Spey Dam salmon fry counts 2014…………..

Last week the team headed up to the very top of the river to carry out the annual salmon fry counts. By the very top I mean that part of the Spey mainstem upstream of Spey Dam. There is about 20km of river above Spey Dam but I think it is fair to say that the salmon population up there is not what is should be or once was.

We have 11 mainstem survey sites above Spey Dam, including one within 1.5km of the source of the river at Loch Spey. We didn’t have time to survey that uppermost site this year but its omission was of little relevance to our overall findings.

Access was secured through Rio Tinto in Fort William and once the paperwork formalities had been completed with their staff at the dam we headed to the first site behind Sherramore Lodge.

Salon fry count survey site at Sherramore Lodge. Doubt if anone would disagree that this is the habitat that a salmon fry's dreams are made of.

Salmon fry count survey site at Sherramore Lodge. Doubt if anyone would disagree that this is the sort of habitat that a salmon fry’s dreams are made of. Note the white van in the background, one of many in the area as part of the Beauly Denny powerline upgrade.

We found a few fry at this site and a few salmon parr but the fry were trout, setting the scene for the rest of the day.

Selection of trout fry from above Spey Dam

Selection of trout fry from above Spey Dam

After completing what was the furthest downstream site on the schedule we headed for the uppermost. In 2012 we found 17 salmon fry at this site but none this year.

The uppermost site at Shesgnan Bothy. It is not a big river up here but that riffle was perfect salmon fry habitat

The uppermost site with Shesgnan Bothy behind. It is not a big river up here but those riffles were perfect salmon fry habitat

Working our way back downstream the pattern was repeated; a few trout fry, the odd trout parr and the occasional salmon parr turning up at most sites.

Again nice salmon fry habitat downstream of Melgarve.

Again nice salmon fry habitat downstream of Melgarve (well the instream bit at least!).

Trout fry caught at one of the survey sites

Trout fry caught at one of the survey sites

It was noticeable that in the upper sites all the salmon parr that we caught were large, i.e. over 100mm and almost certainly two year olds.

A very well conditioned salmon parr of 139mm from the site at Garva Bridge, not much wrong with the feeding experineced by that fish. Scale readings showed it to be 2+ years old.

A very well conditioned salmon parr of 139mm from the site at Garva Bridge, not much wrong with the feeding experienced by that fish. Scale readings showed it to be 2+ years old.

Two smaller salmon parr of under 100m were captured in two of the downstream sites, they were 1+ year old.

One ane two year old salmon parr.

One and two year old salmon parr.

This apparent absence of salmon fry above Spey Dam is of great concern. There has been no stocking above Spey Dam since 2010 so any fish present since then must have been naturally spawned. The sizes, and age classes of the salmon parr found this year match exactly the salmon fry counts over the last three summers. The better than expected recruitment of salmon fry in 2012 produced reasonable numbers of salmon parr last year with a lower number remaining as two year olds this summer, all of which will smolt in 2015. If the same absence of fry occurs next year the Spey above Spey Dam will be virtually bereft of juvenile salmon.

So in contrast to recent salmon fry counts on the Fiddich which were the best I have ever seen, this was the worst. There endeth a very disappointing day. Not so much a day of salmon fry counts more a day of no salmon fry counts……

Spey Fishery Board

Week Commencing 4th August 2014.

The river rose as predicted but was not as coloured as I feared. The rise was fairly short lived but it seemed to move the fish about and bring some more on the take. The forecast for the coming week is wet, tonight there is supposed to be over an inch of rain and the rain continues most of the week all be it less severe. My forecast suggests the winds will be light though other suggest we will get the tail of Hurricane Bertha (sounds like a Beatrix Potter Book) The BBC forecast suggests a yellow warning for rain fall but again winds to be relatively light. The tides continue to build till Wednesday but no new water after that. I will continue to check the tree branches first thing in the morning, if they are blowing about, it’s windy anything else is mere speculation.

Whilst fishing at Wester Elchies I landed this coloured grilse showing signs of the Anasakis Nemotode or red vent syndrome. I was reminded that I had not issued a warning about it this year but on more thought I hoped most anglers were returning all their fish in this year of shortage. But just in case there are some desperate people out there, remember to either cook the fish or to freeze it, do not eat it raw as in sushi and if smoking to freeze it first.

