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How Many Salmon are in our Rivers?

One of the best fights I had from a salmon this summer, interestingly, was in a river where, without man’s intervention, stocking with smolts, there would be NO salmon. Not only this, but, having taken a group of salmon anglers here to fish for a week, in extremely poor conditions, they caught 9 salmon and had many more contacts. A nice weeks fishing and something which shows clearly, good fishing can be created even when things go completely tits up. Everyone with half a brain in their head has known this for sure, whilst others simply talk nonsense about the subject, simply because, their “agenda” is very different to that of mine and most fishermen. The facts regarding this particular river are; It was poisoned, with every living creature killed after being infected by the parasite Gyrodactylus. After 30 years of treating the river it is now back, thriving as a “salmon fishery” with, on the face of it anyway, decent runs of salmon. So what defines decent runs of salmon? How many are actually required to provide rods with a “decent” chance of a fish on this and presumably other rivers? Whilst most people reading this will believe many thousands are required, in actual fact, on this river, this figure is no more than a few hundred. How do we know this, well, unlike our rivers back home where the stock of adults are assessed by total guesswork, similarly to what they do in Canada, those guys physically count them by diving in the pools. A method I first muted should be done on Scottish rivers on my return from Canada in 2013. It’s a no brainier and something that would provide us with much needed “solid data”, or at least trends. Governments in both Norway and and Canada make hard decisions based on this data. The Number of fish in this river (short river), amounted to around 300. The locals kill around 150 whilst the remainder are caught and returned to spawn. The percentage caught by rod and line ranges from 50 – 80%. So, those who still think we catch only 10-15% of the fish entering our river really do need to look at this closely when managing our rivers back home. Based on observation via snorkelling my pools when when working as a Ghillie on Lower Pitchroy, it became obvious that as the number of fish declined, so pro rata, the number caught by rod and line increased. To someone who has swam and counted salmon this is plainly obvious. Add to this catch and release, greater angling pressure, better methodology and tackle and the cocktail for miss-information regarding size of stock hits danger level!!!

Because others don’t seem to want to take the lead with anything proactive here, maybe it would be a good idea for the Ghillies to take the lead. There are many diving clubs across the whole of the UK (all English rivers could benefit from this too) Id think it would make sense to arrange for a team of divers to count the fish in their beats. I’m not sure it would take too much planning!?  Anyway, I’m saying no more about what’s happening (or not, as the case may be) at home, for me and my customers, personally, I’ve totally seen the light. Having seen what I’ve seen this summer I now have no doubt where the future of our sport lies at this time of very poor returns.. The facts are, we had a great time on a river with only 300 fish in it. Yes, only “300”, not tens of thousands! The Sooner that owners of small rivers realise they’ve been hoodwinked for years, the sooner we will again have some decent fishing back home. I suppose the success seen on the river Carron on the West of Scotland is testimony to this too. What I saw last week opened my eyes, but me weep at the same time. To think, for years we (Ghillies and people fishing on our rivers) have highlighted the fact that the density of salmon in our rivers is now far too low to provide decent sport. How many of you reading this have noticed this? I’d say almost 100%! But our views and opinions have been ignored for years. Think about it this way. If a 3 mile long river with only 300 hatchery fish can produce 150 fish “killed” in 13 days of fishing and a further 100 released with light fishing effort inside a month. That’s 100 fish per mile. This all leads me to think that a typical mile of our rivers now have far fewer fish in them than this!? It’s high time we did the same and at least had an idea how many fish are there! Or, is it that we don’t really want to know the truth? However, I would urge those reading this to read it in a positive sense! This is not negative in any way shape or form, as always, I like to inform using facts based on what I’ve seen with my own eyes and not some formula. What I’m writing about here is yet another “success” story in “The Business of Salmon fishing”. Anyone doubting this should try and find a rod on, for instance, The Arroy river during prime time next season. I’m thinking this will be more difficult than on some rivers back home. Finally, using the above hypothesis and taking some of Scotland’s big rivers as an example. No one can now tell me this is not a practical solution in the short term for our “salmon fisheries”. After more than 30 years I’m totally fed up arguing the case. Ultimately, “The business” of salmon fishing been let down by a lack of good leadership, simple citizens science and “reliable” data collection. Ask yourself this simple question – Why, during a time of mega low marine survival, can a river thats had nothing in it for 30 years, suddenly provide those fishing it with good sport year on year, whilst, at the same time, rivers with super pure, superior, genetic stock continue to decline leaving most that visit them totally frustrated? This is not fantasy, it’s reality, it’s happened, this year, just two weeks ago. The whole thing reminds me of when Hitler watched the notion of his “superior master race” being totally destroyed by Jessie Owens in the 1936 Olympics. Just imagine anyone even thinking about justifying such a notion today? They’d be locked up in the loonie bin! The fact of the matter is, no one has any idea how many fish are in our rivers, but if we use the above analogy/hypothesis, then the simple answer to this is staring us in the face and to satisfy the minimal needs of most salmon fishermen, it’s simply not enough! So the final question must be asked – Can we learn anything from the above? Or, should we just accept the fact there are not enough right now, muddle away as we’ve done for the past 30 years and wait for it to get better? In the mean time, I know what I’ll be doing. Enjoying my salmon fishing in any well managed “fishery”!

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