The River Tay, situated right in the geographic centre of Scotland, is the largest river in Britain. Two of its branches, the Dochart and the Tummel rise only miles from the the heads of lochs Fyne and Etive on Scotland's west coast and travel over 100 miles to empty into the North Sea at Dundee on Scotland's east coast. The river and its many large tributaries drain an area of 3,000 square miles giving an average flow of about 200 cubic metres per second, the greatest flow of any river in the country.
The river runs through very varied country. The various headwaters rise in the Grampian Mountains and the spectacular and wild Western Highlands, but by the time the Tay reaches the estuary at Perth the country is gently rolling fertile farmland. There are many large lochs in the catchment, some of which have been harnessed to produce electricity. This helps to regulate the flow in the Tay, dampening out big floods but maintaining a sufficient flow to allow salmon to enter the river even in the worst droughts.
Salmon fishing on the Tay
The Tay is perhaps the most famous salmon river in the British Isles. Until recently catches were higher than any other river. In the past many of the salmon entering the Tay were caught by nets. In 1969 for example over 90,000 salmon were netted from the river. However, in 1997 the last of the commercial nets were bought out by the Tay Foundation for conservation purposes and have been closed down. Angling has long been popular on the Tay and it was famed for producing big salmon. No other river in Scotland could equal it. The British record salmon of 64lbs was caught on the Glendelvine beat by Miss Georgina Ballantine in 1922 and many other fish over 40lbs have been caught.
Nowadays such fish are very rare but many more fish return as grilse than was the case in those days. Within the last decade rod catches have twice exceeded 14,000 and the record catch of over 15,000 was made only in 1989. No other British river has ever been able to boast such productivity. It is perhaps a little unfair however to ascribe all the glory to the Tay, but in fact many of the fish caught are actually landed in its many tributaries like the Isla, Tummel, Lyon, Dochart and Earn, all fine salmon rivers in their own right.
On the River Tay, as in all other rivers in Scotland, the rights to fish for salmon are privately owned by numerous owners and fishing can be obtained by purchasing a permit from an owner to fish his or her particular stretch. On most rivers in Scotland if two different owners own the opposite banks of the river the anglers on each beat will therefore fish opposite each other, but a different custom has arisen on the lower and middle Tay.
The British record salmon of 64lbs was caught on the Tay by Miss Georgina Ballantine in 1922
Since a boat needs the whole width of the river to operate properly, owners have made agreements with each other to share the water in such a way as allows anglers access to both banks. This might mean that one owner will only have the water for half the week or more commonly that the beat will be split into two and that the respective owners' tenants will rotate between the two sub-beats day about. Many Tay anglers find this a better arrangement than is normally the case in Scotland as your fishing party will always command both banks of the river.
Management of the river
The river is managed by the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board, a statutory authority whose members include fishery owners, anglers and ghillies representatives. The Tay Foundation, the Tay Ghillies Association and the River Earn Improvement Assocaition are also highly active voluntary organisations committed to the conservation and improvement of fish stocks in the district.