Thursday, 28 May 2020

LOCAL AREA FISHING EMERGES FROM LOCKDOWN

Commenting on the announcement that local area fishing can take place in Scotland as of Friday (29th May), Charlie Whelan, ambassador for The SGA Fishing Group, said: 
"We look forward to seeing a few more local people back out enjoying the wonderful rivers and fisheries in their communities and the high quality angling experiences on offer in Scotland.
“This move will benefit people’s mental and physical wellbeing and it will also be great to see kids back out fishing within their family groups.
“We reiterate the First Minister’s view. Anglers and those providing angling need to be respectful of the national progress made in keeping the virus in check. They need to make responsible judgements.
“That way, the angling community will be playing an important part in potentially getting more things opened up in future. 
“We have fielded questions regarding how far people can travel and what they can and can’t do, and circumstances can be different. Everyone angling and providing angling must ensure that travelling remains within the local area and that all other measures such as social distancing and minimising the risk of transmission of Covid 19 can be achieved.”
The SGA Fishing Group made its case to Scottish Ministers that local area angling could meet Government's safety threshold as it considered lockdown easing measures.



Friday, 22 May 2020

OFFICE BLOG: CONCERNING LOCKDOWN ACTIVITY ON ESTATES

Certain impressions have been created in recent weeks about things happening in the countryside with less people about during lockdown.
Some of our members have contacted us, confused. Rather than ‘less people’ being about, they are finding the opposite and want that, too, to be recognised.
For many people working and living in remote places, their experience is that activity on the ground has heightened, there are more strange faces than ever seen before and lockdown, access and exercise rules seem to have very broad interpretations.
Below is an image from a trail camera set up to monitor a legal crow trap. The light in the picture is the torchlight of an unknown individual approaching the trap at 11.31pm.
Upon seeing the camera, the individual became spooked and left. 

In the same area, a number of criminal acts involving legal traps and snares have occurred. Police have been informed and are investigating.
In recent weeks, the SGA office has been alerted to trap incidents Scotland-wide (some at over 2000ft), thefts, unauthorised filming, unauthorised monitoring, release of call birds and deliberate and premeditated activity to make trouble for estates and their workers.

Trap damage
We have learned of an elderly gentleman being spat at in the face when asking someone to put their dog on a lead because vulnerable lambs and ground-nesting species were around.
Traps set up to catch grey squirrels to help red squirrel conservation have been tampered with.
With recycling centres closed, estates have had to put up with everything from couches to asbestos roofing dumped at their gates.

Not everyone likes certain things in life. Rightly so. Some people may not like to see traps and may choose not to acknowledge the benefits of legal trapping for farm livestock and ground-nesting species. 
Differences of opinion are totally acceptable. What is concerning for our land managers, operating legal traps, is the view that wrecking them can be encouraged, snares should be tampered with and that criminal acts against people’s work equipment is the right thing to do (see some online activity, below, which has become normalised over recent years).
It concerns the SGA that this mindset has been allowed to take hold in Scotland, unchallenged.
While open to all, these special places are also working environments. For our members it seems that that perspective has been lost. 
The SGA office asks that, in this difficult time, members should stay safe and stay vigilant. 

Last year, a report was put together outlining third party illegal activity on Scottish grouse estates. You can read it, here: https://www.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk/pdfs/Survey-Findings-2019.pdf

*If people want to enjoy the wildlife on managed estates responsibly, they can visit the various regional moorland group pages and, particularly, the #WEHAVEWILDLIFE campaign.
There, they can see the many species that are benefiting from management, from pipits and moorland plants to raptors of all kinds. You can find them on Facebook. They are: Angus Glens Moorland Group, Grampian Moorland Group, Tayside and Central Scotland Moorland Group, Tomatin Moorland Group, Speyside Moorland Group, Loch Ness Rural Communities, Southern Uplands Moorland Group.




BLOG: LET'S ALL FISH SAFELY WHEN PHASE ONE BEGINS

Photo of Charlie Whelan from Inverness Courier.

