Ian Gordon/Salmon & Trout Association petition

Ian Gordon and the Salmon & Trout Association (Scotland) have combined forces with a petition asking for the Scottish Government to pass legislation to ensure that no salmon are killed by either rods or nets until the 1st July for a period of five years and that action is taken to end the indiscriminate harvest by coastal, otherwise known as mixed stock, netting at any time of year.

Given the low stock levels experienced on the Spey over the last couple years, and almost universally this year, it is difficult to argue against the petition motives. Details of the petition can be found here. Signing the petition takes seconds and if changes in legislation were forthcoming it would save many thousands of salmon destined to spawn in Scottish rivers including the Spey.

Recent tagging work has confirmed the work of earlier studies which showed that salmon destined to enter the Spey are exploited by mixed stock nets as far apart as the north coast of Scotland and Montrose. Our own electrofishing has shown that juvenile stocks in some of the outlying parts of the catchment have declined; we really do need to ensure that the survivors, those few fish that have made it to the distant feeding grounds in the north Atlantic and returned to our shores are protected and allowed to spawn.

Spey Fishery Board

Fiddich salmon filming

We have tried to help a local film maker secure some underwater shots of salmon spawning over the last couple years and today was the latest attempt in the Fiddich. Previous attempts have been foiled by technical gliches, high water or lack of fish. However today we were lucky with everything coming good together. We soon located some spawning fish, deployed the cameras then went on to complete a redd count in the lower Fiddich between Popine and Newton bridge.

When we came back to the cameras they were surrounded by salmon, some of which were weaving in and around. Hopefully Bernard will have got some good footage but were the cameras still running when the fish came back to the redds?

Several salmon in and around the static Gopro underwater video cameras. The cameras were fixd to heavy stands whcih were positioned to overlook the redds.

Several salmon in and around the static Gopro underwater video cameras. The cameras were fixed to heavy stands which were positioned to overlook the redds.

Salmon redd in the Fiddich. We counted about 36 salmon redds between the railway bridges today, much less than in former years but enough to produce adequate fry there next year hopefully.

Salmon redd in the Fiddich. We counted about 36 salmon redds between the railway bridges today, much less than in former years but enough to produce an adequate fry population in this part of the Fiddich at least.

Andy Logan, an ex Spey ghillie accompanied us today on the redd count . He used to fish the Fiddich in his younger days and knonws it intimately. Andy's biggest fish from the Fiddich was a 17.5lb fresh fish in July; that must have been fun on a 6' spinning rod! Andy reported large fish were always  scarce in the Fiddich as it was mainly a grilse river. However I've seen a few good fish there this year and we cam across this big fellow. He must have bene equal to Andy's best in his heyday. It was completely covered in fungus now but even now its goodness will still contribute to the river

Andy Logan, an ex Spey ghillie accompanied us today on the redd count . He used to fish the Fiddich in his younger days and knows it intimately. Andy’s biggest fish from the Fiddich was a 17.5lb fresh fish in July; that must have been fun on a 6′ spinning rod! Andy reported large fish were always scarce in the Fiddich as it was mainly a grilse river. However I’ve seen a few good fish there this year and we came across this big corpse today. He must have been equal to Andy’s best in his heyday. It was completely covered in fungus but even now its goodness will contribute to the river. You will have noticed that I have grown a cocker spaniel on my right foot!

There was quite a hard frost last night and a lot of dead branches were covered in thick frost.

Frost covered dead branch

Frost covered dead branches

Not sure what the name is for this tyope of frost? Wikipedia doesn't describe it specifically. It produces fantastic patterns of ice from what must have been waterlogged wood.

Not sure what the name is for this type of frost? Wikipedia doesn’t describe it specifically. It looks like soft downy feather; I think it should be called feather frost (damn it, just checked Google, that is what it is called!)? It produces fantastic patterns of ice from what must have been waterlogged wood.It would be good to see some time lapse photography of feather frost forming.

Looking forward to seeing some clips from the videos!

Spey Fishery Board

Tropical storm Bertha aftermath: juvenile stock survey and mainstem stocking monitoring

Trying to assess the impact of extreme spates on our juvenile stocks is a long held ambition and something I promised to do at the Spey Fshery Board AGM two years ago. Big Bertha provided the ideal oportunity with pre event electrofishing survey data available and the low water in September providing ideal conditions for repeat surveys.