Anasakis Nemotode

Anasakis Nemotode

Catches, I think the river as a whole probably landed around 200 salmon and grilse making it the best river in Scotland. The Gordon Castle beats landed close to fifty fish, a mixture of salmon and grilse the largest was estimated at over 30lbs. Delfur continued to fish well with over forty caught and as usual I am grateful to Mark, Grant and Rory for taking the time and trouble to send me photographs. Most consistent angler was Rory Mountain who had fish every day.

Rory Mountain with the Cocker Pack.

Rory Mountain with the Cocker Pack.

Rory Mountain Collie Delfur

Rory Mountain Collie Delfur

DSCN4362

Nice seatrout.

Guess Who again! But he did catch a fish everyday

Guess Who again! But he did catch a fish everyday

John Ward 1st salmon.Delfur

John Ward 1st salmon.Delfur

Jack Melville Delfur "His biggest so far."

Jack Melville Delfur “His biggest so far.”

Archie Mountain Otter Delfur with Grant

Archie Mountain Otter Delfur with Grant

Emma Mountain Hollenbush del fur

Emma Mountain Hollenbush Delfur

Rothes had a reasonable week getting towards the mid twenties Penny Buchanan of Mr Dan Drew’s party was kind enough to send me some of her pictures. Again a mixture of old and new, and salmon and grilse.

George Buchanan Rothes

George Buchanan Rothes

Penny Buchanan & Robbie Rothes

Penny Buchanan & Robbie Rothes

Winning team again

Winning team again

George Buchanan with Robbie, Rothes

George Buchanan with Robbie, Rothes

I hear the beat above were also in the forties but as usual have no more information.

We managed six at Wester Elchies with a couple more lost.

Cuilean Wester Elchies

Cuilean Wester Elchies

The beats opposite were about the same. Carron went one better landing seven.

Again as I predicted the high water at Grantown brought some salmon up river and a few were landed on Monday, hopefully this forecast rain will bring some more up this week. The seatrout fishing continues to be good with over 200 landed with at least two approaching double figures.

Spey Fishery Board

Week Commencing 4th August 2014.

The river rose as predicted but was not as coloured as I feared. The rise was fairly short lived but it seemed to move the fish about and bring some more on the take. The forecast for the coming week is wet, tonight there is supposed to be over an inch of rain and the rain continues most of the week all be it less severe. My forecast suggests the winds will be light though other suggest we will get the tail of Hurricane Bertha (sounds like a Beatrix Potter Book) The BBC forecast suggests a yellow warning for rain fall but again winds to be relatively light. The tides continue to build till Wednesday but no new water after that. I will continue to check the tree branches first thing in the morning, if they are blowing about, it’s windy anything else is mere speculation.

Whilst fishing at Wester Elchies I landed this coloured grilse showing signs of the Anasakis Nemotode or red vent syndrome. I was reminded that I had not issued a warning about it this year but on more thought I hoped most anglers were returning all their fish in this year of shortage. But just in case there are some desperate people out there, remember to either cook the fish or to freeze it, do not eat it raw as in sushi and if smoking to freeze it first.

Anasakis Nemotode

Anasakis Nemotode

Catches, I think the river as a whole probably landed around 200 salmon and grilse making it the best river in Scotland. The Gordon Castle beats landed close to fifty fish, a mixture of salmon and grilse the largest was estimated at over 30lbs. Delfur continued to fish well with over forty caught and as usual I am grateful to Mark, Grant and Rory for taking the time and trouble to send me photographs. Most consistent angler was Rory Mountain who had fish every day.

Rory Mountain with the Cocker Pack.

Rory Mountain with the Cocker Pack.

Rory Mountain Collie Delfur

Rory Mountain Collie Delfur

DSCN4362

Nice seatrout.

Guess Who again! But he did catch a fish everyday

Guess Who again! But he did catch a fish everyday

John Ward 1st salmon.Delfur

John Ward 1st salmon.Delfur

Jack Melville Delfur "His biggest so far."

