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At last, a salmon-friendly summer

Compared to 2018, this summer has proved to be much more salmon friendly, with catches showing improvement

Some Annan beats are showing catches much higher than the five-year average.
Some Annan beats are showing catches much higher than the five-year average.

Remember the long, hot summer of 2018? How we sweltered under those azure blue skies? Fretted over our drought-stricken rivers? And finally had to stop fishing due the high water temperatures to avoid causing undue stresses on the fish?

One of the upshots of these diabolical conditions for migratory fish was that it resulted in the headline: “Worst ever year for salmon”. Whilst I would not wish to side-step the issue on the dramatic decline of salmon stocks in Scotland, and the bare facts of the catch-figures, such headlines don’t make great reading for Scottish rivers, the beats, the lodges, and – most importantly – the salmon fishermen themselves. As editor of a fly fishing magazine I’m duty bound to highlight the concerns over our wild migratory fish stocks – we need the relevant bodies to be aware and react to help Salmo salar, whether that’s politically, financially, or environmentally – but this is impossible to do without inflicting concern, doubt and worry into the salmon fisher’s mind. And therein lies the problem: 2018 had nothing going for it if you were either a salmon or a salmon fisher, and that disastrous, headline-making season, along with the paucity of fish over recent years finally cemented a mentality of resignation in many, who hung up their chest waders and double-handers for the final time. One of the key components of any successful salmon angler is the underlying confidence that they will catch one, so to continue to fish in the wake of the “worst salmon season ever” takes some bottle, dedication, perhaps even verging towards idiocy and bloody mindedness.

But, then, that would be underestimating the salmon themselves. We all know only too well that they are one of Earth’s most magnificent creatures, and we also admire them for their strength, tenacity and fortitude. Underestimate them at your peril.

And, what a difference a year makes! Reflecting on the summer of 2019, in Scotland, it couldn’t be more different. It would be summarised by the BBC weatherman as: “consistently damp, and mainly cool”. And yet these are exactly the kind of conditions which allow salmon to access our rivers and complete their migration. Lo and behold, salmon are being caught. I’ve heard better reports from our east coast rivers, where all are consistently picking up fish throughout their lengths.

The numbers still have a long way to go to make a decent season (at this time in 2016, the Pitlochry Fish-ladder Counter on the Tay was at 6,098. Today, it has registered just 1500. There’s still three of months of counting to go, and the average annual ladder count is 4,000). I also see encouraging reports of fish on the west coast and decent catches on the Annan where, over the past few months, some beats are registering catches far higher than their five-year average. It’s on a river like the Annan, classed a Grade 3 (mandatory catch-and-release) where such reports are so encouraging, as the only way for a river to climb out of its Grade 3 classification is to record better than average rod-catches. The ‘Catch 22’ scenario for the Annan is that the simple act of imposing a Grade 3 ranking automatically means less people will fish it, so total rod-catches for the river are likely to be down, irrespective of the run.

Which brings me to the point I am trying to make: you can’t catch a salmon if you don’t go down to the river and fish it. With our rivers are in good ply and the chances looking promising, it’s down to you whether you should fish or not, but there could be one with your name on it. Tight lines to all that venture out over the next few weeks.

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