The Spey up in amongst the trees on the 11th Aug 2014

The Spey up in the trees on the 11th Aug 2014

For the monitoring strategy we decided to replicate some of the timed surveys in the Spey mainstem and River Fiddich. Eleven timed sites were repeated on the Spey and four in the lower Fiddich. The results were interesting with a statistically significant reduction in the fry counts but an increase (although not significant) in the parr counts. The three Spey mainstem sites with the largest reductions in fry counts were all in areas where the riverbed was liable to become mobilised during the peak of the spate. There was less of a change in the pre and post spate counts in more stable parts of the river.

We found evidence of downstream movement of juvenile fish, something that was particularly evident in the Fiddich where the thermal uplift from the distillery cooling water has unique effects.

The salmon fry numbers overall in the Spey survey sites after the spate were close to the average for the whole Spey in 2014 summer surveys. In the Fiddich the decline was greater although from a higher base level. The study raised as many questons as it answered. For example how many fry would we normally expect to find in September compared to the usual monitoring time of July? I would probably expect to find similar numbers in September as the bulk of the overwinter mortality probably occurs in the autumn onwards.

The perceived wisdom is that although fry numbers are lower now than they would have been if there had been no damaging spate the survival of those remaining should be better due to less competition. We hope that this will be the case although we will have to wait until next years surveys to establish that. The 2015 smolt production will almost certainly be impacted by the big spate and the subsequent fish kill but no doubt nature has its ways of compensating.

Following the Bertha spate a decison was made to stock the 50,000 lower Spey origin hatchery fish back into the lower mainstem rather than into lower river tributaries. We were able to monitor the impacts of this stocking as the stocked fish were adipose fin clipped by the Spey ghillies. The fin clipping allowed us to successfully identify the stocked fish so that their contribution could be assessed.

The results from the stocking monitoring and the post spate monitoring can be read by clicking here.

Spey Fishery Board

River Fiddich spawning

A walk up the lower River Fiddich in good conditions revealed quite a lot of redds with the occasional fish still spawning. The average size of the fish was high, most were double figure fish with only a few grilse to be seen.

A big redd on the Fiddich. Probably more than one pair of fish involved to make a redd of this size. A single cock fish can be seen just upstream (to the left)

A very big redd on the Fiddich. Probably more than one pair of fish involved to make a redd of this size. A single cock fish can be made out to the left. No shortage of top quality spawning gravel in the lower Fiddich.

On the right bank of the Fiddich there are the remains of what looks like infrastructure associated with an old water power system.

This structure looks like a sluice to control water levels in a lade. Perphaps there was more than one water powered machine in the system.

This structure looks like a sluice to control water levels in a lade. Perhaps there was more than one water powered machine in the system. Warning: don’t go walking in the woods in this area at night, the place is littered with traps like this!

The remains of the water lade along the right bank

The remains of the water lade along the right bank

There must have been a weir where the water was taken from the river and sure enough a short distance upstream there were the remains of what could have been such a thing.

The remains of an old weir?

The remains of an old weir?

Due to the steep terrain I returned to the Craigellachie to Dufftown path from where I spotted a pair of salmon spawning.

I arrived just as they mated but too late to get the money shot! This photo shows the hen burying the recently laid eggs with gravel.

I arrived just as they mated but too late to get the money shot! This photo shows the hen burying the recently laid eggs with gravel.

Click here to see a short video clip of this pair of salmon.

Redds were present throughout the lower few miles of the Fiddich, salmon and sea trout, never in abundance but there was the odd cluster of three redds or more but mostly single redds.

A single salmon redd in good fry/parr habitat in the Fiddich.

A single salmon redd in good fry/parr habitat in the Fiddich.

There was a more than adequate number of redds to be seen in the lower Fiddich but it will be one of the last places in the catchment for a dip in juvenile densities to occur. Other more peripheral areas in the margins of the catchment will be the first to respond if the low numbers of adults seen over the last couple years continues.

