The opening of the River Tay salmon fishing season took place at Meikleour on Monday this week.
However, the 2018 season comes at a time of change, some positive and some very concerning, for fish runs into the Tay.
On the positive side, early-running spring salmon are getting bigger. The mean weight of salmon caught between January and March 2017 was 12.8lb. This is almost 3lb heavier than the average weight at the turn of the millennium and, in all probability, indicates that the majority of salmon entering the Tay in the first three months of the year have spent three winters at sea when previously two winters was the norm.
Comparable average weights to those recorded in early 2017 have not been seen consistently since the 1960s.
Sadly, on the negative side, the Tay – in common with many east coast Scottish rivers – experienced a marked decline in grilse numbers in 2017. Grilse spend one winter at sea and they are the traditional mainstay of fishing from July onwards.
The river’s salmon catch (normally mostly consisting of grilse) between July and October 2017 was 3196, compared to an annual average for this period over the previous ten years of 6502.
The Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board (TDSFB) is now, in line with its statutory responsibilities, taking affirmative action in response to the considerable decline in grilse numbers.
Iain McLaren, interim chairman of the TDSFB, explained: ‘There is little doubt that we are experiencing a period of major changes in the Tay’s salmon runs. It is the Fisheries Board’s responsibility to act whenever necessary to protect and conserve our valuable wild salmon stocks.
‘Accordingly, after due consideration and in line with the precautionary principle, we are introducing new restrictions or limits on the number of fish that anglers may kill in the summer and early autumn. Previously we advised anglers not to keep any fish at all in the spring and no more than one fresh-run male grilse per day after 1 June.
‘As that could add up to a significant number over a season, we are asking anglers now to keep no more than the very occasional fresh-run fish during this period, unless of course there happens to be a sudden recovery in grilse numbers this year.’
The ceremony to mark the beginning of the new salmon season was held on Monday morning at the Meikleour boathouse and hosted by Meikleour Fishings. The traditional blessing (with a quaich of Glenturret whisky) of the boat and river ceremony was performed by Provost of Perth and Kinross Council, Dennis Melloy.
The first cast of the season was undertaken by Marina Gibson, well-known UK and international
The event was supported by the Perthshire Chamber of Commerce. Goody bags for anglers were provided by Glenturret Distillery (Scotland’s oldest distillery), Pol Roger Champagne (the late Odette Pol Roger was a renowned Tay angler) and The Meikleour Arms (which has been serving anglers for almost 200 years).