Salmon Festival launches in Inverness

THOUSANDS of people are expected to attend Scotland's Salmon Festival in Inverness this week.

Salmon fishing on the River Carron in Wester Ross. Picture: Ian Rutherford/TSPL
Salmon fishing on the River Carron in Wester Ross. Picture: Ian Rutherford/TSPL

The biennial event runs from Tuesday to Saturday and celebrates the Atlantic salmon and its importance to Scotland, economically, culturally and historically.

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This year’s festival is bigger and better than ever, with events including a film night, international science conference, public lectures, speycasting tournament and family fair.

The festival has been designed to be as accessible to the public as possible, with the family fair in Bught Park on Friday and Saturday including cookery demonstrations by top chefs, local food and craft exhibitors, children’s activities, plus information stands for people to find out more about the Atlantic salmon, which not only plays a vital role in our rivers, is a huge contributor to the economy as a food product, international export and visitor attraction.

It’s also an opportunity for the public to learn about the cutting-edge research happening in the Highlands and the role the Inverness College UHI Rivers and Lochs Institute plays in informing the conservation and management of Atlantic salmon and freshwater biodiversity.

Dr Melanie Smith, chair of Scotland’s Salmon Festival steering group and Head of Research Development at Inverness College UHI, said: “The whole festival is aimed at building greater awareness of the Atlantic salmon, its life cycle, cultural and economic importance to Scotland and the pressures it currently faces. With the increasing numbers of non-native pink salmon in local rivers, our conference will also highlight the need to investigate the potential challenge this presents for the native Atlantic salmon.

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“The festival recognises the importance of protecting and enhancing our wild salmon, together with the benefits that an environmentally sustainable and competitive salmon farming industry can bring to Scotland.

“The challenge is minimising the impacts of this industry in a way that ensures wild and farmed salmon can co-exist. It’s important we all work together in the spirit of partnership and mutual trust and our intention is the festival will further encourage co-operation between scientists, the farming industry, government and wild fisheries sector.”

The festival’s extensive programme includes a film night at Eden Court Theatre from 7pm to 10pm on Tuesday, featuring a series of short films about the fish’s influence in Scotland. Highlights include ‘Atlantic Salmon – Lost at Sea,’ a film by Deirdre Brennan, and ‘To The Journey’s End – The Life Cycle of the Atlantic Salmon’ by Bernard Martin, which documents the desperate voyage of the Atlantic salmon from ocean to river and back again.

Wednesday sees the official start of the festival with a two-day international science conference at Inverness College UHI. The conference theme is ‘Atlantic Salmon Marine Ecology – Knowns and Unknowns’ and is aimed at students, scholars and policy makers and is expected to attract more than 100 delegates, who will hear from industry speakers providing an academic insight into the iconic species.

Highlights include a talk by Professor Eric Verspoor, director of the Inverness College UHI Rivers and Lochs Institute, who will speak about non-native pink salmon in a paper entitled ‘Evil invaders or welcome immigrants: Pink salmon in Scotland and Western Europe.’

The conference will be followed by an evening of public lectures at Inverness College UHI on Thursday, from 7pm to 9pm, themed around the natural history of the Atlantic salmon and the history of salmon fisheries in Scotland. There’s also an opportunity for members of the public to learn more about pink salmon with Professor Verspoor, whose lecture is based on the natural history of Scotland’s Atlantic salmon and the potential impact of non-native salmon.

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On the same day, Inverness Museum and Art Gallery will run tours for visitors on Alexander Grant, Inverness’ famous fishing rod and fiddle maker, who set the first world record speycast on the River Ness in 1895. His record stood for 110 years until it was broken by local ghillie and three-times world speycasting champion Scott Mackenzie. The tours run from 2.30pm to 3.30pm and 4pm to 5pm on the Thursday and are a rare opportunity to get behind the scenes and handle items including tools from Grant’s workshop, his fiddles and the famous Grant vibration rod. Inverness Museum and Art Gallery is also the temporary home for the Miss Ballantine Salmon – Britain’s heaviest rod-caught salmon – which has been loaned by Perth Museum for the festival. The record fish was taken from the River Tay near Glendelvine by Miss Georgina Ballantine on October 7th 1922, weighing 64 pounds (29 kilograms). The cast is on display until 18th November. There will also be a Country Pursuits costume display featuring sporting outfits from the 19th and 20th centuries, and a Fantastic Fish trail for children, which includes facts and fossils.

Friday and Saturday sees Inverness Angling Club host its Centenary Speycasting Tournament on the banks of the River Ness. The tournament marks the club’s 100th anniversary. 26 anglers from Norway, Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the USA will compete in the competition, which has been organised with the help of Scott Mackenzie. Competitors include Norwegian speycasters Vidar Ness, Geir Hansen and Jarle Strandberg, as well as Inverness Angling Club’s own Aiden MacDonald. Junior and female anglers will also compete, with Jordon Grant (15), of Inverness Angling Club, and Donna-Claire Hunter, from Beauly, leading the local charge.

