The normal salmon angling season on the River Tay and its tributaries currently starts on 15 January and closes on 15 October. On the rivers Earn and Eden, which are also within the Tay district, the seasons start slightly later but close on 31 October.
Some decades ago the best runs of salmon into the River Tay, in common with other Scottish rivers, took place in the spring and autumn runs were comparatively poor. More recently, however, autumn runs have been the strongest of the season and spring runs the poorest. (For more information click here)
In the 1980s / early 90s when autumn catches peaked, it appears that the strongest autumn runs took place in September. Since then catches of fresh fish in that month have fallen somewhat although they are still much higher than they were 50 years ago. At the same time there appears to have been an increase in the number of unspent recent entrant fish being caught at the start of the season (click here for an article on the subject). This may mean that a greater proportion of the "autumn" run now takes place after the end of the angling season. Indeed the run would appear to continue at some level until into January.
Given that the best catches of the season are often made in the last two weeks of the season and against this background of seemingly latening runs it has been decided to review the closing and opening dates of the Tay season.
As part of this process it is necessary to obtain information about the types and numbers of fish which might be expected to be caught if the season was extended permanently. As this is unlikely to be reliably obtained in one year, permission was sought and obtained for a trial extension to the 31st of October for three years, commencing October 2011. This trial has been restricted to the main stem of the Tay only, from Perth up to Dalguise. It does not apply to the upper Tay or tributaries.
The rationale for this is because autumn salmon are a distinct sub-stock of the salmon within the river and are thought to mainly spawn in the main stem of the river. The upper tributaries of the Tay mainly produce spring salmon and summer running grilse, as is explained in more detail here. It would not be appropriate to conduct such a trial in areas which are dominated by spring salmon which are very close to spawning by the end of October.
During the extension period it is a legal requirement that all salmon caught are released and barbless hooks and appropriate methods only will be used (i.e. no bait). Information is collected from these fish on their abundance, sizes, approximate time of entry to the river etc. Photographs and scale samples to allow ageing to be carried out will be conducted on some beats. Similar sampling will also be conducted on "baggots" and kelts caught at the start of each new season.
It was originally intended that at the end of the third year (2013) the data collected would be analysed and a report issued. A decision would then have been made as to whether an application should be made to the Scottish Government for a permanent change to the season and, if so, what form it should take. However, it was apparent after the end of the 2013 extension period that each of the three years was very different and that was reflected in the results obtained thus far. The results from 2011 differed most of all. A large element of that was down to the fact that because the licence was not obtained until August 2011, many of the participating beats were not properly let and fishing effort was low in comparison to 2012 and 2013.
Given this situation, the Board considered that it would be premature to come to a final decision on this matter at this time. Therefore, at the 2013 Annual Meeting of Proprietors it was agreed that the trial should be conducted for one final season in 2014. As we had originally been given a licence for 2014 as a contingency, this requires no further application to Scottish Ministers. However, we have received confirmation that they are happy with this arrangement and indeed are of the view that the more evidence we can gather the better.
It is our intention that there will be an extraordinary general meeting open to all river proprietors in November 2014 to make the decision about the future opening / closing dates.
While this trial extension is only limited to the middle and lower part of the Tay, one third of the letting income derived will be donated to the Tay Foundation and this will facilitate improvement and other projects which will help the entire district, not just those areas which are participating in the trial.
Information for anglers participating in the trial salmon season extension
Anglers who participated in the trial season extension in 2013 were required to record some details of time fished and catches. The paperwork supplied is attached below.
Instructions for anglers (pdf)
Catch/effort recording sheet (pdf)