Archive for December, 2011

FCW records of seasonal salmon, grilse and sea trout catches 1891 to 2011

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

These bulletin blogs represent news about Finavon and the South Esk, and my views as a riparian owner. They are not the views of any other organisation, nor are they designed to promote the interests of any individual or organisation other than Finavon Castle Water and factors affecting the fishery.  Tony Andrews

If I were asked to identify the human activities that have adversely affected salmon and sea trout stocks in the South Esk I would answer with quite a long list! There is no doubt in my mind that obstructions to migration, mainly dams, and point pollution, mainly paper mills and sewage, have until quite recently been hugely damaging, but are now largely problems of the past. Agricultural pollution, including sheep dip, silage run off and diffuse pollution, and forestry drainage and acidification have all contributed. There is little doubt that, backed by EU habitat directives and SAC status, the work done by SEPA, SNH, the Esk Fishery Trust, and the South Esk Catchment Management Partnership has addressed these issues (and others, such as invasive species). There are obvious signs of habitat improvement throughout the catchment. As far as the South Esk’s wild fish stocks are concerned there is some way to go.

It is essential that the next stages of planning for the river are led by science. We must show sound data to support our arguments for improved management, because only then will decision makers in Scotland and Europe listen to us. The details in these century-old statistics are useful in that they show what the river is capable of producing, even in times of what I can only describe as environmental abuse. I have deliberately avoided mentioning predation and mixed stocks netting, because these are both contentious issues, especially at this very moment in the history of the river.  I am also aware of likely criticism of my using 111 years of catches at Finavon, which, after all, only represents about 12% of the whole fishable river. But if I look at the catches for two sample years, 1978 and 1980, I note that Upper Kinnaird, the beat immediately downstream of Kinnaird Dam, killed 915 and 897 salmon respectively, nearly all before the end of May. In those years Finavon’s spring catches were 6 and 8 respectively. Repairs and improvements to the Kinnaird Dam now enable salmon to spread into the upper river from early March onwards, and at Finavon we catch a few more spring salmon.

Tail of Tollmuir Pool

The tail of Tollmuir Pool at a nice height for a summer sea trout – just as dusk is falling.

With many of those problems resolved you would have thought that the numbers of salmon and sea trout entering the river would have improved, but that has not happened, except marginally. There is now far less netting effort than only a decade ago. Catch and release by anglers has become the norm, but the river’s overall catch has not really increased. What can be said is that fish can migrate into all parts of the catchment much more easily than in the past. But of course the numbers of fish returning from the ocean has decreased by about 50% in the last 30 years, and therein is the root of the problem. The cake is smaller and we are all looking for our slice of that cake to be just as big as it was in the past.

Sea trout. While it is not possible to give an accurate account of fishing effort, especially night fishing for sea trout, there are some groups of years where sea trout catches show marked variations. Sea trout are notoriously fickle. If there is a period of high water during the main run – traditionally at FCW the last two weeks of June and the first two of July – the fish will simply head for the glens, whereas in a dry year the sea trout shoals build up over the main weeks of the season becoming available to the stealthy and skilled night angler.

Salmon & grilse. The early twentieth century saw a shift in catches from autumn to spring, so that by the 1970s most salmon fishing effort was finished by mid June, with just the occasional effort made when conditions were good later in the season. The last 25 years have seen a return to an emphasis on the autumn runs of salmon & grilse, although in the last 5 years (2006 to 2011) there are signs of a recovery of the spring run, which may be connected with more spring fish entering the river as a result of no netting before 30 April each year. There are generally fewer fish returning to the South Esk, including spring fish. The ‘buffer effect’ of the nets not operating has probably augmented the early season rod catch. That suggests that salmon that have returned from their oceanic journey are now getting into the river and are available to the angler, whereas in the past they were not.

