A Book on Angling

Francis Francis; Longman, Green & Co. London 1867

Francis Francis was a Victorian editor of The Field, who had an enormous influence on contemporary fishermen and fly design.

On pages 361-2 he gives details of six salmon flies for the Don, recommended by Mr W. Brown, a tackle-maker of Aberdeen, who also tied flies for the Dee. Unfortunately the patterns are simply numbered No. 1 to No. 6, and the dressings given, but they are not illustrated. The illustrations shown below are from Spey Flies-how to tie them by Bob Veverka 2004, and are based on Mr Brown’s patterns.

Six salmon flies for the River Don

Donside by Alex I. McConnochie

W. Jolly & Sons, Aberdeen 1900.

The author describes the castles, houses and villages along the Don, from the mouth to the source, with line drawings of the castles and principal houses on the river. The book is mainly historical, dealing with the history of various estates, and reproduces nine ballads such as ‘The Bonnie Lass o’ Fintrae’ and ‘The Battle of Harlow’.


Picturesque Donside Alex McConnochis, published by W. J. Middleton of Aberdeen. Undated but thought to be circa 1910

A book containing 107 photographs of the houses, mills, and villages along the Don valley in Edwardian times. There are fine photographs of Parkhill house and Monymusk house (see below) showing their settings beside the river. Other photographs along the river show “The Don at Paradise” on page 51, the Place of Tilliefoure, Keig bridge, the Bridge of Alford, “The Don at Invermossat” and many donside country houses (such as Castle Newe, now demolished).

Parkhill House
Monymusk House

The Salmon Rivers and Lochs of Scotland

W.L. Calderwood Edward Arnold 1909

‘ The Don is an ideal trouting river, and should by nature be also a first-rate salmon river’ The Don is described on pages 120-126. The first four pages deal primarily with the severe pollution from the paper mills on the lower Don, sewage outlets and dykes which prevented the salmon from moving up river except in the highest spates. Netting was also a problem: in 1895 and 1899 over 5000 grilse were netted in July alone, and some years around 700 salmon on the opening day.


Forty Years of Trout and Salmon Fishing

Major J.L. Dickie; Heath Cranton Ltd., 1921

Major Dickie mainly described salmon fishing on the Dee, but in chapter 10 (pp. 94- 107) he describes catching three salmon at Fintray in October 1903, total weight 67 lbs, before his coachman drove him to Aberdeen in a trap. From September 9th to October 22nd 1903, the Major caught 12 salmon, whose aggregate weight was 240 lbs ‘and that fishing only on occasional days, and for a few hours’.


The Art of Fly Fishing

Lieut.-Col. Keith Rollo H.F. & C. Witherby 1931.

There are minor references to trout fishing on the Don on pages 41, 43, 45, 86, 108, 128, 149 & 191, and a photograph of the Forbes Arms Hotel and River Don at the Bridge of Alford on p. 192.

In the chapter on dry fly fishing he describes the theory of the Baigent’s Brown (see below for dressing) when the grannon is up on the Don ‘about the middle of May’. (p. 128). It refers to the use of two dry flies, placed 24inches apart, as recommended by Dr Baigent, and to the use of the “wry fly” i.e. mounting a wet fly on the point and a dry fly on the dropper.

This book was later published under the title Fly Fishing in 1943.


River to River

Stephen Gwynn. Country Life, 1937.

In ‘The Dee and the Don’ (chapter 10), pages 192 - 197 describe the Don, but no beats or pools are mentioned, and this book is of little interest to the Don fisherman. There is a somewhat poor illustration of ‘The Don at Castle Forbes’ which was presumably sketched from the high far bank of the upper Auchreddachie pool.


Dancing Streams in Many Lands

Sir Douglas McCraith. The Bramley Press 1946.

This delightful little book deals with fishing in Europe- Bavaria, Austria, Sweden, Finland and Co Galway in Ireland. However, in the last chapter he deals with his stay at the Forbes Arms at the Bridge of Alford in 1945 (sadly in receivership in 2011). He even mentions Mary Spence’s porridge which anyone who stayed at the Forbes Arms between the Second World War and the 1970s will remember, and describes the excellent photograph of Dr William Baigent tying one of his famous flies, which for many years hung in the hotel dining room.

Several famous fishing families stayed at the Forbes Arms regularly, such as Dr Coutts of Aberdeen, his son and grandson, the Bucklands from Wiltshire, and the Rix family from Kent. Many a teenager has written “my first salmon” in the game book in the Forbes Arms.

The author describes fishing with Sir Alan McLean at Littlewood, using two dry flies, a method popularised by Dr Baigent on the Don, and fishing a dry fly on the dropper and a wet fly on the tail.