Jack Melville Delfur “His biggest so far.”

Archie Mountain Otter Delfur with Grant

Archie Mountain Otter Delfur with Grant

Emma Mountain Hollenbush del fur

Emma Mountain Hollenbush Delfur

Rothes had a reasonable week getting towards the mid twenties Penny Buchanan of Mr Dan Drew’s party was kind enough to send me some of her pictures. Again a mixture of old and new, and salmon and grilse.

George Buchanan Rothes

George Buchanan Rothes

Penny Buchanan & Robbie Rothes

Penny Buchanan & Robbie Rothes

Winning team again

Winning team again

George Buchanan with Robbie, Rothes

George Buchanan with Robbie, Rothes

I hear the beat above were also in the forties but as usual have no more information.

We managed six at Wester Elchies with a couple more lost.

Cuilean Wester Elchies

Cuilean Wester Elchies

The beats opposite were about the same. Carron went one better landing seven.

Again as I predicted the high water at Grantown brought some salmon up river and a few were landed on Monday, hopefully this forecast rain will bring some more up this week. The seatrout fishing continues to be good with over 200 landed with at least two approaching double figures.

Spey Fishery Board

Bertha leaves her mark

We were promised a wet and windy night from the tail of Hurricane Bertha and she certainly delivered. Looking at the river level websites it appears as if the whole of the Spey catchment was affected by heavy overnight rain and strong winds. The local burns at Knockando were very high this morning with the Spey mainstem still rising until about 12 noon. In the Aberlour area the river was up on the floodplain with some of the locals saying it was as high as they had seen. The river was transporting a huge volume of debris downstream, mainly tree trunks and branches, along with all the other accumulated debris from a couple years of relatively low water.

The Spey at Aberlour, hopefully it will peak soon.

The Spey at Aberlour, the river level here peaked at noon.

The weeks of nice summer weather experienced in July must seem a distance memory for some already. The farmers took advantage and made hay but these bales will probably not be much good now.

Make hay whilst the sun shines!

All that hard work for this

On the walls of one of the old railway line underpasses in Aberlour there are marks showing the levels of previous flood events. The Nov 2000 flood level was exceeded this morning although it would have to rise another 18″ to reach the July 1970 level.

Historic flood levels on an Aerlour underpass

Historic flood levels on an Aerlour underpass

This is my third year here and this is by far the biggest flood event in that time. The fishing will be out of action for a couple days for sure but of greater concern is whether these big flood events have any significant impact on juvenile fish stocks in the river. We have recently surveyed the mainstem using the timed electrofishing protocol so if we get the chance, and assuming that river levels drop back sufficiently, it would be good to repeat some of these sites to re-assess salmon fry numbers. I spoke to one of the ghillies at the lower end of the river this morning and whilst the river was still rising down there it wasn’t yet at the level of the 2009/10 floods. Looking at the history of flood events it is remarkable how often August features in flooding records; it is a month that can deliver intense rainfall.

However, it is never all negative with these things and the Ranunculus will hopefully have taken a hammering; as will other invasives such as himalayan balsam which have been spreading over some of the river gravel bars. We can only hope that not too much damage has been done to our juvenile fish stocks and other wildlife along the river.

Spey Fishery Board

Ballintomb Burn – LIFE project success

In order to improve fish passage up the Ballintomb Burn the “Irish Ford” pipe bridge across the lower reaches was replaced with a proper bridge in 2004 as part of the LIFE project. The Ballintomb Burn is noted for its dark peaty water, in fact yesterday you couldn’t see the bottom if it was more than about 6″ deep.

I had never surveyed the Ballintomb Burn before but as we are currently trying to balance the electrofishing survey plan with the need to prepare for forthcoming meetings etc Polly, Kirsteen and myself nipped out to fit in two surveys in close proximity to the office yesterday afternoon.

The new bridge over the lower reaches of Ballintomb Burn, constructed as part of the CASS LIFE project

The new bridge over the lower reaches of Ballintomb Burn, constructed as part of the CASS LIFE project

The survey site in the Ballintomb Burn was described as “500m upstream of Irish Ford”; a vague description, but the site photos combined with the GPS allowed us to find the exact survey site with little difficulty. As in many burns with a high level of tree cover the rocks were very slippery with algae; along with the dark water it was tricky wading.