Year Sea Trout Weight of Sea trout Salmon & grilse Comments
1891 13 30lbs 113
1892 57 A very good year in the context of how lightly fished the beat was at that time.
1893 14
1894 3
1895 23
1896 17
1897 6 14lbs 19 Freshwater nets at Rossie bought off for 5 years
1898 8
1899 10
1900 5 60 48 salmon in October
1901 2 4 Only fished to end of May.
1902 25 12
1903 20 91 On 10 October R.D.G-G caught 7 salmon Total weight 108lb 12oz. 2x18lbs 8oz, 1x17lbs 8 oz,
1x16lbs 4oz, 1x14lbs, 1x 6lbs 8oz all in Tyndals & one 17lbs 8oz in Red
1904 23 21
1905 57 121lbs 15 No water in autumn
1906 47 101lbs 22 Low water in autumn
1907 26 61lbs 26
1908 15 33lbs 23
1909 21 45lbs 15
1910 13 29lbs 20
1911 3 7lbs 10
1912 15 35lbs 53 August to October average salmon weight 15lbs. Floods in May over 10’0”. Flooded Tannadice Lodge (beside the old road at the old bridge) 51 salmon in October.
1913 2 5lbs 17
1914 7
1915 7 15lbs 12
1916 35 75lbs 28
1917 23 50lbs 13 Good autumn water. No fish
1918 17 36lbs 18 Netting agreement between S Esk Estates & upper proprietors was “abrogated” this year (CB)
1919 1 3lbs 14 Kintrockat alledgedly caught 119 ST in one day (season catch 131)! Driest year since 1868. Were ST simply held up by Blaikie Mill dyke?
1920 2 5lbs 36 Melgund fishing bought by Finavon Estate. Joseph Johnson records show “large increase in ST netted from this year” (CB)
1921 2 5lbs 15 Flood highest recorded before to 1940. Mark in Tannadice House to record.
1922 1 2lbs 24
1923 55 Nets at Brechin “taken off” (CB)
1924 68 144lbs 54
1925 2 5lbs 83 FCW leased to Lord Kensington. Only last week in October fished. Best day 7 salmon (17 in October, but 65 fish caught in spring. CB notes “almost certainly included kelts”). “Nearly 400 S caught above Brechin.”CB
1926 29 65lbs 39 Not properly fished. 19lbs salmon caught on 20 February with water at 36 degrees F low and clear. (CB questions authenticity of spring returns)
1927 63 131lbs 43 Not properly fished (Spring return authentic according to CB) S.Esk totals: 250 Salmon, about 210 in autumn, & 377 ST.
1928 90 200lbs 25 “seatrout good (at FCW) this year” (CB) “1928 catches show large falling off from 1927” (CB). “Some waters did well with ST”
1929 63 134lbs 19  S Esk totals about 121 salmon & 346 ST. Only 21 S in Spring. “Inshewan returned 110 ST (a record) Salmon 30lbs & 35Lbs killed on Shielhill. Nearly all FCW bag on upper water”.
1930 34 75lbs 40 Sir Kirkman Finlay’s lease began. “autumn run now comes about mid November, and later every year” (Sir Kirkman F). “69 springers. 170 S&A fish 35 G & 843 ST. 111 finnock on lower water (sic). These returns do not include Kinnaird”. CB.
1931 24 53lbs 58 Bag for S Esk 398 Springers includes Kinnaird.
1932 16 40lbs 72 805 dead fish removed from river, mainly from ‘natural causes’ CB. Total S Esk: Total salmon= 596. Springers 349 G 10 S&A Salmon 237. ST 648.
1933 4 11lbs 14 S Esk catches: 128 Springers 6 G & 78 S&A fish & 411 ST. “Plenty of ST in river but salmon got disease badly” CB.
1934 28 65lbs 27  344 spring fish. 234 below Brechin & 90 above. 611 sea trout.
1935 22 48lbs 52 Sir Kirkman Finlay’s lease ended. October’s catch was 37 salmon weight 504.5lbs. Average weight 13.6lbs. 399 spring fish. 256 below & 143 above Brechin. 461 sea trout.
1936 61 132lbs 20 October’s catch was 14 salmon weight 156lbs. Average 11.1lbs. 239 spring fish. 212 below & 27 above + 9 grilse & 120 S&A salmon.
1937 107 220lbs 35 “July was an excellent ST month. Small spates kept the fish moving. The evening rise was best. August was very dry with few fish seen, the main run having passed through” J.Hay (keeper). Between 16/7 & 3/8 the catch was 4 grilse & 62 sea trout.  486 springers.349 below & 137 above. Totals for S Esk 700 S & 537 ST.
