Out of the office at last

Eight months into the job and at last I got to spend my first full day electrofishing. The electrofishing season starts in July but with the new house, flitting, and a round of Spey Foundation and Fishery Board meetings, project applications, etc I have been tied to the desk recently. So it was great to get out today and survey a few burns. We went to the Kincraig area where we surveyed the Dunachton and Raitts Burns. The Raitts burn flows into the Spey upstream of Loch Insh. The extent of modifications that have been carried out on these upland burns never fails to surprise me. The Raitts Burn has been dredged and contained within flood embankments from the A9 all the way down to the confluence with the Spey. Our monitoring site in this part of the burn is between the old and new A9 roads. It had been dredged out sometime in the past and was as a result quite straight and shallow, uniform in depth and lacking in cover as most of the boulders were lying on the flood banks.

Previously dredged burn lacks fish cover

Despite this we still found a moderate number of salmon parr and fry, with a few trout.

When I say moderate I mean in the context of the Scottish Fisheries Coordination Centre classification system. This ranges from:

A class or “Excellent” to

B class or “Good” to

C class or “Moderate to

D class or “Poor” to

E class or “Very poor” for the bottom 20% of results.

So moderate is neither good nor bad but somewhere in the middle. I’ll post some more details about this classification system in the future.

We walked down to the confluence for a recce and found that the habitat had recovered to a greater extent in the lower reaches and there were plenty parr to be seen in the pools. At the confluence we found that the Spey was still running quite dirty due to the cloudburst above Spey Dam last week.

Below the railway the habitat was better

Raitts Burn confluence with Spey, a popular stopping point for canoeists it would seem

The Dunachton Burn flows into Loch Insh and is reputed to be a spawning site for the Insh charr. The habitat in the Dunachton Burn was quite natural with a succession of pools and riffles. Our lower site was a new one located below the old A9, and it produced a lot of fish. I still need to check the figures but the salmon parr density should be A Class or close to it.  Salmon outnumbered trout at the site where we also found a couple eels and lots of juvenile lampreys.

One fish caught my eye as I transferred it from the net into the bucket during the electrofishing.  A close examination during measuring found it to be intermediate in appearance between a salmon and trout. It was also quite big at 140mm. I think it was a hybrid salmon/trout, a not unusual occurrance. In Ayrshire we often found them in the same burns year on year. It may be a place where big sea trout and salmon spawn at the same time, or it could have been a precocious parr sneaking in whilst adult fish were spawning.

Three salmonids: trout top, salmon middle and hybrid bottom?

The upper Dunachton Burn site was above the new A9 and upstream of the wooden baffle fish pass below the road. Here we found more trout than salmon and no salmon fry, although there were a reasonable number of 1 and 2 year old salmon parr. Salmon fry had been found at the site in the past, although it hadn’t been surveyed for 9 years, so salmon are able to use the fish pass apparently. The fish pass was designed primarily for the charr population and doesn’t have any resting pools for larger fish but it does provide reasonable depth and slow water flow rates.

By this time the thunder was almost overhead so we headed for home. We could see the lightning in the wing mirror and very dark clouds to the south. Hopefully there will have been sufficient rain to clear some of the dirty water out of the upper river.

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