Site SLB12b in the Ballintomb Burn. This is qute a high gradient area with a high percentage of boulders.

Site SLB12b in the Ballintomb Burn. This is quite a high gradient area with a high percentage of boulders.

We caught quite a few fish including 10 salmon parr.

Kirsteen measuring the catch. I thought the water looked tea coloured, others suggested it was like Vodka and coke - it's a generational thing I suppose!

Kirsteen measuring the catch. I thought the water looked tea coloured, others suggested it was like Vodka and coke – it’s a generational thing I suppose!

There a decent history of surveys at this site, mainly due to the involvement of the LIFE project, and it is pleasing to see that quite an improvement in the fish stocks have been recorded.

Both salmon and trout densities have improved post bridge construction. The parr densities for both species recorded yeterday were the best to date. Fry numbers are generally low at this site, probably due to the gradient and rough substrate, although the trout obviously did well in 2002!

Both salmon and trout densities have improved post bridge construction. Yesterday’s parr densities for both species were the best to date. Fry numbers are generally low at this site, probably due to the gradient and rough substrate, although the trout obviously did well in 2002.

There is only a short length of the Ballintomb Burn available to migratory fish due to the presence of a large set of waterfalls. The gains from the investment made by the LIFE project were therefore relatively modest but by making it accessible to migratory fish returns will occur now and for evermore more.

Shepherd's Linn on the Ballintomb Burn

Shepherd’s Linn on the Ballintomb Burn. This photo was taken in the winter, note the clear water.

Spey Fishery Board

Good fry counts in the Fiddich

Today we made a start on the electrofishing surveys in the River Fiddich. It was a delayed start to the day so we only managed four sites but they were productive. We used the same timed survey approach that we use in the Spey mainstem and in the other larger tributaries. This technique hadn’t bene used in the Fiddich before so there was no direct baseline rather it was more for comparison with other timed surveys across the catchment.

The first site was below the old railway bridge crossing just upstream of the Fiddichside Inn. I had sussed this location a few weeks ago and had high expectations as the habitat looked ideal.

To get to the site we had to battle through 8′ high Himilayan balsam, the tallest I have ever seen. However it was worth it as was we caught 322 salmon fry and a few parr in the three minute survey. This was the highest count from any of our fry surveys over the last three years.

322 salmon fry and parr in these two buckets

322 salmon fry and parr in these two buckets

There was a tremendous number of fish at this site, many of which were relatively large for fry in July. The thermal discharges from the many distilleries in the Fiddich is known to enhance the growth of fish in this tributary. At each of the four sites today there were a number of fish over 80mm (as well as larger more obvious parr). We took many scale samples as usual we will will know for certain once they are read if they were fry or small parr. The biomass of fish caught was high with damaged tail fins on many fish: a not unusual occurannce in sites with high fry densities.

Unfortunately due to my failure to activate the GoPro headcam the survey was not recorded on video. A pity as there was an impressive number of fish. Let’s just blame the jetlag!

The survey site in the lower River Fiddich

The survey site in the lower River Fiddich

The next site up was at Mains of Newton Farm. Here we caught 263 salmon fry and a few parr (subject to scale reading), along with a few trout and eels. This is I think the second highest salmon fry count we have recorded during the salmon fry counts.

The survey site at Mains of Newton. Holding the site board is Kirsteen Macdonald our seasonal summer assistant. With 3 years previous experiance with the Kyle of Sutherland fishery board Kirsteen was able to hit the ground running and has been a very able assistant. Kirsteen's father is a ghilie on the Oykel so she is well versed in salmon matters.

The survey site at Mains of Newton. Holding the site board is Kirsteen Macdonald our seasonal summer assistant. With 3 years previous experience with the Kyle of Sutherland fishery board Kirsteen was able to hit the ground running and has been a very able assistant. Kirsteen’s father is a ghilie on the Oykel so she is well versed in salmon matters.