Spey Fishery Board

Grantown caravan park burn spawning

Today I took the opportunity to follow up on reports of sea trout spawning in the upper Kylintra Burn in Grantown today. One of the bailiffs had relayed a report and mention of sea trout spawning in burn next to his accommodation by one of the members of a salmon fishing forum prompted a quick visit whilst in the area. The interest was mainly because the Kylintra Burn was on our database as being impassable; or at the very least troublesome for fish to reach.

Trout redd by the road opposite the Grantown Caravan Park. This was one of about 10 redds in less than 100m downstream of the park entrance.

Trout redd by the road opposite the Grantown Caravan Park. This was one of about 10 redds in less than 100m downstream from the park entrance.

Trout redd in the Kylintra Burn near the caravan park in Grantown

Trout redd in the Kylintra Burn near the caravan park in Grantown

There are several culverts between the Spey and this point in the Kylintra Burn as well as a weir but the fish obviously made it past them all this year. The weir is on the outlet of an inline pond but I was able to have a look at it today through the fence and it certainly didn’t look impassable.

This summer we electrofished a new site upstream of the main road at the Craiglynne Hotel. There were a few salmon fry and parr but it was stuffed with trout; the parr density was the highest recorded this year.

Trout size distribution in the Kylintra Burn opposite the Craiglynne Hotel in Aug 2014

Trout size distribution in the Kylintra Burn opposite the Craiglynne Hotel in Aug 2014

It is good to see that the trout are able to utilise the full length of the naturally accessible part of the Kylintra Burn. A short distance upstream of the caravan park there is an impassable waterfall. This is another burn we can remove from our obstacles database.

Spey Fishery Board

Burn of Lochy/Allt Iomadaigh

Had a nice walk up the Burn of Lochy and one of its tributaries the Allt Iomadaigh (how do you pronounce this?) yesterday. The aim was to check out the sea trout spawning (I wasn’t disappointed) and to have a look at the habitat. I had only visited parts of these burns before to complete electrofishing survey sites so it was good to be able to spend a bit more time learning a little more about this part of the catchment.

The Burn of Lochy is a tributary of the Avon which it joins on the west bank just upsteam and opposite Tomintoul Distillery. The Allt Iomadaigh is the smaller of the two main tributarie; the other is the Burn of Brown but it is inaccessible due to a waterfall at the Bridge of Brown. I started my walk in the Iomadaigh but I’ll start this report in the Lochy and progress upstream.

As soon as I started walking up the Lochy the sea trout redds were apparent. There was an abundance of spawning gravel in the middle reaches of the Lochy, more so now after the big August spate, probably to the extent that the fish could be very choosy where they spawned.

Typical nice varied habitat in the middle reaches of the Lochy.

Typical nice varied habitat in the middle reaches of the Lochy.

A large redd close to the bank

A large redd close to the bank

A "abstract" shot of a pair of spawning sea trout

An “abstract” shot of a pair of spawning sea trout

At least two large redds in this photo. There were a couple fish on the redds but I didn't see the fish until it was too late but when they shot off downstream they looked like salmon.

At least two large redds in this photo. There were a couple fish on the redds but I didn’t see them until it was too late but I thought they were salmon when they shot off downstream. On the way back downstream I approached the site cautiously and I am sure my initial assessment was right.

Much of the Lochy channel was quite mobile, flowing through large gravel beds but in this section the burn was flowing down what looked like what was until recently a back channel. A more stable channel which the fish obviously liked, there were quite a few present.

Much of the Lochy channel was quite mobile, flowing through large gravel beds but in this section the burn was flowing down what looked like what was until recently a back channel. A more stable channel which the fish obviously liked, there were quite a few present.

I didn’t count the redds in the Lochy itself but I was impressed, there must have been hundreds in the 2.8km stretch I walked.

I took a distinct fancy to the Allt Iomadaigh when we surveyed it a couple years ago so I was keen to explore a little more of it. We completed two electrofishing sites then, both of which supported good salmon and trout populations. As with the Lochy I spotted the first redd as soon as I approached the bank.

Lower, wooded section of the Iomadaigh. The burn is about 4m wide at this point and provides excellent habitat for wee fish.

Lower, wooded section of the Iomadaigh. The burn is about 4m wide at this point and provides excellent habitat for wee fish.

Tjhe allt Iomadaigh a little further upstream. Our upper eelctrofishing site is located a short distance downstream of where this photo was taken. The tail of the pool looked a great site for spawning and sure enopugh there were at least three good sea trout redds.

