Scottish Sea Trout, How Are They Doing?

Clach na Strone

Certainly in Scotland sea trout anglers are a nocturnal breed. I recall my first visit to the Association water at Grantown on Spey in the mid 1970s opening a hut door at Clach na Strone to be greeted by a wall of smoke flavoured with whisky and beer. Half a dozen dedicated sea trout anglers were getting “in the mood” for their night time session (fishing). Mad, because some of them were planning to fish Big Stream when full darkness descended. 

There were queues of the dedicated awaiting their turn at the Lurig, Long Pool and Tarig Mor every night, not so today. A month ago I fished Dulnain Mouth. The route was barely discernable being over grown with knee deep grass where 10 years ago there was well worn path.

Sea trout fishing is in the doldrums. On many rivers the rigour of night fishing are not worth the effort. What has gone wrong? I recon expectations are an issue in a world where folk can catch double figure rainbows willy nilly rather than fishing night after night for uncooperative wild fish. A look at catch statistics for Scotland give an indication of what is happening and where the best fishing can be had.

Sea trout catch returns in recent years represent a fairly mixed bag of results with some areas of Scotland on the up and up while others are in decline. In particular the West Coast, North East and Central regions are experiencing a significant decline but it isn’t all bad news, the North and Western Isles are looking good.

Set out at the bottom of tyhe page are stats for the top ten of sea trout fishing locations for 2012, a particularly good year for migratory fish and 2014 which proved to be a depressing year at least for salmon. The top ten fisheries account for about 60% of the total reported catch for Scotland.

The Hebrides tick the box as the “go to” sea trout destination with 3262 fish caught last year, but looking at the detail the Hebridean lochs Creed and Roag would have a place in the top ten on their own record. The river Spey comes in at number 2 in the hit parade and looks to be on the up and up. However locals in Grantown on Spey and up around Boat of Garten will tell you that their Association waters once would have accounted for more than half of the 2014 Spey return.

Rising like Lazarus at number 5 is the Clyde, not so long ago a destination that no self respecting salmon or sea trout would have ventured into. The Ythan sneaks into the 2014 stats at number 7 bucking the trend for the North East but where is the Deveron, Nairn, Findhorn?

In 2014 17750 sea trout were caught and released, 4308 were killed. A catch and release percentage of 80.50% was achieved indicating an increased respect for sea trout. 4688 were netted and trapped by commercial fisheries. One important stat is that the sea trout returns for 2014, a year when salmon returns were pitiful, were 2931 better than in 2012.

The finger of blame might be pointed at fish farming on the West Coast where once great fisheries like Loch Maree and Sheil are off the angling map but this cannot be used as a reason on the East Coast. I still believe that historic persecution of brown trout has contributed to the decline of sea trout that are now firmly identified as wild brown trout that chose to migrate out to sea. We know that trout were slaughtered on many famous salmon rivers on the grounds that they competed with salmon. I also believe that enrichment of certain rivers from agricultural fertiliser and nitrates and phosphates from treated sewerage has increase the amount and type of invertebrate food available in a river system reducing the pressure on fish to migrate.

The fact that the Clyde is number 5 and only had, until recently, a very healthy brown trout population offers significant circumstantial evidence that migration is a natural strategy creating a healthy sea trout population from nothing. This suggests that for the future we should be looking to enhance wild trout populations in our rivers and lochs. Now I hear riparian owners of salmon fisheries muttering at that suggestion but a few years ago a ghillie told me how the burns on the Deveron used to be packed with big brownies at spawning time, they were netted and killed. Where is the Deveron in terms of returns, about 15th with 367 fish recorded in 2014?

For the sake of those sallow complexioned sea trout anglers, stalwarts of night fishing, who value above all else the fighting quality of the sea trout we need to be working a bit more forcefully to enhance trout populations. If the once biologically dead lower Clyde now allows sea trout to run promoting it to number 5 in the top ten it is clear that sea trout numbers can recover elsewhere, with a little help from their friends.

Statistics taken from Marine Scotland Statistics reports 2012 and 2015

2012                                                   2014
Hebrides        2680               Hebrides        3262
Spey               2084               Spey               2660
Dee                 1405              Tweed            1995
Tweed            1117               Dee                 1437
Clyde              1035               Clyde              1111
Tay                  937                Tay                1013 
Nith                  739               Ythan               896
Lochy               647               Nith                   824
Annan               490               Lochy               675
Loch Hope      444               S Esk                611
Creed     923
Roag      845

This interpretation is solely the opinion of the author taken from statistics made availble for public use by Marine Scotland Science