This is not a large river but one blessed with perfect trout-lying water sustained, by various, sizeable burns. Over a mile long stretch of the upper river you would expect to find four or five deep holding pools together with equal numbers of fast flowing riffles and long, shallow sketches. You don't have to travel more than 50 metres to find fish holding water.
As the river travels towards Alford it triples in volume and width but retains much of the same character. Here the farming is rich in both cereal and animal stock. The water quality is excellent and still clear with little suspended silt; ideal for both wet and dry fly fishing. For administration purposes the Don is divided roughly into an upper and lower section just east of Alford.
From here the river flows in a less meandering pattern through some of the best farming in Aberdeenshire. The middle section over the next 15 miles in and around Monymusk contain some of the largest brown trout. Fish of up to 4lbs are not uncommon and larger fish (up to 6 or 8lbs) are caught from time to time, although they are not easy to land using light fly tackle.
Fishing pressure is a little greater on the lower river where Kintore and Inverurie Associations lease stretches of the water. In the five or six miles before Aberdeen, the river becomes a little slower, with some suspended material and less clarity. The fishing remains excellent although interest is equally concentrated on salmon.
The brown trout fishing season is from 15th March to 6th October, although many proprietors and associations don't start until 1st April. Anglers should check out the arrangements for the particular sections of water they wish to fish.
Trout anglers should also be aware that this is a salmon river. The salmon season runs from 11th February to 31st October.
The Don and District Salmon Board have their own rules and recommendations and these should be carefully noted.
A typical Don Brown Trout.
When to fish for trout
As a keen river fly fisher you will have no difficulty in starting on the very first day and the best quality fishing could be said to extend from the beginning of the season through to the end of June when there can often be a rather dramatic falling away of activity. In the first two months you should expect to catch the very best of Don trout, fish around 2-2.5lbs in excellent condition, gleaming silver in the early sunshine.
A good day could produce a mixed bag of fish, not uncommon at this time of year. Starting at 10am, fish downstream in a cold westerly and by midday, when the temperature has risen a degree or so, keep an eye out for the occasional rise. This is your chance to fish dry upstream or wet flies up and across, increasing your chances of success. These are the moments all anglers cherish. Casting to a steadily feeding brown trout brings out the hunter in us all. Early in the season any rise often stops about 4pm with most activity between noon and 3pm. Large hatches of March brown and dark olives are not so frequent as they may have been in former years, nevertheless there are still reasonable hatches on the right day.
As the season progresses, fishing time can extend from 9am until 6pm and into the evening from June onwards. The upper reaches of the Don, over the top four or five miles around Corgaff also come into their own. These upper areas are devoid of fish until late May when occasional warmer spate water brings the better fish upstream. The upper reaches have a character more reminiscent of a good Highland burn with plenty of small fish but don't be surprised to come across the occasional 1.5lb trout. This is primarily dry fly country because the fish are more easily spooked.
Late June to August can be rather dour on the majority of the river, although keen anglers can try their luck in the evening. September and October can see a revival of activity spurred on by more frequent spates and ,migrating trout fattening up before the close season. Try daddy longlegs dry or similar imitations to attract the bigger fish.
Many fish are in spawning condition by the end of the season and most fish are best returned. The Don supports a healthy population of fish since the feeding is good and mostly sub-surface. However, the ecology is finely balanced and although the river can sustain an increase in angling activity at this time (2006), it cannot maintain heavy fishing like more open waters. Some stocking does take place most years but in general this is to maintain, rather than increase stocks.
The lower sections of the river nearer to Aberdeen do stock periodically to balance the fishing pressure. An inspired guess would be that an additional 300 rod days could easily be accommodated throughout the length of the river at this time. In general all stock is indigenous and the hatchery at Newe, under the control of the Don District Salmon Board with support from the River Don Improvement Association release fingerlings near to the areas where large trout have been netted and stripped.