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  1. Scotland
  2. Tay
  3. When and where to fish

When to fish

Length of season

The salmon season on the Tay and tributaries commences on 15 January, the first of the large Scottish rivers to open, and closes on 15 October. Fresh salmon enter the Tay every day of the year and so may be caught all season through. On the River Earn which is more dependent on autumn salmon, the season commences on 1 February and goes on to 31 October. Fishing is available from Monday to Saturday, there being no Sunday fishing in Scotland.

Spring fishing

Salmon enter the River Tay even before the season opens and a fresh 'springer' may be caught anywhere in the main stem of the Tay right from opening day or even by boat fishing on Loch Tay. Most anglers spin at this time and early season fishing has an adventurous feel about it! However, the early springers are the most beautiful and prized of fish making all the effort worthwhile. As recent as the year 2000, a salmon of 27.5lbs was caught on Loch Tay on opening day. Salmon numbers increase as the spring progresses and by April fly fishing accounts for many fish and tributaries like the Isla/Ericht and Tummel also share the good catches.

High summer on Cargill - the Tay fishes in all seasons



Summer fishing

The number of fish entering the Tay increases markedly in the summer. In addition to runs of summer salmon, grilse runs build up in June and usually reach peak numbers in July.

Because of hydro power stations the Tay never suffers from summer drought conditions as do many other Scottish rivers and so grilse can always run the river and also enter the major tributaries like the Isla, Ericht, Tummel, Lyon and Dochart. Some of the best fly fishing is to be had in the summer with lower water levels allowing lies to be reached which otherwise can only be covered by boat. Hooking fish on a long line way out in the Tay while wading deep is an exhilerating prospect which few other rivers can offer. While the angling athlete can find ample challenge on the Tay such is the range of fishing available that people of all physical abilities will find something to suit them.

Autumn fishing

Big runs of fresh fish enter the Tay and also the River Earn in the late summer and autumn. Most fish are grilse of around 6-10lbs or salmon of about 15-20lbs, with a prospect of fish up to 30lbs. Unlike the spring and summer runs these fish are not going to spawn in the highland tributaries but accumulate in the main stem of the Tay and its lower tributaries like the Isla, Earn and Almond offering excellent fishing opportunities. The biggest catches of the season are taken then, especially in the lower Tay. More and more in recent years fresh run sea-liced fish are being caught right up to the end of the season and indeed continue running after it. On many beats the fly still does well in autumn but with rising water levels the sheer scale of the Tay means that most anglers find spinning a necessity.


Where to fish

Lower river

The lowest ten miles or so of the Tay, from the tidal limit at Scone up to Islamouth, provides most of the cream of the Tay. The lower Tay is a large river set in a sandstone gorge and fringed by impressive mature woodland which provides some of the most spectacular river scenery in Britain. The views around Campsie Linn for example, almost have a Scandinavian or even Alaskan feel about them. Boats with ghillies are provided on all beats and are required to fish all of the river. However, in much of the lower Tay there are "rivers within the river", and under moderate or low water conditions flyfishing from the bank will cover much of the water. In high water it really is a big river and spinning tends to be most effective or "harling", a leisurely form of boat fishing unique to the Tay.

With cool weather the lower Tay, especially around Stanley, can offer some of the best fishing in early spring. The late spring and early summer are less good as fish tend to move quickly through, except perhaps for Islamouth where fish dally before entering the Isla, but if the water is low other beats will pick up fish too. However, as the summer progresses fish progressively accumulate in the lower Tay peaking in the autumn weeks. It is then the biggest catches are made.

Middle river

Between Islamouth and Kinnaird where the Tummel joins the Tay the character of the river is different. The country tends to be more open, giving views of wood studded farmland and distant wooded hills. The river is gravelly rather than rocky and provides a mixture of long pools and swift glides and runs. Many beats have excellent fly water and in low water conditions the whole river can amply be covered by wading. On a few beats fly water is limited and there, as everywhere in high water spinning might give better results. As in the lower Tay boats and ghillies are provided as in high water this is still a big river to cover. This part of the river offers prospects of fish right through the spring and summer as fish scooting through lower beats do tend to slow up. It offers some of the best flyfishing for grilse in summer with floating lines and small flies. The biggest catches of all can be made in the autumn but higher water is required to get good numbers of fresh fish up that far.