1938 302 620lbs 40 Timber and stone dyke built at Haughs to close channel cut on left bank during the winter. 209 springers. Below 121 & above Brechin 88. 22 grilse & 158 S&A fish 1089 ST.
1939 202 425lbs 52 Duke of Wellington tenant. J Hay (ghillie) caught 36lbs salmon in Boat Pool. In October 19 salmon were recorded at Finavon: weight 298lbs. Average weight 15.8lbs.
1940 164 355lbs 63 Flood 11’ 3” on 10 October Springers 201 Below Brechin 81 (v poor) & above 115 G 13. S&A fish 174. Totals S Esk 388 ST 1065.
1941 53 123lbs 75 A few autumn salmon. One of 32lbs from Flat Pool. One 7lbs 8oz fresh run grilse in Upper Goyte. Terence Horsley was a tenant.
1942 87 198lbs 40
1943 94 218lbs 44 Not properly fished. 37lbs cock salmon caught in Breadalbane by Marcus rod on 21 October on a 3” Devon.
1944 110 230lbs 33
1945 141 299lbs 61 29/10 flood 8’9”. Tannadice dam breached during summer
1946 112 245lbs 27 Wet year. Little night fishing. Mainly daytime catches of ST. One Oct S 18lbs & full of spawn.
1947 108 230lbs 94 Oct fish all red. Lowish effort. Very dry summer. One cock fish of 30lbs in Haughs Pool on 27 October.2 big spates. 18/10 9’0” : 26/10 8’0”
1948 139 286lbs 63 October fish all red. Few autumn fish. Breach in RB wall following 9’3” spate on 12/12
1949 42 90lbs 27 Flood of 9’ 10” Very short & sharp rise. Kinnaird fish pass altered to Malloch & Macfarlane plan.
1950 118 252lbs 42 One or two autumn fish only. Big flood. Height not recorded
1951 93 198lbs 52 No autumn fish. I think CB means no fresh fish, but exceptionally he does not mention red fish rtd.
1952 43 88lbs 35+1 Flood 8’9” on 8/3. One red fish.
1953 78 166lbs 22+1   = 23 AD G-G died leaving Finavon Estate to Susan Mazur. One autumn (F) salmon of 14lbs. Only one rod fished properly.
1954 102 214lbs 43+3   = 46 Upper proprietors’ lease of Kinnaird netting terminated” 3 red fish rtd.
1955 9 22lbs 13+9   = 22 Exceptionally dry summer. August 8th “off the gauge” 9 red October fish
1956 178 366lbs 17+8   = 25 “Extensive repairs to Kinnaird dyke impeded entrance to fish pass. 8 red Oct fish returned”
1957 254 530lbs 48+35 = 83 Big flood in Dec height not recorded. 35 red fish returned in Sept-Oct. No autumn fish
1958 144 312lbs 80+61 = 141 Most August fish in “fair condition” & 61 red fish returned in Spt-Oct
1959 88 198lbs 45 24/10 sea-liced grilse (m) of 7.5lbs
1960 262 563lbs 12oz 60+22 =82 25/10 spate 9’0” Sept& Oct 22 red fish returned
1961 111 233lbs 12oz 57+34 =91 Sept & Oct 34 red fish returned. 2 fresh autumn fish in Oct of 15.5lbs (f)  & 21.5lbs (m).
1962 204 445lbs 8oz 38+13 = 51 29/9 Spate of 10’0” at Braedownie. Bridge destroyed. 7’1” at Brechin. Sept & Oct 13 red fish returned. 2 ST over 4lbs.
1963 266 690lbs 8oz 40+21 = 61 A Walker killed ST of 6lbs 2oz. Sept & Oct 21 red fish returned. Joseph Johnsons caught a 20lbs 14oz ST in nets 33” length 27” girth. Best ST at FCW = 6lbs 6oz.
1964 165 328lbs 12oz 50+21 = 71 D.Reid killed ST of 6lbs 6oz. Sept & Oct 21 red fish returned.
1965 317 690lbs 8oz 26+10 = 36 Joseph Johnsons caught a 20lbs 14oz ST in nets 33” length 27” girth. Best ST at FCW by by R Smith at 7lbs 4oz. 10 red fish returned. 1xfresh salmon in Sept of 18lbs 12oz
1966 225 462lbs 47+11 = 58 Spates 10/4 8’6” : 6/10 8’3”. 11 red fish returned. Same summer Alan Ramsay caught 11bs ST at Inshewan. Best ST = 7lbs 4oz. 2xST of 5lbs+ & 13xST of 4lbs+
1967 158 346lbs 12oz 24+2
= 26
2 red fish returned. UDN killed “virtually all fish”. Best ST = 6lbs 12oz & another of 6lbs 8oz. 1xST of 5lbs+ & 3xST of 4lbs+.
1968 54 114lbs 12oz 8 Kinnaird ST at 11lbs 8oz. 1xST of 5lbs+ & 5xST of 4lbs+
1969 32 70lbs 13 Post UDN recovery. New fish pass Kinnaird dyke.
1970 39 85lbs 8 Post UDN recovery. April spring fish of 24lbs (Tyndals). G Parker had 7lbs 4oz ST from Little Goyte.
