Looking back over the 2013 season on Loch Leven, it appears to have been very much a ‘game of two halves’. We had to endure a very protracted cold spring and, in early April, we had ice forming in some of the sheltered bays and on one day actually had to cancel fishing altogether because the loch was almost completely covered by a layer of thin ice throughout the day. The anglers who ventured out in these bitterly cold opening weeks of the season were hardy in the extreme!
It was only towards the end of May that the weather finally decided to warm up – and, when it did, it did so with a vengeance, turning into some very warm, indeed even hot, conditions almost overnight. However, perhaps because of the protracted cold spring weather, one disappointing feature of the early season was the very sporadic hatches of fly and in particular the usual May – June buzzer hatches. It was not until July & August that we saw hatches in the late evening of Yellow Owl (Curly Andrew) appear in good numbers but even then perhaps not as consistently as we would normally expect.
However, it was not all ‘doom and gloom’! On 7th May, Alan Campbell was fishing with a team of buzzers at the Hole ‘o’ the Inch when he landed a beautiful brown trout weighing 11 lbs 5.375 ozs. It was by far the largest brownie ever caught on Loch Leven and shattered the previous record of just under 10 lbs which had stood for over a century. Subsequent analysis of the fish scales suggested that the trout was 8+ years old and indeed it was a near perfect specimen of a wild brown trout. There were numerous other anglers catching lifetime best brown trout on the loch throughout the season but Alan’s trout was certainly a fish to remember!
Alan Campbell with his record-breaking brownie
At the other end of the size spectrum, small fish appeared in large numbers particularly during the second half of the season. These small fish were to be found all over the loch but mainly in the open water drifts – on some days, they rose freely from morning until last light. Although they can be a bit of a nuisance for anglers, it is enormously encouraging for Loch Leven as a wild brown trout fishery to have young fish showing up in abundance because it augurs well for forthcoming seasons. These small fish were still featuring in catches during the final weeks of the season when we also saw some very big trout becoming more evident particularly off the burn mouths and the shallow water along the shoreline drifts.
Throughout the season, the condition of trout of all age groups was excellent – even in the early weeks of the season. This is surely testament to how the improvement in water quality over recent years has led to a really good environment where the fish can flourish with expanding weed beds and abundant sources of food. These trout in first class condition are certainly able to ‘fight their corner’ with breakages frequent throughout the season.
Dave Clark, winner of the 2013 Loch Leven Championship with Peter Campbell (heaviest fish)
Despite the warm sunny weather of the summer months, water clarity was in the main good. It peaked at over 4 metres on the Secchi disc during the second week of June but as the water temperature started to rise towards a positively Mediterranean 210C, algal blooms started to make a not unexpected appearance and became pretty dense during August when the cyanobacterial counts soared. Interestingly though, here we are back in the first week of November with water clarity back up to 3.5 metres again which is surprisingly high for the time of year.
As mentioned earlier, weed growth was particularly prolific this year with some weed beds having extended pver the past 2-3 years to cover quite huge significant areas of the loch. Weed beds do a great job in Loch Leven, providing a very diverse environment in which brown trout in particular can flourish. They provide a holding area for many insects such as Corixa and also provide welcome cover for the huge numbers of fry in the loch. The weeds also use up nutrients which otherwise would be available to fuel algae growth. Some very good trout were seen (and indeed caught!) along the edges of the many weed beds from mid June onwards.
At the time of writing this end of season report, trout are now running the burns – and indeed have been doing so in big numbers for the last 3 weeks or so. Loch Leven is very lucky to have very good streams as part of the catchment area system feeding into it. These streams are capable of accommodating good numbers of these ascending brood stock and, just as importantly, they all hold, grow and then send good numbers of juvenile trout back to the loch to grow on. As you would expect, we monitor these streams closely and can report that this looks as though it has been a really good year for spawning, helped by consistent water flow rates since the adult fish started to run the burns to spawn.
Finally, there are a couple of ‘thank yous’. First of all, we would like to thank all the anglers who fished Loch Leven this past season for returning a big percentage of the fish caught. We have absolutely no problem at all with anglers taking fish home for the pot – and indeed would encourage them to do so when they want some ‘for the pot’ because they are delicious to eat. However, if done carefully, a fish returned is a (hopefully bigger!) fish for the future.
Secondly, a big thank you to all those anglers who so religiously filled out our new catch return forms. Their primary purpose is to provide more accurate fish catch data for a big EC project which is running for the next 4 years and where Loch Leven is one of the main case studies. However, we will probably continue to run it beyond that date because, over the last decade, our fish catch statistics have become increasingly inaccurate as catch & release has become the norm. These forms we now have ask anglers to record the size (if not the weight) of all fish caught during a session, whether released or not, and will over time give us a much more accurate idea about the numbers of fish in the loch, the distribution across various age groups etc. All this years completed cards, including blank returns which are useful in their own right, have been passed to Ian Winfield at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) for collation and subsequent analysis. We will of course publish on the Willie the Ghillie blog any results which we get back from CEH.
Tight lines to one and all – and roll on next season!