Friday, December 22, 2017

Salmon Fishing Scotland Tay, Perthshire Salmon Fishing Review 2017.

Salmon Fishing Scotland - By Robert White

Salmon Fishing Scotland Tay, Perthshire Salmon Fishing Review 2017.

Tay Salmon Fishing Review 2017.
The river Tay in Perthshire, Scotland has had a disappointing but interesting salmon fishing year by modern standards as the FishTay web site have reported only around 3500 Salmon and Grilse being caught for the 2017 fishing season. There was yet again effectively no autumn run. It must be said that salmon fishing catches are no longer easily achieved with this situation being mirrored right across the north Atlantic sea board due to problems at sea with a continued increase in Smolt mortality that is out of the rivers control. There is very interesting and outstanding documentary “Atlantic Salmon-Lost at Sea” which gives you an insight into the problems and is well worth a watch if you get a chance to see it. In terms of the salmon and grilse catch, the 2017 season total shows an 46.5% decrease on 2016 on catches declared so far and a 49 % decrease on the 5-year average for FishTay beats. It should also be noted that there were no catches in the last 2 weeks of October for the last three years due to the extension fishing being stopped in 2014 halfing the October catch effectively and making the 5-year average worse. The figure of 3500 is not a final catch figure for this either as there are a number of areas that do not report on Fishtay.

Catches reported per month through the season were as follows Jan 17, Feb 64, Mar 266, Apr 412, May 378, Jun 421, Jul 510, Aug 580, Sep 580 and October 292. The spring period from January to May continues to be a positive part of the season although the early run was disappointing this past year, but interestingly yet again it outscored the autumn continuing to show a swing towards the spring period. The early spring was steady but weaker confirming the spring proportion of the catch on the Tay is continuing to increase year on year with this year’s catch being 32 % of the total. We are continuing to see the start of a change in the cycles as in the past and it would have been unthinkable in recent years that there would be more spring salmon caught than autumn fish. Further evidence of this phenomenon was a steady June ending the 2017 spring run. The summer period including June to the end of August decreased by 35 % on a stronger 2016 which was disappointing but represented 43% of the total Tay catch. The run seemed only to last until mid-August. The autumn period was not good and fell back on 2016 with no real run to speak of, September to October showed a 75 % decrease on 2016 in reasonable conditions. The Grilse run was poor again pointing to an improving Spring. Another aspect of the catch was the continuation of larger multi sea winter salmon being caught throughout the Tay system in the 20 to 30 pounds’ class, which the river has been famous for over the years and possibly is a consequence of fish that are surviving spender longer at sea.

To provide some context it should be said the 2017 salmon rod catch were extremely disappointing compared to 2016 apart from another reasonable spring and early summer however no run to speak of in the autumn from Mid-August again sent alarm bells ringing with the spring continuing to outscore the autumn. Hopefully there will be improvements to come in 2018 but the question should be asked why and has the autumn run disappeared for the foreseeable future due to cyclical change? The spring was again the big plus despite being much weaker but most believe that was a blip compared with the previous 4 years which is already creating massive interests in spring fishing for 2018 with much anticipation after this year’s autumn failing. The summer was reasonable with the end of the spring run and a steady July to mid-August but the autumn was more difficult throughout the river with a distinct absence of a run possibly due to the north Atlantic problems in the sea and this year we could not complain about a lack of water which is more worrying.

