Author Archives: FishDee

On The Beat- with Graeme Simpson, Birse





Graeme Simpson


Graeme has been at Birse since 2015, following in the footsteps of legendary Dee ghillie, Doug Murray. Like most of the ghillies on the River, Graeme is a fishing nut and has fished many places in Europe and the States. He is also a highly qualified casting instructor and holds the prestigious AAPGAI Masters level qualification for the double handed rod. A sucker for punishment, he is currently studying for the single-handed award.



Evening light. Photo courtesy Thomas Christensen

I caught up with him recently to discuss the fishing at Birse. The beat has a rich variety of pools that offer plenty of fishing for the visiting anglers. One of the great things about the beat is that there is ample fishing in most water heights.
Alt Dhinnie

I know Graeme has a soft spot for this pool. It is a low water pool, ‘the lower the better’, he says. He likes it from 8”-1’6” on his gauge. Low water can often be accompanied by bright weather and Alt Dhinnie is always the first choice in these conditions. It is tree lined and in the morning, the sun is off it for longer than other pools and later in the day, it is the first pool to return to shade.

Upper Bridge

Upper Bridge is not a major pool on the beat but is worth a flick or two to see if there is a fish lurking. There are lots of eddies for the angler to contend with, so it’s not always fished as often as it should.



Graeme with visitors Thomas Christensen and Erwin Nielsen



Jetty is a favourite among Birse rods. It also fishes in a range of water heights- from around 6”, which is the absolute minimum, to 3’6”. Graeme feels it needs at least 10” to fish properly. As the water rises the fish push over to the Birse side and as it drops they move towards the north bank. It is a simple pool to read and when the water is up, the fish will rest there having pushed through the heavier streams below.
Red Rock
The neck of Red Rock, fishes best in lower water and the rest of the pool comes into its own as the water rises and it fishes down towards the trees near the tail of the pool. Graeme like 2’ on the gauge and reckons it fishes well up to around 4’. It is a deep pool and the fish can push tight into the Birse side, where they are often taken on the dangle.

Irrigation is a high water pool, “the bigger the better” says Graeme. The tail of the pool is transformed in high water, it is slow moving at lower levels. A water height of 2’6” and more, is ideal and as it rsies the fish will push more into the Birse side.


Lummels is probably the best known of the pools at

Birse. It is the main holding pool on the beat and is a favourite spot for an early fish. The neck of the pool down the walkway will fish in lower water, but the rest of the pool needs a good push of water to bring out the best of it. A water height of between 1’6” and 2’6” is ideal. If the walkway is covered, it is probably too big to fish well.


Red Brae

This pool has changed a lot as a result of Storm Frank. It is a pool for running fish and Graeme reckons it fishes nicely, at 1’ plus on the gauge, from the steps down. The wading is challenging.


At 1’2” Belwade is perfect and can hold a lot of fish. From 1’8” and above, it becomes a little too ‘pushy’. At the neck, the flow is towards the north bank, but the flow opens out. It is not an early pool but can be productive from May onwards.


I like Cowdray, it is a long smooth glide, with the flow over to the north bank. From June on it really holds fish and fishes from 8” to 1’8”. It requires a delicate approach, casting the fly at a shallow angle and hovering over the fish.

Big Jetty

Big Jetty is a year-round pool, which fishes best in a big water. It can be particularly good in the back end. It has a fast neck and opens in a bell-like shape.


Quithel is another pool to have been affected by Storm Frank. It is now a narrow, fast stream, which fishes nicely at around 9”-10”. In a bigger water, the river spills over a gravel bar at the tail of Big Jetty which puts the pool out of order.


Trees fishes from 1’6” to around 2’6”. Graeme thiks 2” is ideal. The fish sit in the middle of the river, pushing over towards the south bank. Over wading can be an issue and Graeme’s advice is to follow the line of the dry stones so as to be certain of not wading where the fly should be fishing.


