Archive for May, 2011

A pristine river and concerns about freshwater mussels

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Yesterday in lowish water Moray had an 11 lbs salmon from Frank’s Stream, which is his favourite FCW pool. The fish took a size 10 Finavon Cascade variant tied by Pete at the point where the current, after deflecting away from the S bank, spreads out across the river. Whilst not detracting from Moray’s lovely fish, Frank’s Stream must be the easiest FCW pool to fish: indeed you could fish it in your carpet slippers, barely getting the uppers wet, so well trimmed is the grass along its bank!

Today the river is running at 4″ with a healthy ‘bulge’ around the sides of the Armchair (webcam) boulder. The water is clear and the colour of a very pale malt whisky. Conditions are perfect for dawn and dusk fishing. And there are fish in the pools!

Freshwater Mussels in the South Esk

There is concern in SNH and the Esk Trust about the wellbeing of South Esk Freshwater Mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera). The well-known mussel beds at the Sawmill Dam on Cortachy Castle water, where regeneration of the mollusc has been monitored over a number of years, are showing a decline. Noone knows why, although the ERFT view is that it may be because of excessive amounts of silt being washed down from Glen Clova. The SNH/SEPA view is that there may be an issue with pesticides, but their origin and precisely how they affect the mussel is unknown. Further down the river, as I mentioned in a previous blog, large numbers of mussel shells, of varying sizes, indicating a range of age groups, were washed out by the winter spates. Marshall Halliday, the Trust’s director, feels that the increasingly violent spate ‘events’, that did not occur in the past, may be causing damage to mussel beds. I think there may also be a connection with the loss of the dams on the river (only Kinnaird remains as an effective barrier and ‘holder back’ of a significant reservoir of water) because the quieter water and lades associated with these structures provided habitat for freshwater mussels. Disappearance of the dams (or ‘dykes’) has removed those ‘oases’ of suitable habitat.

You may be wondering why freshwater mussels are important, and indeed why I keep on banging on about them. My angle on the subject is based on awareness of the important SAC (Special Area of Conservation) status of the South Esk. This EU designation has provided the River with its priority status for habitat enhancement, and with that some really significant amounts of money. Margaritifera margaritifera is not just an interesting freshwater species, which it certainly is:  it is also a biological indicator that tells us a lot about the condition of the River – its habitat, flows and water quality. Most of all, because of a fascinating parasitic relationship with the salmon (and sea trout) it tells us a lot about where our salmon and sea trout are going within the catchment, and has undoubted indicator implications for the health of individual populations of both species of fish.  And all this because the larvae (Glochidium) of the mussel hitch a ride in the gills of our wild salmon and sea trout! How else could they get upriver you might ask?

* If you are interested in finding out more about the freshwater mussel I recommend Fred Woodward’s superb little book ‘The Scottish Pearl in its World Context”  Diehard 1994 ISBN 0-946230-27-7 or, on the law,  the Scottish Executive pamphlet “Scottish Conservation Priorities” – freshwater pearl mussels, pressures, conservation and enforcement of wildlife law.

Sunny May morning: Tyndals

Here’s a photo of Tyndals taken early this morning. The river rose a few inches overnight, but by 0900 was dropping back slowly.


The level drops but the spring salmon keep running

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Yesterday I had to be in Edinburgh, which meant that I missed a day of action at FCW. Although only two salmon were caught, both by FCW ghillie Moray Macfarlane (about which more laterin this blog), other rods saw fish, lost fish and suffered the usual range of tweaks and bumps from spring salmon not quite in the mood to engulf the fly. The water is clear and a very pale amber in colour but there is still sufficient water – a bulge around the sides of the ‘armchair rock’  in the centre of our webcam – to keep fish moving upstream, with the very occasional one taking the fly.

10 lbs salmon

10 lbs salmon

Moray Macfarlane’s two fish came from Frank’s Stream (10 lbs) and Tollmuir Pool (13 lbs). Of course Moray knows the water well, especially the lower two beats (Indies and Bogardo), and the best time to fish each pool. His approach to the Tollmuir Pool was from the right (S) bank and, after fishing down the stream, he hooked the fish in the main part of the pool opposite the big boulder, which is the main lie. He was fishing with one of Pete’s flies tied for Finavon following a discussion with me about the Finavon Whisp. My argument was that, because I am a poor exponent of the fly tying art, the same effect as a Finavon Whisp could be achieved by considerably reducing the amount of dressing on Pete’s Cascades and their variants. The result was a collection of beautifully tied flies commissioned specially for FCW. When Moray saw them he began to salivate (!), and immediately commissioned some for himself! Both his Tollmuir salmon and the Frank’s Stream one were caught on a Finavon Cascade lightly tied by Pete on silver Salar doubles (size 10).

Unless there is more rain I suspect that the fishing will become more difficult, but the weather forecast gives grounds for optimism. Whether we get rain or not the prospects for South Esk sea trout runs are starting to look very good indeed, especially now that there will be no deliberate killing of sea trout by the Usan nets. However, if we are to see more late spring MSW salmon, we will need more water.


Post-spate clear water, salmon in the river and great news for our sea trout

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

With the water clean & clear – the pale sherry colour of a top Speyside malt – and the level holding well with top-ups from showers in the hills, the late spring salmon run continues. I was pleased to see that Cortachy and Downie Park had six fish yesterday (14/6), I suspect with a high level of expertise going into the catching of them. At Finavon Ian Maclean caught a fresh 8lbs fish in Melgund Pool (Indies Beat) and late in the evening I had a 2lbs sea trout from Upper Melgund Pool, fishing from the south bank. We saw a few travelling fish, and my guess is that from now on the upper river will do much better than so far this season.

Ian Maclean: 8lbs

Ian Maclean's salmon 8lbs

The upper river – Kirriemuir Angling Club up to Gella Bridge, Cortachy Castle and Downie Park from the Sawmill Dam to Shielhill Bridge, and Inshewan – is really the cream of the South Esk fishing. While the genuine middle beats – exemplified by Finavon, Careston and Kintrockat – offer the angler some good fishing, especially in the spring and autumn, and for sea trout, the ‘highland character’ of the South Esk is defined by those beautiful upper river beats: I often think of them as the essence of the South Esk, a true Highland river, whilst the middle and lower beats all the way down to Kinnaird and House of Dun, are more lowland in character, or, as someone said to me the other day, more like a West Country river.

This morning (16/5) I heard from Marshall Halliday, Clerk to the Esks Fishery Board, the excellent news that the nets at the mouth of the South Esk (the USAN  nets) will be releasing all sea trout back into the sea alive with immediate effect. 

This is marvellous news for the South Esk and should allow our beleaguered sea trout stocks to continue rebuilding. I must congratulate the Board for getting its priorities right and negotiating this matter to its logical conclusion. The South Esk’s economy is based on its sea trout as well as its salmon. This is truly a great start to the week, and the news comes in the nick of time to let all our early sea trout, as well as the main runs later in the summer, into the river.