Fiddich redd count (interim)

I did an interim redd count on a section of the Fiddich recently. I use the term interim as we counted this stretch a week or two later last year, another visit will be made if time permits.

The Fiddich rose slightly the day before the count and there was a tinge of colour but it was still easy enough to count redds. The wee rise had stimulated more spawning activity and there were quite a few fish on redds. I had previously heard from Andy Logan that there was more activity than last year so it was good to get some figures on record.

A Fiddich redd, unmistakable tis year due to the algal growth on the substrate - there hasn't been a spate in the lower catchment for weeks, if not months.

Fiddich redds, unmistakable this year due to the algal growth on the substrate – there hasn’t been a spate in the lower Spey catchment for weeks, if not months. No confusing that big redd in the background for anything other than a salmon redd.

Last years redd count  (it is undertaken between two specific points) resulted in a count of 36 redds. This year, to date, there were 66 in the same part of the river. A good increase with a mixture of grilse and big salmon spawning and still time for more. In the equivalent blog last year I mentioned that there were clusters of up to three redds, well this year there were groups of 6/7 in several locations. Some fish seen spawning in areas previously used; better watch out –  almost used the “O” word there!

Click here for a short video of a pair on a redd with my dog showing great interest, I don’t think he could see the fish but I’m sure he can smell them!

Steve and myself will be out several days during the next week to count some other areas (weather permitting), if anyone would like to join us just get in touch.

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Upper Fiddich redd count

More accurately this section should be described as the upper, middle reaches of the Fiddich; salmon go a lot further up than the stretch we counted today. Incidentally someone asked last night for the origin of the term “redd”. I was stumped but a quick internet search suggested that it was originally a verb meaning to “put in order; tidy” or “to clear” see http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/redd  (other web references are available). I can see the connection with a fish cleaning or preparing the gravel ready for the eggs, or as someone else suggested, a clean area of gravel! In Ayrshire spawning was referred to as “redding”, a more literal use of the term.

Today Steve and I were joined by Ian, who fortunately for him, lives almost on the banks of the Fiddich. We counted this stretch on the 2nd Dec last year but in 2015 the weather was befitting the first day of winter with lying snow and sleet falling; last year it was a beautiful autumn-like day.

The stretch counted starts where the Cabrach road crosses the Fiddich. This year there were 4 or 5 redds immediately below the bridge (always good vantage point), a good start.

Typical Fiddich salmon redd

Typical Fiddich salmon redd

Very few fish were seen, just the odd cock fish, the spawning was effectively over. As with all the middle and lower Spey tributaries differentiating between salmon and sea trout redds is tricky but we tried to be quite critical today.

This one was a unanimous salmon redd: all three judges agreeing

This one was a unanimous salmon redd: all three judges agreeing!

The 2015  count was impressive; 139 salmon redds with 49 counted as trout redds. This compares with 57 salmon and 4 trout redds in 2014. I suspect we were harder on the identification of the redds today but the total count was definitely three times higher than last year. The 2015 count also compares favourable with others in the longer dataset. The highest count was 480 in 1993 but that was a combined count including the downstream section as far as the Dullan mouth, I suspect that count would also have included both trout and salmon redds.

Habitat quality in this stretch of the Fiddich generally good, there is bankside grazing but not too intense with riparian trees almost throughout.

There was a cracking root ball on this alder, I wonder how much longer it will last?

There was a cracking root ball on this alder;  how much longer can it last?

A new channel where the Fiddich has meandered through the riparian wood.

In a few places the Fiddich had cut new channels, or more accurately reopened paleo-channels. In the photo above a relatively new channel was becoming established where the Fiddich has meandered into the alder wood.

There endeth my redd counting for 2015, the spate that is bound to follow this mild evening will flatten many of the redds making counting more difficult. Still it was good to be impressed by the number of redds in the Spey at last!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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