Controls on river temperatures in the Spey

Over the last two years we have assisted Marine Scotland Science with the maintenance and download of some of the Spey catchment temperature loggers. The loggers are downloaded twice a year, in the spring and autumn with the data emailed to the Freshwater Lab in Pitlochry.

Steve trying to unbolted the temperature logger on a chilly day in the River Fiddich. Some of the loggers are bolted to iron bars hammered into the riverbed (including this one), whilst others are tethered to land anchors on the riverbank.

Faye Jackson has coordinated this programme to date as part of her PhD. Faye, in conjunction others, has just published a paper on a modelling approach to predicting summer temperatures in the River Spey catchment. The paper investigated which factors were most influential for measurements such as the minimum, and maximum, 7 day average temperatures and the mean daily temperature. See Jackson FL, Hannah DM, Fryer RJ, Millar CP, Malcolm IA. Development of spatial regression models for predicting summer river temperatures from landscape characteristics: Implications for land and fisheries management. 

The paper shows that the factors likely to be predictors of the 7 day average minimum and mean temperatures were elevation, % riparian woodland cover and gradient. The relationship for all three was negative e.g. higher altitude generally means lower temperatures. No surprise there although keep reading for some interesting findings. It was the same relationship for woodland cover and gradient with higher levels of woodland cover and steeper gradients resulting in lower minimum and mean values. Interestingly the riparian woodland effect was only noticeable if the woodland cover exceeded 40%, a relatively high degree of cover.

The Spey is a well wooded river. Image from publication (source given above).

For Tmax, or the maximum 7 day average, river width and a factor called the River Network Smoother (RNS) – the details of which I won’t bore you but you can read all about it in section 2.4.2. of the report, but it is about the relationship of one part of the river with another! It was surprising to read that the percentage woodland cover was not one of the main factors affecting maximum temperature in this study.

The areas of the catchment where the highest maximum temperatures are predicted are at opposite ends of the catchment; the lower mainstem and above Spey Dam. That the high altitude reaches above Spey Dam should turn out to be one of the areas most prone to prolonged high temperatures is perhaps surprising, given its high altitude, but it is a wide and shallow river up there, and virtually devoid of any riparian trees cover. The paper suggests that woodland cover is most effective where channel widths are narrow, the gradient low and that the direction in which the river runs would maximise the impact of any shading.  Presumably east-west orientation would be best with shading on the south bank.

The upper reaches of the Spey above Spey Dam. Salmon are found here, although not in high density due to the hydro scheme below. It is utterly devoid of native woodland and during a hot spell it is easy to see how the water temperatures could soar.The highest temperature recorded in 2015 in the Spey logger network was in one of the upper Spey sites.

If the salmon population above Spey Dam could be restored, and that is possible given the will, it should perhaps be accompanied by a programme of tree planting in the most beneficial areas. Despite the papers conclusion that tree cover is not one of the most important factors influencing maximum temperature there are other benefits from tree planting, such as tree litter and fish cover – its not all about shading.

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Pacific salmon caught in River Spey

It was interesting to read reports on social media about an unusual salmon caught in the lower River Spey last week. The fish was caught by Raymond Duncan, a member of Speymouth Angling Association and neighbour of ex Spey ghillie Jock Royan, who posted the pictures. Appropriately enough the fish took a Kinermony Killer fly. Jock has kindly given permission for the photos to be used here.

An unusual catch on the Spey, a pacific salmon, thought to be a Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha).

An unusual catch on the Spey, a pacific salmon species, thought to be a Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha). The fish weighed 2.5lb, typical of this small species of salmon. The distinctive spots on the tail aid identification. This looks to be a female as the males develop a distinctive hump on the back at spawning time. It is spawning season now for pink salmon and judging by the colouration it looks to be quite mature.

The distinctive spotty tail

The distinctive spotty tail

It also had an impressive mouth full of teeth compared to our native atlantic salmon

It also had an impressive mouth full of teeth compared to our native atlantic salmon.

Recently the Environment Agency reported three similar fish had been caught in the Northumberland area in early August. Pink salmon do turn up occasionally in UK waters but there seems to be something of a minor influx at present. The Spey Fishery Board recommends that if any angler does catch one of these fish it should be killed and retained for examination. The Speymouth fish was retained and has been frozen pending examination. It will be interesting to read the age from the scales and do a full autopsy to see what information we can gleen.

Whilst it is unlikely that they are present in sufficient numbers to establish a breeding population in the UK they have apparently colonised some Norwegian rivers after being introduced in Northern Russia. Yet another potential invasive to keep an eye out for!

 

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River Spey Salmon Season Opening Day 2015

Duncan Bryden, Convener for the Cairngorm National Park Authority has kindly agreed to be our Guest of Honour at the Opening for the Salmon Fishing Season on Wednesday 11th February 2015.

