The 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 has now been 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 will be a legal requirement that all salmon caught are released and barbless hooks and appropriate methods only will be used (i.e. no bait). Information will be 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.
At the end of the third year the data collected will be analysed and a report issued. A decision will then be 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.
While this trial extension is only limited to the middle and lower part of the Tay, a substantial part 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.
Autumn salmon exploitation study
In addition to the information which will be gained from monitoring the trial season extension, the Tay Foundation is hoping to conduct a study of autumn salmon exploitation.
Unlike spring salmon and summer grilse which to some extent are monitored by fish counters (e.g. Pitlochry Dam), we have, at the moment, no idea how many salmon enter the Tay in the autumn, nor what proportion of these are caught on rod and line. Does a large proportion of the autumn run get caught or a very small part? The answer to that question could have a significant bearing on whether a season extension is sensible or not.
One of the few practicable ways of trying to answer this is to tag adult salmon and see what proportion of them get caught by anglers, or indeed get caught more than once (if released that is).
Studies like this are not new and indeed have been conducted on the River Tweed, for example, since the mid 1990s. There a netting station is used to catch fish which are tagged and released during weekends in the netting season and after the end of the netting season. This has shown that on the Tweed at least, the proportion of autumn fish caught is very low, but has tended to increase since the 1990s. (For more information on that study click here.)
It is intended that a similar study will be conducted here where salmon will be caught at an old netting station in the estuary, tagged and then released.
A flyer showing anglers how to identify tagged fish can be obtained by clicking here.