The SGA Fishing Group yesterday (Thursday) warmly welcomed Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that fishing would be one of the permitted activities in Phase One of the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Providing Government advice suggests it is safe to do so, local area angling could get started again following the next timetabled review next Thursday (28th May). 
It is now vitally important for everyone in the angling community to take responsibility for ensuring this is done safely, sensibly and in a way which does not risk the progress which has been made by everyone in the national effort to live with Covid-19.
The SGA Fishing Group and others have played an active part in making the case for a return to local angling, outlining how this can be achieved in a way which minimises the risk of virus transmission, see: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2020/05/13/anglers-return-english-side-river-tweed-scottish-bank-look/
Now, if done sensibly, and adhering to the Government guidance, it is hoped the angling community- which has made sacrifices willingly like others- can pave the way for further phased easing of restrictions (if safe to do so) in future.
The best way to do so is to demonstrate responsibility when Phase One begins.
Already the SGA has been contacted by people asking questions about how far they can travel to fish their local waters.
While there is a fair argument to suggest some rural anglers ( who cannot access their normal fishing spot close to home without travelling more than 5 miles) may be disadvantaged- and we have some sympathy with that view- the Government guidance in this phase is clear: people should not travel more than 5 miles to fish (see below). 



In the lockdown road map, announced yesterday (full details can be downloaded, here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-framework-decision-making-scotlands-route-map-through-out-crisis/) the earliest possible time when people could travel further than locally in order to fish would be July 3rd at Phase 3, unless Government decides to deviate from their stated course.


As ever, the SGA Fishing Group would like to hear views from members as we continue to work with Scottish Government on how the country sports sector in Scotland in general can move towards a resumption of key activities, in line with guidance. By telling us how things are working- or not- for you, we can raise their issues directly with key decision makers.

Here is how the SGA Fishing Group welcomed the news yesterday: 

Charlie Whelan, angler and Ambassador for the SGA Fishing Group, a stand- alone fishing arm of The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said:

“This is a welcome announcement by Nicola Sturgeon. Many anglers have been looking on enviously at images of people on the banks in England and Wales and, although the Spring season has been lost and some may feel they could have returned sooner, the fishing community has been wholly respectful of the virus, the government’s advice and the wellbeing of local communities.


“Fisheries should now take the time to ensure local angling can be participated in safely on their waters. Many people will benefit from getting back on the banks again, both physically and mentally, and it will help to maintain the interest of young people which is vital for the future of the activity in this country.


“This is also an initial but tentative step forward for the wider country sports industry which is facing great uncertainty. However, with support and co-operation from Scottish Government, the sector could be pivotal in driving economic recovery in some of Scotland’s remotest places, when it is deemed safe to do so. Country sports, including angling, generate around £315m a year for the economy and sustain thousands of jobs in areas which, analysis suggests, will be disproportionately impacted by Coronavirus trading restrictions.”

How did the press view our comments? 






What did you tell us? 


As well as advocating for our members, the SGA also provides insurance cover for country sports. Have you ever considered joining the SGA? If you become a member, you can also become part of the SGA Fishing Group and keep up to date with our news and work.

At present, the SGA Fishing Group also has an active petition running in the Scottish Parliament, asking for a full stakeholder consultation on hatcheries and river stocking. 



If you are a ghillie or an angler and you want to join the SGA, here are some of the other benefits.

For only £40 per year, you get: 

* 3rd party insurance cover for public liability to others up to £10 million 
* 1hr free legal advice 
* 1hr free HR advice
* Membership hotline manned Monday to Friday  9am - 5pm.
* Quarterly magazine packed with information on countryside issues and specialist columns.
* Access to discounts on Toyota, Lexus and Ford Vehicles 
* Discounts on Certain Training courses 

You can join online, on https://www.scottishgamekeepers.co.uk
to inquire about joining the SGA Fishing Group, contact info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk

Monday, 18 May 2020

FIRST MINISTER OPEN TO LOCAL ANGLING RETURN

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today (Monday 18th) opened up the possibility that some local angling may soon return in Scotland, with Scottish Government set to announce its roadmap for a phased easing of lockdown this Thursday.
In her daily press briefing the First Minister mentioned that some outdoor activities such as golf and fishing would be likely to form part of the initial stage plans for removing some present restrictions, if the progress on Covid-19 measures continue to work.
However, it is unlikely any changes will happen until after the next formal  review on May 28th.
The SGA Fishing Group, which has written to Ministers on the subject, has welcomed the potential easing and will await the formal announcement this week.
A Spokesman for The SGA Fishing Group said:
“We would welcome a return to local area angling and outlined to Ministers how we feel this may be done safely, minimising the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

“We await to see what Thursday’s announcement brings- and the Government’s timetable for any changes- but allowing a limited and staged opening of fisheries to local anglers would see people benefitting from the physical and mental health benefits of getting outside and into nature.
“Angling is a solitary sport and can be carried out with minimal, if any, contact with others. Social distancing is achieved very easily. Obviously, public health must continue to be the principal concern nationwide but we see no reason why local area angling cannot be compatible with that goal."
Over the weekend, the SGA Fishing Group hosted an open poll on its website, asking members and the wider public whether they felt local area angling could return.
The early results, based on 179 responses, received are shown below, with 84 percent of respondents in favour.