Island fishes under 2′ and is a touch too fast  at higher water levels. It can hold one or two fish and is often worst a quck run through


The March is at the bottom of the beat and while its a bit of a walk to get there, Graeme reckons “it is worth the trek.” It fishes from 1’8″ and lower.

Tackle and Favourite Flies



A small Lochy Shrimp



Graeme prefers to fish as small a fly as the conditions allow. He likes to encourage his guests to use their own judgement but is always ready with his own suggestions. He likes small flies with a touch of blue in them and counts the Nighthawk, Lochy Shrimp, Black Sheep and Crathie among his favourites.
Graeme is a pretty laid back character but if he has one bugbear, it is the apparent need for some rods to go as deep as possible as soon as possible. He likes to keep the fly higher in the water, only reaching for a heavy tip if conditions demand it.


Check out the latest availability at Birse on FishDee

On The Beat- with George Murray, Craigendinnie



George Murray


George Murray has been the ghillie at Craigendinnie for the past 17 years, despite the fact he only ever intended to work there for 6 weeks as cover! Newly retired from Elf, George had bumped into Eoin Smith (the current Deecastle ghillie) in Banchory and Eoin had enquired about his availability to fill in for a short time. But when the late Jock Cattanach passed, George was offered the job and has been there ever since. Interestingly, George used to own Murray’s Tackle shop in Banchory (where Orvis is located), which he ran with his wife and son between the 1960s and 1980s.

The Craigendinnie beat is located on the south side of the upper river, just upstream of Aboyne. It has approximately 2 1/2 miles of fishing for 2 rods and has 15 pools. In the spring months, the beat has an agreement with Aboyne Castle which allows the rods from each to fish both banks. It is an excellent arrangement which benefits the anglers.

George likes the water to be lower rather than higher, within reason of course. Ideally a height of between 1′- 1’6″ would suit the whole beat and at that height, George would be confident of a pull anywhere. The beat will take higher water and pools such as Jocky Fyfe, Crofts, Upper Fontie, and the Lorne, will all fish with an extra push of water.

When pressed, George, like many of his anglers, tells me he would pick Jocky Fyfe and perhaps the Lorne as his favourite sports on the beat. Of course, he likes to hedge his bets and tells me, “it all depends on conditions.”



A beautiful springer from Jock Fyfe


In the spring months, George likes an intermediate line with a tip, paired with an 1 1/2″ monkey or Cascade tubes. He also likes to give the Red Frances a swim too. Later as the water drops the floating line, possibly with an intermediate tip is his preferred choice, again, as he likes to stress, it all depends on the conditions. Fly sizes drop back with the water levels and Executioners and Silver Stoats down to s14 or even s16 are useful, as is a Munro if there is a slight tinge of colour in the water.

George is a strong advocate of customer care and takes the time to assess the different needs of each client and enjoys nothing more than a new rod getting a fish. More experienced rods, who have fished the beat many times can usually be relied on to work out the best tactics, for themselves, but for those new to the beat, George is very particular about ensuring they get the best possible advice and support. “Afterall.” he says, ” I like them to come back!”



Lorne Pool



Craigendinnie, is a delightful beat with lots of lovely fly water. The beat is very popular and there is usually a high demand for the fishing. Keep a close eye on FishDee to get a day, On the Beat, with George.


On The Beat- with Keith Cromar, Park


Keith Cromar is Head Ghillie at Park. He has been with the estate since 1987 and learned his trade there under the guidance of the late Major Foster, who was a renowned angler. As Head Ghillie, Keith is responsible for  3 miles of double bank fishing, (let as two separate beats) which includes some wonderful fly pools.

Park fishes in all water heights and anglers have a rich variety of pools. In low water, the tail of Cooper’s into the Long Pool down to the Sheeoch Burn is a great spot for a fish in low water. The bend at Upper Kirks has fished well since Storm Frank. It’s a spot where Keith and his rods have had to relearn how to fish it. There is a fine line between under wading and over wading the pool. If you judge it correctly there is a sweet spot, discovered with some trial and error, where the fly swings perfectly over the lies. The top of Greenbank is a good cast and can be a lively place when the grilse are in.