Salmon Fishing, the Greased Line on the Dee, Don and Earn

Frederick Hill. Chapman and Hall 1948.

Greased-line fishing on the Don is described in chapter 10, pages 60-70. Mr Hill mentions a number of well-known pools such as The Chapel, The Wood Pool and The Sheep Pool on Kenmay; the Manse Pool at Fintray and the Glenton “a very famous pool”, the Nursery and the Deepstones on Castle Forbes. On page 68 there is a sketch of how to fish the top of Lower Auchreddachie( upstream from Keig Bridge) although the flow has changed since the 1960s.


Dictionary of Trout Flies

A. Courtney Williams. 1949.

The Baigent’s Brown is described and illustrated on page 81. This is the usual dressing as confirmed in the 1990s by Dr William Baigent’s late granddaughter:

BAIGENT’S BROWN

  • Hook: 10 –12
  • Body: thick yellow floss silk
  • Wings: woodcock or hen pheasant tail, tied forward of the hackle
  • Hackle: large dark furnace
  • Whisk: optional, as hackle

BAIGENT’S BLACK

  • Hook: 10 – 12
  • Body: black ostrich and peacock herl
  • Hackle: Black cock or coch-y-bondhu
  • Whisk: optional, as hackle

From a Countryman’s Diary

Col. Richard Agnew The Countryman Ltd undated but published around 1970, as the foreword is written by Dr A.R.B. Haldane (see below).

For many years Col. Agnew and his wife Hilda paid two annual visits to the Kildrummy Castle Hotel in May and September. This well-known Donside hotel is illustrated on p. 137. Sadly, when we visited in October 2010 the fishing record books had gone with a change in ownership, and the hotel no longer owns the fishing.

The same fate has befallen the Glenkindie Arms water which is no longer owned by that hotel, though it is now (2011) a fine restaurant.

In Col. Agnew’s book, chapter 16 is headed ‘Donside’, and describes the bird life along the river, curlew, oyster catcher, lapwing, dipper and heron. Chapter 17, ‘A Nineteen-pounder from the Don’ describes the catching of a large salmon by the author’s wife, and first appeared as an article in Trout and Salmon.

A short chapter (chapter 18) on fishing the Forester pools at Littlewood Park, is, I believe, one of the few mentions of the Littlewood beat in literature.

‘Fishing Anecdotes’ (chapter 21) has a pleasant sketch of a fisherman playing a fish by a small bridge in Strathdon, and contains a number of stories about fellow guests at the Kildrummy Arms Hotel, including “the Old Lady”. Mrs Agnew’s small but delightful drawings add to the attraction of this pleasing book.


By River, Stream and Loch

A.R.B. Haldane; David & Charles 1973 (usually avaliable from Abe Books)

This well-written book contains several chapters on the Don: ‘With a trout rod at Monymusk’ (chapter 2), ‘Springtime on the Upper Don’ (chapter 3) and ‘Dry fly above the Vale of Alford’ (chapter 15).

Haldane describes, in chapter 2, an elderly gentleman fishing for salmon on the opposite bank who turned out to be the then Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, (see below). Chamberlain was fishing at Castle Forbes, on the Glenton, during the crisis in Albania in April 1939. ‘He fished with a heavy rod, and great energy, putting into each cast an almost vicious cut as if knowing already that his fishing was soon to be interrupted by unwelcome tidings.’

In chapter 3 the author describes fishing at Cockbridge, Corgarff and Luib bridge, where he discovered that ‘good fish can be discovered in quite shallow water’. In chapter 15 the author quotes a distinguished angler who many years ago described the Don as ‘a first-rate trout stream somewhat spoiled by the presence of a certain number of salmon’(!). The chapter describes fishing for trout above the Vale of Alford, where the road has ‘diverged from the river’, so he must have been fishing Kildrummy or Brux.


Freshwater Fish of Britain, Ireland and Europe

Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix Pan Books 1985. (c. 30 available on Abe Books.)

This has a full-page photograph of the suspension bridge at Craig Pot on Beat 1 of Castle Forbes on page 26, and a full page photograph of a Brown trout from the Don on the facing page. The following page shows a beautifully marked trout parr, again from the Don. Page 35 shows a Don sea trout from Castle Forbes, and page 20 a river Don salmon parr. There is a lovely photograph entitled ‘A Salmon Pool on the River Don, Aberdeenshire on page 18 showing Craig Pot at Castle Forbes with Bennachie behind.

