June was another very dry month and the flow sunk slowly to really quite low levels by the start of July. There were only a few small rises during the month and these only really affected some of the highland tributaries. Consequently, some parts of the river did well, but other areas, for example some of the tributaries, fished much less well than they can do at this time. However, June did see the catch reported on fishtay reduce a little from May, as it always does, but the 607 reported still comfortably beat the five year fishtay average. The total catch will undoubtedly well exceed the five year average for the whole district (617) and will likely be one of the best June totals ever reported.
Apart from a very small rise at the beginning of the month, July was very dry and the Tay ran as low as it has been at this time of year for quite a number of years. It was also very hot for much of the month, with daily air temperatures peaking in the mid 20s oC on many days. These conditions, combined with a seeming non appearance of a main grilse run, resulted in poorer catches for many beats. Only 485 salmon / grilse were reported on fishtay compared to a five year average of 618 and a full district average of 887.
By the beginning of August, the fierce heat eventually tempered and there was even a little rain. However, though much better than July, August was a disappointing month for many. A rise on the 2nd of the month was small and short lived. Apart from another small rise later in the month, water levels remained low all month, though not quite as low as they had been in July. 888 fish were reported on fishtay in August compared to a five year average of 1161 and a full district average of 1666.
September was another essentially dry month, the fourth in a row. The month opened with the Tay at its lowest level for the time of year for quite some time. Things began to look rather concerning by mid month, with catches continuing below par and reports of accumulations of fish in Perth Harbour. However, on the 16th, there was a rise of about a foot on the Tay. This modest rise, coupled with a colder snap of weather, led to a dramatic improvement in catches, particularly for some lower Tay beats. In the end, 1643 salmon were reported on fishtay which is close to its recent average of 1724. Given the previous two months and the experience of most other rivers which were really struggling, that was something of an achievement.
There was then a modest rise on 4 October, but that did not encourage fish to move from those hotspots (e.g. Almondmouth and Cargill) where they had accumulated during the low water. The normal closing date of the season (15 October) came and went with low water back, but it was all change thereafter during the trial extended fishing period in the lower and middle Tay. There was a little rise about the 17th, but on Saturday the 19th, the Tay had its first decent spate since May and ironically the river continued high and fluctuating throughout the whole of the first week of the extension. Given those conditions, the first two weeks of October continued much in the same vein as late September. Some beats suffered, but some had an excellent time, knocking up their best autumn catches in years. For example, Almondmouth reported 637 salmon for the season and Cargill reported 554.
In total, 2117 salmon were reported on fishtay for October, nearly two thirds of which were reported during the first half of the month. For that half, that is around the recent average for those beats which report to fishtay. However, reports from the rivers Earn and Eden, which are mainly autumn fisheries, suggest these did not fish that well. The same was true of smaller Tay tributaries which were too low up to 15 October.
Overall, it is expected that the full district catch may end up in the region of 11,000, including the extension. Such a catch is quite reasonable for recent times, particularly given the poor conditions in the summer. However, there must be a concern that catches belie the real strength of the runs. The spring fishing did benefit from good conditions which may have resulted in a higher proportion of the fish in the river being caught, but the evidence from the Pitlochry and Lochay fish counters (pages 23 and 25) show there was also a genuinely stronger spring / early summer salmon run. Regarding the autumn, it was widely reported that even by September, and certainly by October, many of the fish being caught in the lower and middle Tay were colouring or coloured. In common with other rivers, there did not appear to be a large late run of fresh run fish. Lower mainstem beats benefited from fish which had accumulated over the long period of low water. The great unanswered question is whether a wet autumn would have pulled in a good run of fresh fish or merely allowed the older fish to move through leaving little in their wake.
As also mentioned, a major feature of the season was the strength of the MSW salmon run. The spring run was mainly composed of 2SW fish, but a significant proportion was again of 3SW fish which have become noticeably more common from 2008 onwards. At least three fish over 30 pounds were caught in the spring. In the autumn, salmon in the teens of pounds formed a greater proportion of the catch than would have been the case a few years ago. In addition there were more bigger salmon too. For example, four fish over 30 pounds were caught in the last three days of the season extension period and earlier in the extension period a coloured cock fish estimated at 45 pounds was caught on the Kercock beat. As regards grilse, they were not that numerous, and even into the autumn some very small specimens were caught, even under two pounds.
The Board has frequently been asked why there were more fish this spring. There is no absolutely clear answer yet, but one possibility must be that slower growing fish – as evidenced by the fact that grilse have become smaller – are simply not maturing as grilse but are staying longer at sea and returning as older salmon. This is not unexpected, of course, because that was the dominant pattern in British rivers between the 1920s and the 1950s.
It may also be that stocking has helped some tributaries, and what of catch and release? Perhaps it has helped also, but a curious thing is that in the most important Tummel tributaries, for example, most of the fish which returned this spring are likely to have been derived from the 2007 spring run / autumn 2007 spawning. The 2007 spring run was in fact a poor one and the catch and release rate was not as high as it is now (see Table 1). Furthermore, the 2007 spawning was affected by very low water throughout the spawning period.
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To check available fishing for the River Tay please visit the FishTay or contact the FishPal offices on 01573 470612 to speak with a River Tay Fishing Specialist.