In higher flows, several other pools burst into life. The Lower Kirks can fish with up to 3′ on the gauge, while the bottom of Greenbank into Castleton will also fish. Castleton itself, is a known high water pool and Keith likes it to have between 3′ and 4′ of water pushing through it.

The House Pool is a good spot for a running fish, there is a lie at the neck, which is worth fishing a few times in a day as there is often a fish resting there before pushing on. The best heights for the House Pool are between 12″ and 18″.

The famous Cellar Pool fishes in all heights. In high water, they are closer to the north bank and as the water drops they move south and can often be picked up under the bushes and trees hard into Park South.


Keith in front of the Park hut. The door shows the watermark and dates fo when the river has flooded. The 2015 mark is on the roof!

The Durris Stream is one of the top pools on the beat and, probably the whole river. It is a pleasure to cast a fly here. It fishes in in low water and up to around 25″. The beat widens into a large wide section beginning with Jetties, flowing through Redwell and Ashtree. A water height of about 30″ is perfect for this part of the beat. There are little clusters of daffodils to look out for. These were planted by Major Foster to mark his favourite taking spots.



Decisions, decisions…

Bakebare has some interesting wading and in Keith’s opinion is the best place to hook a fish as the fight is usually eventful! Hooked fish get their tails in the stream and can empty a reel in short order.

Duffers is well named. It is only a short cast and ‘if he’s there, you’ll get him,’ says Keith.

The Bridge Run is a summer pool and can be exciting in low water for grilse and summer salmon. There is a pocket of water at the top, which, if approached properly, will deliver good sport in July and August.

In the spring slow sinking shooting heads, such as Sink 1 or Sink 2 work well, paired with a Willie Gunn, Monkey or Park Shrimp are good choices, according to Keith. Later, as the water drops and warms, a floater and tips will suffice.

The Stoat’s Tail originated at Park, created by the late George Cooper, who ghillied there for many years. One of the favourite versions of this famous pattern is the Yellow Stoat. When the river falls and clears in summer, a 1/4″ Yellow Stoat, a favourite of Major Foster, on the full floating line can be a deadly way of approaching Park’s salmon.


Yellow Stoats

To find out more about fishing Park, see Park FishDee or visit Park’s website


On The Beat- with Kevin Fleming, Altries & Lower Drum


Kevin Fleming has been the ghillie at Altries and Lower Drum since 2008. Like many ghillies, he caught the angling bug at a young age. His uncle was a ghillie/keeper on the Findhorn, so Kevin had plenty opportunities to pursue his growing passion. He leapt at the chance of the Altries job and has established himself as a popular and knowledgeable ghillie on the River. His commitment to his guests has always been strong and Kev recently saved the life of one of his anglers who had passed out and collapsed into the river. Kev’s quick thinking and swift action prevented a tragic outcome.

The Altries beat is on the lower Dee, just upstream of Maryculter. It has 16 named pools and has 1.5 miles fishing on the north bank and about 3/4 of a mile on the south bank. The beat fishes well in a range of heights. If Kev could choose the water height it would be 2′ and dropping on his gauge. In high water, the excellent Alfred’s Pot is a favourite, fished from the north bank. The Hut Pool from either bank is a good cast as are the Hotel Pool on the north bank and Greenbank from the south. As the water drops away, there is plenty of fishing and the Rut, Pot, the neck of the Hut Pool, Drum Ferry and Donal Garth offer a great chance of a fish.

In the early part of the year, Kev is hunting running fish. Salmon begin to hold in the beat from July, prior to that Altries rods seek to intercept springers heading upstream. Cold hard winters suit the beat in the early season, slowing the fish down long enough to perhaps get a fly in front of them.