1971 14 30lbs 5+1 Sept one red fish.
1972 41 86lbs 11 No red fish
1973 14 30lbs 7 Flood on 12/1 7’7”. No red fish
1974 21 45lbs 4 Floods 29 & 30 Jan 8’9” and on 23/11 8’4”. No red fish
1975 12 28lbs 3+7    = 10 7 red fish returned in Sept & Oct
1976 17 37lbs 15 Lightly fished. Plenty of sea trout in the pools at FCW.
1977 23 48lbs 31 Lightly fished. Tenants ill.
1978 39 91lbs 8oz 14 Lightly fished. Ditto
1979 41 75lbs 8oz 15+3   = 18 Lightly fished. Ditto 3 red fish returned.
1980 105 226lbs 12oz 18 4 sea trout of 4lbs to 4.5lbs. One ST of 6lbs. No red fish in October
1981 141 300lbs 6 S.Paisley KAC caught a 9.5lbs ST. Age 7/8 & S3 at Inshewan.
1982 37 71lbs 63+3   = 66 This year is an aberration in a rapidly improving ST catches period after recovering from UDN. Spates. 1/10 8’3”: 4/10 9’1”: 14/10 10’8” (huge). 3 red Oct fish & 2 fresh Oct grilse of 10.5lbs (M) & 8.75lbs (F)
1983 111 242lbs 12oz 111+6 = 117 ST of 6lbs 5oz, 6lbs and 4lbs 8oz. Beginning of ST abundance & for next 15 years. Cyril Butler lease ends.
1984 Nil Nil Nil NO RECORDS (in the ownership of Forfar Potato Company – Ken Smith). One big spate 10/11 8’1”
1985 320* 650lbs 117 First year of Andrews & Stansfeld ownership. Underfished. Excellent sea trout fishing at night, especially Tyndals & Willows.
1986 111 240lbs 47 Wet year. Little night fishing. Mainly daytime catches of ST.
1987 227 524lbs 63 V poor grilse. Low effort. Very dry summer. 2 big spates. 18/10 9’0” : 26/10 8’0”
1988 308* 630lbs 159 Low effort. Very dry summer. 2 big spates. 18/10 9’0” : 26/10 8’0”
1990 350* 710lbs 72
1991 368* 740lbs 184
1992 344* 700lbs 186
1993 312 750lbs 108
1994 242 290lbs 79 Another dry summer. Montrose Basin net & coble S=280, grilse=650 & ST 2,200 (approximate figures given verbally to APHA by Noel Smart)
1995 475* 965lbs 99 Montrose basin net & coble ceased operating. Record ST year. Nets killed 95,12% of salmon, 67.93% of grilse & 15.13% of sea trout.
1996 144 294 lbs 75  Nets killed 93.13% of salmon, 51.47% of grilse & 35.5% of sea trout.
1997 214 270lbs 48 Good ST. Good salmon & grilse. Nets killed 94.80% of salmon, 62.49% of grilse & 18.50% of sea trout.
1998 358 457lbs 77 Excellent ST year. Salmon & grilse good. SEAIA concluded buy-out of Montrose Basin net & coble. Nets killed 90.38% of salmon, 57.92% of grilse & 43.07% of sea trout.
1999 147 326lbs 46 Good ST year. Salmon slightly above average. Nets killed 80.06% of salmon, 47.62% of grilse & 24.60% of sea trout.
2000 259 553lbs 100 Very poor Sept & Oct. Nets killed 69.15% of salmon, 77.66% of grilse & 57.71% of sea trout.
2001 213 426lbs 82 Nets killed 84.46% of salmon, 93.11% of grilse & 70.01% of sea trout (dry year: it shows! APHA)
2002 256 536lbs 103 Sea trout abundant & drought followed by wet October 28/10 D Strachan caught 10 salmon 1x14lbs, 5x10lbs, 1x6lbs, 2x5lbs & 1x4lbs. Nets killed 66.97% of salmon, 86.50% of grilse & 71.90% of sea trout.
2003 122 254lbs 38 Severe drought. Nets killed 79.78% of salmon, 95,07% of grilse & 84.49% of sea trout.
2004 128 175lbs 177  Nets killed 78.54% of salmon, 86.84% (3,335) of grilse & 88.49% of sea trout. Total salmon killed in District by all methods = 4,246.
2005 108 192lbs 119
2006 101 211lbs 153
2007 98 206lbs 118 Below average year for both salmon & sea trout
2008 100 246lbs 220 Exceptional August (93 S & G). ST
numbers slightly up on recent years.
2009 118 244lbs 103 A generally poor year for both S & ST. First year of combined FCW & Fortesk beats.
2010 121 255lbs 136 Disappointing salmon but ST slightly up on recent years.
2011 101 216lbs 139 No big sea trout. June spate took ST shoals up to glen. 33 spring fish caught & returned. VG spring run. At least same number lost. October fishing disappointing.

