Expected better

Ronald Sutherland

The big news this week was a front page article in our local paper the Northern Times. The article was spotted by the NT in the June edition of the Field magazine and they asked me if I wanted to comment on it, I did and you can read it below. If you need a bigger copy to read properly let me know. The day after (on Friday) the final report and reccomendations from the Land Reform Review Group were published and what they are proposing to do with fishery management soon will shock! I'll report on this next week.

Read the Northern times article here by Jon Gibb -

After our best week of the season, the river failed to ignite again last week. By Sat lunchtime only around 30 fish were reported and 5 came from a superb morning on beat 6 for Achentoul rods, Conehead Temple Dogs were the trending fly again. Water levels have been very good if a little unsettled and sit at a superb 1ft today. The Association water was also quiet but not for Mick Buttery who managed to celebrate his Birthday in style with a 10 pounder from Roaries pool. A Home tied Temple Dog worked the magic this time for Mick.

Prospects for the week ahead should be very good if weather and water settle down, I would expect a 50+week as this is primetime! There is good availability on the Association water and your chances of hooking a salmon are very good. Tickets are available from the Tackle shop and we have all the gear and flies required to ensure you have a successful day on the river.

This week we have 2 very interesting short underwater films for you to check out from Andy Richardson. The first shows how our flies swim and the other looks at the transparency of leader material.

Flies film

Leader material film

Mick's cracking 10 pounder



Best week of the season

Ronald Sutherland

Before we get into the stats for last week I would like to post here an article from the latest June edition of the Scottish Field Magazine. It was written by well known fishery manager and respected angler and comemtator Jon Gibb. Many anglers are now calling on the Helmsdale Board to ditch the highly restricted river rotation of 12 rods over 24 miles to a more modern system of 2 up 2 down from April onwards with a lunchtime changeover from upper beat to lower or vice versa. This would offer so much more enjoyment and variety for parties and give kids more chance of a cast and tuition. The whole river would be utilised, more ghillies would be employed and no beats would go unfished as under the current rotation. To ensure stocks are not harmed by extra rodding the Board could maintain the commendable high catch & release rate in operation at the moment, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, anglers/fishing parties wishing to fish the Helmsdale should have the choice to reside anywhere they want in the area. Chances are that most would chose to return to lodges and estate accom but a few would stay in the village and that's how the local economy will begin to regenerate.

The Freshwater Fisheries Review has a remit to open up salmon fishing, I fear if the Helmsdale Board do not make a plan and decide to let more rods fish this marvelous natural asset then the Government will. From what I am hearing from the Review so far it would seem River Boards will soon have much less control of their fisheries.


Jon Gibb article

Fishing for trout, salmon and sea trout in Scotland is big business. A study in 2001 by Glasgow Caledonian University concluded that freshwater angling adds over £112 million to the Scottish economy every year and supports up to 2,800 jobs in some of the most fragile rural areas in the country. Over £50 million of wages from angling related businesses are paid into rural households, the vast majority supporting families in remote parts of the Highlands.

But with another economic assessment of angling recently announced by SNH, a sweeping review of freshwater fisheries currently being undertaken by the Scottish Government and a Land Reform Bill just around the corner, just how much and exactly where anglers in Scotland spend these millions has recently been attracting attention.
Although the success of website booking services such as and clearly demonstrate that there is a wealth of angling opportunities out there of hugely varying degree depending on the depth of your pockets, there are also examples where the economic rewards of what is arguably some of the best fishing in the world is not filtering through to local communities.
Take recent events in the Sutherland village of Helmsdale for example.
You would have thought that with some of the best salmon runs in decades in this part of the country local businesses which thrive on visiting anglers would be booming. Not so the Bridge Hotel in Helmsdale.  Once a mecca for salmon fishermen the hotel was put on the market in 2008 at a price of £1.25 million. There were no takers. The hotel has recently been put back up for sale at less than half the original asking price. And in spite of extensive modernisation over the years (and I am told one of the  original casts of Georgina Ballantine’s British Record 64lb salmon in the bar) the agents CKD Galbraith are hardly being inundated with interest.
The reason that this historic landmark is lying empty appears fairly simple – the fishing on the Helmsdale is controlled by the Helmsdale River Board and, with the exception of a small Association stretch, to take fishing on one of its six exclusive and lengthy 2-rod upstream beats you must also rent one of the owners’ shooting lodges in the strath. Clearly this is well beyond the budget of the average holiday angler. Therefore although the opportunities for angling on the River Helmsdale are immense, the potential economic benefit is being limited by a reduced number of available rods coupled with arguably an over-burdensome exclusivity.
Strangely though I recently came across the very opposite situation on the other side of the country, where one could be excused for thinking that with decimated salmon and sea trout stocks opening a fishing hotel on the West Coast would only be for the foolhardy or the insane.
Once one of the most thriving highland fishing hotels, the Loch Shiel Hotel ( ) went into rapid decline as the sea trout disappeared from the River Shiel back in the early 1990’s. It has seen a succession of inexperienced and disillusioned proprietors ever since who have had little interest in attracting fishermen.
But just last year local couple Andrew and Katherine Maclean were quick to see an opportunity. Over the last few seasons, while salmon and sea trout have been making a slow comeback to the Loch Shiel, trout of enormous proportions have been recorded throughout the 18 mile length of the loch. Last summer I heard of at least 2 trout of over 15lbs taken by local rods. The loch is now one of the best and relatively unknown trout destinations in the country. Two brand new Orkney Longliners now clink against the hotel pier waiting for word to catch on in angling circles and local ghillies have been engaged once again to take to the oars amongst the loch’s myriad of bays and skerries.  I predict that it won’t be long before parties of dedicated anglers will once again be crowding the famous Loch Shiel Hotel bar.
And the simple reason that the economic benefit from this welcome upturn in angling fortunes is being felt locally is that the riparian owners in the Shiel catchment have had the foresight to make all fishing opportunities available at very reasonable prices to visiting anglers and, importantly, with no rigid requirement to stay in estate cottages or lodges. While the phrase ‘community empowerment’ has become fairly tired and abused in the Highlands in recent years, this is surely an example of the very best of the concept in action.


