5 October 2015

Season 2015 ended with dry weather and the summer we had all missed. July was the coldest it had been in Scotland for many years. Catches have yet to be finalised but the river will end with somewhere over 1400 fish caught by rods, which although below average, is better than in 2013.

A larger number of salmon and grilse than normal showed signs of seal and dolphin damage.

Our support for local angling and communities has continued with a party of children from Helmsdale being successfully introduced by the water bailiffs to catching fish on the river at the end of the season.

Electro-fishing and the continuation of the Helmsdale’s excellent long-term database of survival of young fish in the system was hampered in the cool summer by high water and turbid conditions in the burns. Fewer sites than normal were counted and measured. Where it could be satisfactorily done, populations of young salmon were found to be healthy, in good numbers, and in fit condition.

Scale-reading will in due course provide a picture of the age structure of fish returning to the Helmsdale in 2015. This season the number of salmon over 20 pounds was higher than average.

Supplying broodstock for the hatchery will, as usual, be done by rod and line with the assistance of local anglers. Hatchery fish will all continue to be profiled for their DNA allowing the contribution of the hatchery to salmon migrations to be measured.

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24 June 2015

March and April were thin months on the Helmsdale with cold weather and few fish about. Beats struggled to score. But May ushered in a complete change. The month saw about 250 in the book and some were heavy. This good run has continued into June. Two weeks ago an angler caught a 26 lb salmon on his birthday. Salmon over 20 lb continue to be landed and many fish in their teens.

The grilse have yet to arrive in any numbers. But an early run of sea-trout produced good sport and on the Lower Helmsdale several anglers did well. These sea-trout have now moved onto the main beats.

Weather through to late June has been unusually cold and north winds have made it seem worse. Late frosts have kept growth down and the sun has been a rare sight.

Unfed fry were returned to the river by the end of April. The Board is continuing with its DNA programme to establish what the Hatchery contributes to the returning population.

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27 March 2015

Early Spring has been a good period on the Helmsdale. High winds through January and February eventually moderated and catches as we approach the end of March have been consistent for four weeks. The beats have recorded steady numbers of salmon brought to the bank, including some heavy ones.

Damage to the banks and river structure, despite very high water in the three months since November, has been minimal. This excludes the natural movement of silt in the floodplain which continues as it always has.

Numbers of spawning fish could not be ascertained visually in the back-end of 2014 owing to high water and turbidity. However, kelts have been caught in the normal numbers since.

High winds in January levelled one of the fishing huts. It has been replaced.

The Board welcomes the recent achievement of NASF’s Orri Vigfusson in securing an extension to the agreement with the Faroes Islands that there will be no commercial fishing for salmon in 2015. The Icelander warns, however, that continued salmon netting by Norway and Scotland, profiting from the Faroes conservation action, represents a continuing threat to the species survival.

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30 October 2014

The Helmsdale District Salmon Fishery Board welcomes publication of the wild fisheries review and looks forward to working with the government at the next stage of progress.

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8 October 2014

The Helmsdale District Salmon Fishery Board has pleasure in welcoming any anglers inclined to come and join us for the 2015 ‘Open Days’ which will be from Monday January 12th to Saturday 17th inclusive. Fishing will be free to all who register, either at the Helmsdale Company in the High Street or at Strathullie by the Harbour. Fishing will be by fly only and fish will have to be carefully returned to the river to foster the Spring run. Anglers may try the famous pools anywhere on the river of their choice. There will be the opening usual ceremony on the Monday with the Sutherland Schools Pipe Band performing in the High Street prior to angling commencing at 10am.

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17 June 2014

We are now half-way through the summer and the first grilse and early sea-trout have arrived. So far the season has been just below average in terms of catches. In May 180 were caught on the private beats against an average of a little over 200. Around a dozen salmon have been around the 20 pounds class. The Helmsdale has always been a river where beginners have a decent chance of a first salmon and yesterday that happy accomplishment was logged once more.

The water in mid-June has become quite warm. Recent weather has been overcast and rainy with fluctuating levels. Midges started in the second week in June. Fish runs over the counter have been steady.

Research work on habitat commissioned by the Forestry Commission on the nearby River Halladale has had to be put back to a later summer session owing to fluctuating water levels.

