The colder conditions in mid Wales and the Marches over the past couple of weeks have triggered the start of this winter’s salmon spawning across our two catchments and thanks to the low water conditions, it has been a good year to observe this annual spectacle. In normal circumstances, we would have held our autumn river walk last weekend – it could have been one of the best ever!
While reports from the Usk have been patchy (some spawning seen at Brecon and above Sennybridge), the news from the Wye is that salmon seem to have reached most of the places you would expect to see them. Our river survey team recorded a good number of redds in the Irfon, on the main upper Wye and in smaller tributaries such as the Edw. Welsh Water staff also witnessed fish spawning in the Elan at our gravel introduction site.
The smaller light streaks of clean gravel in the lower channel of this section of the upper Wye are salmon redds.
Most encouragingly, in mid-November salmon were spotted in the Lugg upstream of the new fish pass at Ballsgate, completed by the Foundation this summer. By last week this had translated into nine redds (witnessed by a Wye gillie) in the section immediately above the fish pass. Another redd was seen much further up the Lugg system near Presteigne while quite a few others were counted in the Arrow almost as far upstream as Kington.
Photo right: a salmon redd on the river Arrow at the weekend. The redd is the 12 feet of disturbed gravel this side of the midstream tuft of grass.
Redd counting is an imperfect science and it is not possible to survey every section of river. On the Lugg, for example, only two miles of river was checked to give the ten redds mentioned previously. We will not know how successful spawning has been until next summer’s electrofishing surveys.
However, it at least appears that there has been an encouraging amount of spawning salmon across the Wye catchment this winter. The season’s disappointing rod catch has not necessarily equated to a weak run of fish.
Drone footage, taken by Meyrick Ames (our habitat team leader), of a hen salmon ‘cutting’ in the riverbed gravel of the upper Wye while two cock fish vie for mating rights.
Be careful of the redd!
Many anglers will be able to spot one but for those less familiar with salmon and trout redds, these can be seen in riverbed gravels from late October through to December.
When first created they usually have a pronounced pit at the upstream end followed by several feet of cleaner, disturbed gravel behind, in which the eggs have been buried. In faster flows, redds can appear as a stripe of disturbed gravel. After the first decent flood they will be flattened out and can escape even the most trained eye.
Salmon eggs are extremely fragile for the four to eight weeks after being deposited in the gravel up until they have ‘eyed’ (the precise length of this period depends on water temperature). Any disturbance of a redd during this time can have serious consequences with eggs being destroyed.
A salmon redd cut last week into a pool tail of the river Lugg, upstream of the new fish pass at Ballsgate. This redd was very close to the bank. A wellie or wading boot stepping inadvertently on or near it could have wiped out many of the delicate eggs.
Many of the spawning sites in the Wye catchment also provide excellent winter grayling fishing, including sections of the upper main stem along with the Elan, Lugg and Arrow, Ithon and Irfon. We would therefore ask all winter anglers to be extremely careful if wading. Please avoid gravelly sections (especially pool tails and any other shallow, gravelly areas) and always be aware of where you are walking. Although redds tend to be created in shallower water, levels may have risen since spawning took place making them more difficult to spot.
From November onwards, many grayling beats allow trotting with maggots, usually a more stationary method that involves less wading around in the river. It is a wonderful, traditional way to fish and a very enjoyable alternative to heavy bugging in the depths of winter. For those unsure of their ability to identify a redd, it may well be a much more conservation-minded method of catching grayling.
Being out in the countryside during the winter months can do wonders for the soul, especially after what has happened in 2020. If you are in or near a river, please take the greatest care and always be aware of what might be underfoot.