The annual Loch Leven Championship this coming Saturday will bring the curtain down on what most, if not all, anglers who have fished here over recent months will agree has been a very encouraging season for the loch. It has been great to see it fishing more like it used to many years ago.
I think what most of us feel is particularly gratifying is that this November sees the retirement of Willie Wilson who has worked here ‘on the boats’ at Loch Leven for exactly 50 years when he retires. I cannot tell you how pleased we are that he is bowing out from centre stage on a high. We all know that the last 30 years or so have been pretty tough on Loch Leven as a fishery and throughout it all, Willie never flinched when brickbats and criticism were perhaps understandably flying around. Nobody knows more about Loch Leven than Willie and he has steadfastly remained its most loyal advocate and supporter. Even during the real lows, he always remained confident that its fortune would turn better one day. Whilst ‘one swallow doesn’t make a summer’, this past season has hopefully provided vindication for him. Of course, Willie is only retiring in name and will still be very much in evidence next season and in future seasons down at the pier but it must be equally gratifying that it is his son Michael who will be taking over from November as full time Fishery Manager.
Returning to this Saturday’s Loch Leven Championship, for the first time ever the Champion and other prize-winners will not be decided on the basis of the heaviest baskets of trout. This year, we are going to follow the example of Kinross Angling Club who have run their competitions on the loch this season in terms of aggregate length of trout caught. The obvious advantage of this method of measuring anglers’ success on the day is that trout caught can be measured in the boat and returned rather than killed and kept for the eventual weigh-in. Competitors will each be given cards on which can be recorded the length in millemeters of all the trout they catch on the day.
To enable this to happen, Michael Wilson has prepared a portable measure for each boat consisting of a section of plastic guttering (conveniently shaped for holding the fish while it is being measured!) with a ruler attached. The one slight worry we have is that this device only records up to 800mm which means that the monster caught earlier in the month by Michael Mackenzie would have stretched 60mm beyond the end of the measure! That said, if anyone does happen to catch the first ever 10 lbs brown trout on Loch Leven on Saturday, we all want to see it in the flesh back at the Boathouse!
It will be interesting to hear feedback from anglers on the day about this method of deciding fishing competitions because it is relatively new to us. The main benefit we can see is on the fish stock in the loch as it encourages catch & release which we know is an emotive issue with anglers regarding wild brown trout and salmon. At the risk of boring everyone once again, our stance on catch & release on Loch Leven is fairly straightforward. As all will be aware, we quite deliberately do not have a catch limit on Loch Leven (and do not intend to even consider imposing one for the foreseeable future) as to us it sends the wrong messages. Instead we prefer to trust anglers to behave responsibly and, to that end, we are genuinely grateful to all those who have caught and released so many trout this past season. However, we are also totally supportive of anglers killing what they need ‘for the pot’ because Loch Leven brown trout are brilliant to eat. Although the intention is laudable, we think it would be a shame if peer pressure to return everything grew so strong that anglers ceased to kill what wanted to take home because the numbers are completely insignificant in the context of a 3700 acre loch with the fish population it has at the moment. Obviously we will keep this policy under review in case circumstances alter but even on Saturday when the emphasis is on length and catch & release, we would hope that anglers will kill and keep the odd trout because they won’t get another chance probably until next spring.