Upper river

There is a lot of excellent fishable water from the Tummel junction up to where the Tay emerges from Loch Tay at the picturesque village of Kenmore. The river is smaller but is still on a par with many of Scotland's other "big" rivers; such is the sheer scale of the Tay. Some beats are slow flowing but many have excellent water for the fly. This part of the river excelled in the past when the main runs of salmon were in the early spring and autumn runs were much poorer than they are today. Each year some fish are always caught in the upper Tay in the early spring but the best fishing now tends to be around May and June. Up to then low water is preferred to cause fish to hold up, but in late summer and autumn spates are required to draw fish up from the lower Tay. This part of the river is less heavily fished than in the past, but offers a lot of fishing on lovely water in splendid scenery at very reasonable prices.

Loch Tay

Many of the spring salmon entering the Tay are destined for the River Dochart which flows into Loch Tay. Because of the size of the Tay fresh run spring fish can run right through the Tay system and accumulate in the Loch before running the Dochart. Loch Tay is fished by trolling spinners from motor boats and fish are always caught right from the start of the season. Some of the biggest fish are caught this way. The main centre of the salmon fishing is Killin and There is a number of boats for hire, with or without ghillies. But be warned, Loch Tay in the spring is not for the faint hearted. Wrap up well, take a big flask of coffee and enjoy the view!

River Earn

The Earn is a substantial river in its own right and enters the Firth of Tay just downstream of Perth. A lot of the Earn is administered by angling clubs and much fishing is available on the at reasonable cost. The Earn is primarily considered an autumn river for salmon and fresh fish can be caught in the autumn right up to Comrie, water allowing. However numbers of salmon and grilse are caught in the late spring and summer especially around Crieff again given water. Unlike the Tay, the Earn has long been famed for sea trout which enter the river in numbers in the late spring and early summer especially. On many beats fly fishing at night brings the best rewards.

Rivers Isla and Ericht

The River Isla is an excellent salmon river in its own right. Its main tributary, the River Ericht, is a wonderfully productive salmon river. Based on a fish counter, in recent years this river boasts a run of 8000 to 13,000 fish annually. The first fish tend to arrive in February or March, with good runs in April and May, water depending. The main grilse run arrives in July. If the water is low the Isla benefits from these early runs and some of the best spring catches in the Tay system are made on the Isla. The main run of fish which will spawn in the Isla itself come in the autumn.

Meikleour at the peak of grilse time in July - a fine fly water

Through the summer excellent fishing can then be had on the Ericht and its tributaries, especially the Blackwater, as fish push on upstream. However this is small river fishing and water helps. The Isla is very much a lowland river, with wide sweeping bends and sluggish lazy pools. Spinning and bait fishing are often resorted too, but some local exponents can make excellent catches in low water by riffling tiny tube flies across the surface film on windy days; a very exciting form of fishing!

Rivers Tummel, Garry and Tilt

The Tummel is a major spring salmon tributary joining the Tay near Pitlochry. The hydro dam at Pitlochry acts as a barrier to salmon until the water reaches 10 degrees Centigrade causing fish to accumulate in the lower Tummel in spring. Spring fishing on the Tummel can be very good and is best between March and May. The lower Tummel is generally swift and is excellent for the fly being easily covered by wading, except in high water. Good runs of grilse ascend the dam in July but you have to be there at the right time to catch them. From the late spring onwards salmon and then grilse push into the River Garry and the Tilt. These are small spate rivers with tumbling varied rocky pools and swift runs, but again providing great fun throughout the summer months with light fly tackle amid spectacular mountain scenery.

Anglers should please be aware that the River Tummel may be subject to a rapid rise in levels owing to operations at the hydro electric power station at Faskally Dam.

If anglers are in the water and the river level starts to rise they should immediately leave the water and quickly climb up the banking as the river can, on occasion, rise several feet in a very short space of time.

Life vests should always be worn when fishing on the River Tummel beats.

Rivers Lyon and Dochart

The Lyon is a major tributary of the upper Tay flowing through some of the grandest scenery in all of Scotland. There is a varied mix of water - tumbling gorges with rocky cauldrons of pools, swift runs and long slow reaches.

The Dochart by contrast above the spectacular Falls at Killin flows through a much flatter glen and has more of the latter type of water. Fish enter the Dochart and Lyon from about March onwards, even earlier in the Dochart, but the first real runs nowadays tend to be in April or May, depending on water. Grilse arrive in June/July depending on water. From August onwards runs of fish might continue but most by that time are coloured. The Lyon is well suited to fly fishing, though some of it has to be spun. Spinning and bait fishing account for most fish on the Dochart. Both the Lyon and the Dochart are noted for producing some particularly big fish.

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