And from yesterdays Scotsman.
Miracle of nature may need our help to prosper
THIS morning, a motley crew of anglers, drinkers, perhaps the odd animal rights protester and even a celebrity or two will gather at Scotlandís oldest inn, the Kenmore Hotel at Kenmore, where the mighty River Tay, Scotlandís premier salmon river, begins its 100-mile journey to the sea at Dundee. They will march in procession behind a piper from the Square down to the riverbank for the traditional opening of the salmon season.
This is what is called "Spring" fishing - worth many millions to the Scottish economy - and, although the snow may be thick on the ground or the temperature so low that fishing lines will freeze to the rod rings, men and women claiming to be as sane as the rest of us subject themselves to the dangers of hypothermia and pneumonia just to say they were there.
Quite when the Kenmore tradition started is anybodyís guess. The inn was built in 1572, Cromwellís Roundheads partook of Archieís Wee Feastie Bar menu and Burns wrote a poem in pencil on the chimney breast of the bar in 1782 (you can still see it, though as poems go, itís not up to much). The "tradition", I suspect, came some time after that.
Once, a bottle of whisky was broken over the bow of the first boat to "bless" the river. In these greener days, the whisky is poured into a quaich and splashed over the boat. This year, the honours will be done by David Bellamy, the botanist.
Then the rush will start, with the knowing ones having skipped the ceremony to book their places on the river bank and the various pools - the Ladiesí Pool, the Chinese Bridge and The Point, to name but a few - with a trophy and a gallon of whisky being presented to the angler who catches the first fish of the day. Downstream of Kenmore, the opening will be marked in many less ceremonial ways, but the goal will be the same.
There will not be many fresh fish caught, although recent years have seen the capture of at least one decent salmon and one year the anglers had a field day with large numbers of big rainbow trout, which had escaped from a hatchery on the loch to enter the river system.
Most of the catches will be kelts, fish which have already spawned and must, by law, be returned to the river. Others will be baggots or rawners, the names given to female and male fish respectively, which are ready to spawn but have not yet done so and, again, must be returned.
So, why bother? The "tradition" may have been born out of a desire for publicity. But it is fun. For many years, when the event was sponsored by Tennentís, I attended the opening day and, on many of those days, anxiety would mount as to whether any fish had been caught at all. Thankfully, somewhere in the Tay river system, some ghillie would phone in to say one of his clients had managed to do the business and the lucky angler would be transported to the gala ball at Kenmore to be presented with the prize.
Some years ago, the event was taken over by one of the so-called celebrity magazines, which bussed in its own guest list to provide pictures for its pages. Whether it did its circulation any good remains uncertain, since the event is now managed by Dewarís World of Whisky.
However, there is a feeling among many Tay anglers and conservationists that the time has come to put "tradition" aside and reconsider opening the river so early. After all, there is much anecdotal evidence that, with climate change and other factors, fish are running the river much later in the season - in other words, that the whole cycle is changing. Steve McIrvine, from the Glendelvine beat, where Miss Georgina Ballantyne caught the biggest recorded Tay salmon - 63lbs in 1922 - told me he had seen fresh fish running the river in November and early December and that many of the fish caught for hatchery purposes after the official end of the season on 15 October were so fresh they were nowhere near ready for spawning and had to be returned to the river.
After a disastrous year in 2003, when water levels on the east coast rivers were so low that fish stayed close to the estuaries and those that did move into the pools almost boiled alive because of high water temperature, 2004 was one the Tayís best seasons for many years. Itís likely that somewhere in excess of 9,000 fish were taken over the season and that picture was replicated in many other rivers.
On the Spey, 1,100 Spring salmon were taken between February and March, the best start to a season since 1988, when 1,400 fish were caught. The Dee, where catch and return has been the policy for a number of years, fished well too, with large numbers of big fish being sighted in the closing weeks of that riverís season, and the Tweed was nothing short of a bonanza for those anglers who fished it into November.
But all these rivers open (and close) later than the Tay. A fresh fish in the opening weeks of the Tay season is a rarity and the river would benefit from being rested at least until the beginning of February.
As things stand, kelts, those spent fish which are weakened and wasted by the spawning effort, will be caught by the hundred. By the time they are returned to the water, very many will be so exhausted they will die. A later opening would allow more of them to move downstream to the sea and have a better chance of surviving to return next year, or the year after, bigger than ever, to the river of their birth.
For this is the miracle of the salmonís life cycle. Fish which begin life in the spawning redds (gravel beds) of our rivers and their tributaries will grow and migrate to the sea, make their way to the feeding grounds under the polar icecap, to return perhaps after just a year as "grilse" - those bright, juvenile salmon that make the anglerís summer sport such a joy - or remain for three or four years to return as mature fish to test the fishermanís skill.
Quite how they manage this feat of navigation is still the subject of much controversy and debate, but miraculous it is, and perhaps those anglers who raise a glass to the river at Kenmore today should rather be toasting the fish that brings us so many benefits and, as conservationists, consider not what the salmon can do for them, but what they can do for a vital part of Scotlandís heritage.