Wednesday, 13 May 2020

SGA FISHING GROUP SEEKS GOVT TALKS OVER LOCAL ANGLING RETURN

Anglers social distancing before Covid-19 became a global issue.

The SGA Fishing Group has written to Scottish Government Ministers to discuss the prospect of the return of local angling in Scotland, with England’s rivers opening on Wednesday.




When lockdown began on March 23rd fishing stopped despite many salmon rivers being into a season which nets the economy £135m per year and accounts for 4300 jobs. (1)

Many river ghillies have been furloughed, boats have been tied up and there are some emerging concerns among fishery boards about levies for next year as income disappears.

However, the SGA Fishing Group- a standalone fishing arm of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association- has been working on plans it believes could be enacted to allow safe fishing in local waters.

Anglers returned to some river banks on Wednesday in England after Boris Johnson announced on Sunday his plans for a staged easing of lockdown south of the border.

Nicola Sturgeon has indicated a different course in Scotland in order to minimise the transmission of Covid-19 although Scottish Government has asked the public for ideas on what types of activity may be reintroduced in future which conform to social distancing.

“We were looking at the situation with angling in Scotland quite a bit before Sunday’s announcement by Boris Johnson. Obviously, public health remains the primary concern for everyone,” said Robert White, a ghillie on the River Tay and member of The SGA Fishing Group.

“We believe there are some straightforward conditions which could be met now which would allow some local anglers to get back out onto river banks in their area, while still following government guidance. Angling is relatively solitary. It has known physical and mental health benefits. It would also allow some fisheries to get at least some income in, too.

“We would welcome the opportunity to discuss the ideas further with Ministers.”

With online day passes becoming more popular when booking fishing, anglers with their own equipment, including family groups, could undertake bank fishing without contact with others.

Where other anglers have booked, 2m distancing would be straightforward.

Social areas such as huts would remain closed and anglers would bring their own food.

“One of the key things is that this is local angling,” said Charlie Whelan, ambassador for The SGA Fishing Group.

“This is where people could walk to their local beat or, if necessary, take the sort of short journey by car which they would take to go for their shopping. 

“There are many local angling clubs and associations which operate on local waters in Scotland. They could be out, safely, without risking further transmission of Coronavirus.

“The bulk of fishery income at the height of the season comes from visiting anglers from elsewhere and overseas, often staying in accommodation and guided by a ghillie. We are aware the country is some way from that. Our proposals relate more to an initial phase and getting local anglers back out in a safe manner which doesn’t pose a health risk to others.”

With salmon and sea trout rivers being graded individually in Scotland to comply with annual salmon conservation regulations, the SGA Fishing Group said that policing the policy could mean all fish caught being returned to the river.

  1. Ref: H:\1407\10ScotGov\Rep\Final\FINAL PACEC report on value of wild fisheries 3rd final.docx  
In 2014, anglers spent 490 000 days in Scotland fishing for salmon and sea trout.
There were 1000 active fisheries in Scotland in 2014.


Further Reading: How England is returning to angling. 


Tuesday, 12 May 2020

SGA FISHING CORONABLOG 7- Duncan Ferguson

The snow came late this year but it is an important part of spring on the Spey to encourage the silver smolts on their way and to tempt the returning bars of silver back. 

It will be interesting to see, with nobody fishing, whether there has been more predation with the predators getting free range of the river.

May is a good month on the Spey and it also brings the first of the sea trout. You don't see the same amount of people putting in the nightshift on a balmy summers evening waiting for the scream of the reel.

This is by far my personal favourite time to fish.

Next week was going to be a big one for me. 30 years on the river and 20 years married and I was all booked up to be in a much sunnier location drinking cool beer out of an iced glass. That will happen, but not this year.

I have seen massive changes on the river over the years from no catch and release to 96% being returned. Salmon were plentiful, poaching was rife, we pulled trees out the rivers - now I am putting them back in!

I witnessed the start of science and electro fishing and I am sure a lot of people will have their own views. My personal one is: if you look after the habitat, the fish will look after themselves.