In the spring Kev has a selection of shooting heads and likes an intermediate with tips paired with either a Dee Monkey on a bottle tube or a Posh Tosh. From April the floating line and a slow sink tip is a good bet. As the water warms a Collie Dog fished fast can provoke a running fish into making a mistake.  Altries fly choices differ from the middle and upper. Kev’s fly box reveals a lot of long-tailed flies on bigger hooks than one would usually associate with the Dee. It follows the old saying, ‘ the nearer the sea, the bigger the flee.’ Most of Altries fish will be liced as the beat is just a few hours swim above the tide.

To find out more about Altries and have a day or two fishing with Kevin, check out their page on FishDee   and their Facebook page




On The Beat- with Martin Robson, Little Blackhall and Inchmarlo


Photo courtesy of Atlantic Salmon Trust

Martin Robson joined  Little Blackhall and Inchmarlo in the spring of 2015 and is the Head Ghillie for the beat.

Martin hails from Alston, in Cumbria, where he used to fish the South Tyne as a boy. He spent a lot of his time fishing there and developed a deep and lasting love of the countryside. He went onto to study Countryside Management and Gamekeeping at Newton Rigg College in Penrith, for which he received a distinction. The placement element of his course took to the famous Grimersta fishery on the Isle of Lewis. This led to seasonal work as a ghillie on Grimersta and also the wonderful Amhuinnsuidhe on the beautiful Isle of Harris.

Martin has developed his boat skills from his time in the Hebrides and there are two boats on LB&I for guest to use, both as a ferry to fish both banks and also for positioning anglers for the best possible chance of a take.

Little Blackhall & Inchmarlo has traditionally been a spring beat; angling effort slowed at the end of June, but Martin believes there is potential for the beat in the summer.

“ The best months are generally April and May. We are at our busiest then, but I would like to see more rods in the summer. The beat fishes at a range of heights and I am keen to increase the effort during the summer as I am certain we will produce fish.”



Photo courtesy of Atlantic Salmon Trust

Generally, Martin prefers medium water levels on the beat. During spring he actually prefers the water to be lower than other beats might. As a rule of thumb, he likes the gauge at Inchmarlo to be between 2’8” and 3’5”.

“We have some deep pools here and lower water helps us to fish the fly deep and slow in the cold water during February and March- I like the fly to fish as slowly as possible. We are really lucky to have a great variety of pools and there is always a good option to be found at most water heights. In high water, the tail of the Roe Pot is good from either bank. The old Fawn into Seatties from the Blackhall side is also a good cast. In low water, I am always confident of an offer in the tail of the Otter Stone or the Fawn from the Inchmarlo side. The Otter Stone is a favourite of mine and if have a spare half hour, it’s where I like to have a quick cast.”

Martin’s spring set up is either an intermediate head, paired with a long type 5 tip or a Skagit with T14 or T18. These help him present the fly deep and slow. He enjoys fishing large singles, in the usual patterns, Tosh, Willie Gunn and Monkey. In summer the tactics change and he adopts a much lighter set up and advocates a stealthy approach to the river.

“I like a long leader in the summer and I also like to fish at a longer distance to maintain as much distance as possible between me and the fish. As for flies, a silver stoat is as good as any.”


Top Tip: “Think about how you approach your pool. We can often ruin our chances before we start if we fail to remember our quarry is wild and wary.”

To book fishing or get in touch with Martin, check out Little Blackhall and Inchmarlo on FishDee




A Fly To Try This Month- Willie Gunn

The Willie Gunn is a much-loved fly on the Dee. In the article below, first published in Trout and Salmon magazine, I take a look at the origins of this amazing pattern.


