First of the Season - early spring in Scotland

First of the Season - early spring in Scotland

While the rest of the Salmon fishing world waits for the longer days of summer, Scotland’s season begins in earnest just after the old new year, mid January - the very dead of winter. Not long after Christmas is done, the hardiest of anglers will begin searching for an early Spring fish, and only a handful of them will be lucky enough to find one each season. So whats the appeal? Why do so many spend their hard earned money, traveling cross country (or even across the world in some cases) when the odds are stacked so heavily in favour of defeat?

It all starts with the fish, of course. Atlantic Salmon are the undisputed king of game fish in this part of the world. There’s fewer fish anywhere on planet earth with such a long and storied history, and Spring salmon are the absolute cream of the crop. Spring salmon are multi sea winter fish, and although in general they don't reach the colossal sizes of their Norwegian or Canadian cousins, they are still a size not to be sniffed at. 12-15lb on average, with 20lbrs not uncommon. This year in Scotland a 30lbr has been landed, and as the old adage goes, he won’t be alone.

So there’s a big pull (pardon the pun) to try and catch one of the biggest, freshest fish of the season, but here lies the first hurdle of early spring fishing. There’s not very many of them… and there never has been. Even in the halcyon days of Salmon fishing early season fishing was tough, and there would be many blank days. Its the very start of the run, with the main spring run not usually peaking until a good couple of months after the start of the season, so your odds are slim at best. Its enough to put most sensible people off.

Sensible people need not apply though, and far from putting off the serious spring angler it’s actually one of the main attractions to fish at this time of year. The rarity of these fish makes them extra special, its this fact that actually draws people out to try. Its a bit like playing the lottery, just with worse odds. How bad are the odds? Well, I've been Salmon fishing since I was 16 years old, I’ll be forty next year and I’ve never had a February fish….

However, this rather sad statistic leads us neatly to the most important single aspect of spring fishing, and in particular early spring fishing. Its all about the whole experience. The fish is just a part of it. Even though I have never caught a fish in the early part of the season, it doesn’t stop me and many more like me trying each and every season. In fact its my favourite time of the year. You see, like many things in life the journey sometimes means more than the destination, or at least the outcome doesn’t determine the success of the pursuit. The camaraderie, the history and the passion all combine to make a truly unique angling experience. Without the usual associated pressure of catching fish the whole thing is distilled down into its purest form. Short days with good friends on the river are often followed by long evenings in the pub with fellow salmon addicts drinking pints and sharing the stoke, each individual fish is celebrated regardless of who catches it and the whole community comes together in rare celebration of the fish and fishing. Of course, each and every day there is the realistic expectation that a few more salmon are entering the river and maybe, just maybe tomorrow might be the day, but in its essence its a celebration of whats to come. Its the start of it, a whole new season is unfolding before you and there’s nothing but expectation and excitement about what it might hold.

At this point I'm hoping I've peaked your interest, and in that case you might be starting to wonder where you can have a go yourself and what kind of tackle you might need. Well, lets start with the important bit. Early season spring fishing is, perhaps not surprisingly, cheap and readily available. On some lesser known rivers you can find fishing for as little as £20 a day and accommodation will be similarly cheap as its out of the tourist season in Scotland. Of course, you want to give yourself as good a chance as possible, so I would aim for one of the bigger more famous rivers like the River Tweed or River Spey. Bigger rivers with their larger spring runs are more likely to have a few early fish, and some rivers historically start a bit earlier than others, like the North Elk, River Tweed and some of the Northern Scottish rivers . Add to this the bonus that some of the most famous and expensive fishing in Scotland is usually available pretty cheap in February. As for tackle, my personal feeling is that you can’t go too heavy in the Spring. 15 foot rods are still the norm here, tackled up with big skagits and heavy sink tips or full sinking lines. Those who fish regularly at this time of year prefer skagits to cope with the fierce upstream winds and big flies used on the east coast Scottish rivers at this time of year. As for flies, despite the advancement in techniques the biggest fish catchers are still the older bucktail patterns dressed on heavy tube flies. Willie Gunn up north and a black and yellow anywhere. Most people only use one of two patterns at this time of year, as fly choice comes secondary to just keeping your fly in the water, and if you want to catch a fish that’s the most important and difficult thing to do.

Aside from this, dont forget a good bottle of whisky, some strong coffee and a selection of your best mates. Spring fishing is a communal sport, and its best not taken too seriously. Come for the fun and the tradition, pay for the chance to hook a unicorn and dont be too gutted if you go home blank and you’ll be just fine. Take it from me, a certified lifetime blanker - there’s more to all this than a fish.

Maybe… If you’d like to find out more about spring fishing opportunities in Scotland then here’s some contacts:
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