The opening ceremony will take place at 9:00 am at Penny Bridge, Alice Littler Park in Aberlour with the traditional pouring of a bottle of Aberlour 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky into the fast flowing waters of the River Spey.  The honour will be conducted by last year’s winner of the Anniversary Quaich, Mrs Anne Cameron to bring luck to all those in pursuit of the elusive Spring Salmon.

To complete the ceremony Rev. Bob Anderson, Minister for Knockando and Rothes, will bless the river and Alan Sinclair will perform on the bagpipes.

Anglers are invited to attend the opening ceremony, before starting on their quest to catch their first Spring Salmon of the season.  To help celebrate the start of the 2015 season, drams of Aberlour 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky and samples of Walkers shortbread will be offered during the opening ceremony.  The Spey Fishery Board is grateful to the Aberlour distillery and Walkers for their continued generous sponsorship of this event.

The ‘Spey Anniversary Quaich’ will be awarded to the angler who catches the first salmon on the opening day, together with an opportunity to hand-fill and register their personalised bottle of cask strength Aberlour Single Malt Scotch Whisky and a Walkers shortbread hamper. The angler who lands the heaviest Salmon on opening day will receive a bottle of Aberlour A’Bunadh and a Walkers hamper.  For the ghillies in attendance, each will receive a bottle of Aberlour 18 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky and a Walkers shortbread hamper.

Peter Prentice, Heritage and Brand Experience Director for Chivas Brothers said: “We’re delighted to once again sponsor the opening of the River Spey salmon fishing season. Both Aberlour Distillery and the River Spey have a long history of bringing investment and visitors to the town. Aberlour distillery was established in 1879 by local philanthropist James Fleming, and we are proud of our strong heritage in Aberlour, where we continue to craft our world-renowned range of single malts to this day. As with last year’s event, the opening ceremony will take place on the Penny Bridge – which is very fitting since this was also commissioned by Fleming as a gift to the town.”

The Competition Rules can be found here.

To celebrate this event a Buffet Supper will be held at the Craigellachie Hotel on Wednesday 11th February at 6:00pm.  All are welcome to attend, although we would be grateful for confirmation of numbers in advance. The buffet will be at a cost of £18.95 (including VAT) per person which is payable to the Hotel on the night.

If you would like to attend this Celebratory Supper, please kindly advise the number of people in your party by telephone on 01340 810841 or by email to admin@speyfisheryboard.com by Friday 30th January at the latest.

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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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River Tromie: bottom to top

Over the last week we have taken advantage of the dry weather to electrofish the River Tromie from bottom to top. The Tromie joins the Spey a short distance downstream from Kingussie on the east side of the river. An interesting river, it has a hydro dam in the upper reaches which abstracts a lot of water but also provides flow regulation; to the extent that the Tromie didn’t suffer from the massive spate that most other Spey tributaries experienced on the 11th Aug. The reservoir was low before the spate to it was able to hold back a lot of water with only a minor spill event.

In order to try and get a good understanding of the fish population we completed a number of timed surveys on the mainstem as well as some quantitative mainstem and tributary surveys.

The river downstream of the the hydro dam to the confluence with the Spey is 16.5km in length with a drop in altitude from 425m to 220m; a gradient of 1.24%. Nine timed surveys were completed in this stretch. Salmon fry were found at all sites although generally in low to moderate numbers. The mean salmon fry count per minute in those nine sites was 6.4 (compared to 18+ on the Spey mainstem sites this year) with the range from 14 to 2 per minute. This fits with previous surveys on the Tromie where low fry densities were the norm. Parr counts averaged 3 per minute, similar to the Spey mainstem.

A jumbo parr from the lowest Tromie timed site at InverTromie Farm. A more normal sized parr is provided for comparison

A jumbo parr from the lowest Tromie timed site at InverTromie Farm. A more normal sized parr is provided for comparison

Timed site TT16 upsteream of Lyneberack Lodge. In this area the river was wide and shallow and it will be an important smolt production area. But even here there was a lack of good spawning gravels

Timed site TT16 upsteream of Lynaberack Lodge. In this area the river was wide and shallow and it will be an important smolt production area. But even here there was a lack of good spawning gravels

Density site T18, the river was more bouldery here; good parr habitat

Density site T18, the river was more bouldery here providing good parr habitat

The results from the five density surveys completed downstream of the dam were interesting. Here the mean salmon parr density /100m was 15.9 compared to 9.5 salmon fry. It is unusual for the parr density t be higher than fry although one of the sites was a short distance downstream of the dam where there were very few fry.

Possible hybrid salmon:trout fry from the site below the hydro dam. The upper fry was one of only a few true salmon fry found at the site althoughparr were abundant. The parr density at this site was the highest recorded in twelve surveys over fifeteen years at this site, but the fry density was the lowest.

Possible hybrid salmon:trout fry from the site below the hydro dam. A chunky fish with a trout like wrist it had characteristics of both species. The upper fry was one of only a few true salmon fry found at the site although parr were abundant. The parr density at this site was the highest recorded in twelve surveys over fifeteen years at this site, but the fry density was the lowest.

