Fishing in the Scottish lowlands

Superb salmon and trout have made the Scottish Lowlands one of the last bastions of good game fishihg in the British Isles.

Coarse fish, though undervalued by the Scots, also abound When a Scot talks of fish he almost always means salmon. Other things with fins are not ‘fish’ but are merely trout, pike, herring or whatever species they happen to be. Most freshwater species are regarded as vermin, but trout can be tolerated. Trout are, in fact, widespread throughout the country together with pike and other coarse fish but the Scots are not interested.

For the angler the country is synonymous with salmon and trout fishing, and there can be little doubt that Scotland represents one of the last outposts of good game fishing. If follows, therefore, that most of the good salmon fishing is not only expensive but hard to come by. Trout fishing, however, can usually be had at very modest cost, and coarse fishing for most species is there for the taking.

Not many people cross the border on the eastern flank of Scotland without encountering the River Tweed. Although it now competes for praise with the River Tay, there is little doubt that it was once the most prolific salmon river in Scotland. It rises within almost a stone’s throw of the westerly flow- ing Annan near Moffat, heads north and east and, 100 miles later, empties into the North Sea at Berwick. For many of its latter miles it forms the border between England and Scotland, but is under the jurisdiction of Scotland, where salmon may not be legally taken on a Sunday.

There are, as yet, no licence requirements for any form of fishing, but it is essential to have legal ac- cess to the water, and this may take the form of renting water from an owner or estate agent; membership of a club; acquiring weekly or daily tickets, or enjoying the facilities provided by some hotels.

The Tweed has noted runs of salmon during the early spring and the late autumn. The classic beats for early and late fishing tend to be from Kelso downstream. The famed junction pool at Kelso, for instance, where the Teviot and Tweed meet, may cost the visitor as much as £150 per week for one rod, but he is just as likely to find the river in roaring flood or like a skating rink as the angler paying a tenth of the sum and fishing upstream at Walkerburn or Peebles. There is, however, not much fishing of note up there until the last weeks of the season. Much fishing, controlled by the Peeblesshire Salmon Fishing Association, is made available through Blackwood and Smith of Peebles on a day or weekly ticket basis. The season is from February 21 to November 30, and no Sunday fishing is allowed.

At Walkerburn, Peeblesshire, the Tweed Valley Hotel, established in 1960 as a Scottish Sports Council approved fishing centre, offers residential salmon and trout fishing facilities. The trout season is from April 1 to September 30, and during this time the hotel run special weeks and weekends in April, May and June, when professionals are in attendance for the benefit of the residents, offering help with starting or advanced casting. The salmon season is from February 21 to November 30, and special weeks are held in October and November. They also run an evening programme which includes talks, films and fly-tying.

For fishing guests not attending special fishing weeks, the usual hotel tariff applies, but you will usually be able to obtain permits to fish from the hotel.

Angling facilities are also available at the Park Hotel in Peebles and The Traquair Arms in Innerleithen. Downstream at Melrose there is occasional fishing available from Swallow Hotels, PO Box 35, Sunderland, and there is good trout fishing available from the Kelso Angling Association. Below Kelso, there is some first class roach and grayling fishing. Most owners will allow access on permit, but usually on condition that all coarse fish—so often thought of as pests—are removed from the water.

Tweed’s reputation

The Tweed has, however, built its reputation entirely on its fantastic salmon resource, sadly now being overexploited by an increase in illegal fishing at sea.

The Tweed has many worthwhile tributaries including Whiteadder Water, Blackadder Water, Till, Teviot, Leader, Gala, Ettrick, Leithen and Caddon. Some are noted for salmon while others offer free trout fishing.

On the western side of Scotland, the first river to cross the border is the Esk. Together with its tributary, the Liddle, it is more renowned for its summer and autumn runs of sea trout than for salmon, but there is much good fishing available at modest cost. The Esk and Liddle Fisheries Association controls much of the fishing over a distance of 20 miles and tickets may be obtained from J I Wyhe, River Watcher, Byreburnfoot, Cannobie, or J G Elliot, River Watcher, Thistlesyke, Newcastleton. The River Esk shares dual nationality and it is important to comply with North West Water Authority requirements when fishing in England, while for the Scottish portion of the river no licence is required.

Spate rivers

Farther west are the rivers, Annan, Nith, Urr, Water of Fleet, Cree, Dee, Stinchar and Girvan. They all offer salmon fishing of some description, but most would be classed as spate rivers where it is almost essential to plan a visit when the local gillie or keeper phones to say that conditions are favourable.

Perhaps the Annan and Nith are most noted of these south-west rivers. The Annan, for instance, rises near Moffat in the same watershed as the Tweed and then flows 30 miles south to the Solway Firth. There is frequently a modest run of spring fish in March, April and May, some sea trout and herling in June, July and August, and more salmon in late autumn.

On the Hoddom Castle water, 15 rods daily are allowed and tickets may be obtained from Peter Helm, River Watcher, 22 Fernlea Crescent, Annan, Tel 2922.

The Nith has its source just south of Ayr and it too flows south to Dumfries and the Solway Firth. The upper reaches offer modest trout fishing and there are good runs of both salmon and sea trout throughout the season. Some of the better known stretches are controlled by the Mid-Nithsdale Angling Association and the Upper Nithsdale Angling Club.

Both Thornhill and Sanquhar make good centres, and ticket enquiries should be directed to R W Coltart, 49 Drumlanrig Street, Thor-nhill. Like the Tweed, the Nith remains in open season until the end of November—a time of year when the legendary, big, grey-back salmon are supposed to enter the river. In fact, in 1812, a fish of 67lb is reputed to have been caught in the Nith by one Jock Wallace. Wallace, a well-known poacher, was said to have played the fish from 8am to 6pm. However, the claim was never authenticated!

At Castle Douglas, where most of the Dee is private, the River Urr may be fished by members of the Castle Douglas AA. Permits are available from tackle shops in the area and there are good runs of sea trout and grilse from June onwards. However, fishing here depends on the state of the water and the casual visitor should have a local contact who can advise on conditions.

The Cree

Moving west, the Cree drains Loch Moan southerly to Wigtown Bay. It has recently improved as a salmon river and can be very good for both salmon and sea trout in summer. Recent runs have been reported earlier in the season than is usual for these west coast rivers. For further details write to the Secretary of the local angling association, D Frank, 9 Vic- toria Street, Newton Stewart. The other most notable river is the Stin-char. This, however, is very much a spate river where local information is essential. Ballantrae and Barr make good centres, and fishing may be arranged at both the Kings Arms and the Jolly Shepherds hotels in Barr. It is, however, a river where the best salmon fishing undoubtedly comes late in the season.

The Northern Angler’s Handbook published by the Dalesman Publishing Co, and An Angler’s Guide to Scottish Waters, published by the Scottish Tourist Board, both provide useful information of the facilities available in the area.