The Board has signed up to participation in a future survey of the damage done to young migratory fish by sawbill ducks.

The local angling association is starting construction of a fishing-hut on the Lower Helmsdale, a project to which the Board has contributed assistance funding.

Several forestry projects in the catchment of the Strath of Kildonan are planned or presently being done. All of them involve the removal of pine monocultures planted at a time when forest planning was crude and unmindful of the needs of fish. In all cases the re-plant plans involve a smaller area of trees, and a mix of hardwood species which will assist improving water quality and slowing down run-off. The Board has been a consultee in these projects and is confident that long-term benefits should accrue.

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19 February 2014

The Helmsdale River Board provided locals and visitors with seven days free fishing starting January 11th.  The Open Days event has become part of the local calendar.  Over 260 anglers signed up.   The longer period allowed straddled two weekends bringing extra benefit to the shops and hostelries, as well as permitting anglers to become more familiar with the fishing pools.  Three fresh salmon were caught, the first only a few minutes after the ceremonial first cast from lady angler Ruth Dudgeon.  This represented the best catch in the season’s first week in recent times.

Water has been high since.  One more salmon has been caught, and numerous kelts.  These have been in strong condition and well-mended.

Repair works to the banks have been delayed until frost drives down water-levels sufficiently for it to be practical to proceed.

The Board is assisting with a research programme headed by Dr Marcus Walters on the survival of sea-trout at sea.

Scale reading in 2013 underlined recent findings – that young salmon are smolting later, often after three years instead of two, and that returning salmon are also arriving later, sometimes after three years instead of two.  From a sample of 71 just under a quarter were three winters away at sea.  This is starting to look like a permanent lengthening of the salmon cycle, presumably in response to conditions in the ocean.  The north Atlantic has been warming, resulting in a northwards shift of the food supply.  Salmon take longer to reach it and longer to swim back.

Electro-fishing results in 2013 showed most tributaries in good health and with strong densities of young salmonids.  Interestingly, there was proof, by age-reading of fry, that  Helmsdale parr had migrated into upper tributary habitat left devoid of natural populations after November spawning time in 2012 during a drought.  Whether parr migrate into empty habitat is a conundrum hotly debated.  This research demonstrates that on this occasion, at any rate, they did so, and in numbers.

Broodstock eggs have recently started to hatch.  Very few have been lost.  The winter spates have not affected survival, owing both to a recirculation system which can be switched over when there is peat and debris in burn-water, and also to the diligence of the bailiffs who several times worked all night to maintain natural water-flows.

The Helmsdale Board welcomes the recent formation of a revived local angling association, and looks forward to working with it.

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2014 Open Days

The Helmsdale River Board is pleased to announce that the Open Days in 2014, at which anglers are invited to fish the river at no charge subject only to signing in, are to run from January 11th to January 18th inclusive. This is an experiment to see whether this longer Open Days period will work for all concerned.

Signing in can be done at the Helmsdale Company shop in Dunrobin St., or at Strathullie Crafts on the Harbour.

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7 October 2013

The 2013 season ended without significant rain falling in September. When there was a 3 inch rise in water levels followed by a 2 inch rise, fish moved about and the rods prospered. For the rest of the time anglers learnt the arts of low-water fishing.

The Lower Helmsdale fished better than usual as salmon massed on the pools near the sea. Individual anglers who watched for the right opportunities did well. Meantime salmon could be seen in the bay waiting to run with rain.

Catches are below average but slightly more than in the last dry summer in season 2003.

The Helmsdale Board carried out environmental survey work again for the Forestry Commission during the summer on neighbouring water catchments. 2013 was a good year for electro-fishing and stock assessment, and over 20 sites were measured on the home river. Young fish populations are in good health.

Broodstock collection is presently underway with the help of the local angling community

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7 June 2013

May fishing dramatically improved on the Helmsdale. The May run was steady and catches were good throughout the month. June has started with falling water levels but catches remain reasonable. To date no grilse have been caught and no sea-trout. Water temperatures have so far not heated up significantly owing to nights remaining cool.

As part of its further involvement in wider fisheries research the Helmsdale Board has agreed to participate in research commencing in the autumn to establish whether there any evolutionary changes to salmon eggs as a result of standards in water quality.

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