven. Thanks to Charlie Harman for his pictures.

Charles Harman's fish Arndilly

Charles Harman’s fish Arndilly.

Not so fresh this time

Not so fresh this time

Craigellachie had three. Carron a couple.

Grantown got into double figures, the high water helping. The best was estimated at 23lbs  caught on a fly by John Davies from Tarric Mor.

Kinchurdy kept picking away and I am grateful for the pictures.

David Jones Kinchurdy

David Jones Kinchurdy.

Jimmy Jack, Norman Pool Kinchurdy

Jimmy Jack, Norman Pool Kinchurdy.

Avon, I was pleased to receive an Email from Ken Davies, “Malcolm I fished the Avon on Monday on beat one , had three salmon two at
10lbs one 12lbs , also hooked a big fish that just ran up the river , could not hold it and my nylon broke on a stone.”

Ken Davies Avon

Ken Davies Avon.

Ken Davies Again Avon

Ken Davies Again Avon

And Again Ken Davies Avon

And Again Ken Davies Avon.


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Week Commencing 15th August 2016.

Before I start my usual report can I just say how sad I was to hear of the sudden death of Willie Bremner, universally known as “Wink”. Wink recently retired as the Gillie on the Macalllan Beat and will be fondly remembered by those who fished there or over the water at Craigellachie. Condolences to the Bremner family.


Last week’s forecast was accurate as far as it went, what it didn’t say was that the start of the week would be hot, bright, cloudless, not conditions that salmon anglers look forward to. Towards the end of the week overhead conditions did improve a little, but the river continued to carry a peaty blackness. This coming week is forecast to be much better for anglers. Monday and Tuesday will be overcast with a little light rain. Thursday, Friday and Saturday are forecast to be wetter, with Saturday having a decent amount of rain. The tides have peaked and there will be no new water all week.

Catches predictably with the above weather conditions, catches have not been brilliant.

Gordon Castle continues to catch fish, and finished the week just short of sixty.

Delfur had a slightly quieter week landing around twenty-five.

Carron had six.

I had better apologise for getting the Laggan catch wrong last week and am grateful to Lloyd Garvie for sending me the correct information. Lloyd wrote that

Scott Garvie had 7 fish for his week with a 15lb lifetime best followed by a 19lb fish the following day. I should also mention that as well as Scott’s 7, Rob Doig, Grant Doig and Gordon Wilson also scored and we finished with 10 for the week.

He also sent me the picture below.

Scott Garvie Laggan

Scott Garvie Laggan

The river above has been pretty quiet with anglers enjoying the sun rather than flogging the water.

Grantown and Kinchurdy continued to fish well on Monday on the back of last weeks rise. Chris Boyle sent me the photographs of two salmon estimated at 8&11.

Chris Boyle's fish Kinchurdy.

Chris Boyle’s fish Kinchurdy.

Another of Chris Boyle's fish Kinchurdy.

Another of Chris Boyle’s fish Kinchurdy.



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2016 Fin-clipping

Following our request for volunteers for fin-clipping at the Sandbank Hatchery yesterday, we had another successful evening with assistance from the Spey Ghillies and Spey Fishery Board staff.

The Spey Fishery Board’s Stocking Sub-Committee agreed that as many as possible of the 230,000 fed fry currently in the hatchery would have their adipose fin removed prior to the Autumn stocking, to facilitate identification, either during monitoring, or if caught in the future.

So far, this season we have received a few reports of salmon caught with their adipose fins removed from previous hatchery stockings which included a grilse caught earlier this week at Beat 3 on the Brae Water weighing 4.5 lbs and two multi-sea winter fish weighing 8 lbs and 11 lbs.

We are extremely grateful to Steve Brand and the Spey Ghillies for their tremendous effort in giving up their evenings to assist with this project, and also to Hatchery Manager, Jimmy Woods for producing fry in excellent condition.

The photos below show the adipose fin removal process before the fry are carefully placed back into the tanks.












































































If anyone is interested in helping to facilitate this year’s autumn fry fin-clipping, you are very welcome to join us at the Sandbank Hatchery, Glenlivet from 6:00 pm until 8:00 pm. Further information is available from our Hatchery Manager, Jimmy Woods on 01807 590467.

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Week Commencing 1st August 2016.

Last week’s forecast was pretty accurate and the rainfall on Tuesday into Wednesday was enough to push the river up. As usual this season there was a lot of peaty water, which put the salmon off the take. Next week’s forecast follows the usual trend but this coming week the heaviest rain will be on Thursday and Friday morning and again if accurate the river will rise. The tides have peaked and there will no new water this coming week. The noticeable feature of this weekend’s weather was the strength of the winds, not unusually high for winter but strong enough when the trees are in leaf. There was a tree down on the Craigellachie to Dufftown road in Craigellachie and getting to the beats might be a little awkward till the gillies get the chain saws going.

A tree across the road.

A tree across the road.

Catches. The bottom beats on the river continue to fish well. Gordon Castle finished just short of eighty, considering Wednesday and Thursday were a bit of a washout, pretty good going. Saturday was the best day of the week which augurs well for this coming week.

