Hard going!

Ronald Sutherland

As I write, unless Saturday provides anything special there have only been 4 fish reported caught on the river this week. The April downward trend is very similar to last year but the good news is that next week usually picks up, recent years have seen upwards of 30 fish off for the last week in April. Stats like this are far from great when you compare with the good old days but in a sea now dominated by an out of control seal population, devastating pelagic smolt (by catch), lethal costal mixed stock netting and sea-lice infestation, are we surprised wild salmon stocks are in decline? The latest Scot Gov figures reported today 45,174 salmon were caught in Scotland which is the second lowest on record and possibly "inflated" by C & R. 8,036 were killed by rod and 17,778 killed bt net

In steps Rob Gibson MSP with a very timely call for Smolt ranching backed by the Government. In a press release this week he states the following - Salmon smolt release benefits angling...

Caithness Sutherland and Ross SNP MSP Rob Gibson has asked the Scottish Government to consider smolt release on a wider scale as a means to improve salmon numbers in Scottish rivers which has had apparent success in Iceland and in several Scottish rivers.
Mr Gibson says that the Government should consider carefully the idea of allowing smolts from hatcheries to be released into some rivers to help increase numbers. He said that in light of the wild fishing review recommendations that the idea merited consideration especially given the apparent success in Iceland.
Mr Gibson said:
“As climate change takes effect there are fewer salmon in Scotland’s rivers and a new approach has to be looked at. It is incumbent on the Scottish Government to assess the viability of smolt release potential. Although it would have to be done rigorously nonetheless if this is a way to increase the number of salmon and sustainability of salmon in rivers then it should be considered. .
“The Iceland experience on the river Ranga is interesting. From no salmon it is now the country’s best salmon rivers after the release of smolts. It it can work there I see no reason why it could not here as introductions on the River Lochy in Lochaber and River Carron in SW Ross already show.
“The Government has draft recommendations from the wild fish review under consideration. I think that the majority anglers would like to see this approach more widely applied.”

He will ask the following questions in parliament. 

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the draft recommendations in the wild fishing review, what research it is conducting on the potential benefits of releasing salmon smolt from hatcheries into salmon fishing rivers.

To ask the Scottish Government which rivers have smolt release programmes for the boosting of salmon stocks.

To ask the Scottish Government what evidence is there regarding whether smolt release programmes sustain salmon stocks for angling.

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on supporting smolt release programmes on a greater range of (a) east and (b) west coast rivers.


You may ask, well why cant we just control seals etc?, (incredibly controversal topic) only a handfull can be shot annually under license which is hopeless. Why can't we stop costal netting? Netsmen have heritable rights same as proprietors so nothing can be done there unless bought out. Salmon Farming is here to stay as the product generates huge income in the food sector. High Sea-lice numbers need to be controlled around salmon farms, almost impossible but its tightening up. The deep blue sea is the main problem by all accounts, an enigma, but the Atlantic Salmon Trust and various other bodies are on the case it would seem - watch this space I guess...

It is good news from Rob Gibson "every little helps". I am far from convinced by some prominent scientists who state that any ranching or rearing of hatchery salmon is totally degrading to the gene pool and i'll tell you why! Historical records show that since the early 1900s the Helmsdale river has been introducing up to 1 million fry to the catchement via 2 hatcheries, (not so now and from one hatchery) if it is indeed the case that this is damaging to our local gene pool and subsequent stocks then the river would be on its last legs and almost certainly finished by now after over 100 years of messing right?! I think one could argue with confidence that this is NOT the case! so I believe smolt ranching may have mileage...with a little luck, Scot Gov may fund some major projects in the future? Rob Gibson suggests that this may well happen after consultation...I view this as a progressive move in general as I see all sorts of possibilities for more employment and research etc in a new Fisheries Management framework proposed as part of the recent Wild Fisheries Review.

Now some pics from the past week and don't forget we are still on "Buy 3 get 1 free" mode on all flies but not for much longer so get some orders in if you have not taken advantage yet! we have some great new flies in stock.

A fish I had on the Brora Monday morning from Madman pool ( very aptly named for 6am! ) It was caught on a new fly I am testing - it works!!

Sun not long up on the Ford pool, top half of lower river Brora 6.30am Loop Cross S1 13ft in operation.

