Archive for November, 2012


Sunday, November 25th, 2012

 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

These bulletins are not exclusively about FCW or the South Esk. I am lucky to be able to travel where the salmon swims to keep in touch with knowledgeable scientists and fishery managers. On the basis of what they tell me I try to relate what is happening in the Ocean with what they tell me about salmon returning to Finavon’s pools. Those fish are likely to be the multi sea winter salmon that return to the South Esk in the early months of the year, and again perhaps in the autumn. One day genetic mapping will give us the full picture.

Secrets of the salmon’s life revealed: As we open each new ‘casket’ of data provided by scientists, with their new instruments and methods of research, such as genetics, chemical analysis of scales and stable isotopes, we become aware of yet another facet of the extraordinary and awesome lives of these wild creatures. Believe it or not we can now re-enact the whole life history of a salmon that has returned to the South Esk by reading its scales and analysing certain tissue samples. We can work out where they have been, what they have eaten, how deep they have dived at sea, water temperatures and salinity, and, provided we know the precise length from the point of the head to the fork in the tail, the weekly growth rate and physical condition throughout the life of a salmon.

These new data come on top of the things we already know about salmon. The main contribution to our knowledge is coming from genetic analysis and mapping, which is starting to describe the ‘big picture’ about salmon (and sea trout) migrations and behaviour at sea. How extraordinary that we can put men on the Moon and send space probes beyond our galaxy, but we still don’t know how many salmon return to the South Esk each year, nor do we know how many smolts the river produces, nor what proportion of these smolts are salmon or sea trout. Isn’t it time we did?

Here are the catch returns for the 2012 season. While it is nothing over which we can particularly upbeat, in what I can only describe as a lacklustre season, FCW came out top for the South Esk in terms of catches of both salmon and sea trout with 137 salmon and 161 sea trout. 3 aspects of our 2012 catches stand out 1.The continuing quality and reasonable numbers of our spring salmon 2. The continuing improvement of sea trout runs. 3. The size and good physical condition of most of our MSW salmon.

Milton Beat

Pools Salmon Sea trout
Bridge Pool 1 0
Tyndals 26 13
Willows 22 32
Upper Boat 4 5
Volcano 8 8
Lower Boat 8 7
Flats 2 7
TOTALS 71 72

Castle Beat

Pool Salmon Sea trout
Craigo Stream 0 1
Red Brae 12 9
Kirkinn 1 2
Pheasantry 0 4
Nine Maidens 0 1
Beeches 5 5
TOTALS 18 22

Bogardo Beat

Pools Salmon Sea trout
Haughs Pool 6 10
Harry’s Bar 8 4
Martin’s Cut 1 1
Tollmuir Pool 1 3
Steps & Toms 1 1
House Pool 4 9
TOTALS 21 28

  Indies Beat

Pools Salmon Sea trout
Melgund Pool 2 8
Frank’s Stream 7 17
Indies Pool 18 14
TOTALS 27 39

Smolt production: comparing two rivers.

If you compare the total numbers of smolts produced by the North and South Esks one might speculate that the two rivers produce similar numbers. The difference is that a high proportion of smolts leaving the South Esk are trout. Numbers of returning adults caught by rods give us some indication of the possible breakdown of salmon to sea trout. Take two beats as a comparison –

Comparing catches from FCW on the South Esk and Stracathro on the North Esk, If you add the Fishesk recorded 2012 catches of salmon and sea trout together for each beat, you get FCW 310 and Stracathro 217. If we think about those figures, we should recognise that to produce 527 adult salmon and sea trout caught by rods on the two beats, there would have to have been a very large number of smolts of both species migrating out of the two rivers, perhaps as many as 5,000 (on the basis of an optimistic 10% survival rate) to produce a rod catch of 527 adult fish. That’s a lot of smolts!

Salmon and sea trout smolts are roughly the same size when they migrate out of their rivers, and probably require a similar amount of food to nourish them as the grow from fry to parr to smolt. We humans put a greater value on returning salmon than we do on sea trout. Rents and capital values of fisheries reflect this point, but the biological fact is that, in their different ways, the two rivers are both fertile and productive. It is just that the South Esk favours sea trout over salmon, while the Northie is the other way round. Improving sea trout runs therefore give us an indication of how well the South Esk is recruiting smolts, and we should take this into consideration, as well as salmon smolt recruitment when considering the condition of freshwater habitats in the catchment.

TA 24/11/2012


South Esk Tracking Project

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

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

February 2012, when the Marine Scotland radio tagging and tracking project began, now seems a long time ago. I know that there are people who question the value of the project on the grounds that the number of fish recorded as having visited or remained in the South Esk is a small sample and represents less than 10% of the total number (153) of spring salmon tagged in the Usan nets between February and May 2012.

MSS team at FCW

Julian Maclean and Gordon Smith of Marine Scotland fixing a receiver’s aerial at Finavon in February 2012

The last published update of distribution of radio tagged salmon in the South Esk catchment is the 31st of October and shows that a total of 16 fish were recorded as having entered the South Esk . I assume this means that the most downstream of static receivers near the Bridge of Dun recorded their arrival in the river – and presumably those that subsequently left the river “returned to sea”.

