River Don

The River Don is renowned for the quality of it’s wild brown trout

Overview

The River Don is renowned for the quality of it’s wild brown trout, with trophy fish being landed each season. Salmon and sea trout are also taken on all our Don beats.

Beat Maps

  • South bank from pipe that crosses river above Persley Bridge downstream to start of Cruives beat. Access from Persley Walled Garden Car Park.

 

Lower Parkhill, which is from the road bridge down was bought by the Association in the seventies. Perhaps, due to it being a relative newcomer, there is a bit of dubiety about pool names, indeed some of the pools that produce fish don’t seem to be named at all. As before I will wander down the beat on the South bank describing the pools as I come to them. If I give them the wrong name, I apologise.

(note- for descriptions of fish, salmon, brown trout, and sea trout fishing tips, and insect and aquatic life please see Upper Parkhill Beat Summary).

Bridge

A short, streamy pool, which I personally haven’t caught much from over the years. I haven’t heard of anyone fishing here with any degree of success either. The few fish I have had have been from beside the stones over towards the North bank about halfway down the pool.

Pipe bridge pool

Also known as the Asda car park pool, this is another long slow pool requiring a bit of water to do it justice and give it some life. Fish lie up at the neck, tight in towards the North bank and since wading is not really an option here, they can prove difficult to cover effectively from the South bank. Further down beside the car park itself there are a few lies and fish can be caught from here down to the tail. This is a pool that would benefit from the planting of some trees and bushes along the top of the bank. Due to its location and the fact that the path is on the top of a high bank, I think that the fish are probably disturbed by the multitude of dog walkers and joggers.

Ary Burn

I’m not entirely sure why this pool is named after the burn, as the burn actually comes in half way down the Pipe bridge pool. Aside from that, it is without a doubt the best producing pool of lower Parkhill. This is a classic pool, a broad stream, developing into a deeper pool with a well defined tail. It fishes best in a medium water, but like all good pools, fish can be caught at most heights. There are no particular hotspots, with fish liable to take from your first to your last cast. It is an attractive pool to fish the fly on, but bear in mind that there is busy public path well within reach of your back cast.

Caroline’s Pot

I don’t know who Caroline was I’m afraid, hopefully she had more success from this pool than me though. This looks like another certainty for a low water. As far as I am concerned though, she flatters to deceive. I have had a few fish from here over the years, but never as many as the look of the water promised. A lovely little streamy pool, which for one reason or another has never been particularly generous. Last year the other bank made some alterations, strengthening their bank with stones from the river, so hopefully this will make the pool more attractive to salmon. There are some excellent brownies in this pool, I have had two of over 4 lb and both were returned, so they should still be there! Although I wouldn’t describe it as a sea trout hotspot, I have had a few, also from the streamy water above.

Pigs Fence

I have also heard this pool called the otter stone, which draws an altogether prettier picture than Pigs fence. Despite the name, this can be a very good pool, fishing best in a lowish water. The fish lie from right up in the stream down to the sign on the South bank. The lower lie is often a good taking place, just as your bait swings round out of the stones on the North side. Fish also lie right down at the tail from time to time, other than right on the lip there is very little draw to the water though. I would also credit this pool as being one of the beat hotspots as far as sea trout are concerned, I have caught them at both the neck and the tail. If you have come down this far you may as well fish out the beat, which is just a matter of another fifty yards of attractive streamy water. This stream is not just an ‘also ran’, it is a fine last cast and has proved to be a day saver for me on more than one occasion. The best lie is probably the one right on the limit of the beat opposite the burn, your last cast! I’m sure you will have gathered as you accompanied me on my walk down through the Upper and Lower Parkhill beats that my passion lays in the direction of salmon fishing. I hope, though, that I have managed to provide some food for thought for anglers whose main interest are the trout, either brownies or sea trout.