Not on topic but important news all the same for the village. The Helmsdale & District Development Trust opened the first local social housing this week with the Scottish Government Housing Minister Margaret Burgess and local school children and dignitaries on hand to assist. A historical £600.000 project completed on time and within budget. The Trust have many projects in hand within the Local Development Plan prioritised by the village and it is great to see ideas come to fruition. The local Filling station project is at a very advanced stage and hopefully next on the list to get back up and running. The Trust sports a group of active local Directors from various occupations (including myself) offering strategic skill sets which support a full time Development Officer. When the Trust get on a job its gets done! there are exciting times ahead for development in the area.

Aaron Grant presents flowers to Minister Margaret Burgess with Development officer Paul Harrington and Chairman Ruth Whittaker looking on.

The weather has taken a real change for the worst over the weekend - check out the Strath Sunday!!






Low water

Ronald Sutherland

The river is shrinking down to almost summer level now as high pressure dominates the weather. The river as a whole produced around 14 but the trend is still showing a general lack of fish. A dozen were caught in the first half of the week then sunshine and low water pretty much killed off sport.

Mick Buttery struck lucky on the Association water on Tuesday when he landed his first of the season at 10lbs and immediately lost a bigger one in Roaries pool. A home tied MBTD was the killer fly fished on a floating line. 

Prospects are not great for the week ahead with no rain in sight until at least Friday however, this suits the Association water. You can now also languish in the new Angling Club hut which was officially opened on Saturday. Situated opposite the popular "Roaries Rock" hot spot in the middle of the Association water it is sure to be well used by locals and visitors alike.

The new hut open and ready for business.

Earlier in the week I had the pleasure of some guiding and instruction with a party of 4 keen trout anglers, they were salmon fishing for the first time and thouroghly enjoyed the experience. 4 rods and equipment were hired out and we supply this service all through the season. Call us for more details as we have a full programme of instruction on offer per hour on a daily basis.

Getting to grips with salmon rods on the Flat pool.




Nothing major happening

Ronald Sutherland

As another Sunday (day off) flies past, I have been dealing with clients  passing through the tackle shop, the golf course greens are now cut and it's time to knock together the fishing report once I get my breath back! Just another routine Sunday then (in season)

The Helmsdale course coming out of winter hibernation and looking good.

There is not a lot to report, but alarm bells are starting to sound all over the UK as catches continue to plummet. Last year was far from memorable but early signs this year are not exactly showing a bounce back.
From what I can gather the river barely gave up around 11 springers last week including 2 from the Association water and 3 from Achentoul rods. William Jappy had a nice fish from Roaries on Monday on a Willie Gunn as water levels started to drop although still flowing well at around 11 ins. Adam Macdonald took a week on the Association water for a change of scene and finally scored at the end of his week with a cracking deep 8 pounder from Horseback, just reward for his early shifts. The fish took an Alistair fished on the dropper.
Hopefully things will pick up soon as April used to be such a prolific month.

Here are some cracking new Alistair doubles we have introduced to the collection starting with the stunning RS Alistair Flamethrower. They are perfect for "droppers" on all small/medium sized rivers like the Helmsdale.

Classic Alistair

Prospects for next week are good, just as they should be for mid April as historical counter stats all point to a good run of fish entering the system this month. The weather forecast is not showing much rain after Monday/Tuesday so one of the best beats on the river may turn out to be the Association water.

One more thing, leading on from the debate on how to halt declining salmon stocks, I had an interesting email this week, (see below) Is salmon ranching the way forward? personally I have never been convinced that introducing hatchery reared fry is doing much to prop up wild salmon. General thinking is that they are much weaker than wild fry and therefore cannot compete well. Natural selection is always going to be best. BUT when nature needs a prop up due to increasing volatility in the climate which seems to be producing more severe damaging spates etc, maybe an injection in the form of more grown up smolts is the answer. The East Ranga in Iceland is the best known example and another is the Carron river in Easter Ross, Delphi in Ireland and Tyne in England are also similar success stories.

Below is the email and I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the topic - I will start a thread on the Helmsdale Forum to discuss so please tune in.


"I agree with the Callander McDowell article in reporting that the success in Scotland of a rejuvenating salmon river is the West Coast River Carron.

