We are in the peak of the spawning season on the Dee and the Bailiffs are presently out counting salmon redds. We spend much of our time as anglers trying to outwit these wonderful fish, but by the late autumn our minds turn to a new generation of salmon and to enjoy one of nature’s great spectacles. Watching the fish on the redds, completing the salmon’s incredible life cycle is a real privilege. The purpose of the count is to help assess the abundance of spawners in the river each autumn.
So far we are fairly pleased with the 2016 count. It’s not a record breaking year, but it is better than expected and with the shadow of Storm Frank still looming in some parts of the catchment, we have to be pleased with the results so far.
We have spawning fish in the Dee from just above the tidal limit, all the way into the headwaters in the Cairngorms. As a rule of thumb, we expect the early running fish to spawn in the highest reaches of the catchment, while later running fish will spawn further downstream. Mid November is the peak of the spawning activity on the Dee. The female fish, or hen, creates a nest for her eggs, known as a redd. She turns on her side and flexes her body rapidly knocking stones out of her way with her tail, over several hours, to create a depression in the gravel. This is known as ‘cutting’ the redd. The males, or cock fish, fight for position and the successful ones move alongside a hen as she deposits her eggs and fertilises them with milt. She then covers the redd with stones.
A redd can been seen in the foreground of this photo from the upper Dee
Redds can be found in a range of locations; typically, we would expect to find them in pool tails where the water speed increases and the pool depth decreases and there is more gravel like material and loose stones for the fish to work with. These redds can be spotted and counted, if the water conditions are conducive. The bailiffs all have good trained eyes for the job and have been maintaining a weekly count of fourteen sites since October.
The 2016 count has been much better than 2015 and given the trauma we had with Storm Frank, the overall feeling about the count is a positive one. While no-one is getting carried away, we are seeing enough to feel encouraged. A few sites have been doing much better than we had anticipated while others are maintaining the five year average and one or two are below what we had expected. There are up and downs and surprising result every year, but this year we have found that the fish have simply adapted to the many changes in the river and have simply relocated to new sites, which have the correct requirements for spawning. One middle river pool had historically delivered the largest redd count each year and when Storm Frank all but destroyed the pool, we were fearful of lost spawning habitat. But this year the fish in that section produced more redds than we had seen in the area since 2013.
Beat owner Lawrence Ross joined the Bailiffs during a recent count and was pleased with what he heard and saw.
“The redd counting exercise on the Dee is well organised with a consistent year on year process which gives one confidence that the data collected is meaningful. Comparing 2016 with 2015 it was obvious that spawning activity this year is much improved. A noticeable point was the number of large redds that must have been created by big fish - well over 20lbs. If salmon and sea trout complete their marine journey, then they can look forward to good spawning habitat on the Dee.”
We will keep monitoring the fourteen sites into December when we will have a fuller picture of how spawning has gone this year.