Notes on Marine Scotland’s plans for the South Esk 2012 to 2014.

The Government’s agreement with Usan Fisheries is based on the premise that no netting will take place in the South Esk District between the start of the season on 16 February and the 30th of April each year for the next three years (2012, 2013 & 2014). Cessation of netting during this period means that nets will operate for 75 days less than the normal period during the early spring months. This period (16/2 to 30/4) is 11 weeks. By subtracting the statutory slap time of 60 hours per week (totalling 660 hours over the period) the fishing time remaining during this period is 1180 hours which equals 49.5 days. To protect the South Esk’s spring salmon we therefore have three years of zero exploitation by nets for 49.5 days in February, March and April.

The proposal that a licence is granted by the Minister to allow the Usan nets to fish during the first two weeks of September has yet to be confirmed. If this extension to the netting season is approved for three years, during the period of Marine Scotland’s South Esk national model project, this 14 day period less statutory slap time (120 hours in the 2 week period) equals 216 hours or 9 days. Much depends on the slap time being observed, which was not the case in 2010.

If we take the two together, the spring period of no netting and the September possible licence period of 9 days extension to the netting season (for three years) we have a 40.5 day benefit of no netting operations in the South Esk District, which is a significant reduction on the previous net operating period, and focuses conservation effort on the ‘fragile’ spring salmon stocks.

While the purpose of ceasing commercial netting in the spring continues over the next three years Marine Scotland Scientists will undertake a radio tracking project of net caught and released salmon, initially to track spring salmon, but also to monitor the migrations of salmon from the Usan nets throughout the season. There are two obvious outcomes from this research:

1. We should learn which parts of the South Esk system are being used by spring salmon for spawning and juvenile habitat.

2. From genetic sampling of fish caught in Usan nets we should start to build a detailed picture of which salmon are bound for the South Esk and which for other rivers.

The implications of both outcomes could be hugely significant for better management of the South Esk; however, I will not explore these further at this point on the grounds that my comments might appear provocative!