I can see a slow return to local fishing when lockdown starts to ease but people travelling to fish, I am not so sure.

One thing is that, when we all get back to normality, it will be a changed countryside for at least the remainder of this season and maybe beyond.

Friday, 8 May 2020

RANALD'S SPECIAL SALMON FLY FOR THE NHS

The SGA Fishing Group is grateful to Ranald Hutton, all-round country sportsman and occasional SGA member (when shooting) for sending an entry into the Coronablog which turned into a wider media story in today's Courier newspaper. See: https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/local/angus-mearns/1314644/coronavirus-stunning-nhs-warrior-salmon-fly-set-to-land-auction-boost-for-frontline-heroes/

Here is the full story of Ranald's tribute to the NHS, taken from his Coronablog sent to the SGA office.

A former teacher and country sports enthusiast from Angus has revived a rare talent in tying intricate salmon flies to raise money for the NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ranald Hutton started tying trout and salmon flies at the age of 11 with his father Andrew- an artist at The Beano- and, at one stage, was classed as the best in the world.

For several years he ran a mail order business sending his bespoke flies to anglers across several continents before going on to teach Art and Design at Kirkland High School in Methil.

Recently, with the river banks silent due to restrictions, Ranald (66) who fishes as part of a syndicate club in Scone in Perthshire, found himself with some spare time on his hands.


He was persuaded by friend and river Tay ghillie, Cohn O’Dea (SGA Fishing Group member) to enter a lockdown fly tying competition organised by FishPal, an online site for booking angling.

After spending hours in concentration, his creation, ‘NHS Warrior’, which fuses the colours of the NHS logo as a mark of respect to frontline health staff, was announced the winner.

Now he is planning to auction the stunning creation as well as selling special mugs bearing the design, to raise cash for the health workers who are saving lives during the crisis.

“Tying the fly took a long time. It is a very meticulous process and there is quite a lot of exotic materials involved. I am actually just glad I can still do it and my eyes are still ok,” said the trained artist, who was briefly crowned best in the world when he won the Fly Dressers’ Guild competition for professionals in 1970, whilst only 16.

“It is a symbolic fly. With no fishing happening just now because of the pandemic, I decided to enter the competition. I considered the colours carefully, to assess how appropriate they were for the NHS. I am really quite pleased with how it has turned out.”

Ranald, also a skilled competitor in shooting and Field Archery, won the FishPal competition but is no stranger to having his creations admired.

Starting out with his first vice and materials as as boy, he tied flies for personalities such as comedian Jim Davidson.

His work was regularly stocked by suppliers such as the iconic PD Malloch’s of Perth and John Dickson and Son, formerly of Edinburgh.

Now he intends to mount NHS Warrior, adding his signature flourishes, and auction the fly to raise cash to benefit health service employees.

Special mugs donning the fly will also be sold, with proceeds going to the NHS through Captain Tom Moore’s heroic fundraising drive.

“All the doctors and nurses are doing such a great job just now,” he said. “Hopefully this will raise a bit more to help.”


Ranald contacted the SGA Fishing Group, standalone fishing arm of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, to tell them of his intention and the backstory behind it.




A Spokesman for The SGA Fishing Group said: “What Ranald is doing is great and we hope lots of people bid when the time comes. It is another example of what individuals in the game sector have been doing to help others during the pandemic.”

Thursday, 7 May 2020

SGA FISHING CORONABLOG 6- Roger Burton

Thank you to Roger Burton for the latest SGA Fishing Coronablog, blog number 6. Here, Roger evokes the sights and sounds of Spring on a river bank and how we all miss them during this time.