Another book by Roger Phillips & Martyn Rix, in The Pan Garden Plants series (Early Perennials, volume 1, first published in 1991) shows a lovely photograph of Geranium sylvaticum, also by the Suspension Bridge at Castle Forbes; the rough water in the front of the photograph is an excellent place for grilse, who come to a fly ‘skittered’ across the broken water in late summer.


In Search of Wild Trout

Nicholas Fitton; Ward Lock 1992. (usually avaliable from Abe Books)

After a chapter on the ‘wry-fly’ i.e. fishing with two flies, one wet and one dry, chapter 2 deals with fishing with two dry flies, which has been common Don practice since the days of Dr Baigent, or before. This chapter starts with a description of fishing with the twin dry fly at Culquoich. On pages 142 & 143 the author describes catching a spring trout of 1lb 5 oz in the ‘turbulent water ‘ of the Don, on a Baigent’s Brown, one of his favourite flies.

This is an excellent book on dry fly fishing.


The Neville Chamberlain’s Diary and Letters, vol. 4, The Downing Street Years, 1934 – 1940. Ashgate Publishing 2005.

Neville Chamberlain was a keen fisherman and there are references to the Don on pages 185 to 188, 244, 266 & 403 of this volume of letters to Chamberlain’s sisters Ida and Hilda. He writes that, unlike the Dee, the Don is a ‘first rate trout river’ and is clearly delighted to land a 2lb 14 oz trout on a dry fly whilst staying at Castle Forbes, having caught two salmon on the same beat the previous day. His letters show that Chamberlain fished at castle Forbes every April in the late 1930s except possibly 1938, although his visit in April 1939 was cut short by Mussolini’s attack on Albania.

It is strange today to imagine the Prime Minister spending an afternoon fishing the Don, ‘in his London clothes’, the day after Italy invaded Albania and five days before Parliament was recalled to hear his account of the invasion and his important announcement of British (and French) guarantees to Greece and Romania.


Dee and Don Inspiration

Michael Pegler. NGT Publishing, Aberdeen 2007

This book contains chapters on Kings and Queens, battles and castles, villages and villagers and tales and legends relating to the Don valley, and reproduces a number of traditional ballads and poems relating to the river Don, but is of little interest to the fisherman.


In the Shadow of Bennachie – a Field Archaeology of Donside, Aberdeenshire

published by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland in 2007.

Available c. £25 on Abe Books.

This contains a fine aerial view of Beats 1 and 5 on the Castle Forbes water at Keig near Alford, and one can clearly see the suspension bridge at Craig Pot, the Dam and the Deepstone pools, with the Glenton and Monymusk in the distance.

There are few photographs or maps of the Don in the book, although there is a good aerial view near Kenmay on p. 19, and on p. 235 there is another fine aerial view of the river at Glenkindie House.

This book is of little direct interest to the fisherman.


I go A-Fishing

J. Brunton Blaikie, Butler and Tanner Ltd. 1925.

This records Blaikie’s numerous adventures with salmon and trout in Great Britain and in Norway and becomes somewhat repetitive. Chapter 2 deals with his adventures on the Don, where he is regularly catching upwards of thirty trout per day and the complete chapter is reproduced below:


I go A-Fishing by J. Brunton Blaikie

Get Adobe Reader


Six months in Scotland: An American view of its salmon fishing

Nemes Sylvester. privately printing, Bozeman 1998

The author and his wife exchanged their house in Bozeman, Montana, for one near Aberdeen from August 1996 to February 1997. In late 1996, Nemes Sylvester fished the Don at Kintore, Parkhill and upstream of Bridge of Fintray.

His experiences on the Don are described in the second chapter of this easy to read book, on pages 11 to 22.

Following chapters deal with the Dee and the law of salmon fishing in Scotland. Later on in the book, Mr Sylvester reviews “The Salmon Rivers of Scotland” by Augustus Grimble and “The Salmon Rivers and Lochs of Scotland” by W. L. Calderwood (see above) in detail.

The front cover of this book shows a fisherman on Parkhill Water, and there is also a pleasant photograph of the Forbes Arms Hotel garden and the river at the Bridge Alford. The Forbes Arms Hotel has re-opened in 2011 under new ownership.


The Trout and Sea Trout Rivers of Scotland

Roderick Wilkinson, Swan Hill Press 1990 (£10 Abe Books)

The author, an experienced trout fisherman, guides the reader around the prime trout and sea trout river fisheries of Scotland. He described the Don on pages 51 to 56 where he calls it “the finest brown trout river in Scotland” and a “wonderful river”.

Particularly singled out for praise is the Monymusk fishing (tickets available from The Grant Arms Hotel in the village, 2011), which he described as “ten miles of a first-class river which has some of the finest trout fishing in Britain”. There are some good photographs in the book, but disappointedly none of the Don. The book contains a list of where to obtain permits, mostly unchanged in 2011, and at a modest price is worth buying.