Dun Cow

So named, because if you look at the big stone on the North bank from certain angles, it looks like a dun cow. Not an easy pool to fish from the South bank as the current all runs down the North side. I’m afraid this is another pool that is not very productive, although going back through the records for the other side, it apparently used to produce large fish consistently. This pool deepens and widens out into a big dead stretch, this may well be worth trying in a big water. The lower half of the pool is also one of the stretches where good trout can be seen rising consistently. Apart from the fishing, some of my most memorable moments on these beats have been watching the wildlife. Among other things, I have seen five different otters on the beat in one evening, one of which I watched running around on the grass park at lower Parkhill under the street lights at midnight. On another evenings sea trout fishing I saw two badgers playing and a fox with her cub within five minutes of each other. The osprey out fishing is now quite a common sight on Upper Parkhill and I know of at least one kingfisher’s nest site. The sight of a weasel hunting along the banks of Cockers or watching a barn owl flapping silently up under the bridge, all of these things turn a good outing into a magical one. We, as association members, should feel lucky indeed to have unlimited access to what is undoubtedly some of the finest fishing in Scotland.

The majority of the above was compiled by John and Ian S. Fyfe (deceased) whose words reflect why we all enjoy this sport so much.

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Salmon

Here we are indeed fortunate, having salmon, brown trout and sea trout. In the early part of the season, say from February to May, this area of the river has not been very productive in the past decade, although a small number of ‘Springers’ are caught every year, along with numerous kelts, which of course must be carefully returned. Most of the early clean fish seem to travel quickly upstream, (given adequate water levels), to the middle river between Kintore and Alford. With moderate river flows, (say around or above 2.4 metres on the SEPA gauging station at Haughton Farm, Inverurie), the first grilse and summer salmon usually start to appear in the beat during June and July. River level information can be obtained on the SEPA website.

As the year progresses, again dependant on suitable water levels, salmon numbers normally increase to their maximum by September and October. by that time a considerable proportion of the fish are coloured, and should be returned. Summer grilse are typically 3 to 5 lbs., later, grilse and salmon average around 7 to 12 lbs., with a number being caught each year in the range 15 to 22 lbs.

Brown Trout

The trout are of course present throughout the year, our season start date being the 1st April. (‘All Fool’s Day’, — does this tell us something about anglers?) For many years there has been a policy of carrying out a single stocking per annum of good quality trout (no rainbows) average size 1 lb.,some time prior to opening day, this practice continues. There is a good stock of beautiful wild hard fighting fish throughout both beats, wild fish average just under 1 lb., trout up to 2 lb. are not uncommon, some in the river being well in excess of that size Almost every year there are a number of large trout caught, over 5 lbs, usually by salmon anglers, whilst spinning a lure.

Sea Trout

Late Spring Summer (continued) From mid April onwards, fly fishing can be the most satisfying method, my own preference is to use a floating line linked to an intermediate polyleader, this prevents the fly skating across the surface of the water. Try to be on the river when the water is dropping and clearing following a rise in level, and in the case of fly fishing, concentrate on the faster streams and runs at the necks and tails of pools. Autumn. (September/August ) Normally this is the time of year when you have your best chance of hooking a salmon, given reasonable water levels all the larger pools will hold fish. In high water, the main bodies and tails of all the pools are good holding areas. Similar spinning lures to that used in the early spring are suitable, but include some Flying ‘Cs.’ with red or yellow bodies. Fly fishing can also be successful, in low water the Silver Stoat’s Tail is very good, in higher or coloured water conditions, the Ally’s Shrimps and Garry Dog excel. There are many coloured fish around at this time, please return them carefully by supporting them in the water flow until they recover.

The return to the river during recent times is a most welcome situation, this has been brought about largely due to the improvement in water quality in the lower reaches during the last few decades. Thirty to forty years ago there were few if any sea trout running the Don. At that time the river within the boundaries of the City of Aberdeen was heavily polluted by poorly controlled discharges of industrial effluent, mainly from paper mills and similar premises. Indeed, during warm summer periods the stench arising from the river around the Bridge of Balgownie and Bridge of Don was nauseating. When observing the river in that area at the time, one would often observe great boils in the water where the gas produced by the anaerobic decomposition of wood pulp erupted from the river bed, the smell of ‘rotten eggs’ was everywhere: – the sea trout needed a cleaner environment in order to prosper! Returning to the present, the sea trout usually first show up in the beat in mid/ late May, provided water levels are not low, ( 2.3 metres on the SEPA gauging station at Inverurie is sufficient.) fresh fish usually continue to enter the beat until late July. Unlike the other local rivers, finnock do not seem to run far up the Don, and few are caught in this stretch.The quality of the fishing varies considerably from year to year, sometimes good, sometimes poor. A typical fish will be around 2 to 3 lbs., the best will be 5 to 8 lbs., but these are not all that common. The largest sea trout reported in 2003, (returned), was estimated to be in excess of 10 lbs.

