SALMON fishers on the River Tweed this summer have been catching more fish than usual but no one’s quite sure why yet.
And when they’ve been bragging about catching fish larger than 20lbs they’re probably not exaggerating either - in May, June, July and August both the number and size of salmon in the Tweed have taken anglers and experts by surprise.
Nick Yonge, of the Tweed Foundation said: “ This year has been different from other years. The first period of the year - February, March April - was pretty much average, low catches and run of fish.
“These are the fish that go up to the very highest reaches of the catchment, to the head water and we are pretty certain they are different to others. They are rare, a different kind of fish and spawn differently.
“There aren’t many of them so most fish are caught in the first few months of being in the river.
“For this year there was no change but then in May and June there was a significant increase in the run of fish, more fish than we have seen for a few years and that increase has gone on, right the way through the summer.
“Through the summer there are two types of fish that come through: grilse (fish that have spent one winter at sea) and summer salmon (which have spent two or more winters at sea), and what’s happened this year is that grilse have been rather few and the salmon have been much more numerous, coupled with that there have been more of the large ones, over 20lbs, which aren’t terribly common.
“So we have got a change in the situation and no one’s clear why but it’s almost definitely something that’s happening at sea. For them to have got bigger they have found food at sea which means their chances of survival are better.”
“We are able to do research at sea - we know where they go, or rather we did know. But if they have found better conditions they are probably staying away at sea longer.
“You have to look at trends over a long time period - 20-30 years - we are dealing with data that goes back 150 years and trying to look at long periods.
“Most of our fish are five years old. We have fish that go to sea for one, two or three years as little fish in the river. The longer they spend at sea the bigger they get, they go to sea to get fat.”
Last year the total rod catch for salmon on Scottish rivers was the highest on record, with 110,496 salmon and grilse caught (an increase of 31 per cent on the previous five year average) and 20 per cent of those were caught on the River Tweed.
In line with conservation efforts 70 per cent of fish caught were released, this figure rising to 86 per cent for spring salmon.
On the River Tweed, where last year’s salmon count was 31,321 (23,219 by rod and line), 91 per cent of spring salmon caught were released since the introduction of new river regulations.
Across Scotland there were 27,704 sea trout caught in 2010, 34 per cent higher than the previous five year average. And again 72 per cent of the fish caught were released. River Tweed figures during that period were 10,039 sea trout caught (2,621 by rod and line).
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said:“These figures come on the back of some successful years, although we must remember that salmon numbers can be affected by many factors. These results illustrate the commitment of many anglers on our salmon rivers to forward looking management.”