Tag: oval gold or silver

Body: oval gold or silver rib over black floss/ flat gold tinsel

Wing: equal parts mixed black, orange and yellow

Head: Black or Red on gold bodied version


I have featured a number of patterns I know are close to our hearts as salmon fishers.  I am going to take a punt this month and contend that of all the flies of the past 50 years the Willie Gunn must be on most people’s short list of favourites.  I don’t mean the best fly, instead, I would argue that it is perhaps the best loved; the tens of thousands of salmon it has caught has helped the love, no doubt.  The Willie Gunn, it seems to me, transcends mere catch statistics and in my experience anglers have a fond regard for this pattern as one of the few constants in their ever changing fly boxes.  To me, the Willie Gun symbolises spring fishing in Scotland.  The beauty of the pattern is that varying the quantities of the colours can produce a fly that would be equally at home in the dark waters of Thurso and the crystal clear waters of the Dee.  It is highly versatile and can be fished as a tiny summer fly up to the biggest of tubes.

The original method for tying the wing is to blend the colours before tying them in.  I like to add it in separate layers, I think it looks better and I note from Stan Headley’s Flies of Scotland that this was Rob Wilson’s method of making the wing.  I also like to dress them long – for example, an inch and a half tube would have a dressing of about 3”.  The gold bodied Willie Gunn is a popular variant, it could well be more popular than the original dressing.  I tie this version with a red head, I also like flash in the wing.  It is quite a contrast to the standard dressing which is a more sombre offering.

As you know by now I like getting the story behind the patterns I feature so I was more than intrigued when Jim MacKenzie of Ayrshire got in touch with me to shed new light on the story of this great fly.

Willie Gunn was Jim’s uncle and it was Jim that produced the first flies that would give birth to a legend.  In March 1968 Jim was playing around with hairwing flies and had some shanks made for them.  Waddingtons were a bit pricey back then, so Jim and Archie Gilmour, a colleague from Reid Kerr College, produced some shanks of their own on Argonat welding wire.  Jim dressed some flies, with a blended wing of orange yellow and black and a silver rib.  These early versions of the fly, dressed on 1” and 1 ½” shanks, were passed onto Willie during a family visit to the Highlands and were soon catching fish.  Willie was down to the last few of Jim’s flies when he tied one on for the Duchess of Sutherland in the Madman Pool on the Brora and so he called Jim and asked if he could have them copied – and tied on heavier shanks or tubes – at Rob Wilson’s shop in Brora.

So there you go.  A different slant on things from Jim.  The most common version of the history of the Willie Gunn is that Dusty Miller, who tied for Rob Wilson in Brora, produced a number of hairwing tubes.  Dusty was either commissioned to produce hairwings including a Thunder and Lightning or, according to another story I have read, he had come up with a number of flies off his own back and produced them at the shop.  Both accounts tell us that one day Willie Gunn came into the shop, selected the ones that would carry his name and went off to the river and caught several springers. These stories are easily found online and the most interesting ones I have seen were written by Alexander Baird-Keachie, who spoke to both Rob Wilson and Dusty Miller in their later years. You can find these on the Salmon Fishing Forum.

This is the type of story that I particularly enjoy sharing with readers.  I am grateful to Jim for taking the time to get in touch; it has been something he has wanted to get into the open for many years.  I don’t know how or why Jim’s part in the story has been hidden from view, but I am more than happy to shine a light on it now.   I am sure it will stimulate plenty conjecture, but we love all that, don’t we? From Jim’s account, Willie Gunn had fished with the fly, which Jim had originally called Shona’s fly after his daughter before he famously collected Dusty Miller’s version from Rob Wilson’s shop.  Time waits for no one and sadly we no longer have Willie Gunn, Dusty Miller or Rob Wilson with us – we could have started a proper argument.







A Fly To Try This Month- The Tosh/Black and Yellow



One of the Dee’s most popular flies was born on the Spey and in this article, first published in Trout & Salmon, I look at the origins of this wonderful pattern. 


The dressing varies and going by the samples we have of Ned Ritchie’s originals, which were a plain long black wing, it is clear that the Tosh has changed over time and the addition of yellow hair on tubes and hackles on hooks is one such change, as is the use of a rib.