I write this a year to the week since I officially retired. Much of that time had been all I had hoped for; time to be more active in pursuit of my various outdoor (and sometimes indoor) interests for which Scotland caters so well.  By no means least among them being the pursuit of the pristine bar of sea-polished silver, the early returning salmon.  
While now sadly, increasingly elusive, and all the more highly prized for that, the many blank days still provide rich rewards. 
A day in the fresh air; honing casting skills, perhaps, thanks to modern rods and lines, not quite the same physical exertion it once was, but still enough for back and arm muscles to know they’ve been exercised at the end of the day; solitary concentration on the activity and the way your fly is coming round in the changing flow to the exclusion of more mundane matters; and watching as the wildlife, trees and flowers of the riverbank stir and burst into life with the burgeoning season. Forging deeper connections with nature by connecting with it through one of its marvels…the salmon.
So, as the days shortened through last December, and as sure as the years turn and winter passes into spring, my thoughts had turned towards making plans for the new season, and the chance again of one of those magical encounters. 
With more time available to me, without the conflicting demands of work as the end of the financial year approached, and the constraints of juggling annual leave entitlements with family plans, I had been really looking forward to getting a few more days on the river, and perhaps with them, even increasing my chances of a fish or two. I’d taken a season rod on a local Tay beat, re-booked what had been an exploratory 3-day trip to an East Sutherland river with my fishing partner last year and extended it to a full week with a day’s golf on the links and 3 days fishing another new water in Caithness. In a very small way that would have helped contribute to the local economy there, bringing not only 14 bed nights plus meals and bar bills to the hotels, but also providing employment for a gillie and helping pay the wages for other river managers employed by those running the fisheries. This would be something to be replicated by many other visiting anglers over the spring, among them another small party renting two estate cottages that I had been invited to join as spring turned to summer.
But events, as they do, soon changed that. 
After a mild, relatively gentle January during which I had managed to grab a short winter day without needing several layers of clothing, came February’s storms making fishing more or less impossible. That is just a seasonal and occupational hazard. However, as the almost incessantly high water levels began at last to subside with colder, but drier, weather during March, the Covid-19 virus that at first had seemed so far away in China, had become the global pandemic that was clearly going to have a big impact on everything. 
When the principles of social distancing were first introduced during the delay phase, it seemed there might still be some hope that some fishing locally, might be able to continue in a way that respected their spirit. In certain circumstances this might indeed have been possible. However it would have given rise to inconsistencies between beats and between local and visiting anglers (who for many fishings form the majority of their customers), in turn creating ambiguities which might have put any fishery staff in difficult positions. However then came lockdown. With its simple, clear message and rules, the debate was curtailed, and all fisheries were closed.
At one level that was clear enough, but as others have written, it raised a whole host of questions for fishery managers and their guests with bookings in the months ahead. With so many different practical circumstances and business models for fisheries up and down the country, against the background of uncertainty as to duration of the restrictions, it wasn’t surprising that it took a week or two to begin to understand what the implications might be for deposits and advance payments. In my own experience, this has been handled as well as one might hope for in the circumstances, with bookings that had been paid for substantively being rolled forward to next year. From what I can gather this sharing of the pain has generally been the picture, and it is one that I am sure is widely appreciated. So too for the, I rather suspect frequently undervalued, work of the agents handling the awkward conversations and additional administration of these changes in booking arrangements when the income which funds their commissions has at best been halved.
So now, talk of how and when restrictions might be eased grows and that’s what Covid-19 has meant for me. As we move through what, for many, is the cream month for spring fishing, with newly green trees, blooming flowers and blazing whins adorning the  river banks and their straths, and the sights and sounds of waders, warblers, swallows and sand martins filling the air around them, I know it will help me enormously to face whatever the future may hold. I’m sure I’m very far from alone in that. 

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

SGA FISHING CORONABLOG 5: COULD LOCAL FISHING BE STARTED NOW?

River banks are empty due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Today’s blog, blog number 5, is an open discussion blog on behalf of the SGA Fishing Group. It contains a key question and it welcomes responses.

Could rivers be open for local fishermen and women, now?

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacted a heavy toll. Everyone in the fishing community reacted with due respect when Govt took its lockdown decision in March, just as many rivers were getting into their season. 

Staying at home, not putting undue pressure on the NHS and saving lives was well understood and acted upon.

Scotland, now, is tentatively beginning to look beyond the lockdown and what a ‘new normal’ may look like. These measures are due to be reviewed on Thursday (7th), with little indication of change at this moment in order to keep new cases below danger level.
However, the First Minister announced on Monday that Scottish Government would be taking the views of the public on what steps potentially could be taken in future which could allow some restrictions to be loosened. One of the areas mentioned was some ‘outdoor work’ and another consideration was allowing people to be longer than 1 hour outdoors, providing they could maintain social distancing.
The next date for the Government review of restrictions is May 28th.

This week, the SGA Fishing group has been drafting guidance as to how fishing could safely return, whether now, or when lockdown is more widely eased (in whichever shape that takes).

In announcing its latest roadmap on Monday, the Scottish Government did not rule out introducing some changes between its mandatory 3 week review periods, if they were deemed workable and sensible.


Is there a case for local fishing to be included in that consideration?