Notes on FCW historical catch records

Monday, December 5th, 2011

These bulletin blogs represent news about Finavon and the South Esk, and my views as a riparian owner. They are not the views of any other organisation, nor are they designed to promote the interests of any individual or organisation other than Finavon Castle Water and factors affecting the fishery.  Tony Andrews

The South Esk must be one of the most badly treated Scottish east coast rivers. Similar to the lethal pollution meted out to the Aberdeenshire Don from paper mills, the South Esk suffered long term damage from badly constructed and maintained dams, over exploitation by nets, Brechin sewage & paper mill pollution, and a general disregard for one of our most productive small rivers. It just surprises me that the river has stocks of both salmon and sea trout as healthy as they are today. But the river’s fortunes are changing…

The South Esk is benefitting enormously from its SAC status. Money has been spent on improving habitats for spawning and juvenile fish in the upper catchment and tributaries. As a priority catchment for dealing with diffuse pollution from agriculture, SEPA is developing a model regime of controls and incentives for farmers. The South Esk Catchment Management Partnership is raising public awareness of the importance economically and socially of The South Esk to Angus. In addition to these external influences on the river’s wellbeing the Esk Rivers Trust has done some sterling work to eradicate giant hogweed and Japanese knotweed, as well as some innovative and important habitat improvement work in Glen Clova, especially the planned Rottal Burn restoration project. But the trust is strapped for cash while the Esk Fishery Board is sitting on cash reserves of over £300,000. It would seem that the board does not view its capital assets as the rivers for which it is responsible. Quite why the board has such large reserves at a time when the rivers, not least the South Esk, need investment, is beyond my understanding (George Pullar doesn’t want to sell his netting rights, so forget that). If there is a ‘rainy day’ they are waiting for, perhaps someone could explain what that rainy day is! It could therefore be argued that in terms of freshwater and terrestrial management the South Esk is in a better place than it has ever been, but it could be a lot better if the Esk Trust had more resources to build on its successes.

The two major problems that affect the numbers and quality of returning salmon and sea trout are high mortality at sea and the unknown impact of mixed stocks exploitation. Only one of these is under our direct control, but one thing is absolutely clear – that we must continue to improve the conditions in the river and its tributaries to enable the maximum number of naturally generated smolts to leave the river in the spring of each year. At the end of the day the river is a natural ‘smolt factory’ and the success of our management of the freshwater environment can be measured by the numbers of smolts produced by the river. We should be measuring this output.

During the years of relative abundance we could expect between 25% and 30% of our smolts to return to the river as adult fish. In the 1960s and 1970s there was also a number (details unknown) of ‘second-returners’. These reconditioned kelts returned to the sea and recovered sufficiently to return to spawn for a second time. Most of these second returners were female and were therefore important ‘egg carriers’. Nowadays we expect to see only the very occasional second returner. It is interesting to note that in Canadian rivers, especially the Mirimashi, the return rate of spawned fish is very high. On my recent visit to Canada the river Mirimashi biologist told me that the return rate was thought to be “about 30%”. An interesting aspect of the Canadian post kelts is that they wait in the Bay of Fundy for the outgoing smolt migration before heading off north into the Labrador Sea. Biologists are speculating that these older fish may be showing the post-smolts the way to the feeding grounds – effectively ‘shepherding’ them along the migratory route!

A quote from the Menzies report of 1957 explains a key feature & influence on S Esk spring runs, “The dykes are of oldstone construction, but if any are fronted & coated with cement the obstruction to fish is increased very greatly and what was formerly comparatively harmless may have become very serious. Watch should be kept for repairs”. (Menzies 1957). I will publish the Menzies report in this bulletin soon.

The relationship of FCW spring catches to numbers of spring salmon caught at Upper Kinnaird, which is the double bank beat from the Kinnaird Dyke down to the Boat Pool – a total distance of about 1500 yards, tells the real story of why the South Esk has not returned stronger spring salmon catches from the middle and upper river. If you look at the period from 1977 to 1990 you will see that Upper Kinnaird was consistently giving returns of 200+ salmon, the bulk of which were caught before the middle of May. During the same period Finavon’s spring catches were lacklustre – to say the least. Since 1998 the Kinnaird Dyke has been much improved, thanks to a simple but highly effective adjustment by Colin Carnie. The situation today is that spring salmon disperse throughout the middle river in March. I would not be a bit surprised in the next few years to see the occasional early salmon caught at Finavon in February.