The same edition of the Field has another bigger article which explores the future of shooting and fishing in Scotland, it put us all in the picture with the current state of play and how things may change soon. Buy a copy if you see one, this edition is well worth the read, or, you can read it online if you purchase a single copy on their website for around £3.60.

The Helmsdale swung into action last week at long last. The Association water started to fish early in the week with Mick Buttery grassing a well deserved fish in Roaries, his 1" home tied Alistair UV did the trick. Another 4 fish followed for visitors and local anglers and there was a couple of losses and good numbers of fish running. The water was good and the Beats naturally started to benefit, Achentoul rods had 17 by Friday, the biggest was a 23 pounder from Red Brae. Borrobol rods had a super 18 pounder on beat 6 and fresh fish were fairly abundant. Around 50 fish were caught for the week and that would suggest we may have some good sport in the following weeks. Coneheads were deadly in all shapes and forms as usual in the peat stained water and some were taken on the explosive Sunray Shadow tube.

The deadly RS SuperSnaelda and Loop Cross S1 salmon rod/reel combo on the Association water

Sewerage pool, one of our best Association water casts in lower water.

A nice new pattern I tied up this week for grilse in the summer on a lethal Fulling Mill silver Magni double.



Still not much happening...

Ronald Sutherland

The Helmsdale River Board are in total denial that there is a problem with overgrazing by sheep along the banks of the river. Trampled areas and accelerated erosion all leads to the silting up of spawning areas (this is a well documented problem backed up by extensive academic research). With salmon stocks in constant decline all rivers must do their utmost to protect stocks and keep habitat and key spawning areas in prime condition. Significant erosion and poaching of any land within 5 meters of any watercourse river or burn must be prevented, this is a SEPA regulation.

Two of the examples I used, there are many more...below is a disgraceful bombsite of overgrazed and trampled riverbank caused purely by sheep. I'm getting a little fed up of showing examples like these but nobody is listening.

Perfect buffer strip (fence) letting the riverbank regenerate free from the overgrazing of sheep.

The Open Board meeting had a poor turnout of approx 20 people of which 95% were Proprietors, and their employees. Incredibly, the only positive thing to come out of it all was that the board have invited me to come along and watch some electro fishing to see how that all works? The Board did say however that they are going to give locals a chance at more fishing in “January” which frankly they have good access to already. In the opinion of many, January should be open for local fishing anyway with 4 rods per beat minimum – the Association water which is 1 mile long has permission for around 60 local members + 12 visitor rods per day…What I want to know is the results of the electrofishing over the last 40 years, watching it happen is not going to help stocks. At what rate are juvenile salmon populations decreasing? when did electrofishing begin on the Helmsdale and what were the densities then and what does this tell us now, what effect is overgrazing having on habitat along the river, how is this affecting juvenile fish populations? Only when we know cumulative trends can we make educated decisions on management policy.

It is obvious that recent juvenile fish counts are not going to be remotely near counts of the past as in the early 1900s there were 2 hatcheries on the river restocking 1 million fly. Now we have one hatchery stocking only 160,00 fry. Couple this with a river left open to livestock access and all the damage they cause and you will find that electrofishing only tells us what we have in the burns now and not what levels used to be. What baseline data are we working from?

Then, step in special guest, the internationally renowned salmon geneticist of the rivers and lochs institute, professor Eric Verspoor who currently works with the University of the Highlands and Islands. Mr Verspoor was asked if he thought a 10 year research project on trying to find out what genetic return we get from the Helmsdale restocking programme was a good idea, his answer was that there has been a significant amount of money spent on a similar project on the Spey over the last 8 years and the results at are inconclusive at best and that the return of hatchery reared fish was minuscule. He intimated that regarding the Helmsdale river in his his opinion money could be better spent on other things but it was not his decision at the end of the day, that was up to the Board.

