Grampian Escapes and Tours

Rod, Reel & the River Dee

Fly fishing in the River

The River Dee is the lifeblood of Deeside and runs from high in the Cairngorm mountains to the city of Aberdeen and the North Sea.

Debbie Cooper, River Dee Trust

In the latest episode of the Visit the North East of Scotland podcast,  I am speaking with Debbie Cooper, development and promotions officer for the Dee District Salmon Fishery board and River Dee Trust.

Debbie joined the team in 2021 to increase awareness and the use of the River Dee, one of Aberdeenshire’s most treasured rivers. Debbie will tell us about the salmon preservation programs as well as re-wilding and environmental conservation work being undertaken by the Trust.  

The river Dee is famous for its salmon fishing and Debbie shares what makes the river perfect for the sport of angling, and other adventures that can be enjoyed on or near the water.

To hear the story of the River Dee, press the play button on the media player below.

The River Dee

The Dee is important not only for the fish but also for nature conservation and the area has many designated sites. The upper catchment located on the Mar Lodge Estate, has been classified as a national nature reserve since May 2017. 

The Cairngorms National Park, covers the whole of the catchment of the Dee, including tributaries, down to as far as Dinnet.  Deeside, the mountain surrounding Lochnagar as far as the head of Glen Doll to the south, are together classified as the Deeside and Lochnagar National Scenic Area, one of 40 such areas in Scotland. The designated national scenic area covers 40,000 hectare.

The entire length of the Dee is defined as a Special Area of Conservation due to its importance for salmon, otters and Freshwater pearl mussels. Other Special Areas of Conservation include Glen Tanar, the Muir of Dinnet, Ballochbuie and the Morrone Birkwood.

The Dee is a popular salmon river, having a series of linked pools, separated by sharp rapids.

The river Dee at Balogie Estate
The River Dee with Potarch Bridge at the Balogie Estate.

Fishing on the Dee

The river Dee is known around the world for its salmon fishing but it is strictly catch and release!  Catch and Release has been common practice on the Dee for many years and  anglers have a good track record for safely releasing fish. There is a Dee Conservation Code which all anglers must comply with.  It is important that every fish returned alive to the river is given the best possible chance to survive until spawning time.  With all the work being undertaken to improve the habitat, river health and salmon stocks, we cannot afford to remove any salmon from the river.  

Many years ago salmon was very prevalent and used as food source for the workers. In fact there are records that indicate, farm labourers and workers would negotiate a limit to the number of times a week they would be given salmon to eat. Meat, especially, was expensive and some landlords and farm managers would not wish to provide meat too often to their workers and opt for the much cheaper fish and salmon was readily available from the rivers in the North East of Scotland.

There are several rivers in Scotland where Salmon can be caught, each with their own unique habitats and environments.  The river Dee has 47 beats in the upper, middle and lower sections of the Dee. Which sections are best to fish depends on the time of year and the water conditions.

In recent years the issue of prosecution has become more prevalent and anglers and rivers users are kindly requested to take care and not to introduce disease into the river. Simple steps to take are:

Please remember to:

  • Check your gear after leaving the water for mud, aquatic animals or plant material. Remove anything you find and leave it at the site.
  • Clean everything thoroughly as soon as you can, paying attention to nets, waders, and areas that are damp and hard to access. Use hot water if possible.
  • Dry everything for as long as possible before using elsewhere as some invasive plants and animals can survive for two weeks in damp conditions.


Angling for some, has a bit of a staid reputation and stereo typically we think of men who have leisure time on their hands will pick up the rod and wile away a few hours on the riverbank.  However, as Debbie said in the podcast, the ladies group The River Dee Damsels (@riverdeedamselshas been smashing records and holding their own in the river tallies.  This year, the River Dee Opening Ceremony, on the 1st of February, celebrated the achievement of two ladies who where honoured to open the 2022 season by making the first cast.

Conservation Work

Fish ladder at the River Muick
Salmon conservation at the River Muick (Courtesy of The River Dee Team)

Marine Scotland have said the effects of climate changes indicate that many upland tributaries will have higher summer water temperatures making streams uninhabitable for salmon. 

A diverse ecosystem with a wide range of features, habitat types and species, is more likely to adapt to changes.

Trees will lower the summer water temperatures, both through direct shading of the watercourse and by cooling the ground water. Riparian woodland also benefits salmon by providing habitats for insects as food, increased nutrients through leaf drop, and large trees and branches that fall into the stream create spawning gravel and resting pools, protecting fish from predators.

The River Dee Trust has pledged to plan 1 million trees by 2035 and has recently announced they have reached 250,000 plantings to date. #onemilliontrees  

You can help by making a donation or by volunteering to participate in a variety of projects.  Just visit the website for more information.

More information

The book that Debbie mentions in the episode is by K.R. Fergus- From Source to Sea, The Dee.  From its source in the shadow of Ben Macdui and Braeraich high in the Cairngorm mountains, the Dee cascades over waterfalls and meanders through the remnants of the ancient Caledonian forest before making its way to Aberdeen and the North Sea.

There is no better way to discover the wildlife, architecture and history of this area of Scotland than to walk. There are several books by the same author taking in ther iconic rivers in Scotland and are available at most good book retailers.

The video below is an teaser from the The Dee Series, a series of videos showing the various beats along the river and stories from the ghillies who work alongside her. You can explore the various river bank locations virtually and use this to make plans for future visits, or just enjoy the scenery.

From Source to Sea
From Source to Sea by K.R. Fergus

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Jacqueline van den Akker

Jacqueline van den Akker

Jacqueline is the owner and lead guide for the business. Together with the team, they create wonderful tours and experiences for visitors working in collaboration with other independent business in Aberdeenshire to show the best of the Northeast of Scotland.

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