Spring salmon in 2012

Spring salmon in 2012

Of the 16 fish that entered the river, 6 are reported as having “returned to sea”. The remaining 10 fish are distributed within the middle and upper river:

  • 5 salmon tagged in May are in the middle and upper catchment, with two in the South Esk above the confluence with the Prosen, one in the Prosen, one close to the confluence with the Quarity Burn and one in the South Esk close to the mouth of the Noran Water.
  • 2 salmon tagged in April are in the South Esk, one at the mouth of the Rottal Burn and the other near the A90 bridge at Finavon
  • 3 salmon tagged in March are all in the main stem of the South Esk, two in the Justinhaugh/Inshewan area and the third just upstream of Brechin.

As far as the South Esk is concerned, these are the data gathered to date by the project. No fish tagged in February were later recorded.

The 6 salmon that are said to have “returned to sea” should not be ignored because they provide some data on the behaviour of early running (‘Spring’) salmon.

Salmon tagged  by the project team and later recorded in the South Esk and in nearby rivers (Dee, North Esk and Tay) totalled 54 and their breakdown is:

Dee 8 salmon, North Esk 19 salmon (of which 6 “returned to sea”), Tay 6 salmon and caught (presumably by Usan’s nets) “at sea” 3.

So, about 30% (54) of the salmon tagged (153) were later recorded, which, in the light of comparable projects, is quite a good return.

Of the 54 salmon recorded, 12 are reported as having “returned to sea” which gives us 42 spring salmon caught and radio-tagged in the Usan nets, attributed to rivers where they will presumably choose to spawn.

When thinking about the results of the first year of this three-year project I feel there may be some uncertainties which should be taken into account:

  1. The technical reliability of the transmitters or receivers may have been at fault, resulting in nil or false readings
  2. The possibility that salmon were still feeding in the sea when caught, which might result in their stomachs not having atrophied, and that fish may therefore have regurgitated the transmitters.
  3. Transmitters may have been regurgitated or ceased functioning for other reasons.
  4. That fish were predated or poached  after being tagged
  5. That fish travelled further afield to rivers other than the South Esk’s 3 identified neighbouring rivers
  6. That fish were damaged when the radio transmitters were fitted, and in consequence died.

Is catching these salmon at sea the best way to obtain tracking data?

For example:

  • 1. Might it be better to catch the fish in the fresh water of the South Esk, or at the very least in the brackish waters of Montrose Basin?
  • 2. I recognise that there may be problems in deploying a net and coble crew in the Basin, or in fishing with nets within the river itself.
  • 3. Perhaps, by netting spring salmon within the river, salmon which a) had stopped feeding and b) were likely to be destined for the South Esk would then be caught, thus reducing the ‘by-catch’ of salmon bound for rivers other than the South Esk; just a thought.

While the list above does suggest some possible reasons for a partial failure in achieving a larger sample, the fact is that the numbers of fish recorded do constitute a useful sample. If the next two years of the project build on these numbers we can expect some more useful data to emerge on where the South Esk’s Spring salmon spawn, and where in the catchment their progeny spend their juvenile years.

It will be interesting to read Marine Scotland’s evaluation of the project’s first year and in February how the second year’s catches develop.


FCW 2012 Catches in context.

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

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

2012 has been a strange season on the South Esk. We have never quite known, right up to the last days of the season, whether it was to be a season of plenty or famine. In the end it was neither and ended as a curate’s egg of a season – good in parts and bad in parts.

12lbs salmon

12lbs salmon

MSW fish like this one were a feature of the season, but there were also some undersized, ill-fed grilse among catches at Finavon. It seems that the marine migration experience of our 1SW fish (grilse) is very different from that of our MSW fish, which may confirm the views of ecologists that the ‘near’ feeding areas in the Norwegian Sea, within the range of grilse, are much less productive than the western part of the North Atlantic in terms of salmon prey species. Two factors – numbers of returning fish and condition of those survivors – support that theory.

I received an interesting e-mail this week which remarked,

Had just finished fishing on Tuesday morning and was buzzed by a helicopter flying up the river with a fancy aeriel sticking out of a skid. I would suspect that they were trying to find some tagged fish, were they successful ? I wonder if the 12lb cock fish which I had just landed and returned was one of them !
I have had a great few days, four fish (and) I must say that I have seen more fish this year in the last week than ever before.”

If only Marine Scotland had enough money to hire helicopters, and if they did I do hope they wouldn’t waste their money on chasing just 12 radio tagged fish in that expensive way! But, more to the point, isn’t it interesting that someone who lives and fishes in the Tannadice area should have such a positive view of the abundance of salmon in the river? Such observations are always of interest, but of course they are only little pieces in a large and complex jig-saw of observational data. It is quite possible in a river, as subject to variable flows as the South Esk is, that certain sections of the river become stopping areas for adult fish on their upstream migration, especially in the late season close to spawning time. The same applies to sea trout which, as happened about ten years ago at Brechin Castle, can ‘favour’ a section of the river and form huge shoals in pools in that part of the river. I think the message is “take all reports with a pinch of salt and use them to build the big picture”!