I agree with him and would say that if there are funds available Eric should be asked to consult on appropriate habitat restoration improvements which he believes would best suit the river and the genetics of our indigenous salmon stock. I believe he would be very forthcoming on this matter.

On the fishing front, and at the risk of sounding like a perpetrator of doom for most of this season, yet again there is not much to report. As an example, I have personally fished the Association water this week on numerous occasions to no avail and I have yet to see a salmon break the water or hook one this year here. The only action reported last week was a tough loss for Mick Buttery who hooked a heavy fish and lost it after a 20 minute battle.

The beats had around 20 with beat 6 giving 3 fish on 2 days. Water levels were good but have been unsettled to be fair with the river rising around 3 times in the week to over 1ft. There is a very distinct lack of fish running the river compared with many previous years and we don't need fish counter numbers or weekly catch stats to tell us that, just ask the ghillies and locals whose eyes are on the water every day.
Question is, what can we do about it?

The Governments "root and branch" Freshwater Fisheries Review is very timely and will result in radical changes for fishery management in Scotland, strangely this matter did not even make the Agenda of Board meeting!

You are now invited to have your say and are urged to do so. Please click here - and give share your ideas on how you think rivers should be managed, who should run them and any other aspects you think that could be improved. Go to the bottom of the page on the link and click on the email address supplied.



Hoping for better things to come!

Ronald Sutherland

We begin with a press release from this weeks Northern Times.

The head of a Highland fishing tackle business has dramatically called for restraint from salmon anglers who use his fishing flies.

Ronald Sutherland, partner of the Helmsdale Company is trying to help raise awareness of dwindling salmon stocks by calling on anglers to return as many salmon as possible caught on his salmon flies. Ronald was taught to tie flies by the late Megan Boyd and said that his business sells large quantities of deadly salmon flies every year which catch thousands of salmon worldwide but he does not want to be responsible for the killing of salmon!

The timely call comes in the same week as acclaimed film documentary "Kiss the Water" by Eric Steel is released. The film entails the life of worldwide fly dressing eccentric Megan Boyd who was also an avid salmon conservationist; ironically she hated the fact that her beautifully tied flies killed so many salmon". Ronald wants to carry on Megan's conservational ethos as salmon stocks decline in the hope that his business can help turn things around for the wild salmon by encouraging more fish to reproduce naturally.
"Salmon are on the end of an unprecedented rough deal right now as it would seem that along their whole life cycle, every animal that preys on them is protected heavily by law. Quality salmon angling is critical to the rural Scottish economy and all anglers must do their bit to sustain stocks, if that means releasing most of the salmon we catch then so be it, we can sleep easy knowing we are all helping an important cause.

As an addition to the press article above..
In my opinion is not technically possible to return all salmon safely due to the unpredictability of hooking damage and angler handling ability, ( more education is required in this department ) some fish are just too badly damaged and may fatally bleed but I firmly believe that to preserve something (a species) you need to protect it and look after it.
Owning a fishing tackle business gives me the opportunity to soak in very topical feedback from a huge pool of anglers and fishery managers and the line I am getting is that a seasonal long mandatory 100% C & R would not be welcome especially in the Highlands as there is a great fear that for starters, the Anti Bloodsports Brigade would have cause to step in with a rather large axe to grind. There is however an appetite for returning all spring salmon until stocks are seen to be recovering. The Association of Salmon Fishery Boards are calling for all salmon to be returned in Scotland up to May 15th, I think this may well be followed by all District Fishery Boards next year.
Due to the heritable rights of costal netsmen you cannot stop them netting just as you cannot stop a landowner with heritable rights from salmon fishing if he happens to let anglers kill fish on his own river beat. This is the reality of the world we live in so we can only work with what we have on offer. Netting will never be eradicated by law and bad practice in salmon farming can only be chipped away at. The only real hope anglers and salmon have is from the big money buyouts of netting stations and that is where we need to be concentrating most effort. This of course needs to be of high priority to quell posture as the Faroese are coiled and ready to spring back into full netting mode at sea.

The open Helmsdale River Board meeting takes place this week on Saturday 10th at 2.30 in Kildonan Hall. The Agenda is an interesting one and we will know soon how serious the Board are with regard to various issues.

On the fishing front things are flat lining a little. A good catch barometer in low water is Association water feedback, one fish only was caught by William Jappy on his trusty Willie Gunn. Few fish are running and around 15 were reported for the week, the highlight being a super 16 pounder on beat 4 above for Graham Robertson Wick fishing Kildonan rods. Things can only get better.

The Loop Cross S1 army move on, these awesome rods continue to outsell all others due to a revolutionary technical jump in quality with their incredible 3M blanks. Let me know if you want to try one as I have demo's in the tackle shop, if you are serious about fishing, don't buy another rod until you have tried these first! However I must say that in a lower price bracket the huge favourite is the Mackenzie rod & line range who also have all sizes available.