Highland Atlantics

Theo’s saga in the Scottish Highland continues: The streams of the high country of Scotland offer the fly fisher some great angling for Atlantic Salmon. The government has bought up the commercial fishing rights, and the fish are recovering very well. There are several streams on the Inverpolly Estate that host wild salmon. Most of the streams in the Highlands are rather steep, and waterfalls are a regular feature that the returning fish must navigate.

On the Inverpolly Estate, the Atlantic Salmon can be fished for with a single-hand rod.

The streams offer plenty of corner pools where the salmon hold in the deep water under the banks.

Waterfalls are a common feature of the Highland streams.

Atlantics are great jumpers, and ascend smaller falls with ease.

One of the streams flairs out into a lake at its lower end, and the salmon hold here awaiting a freshet before running up to the spawning grounds. On windy days, the surface chop whips oxygen into the water, and the fish move to the fly briskly, and fight with greater strength. Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) are very closely related to the brown trout (Salmo trutta), and as the Atlantics hold in fresh water, they assume their spawning colors—very similar to the coloring of the browns. In addition, the spawning male Atlantics develop a large kype (hooked lower jaw) just as do spawning male browns.

Windy days whip the surface of the lake, stirring in oxygen and invigorating the fish.

In a lake, a nice salmon like this one will give a very good account of itself.

Males develop strong kipes as they prepare for spawning.

Occasionally, one catches a hatchery fish, escaped from salmon farms in Ireland. These are easily distinguished by their tails and fins, which are rubbed off on the tips. All hatchery fish must be killed to prevent their genes from mixing with the wild strains.

The tail of a hatchery fish showing wear and tear.The tail of a wild salmon with its sharply defined tips.

It the late season (September) the fish tend to move better to small flies, rather than larger ones, and anglers use double hook flies in sizes 10 to 14. And what else would be more appropriate than a Green Highlander. Others that do well are the Aly Shrimp and a number of hair wings. Often the anglers fish two flies in the late season, dropping a small Teal Blue and Silver off the lead fly, hoping for a take from a sea trout (browns that live in the estuary and near shore waters and are returning to spawn). Tube flies work very well, too.

Although the flies may seem small, the big fish move to them very well

Because the salmon population is recovering nicely, anglers are permitted to take a fish or two. Most have them smoked are for holiday meals.

A salmon headed for the smoke house

Returning salmon usually weigh between 5 and 15 pounds, but some get up to 20 pounds. These are a real handful on a 9-weight rod. The Atlantic Salmon was named “the jumper” by the Romans ( salar means jumper), and there’s certainly plenty of that going on when a good one is firmly hooked.

A very fresh, 20 pound Atlantic.

Another big salmon that fell to Theo's fly.

Another big salmon that fought well and long, ready to head back into the river.

As the evening draws the anglers back to the Lodge, they may spot a stag, searching for mates to add to his harem. And then, after the evening meal and perhaps a sip of Scotch Whisky, it’s time for bed and dreams of sea trout on the morrow.

A fine stag searching for additions to his harem.


  1. Simon Jeffreys says:

    Sadly salmon and sea run brown trout runs are badly depleted here on the west side of the Highlands of Scotland. I am sending this from a little village just a few miles as the eagle flies from Inverpolly, where you fished. The cause is very probably salmon farming, through sea lice infestation, and the Scottish Government is probably to blame for its lax regulation of this industry.

    Stocks of salmon on the east coast rivers do much better and guess what, no salmon farms have been allowed there.