The River Helmsdale has fished reasonably well all season. There have been no bumper weeks, but also no weeks without fish swimming up. Weights have been unusually high, in common with some other northern rivers. Three fish have weighed 30 pounds, and some two dozen over 20 lb.
In common with other northern rivers a few ‘pinks’ have been caught, thought to have come from northern Russia where introductions designed to create a commercial net fishery occurred 70 years ago. These straying salmon have been killed, as the government has asked. Pinks spawn earlier than native salmon and their young return to sea in the year of birth, so no freshwater habitat is shared with native salmon for long.
Water temperatures remained low later than usual and never became high all summer. We have had no periods of very low water.
No exceptional spates have occurred to date.
The proportion of the migrations which has consisted of grilse as compared to summer salmon will be determined when we have results from the season’s scale sampling early next year. In common with several other neighbouring rivers there is a feeling that long-term cycles may be moving towards a multi-sea-winter salmon period consisting of older fish, coinciding with fewer grilse.
The River opened on January 11th with the Sutherland Schools Pipe Band bravely marching down the High St and soon to be lost in swirling sleet. However, hardy anglers from far and wide as usual turned out in numbers. They spread up the river and on a single pool there were anglers from 7 cars by 11 am.
Conditions made angling very testing and no fish were caught in the first 4 days. Water was high but not impossibly high. Nonetheless anglers, ever-resilient, were on the river in blowing snow as early as 8.15am.
Everyone waits in anticipation to see these efforts rewarded by the capture of the first ’silver tourist’.
The Open Days, with free angling anywhere on the river subject to checking in, finish on Saturday 21st January.
The season’s finish coincided with the first severe frost. Cock salmon at last left the lairs they had occupied since early August and became more aggressive. However, late season angling on the Helmsdale in 2016 had consisted of seeing fish jumping and being able to do little to interest them in flies.
Catches were accordingly below average. At around 1300 for the year it was a modest season for catch numbers.
The health of the river was affirmed by wide electro-fishing coverage and young salmon were found all over the catchment. Conditions were good for this simple method of assessing stocks of young migratory fish, and the Helmsdale DSFB team also carried out habitat work for the Forestry Commission on some neighbouring rivers.
The Helmsdale Salmon Fishery Board has decided again to offer a period of Open Days at the start of the 2017 season. The Open days will commence on Wednesday January 11th and end on Saturday January 21st. Anglers need to sign in and can then fish on the river wherever they please. The government’s ruling about Catch and Release for all spring salmon means that fish must be returned. But Spring fishing is not entirely about eating salmon, as anglers know.
The water has been lower for some time and kept to a reasonable fishing height by released water from the dam which is situated 24 miles from the mouth. The weather has been extremely variable, cool periods punctuated by spells of very hot sun. When it is very hot, there is considerable discrete evaporation, from both lochs and rivers.
Nonetheless, salmon have continued steadily to arrive in the Helmsdale. Local anglers have caught salmon as early as 5am., even when fishing with mist swirling over the water. The beats have been doing reasonably well and salmon have been of a good size.
Evidence of damage to salmon by seals has been increasing recently.
The first sea-trout are being caught now. The earliest run of Helmsdale sea-trout is always composed of larger fish. Rain would see them move throughout the whole system.
Visitor Angling Tickets for the River Helmsdale may be bought from either:
Thyme and Plaice, 10 Dunrobin St. Helmsdale, tel 01431 821598
or from the Bannockburn Inn, Stafford St., Helmsdale, tel 01431 821461, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Open days starting January 11th saw a large number of faithful visitor anglers returning once more to the River Helmsdale Opening. The Sutherland Schools Pipe Band led the procession down the High St and the Opening Cast was performed by Donald Sutherland, well-known ghillie on Suisgill Estate. Over 100 anglers signed in on the first day.
Water was high and the chances of finding that early migrant were thereby slimmer and, on this occasion, none were caught during the week. Kelts were reported to be strong.
The first fish was eventually caught on Feb 6. Another followed at the beginning of the next week which weighed 20lb.
The Helmsdale Board believes there is a place for hatcheries and properly-introduced young fish from its own hatchery to assist stocks in the parts of the catchment where there is a demonstrable need. There are some 150,000 ova presently in the hatchery which will in due course be returned to the river as unfed fry.
The Helmsdale Board is co-operating with the neighbouring Dunbeath River in a scientific analysis of alternative hatchery fertilisation techniques.
In the government’s concept of Conservation Limits, the Helmsdale has been given a Number 1 classification. This means that the spawning stock is considered adequate. Catch and Release rules are therefore in the hands of the Helmsdale DSFB. On the private beats the rules are as follows:
All Spring fish up to June 6 are to returned.
Throughout the season all fish over 12lb are to be returned.
Each beat may keep one grilse or salmon under 12 lb per week, providing it is fresh.
To protect the integrity of the stock, all farmed escapees are to be killed and not put back.
Visiting anglers are requested to follow the spirit of these rules for the sake of the stock and the continued good reputation of the river.
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.
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.
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.
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.