SALMON FISHING

Early Spring. (February to April). Salmon fishing, certainly from February until late March, is not normally for the faint hearted in terms of either personal comfort or likely success, if you like a challenge, this is for you! Small numbers of clean fish are always caught during this period, mainly whilst spinning the slower parts of the larger pools, such as Cockers, Goval, Aryburn and Boat Pools. Lures should be fished deeply and slowly, since salmon are not very active in low water temperatures. Suitable Lures. Wooden devon minnows. (yellow belly and brown and gold) Flying ‘C’. (silver and black) Toby and Blair Spoons. (silver or gold) Late Spring /Summer. (April to September) As the water temperature rises, through April to May, the same spinning lures as are used in the early spring, but in smaller sizes, are satisfactory. The lures, however, should be fished somewhat faster and nearer the surface, in the case of the Flying ‘C’, cast at 90 degrees to the bank, or even slightly upstream.

SALMON FLY SIZE

Choosing the most suitable size of fly can be a problem, especially for the novice angler, in broad terms however, when the water is high and/or cold a larger size is used, when the water is low and/or warm, a smaller size is required.

Suitable Salmon Flies

Stoat’s Tail Best in low water conditions Silver Stoat’s Tail Best in low water conditions

TROUT FISHING

At the beginning of April there is likely to be little in the way of fly life on the surface, I suggest fly fishing with an intermediate line, 4 lb cast, and one or more of the following flies, size 12 to size 14 : – Partridge and Orange, Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tail Nymph, Olive Nymph and Shrimp Fly. During mid – April and into May there will be hatches of March Brown duns and Large Dark Olive duns, usually for a few hours around noon. Expect to see these duns below areas of fast shallow streams and runs. If duns are being taken by the trout, use a floating line, leader tapered to 3 or 4 lb, and a suitable dry fly to imitate the insect on the water. (March Brown duns are often ignored, while the trout concentrate almost exclusively on olives.) Before and after the hatch, consider fishing wet flies or nymphs as previously described.

As the year moves on through June, July and August you can expect to see other up winged flies on the water, the majority of the duns are generally of an olive hue, but the sizes vary, most being considerably smaller than the Large Dark Olive of springtime. The various species of spent flies, (spinners), all have clear transparent wings, but body colours vary, russet – brown, amber, red, and in the case of the Blue Winged Olive, a shade of orange. In May and June you may see a bright yellow up winged fly on the water, the Yellow May dun, ignore it! ,

In mid—late summer, fly hatches and fall of spinners as they deposit their eggs, tends to occur in the evening, ‘sipping’ rises are usually by trout sucking in spinners, dry flies such Pheasant Tail, Red Spinner and Sherry Spinner with wings tied ‘spent’ are useful. (Spinners lie in, or flat on, the water surface film, and are not easily seen.) Late on warm summer evenings sedge flies are often about, skittering across the surface and attract slashing rises, a buoyant sedge imitation may be effective. August is often a difficult month, but trout activity usually picks up in September, and can be excellent.

SEA TROUT FISHING

Hooking and playing a 3 to 4 lb sea trout whilst using a small fly and a 9 or 10 foot rod, is arguably more exhilarating than playing a typical 15 to 20 lb salmon on a 15 foot fly rod. Any time after mid May, especially if there is a rise in water level, sea trout may be present. Fishing is usually at it’s best as the water level drops, during daytime the streams and necks of pools are likely to be the most productive areas, leave the slow tails and main bodies of the pools until darkness falls. Fish are caught regularly by anglers using size 14 and size 12 standard trout wet flies and nymphs, and occasionally on dry flies, however, flies with some ‘flash’ such as Cinnamon and Gold, Butcher and Silver Spider are perhaps more successful, when it is truly dark increase your fly size to 10, 8, or ever larger. If you prefer spinning, try casting a small Mepp’s Spoon or 10 gram Flying ‘C’ up and across the streamy runs and retrieve quickly, this often results in a savage take. By mid August/ September, almost all the sea trout are beginning to colour up and should be returned. (remember, spinning is not permitted between sunset and sunrise.)