Body: black floss, optional oval silver rib, wire tag


Head: black


Body: bare or black floss (optional silver rib)

Wing: quartered black and yellow bucktail


The Tosh is one of the most warmly regarded salmon flies, probably because it is the embodiment of that the most deadly of colour pairings in salmon fishing- black and yellow.  I think it is fair to say that Ned Ritchie’s creation falls into the modern classic bracket along with the Hairy Mary, Stoat and Munros’ Killer; all flies that have spawned a great many modern variations.  Like the Willie Gunn, the Tosh is a spring favourite throughout Scotland and on rivers such as the Spey and the Dee it remains as popular as ever.

In my experience, most anglers are very fond of the Tosh, and its many variations. Just as Hoover became interchangeable with vacuum cleaner, the Tosh has achieved much the same level of brand awareness in relation to black and yellow salmon flies.  My pal Jim Coates father, Geoff, refers to any fly with black and yellow as a Tosh, or ‘kind of a Tosh’. The varieties are legion. There is a hairwing version, dressed on hooks, with a black wing and yellow hackle and many varieties of tube. Other more recent patterns such as The Monkey, that excellent fish catcher, has shades of the Tosh about it while Iain Wilson’s successful Posh Tosh adds some sparkle. There is also a version which is a small plastic tube dressed, sparsely, with the hair from the back of a yellow bucktail. This was much favoured on the Ness and Moriston and in some ways I think this is more in keeping with the original.

I spoke with Mark Melville, Head Ghillie at Delfur on the Spey to find out more about the fly. Delfur is one of the great salmon beats of the world and it was here that Mark’s predecessor Ned Ritchie first tied the Tosh. Ned was Head Ghillie at Delfur for many years. I can’t be exact, but between the late 1930s and 1960s. He also served in the Shanghai Police- which I am certain is a tale all of its own.  Ned has the distinction of landing Delfur’s record fish, which weighed 48lb and was taken from the famous Twa Stanes.

As I wrote previously with regard to the Hairy Mary, these are important examples of the early history of hairwing flies and are to be treasured. As you can see these are dressed on plastic tubes with a wing extending well beyond the hooks. The black hair came from Ned’s dog, Tosh. The patch of yellowish hair is unknown and came later as the fly was originally plain black. Tosh was a lurcher-collie cross; I imagine he was something to behold in full flight, but he wasn’t quick enough to avoid Ned’s scissors. I don’t know for certain why Ned decided to tie the Tosh; one of the anecdotes I picked up was that the idea to tie a fly with dog hair was inspired by a bet in the pub.

The first Tosh flies were unique and in the context of the late 1950s the long wing was a radical development, which has since proved to be of major significance. Other long wing patterns were emerging further north around the same time and I will return to this in a future column.

Ross Macdonald





Early Season Tactics With LTS’s Man on Deeside, Mark Paterson





I’ve always been a bit hesitant to write articles on how to be successful in catching early spring fish but there are a few fundamental tactics which have served me well and might just help increase your chances!

I work for LTS fly-fishing and we have a large selection of all different types of rods, reels and lines for different situations.

I take a range of rods with me in the early days of the season and choose what I want to fish with, depending on the conditions. I will for sure have my 14.6 #10 LTS Explosive doing most of the work. I often prefer longer rods with deeper actions, not for distance but to give me control of my cast and to be able to mend my line more easily. Having control over the speed of your line and how fast your fly swims is extremely important for success.

There are many pools on the Dee and how you choose the correct angle of your cast on the river, will do a lot of the work for you. On these pools, I love nothing more than fishing with my LTS 12.6 #8 Explosive. I can’t see past this rod and it goes everywhere with me. Powerful enough to punch out a long line, accurate and capable of dealing with any size of fish. A tip that has served me well if you want to fish shorter rods in the early season is to fish with is to use triple density shooting heads. This allows for a great progressive sink rate and provides a great action for the fly. I team these up with coated running lines rather than flat running lines. This allows you to have a little more control when mending your line. If you prefer the thin flat running lines try holding your rod up for a second before making the mend. Making the mend is important to allow you to change and vary the speed of the fly and presentation.

