Loch Leven Research Update 2014

Those of you who follow this blog regularly may remember that last year we did a blog post detailing all the various forms of research that is going on at Loch Leven covering water quality, the fish population, cormorant numbers etc.

Rather than regurgitating much of that again this year, it might be worth quickly looking back at what we wrote then (click here to see the 2013 Loch Leven Research Update) and then we can concentrate on bringing you up to date on what has happened in the last year since then.

Fish Population Survey

Loch Leven Survey Sites

Loch Leven Survey Sites

A big chunk of last year’s update explained how the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) have been studying fish numbers in Loch Leven since October 2007.  They carried out gill-net surveys in 2008 and 2011 and are planning a further gill-net survey this year to continue the sequence.  In addition, since October 2007, they have carried out annual hydroacoustic studies every autumn.

Loch Leven is not ideal for hydroacoustic surveys because much of it is shallow and is often windy.  CEH therefore adopt a very conservative approach to fish numbers and fish sizes.  The chart below though summarises their hydroacoustic results including last autumn’s survey.

Loch Leven Fish Population (all sizes from 40mm upwards)

Loch Leven Fish Population (all sizes from 40mm upwards)

What the survey suggests is that, last autumn, they found just under 900 fish per hectare which measured 40mm or more in size. Although these will predominantly be brown trout, it will also include pike & perch as the hydroacoustic equipment does not differentiate between species. CEH quite reasonably tells us not to place undue weight on the absolute numbers (ie 900 fish per hectare) but they are pretty confident about the trend which suggests the fish population has doubled since 2011 and quadrupled since 2009!!

The vast majority of this apparent growth in the total fish population has been in juvenile fish measuring 40 – 99mm (ie up to 4 inches).  Whilst this is not much use to you as anglers (indeed small fish can be a nuisance), it is hugely encouraging from the point of view of the future of Loch Leven as a wild brown trout fishery. It backs up anecdotal evidence that the loch’s various feeder streams are once again producing considerable numbers of young trout.

[Incidentally, we would like to pass on a huge thank you to Ian Winfield from CEH who has overseen all these fish surveys at Loch Leven but also to all the rest of the CEH team (Dr Linda May, Laurence Carvalho, Helen Woods et al) who are massive supporters of Loch Leven and continue their invaluable water quality analyses.]

But it is not all about small trout. Memorably, last May saw Alan Campbell smash the record for the heaviest fish ever caught on Loch Leven (11 lbs 5 3/8 ozs) which had stood for over 100 years. And with this season barely underway, Craig Dickson has already caught a lovely specimen estimated at up to 5 lbs. In the past, we have received comments wondering what all the excitement was about with a brown trout measuring just 11 lbs (let alone 5 lbs). The fact is that Loch Leven is a wild brown trout fishery where the average fish landed since records began back in the 1880s (over 2 million weighed in) has weighed slightly under 1 pound! For us here at Loch Leven, a 5 pounder is a great fish; an 11 pounder is something one can usually only dream about!

Catch Survey Cards

The last 10 – 15 years has seen a dramatic, and laudable, increase in the catch & release by anglers but this has meant that the Fishery’s catch data, which historically had almost exclusively captured landed and weighed in,  had become almost meaningless as it did not record those fish being released.

A new initiative was therefore launched last year as part of the big EC funded OpenNESS project to provide much more accurate data on fish being caught on Loch Leven.  Based on the catch log books used by Ian Winfield of CEH at Lake Windermere, we introduced Catch Survey Cards to be completed by anglers last season.

Catch Survey Card

Anglers were asked to take these cards before setting out and then recording every fish they caught in the boat, whether kept or released.  They were asked to measure every fish caught using the measure in every boat, the weight of each fish where practical (however the size alone was sufficient) and which part of the Loch it was caught in.

A huge thanks to all those of you who took these Catch Survey Cards out with you and filled them in as you fished on the loch.  Ian Winfield and his team from CEH are in the process of studying the data from these cards but the initial statistics are as follows:

  • 428 catch cards were completed and returned (including nil returns)
  • catch cards covered the period 21st April – 29th September 2013
  • they covered a total of 2,649.5 fishing hours
  • fish were caught in over 150 different locations on the loch
  • a total of 1,310 trout were caught of which 952 (72.7%) were returned and 358 (27.3%) kept. In addition, 4 perch and 37 pike were recorded as caught!
  • out of the total 1,310 brown trout caught, individual records of length and/or weight were reported for 1,179 brown trout and included individuals between 110 mm and 770 mm in length and between 4 oz (113 g) and 11 lb 5 oz (5,132 g) in weight.