INSECT AND AQUATIC LIFE.

A brief list of some insects, etc. which are found on the river, and are of interest to anglers, is given below. To view more images of most of these insects, and to learn about their life cycle, log on to www.first-nature.com then click on ‘Insects’.

Large dark olive –Probably the most important of all the early insects of interest to the trout fisherman Up winged Flies Name Time of Year March Brown April/May Large Dark Olive April/May Yellow May May to July Olive Upright May to July Iron Blue May to September Pale Watery May to September Medium Olive June/July Blue-winged Olive June to August.

Flat Winged Flies Name Time of Year Hawthorn fly May/June Reed Smuts May to September Daddy-long-legs July to September Sedge Flies Grannom Sedge Fly A small sedge fly which is perhaps the earliest to appear, usually in April/May. Sedge Flies Name Time of Year Grannom April/May Others (Many) June to September Hawthorn Fly , A terrestrial insect which is easily identified and which often ends up on the water, although in small numbers Large stonefly , occasionally found on the water, from April to late June Stoneflies Name Time of Year Large Stonefly April to July Yellow Sally April to August Crustaceans Name Time of Year Freshwater Shrimp All year round

Association-Parkhill Summary Freshwater shrimp. Spends its whole life near the bed of the river:- an important food item for trout

Parkhill Pools

Top Streams

This isn’t really a defined pool, more a series of runs and glides. When I started fishing as a child I was told by one of the “auld mannies” that the proper name for this stretch is the Split Stone Stream. If you look at the bottom of the pathway down from the car park there is a big stone on the bank which has been split. Apparently a stone mason split the stone a long time ago just to show how easily it could be done! The Streams fish best in a low to medium water, the most productive area being the 50 yards on either side of the split stone. Throughout the length of the Streams there are little pockets and holes, all of which produce fish. Having said that the Streams fish best in a low to medium water it was in a big spring water that the forty two pounder was caught up in the bay in front of the hut. The Streams is one of the top producers of sea trout in the summer months and there was also a seven pound brownie caught here a few seasons ago. 

Cothal Pool

The Cothal takes its name from the big house on the north bank which used to be a mill. A nice stream at the neck flowing into a big deep dub which tapers off into a nice glide at the tail of the pool. The neck of the pool fishes best in a medium height, whereas the tail is one of the best high water lies on the beat. Once you see the tail of the Cothal in a big water and look downstream at the rough water that the fish have to push through to get there, and it is easy to see why it would make an attractive stopping point. It wouldn’t be right to leave the Cothal without mentioning Jock Freeland, who spent more time with a bent rod on this pool than anyone else I know. It used to be said that Jock had first refusal on any fish that came into the Cothal.

Fae me Well

A lovely name, I’m sure you will agree, and a more picturesque and sheltered pool it would be hard to find. This used to be one of the best pools in Parkhill with an excellent neck and superb tail. Since alterations were made a few years ago, narrowing the neck resulting in silting up of the tail, it hasn’t produced anywhere near the number of fish as before the ‘improvements’. It is still worth a cast up at the neck in very low water. In a big water the tail looks the part, but doesn’t seem to produce fish any more. The middle of the pool never has been any good. It isn’t all doom and gloom for this lovely pool though, it was only three seasons ago that a sea trout of nine pounds was taken up in the neck and the brownies still give great sport on the dry fly in the spring.

The Glebe

This pool takes its name from the house set up on the South bank and fishes best in a medium water. The best taking lies are from the first willow tree on the South bank down to the willow tree on the North bank, and the fish lie from the middle to over towards the North bank. Then, down at the tail, from the big stone in the water at the North bank right down to the lip. Again, this is a good pool for the dry fly in the spring time.

