The tidal zone of the Spey is not an area of the river that I know well so it was with great interest that I accepted an invite to accompany Jim Mackie to see if we could sample any of the finnock that this part of the river was famous for. Jim is a resident of Garmouth and an active community member with a great interest in the lower Spey; more importantly he has fished the lower river for finnock for many years.
It was perhaps a little early for finnock but I was interested to see what was about. Armed with buckets, anaesthetic, measuring board and scale packets etc we set of downstream. The first run produced a few pulls from wee trout but nothing landed. Moving further downstream towards the sea pool Jim started to pick up sea trout smolts or post smolts regularly.
Nice sea trout post smolt from the lower Spey. The black trailing edge on the tail fin was very prominent. All the sea trout we saw last night had vivid apricot coloured pectoral fins. Small sea trout are referred to in same areas as “yellow fins” but at some stage this colur is lost as the fins of adult sea trout are grey, or at least more in keeping with marine camouflage.
The biggest fish landed was a really chunky brown trout of about half a pound.
Very well conditioned small brown trout. this fish also had a black edge on its tail although not as prominent. Both of the above fish are trout but I think that the lower one is destined to stay in the river as a brown trout (for the time being at least) whilst the upper is heading out to sea. The overall colouration of the two fish is quite different with the lower fish lacking the silvery coating on the skin caused by the deposition of guanine as the fish prepares for life at sea. The condition factor of the brown trout was much higher, it had obviously been feeding well on the abundant fly life. The red spots were still visible on the brown trout, something rarely seen on a trout at this stage heading out to sea. The pectoral fins were not quite as yellow as those of a sea trout.
Talking about the fly life I had the invertebrate sampling net with me so I collected a standard three minute kick sample in between sampling the fish.
The invertebrate sample collected at Spey Bay. There was an abundance of life, mainly baetid mayflies with some flattened mayflies and a range of stoneflies including Perla bipunctata, the large stonefly. There were also gammarus shrimps, caddis and midge larve; a veritable soup of fish food. I am always pleased to catch a salmon fry (there was one) during invertebrate sampling, that indicates a certain level of abundance but there was also a small flounder, a clue to the proximity to the sea, although they can be found well upriver sometimes.
In the tidal pool a few of the sea trout post smolts carried sea lice, although most were completely clear and in good condition.
Sea trout post smolt from the sea pool showing two sea lice.
There was one other fish which had about 10 or 11 sea lice with evidence of damage.
The black marks on the back of the head and behind the dorsal fin show where sea lice were attached or had been grazing on the surface of the fish. The general condition of this fish was not as good as the others: a sign of stress from the sea lice? A preadult Lepeophtheirus salmonis louse can be seen on its back between the yellow fins.
Same fish showing three preadults on the left side of the head.
Lovely slim sea trout post smolt from the Spey sea pool.
It was a very enjoyable and informative evening in this part of the river. I managed to collect quite a few sets of scale samples from a stage of the sea trout life cycle from which we have few.
Jim Mackie, looking every inch the traditional Spey finnock fisher.
I would class all the sea trout caught as smolts or presmolts. I hope to be able to join Jim a little later in the season when there will be proper finnock returnign to the river.