Calculations of catch-per-unit-effort over the entire fishing season produced figures of 0.494 fish per boat per hour fished for brown trout caught and 0.135 fish per boat per hour fished for brown trout retained. So, on average throughout the season, each boat (regardless of the number of anglers in the boat) appears to have caught 1 fish every two hours or so.

The chart below tries to put that into some sort of historical context, illustrating the data from 1975 – 2003 when reasonably accurate catch returns were recorded (and before catch & release took off and rendered the Fishery’s statistics meaningless).

  • The left hand scale shows the number of fish per boat boat per hour fished.
  • The solid black line plotted represents brown trout
  • The dotted black line plotted represents rainbow trout
  • The bold red dotted horizontal line shows the 0.494 trout caught per boat per hour fished
  • The bold dotted orange line is less meaningful, merely representing the number of brown trout kept (as opposed to released) per boat per hour fished.

Historical Catch rates

 

At first glance, the 2013 result of 0.494 trout caught per boat per hour fished looks really positive.  The only year since 1975 to achieve a higher catch ratio of brown trout was 1989 when the ratio hit 0.6.  If the catches of brown trout & rainbow trout were combined, then the catch ratios of 1993 & 1999 would also have been slightly higher than last year.

Although the 2013 result is very encouraging, one needs to input a degree of caution. Not every boat took out and completed a card and those that did had an inevitable bias towards local regular anglers who were happy to help in the survey.  Local knowledge has always been an enormous advantage at Loch Leven and therefore the catch ratio of 0.494 is almost certainly higher than it would have been if every boat in every session had completed a catch survey card.

Nevertheless, the 428 cards representing 2,649.5 fishing hours is felt to be a meaningful sample.  The survey is being repeated this year when hopefully we can have nearer 1,000 cards submitted.  CEH have also added a request for anglers in the boats with catch survey cards to put in the first part of their post code (ie KY13 ) so that they can track what distances anglers have travelled to come to Loch Leven – we hope that little extra info won’t put people off completing the cards!

If you would like to hear more about what CEH have learnt from last year’s Catch Card Survey and indeed their water quality monitoring results, we are proposing to hold a Loch Leven Anglers meeting next month to which everyone is cordially invited.

LOCH LEVEN ANGLERS MEETING

at 6.30PM on THURSDAY 15th MAY

BOATHOUSE BISTRO, KINROSS

ALL WELCOME 

The CEH team led will make presentations on both the fish population and catch surveys as well as water quality results.  However, much of the meeting will be more of an informal discussion as CEH and Loch Leven Fisheries seek feedback from anglers on all aspects of fishing on Loch Leven.  The results and feedback will obviously form a key part of the ongoing OpenNESS project.  The bar will be open and we will be providing eats.  We hope lots of you will come along to what should be a very interesting evening.

Cormorants on Loch Leven

Finally, we cannot end without giving everyone an update on cormorant numbers at Loch Leven as they are always at the very top of anglers’ hate lists.  SNH continue to do regular counts of cormorants and their latest updated results including 2013 are shown in the 2 charts below, the first showing the peak numbers and the second showing the average count during the year.

Peak Cormorant Numbers

Peak Cormorant Numbers

Annual Average Cormorant Numbers

Annual Average Cormorant Numbers

The results indicate a steady state for the last two years.  Every cormorant is one too many but these sort of counts (average 142 up to the end of Jan 2014) are probably sustainable on a loch the size of Loch Leven.  It is perhaps slightly surprising that the increasing fish population from the CEH hydroacoustic surveys is not showing through in increased cormorant numbers as yet but it would be no surprise if there started to be a greater correlation between the two surveys if the fish population continues to increase.

We continue to press SNH for permission to conduct a further study on the feeding habits of cormorants on Loch Leven.  Obviously this would require a limited cull of cormorants in order that their stomach contents can be analysed.  Previous studies along these lines were made by what is now Marine Scotland (previously FRS Pitlochry) in, from memory, about 1991 and 2001. A further study is arguably now due but has as yet not been sanctioned by SNH.