The Allt Iomadaigh a little further upstream. Our upper electrofishing site is located a short distance downstream of where this photo was taken. The tail of the pool looked a great site for spawning and fish agreed, there were at least three good sea trout redds.

Dead cock sea trout of about 2.5lb. There didn't appear to be any predator marks.

Dead cock sea trout of about 2.5lb. There didn’t appear to be any predator marks on this particular casualty.

As I went further upstream I started finding more sea trout remains.

All that was left of a cock sea trout of about 4lb. The rest probably fed an otter

All that was left of a cock sea trout of about 4lb. The rest no doubt fed an otter

Upper middle reaches of the Iomadaigh. Not so suitable for spawning in this stretch but excellent parr habitat.

Upper middle reaches of the Iomadaigh. Not so suitable for spawning in this stretch but excellent parr habitat.

Just upstream of where the Allt Catanach joins the Iomadaigh there was a short section of great spawning gravel.

Sea trout redds in an area of tip top spawnign gravels

Sea trout redds in an area of tip top spawning gravels

Progressing upstream the surrounding terrain closed in to form a nice steep sided valley. The steeper, rocky ground, hinted that I would soon reach the limit of fish accessability so I wasn’t surprised that the second waterfall encountered looked impassable.

Impassabe waterfall in the upper Allt Iomadaigh

Impassable waterfall in the upper Allt Iomadaigh

I marked all the redds in the Allt Iomadiagh using the GPS and whilst I haven’t downloaded it yet I know that I started on waypoint 17 and ended on 63, although the last was the waterall location. Forty five or so redds in that wee burn was more than enough. I only saw one live adult fish, a cock sea trout, all the spawning activity in the Iomadaigh was over. Pity I hadn’t gone up there last weekend.

Spey Fishery Board

Mackalea Burn spawning

I have kept a regular eye on the Mackalea Burn since the installation of the fish pass. Yesterday afternoon to water was rising and colouring although it wasn’t really a major spate. This afternoon the water had dropped and cleared providing a chance to see what was what upstream.

Rising and dirty water yesterday afternoon

Rising and dirty water yesterday afternoon

There were a couple new sea trout redds about 50m upstream of the fish pass and immediately in front of the B&B. A short distance upstream a fence crosses the burn; a likely looking spot where I had expected to see a redd appear. No sign of any redds there today but just above there were the remains of a cock salmon.

Rogie eyeing up the salmon remains.

Rogie eyeing up the salmon remains.

A short distance upstream there was what looked like a salmon redd.

What looks like a salmon redd opposite an old bale. It can be difficult to tell the difference between a small salmon and a sea trout redd but this one extended over the full width of the flow nd looked more salmon sixed in comparison to the smaller, and rounder sea trout redds.

What looks like a salmon redd opposite an old bale. It can be difficult to tell the difference between a small salmon and a sea trout redd but this one extended over the full width of the flow and looked more salmon sized in comparison to the smaller, and generally rounder, sea trout redds.

There were about 12 redds in total (mainly sea trout) above the fish pass. The salmon redd was upstream of both our electrofishing sites in the Mackalea. It would be nice to find salmon fry there next summer.

Spey Fishery Board

“Opening up Spey burns”- Mackalea Burn fish pass

The Mackalea Burn is a small tributary of the Fiddich which suffers from an unusual fish passage problem. The burn flows under the Dufftown to Huntly road via twin 2m diameter culverts. There is a concrete bridge apron on the downstream side but the major problem was the set of concrete steps on the upstream side of the road. These steps were apparently created by the road engineers in an attempt to control sediment movement. However it would be hard to envisage a more fiendishly difficult obstacle for fish passage. The steps aren’t totally impassable, in high water conditions they are effectively drowned out and some fish would get over if the water arrived at the appropriate time. Timing in this case is everything as spawning fish would only enter a wee burn such as the Mackalea on the point of spawning.

In May this year myself, Duncan Ferguson and Brian Davidson from RAFTS met at the site with Alasdair Donnelly of Moray council to discuss the improvements.

Alasdair Donnelly, Duncan Ferguson and Brian Davidson of RAFTS discuss the Mackalea steps.