A note on netting (by CB): “Net & coble were worked to the foot of Brechin Papermill Dyke. 16 nets fished 5 miles of river below Brechin until 1897 when all nets were removed from fresh water. There were two other dykes below below Brechin, East Mill & Balbirnie” (Calderwood). The Brechin Papermill Dyke was removed in 1935 (Grimble’s salmon rivers of Scotland 1913 has a good picture of this dyke on page 134). Other references **”Vicissitudes of an Angus river “by AG Chalmers (Eskmount Finavon II 1935). Excerpt from Country Life 22/4/1965 and W Jamieson R.South Esk Kinnaird Castle F III 21.

**I will publish “Vicissitudes of an Angus River” in this bulletin soon.

Some idea of the potential of the South Esk can be seen in the 111 years of records, especially in wet years (when coastal netting is less effective) or in years of great abundance. But there isn’t much doubt that the obstructions within the river (thankfully mostly now removed except for Kinnaird Dyke) have been a major cause of preventing salmon and sea trout getting up into the upper river to spawn. It really is amazing that stocks have held up so well, but imagine what it could be like if the river had been better managed….

Best years for spring salmon at Finavon: 1925: 64, 1947: 36: 1940: 35, 1945: 34, 2006 & 2011: 33, 1941: 32. Cyril Butler (CB) wrote, “April ’39, ’40, ’41, ’47 very good fishing. ’50, ’51, ’52, ’53 very poor. Salmon recover in ’54. Thereafter getting steadily worse though fishing in May improving until 1967 (UDN)”

Worst years at Finavon

1918, 1929, 1933, 1984: No Spring fish

1902, 06, 07, 12, 46, 51, 68, 71, 75, 85: one fish only

Averages of recorded spring salmon catches at Finavon over 111 years

Average spring 1900 to 2011 = 11.76 salmon

Average 1900 to 1925 = 9.69 salmon (26 years)

Average 1926 to 1956 = 15.35 salmon (31 years)

Average 1957 to 1987 = 9.03 salmon (29 years)

Average 1988 to 2011 = 12.24 salmon (21 years)

Average 2006 to 2011= 21.0 salmon (6 years)

A point of interest: During the six years 2006 to 2011 Inshewan’s spring catches were 29, 8, 28, 15, 6 & 28 giving an average of 19 spring salmon (Inshewan is 5 miles upstream of Finavon)

1. It was a considerable surprise to learn that the last 6 years have shown the best spring salmon catches at Finavon since the 1940s .

2. These improved catches may well be connected with the end of coastal netting south of the river’s estuary in February, March and April since 2006, and therefore probably reflect increased escapement rather than higher recruitment (which takes a minimum of 5 years for MSW fish)

3. There is also a benefit to middle river beats, of which FCW is one, from the improved Kinnaird fish pass. This is because migrating adult fish can now traverse the pass in nearly all water levels and temperatures, thanks to Colin Carnie’s subtle bu effective alteration in 1998..

4. In future blogs I will return to both of these points, but the one I want to make now is that remnants of the spring salmon run are still present and, where water levels and temperatures allow, spring salmon are being caught, despite the relatively low rod effort (about which more in a later blog).

5. While I will make no claim that all is well with the spring contingents of the South Esk’s salmon stock, I will say that the pessimistic statements made by some people are not consistent with the data provided by Finavon’s catches, although these stats only give a snapshot, not the complete picture.

6. I still have some double checking to complete on some of the above catch figures, but they are fairly accurate as they stand. The only year absent is 1984 when there were no records made.

It is important that we recognise that coastal netting and in-river netting have declined massively over the years. The Esk District has one of a small number of mixed stocks netting operations that still exist. It is worth noting that the Usan nets are particularly effective in killing large numbers of South Esk bound salmon, perhaps as many as 3,000 in a season. The fact that these nets do not operate in the first two and a half months of the season does allow early running fish free access to the River. Were these nets still operating during that early season period I am confident that our spring catches would be considerably less. But, in my opinion, the biggest influence on rod catches, certainly above Brechin, has been the numerous dams in the river. More on this in future blogs.