To coincide with the two-day tournament, Scotland’s Salmon Festival is hosting a free family fair in Bught Park, which runs from 11am to 4pm, both days. There will be cookery demonstrations in the Marine Harvest Theatre Kitchen by Mark Heirs, a private chef/consultant and former finalist of Masterchef: The Professions; Alfie Little, chef proprietor of the River House Restaurant, Inverness; Chris Bond, head chef of The Glen Mhor Hotel, Inverness; Edwin Blackhall, head chef at Aspects at the MacDonald Aviemore Highland Resort, and Kat Wardrop, head chef at the Drumossie Hotel, Inverness. The demonstrations will be compered by well-known food writer and ‘A Wee Pinch of Sugar’ blogger Rachel Gillon. Marine Harvest will also be running its popular salmon barbecue, while La Tortilla, Inverness, will be cooking salmon paella.

A food and craft marquee will feature a range of local exhibitors, with artisans showcasing everything from tartan and tweed to hand-knitted accessories, photography, jewellery, silverware, lamps and health and beauty products.

There’s plenty for young ones too, with face painting, a bouncy castle and story-telling with Gordon MacLellan, aka The Creeping Toad, who will be telling tales and making wild hats and finger puppets. To tie in with the theme of the festival, there will be invertebrate trays for children to investigate, electrofishing and casting lessons with coaches from the Scottish Anglers National Association.

Local school children have been invited to attend on the Friday.

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Roddy Henry, acting principal of Inverness College UHI, said: “Inverness College UHI is delighted to be lead partner in Scotland’s Salmon Festival, which is a great example of partnership working across the public and private sector. Our Rivers and Lochs Institute is at the forefront of research into freshwater biodiversity and in particular, the Atlantic salmon, and this is a great opportunity to share our work with the wider public.”

Stuart Turner, Head of EventScotland, said: “We are delighted to be supporting Scotland’s Salmon Festival, through our National Programme. Scotland is the perfect stage for events and the festival team have brought together another strong programme, celebrating the Atlantic salmon’s heritage and cultural significance to Scotland. With events ranging from cookery demonstrations to the speycasting tournament, film screenings, children’s activities, public lectures and talks, there really is something for everyone to enjoy.”

Graham MacKenzie, president of Inverness Angling Club, believes the speycasting tournament will be a spectacle all can enjoy.

He said: “Since the day Alexander Grant set the first world record speycast of 65 yards (59.4 metres) in 1895, this technique of casting long lines has become established wherever anglers pursue freshwater fish.

“This is the second tournament we have organised in association with Scotland’s Salmon Festival and will be the biggest, with 26 speycasters from seven countries.

“I’m particularly pleased that, for the first time, we will have a junior section in which four 15-year-old anglers will be competing for a major award, indicating the future of the sport is healthy.

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“The club celebrates its centenary on Thursday evening and there could be no better way to celebrate that than inviting angling friends to join us in this tournament.”

The festival been organised in partnership with the Ness District Salmon Fishery Board, Inverness Angling Club, Marine Harvest, cbec eco-engineering, and supported by EventScotland - part of VisitScotland’s Events Directorate, Highland Council, Inverness Common Good Fund, the Scottish Government, Glenmoriston Estate, Culligran Estate, the Drumossie Hotel, Ness Castle Lodges, SSE, Tomatin Distillery, Graham’s of Inverness and The Scottish Ghillie.

Inverness man Alexander Grant was known as the ‘Wizard of the Ness.’ He was the master of speycasting and inventor of the Grant Vibration rod. Grant began crafting his famous ‘Grant’s Vibration’ range of greenheart fly fishing rods at his tackle shop in Baron Taylor’s Lane, Inverness.

The secret to his success was an understanding of tone and vibration gained from handcrafting his own fiddles. He applied this knowledge to acoustically determine the specific taper of each individual rod.

In 1895 Grant, together with a selection of other notable casters from across the Highlands, was invited to participate in a casting competition held from an anchored boat in the Little Isle Pool on the River Ness.

Grant’s main competitor roll cast an impressive distance of 56 yards. Grant however stripped the entire fly line from his reel and was officially recorded as casting a staggering 65 yards. It would be fair to say that he blew the competition clean out the water, particularly as this stood as a record cast until broken by Scott Mackenzie in 2005.

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The aim of the speycasting tournament is to raise awareness of the achievements of Alexander Grant and his contribution to casting and salmon angling by recreating the famous casting competition of 1895.

Inverness Angling Club was formed by local anglers at a meeting on the evening of August 31, 1917, meaning that the club will celebrate its 100th birthday the night before the start of the Centenary Speycasting Tournament.

It has been one of the most innovative angling clubs in Scotland, leading the way in Speycasting skills, the development of salmon flies and - or course - in catching salmon.

Its members have included two Speycasting world champions and record breakers, Alexander Grant and Scott Mackenzie, and John Reidpath and John Cathcart, inventors of two iconic salmon flies, the ‘Hairy Mary’ and the ‘Black Shrimp’.