If I am using heavy sunk lines in bigger water,  the angle of the cast is really important. So instead of a squarer cast, I would be more likely to choose a 30 degree angle to allow the fly to fish immediately it hits the water.

Allow your fly to swim right into the bankside and don’t be too quick to just make another cast, let it hang there for a few seconds. I’m sure many of you have gone to make that cast and pulled the hook from a fish’s mouth. A rule of thumb for me is if you think it’s time to lift into another cast….leave it and hang the fly on “the dangle” and then make the cast.

Another good tip for bigger waters is to fish your double hook point upwards. This is because the fish will be more apt to take in the upper mouth in the softer part. The added bonus for this is that heavy sink tips and fishing deeper in heavy waters, your inverted double hook allows the hook to hit off obstacles without hanking up and losing your favourite and most productive fly.


Only cast within your ability and make sure everything lands straight and the fly is out front. Choosing the right angle to cast to is crucial. I want my fly to be swimming correctly as soon as it’s in the water. Incorrect angles might mean that your fly line has come halfway round the pool before it is swimming in the right manner.

I have three rods set up, firstly my 14’.6” LTS Explosive #10 – LTS 13.6 Across #8,9,10 & LTS 12.6 #8 Explosive. My lines will vary from a float with a fast or super-fast sink tip to a sink 1,2,3 for the deeper pools. Very rarely do we need to fish much deeper on the Dee. The beauty of fishing with the LTS Short Speedline in triple densities is the range and the Sink 1, 3 5 line that gives you that tapered and fine presentation.

Reel choice is also important. 2017 sees a great opportunity for our LTS range to hit the UK market. Our colour concept reels are now going to be complimented by our new Classic Thor and Odin reels. These reels offer a great traditional feel and superior drag that will fight any hard hitting Atlantic Salmon here in the UK, and throughout the world where.

I’m very particular to what flies I like to use. I’ll only use different weighted tube flies for the early part of the season and very rarely move away from a selection of black and yellows, perhaps with a hint of blue. I prefer lighter dressed flies with soft wings with very little flash. Far too many flies are over dressed and too gaudy for the Dee.

Always check your fly is swimming correctly, just because you like the look of the fly doesn’t mean it will swim well so test this in the water in front of you and make sure it’s not swimming at an angle that compromises the action of the fly. The Dee runs very clear in the spring months even when the river is higher and colour choice is also key. Matching the colours to that of the water and sticking to “traditional” tested colours such as yellows, oranges and black, will not disappoint. However, I have a ¼ of a century of experience on the Dee system as both a fisherman and a ghillie. One of the key things for fly choice for me is having a fly dressed sparsely so that the silhouette of the fly can be seen through the materials that form the main body of the fly. Heavy dressed flies for me are a “no-no”.

There is one thing to remember………….there are no hard and fast rules. The salmon chooses ultimately and the day I figure it out and “spoil” the mystery, is the day I stop fishing.


Mill of Dess Lodge Enjoys a Fantastic First Year



The inaugural year of The Mill of Dess Lodge has been an outstanding success by any yardstick. From a standing start, reservations kicked off with an Exclusive Use booking from a private group of rods from Dorset.
The Lodge hosted the Game 2016 event in which five Michelin-starred chefs from all over the world came to Lower Dess on a MacNab style expedition and then took the results of their endeavours back to Lyles restaurant in Shoreditch for a special dinner to celebrate the Scottish ingredients.
The residential Bridge Course proved a runaway success and is already almost fully booked for a repeat in September 2017. We were delighted to welcome a private grouse shooting party from Denmark who took the whole house and plan to return next year. We have also been pleased to welcome many guests from across Europe who have stayed in all manner of arrangements from B&B for a single night to a fully catered for a week.

