As 2012 draws to an end, anglers are already starting to think about the forthcoming season which is now less than three months away.
We have had very good spawning conditions all through October & November, with flow rates in the burns being consistently good – sometimes too good! Fish actually started to run the burns very early indeed, with some in fact being seen in the top sections of both the North & South Queich burns in late September, which is much earlier than usual. There was then a gap of a few weeks before the trout started to ‘run’ the burns again in good numbers. What was particularly encouraging was that they were recorded in all of the burns from top to bottom. The trout have now pretty much concluded their spawning activities and have returned to the loch to recover and regain their condition.
The condition of the stream beds throughout the Loch Leven catchment area appear to be in very good condition and, without exception, all look perfectly capable of rearing huge numbers of brown trout fry before they are recruited into the loch. The dramatic improvement in water quality in recent years means that Loch Leven in turn is capable of growing large numbers of brown trout to a good average weight. In summary, there are a number of very encouraging positives for the loch going forward as a wild brown trout fishery.
Now to my own particular hobbyhorse, namely cormorants. Their numbers have been broadly similar to those recorded for cormorants during the past three or four (winter) seasons, with counts at times reaching perhaps 200 birds. These numbers are well down from levels recorded when the loch was being actively stocked with reared brown and rainbow trout which would have been like oven-ready meals for the cormorants. Nevertheless, counts of up to 200 cormorants are a major burden for a wild brown trout loch, even one the size of Loch Leven, to have to bear. It is very frustrating that we as the fishery operator have to put up with these extremely efficient predators without having any real knowledge of the damage they are currently causing to the brown trout population in the loch but to date we have been denied a licence to shoot a few for scientific reasons (analysis of stomach contents).
When scientific culls were carried out in the past, stomach contents seemed to suggest that trout in the cormorant diet on Loch Leven exceeded 90%. Nowadays, however, it could well be the case that there has been a big turn around and the bulk of the cormorant diet here now comprises perch & stickleback, both of whose numbers appear to have risen dramatically in recent years as the water quality has improved. On occasions, we have chased some cormorants feeding in the open – if they have just caught a fish, they will inevitably regurgitate what they have just eaten so that they can breathe properly as they try to fly off. On the 8 or so times we have done this, we have found perch of various sizes and dozens of stickleback on the surface of the water just vacated by the cormorant. Although this unscientific result is interesting, we would not for one moment suggest that the Loch Leven cormorant is now feeding exclusively on coarse fish. Indeed, they regularly frequent the estuarial areas of the burn mouths which would indicate their prey on those occasions could well be trout, particularly as the fish are then particularly vulnerable. A new scientific study would certainly help to clarify the current situation and we will continue to lobby SNH actively for this in the hope that eventually our pleas are heard!
On more mundane matters, water quality is consistent with what we would expect at this time of year. Last week, we actually had 95% ice cover on the loch which certainly keeps our aerial predators at bay. Perhaps this would be one of the positives should we have another cold winter!
All of us here at Loch Leven would like to wish all anglers and their long-suffering families a very Merry Christmas and best wishes for a very happy and successful 2013 – remember, March 15th is now less than three months away!