50 years on the Spey.

Mr Doug Riddel was keen to mark his 50 years on the Spey with a short report, I have just copied and pasted.


50 Years on the Spey!


Having spent 50 years fishing for salmon as a visitor on the Fochabers Angling Association water on the River Spey I was keen to write a few words about my experiences.

Since 1969 I have been fortunate to have spent at least a week each year on the Castle Beat, until 2006, and since then on Low Water 1 beat.  My father, Jack, had been fishing the Spey since he was a lad and he taught me as much as he could over the years until he passed away in 1994.

Having also fished the Dee, Tay and the Tweed and several other well-known rivers, in my view, there is no doubt that the Spey is the KINGof salmon rivers in Scotland.

Furthermore, the help provided by the local members of Fochabers Angling Association in providing advice on where, and what to fish, is beyond equal.   In particular, the Secretary of the Association, Andy Milne, provides much advice and information to all visitors and cuts paths and fells trees away from the taking lies.   Similarly, the visitors all are very amenable and willing to pass on their information, also sometimes sharing woes in difficult times.   Every fisher has lean times but these just make the catch days so much more special – it would be a very poor and dull sport if we caught a salmon every day.

One of the great attributes of fishing is that when all is doom and gloom and there seems to be no hope, then sometimes you get a pull and catch a fish.   On the contrary, whenever, you wade into to the river and confidently expect to make a catch – look out for a surprise – you probably won’t even get a pull.

Over the years there have been many changes in technics and also with the river itself.

At Fochabers, in the past there have been many expert worming anglers who caught fish when no-one else even came close.   Similarly, there have been several bait fishers who excelled in the right conditions.

Now, fortunately it is the fly which is the sole method and rightly so, as it is the most pleasant way of putting a line over the water and, most importantly, the most skilful.   Also, the focus is now on catch and release and, in view of the vastly reduced runs, this is the best way of trying to ensure that fish will continue to run the Spey for the next fifty years.

Rather than mention any fortunate catches, I would rather highlight the two blank years I have had:-

  • In 1976, with the dry and hot summer, the river was very low – the lowest I have witnessed over 50 years.  After a week of trying all sorts of flies, finally on the Saturday afternoon, and with great glee, a fish was hooked in the tail of the Birks pool from the Fochabers side, alas after a few runs the hook parted company and a nil return was made for the week.
  • Then in 1999, again with a very low river, conditions were difficult with very few running fish running.Closest encounter was a pull in the upper Bridge Pool on the Friday.   Again, a nil return was recorded.

2018 had similar conditions to 1976 and 1999 and the thoughts were starting to home in on a third nil return.   After several blank days the dreaded nil return was looming large – few fish running and even less residents showing.

There have been many memorable sightings with nature over the years, including, otters, seals, roe deer and ospreys.   One encounter of particular note was about 4.30 in the morning on my way down to the Quarry Pool a large black cat, about two feet to shoulder, run across in front on my car.   This was certainly not a domestic cat but it disappeared into the woods before I could get the camera out.

Over the years there have been numerous notable happenings and a few examples are provided below.

What has been the most successful fly?   Well, over the years I have just been able to reach one conclusion, for sure, about fishing – the only fly which can catch a salmon is the one in the water!!   That said, the Hairy Mary is the one fly dressing which over all the years has served to catch more fish than any other.  As my wife is called Mary I have been asked several times whether the fly is named after her – I have replied that it is was fished for many years before we were married!!!

As it happened, and thanks to help from Andy Milne and the Hairy Mary, the 2018 visit did not turn out to be a blank after all.

I do hope to be able to continue to enjoy the great week’s fishing with Fochabers Angling Association for a few more years.



Doug Riddell


A few notable happenings.


Many years ago my uncle, Jimmy, was a gillie at Orton.   One evening after the guests had retired for dinner, my uncle invited my father down for a cast.   I was about eight years old and came along to watch the events.   Anyhow, after about two hours with no luck my uncle eventually hooked a very large salmon on the bait.   After about 90 minutes playing the fish and when darkness was starting to fall, my uncle asked for a cigarette.   After my father passed him the cigarette, the lighted tip unfortunately touched the nylon and that was the end of that fight!!


The river was low on the Castle beat.   After fishing down the Quarry pool from the Baxter’s side, along with a local member, I decided to cross the river at the head of the pool.   The run into the pool was split into two by a small gravel island of no more than 2 square yards.   On wading across the first run I must have spooked a grilse which grounded itself on the small island.   I picked up the grilse and shouted over to the local member, who turned around in complete amazement!!


About twenty-five years ago, whilst fishing the middle Bridge pool a group of canoes came down the river.   After many curses, I decided to cast right at the back of the last canoe.   To my great surprise, the line took off and I thought “bl—dy hell – I have hooked the canoe”.   Fortunately, it turned out to be a very large salmon, which must have been moved out it’s lie by the canoes.   After about twenty minutes the hook came out and the Salmon lived to run up the river.   Forever since I have never cursed the canoes!!


Following a large spate, the river was falling away very fast.   In the early afternoon my father was returning to fish the Birks pool from the Baxter’s side.  At that time the bank on the west side, where the hut is now located, was completely shingle stones.   Anyhow, a large salmon about 18 lbs had beached itself on the stones and the seagulls had taken out one of its eyes.   A real bonus catch without even having a cast in the river!!


Whilst fishing the Bridge pool and just under the new road bridge, a good-sized grilse was hooked.   It put up an excellent fight, however, it was about a yard from being beached when the hook came out!!  Unfortunately for the grilse, the hook re-connected in the tail of the fish.  After another five minutes fight the grilse was landed – never did a fish have a better claim to be returned!



Doug Riddell

There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Iain D Ogden at 7:52 pm

    Great stories, particularly liked the Orton mishap but it must have resulted in some bad language! If this incident occurred in the Cairnty I would like to include it in my next book – please email me on i.ogden@abdn.ac.uk

  2. Henry Giles at 8:36 am

    Good stories there, Doug Riddell via Malcolm Newbould.

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