Mainstem sampling: Days 1 & 2

Well after Friday’s very hot weather, today was considerably damper. Never the less, we pressed on with our mainstem sites, making it up as far as Easter Elchies, missing out a couple of beats which we will return to at a later point.

On Friday, we completed the first 5 sites, which are all on the Brae Water beats. The first site was close to the Essil pool. This site is our closest to the sea, and last year we found Flounders, which use the river as a juvenile nursery. This year we found no flounders, but we did find minnows which was surprising as they usually live in still water, but this was very fast flowing. We had 49 fry and 7 parr this year in contrast to 68 fry and 13 parr last year which was disappointing. The next site up was by the Quarry pool, where we had one more fry than last year (52) and no parr which was one less than last year; fairly consistent results. At Brae Beat 5, we have a site close to the ghillies hut. It’s always nice to catch up with the ghillie and anglers, who were beginning to arrive for a sunny lunch. Unfortunately this site produced 74 fry and 2 parr in contrast to 158 fry and 7 parr last year. This is not a decline we want to see! The river is so mobile down there, and we did note that the habitat had changed significantly since last year; it was the ideal habitat for fry with lots of pebbles and gravel but this year it was dominated by boulders and cobbles. It is possible that this contributed to the decline we saw, the salmon don’t always spawn in the same place, they pick the best habitat available to them, as do the fry when they emerge. So the fry could’ve just been focused in a different area. There was a similar decline in fry at the next site, with 86 this year in comparison to 173 last year. The numbers of parr here though had gone up from 3 last year to 12 this year, demonstrating that the habitat was more suited to the parr this year than fry. Our final site of the day was fairly similar regarding fry, with 69 fry this year and 72 last. The number of parr has gone from 8 to 4.

Today we started at Delfur, with our site just upstream of Boat O’Brig being the first one, and was a really positive start to our week! The number of fry had increased from 36 to 165 which was great to see. The parr had also doubled to 12. The next site had a lot of expectation after being our best site of the mainstem surveys last year with 270 fry. It couldn’t quite match that number today with 198 fry, however this is still a lot of fry in three minutes and our effort of fishing was seriously hampered by the troublesome ranunculus. There is no doubt that this plant provides cover for fish, but when you try to electrofish it the fish often get stuck in it or manage to dodge the net due to it preventing a tight seal on the bottom of the river. Once we got out of the ranunculus filled area, we caught plenty of fish. The buckets of fish looked fairly impressive when we took them to be processed, the bottom of the bucket isn’t showing much!

Catch of fish at the first Delfur site

Catch of fish at the first Delfur site

The next site on Delfur consisted mainly of boulders and cobbles, making it very tricky wading. We caught 40 fry, just two less than 2013, and 11 parr in comparison to 8 last year. We also caught one salmon with a rather large kink in it’s tail. It was managing to swim fairly well, and had made it this far! However this would make it potentially more vulnerable to predation, and less able to catch food.

A fairly obvius deformity in this salmon's tail; it was slightly smaller than some of the other fry we caught but it had developed a unique swimming method!

A fairly obvious deformity in this salmon’s tail; it was slightly smaller than some of the other fry we caught but it had developed a unique swimming method!

After leaving Delfur, we moved up to the two Rothes sites. The first was at the Gaintree pool, where last year we had 132 fry and 21 parr, but unfortunately today we only caught 31 fry and 5 parr. Similar to other sites, the habitat was filled with boulders, the opposite to the gravel fry like, and the ranunculus also posed a problem. Never the less, still a disappointing result. The second site was at the Creachies pool, this one was much better, with 27 fry and 47 parr in comparison to last year’s result of 28 fry and 36 parr. The parr here were particularly dark in colour, they almost looked mature which seems a bit early on in the year. Salmon are incredibly talented at changing their colours to match their surroundings though, so it is possible that this was a response to dark water and substrate.

Six very healthy parr from Rothes. They are fairly dark in colour, perhaps in repsonse to their surroundings.

Six very healthy parr from Rothes. They are fairly dark in colour, perhaps in repsonse to their surroundings.

The final site today was at Easter Elchies, which we were pleased to be joined on by the ghillie and one of his guests who was interested in what we were doing. We always enjoy demonstrating what we do to people fishing on the river, and it is often the case that they are amazed at what emerges out of such a small area! We were pleased to be able to catch 131 fry and 3 parr, and even happier to be able to report to the angler that this had increased from 104 fry and no parr last year.

So the first two days have been fairly mixed to say the least. But with 11 sites down and 53 still to go, it is early days and we look forward to having a completed picture. I also need to look at 2012 results to see how these sites compare over the three years surveying. Watch this space!

There are 2 comments for this article
  1. John Carmichael at 10:49 am

    High Brian are minnows that rare in the Spey?

    From childhood I have mostly found them in streams and rivers. What a great fish they are for kids to catch, did you miss out?

    Wikipedia has this line: Habitat: Common in fast-flowing, well oxygenated fresh water and well-drained vegetated ponds. Present in Scotland.

    • Polly Burns Author at 3:16 pm

      Hi John,
      No, minnows are fairly common in the Spey, but we tend to find them in the slower moving smaller burns, rather than the mainstem, where the water is deep and very fast flowing. They can be found in fast flowing water throughout Scotland you’re right, it was just unusual for us to see them there in relation to the population in our catchment!
      Best wishes,
      (Assistant Biologist)

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