Archive for April, 2013

South Esk tracking project

Monday, April 29th, 2013

These bulletin blogs represent news about Finavon and the South Esk, and my views as a riparian owner. While I may digress at times to write about other places, these 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

Not everyone who reads these bulletins will have attended the Esk Board AGM last Friday. I thought it might be useful to give an update on the second year of the Marine Scotland Tracking Project.

Tagging for 2013 is now complete with 38 salmon tagged at sea after capture in the Usan nets, and 22 in the South Esk after being caught in a net trap positioned in the Arn Pool at Upper Kinnaird. It is a pity that no contract was agreed between the Government and Usan Fisheries to continue tagging into the month of May. This I understand was for commercial reasons, presumably because Messers Pullar did not want disruption to their extremely valuable May netting.

As I mentioned in my last blog, May is now the most prolific month for spring salmon on the South Esk. In years gone by it was April that saw the main run, but that has changed. We will therefore not get the data we need to find out where our May-run spring salmon spawn and where their progeny have their nursery areas. That is a pity, and I suggest is against the public interest. In other words, that contract with Usan Fisheries should in my opinion have been demanded and signed. After all, we are talking about a national and natural resource here, and we all are involved (or should be) in protecting it for future generations.

So, how many salmon are now in the South Esk catchment, as revealed by recordings on the positioned static receivers?

22 salmon were tagged in fresh water at Kinnaird

13 tags remain below the dyke (some which have been regurgitated and are now sitting on the bed of the river)

6 salmon have crossed the Kinnaird dyke

1 salmon is already in Glen Clova

4 are unaccounted for

24 radio-tagged salmon, including the 2 nettedat sea, now appear to be in the South Esk, which is more than at any time in 2012

38 salmon were tagged at sea in Usan nets

2 entered the South Esk

1 entered the Tay

7 entered the North Esk

28 are as yet unaccounted for.

These 60 fish are the baseline for the 2013 tracking exercise whose objectives are:

1. To find out where South Esk springers spawn

2. To find out which rivers the Usan nets are (lethally) exploiting

Less data than 2012 but nevertheless useful. Static and roving receivers, possibly backed up by a helicopter-borne receiver in the autumn, will be used to track tagged fish to their destinations in the South Esk and in other rivers.




A long thaw, and more to come.

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

These bulletin blogs represent news about Finavon and the South Esk, and my views as a riparian owner. While I may digress at times to write about other places, these 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

It is two weeks since I last updated this blog space, during which spring salmon have arrived in reasonable numbers off the coast. There has been a good run of MSW salmon, some in the upper teens of pounds, into the North Esk, with some beats such as Pert, The Burn Estate and Stracathro reporting much better catches than a year ago. On the South Esk there are fish well up into the catchment above the meetings, with normal seasonal catches in the middle beats with Kintrockat, Careston, Finavon, Inshewan and Cortachy all catching fish in greater or lesser numbers and Kinnaird doing much better than in recent years, probably because fish have been held back below the dyke by low water temperatures.

If we take the 60+ spring salmon caught on rod and line and in the Marine Scotland tagging net at Kinnaird, the total number of spring salmon caught in the South Esk should be pushing towards 100. While that number is not stratospheric, it is an indication that the spring run – or remnants of what it once was – still exists. Reports of fish seen in the upper catchment, fish lost (at least half a dozen at Finavon), remembering that the water temperature is still struggling to get above 40F (yesterday morning it was 38F) and that April isn’t quite finished yet, we certainly shouldn’t be panicking about the South Esk as the doom-laden Westie report in Trout & Salmon magazine asserts. That report is simply incorrect in stating that this is the worst year ever on the South Esk. I personally would like to read about facts in river reports, rather than the opinions of an individual, especially when those opinions are so far removed from the truth. You only need to look at the long term catch statistics quoted in these bulletins on the 20th of November 2011 to see what I mean.

Beeches Pool (Castle Beat) from the Aqueduct

Beeches Pool (Castle Beat) The photo above was taken from the Aqueduct (now converted to a footbridge) and shows the Beeches Pool where fresh spring salmon have been seen, despite the cold water temperatures, since the middle of March. It is also the pool where John Wood caught and returned a particularly fine salmon of 17lbs (See previous blogs).

Those of us who fish the South Esk regularly know all too well that our spring salmon are not always ready takers of the fly. I have fished over newly arrived fish in the Beeches Pool (Castle Beat) on a number of occasions this year without any perceptible reaction. There is no consensus on the percentage of fish in the river that are catchable at this time of year, but it is probably true to say that on the South Esk it may be a lot less than the 25% quoted for some Scottish rivers. An average percentage of salmon that will respond to the fly, from opinions that I value, would perhaps be about 12.5%. It may be that the percentage is higher when rapalas or other spinning lures are used. Of course this tentative indicator of fish numbers does not take account of fishing effort which on the South Esk, with one or two exceptions, is extremely low. For example, at Finavon the take-up of rods to the end of April was about 15%.