Thankfully we have a hatchery at Almondbank to help, this maybe something to further develop for the future with all the weather extremes being thrown at us in recent years. After the season was completed a concerted effort was put into place to catch brood stock for the Hatchery.
The Bailiffs with the help from the Tay Ghillies Association, both financial and in person managed to get the maximum number of salmon required form various areas of the river to fill the hatchery. A far greater number of eggs, young fish and parr will be stocked out in the system next year and more fish will go into the Kelt reconditioning unit which must be a big positive for the system.
Well done all concerned.
Another big positive this past year has been the rewatering of the river Garry after some 60 years which was hailed at the 2017 opening at Meikleour as a major milestone in salmon conservation. Spawning salmon will have access following a landmark agreement. A section of one of the Tay’s most important tributaries has now consistent flows restored after decades of very extensive water abstraction. Ten miles of the River Garry - much of it clearly visible from the A9 - which has been essentially dry since the mid 1950s, will run again, promising major benefits for adult salmon spawning and juvenile production. Bill Jack, chairman of the TDSFB, added: “This most welcome news is a milestone in salmon conservation. “Some ten miles of the main river and seven miles of tributary will once again be capable of producing salmon. “We estimate that this is likely to produce an additional 1500 adult, predominantly spring, salmon returning to the river annually. “It is difficult to envisage any other single project that would benefit salmon in the Tay system as much as this will. We are very pleased to have been able to work with SSE and SEPA to a successful conclusion.”
The river has had a poor year with odd positives but everyone expects a lot more so every effort must be made to take the river forward to the levels of the past and put the mighty Tay in its rightful position of being the premiere salmon fishing destination in the world. The river has had another reasonable spring run and catch this season, which may just be down to the majority of anglers returning salmon over the past seasons and the stocking program. Thank you to all anglers who have this season returned their salmon and spring salmon to maintain our sport for the future, it is vitally important and is a great contribution by individuals who care for their sport and the river. Well done! It should be pointed out there are several beats that do not report catches on the FishTay website and the full rod catch for the River Tay in 2017 will be a bit higher than shown on the FishTay website.