The next site was opposite Kinninvie House. We couldn’t find a site with optimum habitat for fry but we still got 142 in the 3 minute survey. This site had the largest average salmon fry size of the day at 64mm, comparable with the very lower reaches of the Spey.

Kininnvie survey site; a bit too deep to be considered optimum fry habitat but we still had a good catch.

Kininnvie survey site; much of the site was a bit too deep to be considered optimum fry habitat but we still had a good catch.

The upper site today was downstream of Balvenie Distillery. The count was lower here; 75 fry were caught in 3 minutes, just above the average for all the sites done on the Spey mainstem this summer.

Balvenie Distillery survey site

Balvenie Distillery survey site

Nice trout from Balvenie site

Nice trout from Balvenie site

We will continue with the timed surveys on the Fiddich tomorrow. There appears to be no shortage of salmon fry in the lower Fiddich. I always reckon that whilst electrofishing in core habitat in a healthy salmon river you should catch a salmon fry/parr within 10 seconds of starting. That was certainly the case today.

Spey Fishery Board

Week Commencing 28th July 2014

You can tell when the fishing gets slow when the weekly report reads more like the Births Deaths and Marriages of the local paper; good news this week. Lisa and Blair Banks announced the arrival of their daughter, Emily Catherine Banks on Friday 1st August at 16.22. A very healthy nine pound twelve ounces! Congratulations to the Banks’ family.

Whilst out this morning checking on the river height and walking the dogs I came across this vehicle “parked” beside Carron Bridge. I wonder just what sets this canoeist apart from the rest of the population so he can park in front of a No Parking Sign, perhaps I misunderstood and the council spent all this money so canoeists did not have to walk after they had come down the river!

Ignorant, illiterate or just irresponsible?

Ignorant, illiterate or just irresponsible?

Anyway at long last we were promised rain and it actually arrived, the river is up and is coloured but I am sure anglers will be happy to lose some or all of Monday to clean up the river and get rid of the slime and weed. The forecast for the coming week is mainly dry and sunny except for Wednesday when there will be another spell of heavy rain. Tides there is no new water till Wednesday then the tides start to build again.

The turbidity is not looking good for Monday morning.

The turbidity is not looking good for Monday morning.

Catches, again the Spey continues to hold its own of course it is disappointing but I would rather be on the Spey than just about any other river in Scotland.

Gordon Castle picked away. Delfur continued to fish reasonably well; without going into details another few and they would have out fished the entire Tweed on Fish Tweed. Mark, Grant and Rory continue to supply me with photographs, perhaps that is Delfur’s secret, salmon like to appear on the Internet! The rest of the river continued to catch small numbers of fish most beats recording twos or threes.Rothes started the week and finished with a flourish but the middle is probably best forgotten. I see Grantown were continuing to catch decent sized seatrout, hopefully this rise of water should increase their salmon count.

Tom Mountain with Grant Delfur

Tom Mountain with Grant Delfur

Jack Campbell with Rory Delfur

Jack Campbell with Rory Delfur

Marina Gibson's fish Delfur

Marina Gibson’s fish Delfur

Rory nets another fish.

Rory nets another fish.

Henry Mountain Delfur

Henry Mountain Delfur

Georgiana Baker 1st Salmon Two Stones Delfur

Georgiana Baker 1st Salmon Two Stones Delfur

Obligatory Chocolate cocker shot

Obligatory Chocolate cocker shot

A late evening fish

A late evening fish

 

 

 

Spey Fishery Board

Another productive day on the Fiddich

Today we continued with our salmon fry index surveys up the Fiddich. The first site of the day turned out to be the best we have ever done with over 500 fish caught in the three minute survey. The catch comprised 389 salmon fry, 40 salmon parr, 67 trout fry and 5 trout parr. This one we did manage to record on video and it makes pretty impressive viewing. It takes a bit of time to upload and prepare these videos but we will get it online as soon as possible.

It was interesting to note that the average size of the fry at this site was 48.5mm; well down on yesterday’s sites where the fry averaged over 60mm. The difference almost certainly due to the absence of the temperature uplift arising from the distillery cooling water discharges.

The first site of the day, just upstream of the dullan Water confluence on the Fiddich. We caught over 500 fish in the short area of water in view below Steve.