Alasdair Donnelly, Duncan Ferguson and Brian Davidson of RAFTS discuss the Mackalea steps.

Happily I can report that Moray Council subsequently agreed to our suggestion to remove a notch from the upper step with the creation of a ramp constructed from timber. We were also granted permission to fit timber baulks to the concrete apron on the downstream side to create depth over what was a very flat surface and shallow water.

Last year we entered into a sponsorship partnership with Speyburn Distillery in support if our conservation work in the Spey catchment. The Mackalea Burn was an ideal project to take forward under this partnership and in September we were able to engage local contractors to carry out the planned works.

Mark Strathdee Ltd at work installing the timber modifications to the Mackalea Burn

Mark Strathdee Ltd at work installing the timber modifications to the Mackalea Burn

The timber ramp installed on the Mackalea Burn steps

The timber ramp installed on the Mackalea Burn steps

Timber baulks to create depth on the formerly shallow concrete bridge apron ont he downstream side of the culverts

Timber baulks to create depth on the formerly shallow concrete bridge apron on the downstream side of the culverts

Since the works were completed the flows in the burn have been low, this part of Scotland having missed the recent heavy rain on the west, however it is pleasing to report that a few sea trout redds have appeared in the burn upstream of the culvert.

One of two sea trotu redds in close proximity a short distance upstream of the new fish pass.

One of two sea trout redds in close proximity a short distance upstream of the new fish pass.

Salmon have also been seen trying to ascend the steps in the past, indeed we have stocked upstream of the culverts in recent years with salmon parr. I will keep an eye on this burn in the next few weeks to see if there is any evidence of salmon above the road. A nearby B&B proprietor is also a keen fisher and he also keeps a close eye on the burn. An additional temporary baffle has been placed across the left hand culvert to create more depth at the foot of the fish pass. Subject to further observation this baffle will be a permanent fixture.

This was a nice wee project; it won’t suddenly transform the fortunes of the Spey but all the burns in ths part of the catchment are highly productive for juvenile fish given access. I would expect that in due course the population structure of the trout in this burn will become more consistently good and it will be interesting to see how the salmon respond.

We are extremely grateful to Speyburn for the sponsorship they provide and we look forward to developing other improvement projects in the future.

Spey Fishery Board

Allt a’Gheallaidh road culvert

The damage to infrastructure from the big spate on the 11th August was extensive including many road crossings. The road crossing on the Allt a’Gheallaidh (Pitchroy Burn) on the back road between Knockando and Grantown sustained some damage which required emergency repairs by Moray Council.

The Allt a’Gheallaidh (the “Carlsberg Burn” from the blog last year) is an important spawning burn with both salmon and sea trout spawning many miles upstream of the road. Maintaining fish passage was therefore of vital importance.

The road crossing consists of twin arched culverts constructed from corrugated steel and concrete. During the August spate the left bank culvert became partly blocked by trees and debris resulting in considerable damage to the bank and foundations with minor subsidence on the road surface. Consequently the council brought in contractors to shore up the banks and the foundations.

The view from above the culvert during the works. The bank on the left hand sid was reinforced with concrete as was the floor. Previously the culvert had a natural substrate base.

The view from above the culvert during the works. The bank on the left hand side was reinforced with concrete as was the bed of the culvert. Previously the culvert had a natural substrate base. A natural sediment base in a culvert is a more desirable situation than an artificial stream bed as there is much less chance of it becoming a barrier to fish passage. The council assured us that if the other culvert requires maintenance every effort will be made to maintain a natural riverbed throughout.

Downstream of the road the river channel had been recently dredged (not sure why, nor by whom) but it was reinstated once the concrete bed had been poured to strengthen the culvert.

The river bed downstream of the culvert has been dredged out over a distance of 100m

The river bed downstream of the culvert has been dredged out over a distance of 100m

The downstream side of the culvert before the riverbed was reinstated

The downstream side of the culvert before the riverbed was reinstated

Yesterday the new channel was opened up again and the dredged riverbed was reinstated.

Flow reinstated down the new concrete culvert

The reinstated riverbed downstream of the culverts. It looked quite good remarkably quickly afterwards.

The reinstated riverbed downstream of the culverts. It looked quite good remarkably quickly afterwards.

