Trout fears dismissed

Brown trout
Brown trout

FISHERIES experts are playing down talk of a link between record salmon catches on the Tweed and falling brown trout numbers

In 2011, the Tweed posting its second-best year ever for catches, with over 20,000 salmon landed – more than three-quarters of which were caught using rod and line – and with sea trout also posting excellent catch numbers.

But in the recently published annual report for 2011 from the River Tweed Commissioners (RTC), outgoing chairman, Andrew Douglas Home, said it was possible that the reductions in offshore and in-river netting in recent years had allowed sea trout to predominate over the brown trout.

The RTC noted that the 2011 trout season had started in a similar way to previous years with a number of large fish being caught in the spring, mainly on the upper Tweed and big tributaries.

But as the season progressed, increased reports started to filter through about the lack of catchable brown trout. While this was not a new phenomenon, it was more widespread in 2001.

One Edinburgh angler, who has fished on the Tweed at Melrose for more than 50 years, says there is a definite problem and blames efforts to boost the more lucrative salmon population.

“I have witnessed the re-engineering of the river by the riparian landlords, which, combined with the conservation measures on netting, catch and return, etc., has resulted in the excellent salmon catch in the last few years with, I appreciate, good local economic benefit,” he told us.

“However, for ordinary Border anglers who can only afford to fish the rivers for brown trout, a great distortion in the natural state of the river has seen fewer and fewer local folk fishing , as the brown trout ‘rise’ has become a thing of the past.

“I had to smile when I read Mr Douglas Home suggest the problem was caused by competition with sea trout, when every trout angler knows it is now virtually impossible to fish for trout without raising to the fly scores of salmon parr [fish less than two years old].

“The salmon with fewer natural predators – and now not even man taking a fish – has seen the rivers become awash with salmon parr at the expense of natural levels of other species.

“It will be a great loss if new generations of young Borderers miss out on the joy of fishing for trout.”

Another local angler echoed the concerns. “Last year was really poor for trout. Some days you just couldn’t fish because of the huge numbers of salmon parr. No matter what you were fishing – dry fly or wet – the parr were throwing themselves at anything, kamikaze-style,” he said.

“You see very few trout and the most worrying thing is there don’t seem to be very many small trout about.”

However, the Tweed Foundation’s trout and grayling biologist, Kenny Galt, says the widely held view that trout angling is not as good as it used to be predates, by many years, the recent improvement in salmon rod catches.

“To get an objective handle on this, the Tweed Foundation, through its Tweed Trout and Grayling Initiative, has collected brown trout angling catch records for the last six years from different parts of the Tweed catchment, which also have spawning salmon,” Mr Galt explained.

“During these six years, salmon rod catches have reached their highest level since records began, yet we’ve seen no overall decline in brown trout catches – some areas have indeed showed slight declines in brown trout catches, but others showed slight increases.

“The picture is, therefore, far from clear although there appears to be no correlation between salmon numbers and changes to trout population. Indeed, juveniles surveys indicate healthy breeding populations of trout.

“Adult trout and sea trout populations may have changed over the decades but there is no evidence that recent changes in the river have caused this.”