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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