This part of the report came from Tay Board annual report written by D Summers.
The 2017 Tay salmon angling season opened on Monday 16 January. The preceding few weeks had been largely dry and, although there had been higher water around Christmas and New Year, the water level on the 15th, at just under three feet, was relatively low for the time of year. However, the river rose a foot or more overnight but, being only due to melted snow, the water had not coloured and the river was still perfectly fishable.
Some eight spring salmon were caught on opening day. Three from Loch Tay, two from Meikleour, one from Lower Farleyer, one from Taymouth Castle and one from Dunkeld House. That latter fish, a 19 pounder, won Robert Harvey the Redford Trophy for the largest opening day fish off the Tay.
Shortly after opening day, the Tay rose to nearly five feet but the rest of January was relatively dry for the time of year. By the 31st the level was down to about two feet. Catches had not lived up to early hopes and water was hoped for. An initial estimate is that a little over 20 fish may have been caught in January which is likely to be a bit below the recent average.
The Tay rose on 1 February and reached about 7 feet on 5 February. Further rain later on saw February end with the highest level of the season, over 8 feet. At the time of writing this report, catch returns have not been received from all beats. However, 65 fish were reported for February on the fishtay website against a five year website average of 123. As fishtay now includes most of the main beats on the Tay, the final total will not be much higher. The final tally will be well down. While that will be so, the proportion of fish weighing well into the teens of pounds or even higher appeared to be higher than usual and not that many fish under 10 pounds appeared to have been caught. What was caught seemed to have been dominated by 3SW fish. 2SW appear to have been relatively scarce.
March saw higher water levels. The Tay averaged about four feet throughout, with a number of rises, but no big floods. Indeed, 2017 proved to be free of major floods. While there was some snow inland and some frosty nights, there were also unseasonably mild periods and spring appeared a little ahead of normal. After a slow start, the fishing did pick up and 279 salmon were reported on the fishtay website for the month, but still below the recent fishtay five year average of 354. As in February, larger fish still seemed to be a major component of catches, including four fish reported as being in excess of 30 pounds.
The distribution of the catch was also different from usual. For example, the Stanley area usually fishes as well as anywhere in March, but in 2017, catches were well down in that area. However, catches at Cargill, Islamouth and Coupar Grange on the Isla were well over their March averages. Fish were caught on Loch Tay but not to the extent of some recent years. It would seem that a generally milder winter / early spring created conditions not normally seen until April and fish just passed through the Stanley area rather than stopping.
April started with a rise to over four feet, but then was a very dry month, ending with the Tay running at under one foot. As in March, the catch reported to fishtay was down on the five year average, 413 compared to 518. Given fishing conditions in tributaries were poor due to low water, fewer fish than usual are likely to have been caught on those tributaries beats that do not report to fishtay.
Again, because of the low water, some Tay beats did very badly but others did well. For example Ballathie and Cargill did better than normal but Islamouth did very well with 85 for April. Because of the conditions, it wasn’t clear at the end of April whether the lower catches overall were due to a poorer run or not. However, by this time in the season, the number of 2SW did appear to increase and the proportion of 3SW fish, among catches of fresh fish, was declining.
The dry conditions of April continued into May and, by mid month, levels were down almost to drought conditions in some of the tributaries. Salmon with Saprolegnia fungus were in evidence, not only in the River Ericht, but even in the main River Tay also. SSE started to get concerned that it might not be possible to maintain the statutory minimum compensation flow from Pitlochry Dam because of falling water levels in Loch Ericht. That would have been something that had never occurred at this time of year before. However, in the second half of the month, things changed slightly. A little rain did stop the river at least from falling any further until a few days into June.
Only 378 salmon were reported on fishtay for May compared to a recent average of 635. The very low water may have contributed partly to the reduced total. However, with fish heading for the Ericht held up in the main river, Islamouth continued to fish well, totalling 100 for the month. That, and the fact that considerable numbers of fish were seen running the weir in Blairgowrie on small rises late in the month, indicated there may have been a reasonable run of fish heading for the Ericht. On the Tummel, more fish had passed through the Pitlochry counter by the end of May than in any year since 1978. That was probably a reflection of warmer water temperatures allowing the run through earlier. When fish get through Pitlochry quicker and earlier, catches in the Tummel go down.
While starting off with Tay levels under a foot, the weather broke about a week into June. The Tay then ran around three feet for a period, but the latter half of the month saw levels settle again. 410 fish were reported on fishtay for June, but that was again down on the recent average.
In July, the Tay’s level would have normally been thought of as having been on the low side, had it not been for the very low water earlier. The base level of the river generally remained between one and two feet, with a few rises. But July proved to be the only month of the season where the fishtay catch, at least, was close to its recent average. Because the water was generally low, the best of the July fishing was in the lower river but most middle Tay beats below Dunkeld had a hard time in July.
August was a wetter month. The Tay ran between three and four feet for most of the latter part of the month. But, while the increase in flow might have been expected to spread fish out, there did not appear to be a great influx of fresh fish to take advantage of it. In a number of recent years the summer grilse run has not peaked until August but this year grilse did not seem to appear in any abundance at all. Many of the fish caught appear to have been salmon, many of which were colouring up. The same thing happened in 2016, but in 2017 the process seemed to commence a few weeks earlier with relatively few fresh fish after July. 566 fish were reported on fishtay for August while the recent average is 818.
Like August, September had no significant dry period. Tay levels generally fluctuated between two and four feet, creeping up towards the end of the month. But, while some days were hampered by conditions, water levels were not excessive as they sometimes can be at this time.
However, irrespective of the conditions, the pattern established in August continued to play out. Very few fresh fish appeared to enter the Tay, neither grilse nor salmon. Colouring salmon appeared to make up large part of what was caught, even on the lower Tay. This was reflected in the fact that 561 fish were reported on fishtay for the month compared to a recent average of 1196.
October also saw several bouts of rain and, on a few occasions, the Tay rose to over five or six during the half month to the end of the Tay season. However, in the last week of the month, which saw the close of the season on the Earn and Eden, levels had settled back somewhat. However, even in October there was no sign of any significant late run of fish. Coloured salmon provided most of what fish were caught. 286 were reported on fishtay against a five year average of 1587, although that includes several years of the trial season extension.

To sum up the season, with 3324 fish reported on fishtay, it is possible that the full final total might not reach 5000, which would make 2017 the poorest angling season in terms of reported catch since the 1950s. Then, of course, angling effort was probably lower on many beats and many nets were operating in the estuary and on the coast. Therefore, the total run of fish returning to the coast in 2017 may have been lower than in the 1950s, perhaps even the lowest recorded.
The Tay was not the only river to be so affected in 2017. In fact the problem appears to have been widespread. Possible reasons for the poor grilse run seems most likely that the problem, once again, is a marine one.

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