Cockers

I’m afraid I have no idea where this pool earned its name, what I can tell you is that it is without a doubt the best high water pool on the beat, and quite possibly on the Don. This is the pool mentioned earlier as having produced more than twenty springers in one day, and it was during a big water. One of the reasons it is such a good pool in big water is its length, a long pool that must stretch for nigh on five hundred yards. If you catch this pool in ply, it needs at least two feet to give a good flow from top to tail, then you can literally catch fish from your first cast up towards the neck right to the last cast at the tail. Generally the tail end seems to give the best sport in a high water. One of the best taking spots being directly in front of the bottom hut. As would be expected, the stream up at the neck gives the best sport when the water drops back. Cockers is always the first place to offer the chance of a fish when the water starts to drop back after being unfishable and I have seen times when there are literally hundreds of fish in the pool at any one time. Cockers was also the pool that my father, Ian Fyfe, had a thirty two pounder from in 2002. From here down it is a fairly lengthy stroll down to the next salmon pool of distinction, the Goval. However, this stroll takes you through what is unquestionably the cream of the brown trout fishing, particularly to the dry fly. In recent years the spring time hatches and resultant rises have been nothing short of wonderful. In reasonably skillful hands, a fly rod coupled with either a dry Greenwell or March brown can catch half a dozen or more brownies on most days in the late spring. Mid April to mid May seeing the best of the sport. While a number of these may be stockies, there is still a good amount of wild brownies to test your skill. Throughout the season you will continue to get trout rising in this section, with the trout starting to feed hard again around September in preparation for the winter months. While the fly life and rises remain scratchy on the rest of the Don, the area from the tail of Cockers right down to the House pool below Parkhill bridge continues to show the Don’s potential in all her former glory. Quite why this stretch produces good hatches of Olives and March browns while the rest of the Don appears practically barren is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps some of the entomologists out there could shed some light on the matter through our forum. been the same fish. The longer you fish, the less you realise you actually know about salmon.

Goval

Once again this is not a defined pool, more of a long glide. The productive water starts up at the burn, which the pool takes its name from, right down to the old railway bridge. Although this is predominantly a backend pool, there have been a significant number of opening day springers caught here. The pool fishes best in a medium water, when there is enough flow to give the bait a bit of life and normally fish don’t lie here in a big water. It is always worth a look off of the bridge in the right conditions, in the backend I have counted up to ten fish visible, above and below the bridge. It’s always interesting to watch the reaction of the fish while someone fishes over them. On one occasion I watched a salmon take my father’s minnow, the salmon was played for a few minutes before falling off. The salmon then swam straight back to its original lie, hastened no doubt by the chorus of curses following its departure. What happened next was the surprising part. Once my father had regained his composure, I told him that the salmon had returned to the same lie and asked him to cast over it again. I was interested to see whether the salmon would ignore the minnow or take off downstream in terror. The salmon obviously had other ideas and was making no mistakes this time, the bait never got within six feet of the fish before being engulfed. It was hooked right in the back of the throat. If I hadn’t witnessed the whole thing, I would not have believed it could have.

The majority of the above was compiled by John and Ian S. Fyfe (deceased) whose words reflect why we all enjoy this sport so much.

The insect and aquatic life section was compiled by Alec Paterson, long term Management Committee Member.

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The Beat

Kemnay water was purchased by the Association within the last ten years and is very much in its infancy as one of the Association beats. This is definitely a beat that fishes best for salmon in a big water. Much of the water is quite sluggish and not very many of the pools are what is imagined when thinking of classic salmon water. When the water is up by a foot or so though, the beat adopts a totally new character and most of the pools assume a distinctly ‘fishy’ look.

This is our one beat on the Don where truly wild brownies can be caught, my personal best from Kemnay was a 4 ¾ lb trout taken on a dry Greenwell spider, and I have had a good number over 2 lb. Normally it is the second half of April and the start of May that gives you the best chance with the brownies. Summer evening rises, although not as prolific as they once were, are still worth visiting Kemnay for. I have never done particularly well at Kemnay for seatrout, either the beat simply does not suit them, or perhaps more likely, the bulk of the seatrout run does not go any further than the Urie, which joins the Don a few miles downstream.

