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Do you know your history?

The River Spey’s role in shaping salmon fishing

Here at FishingTV we are on a mission to dispel the received wisdom that fishing is a boring, fuddy-duddy activity practiced entirely by gloomy old men. We choose our content based on originality and entertainment as much as anything.

However, we’re the first to admit the history and traditions of the sport are important. Like Bob Marley sang: “If you know your history / then you would know where you’re coming from.”

Sure, the younger generation of anglers may not be as interested in the tweedy, traditional clothing as previous generations, but we do think that everyone should have a bit of knowledge about where and how the sport has developed, and why.

For example, watching the new addition to the Fly Fishing Channel, Blue Charm, got us thinking. Fly anglers the world over use the Spey cast, but we think there’s probably a significant proportion of people who don’t know the origin of that name.

Those who do know might be aware that it is named for a river in Scotland, but may not know why, or how important that river is in the history and development of salmon fishing. Although there is some debate as to whether this was where the cast was actually invented, it was certainly here that it was first popularised in the 1800s.

Why the River Spey? Well, that’s down to the character of the river: the Spey is a big river: wide and fast flowing, often with steep, tree-lined banks. The Spey cast is therefore ideally suited for the water: it allows the angler to throw a longer line, and without the risk of snagging the flora.

Ian GordonAnyone reading about the early history of salmon fishing will encounter the names of the beats and pools of the Spey time and again. For those who have fished them, or heard about them, names like Tulchan, Arndilly and Delfur, can send a shiver of anticipation down the spine.

Because of the nature of fishing rights ownership in Scotland, many of the river’s beats are permanently associated with aristocratic families and their estates, which, along with the splendid 19th Century arched bridge at Craigellaghie have given the river many architectural gems, set into the stunning Scottish skylines. 

It also means that the river has played host to both flyfishing and actual Royalty over the years not to mention Presidents, Grand Dukes and famous financiers, as well as inspiring the creation of several salmon flies that remain popular to this day.

But it would be remiss to pretend that the Spey is the only great Scottish salmon river, or the only one with a place in the history of the sport. The Dee, the Tweed and the Tay make up the ‘big four’ and there is fantastic fishing to be had on the Scotland’s less lauded rivers but it perhaps has had the most obvious lasting impact on the way we fish today.

And it is hard to overstate the quality of the fishing. Your correspondent learned a hard lesson when he visited the river last year if you’re fishing the Spey, never let anyone else have a cast with your rod.

I was sharing a rod with my brother for the week, and he having recently broken his wrist rather badly, requiring surgery and the addition of a metal plate to his skeleton, had suggested that I take the first session of the week. We had drawn the pool directly in front of the fishing hut and while I essayed my first few faltering casts of the week he remained on the bank and we chatted.

He complained that he had forgotten to take a pain-killer for his arm whereupon I remembered that there were some paracetamol in the car. I persuaded him to have a couple of casts while I ran the 50 yards to the car and back.

“You’ll regret it when I hook a fish!” he called over his shoulder as I left, jokingly.

Well, dear reader, you know what happened next. I had barely grabbed the packet of pills before I heard a cry of “Fish on!” muffled by the fact that I still had my head in the car.

the fish that should have been mineI’m not proud of the name that I called him when I realised that he wasn’t pulling my leg, but was pulling against a salmon, bad wrist and all, but since I managed to catch a couple of fish myself that week he was forgiven.


For a real lesson in Speycasting, and the history and characters of salmon fishing in Scotland, you can do far worse that checking out Ian Gordon’s (ghillie on the Spey for 22 years and former world Speycasting champion) film Blue Charm, in which Ian shares his wealth of knowledge in his own charming style.



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