After an e-mail discussion my friend sent this e-mail, which I think also makes interesting reading:

“The chopper was definitely following the river and at about 150 feet, was not the police looking for a body, definitely had a fancy aeriel though. could see it through the “Rommels”.
I was fishing Forfar water, this is the opposite bank at Tannadice from down river at Justinhaugh to past the old railway bridge at Barnyards. It is not bad if you catch it right as any fish in the system tend to plough straight on. However friends of John Grieve were fishing Inshewan at the same time and between two of them only had two fish for the week. I must say that I saw quite a few fish and a few brutes. I did not have a camera with me as I tend to have enough to do to fish when I am by myself !! The first three fish were all still silvery two cocks and one hen. Both cock fish were about 5lb and the hen over eight. The last fish on Tuesday was the biggest a cock fish over 12lbs a bit coloured but a beauty really deep bodied and strong, took a bit to recover but swam away strongly. All caught on the same fly, bright orange Flame Thrower tied by my own fair hand fished on a floating line. The leaves were becoming a pest.”

FCW Catch returns for 2012

 Beat No of Salmon No of Grilse No of Sea trout
Milton 76    (55.47%) (14) 75    (46.58%)
Bogardo 19    (13.80%) (3) 24    (14.90%)
Castle 16    (11.67%) (2) 17    (10.55%)
Indies 26    (18.90%) (6) 45    (27.95%)
FCW 137  (100.00%) (25) 161  (100.00%)

The fine performance of Milton Beat may be attributed to 2012 being a very wet year. In a previous blog I commented on the ‘plateau effect’ which seems to favour the stretch of river between Tyndals Pool and the tail of the Flats, especially in high water.

Fishing Volcano Glide in late October 2012

William Simper fishing a long line through the best part of Volcano Glide on Milton Beat in the last week of October 2012. Volcano is a star performer among the pools of FCW and, as the catch return above shows, Milton Beat was by far the best beat in 2012, but that is not always the case because high water levels favour the ‘plateau’ of Milton Beat.

FCW in context of recent seasonal rod catches of the South Esk

Catches from selected beats (Cortachy & Downie Park, Inshewan, Finavon and Kinnaird Upper, Middle & Lower) over the last five seasons, including 2012.


Beat 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 Av.
CC & DP 143 158 153 146 117 143
Inshewan 147 99 118 153 112 126
Finavon 221 103 136 139 137 147
Kinnaird 204 161 460 123 74 228
Totals 715 521 867 561 440 621

 Sea trout

Beat 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 Av.
CC & DP 120 236 275 128 102 172
Inshewan 52 111 126 101 110 100
Finavon 100 118 121 101 161 120
Kinnaird 112 197 203 207 193 182
Totals 376 662 725 523 566 570

Note: I think it is reasonable to claim that these four fisheries (see tables above) produce about three fifths (60%) of the rod catch for the whole river. With fisheries such as Careston, Kintrockat, Justinhaugh, House of Dun, Brechin Castle, BAC, KAC, FAC, Braedownie, the whole of the Prosen, and others not included in the catches above, it is perhaps reasonable to claim that those fisheries together produce the other two fifths (40%). Recent rod catch returns for the river have diminished taking the river from 17th to 24th in the list of UK rivers in order of average salmon catches. It would be good to see this trend reversed, which may come about with increased fishing effort, especially in the spring, but that can only happen if there is more confidence in the river from the angling community.

Ian Hardy's 31 lbs cock salmon from Marcus

Ian Hardy’s big salmon from Marcus. Fish of this size (see photo above) have been present in the South Esk during most seasons. A well conditioned cock fish of 31lbs (probably 35lbs+ when it entered the river) preparing to spawn tells us that something is going right. We might speculate on the life story of this fish (sorry, I don’t have scales) from ovum to returned survivor, but what we can see is that this MSW salmon, most likely 3SW, made it to sea as a smolt, survived inshore threats (predation and suchlike) successfully migrated to its oceanic (Greenland maybe) feeding grounds, and returned in good condition to the South Esk; a round-trip of 6,000 miles as the fish swims. He is still alive, and I hope powering up to find some sexy hen fish with whom to mate over a well dug redd somewhere in good clean cobbles upstream.

With the bad press the river gets it is not surprising that some beats have had difficulty in filling letting slots. It is too easy to attribute reduced rod catches to lower numbers of fish in the river. There are other factors at play here, and no-one should assume that any one of them is the single cause of any perceived or actual decline in numbers. The truth is that we don’t know and, to find out what the real situation is, we now need to invest in counting salmon into the river and measuring recruitment from ova to smolt. That investment is long overdue. A new board will be elected next spring, and let us all hope that a new direction of management for the South Esk starts with sound data, building on what we already know. When we have the facts we can concentrate all our efforts on resolving any identified problems. As a meercat might say, “simple..ckhckhckh!”

TA 2nd November 2012