The first site of the day, just upstream of the Dullan Water confluence on the Fiddich. We caught over 500 fish in the short area of water between Steve and the overhanging branches on the left bank.

Steve and Kirsteen processing the catch

Steve and Kirsteen processing the catch

Over 500 fish in these buckets

Over 500 fish in these buckets

The next site was also very good with 316 salmon fry and 70 trout fry. The Fiddich had produced the top three timed survey sites over the last three years.

Nice fry habitat in the second site of the day. Over 400 fry were caught in three mnnutes at this site.

Nice fry habitat in the second site of the day. Over 400 fry were caught in three minutes at this site.

The catch decreased in the next two sites, although still good with 59 salmon parr caught in one site a short distance downstream of Bridgehaugh where the Cabrach road crosses the Fiddich.

Above the road bridge we did a further four timed sites. The next two sites had a lot of bedrock substrate and fry number were lower although parr were good. The Fiddich was much smaller in size at the two upper sites surveyed this afternoon but we caught a surprising amount of salmon. 42 fry and 38 parr in the upper site of the day was very good in a relatively small watercourse which was verging on being more suitable for trout.

Second last site of the day. 90 salmon and trout were caught at this site.

Second last site of the day. 90 salmon and trout were caught at this site.

The last site of the day. Really nice instream habitat for juvenile salmon here.

Lovely habitat for juvenile salmon in the upper Fiddich. More salmon fry were found here than in the three sites downstream. Al to do with habitat quality and availablity of spawning substrate.

Lovely habitat for juvenile salmon in the upper Fiddich. More salmon fry were found here than in the three sites downstream. All to do with habitat quality and availablity of spawning substrate. The fry were a lot smaller up here, averaging 42mm.

We still have 4 more timed sites to do on the Fiddich plus some density sites but the last two days have really highlighted the productivity of the Fiddich as a salmon nursery area. I have carried out timed surveys in many different rivers and the Fiddich has been the best of all. The secret of its succcess is in the geology of the catchment and the high quality of its water. The presence of limestone results in a relatively high pH for the Spey. The pH of the Fiddich is consistently over 7, sometimes as high as 8, providing productive feeding. Long may it continue.

Spey Fishery Board

Week Commencing 14th July 2014

Another week goes by, still the river remains low and there is no rain in the forecast for next week. Temperatures are predicted to reach the mid twenties towards the end of the week. The tides are building all week. I would suggest the parties that are prepared to be anti-social will catch more fish; the afternoons will not be productive.

Catches: I thought the Spey was looking poor till I looked at some of the other rivers and the Spey is looking quite good in comparison! Gordon Castle got close to forty, the week started well but slowed a little. Willie Mair was kind enough to send me a couple of pictures.

Willie Mair's fish Beat 2

Willie Mair’s fish Beat 2

Another for Willie.

Another for Willie.

Delfur were into the twenties Mark, Rory and Mr Henry Mountain were kind enough to supply me with the usual selection of photographs. As can be seen there are a number of residents starting to be tempted.

Mark Melville Delfur

Mark Melville Delfur

Sir Edward Mountain Delfur

Sir Edward Mountain Delfur

Nathalie Mountain Delfur

Nathalie Mountain Delfur

Henry Mountain Hollenbush

Henry Mountain Hollenbush

Mrs Mills Mountain Otter.

Mrs Mills Mountain Otter.

Mills again Collie

Mills again Collie

Davie Macintosh Broom

Davie Macintosh Broom

Rory Paterson Collie.

Rory Paterson with Bill Govett’s fish  Collie.

Wester Elchies had a better week than of late with six landed rather than the usual five. I was lucky enough to be assisting Carol Simmonds when she expertly played this fish in Pol Shuan, making netting it very easy.

Carol Simmonds Pol Shuan Wester Elchies

Carol Simmonds Pol Shuan Wester Elchies

Safely netted.

Safely netted.

Carron I hear had a couple both caught late in the evening.

Again Grantown are crying out for water to help the salmon anglers but I understand the seatrout anglers are not complaing too much.

 

 

Spey Fishery Board