For example, most people buy fishing today, online, reducing the need for contact during financial transaction. 
By using his/her own rods, tackle and landing equipment, a local angler would not be able to transmit Covid-19 on any shared surface and, in general, anglers will always only fish where there is one person on one pool at a time. If gates or other barriers needed to be touched accessing the bank, gloves could be worn.

Social distancing in fishing is, generally, standard (as the image shows) and, with bank fishing, it would be very easy to maintain the appropriate distance. We also know that the risk of transmission is much reduced in outdoor settings.

If limited local fishing was allowed (people can walk to the river or drive only within their local area), then fishing from boats would not be envisaged at this stage (although it would be incorporated during a wider easing period by ensuring only one person and ghillie per boat, with gloves and face coverings and 2m distancing in the boat).

As some ghillies are currently furloughed, catch- and- release could be observed by all anglers as some rivers are graded differently as to the conservation status of salmon on the local water during that grading year and will have different regulations on whether salmon can be taken or not. Returning all fish would simplify this and bailiffs are still operating on many rivers, keeping on top of poaching. Ghillies still working could also keep an eye on things, ensuring social distancing is maintained at all times.

Social areas such as huts would remain closed and anglers would bring their own food to consume.
All of these measures, it would seem, could readily be taken now, allowing people to get back onto the banks and into the fresh air without increasing the chances of transmitting Covid-10. Fishing is, generally, a solitary activity but it has benefits for health and wellbeing.



It would also, potentially, push a little bit of much needed money back into the sector until societal restrictions are lifted more widely and more anglers are active again.

The SGA Fishing Group has been working on how this could work, after lockdown is eased more widely but this discussion blog is to gather views on whether local fishing, as described, could actually be done NOW, before restrictions are lifted more widely.

The angling sector, like many, will take a long time to recover. We are now into the 7th week with no fishing and, at a time, when catches were declining anyway, the pandemic is now keeping anglers away from beats and away from the other local businesses and trades that normally benefit from the season.

One correspondent with the SGA Fishing Group, a keen angler who fished the Dee regularly in 2018/2019, did a rough river calculation based on rod availability on the booking site, Fishpal.
Taking an average of £75 per day, the calculations on lost rod days amounted to over £1m on one river alone, before the trickle down economic impacts were even considered.
Whilst only a rough calculation, it nevertheless gives an indication of the lost revenue to the rivers not to mention the additional loss of potential income to reliant tourism businesses in often fragile communities.

We encourage comments on this ‘debate’ blog. You can respond to info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk  using the subject: Coronablog or you can simply post comments on the social media threads. 
Thank you for reading. Stay safe. Help the NHS.



You can also give your views directly to Scottish Government, here. (You will need to register first). https://www.ideas.gov.scot/covid-19-a-framework-for-decision-making?b_start:int=196

Sunday, 3 May 2020

SGA FISHING CORONABLOG 4- Matt Cross

Thanks to freelance writer, Shooting Times columnist and keen angler, Matt Cross, for the SGA Fishing Group Coronablog, 4.

Around about now someone on the Stinchar should be catching the first fish of the season. However the whole country is in lockdown, fishing is forbidden and we are no exception.

Even without the lockdown it might have proved a challenge. The long period of drought that has created extreme wildfire conditions in neighbouring Galloway has also affected Ayrshire and the river has been very low for weeks. Anglers lower down the river might have had a chance but high up on the wee Stinchar, where I do my fishing, there  would have been precious little chance of a fish even without the lockdown. So at least I have the conciliation that I am not missing out on much.

However fish do not stop for lockdown and the smolt run has been in progress with shoals of the little fish heading out to sea or at least trying to. For the last few seasons the Stinchar has used Smolt shepherds to keep the growing numbers of cormorants away from the smolts. One stalwart resident of Ballantrae has been doing a particularly  dedicated job, getting up at the crack of dawn and basing his routine around the tide table to help the fish get through.

The smolt shepherds were hard at work again this season driving off cormorants when nature decided to throw a spanner in the works. The mouth of the Stinchar has always been exceptionally mobile and just at the peak of the smolt run a gravel bar shifted to block it completely, penning the smolts in.

The estuary is a SSSI so getting a machine in and howking the gravel out of the way isn’t an option without permission from SNH. An application has been lodged, but of course there are forms to fill in and stakeholders to consult and all the rest of the bureaucracy to be plodded through.... So for now the smolts will just have to hope for the best and trust in their shepherds until the SNH officers have done their paperwork.