A busy year has also included visits from the Scottish Field, Trout & Salmon magazine, the Countryside Alliance and George Goldsmith.
Next year, in addition to welcoming many new and returning sporting guests, The Mill of Dess Lodge will be the bridal “HQ” for a number of weddings taking place at both Coos Cathedral and Glen Tanar. We will also be hosting a residential painting course in late June hosted by the very well-known Carole Massey. Some spaces for this hugely popular course remain available.


There is also some prime fishing still available at Dess. Click here for more.

Antonia McKinley
Sales & Marketing Manager
Lower Dess Estate
01763 264249

A Fly To Try This Month- Stoat’s Tail

Stoat’s Tail- Cooper


Tail: golden pheasant crest

Tag: oval silver

Body: black floss with oval silver rib

Wing: black hair

Hackle: pinch of black cock or hen

Yellow Stoat


1/4″ – 1/2″ yellow electrical flex

Pinch of Stoat’s tail above and below


The Stoat’s Tail in its various guises is the quintessential hairwing salmon fly and is the pattern I think best embodies everything about summer fishing with a floating line and long leader.The Stoat is part of that generation of flies that includes the Hairy Mary and Tosh; these became the template for modern salmon flies marking the end of an era, characterised by featherwing flies, and the dawn of a new one. I have a real affinity for these simple hairwing flies- much of it is pure sentiment, but that is important in its own way too. I used to carry a box of these about with me as a child and have been captivated by their simple beauty for as long as I can remember. I know that sounds a bit corny, but there you go.

The Stoat, or‘the wee black flee’ as I have often heard it described here in Aberdeenshire, really comes into its own when the water warms up and the fish are more apt to come up for a small fly. In May and June, this classic style of fly fishing is at its best as anglers fish on warm evenings looking for late running springers and the first of the grilse and sea trout. The great angling writer Bill Currie captured this perfectly in the chapter ‘Deeside in May’ in his book the River Within. It is a marvellous and evocative piece of writing.

The most famous and ubiquitous variant is, of course, the Silver Stoat. In the same way, as the Godfather Part II is one of the few sequels to surpass the original, the Silver Stoat is arguably even more effective and certainly more popular than the Stoat itself.  The addition of small jungle cock cheeks makes it highly desirable to anglers and fish alike. With or without jungle cock the Silver Stoat is a workhorse pattern throughout the land; when the water drops and clears it takes its share of springers, summer  and autumn salmon, grilse and sea trout.  In this respect, the Silver Stoat is a pattern of great versatility and I doubt many of us leave home without one.

The Stoat is one of the finest examples of the modern hairwing style and is generally regarded to have been created at Park by the ghillie George Cooper. I must thank my pal Neil Stephenson for this information. Neil was speaking to a long time Spey and Dee angler Norman Mathieson and he relayed the story that George created the Stoat in the 1950s, but the credit went to Eric Parker, a Park regular. The fly was first tied on a plastic tube and fished almost exclusively in May and June. The Yellow Stoat, two pinches of black hair on yellow electric wire tubing- was a popular version in the 1960s and these became the most popular of the early summer flies at Park.

Today, Upper Drum and Lower Durris ghillie, Jim Paton remains a devotee of the Yellow Stoat and its is on one of his rods throughout the summer months. As a general rule, Jim prefers it as 1/4″ – 1/2″ tube. He has tried larger versions earlier in the year, without success. It is the small wispy tubes of July and August, which excites him. Jim first tried the fly when working at Park for Major Foster, who introduced him to the fly.

The hair should always be Stoat. There is no real reason why this should be so. It just is. The same goes for the yellow tubing. It has to be a pale yellow and, in a similar way to Stoat hair, if the colour isn’t right then it will play on the mind. Jim concedes, none of this makes a jot of difference to the fish. But if its not ‘just so’ the niggle it creates puts him off. So, while it is a very simple fly, it has to pass the ghillie’s test!


Jim Paton





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