Bob Kindness, a former fishery biologist from the Inverness College, has transformed our neighbouring river, the West Coast Carron, from a catch of 4 salmon per annum, to over 400.   His technique is to hatch salmon ova from native brood stock, under hatchery conditions, to the stage of parr and smolts and place them in the Carron, soon to migrate to sea.  Accepting that approximately only 5 per cent will return to the river, it is better 5% of 8000 smolts migrating than 5% of 80 smolts which have survived 3 years from ova to smolt in a “winter storm savaged” river, plagued with predators!

Bob’s technique is not original.  The Icelandic Rivers, the West and East Ranga, only 14 miles in length and with a short summer season of 3 months, from no salmon, are now the leading Iceland salmon rivers  with a catch of over 12,000 salmon p.a.    Because of Volcanic ash on the beds of the rivers, the Rangas cannot breed native smolts. The river bank owners appointed a trading entity to stock up to 400,000 smolts p.a.  The cost of a smolt can be as much as 40 pence.   There is a value to the Icelandic economy of £1000 for each salmon caught.   The chances for the angler are more than 1 salmon per angler effort day, instead of one in 5 days on Scottish rivers.   It is not surprising that U.K. and other anglers are deserting Scottish waters for those overseas, where they not only catch more than one per day, but may keep and eat a prime product.  In my experience the hatchery bred salmon fights, looks and tastes the same as the salmon which survived in the river three years from ova to smolt.  Only a count of scales can detect a hatchery bred from a river survived salmon.

Hopefully in the interests of the rural economy, the Scottish Government will look further than the Wild Fisheries Review, for how the River Carron and other rivers in Iceland, Norway and elsewhere have succeeded inrescuing the wild salmon.  The alternative is that many a Scottish salmon river, will suffer the same fate as the Rangas, and not as a result of volcanic ash!

Mark Pattinson

Proprietor, Lochcarron estate


I have now returned from 10 days abroad to a climate 23 degrees cooler! The river is running at around 1ft and in perfect shape, prospects are very good for early April so let’s hope the fish keep coming.

A brief update on the last 3 weeks…

The 3rd week March rallied with around 16. Visitor Kevin Steel stole the show with a fabulous day on the Salscragie pool beat 1 below when he landed 3 super springers on RS Willie Gunn  and Alistair Feeler tubes. The best was a 15 pounder and his fishing partner William Jappy also got in on the act with a fish from the tail of the Marrel. Andy Sutherland also added another to his tally from a rather unusual lie well down Shepherds pool beat 5 to get Torrish rods off and running Monday on a black & orange RS Monkey conehead.

Kev with the biggest of his 3 beauties from Salscraggie pool beat 1.

A low river resulted in a rather dour week on the Helmsdale last week in March. 2 fish for Achentoul rods including the first fish off the top river was the highlight along with another fish for that man Andy Sutherland from the Association water Golden Shot pool, the week ended on 4 and the Month on around 50.

Last week was nothing to write home about either and only around 6 fish were caught up until Friday. However, 2 fish were caught in the Foam pool beat 5 Saturday afternoon by Brian Lovering Kildonan rods, Brian had 4 to his rod for the week including a super 15 pounder from beat 6. Not to miss out on the action, I was keen to swing the rod again and had an evening flick on the Association water. The water temp was good at 44 which is just around where you start expecting fish to rise to the fly.  Not much sign of life to begin with but then a fish jumped at the head of the pool a good half hour after I had fished it. The gear was reeled up extra fast and a large conehead Monkey tube was launched squarely in the direction of the fish. Tactics were set, The rod tip was raised and drawn towards the bank, the fly was stripped at speed and the response was immediate. One of the keenest fish I have ever had the pleasure to catch, it attacked the fly with furious passion 6 times before finally managing to get a hold. Luckily my good friend Adam Macdonald was on hand to witness the madness, land the fish and get a pic. The fly was the exact tube that caught the first fish of the season, do NOT visit a river without one of these incredible tubes in your box! you can buy them here right now -

The lethal RS Monkey

The fish that just couldn't resist it...

The popular Scottish Salmon Fishing Surgery recently published a neat article on Helmsdale Co if you want an insight on how it all began and where we are now, check it out here -

On another note – it is encouraging to see the Helmsdale River Board finally complying with the Aquaculture & Fisheries (Scotland) Act 2013 by publishing it's obligations online. You can now view the Annual Report, Audited accounts and Minutes of recent meetings right here -