The fry at the timed site 250m downstream of the dam were the largest perhaps benefitting from some additional feeding from the loch water?

This kinky parr was found at site T18 downstream of Glentromie Lodge. It probably sustained some physical damage in its early dys

This kinky parr was found at site T18 downstream of Glentromie Lodge. It probably sustained some physical damage in its early days

Our conclusion was that the parr population below the dam was pretty good it could be even better if the availabilty of spawning gravels were not a limting factor. One of the major side effects of dams and impoundments is their impact of sediment transport downstream. Sediment can only move in one direction so there has to be a supply from upstream to maintain the ecosystem for gravel spawning fish like salmonids. Both the Tromie Dam and Allt Bhran intake effectivly throttle the supply of sediment to the lower river where there is a lack of the smaller substrate sizes.

Upstream of the Tromie Dam there are no sediment supply issues; the complete opposite infact, there is a super abundance of sediment. The Allt Gharbh Ghaig (pron. “Garry Gig”) is a highly mobile river with an incredibly steep catchment, much of which is bare rock or rock and scree. It is known to be highly responsive to heavy rainfall or even snow melt.

Uppee survey site in the Allt Gharbh Ghaig. The river channel itself is only about 10m wide but the river bed is about 80m. This must be an incredibly hostile environment for juvenile salmon. In the Spey catchment only the Feshie can compare in terms of river mobility.

Upper survey site in the Allt Gharbh Ghaig. The river channel itself is only about 10m wide but the river bed is about 80m. This must be an incredibly hostile environment for juvenile salmon. In the Spey catchment only the Feshie can compare in terms of river mobility.

There is little point doing any density sites in a mobile river like this; any site will never be stable enough for repeat survey comparsions to be made so we completed four timed sites. Salmon fry were found only in the lower site (1 per minute) and parr only in the lower and uppermost sites.

The lower timed survey site in the Allt Gharbh Ghaig. We found three salmon fry, four salmon parr and a few trout at this site.

The lower timed survey site in the Allt Gharbh Ghaig. We found three salmon fry, four salmon parr and a few trout at this site.

The only three salmon parr from the upper site. They were all large, probably 2+ years old at least.

The only three salmon parr from the upper site. They were all large, probably 2+ years old at least.

Spawning gravel injection site on the bamnks of the Gharbh Ghaig. None of this gravel can progress downstream of the dam but perhaps it should be helped on its way?

Spawning gravel injection site on the banks of the Gharbh Ghaig. None of this gravel can progress downstream of the dam but perhaps it should be helped on its way?

The other branch of the upper Tromie catchment flows through two natural lochs and is much more stable.

The Dubh Bhrodainn downstream of Loch Bhrodhainn. The picture shows the Allt Bhrodhainn confluence where the recent spate had dumped a load of gravel in the larger river.

The Dubh Bhrodainn downstream of Loch Bhrodhainn. The picture shows the Allt Bhrodhainn confluence where the recent spate had dumped a load of gravel into the larger river channel.

Our survey site just downstream of the footbridge produced quite a few salmon and trout fry and parr.

Upstream of Loch Bhrodhainn the Allt Loch an Duin provides pretty good instream habitat for juvenile salmon. We completed one density survey in a site which had only been surveyed once before; in 1999. The results were similar; less salmon parr but there were salmon fry present this year where there had been none in 1999. There were a lot more trout fry and parr this year.

The Allt Loch an Duin site between the Loch an Duin and Bhrodhainn.

The Allt Loch an Duin site between the Loch an Duin and Bhrodhainn.

The upper site was just below Loch an Duin. For the first time ever we found neither salmon fry nor parr at this site, although they were never abundant. The site itself is only 100m or so downstream of the loch and is on the very margins of salmon habitat in this part of the catchment.

Loch an Duin looking south. Just beyond the far end runs the Edendon Water, a tributary of the River Garry in the Tay catchment.

Loch an Duin looking south. Just beyond the far end runs the Edendon Water, a heavily abstracted tributary of the River Garry in the Tay catchment.

Although salmon were absent from the very upper site it was good to see that they were present in several sites upstream of the hydro dam. The smolt production above the dam will not be high, the river connecting the two lochs is much more significant in that respect that the Allt Gharbh Ghaig, but it seems to be found a sustainable level. Smolt production in the Allt Gharbh Ghaig itself will be ultra low, perhaps only a couple hundred, but this is salmon habitat at its most volatile and hostile.

To conclude this description of the Tromie I’l, relay a good story from Bob Laughton. He told about when he took a couple previous Delfur ghillies up this part of the catchment to do some salmon redd counting in the autumn. There could hardly be a greater contrast between the lush surroundings of Delfur and the wild hills of the Gaick Estate so it should be no surprise when the ghillies declared that it was a waste of time redd counting in this desolate place. Much to Bob’s delight, and I’m am sure the ghillies also, just where they stopped the pickup there were a pair of spawning salmon in the stream below – they are still there.

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