Summer vacations in Scotland are not normally promoted alongside warnings about maintaining hydration and the importance of liberal applications of factor 30 sunscreen, but 2018 has not been a normal year. Following on from a very hard, persistent and late-arriving winter, spring was relatively short-lived. Then arrived summer.
The spring run, which has been improving on several of our rivers, is facilitated by the tail-end of the winter bringing fresh rain and usually quite consistently high river levels. As the temperatures slowly rise, the levels are further augmented by snow melt in the Highlands. As a result, the Scottish Atlantic salmon fishing is good from mid-March into May.
Similarly, the autumn run of Scottish salmon is initiated by low pressure cells sweeping in from the west, bringing with them the cooler temperatures, wind and rain. With the seasons seeming to come later than in the past, this autumn run is manifest by increasing numbers of fish entering the Scottish river systems from mid-September, through to the end of the season.
So what then of the summer? In the usual course of things, the Scottish summer can best be described as generally frustrating. Just as three consecutive days of relative warmth prompt us to declare that summer has finally arrived, the rain moves in, the wind picks up and the jackets are retrieved from the back of the wardrobe. However, it is this very pattern of unpredictability with the weather that gives cause to celebrate Scottish salmon fishing in the summer months.
Sadly, 2018 has seen the hottest temperatures and driest conditions in over 50 years. This has resulted in abnormally low river levels across the country. On the Spey in particular, we are seeing parts of the riverbed which haven’t been previously exposed in perhaps a hundred years! And the effect on the fishing has been significant.
Without freshets of water pushing into the estuaries, the salmon are not induced to leave the sea. Instead, they will follow in on the incoming tide, test the estuarine conditions and then fall back as the tide ebbs, unconvinced that the river is capable of providing safe passage to the redds. This daily prevarication provides a bonanza for the legions of seals lying in wait. The urgent need to control seal numbers has never been made more obvious than by the experience of this summer of 2018.