DTH on 27 April 2013

David’s Tree House, the fishing hut on Castle Beat, at daffodil time 2013.

I have repeated in these bulletins over the last three years that we have very little idea of the structure and numbers of the South Esk’s stock of wild Atlantic salmon. That is an accurate statement. We really don’t know. I have made various attempts to find a broad-brush way of indicating numbers, but they all come with a health warning because my methods are at best amateur, but at least they represent an attempt to put numbers on the spring component of the South Esk stock, and they have never been challenged.

We can but make intelligent guesses. Readers will remember the delared catch of 2,307 salmon killed by Usan nets in May 2011, on which I surmised, on the basis of the 2012 Marine Scotland tagging project, that over 750 ‘belonged’ to the South Esk, and the 2500+ salmon from other rivers whose spring salmon were plundered by that indiscriminate mixed stocks fishery. That was just May month 2011, when good numbers of fish escaped the nets and entered the river to provide a show of spring salmon that was “the best since the 1960s” according to some experienced observers. It is not really plausible to claim that 2011 was a one-off year, although I accept that it was a year of an abundance of returning MSW salmon. After all, it takes five years + to produce an MSW spring salmon. In other words, an awful lot of things must have gone right over a period of five years to produce such healthy numbers of spring salmon.

So, in the context of the 2013 season, what could these points indicate?

Here is my tentative list:

1) 2012/13 was a very cold and late winter. Spring water temperatures remain low, and there is plenty more snow to melt. The development of the spring salmon run has been correspondingly slow.

2) South Esk catches to the end of April are about 100 MSW salmon, which at (say) 15% catch rate might indicate 600+ fish already in the catchment.

3) Recent seasons, especially 2011, indicate that the South Esk may consistently be generating a viable spring component. Annual fluctuations in abundance are to be expected in small rivers with variable water levels and temperatures. The South Esk shows over more than 100 years of catch returns that huge variations from season to season have always been the case. While not exactly a spate river, as some on the Scottish west coast are, the South Esk is severely affected by drought at times (as was the case in March and April 2012 when very few spring salmon were caught).

4) Current concern about the spring component of the South Esk stock is encouraging us to adopt a precautionary approach. That must be a good thing in the light of the continuing decline of returning MSW salmon as revealed by ICES. I believe the work being done by Marine Scotland to identify where South Esk springers spawn, and where their progeny spend their juvenile years, is valuable. The fact that the project is also defining the extent of the Usan mixed stocks fishery is a huge bonus.

5) We now await the returns in May because recent years have shown that the bulk of the spring run of MSW salmon takes place in that month. From personal experience and observation I make an assumption that the total numbers of salmon entering the South Esk between 16 February and 31 May averages out in percentages as 1) Feb and March 10% 2) April 20% 3) May 70%. Each of these three periods is affected by water levels and (especially in the early season) by water temperatures. Therefore, if we get a drought in May, we shouldn’t expect many salmon to appear in S Esk rod catch returns. However, it may well be a different story in the Usan net catch returns.

6) We need better data. A stock assemment and management programme for the river has been kick-started by Marine Scotland. I believe we should support that initiative by identifying the most cost-effective means of counting out our smolts and counting in our returning survivors. I think we all know that the only credible way to develop effective management is a) to find out how healthy the South Esk’s stocks of salmon and sea trout are, b) to understand what those stocks comprise in terms of genetic groups (populations) and then start counting…. and continue counting until we are satisfied we have a true picture..

TA on 28 April 2013

Spate of over 5’0″ for three days

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

These bulletin blogs represent news about Finavon and the South Esk, and my views as a riparian owner. While I may digress at times to write about other places, these 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

A combination of higher temperatures, strong SW winds and rain, ensured that the snow melted  quickly. Because the corries are still full of snow the water will flow well for some time yet, despite the fact that most of the ‘loose’ snow has now gone from the high ground. It’s in the clefts and gullies where it will linger and leak more slowly as a glacier does.

Christy Balcombe and Tally at DTH rs

Christy Balcombe and Tally at DTH rs

At times the river ran muddy and full of flotsam, but as soon as the level settled the turgidity disappeared and the water cleared. We now have five feet of water in the Red Brae, cleaning and scouring – and doubtless doing a whole lot more damage to our already ragged banks. All day long the wind has come from the south west, at times with the force of a full gale, as can be seen from the spray being whipped up by the wind in the photo below, taken at Pheasantry at about 1300 on 16 April. The river has of course been unfishable since Sunday.

Spray from high wind in spate rs

Spray from high wind in spate rs

Water temperatures will now be well over 40F and, once the spate starts to run off, the spring salmon should start to appear. We will soon learn how strong the 2013 spring run will be.

TA on 16/4