The upper part of the beat is very easy going, with a public footpath running alongside the river down to the Academy above the School pool. Although you will see a few folk out taking a walk, it is by no means busy. The lower half of the beat is more secluded, but be warned, from the bottom end of the lower Chapel the going can be quite tough owing to the boggy nature of the banks.

Bridge pool

The beat starts up at the bridge within the village itself and unsurprisingly this pool is named the Bridge pool. It is a long pool and fish lie mainly from the bridge itself down to around the bend where there is a big alder tree on the South bank. There is a definite lie up towards the bridge, another one down where the path meets the river from the high bank, just in front of an old Gean tree and again down on the bend itself. I have been told by fishermen that fished herein days gone by that this was often a

pool to produce big fish from this bottom lie, right in front of the Alder tree. The bottom section of the pool can give excellent sport with the dry fly, but I have never had much success for salmon down here.

The Dooker

From here, walking down stream you come to a small island with a bonny stream running down the side which progresses down into the next pool. It was from this stream that I had the big trout I mentioned earlier and it was feeding in water no deeper than a foot, sipping in olives, giving every appearance of your normal ¾ lb brownie. He was returned, so hopefully he may be back on station next spring, sipping in the olives. The pool that this stream runs into is generally known as the Dooker, as there is a sandy bay down beyond the middle of the pool where the kids go ‘dooking’ or swimming in the summer. The pool itself is fairly shallow until taking a bend just above this sandy bay and the upper half is not much good for salmon. There are some super trout that rise, particularly over towards the North bank, which is lined with mature elm trees in the upper part of the pool. It is the lower half that is of interest to the salmon fisher. Like most of the beat it fishes best when the water is up by a foot or so. There is a distinct ridge of rock right out from the sandy bay, the main salmon lie is directly above this, although I have caught them right down onto the tail.

The Island

Immediately below the Dooker you come to an attractive, streamy little pool, one of the few places that looks good in a low water on the Kemnay beat. Although it looks like an ideal place for a salmon to stop during periods of low water, I have yet to land one from here. I have heard of the odd one being taken though. Again there are some cracking brownies in here. From here down, for a few hundred yards, the water is streamy, but fairly shallow.

The School

Kemnay academy sits more or less at the top of the bank from this little pool, which isn’t really much more than a few casts worth. I feel I should cover it though as I have had a degree of success here when the fish are running. It has all the hallmarks of one of those gliding tails that fish are liable to take a breather in after negotiating section of rough water, which is immediately below it. Once the water drops though, it’s not really worth the effort. Between here and the next pool, the Upper Chapel, is that section of rough water I mentioned. I have had trout to 3 lb from the back of the island here on the weighted nymph fish Czech style. A method particularly suited here.

Upper Chapel

This pool obviously takes its name from the old ruined chapel down on the North bank at the tail of the pool. There is a nice streamy neck to this pool which is unfortunately a bit on the shallow side. There are fish caught here though, the best of the lies at the neck are from the gate on the opposite bank down to the Alder trees opposite the sewage outflow. Yes, I’m afraid there is a sewage plant up off of our bank, don’t let this put you off of visiting the lower part of the beat though as it is totally unobtrusive as far as the fishing is concerned. There are times when the lower half of the pool fishes well too, but once again you need the extra water to provide decent flow. The lower part of the pool is definitely one of the places to head for when the trout are rising as well, especially in amongst the big boulders.

Lower Chapel

I have also heard this pool called the Dam, as it used to be dammed at the bottom with a lade directed down past the old mill at the limit of the beat. This is probably the most productive pool, I recall speaking to the previous owners husband who told me that he once had a thirty pounder from here. This is another long dead pool when there is no water. There is a huge stone half way down the pool and when the water is just lipping over the top of this stone is when this pool generally fishes best. The place to concentrate on is from just above this stone down to the tail. There are occasional fish caught up in the neck, but the bottom is the better half. It is worth fishing right down to the narrow gut just as the water spills over what remains of the dam as it is fairly deep. I have had a few fish right down here.

This brings us to the last few hundred yards of the beat, which, although it is not suitable for salmon, holds some tremendous trout. A mixture of strong streamy water and riffles, it is perfectly suited to fishing the nymph Czech style. This is water to rival any other trout stream on the Don, particularly when you consider that none of these ones have been stocked.

 

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