After a rather dismal fishing season there is a need to look both ahead and back. Those of us who have been around for a while remember good seasons following poor seasons; we should now be looking ahead hoping that our luck will turn; fishermen should always look on the bright side.
Besides concerns about the lack of fish, particularly grilse, fishermen, and those with fishing interests, have been concerned this year about proposed changes in legislation. The market has been sorely affected by uncertainties arising from the Referendum, Land Reform and the Wild Fisheries Review, the latter only recently submitted to the Scottish Government. Interestingly, there is evidence of salmon fisheries changing hands after 18 September; purchasers had made their offers conditional upon a ‘No’ vote. Confidence is returning slowly; beats marketed in the summer were floated rather than pushed to alert the market to their availability ; it is likely that those beats will sell over the winter. The prolific Kinnaber Beat on the lower reaches of the North Esk will attract those who favour a compact and prolific fishery where every inch of the water is fishable. Kinnaber’s main USP is that fresh fish off every tide are there to be caught; with an average catch of over 300 salmon/’grilse and 83 sea trout taken over a kilometre of double bank fishing, interest in Kinnaber will be rekindled now that other beats are changing hands post Referendum.
There is speculation about the lack of grilse this season but we have yet to understand why the runs have been poor; the lack of grilse has been mirrored in other countries bordering the North Atlantic, Canada, Norway and parts of Iceland also suffered disappointing grilse runs. The problem will have occurred in the marine environment; it is possible that the salmon feeding grounds have been affected by climate change, perhaps the food source was poor causing high mortality amongst smolt.
Other factors closer to home will have played their part, starting with the massacre by cormorants and sawbill ducks in the lower reaches and in the river estuaries as smolt run the gauntlet in May making their way out to sea. Thousands of smolt could be saved through smolt shepherding, a system of bird scaring pioneered by the owner of Kinnaber on the North Esk. On return to the salmon river of birth another predator awaits them; seals both common and grey account for a large proportion of returning fish, there is a need to reduce numbers and control seals in river estuaries. It is proven that rogue seals at the mouth of rivers do most of the damage.
The River Deveron has had a disappointing season but what a wonderful river the Deveron is; salmon, sea trout and brown trout all feature amongst the catch. The Muiresk Fishings, available with the most attractive Muiresk House, just west of Turriff in Aberdeenshire, can boast a fly only catch of 85 salmon/grilse, 18 sea trout and plenty of wild brownies. This is a magnificent residential fishing property; an 18 hole golf course lies adjacent to the lower end of the beat giving fishermen the option to play golf in the afternoon under bright conditions and return to the river in the evening when there is a better chance of catching a fish
Fishermen are generally philosophical about their sport; most are passionate and enjoy the peace and seclusion of a river, the camaraderie and banter with the ghillie; catching fish is a bonus, they know that if they keep at it they will enjoy good years and poor years. Occasionally they will succeed in catching a monster fish; the Malloch Trophy, which Savills sponsored for seven years until the beginning of the year, highlighted a number of magnificent fish, the last winner, Seamus Jennings, catching his 50lb fish on Boleside (Tweed). Happily FishPal succeeded Savills as the main sponsor for Malloch; it is an excellent conservation led contest whereby the trophy is awarded annually to a fisherman catching the heaviest salmon on fly on a Scottish river, handling it correctly and releasing it safely back to the water.
Looking ahead, it is likely that most rents will remain unchanged to take account of some disappointment last season; fishing tenants will be encouraged not to lose heart and book up their fishing again. Looking again on the bright side we have been seeing an improvement on some rivers in sea trout numbers and in the number and quality of multi-sea winter fish. Could it be that we are in for a period of less grilse and more multi-sea winter fish, 2014 could be the season of eclipse, few would complain if we are about to enter an era of increased salmon catches.