Dulnain spawning walk

It was a bit dull and dreich today after so many beautiful days but with river levels still low we took the opportunity to walk a section in the middle reaches of the River Dulnain to assess the spawning activity. Joining us for the day were the Delfur ghillies and a film crew filming a documentary on the River Spey for japanese television.

We split into two groups so that we could cover more ground and hopefully locate spawning fish for the film crew.  It is always good when you come across a redd immediately on arrival at the river but that was the case in the lower section, and it set the tone for the rest of the morning. This particular area of the Dulnain has superb habitat, see here for an earlier blog, with a great variety of spawning, fry, parr and holding water. Nearly every area of good spawning habitat had been used with many easy to identify complete redds visible in the low and clear water.

We saw a lot of fish; large and small, with some great spawning activity.

A cock guarding the redd

A cock guarding the redd

Most of the fish were very clean with little or no fungus just the odd exception. Despite the high numbers of fish on the redds, and the number of complete redds, we found no otter kills. The few dead fish found were intact but covered in fungus.

Our Gopro video was deployed on one redd where five fish were present. However 2 hours of footage only produced a few short scenes with a number of different cock fish approaching the camera – this wildlife filming is harder than it looks!

A snapshot from the underwater video, one of several cock fish in the area.

A snapshot from the underwater video, one of several cock fish in that spot.

The river was low, and has been so for a number of weeks with just the occasional small rise in water levels. Consequently most of the redds were in low water sites – fast runs or in tails of pools with faster flows, although not all, some fish must have taken advantage of the short rises to spawn in what were now slower flows.

Thsi particular run contained 27 or 28 redds with a number of fish actively cutting redds.

This particular run contained 27 or 28 redds with a number of fish actively cutting redds. I have been involved in redd counts or watching spawning fish for over 15 years and this was one of the highest densities of salmon redds I have seen – very impressed. This was a classic low water spawning run; the tail of the big pool above contained no redds, the flow being too slow in the low water.

Salmon redds in the low water run.

Classic profile complete salmon redds at the top end of the low water run.

Well used spawning gravel

Well used spawning gravel

At lunchtime it was clear that we had seen more activity than Steve and the film crew so after lunch I took them back downstream where they deployed their underwater cameras in some areas of good activity; hopefully they were more successful than I was in filming spawning activity.

The Delfur guys headed further upstream after lunch but we met on the way home. Their report from the upper section was good with about 40 redds recorded and many fish seen. Amazingly they also reported seeing a farmed fish on the redds! The farmers tail, which was showing above the surface, attracted their attention and they were able to confirm it as a farmer on closer inspection.

Farmed fish tail fin closest to the camera with the wild male behind - not much gets past the Delfur ghillies!

Farmed fish tail fin closest to the camera with the wild male behind – not much gets past the Delfur ghillies, an incredible spot in those conditions! The farmer was 12lb+ and an unwelcome sight on the redds although it genes will be well diluted by the big stock of wild fish.

As always it was another great day out redd counting. I had walked this bit of the Dulnain before so the quality of the habitat was no surprise but I was impressed by the stock of spawning fish. It was good to be able to share such a day with the Delfur ghillies who I am pretty sure were equally impressed.

There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Bryan Herbert at 1:16 pm

    Brian I just wonder if it would be worth having another look at some of the places that you would have expected to see redds given decent water levels. As now that you have had a nice rise in water level up to a little over 3.5 feet. It might help you in determining if what you saw was the extent of the spawning run or if there was more just waiting for the right conditions.


    • Brian Shaw Author at 9:46 pm

      Hi Bryan,

      It would be good I agree but I doubt we will have the time. If it can be arranged I will try and organise a repeat count but we will need settled conditions again in the near future. Are you at home just now? Are you interested in helping out? There have been a lot of fish observed moving into the middle river burns in the last day or two although we still need rain in the lower river.

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