Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Passion Shared

One of the great pleasures of my job as the Dee Fisheries Development Officer,  is the opportunity it gives me to share my love of fishing with others. Fishing has been a part of my life since I was a toddler and I have vivid memories of being with my father when he caught a salmon in the early 1970s. It stands out in my mind to this day and I can still sense the excitement of it all.  After that I spent a lot of time out and about with him, usually fishing for wild brown trout with a worm or spinning  for finnock .  We fished together until his passing in 2013 and one of the comforts I take from it is that I know the time we had together was well spent. I am doing the same now with my own son and daughter. There is something about fishing that draws us closer; a lot passes between us when on the river or loch, even when little is actually said.


I remain fascinated by lochs and rivers and  by the stunning natural environment we have all around us. We are fortunate here on Deeside, we are surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere. I defy anyone to drive up the valley and not be struck by the wonder of it all. We are also blessed as anglers. The Dee is one of the great salmon rivers of the world and the people in and around Deeside have been at the heart of angling development since Victorian times.  It is a special place.


One of my roles is to attract new people into angling.  If the sport is to flourish in the future we need to attract a new generation of anglers.  Fishing  is for all ages and while attracting young people is crucial, it is just as important to do what we can to welcome adults into fishing as well.  Last August we held  our first Introduction to Salmon Fishing course at Invery and Tilquhillie. Ten new and recently new anglers enjoyed first class instruction and guidance from casting instructor  Gary Scott and ghillie, Karl Revel. The group had great fun as Gary led them through the various casts and shared his knowledge on tackle, fly choice and watercraft.  I know for certain that a few of the participants are now firmly hooked. We will be repeating this in 2015 and all being well should run two or three events.

Intro to Salmon Fishing 2 Aug 2014 Gary3


My colleagues at  the River Dee Trust also run a programme for school children. Each year IntroDee works with around 300 children and helps them learn about the river and the role it plays in our community. The children also have the opportunity to try fly fishing at Raemoir  Trout Fishery, which support this free of charge. I have been invloved in a few of these and they are tremendous fun- and not just for the kids.  Raemoir is an excellent facility for anyone thinking of trying fishing for the first time. It is very welcoming and is ideal for youngsters and experienced anglers alike.


Fisheries such as Raemoir are an important part of the angling infrastructure on Deeside. For many of us salmon fishing is not the starting point of our journey into fishing and we usually start by fishing for other species such as Brown and Rainbow Trout.  There are a number of exceptionally good and well run trout fisheries in the Dee Valley that are an excellent starting point for anyone taking their first steps into angling.


These fisheries are almost tailor made for new participants.  Most offer reasonable rates including tackle hire and are there are toilet facilities and refreshments available- which as any parent knows is half the battle. Most importantly these fisheries represent the first real opportunity to experience the simple joy of catching a fish.




For anyone that is thinking of starting angling, I am always available to offer support whether it be about where to fish or what tackle you might require. I look forward to hearing from you very soon.


Trout Fisheries on Deeside

013308 20092

01330 850575

013398 865451

01569 762611


Tullich Fishery, Ballater

013397 55648 or 0771 5278419



Ross Macdonald



Tommy Saville- the Crathie Fly and All that Jazz




This summer, I finally got to meet the great Tommy Saville. Tommy has been a regular visitor to the Dee, at Crathie, since the 1960s. I have known Tommy by correspondence for a few years so was eager to meet him on the river.  At 90 years old he is as light hearted and enthusiastic as anyone I have met. He has a number of claims to fame, one of which is as a successful jazz musician. He once sat in on the legendary Glen Miller while he recorded at Abbey Road studios in the 1940s! Can you imagine?

It was our common interest in flies and fly tying that first brought us in contact.  Tommy, or rather his company, Tom C Saville Ltd, is synonymous with the UK fly tying scene and for many years was one of the major players, introducing new materials and patterns to the nations fly tyers and anglers.

Tommy’s claim to fame so far as the River Dee is concerned, is his wonderful pattern, the Crathie. The Crathie has been a popular choice for Dee anglers for over forty years and remains an important fly in the late spring and summer months when it is fished on the full floater with a long leader in the classic Dee style.  Named after the wonderful upper Dee beat, which is close to Tommy’s heart, it has its origins on the other side of the Atlantic.  Tommy was fishing for book trout in Pennsylvania, back in 1965, when he was given a long shank single that was meant to be a baitfish imitation.

‘It had a slim black feather wing, silver body and a pale blue beard hackle and was originally intended for steelhead,’ recalls Tommy.  ‘I thought it looked okay, but I was fishing nymphs and didn’t use it; so it took up residence in my fly box.’

The following year, Tommy made his first serious attempt at salmon on the Conway at Betws-y-coed.  Ever curious, he read up on his quarry and learned of the salmon’s ocean diet of shrimp, krill and small fish.  It was at this time he recalled the US fly and on the premise that steelhead also feed at sea, used the fly as the basis for designing his own salmon fly.

Tommy explained, ‘My company Tom C Saville Ltd had pioneered the use of many types of hair at the time when the hairwings were becoming popular among salmon anglers.  I liked the fact that hair is more mobile and livelier than feather, so I adapted the pattern by using a grey squirrel wing, dyed black.  I kept the silver tinsel body and ribbed it with fine silver wire.  The beard hackle of the steelhead fly was a very pale blue; it hugged the shank closely and was as long as the wing.’

Tom C Saville Ltd imported many types of hair back then, among which were full polar bear skins from Alaska.  Tommy found the belly hair to be softest and selected it as the ideal choice to replace the beard hackle.  ‘I dipped some of the hair in blue dye, just long enough for it to take on a little colour.  Polar bear is slightly creamy and the result was a slight greenish tinge to the blue; spot-on for suggesting baitfish.  I always thought that a salmon fly should have jungle cock cheeks and they finished the fly off nicely.’

On the Conway Tom christened the fly, under the working title of the ‘Minnow,’ with a 10lb fish and in the following years added several more from the Nith, Awe and Orchy.  The story moves to Deeside when Tom secured a May rod at Crathie; ghillied at the time by Sandy MacDonald.

That first May week yielded several fish to the new fly.  By midweek, when Tommy took a fish on his first cast in McLarens, his fifth of the week, Sandy could only remark, ‘It had to be sir, it had to be.’  And so, when it came to making the entries into the logbook, Tommmy and Sandy were in agreement: what better name for the new fly than The Crathie?

Today, Tommy is still tweaking the pattern, in cahoots with present ghillie Archie Hay.  I have seen it tied with a red head, sometimes on a bare silver hook.  Tom has recently been tying the beard hackle  with Glo-brite fluorescent blue yarn, which produces that all important translucent sparkle.

It is important to note the correct tying of the Crathie. I have had my versions critiqued by Tommy, and don’t tell anyone, but he was not impressed. It is tempting to think of the Crathie as a Silver Stoat, tied with a blue hackle. Trust me, that is not how it should be tied. First of all the wing and hackle should be tied flat against the hook shank. Secondly the hackle must be pale blue and tied in as long as the wing.

I am looking forward to catching up with Tommy next season and will hopefully get pass marks for my attempts to reproduce his wonderful fly.

Crathie Fly

The Crathie

Hook: low water doubles

Body: silver tinsel, with a fine silver wire rib

Wing: black hair

Beard: pale blue hair or hackle points

Head: black



Ross Macdonald




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