In 2001,  for example, we were still actively stocking both brown trout & rainbow trout and FRS found that 85% of the cormorants’ diet (by mass) comprised trout with Perch & Sticklebacks accounting for 7% each. FRS estimated that the cormorants were consuming 81,000 brown trout (range 42,000 – 128,000) and 5,000 rainbow trout (range 1,000 – 12,000) during the 7 month period from Sep 1998 – Mar 1999. These projections by FRS were fairly staggering figures when you bear in mind that anglers were catching on average 6,000 brownies and 13,000 rainbows on average each year between 1996 & 2000.

Currently, both peak and average cormorant counts on Loch Leven are just under half what they were back in 1991.  Also, our suspicion is that the 85% figure for the percentage of the cormorant diet will have dropped sharply due to the recovery in perch & stickleback numbers which have resulted from the greatly improved water quality.  Nevertheless, it would be nice to know whether a proper scientific analysis of the current cormorant diet would back up this hypothesis – hopefully SNH will come round to supporting a limited cull for research purposes because it would undoubtedly improve our knowledge.

If you are interested in reading the actual summary findings of the 2001 FRS Loch Leven Cormorant Study, click on the link below

FRS Cormorant Survey 2001

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(Very) Early Season Report

The 2014 Loch Leven season kicked off 2 weeks ago (in theory) although, quite understandably, not many anglers have been foolhardy enough to brave the below average (for the time of year) temperatures and the chilly east winds.  There is therefore not a great deal to report just yet. The best fish to date was caught last weekend by Craig Dickson and it weighed somewhere between 4lbs – 5lbs – Craig returned the fish. It was caught just east of St.Serfs Island.

Some small buzzers have been hatching which is quite encouraging given the low
temperatures that we have been experiencing of late. Water temperature is still a very chilly 6 - 7 degrees and the water clarity 1.4 meters.

We could ideally do with a sustained lift in temperatures to activate the spring water borne food that the trout will feed heavily on.  That can happen relatively quickly and I will report again shortly with an update.

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Article about Loch Leven in The Sketch (19th September 1894 edition)

We have just found this one page article about fishing in Loch Leven in a publication called The Sketch dating back to September 1894.  Apologies for the tiny size of print (you will have to zoom in to read it) but the original page is quite a lot bigger than allowed on this blog.

There are some very interesting snippets of information.  Apparently prior to 1856, the trout showed no interest whatsoever in coming to the fly, preferring to feed on other foodstuffs in the loch – ok, some of you will still maintain nothing has changed!  However, something obviously did prompt a dramatic and sudden change in their behaviour seemingly from 1856 onwards.

The cost of fishing back in 1894 was said to equate roughly to £1 sterling for every 1 lb of fish caught.  In current money, that would be £90 for every pound caught. I know Loch Leven can be extremely challenging at times but I would hope the implied cost of every fish caught (for most of you!) is considerably less than £90 per lb!

Article from The Sketch 19 September 1894

Article from The Sketch 19 September 1894

 

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Loch Leven – End of 2013 Season Report

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

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)

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!

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Loch Leven Fishing Report – week ending 5th October

Saturday 5th October marked the end of the 2013 season on Loch Leven with the annual Loch Leven Championship providing the final curtain call.  Conditions were relatively benign, being dull with the odd glimpse of sunshine and a good south westerly wind.

Boats leave at the start of the 2013 Loch Leven Championship

Boats leave at the start of the 2013 Loch Leven Championship

The winner with a total of 4 fish measuring in aggregate 1460mm (or 57 ½ inches in old money) – the competition is fished as catch & release – was Dave Clark from Kinross.  In second place with 2 fish measuring 1080mm (42 ½ inches) and both of which estimated at over 5 lbs in weight was Peter Campbell of Cowdenbeath AC.   Indeed, Peter also won biggest fish of the day for one of the two trout which measured 570mm (22 ½ inches).  In third place was Darren Woodmass with three trout measuring 860mm.  Congratulations and thank you to all who took part.

Dave Clark, winner of the 2013 Loch Leven Championship with Peter Campbell (heaviest fish)

Dave Clark, winner of the 2013 Loch Leven Championship with Peter Campbell (heaviest fish)

Peter Campbell with the Heaviest Fish of the Day

Peter Campbell with the Heaviest Fish of the Day

Some very big fish indeed have been seen lurking off the burn mouths waiting to run up to spawn, but good numbers too of ‘maiden’ fish (non spawners) have also been seen of late especially in the huge area of shallow water along the north shore from the Old Manse to Grahamstone.  Small fish have become somewhat less conspicuous than they have been over recent weeks but they do tend to head back to the deeper areas in the open water at this time of year.

