What Provides Value to Salmon Fishermen?

Last updated on January 10th, 2024.

Ian Gordon
Latest posts by Ian Gordon (see all)

A recent comment left on one of my clips on You Tube interested me greatly as to what exactly it is people are looking for when visiting the river Spey and other salmon rivers.

In relation to the river Spey they wrote – “Overpriced and over-rated river like the Tweed, that sucks your money dry”! I found myself thinking, is the river Spey over-priced and over-rated?

Well, I’d say that it really depends on your own personal expectations. Personally speaking, some of the best days fishing I’ve had in my life have come on this river, and, when I think about it, a good number of those have come when I’ve caught no fish, but, for various other reasons, I’ve still had a great day. I think its all about the type of person you are, what you’ve been sold and your personal expectations.

I’ve been lucky and see the river when the “fishing” has been, well, electric. I’ve had three clients playing over 150 and land 48 sea trout in one evening. To say the pool was on fire was an understatement; you just could not believe how many fish were in the pool. The group fished for three days, landed 96 sea trout and a few salmon too. Two days later, in the same pool another group couldn’t buy a pull. The fish were still there, conditions were good but the standard of fishing and casting was totally different. As an old pal of mine put it, “they couldn’t cast a shadow on a sunny day”! Add the fact that sea trout fishing was done in the dark and those amateurs had no chance.

I’ve had another client in the boat with me who made just nine casts all morning. The reason for this was, he did nothing but play fish the whole morning. As soon as we landed one, he hooked another and by the last fish the hook had no hair on it at all. So much for fancy flies. Well that day for sure!  We both had a great day. However, although I saw 1000s more caught during my time on the river, those were the two big events during my 25 years ghillying, and for obvious reasons, those were the ones I most talked about. Every ghillie has a similar story. Such stories help elevate the river to almost mythical status. People begin to think, my god, this river must be incredible, I’ll catch at least three fish every day I fish, whatever time of the year.

When I was young most of my fishing had been done on the Deveron, the seasons of 1977/78 were what I remembered. During those years my dad and I would catch between four and twelve fish, it seemed, every day. At the time I thought, this is what salmon fishing was all about, and wondered, if this is what its like on the Deveron, then, what it must be like on the river Spey?  The fishing there must be simply amazing, out of this planet! However, no point in even thinking about this because we cannot get there.

Well, the river river Spey is, amazing, but it doesn’t take much of a brain to do the maths to provide us with realistic  expectations in 2017. There were 5500+/- fish last year, with an average of 180 people fishing the river each day, times 192 days! Even when, not so long ago, we caught 10,000 per year, this was still way below my original childhood expectations of three fish per rod day,  this totally unrealistic figure was miles out. Of course, looking back with hindsight and now 40 years experience of the river Spey, I know what we had in those seasons of 1977/78 was exceptional. But my lack of knowledge had me believing this to be the norm, so my benchmark was set.

Years of ghillying on the river Spey, with all the good days and bad, led me to, very quickly change my opinions, to adjust my expectations to something much more realistic, and not what I’d been so fortunate to experience back in those great seasons. Did this make me enjoy the fishing any less? Not even in the least.

Given what has happened over the past decade, or since the introduction of catch and release, I now see the river in a very different light. The days of consistently catching 10k fish, unfortunately, are gone. This figure may be reached in an odd season but not in our lifetime will we see this average again. Does this make me want to leave the river Spey, or go fishing somewhere else? Personally no. Even with the banning of worming, spinning and prawning, methods that were common place in the past, I know for a fact we catch a higher percentage of what now comes into the river. Better tackle and standard of angling are the reason for this. God only knows what would have been caught in the 1977/78 season if we had all the modern tackle, info and expertise. One of the reasons its so silly to think five or 10,000 fish today, can be measured against the same figure as in the past, total folly and stupidity. This thinking has helped take us to where we now are with salmon stocks. Anyway, that’s for another day.

Bench on the River Dee, Scotland

With the exception of the Ponoi in Russia, it’s been a long time since I’ve gone to any river looking for a fish a day. Anyone with any knowledge of salmon fishing knows this would be really good going now, and anyone continuing to look for this, most of the time, will be disappointed. Even the best beats on the river will not produce this over the whole season. An odd week year yes, but certainly not the norm.

If you’re chasing fish for every pound you spend then you really need to do your homework on times and beats you fish. But even if you do, there’s a high chance you’ll be disappointed.

Personally, I’m looking forward to my early spring days, which have little chance of catching a fresh fish, however, in all the years I’ve fished the river Spey, with or without catch and release, the chances of catching a fish in February and March have stayed much the same. So in essence, at this time, nothing much has changed, well, other than the weather, which seems better now. It’s still really nice to get on the water, enjoy fishing with some friends, lose myself in the beautiful nature of Speyside whilst fishing through some really lovely pools, and yes, we still catch a fish or two.


The day I feel I’m fishing over water with no fish in it will be the day I’ll forget it, however, as long as I feel I have a chance, even if the odds lengthen, personally, I’ll still be there. But what about value? Does the river Spey provide me with value? Yes, and in so many more ways than before. I now appreciate the river and fishing it much more than in the past because, I’m older, and learned that catching salmon is a privilege. For me, the fact that Salmon are less plentiful, more difficult to catch, taxes my mind, I find it more satisfying when I get one. Facilities are better than before and, generally speaking, Ghillies are more proactive.

If you’re looking for the best value for your buck based purely on numbers of fish caught, then fishing in Russia is the answer. There are some rivers in the Kola Peninsula which will provide you with a reasonable chance of catching 5 fish a day to your own rod, whilst others provide a decent chance of catching big salmon. Unlike the past, all the information is now there. There’s nowhere for anyone to hide, it’s the way things are. Doing your homework on a particular beat at the time of the year you plan to visit will help you arrive at your preferred fishing beat with realistic expectations providing best value for you personally.

Amazingly, it turns out the person who made the original statement hadn’t ever fished the river Spey.

Check out Ian Gordon’s website