Our main concern is that the new riverbed downstream of the culvert will be prone to settlement and erosion with the risk of a drop forming between concrete and the riverbed – a classic perched culvert scenario. We will watch how this situation develops after a few spates (that won’t be long judging by the rain falling outside the office window at present)

It is always amazing how quickly fish colonise new habitat. I was there about 2 hours after the introduction of flow down the concrete channel and already a couple trout parr had taken up resident in the low water channel.

A trout parr in the low water channel on the downstream end of the new culvert. It must have moved downstream from above the culvert otherwise it would have had to survive the excavator reinstating the riverbed below the culvert.

A trout parr in the low water channel on the downstream end of the new culvert. It must have moved downstream from above the culvert otherwise it would have had to survive the excavator reinstating the riverbed below the culvert.

Spey Fishery Board

Spey mainstem semi-quantitative surveys

For our last day electrofishing we headed for the mainstem to collect some semi-quantitative (no stop nets and only one run through with the electrofisher) data on fish densities. Mostly we do timed salmon fry index electrofishing surveys on the mainstem but that techique doesn’t produce data on fish densities. It is impossible to fish the entire width of the Spey mainstem (even in these very low water conditions) so we restricted ourselves to surveying defined areas along the margins, a technique that had been used before and should be repeatable in the future.

The mainstem density site at Aberlour. The site was 5m X 22m long giving an area of 112m2. We found over 150 salmon fry anf 70 parr in the area outlined by the red lines. Habitat quality is excellent with mosy boulders and the remnants of ranunculus plants.

The mainstem density site at Aberlour. The site was 5m X 22m long giving an area of 112m2. We found over 150 salmon fry and 70 parr in the area outlined by the red lines. Habitat quality was excellent with mossy boulders and the remnants of ranunculus plants.

This area of the river at Aberlour has in the last couple years produced high salmon and parr counts so it was no surprise to find that densities of both were excellent. The density of salmon fry was 134/100m2 and for parr 62/100m2. Over 60% of the parr were larger than 90mm, a size threshold considered to indicate it would be ready for smoltification the following spring.

The next site had been surveyed before in 2002 and 2003, although the river had changed a little making exact replication difficult.

Mainstem site upstream of Blacksboat. Not an easy site to fish now, its was deep on the outer edge with sandy deposits along the bank. Habitat quality was rated as moderate. However we still caught 85 salmon fry and 20 parr along wiht a few trout, eels and a minnow.

Mainstem site upstream of Blacksboat. Not an easy site to fish now; it was deep on the outer edge with sandy deposits along the bank. Habitat quality was rated as moderate. However we still caught 85 salmon fry and 29 parr along with a few trout, eels and a minnow. 80% of the parr were large enough to be expected to smolt next year.

The density this year was 98 fry and 33 parr per 100m2 respectively. The salmon fry density was similar compared to 2002 (114/100m2) and 2003 (79/100m2) whilst the parr density was higher than found in 2002 (20.2/100m2) but less than the 50/100m2 recorded in 2003. Still there appears to have been little overall change in fish densities now compared to that snapshot from over a decade ago.

The next site was upstream of Advie Bridge where the habitat looked good but fish densities were lower than anticipated. I don’t have a good photo showing the entire site but the picture below shows the type of habitat present.

Lower half of the mainstem site at Advie Bridge. We caught 15 salmon fry and 7 parr in a site 73m2. Lower than expected but still moderate in the SFCC classificaton for a stream over 9m wide

Lower half of the mainstem site at Advie Bridge. We caught 15 salmon fry and 7 parr from an incomplete site of 73m2. Lower than expected but still moderate in the SFCC classificaton for a stream over 9m wide. 70% of the parr at this site were big enough to smolt in 2015 (if they survive).

Unfortunately two thirds of the way through the site Steve slipped on the slimy rocks, landing on the anode which ceased to function. Thankfully he was okay and it was the the last electrofishing day rather than in the middle of our survey programme. We missed out on the last planned site at Grantown but we had at least gathered some interesting semi-quantitative data from the mainstem, the most important part of the Spey catchment in terms of smolt production.

Spey biologist with obligatory clipboard!

Spey biologist with obligatory clipboard!

Spey Fishery Board