The Haig Guide to Salmon Fishing in Scotland

Edited by David Barr, Queen Anne Press 1981

There are a few pages dealing with the Don (127 to 129). Several beats on the lower Don are described and successful flies. A 42 ½ salmon caught at Parkhill on 17 April 1978 is mentioned to illustrate that big fish can be caught on the Don. However the three pages on the Don do not justify the purchase of this book, which now appears somewhat dated.


Salmon Fishing, The Dynamics Approach

Francis T. Grant Swan Hill Press 1993

Francis Grant was brought up at Monymusk House on the banks of the Don, and his book contains several photographs of the Don at Monymusk. The author stresses the importance, in his view, of the precise control of both the speed of the fly and the path that is follows down of across the pool, by regular mending of the line : so that smaller flies move down over the fish more slowly than the current flowing past. He feels that this is more important that the size of the fly.

Mr Grant recommends carrying “at least two rods”, one rod perhaps set up with a sink tip and the other with a floating line. He advises always trying to fish (with a floating line) as the light fades in the evening, no matter how foul the weather during the day. In contrast, in autumn when fallen leaves get caught up on the fly at nearly every cast, he recommends using a larger fly which is then hard – lined back upstream and across the current : to present the salmon with a lure that is moving upstream in the opposite direction to the constant stream of leaves and other debris continually floating past downstream.

The book also contains a number of chapters on the Dee, where the author describes losing a significant number of fish – a rarity in fishing books! Perhaps these loses resulted from using small treble hooks with small tube flies?


Dry Fly Memories - Extracts from a Don Diary

John C.Walker ISBN 9781907640070 published 2011 by George Mann

John Walker's book could be entitled "Fifty years on the Don" as it is based on the extracts from his journals, kept during his fifty years of fishing on the river Don, from 1961 to date.

The early chapters will resonate with anyone whose teenage fishing was by bicycle. Then, just as things are threatening to get repetitive , on page 56 Mr Walker leaves the Don for a short visit to the Grosvenor Hotel in Stockbridge, where he fishes the Test with Mick Lunn, the former keeper at the Houghton Club. The book describes his visit to Hampshire with delightful enthusiasm. I was reminded of the passage in Chapter two of Lord Grey's wonderful book "Dry Fly Fishing" (1899) where he writes of his delight in leaving London for a few days fishing on the Test or Itchen.

This is, however, the first book dealing almost solely with dry-fly fishing on the Don for over forty years. Unlike many earlier books, which covered the middle and upper Don: Monymusk, Castle Forbes and Kildrummy, John Walker's fishing has been at Parkhill, Stoneywood and Kemnay, on the lower Don, and thus fills a gap in Don fishing literature.

Sadly, the postscript notes the serious decline in up-winged fly hatches from 2000 onwards. If there are few olives , the fly of the Don, the trout will not rise. It will be interesting to see if the decline is temporary -Mayfly hatches on the test all but disappeared a few years ago but are now as good as they ever were - or a permanent result of modern farming practices.

This is not a "how to catch them book", but a personal journal of someone who has fished for over fifty years the brown trout of the Aberdeenshire Don.

Page 65 showing two typical Don brown trout

Tweed and Don

James Locke. William P Nimmo 1860.

Despite the title of this early book, only twenty five of the one hundred and fifty two pages relate to the Don. When the author first fished the Don [ in 1835] the usual way of getting from London to the banks of the Don was by steamer or ”smack”! The cost of this book does not justify its purchase, and so we reproduce below pages 96 to 105 which cover Monymusk, Kemnay, Monar, Inverury, Kintore and Parkhill.

T>Tweed and Don


Salmon and Trout Rivers served by the London and North Eastern Railway. £6 - £10 abebooks.

Jock Scott. Chorley and Pickersgill Ltd 1937.

This book , nicely illustrated with monochrome photographs such as the one shown below, has a comprehensive list of fishing available in the 1930s from a nearby railway station, together with a list of hotels in L.N.E.R. territory at which fishing was available to residents. The pages which relate to the Don appear below.

Tickets to fish at Kintore were five shillings [ 25p ] per week, apparently available from the Station – Master at Kintore station.

There are two good fold-out maps of salmon and trout fisheries, both in England and Scotland, on the L.N.E.R. with the nearest station shown.

The author is correct when he writes that “The Don is a river which every trout angler should visit at least once in his career. “

These are the books we have reviewed so far.

Do you know any other books which contain significant references to fly fishing on the River Don ?