We have been watching the various burns in the catchment area quite closely of late and will give an update on how the spawning season appears to have gone in due course.

Finally, a sincere thank you to all anglers who have fished the loch over the past season and in particular to those who have so diligently filled out the new angling return cards introduced this season.  With the growing tendency of anglers to practice in the main catch & release, our catch records have ceased to be even remotely accurate with only a small percentage of fish caught being actually brought ashore and weighed.  These cards include measurements of fish returned which should allow us to gain a much more accurate insight into what is going on.  When we have some data following collation of these angling return cards, we will pass it on.

Angling has been challenging at times but then that is Loch Leven and wild brown trout fishing for you!  The weather conditions, and in particular the wind, played quite a big part as did the paucity of the buzzer hatches for some reason this season.  However, on the bright side, there is no doubt the fish population in the loch looks very healthy, both in terms of numbers and quality – fish being caught have generally been in superb condition which is testament to the continuing improvement in water quality and ecosystem.

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Loch Leven Fishing report – week ending 29th September

The main feature of the past week at Loch Leven has been continuing appearance of large brown trout in catches, with several in the 4 – 6 lbs range being caught and mostly returned.  Alan Moonie recorded the largest specimen of the week, a real beauty measuring 650 mm and estimated to weigh around the 7 lbs mark.  It was taken on a Gold Freckle cat size 14 using a ghost tip line just off the mouth of the North Queich.

Alan Moonie with his lovely coloured brown trout weighing an estimated 7 lbs

Alan Moonie with his lovely coloured brown trout weighing an estimated 7 lbs

Most of these big fish being caught are cock fish which, at this time of year are prone to becoming aggressive and will often tend to chase flies offered to them.

A lot of the coloured fish are now being observed off the mouths of the feeder streams, waiting for some serious rain to allow them entry to their respective streams to spawn.  Rain water has been in relatively short supply this summer – a material change from the wet summers in recent years.  However, the burns have had enough water to hold good numbers of juvenile trout which will be recruited into the loch next spring.  Loch Leven is very lucky to have an extensive network of burns within the catchment area which are capable of producing large numbers of juvenile brown trout.  The catchment is monitored pretty much all year round to ensure the streams remain in the condition they need to be in and we receive excellent cooperation from the many landowners.  We will keep you informed about how the spawning season is going over the coming couple of months.

Fish are now appearing at times in very shallow water.  For example, the Black Wood and Grahamstone are now holding good numbers of fish, as is the north shore from Old Manse to North Queich, Gairney Mouth and the open water east of Reed Bower.

Water clarity is a little lower at 1.7 metres and water temperature has stabilised at 14.5oC.  Weed beds are still prolific on some shore lines but have pretty much now disappeared in the open areas where they were abundant during the summer months.

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Loch Leven Fishing report – week ending 22nd September

Big fish again have been featuring well in returns at Loch Leven over the last week.  John Kaye & Jim Foster, fishing just of the old fish ponds on the north shore, had an epic struggle with a fish which John had hooked.  When landed, it was measured at 63 cms (which we estimate at over 7 lbs) and then safely returned.  John took a photo of the fish (sorry, I don’t have a copy as yet) which seemingly showed a fish in first class condition and ready for the forthcoming spawning season.  The fish was caught on a peach tail Doobry Snatcher.

Ian Muir, fishing with Billy Haroun, had a fish at 5 lbs 10 ozs on a long shank size 12 Dunkeld variant at the Factor’s Pier and David Hume had a very nice fish at 4 lbs 1 oz on a black Snatcher at the East Buoy.

Fish are to be found pretty much all over the loch but the shallow water marks now hold fish especially near the weed beds.  The open water drifts east of Reed Bower and from the Point of St Serfs toCarden Bay are still well worth a cast or two.

Water clarity has improved a great deal over recent days and is now averaging around the 2 metre mark and up to 2.5 metres in places.  Water temperature continues to drop but is still a very comfortable (from the fish’s point of view!) 14.5oC and the weed beds have now retreated back towards the main shorelines.

Small traditional flies are probably working best at the moment.  The Kate McLaren and various Snatchers such as Dunkeld are the pick of the bunch.  Line density is still important but most anglers are sticking mainly to low density lines because the fish that are chasing are normally contacted just below the surface.

As the season draws towards a close, anglers can expect to find fish almost anywhere, but areas of shallow water are now likely to hold good numbers of fish through to the end of the season.

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