Delfur had a good family week with lots of first “fish landed” Thanks to Mark, Rory and Grant for the photographs. They finished the week into the twenties, and again Saturday was the best day.

Freddie Denison-Smith Delfur

Freddie Denison-Smith Delfur

James Garwood Delfur

James Garwood Delfur

Ed Taylor Delfur

Ed Taylor Delfur

Ned Salvin Delfur

Ned Salvin Delfur. All the above “1st fish”

Rory Mountain Delfur

Rory Mountain Delfur

Ned Salvin Delfur

Ned Salvin Delfur.

Ellie mountain Delfur

Ellie mountain Delfur.

Puffin, Archie and Emma Mountain Delfur.

Puffin, Archie and Emma Mountain Delfur.

Rothes were about the same, Mike tells me the majority landed were salmon with just a handful of grilse. He said the total would have been better except for the loss of a day and a half to coloured peaty water.

Easter Elchies reported thirty this week.

Craigellachie finished into double figures and it is now the best years catch since 2011. Hopefully the catches will continue so they can pass the 2008 total.

Wester Elchies had a few fish and I was pleased to get a few pictures. Mike Addison and Huw Jones from Wales had a nice three days. Huw Jones had his first Spey fish, not a bad couple to open your Spey account.

Huw Jones Wester Elchies

Huw Jones Wester Elchies

Huw Jones Wester Elchies

Huw Jones Wester Elchies.

Neal Strachan also had a great day at Wester Elchies, on Wednesday he was disappointed to lose his first ever salmon but minutes later he hooked and successfully landed, and returned this fish.

Neil Strachan Wester Elchies

Neil Strachan Wester Elchies

Carron had a quieter week than of late but still passed last years total with almost two months to go. Laggan had a better week with at least four landed on Thursday.

Grantown had a better week with almost ten fish reported. The high water encourage fish to take on some of the upper beats.



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Week Commencing 11th July 2016

Another report from a foreign country, this one must be full of heathens as they salmon fish on the Sabbeth. I’m not sure it is my Presbyterian upbringing or that I cannot work out how they cut the lawn or iron their shirts but it just seems wrong!

The forecast last week was reasonably accurate, the weekend’s rain pushed up the river on Monday, and there appeared to be quite a bit of Dulnain water in it. This as Spey regulars will know is that the river goes dark and the amount of surface foam increases. This is just the sign that the river is carrying more peat, which in turn means the PH has dropped and this in turn sickens the salmon and they appear unwilling to take. This was very noticeable on most beats.

Dulnain river Level

Dulnain river Level

Next weeks forecast continues this summers unsettled weather, more showers and sunny periods. The tides are building all week.

Catches: As I mentioned above the slug of Dulnain water at the start of the week seemed to put the fish off the take, everyone was reporting seeing plenty of fish but they seemed unwilling to take.

Gordon Castle was perhaps the exception to this, perhaps because the fish are straight in off the tides but they caught fish all week finishing into the mid eighties. There is a good mixture of big fish in the high teens and even into the twenties with some grilse as well.

Gordon Castle.

Gordon Castle.

Gordon Castle

Gordon Castle


Gordon Castle

Gordon Castle

Graham Ritchie Brae 3

Graham Ritchie Brae 3.

Ian Tennant Brae 3

Ian Tennant Brae 3.

Delfur finished in the mid forties though the start of the week was a bit of a struggle. Friday was the best day of the week. again the majority of the catch were salmon with perhaps a dozen grilse.

Camilla Moutain and friend Delfur

Camilla Mountain and friend Delfur

Camilla Mountain Delfur

Camilla Mountain Delfur

Ian Pilkington Delfur

Ian Pilkington Delfur.

Rothes continued their excellent season with just short of forty landed, Mike says at times it was hard going. Again about 25% of the catch were grilse.

Craigellachie had another good week with close to twenty landed. Thursday was the best day of the week.

Aberlour continue their excellent season, visiting angler Stuart Mcbain had these nice fish.

Stuart Mcbain Aberlour

Stuart Mcbain Aberlour

Stuart Mcbain Aberlour

Stuart Mcbain Aberlour

Kinermony had half a dozen again. Many thanks to Davie Brand for his pictures.

Dick Oldfield Kinermony

Dick Oldfield Kinermony

Terry Tyrrel Kinermony

Terry Tyrrel Kinermony

Carron were again into double figures. Michael Trafford, a keen seatrout fisherman, had a Seatrout estimated between 12 or 13 lb on Saturday evening.

Laggan had an enjoyable week, the best fish of the week was by Angus Woodhouse.

Angus Woodhouse's fish 39 inches Laggan.

Angus Woodhouse’s fish 39 inches Laggan.

Grantown continue to catch both salmon and Seatrout, my reporter is now on holiday, but he tells me Seatrout numbers are slightly down but average weights are definitely up!

I think this is the first report I have done wearing waders on a mobile phone, apologies for spelling mistakes but the screen is very little and my eyesight is failing, heaven knows what the bill will be this month.

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