Fishing the River Tweed, Scotland
don't come much more idyllic than fishing the
choicest pool on a prime stretch of the River
Tweed. It was the Duke of Roxburghe's favourite
spot on the Upper Floors beat and the grilse had
started to run.
weather was fresh with a mixture of sun and cloud.
The pool had that perfect V-shape with a lively
current - a four-poster bed among salmon lies
in a river of unquestionable pedigree. This was
where the ghillie told me to cast my fly. It could
only be a matter of time before the reel began
I felt uneasy. The problem with idylls is that
they are, by nature, fragile. That the session
would be ruined seemed certain. What would cause
it? Leaking waders, a lost fish, a badly tied
my fifth back cast the rod snapped.
trudged out of the stream and borrowed another
rod but there would be no fish that day. The lie
was so good the grilse had gone to sleep. Still,
it was a fine place to be fishless.
great Scottish beats, like the best of those on
the Tweed, are revered, protected, cosseted, almost
timeless in their traditions. The huts are kept
in good repair, the lawns are mowed. The ghillies
wear tweeds and breeches and the countryside is
unsullied by fertiliser bags, ramblers, or hot
long can it continue? Its future would be guaranteed
by a plentiful supply of fish, attracting a healthy
demand for beats. But broken rods aside, the fishless
day has become too common as spring salmon runs
have declined. Demand for fishing has slackened
as a result. Anything that can bring the salmon
back in numbers would be welcome but too little
is known about its habits.
research programme on the Tweed is helping to
unlock some of the salmon's closest secrets. Scientists
studying the full 2,000-mile Tweed river system
believe they can improve the spring runs but habitat
improvements and further studies are costly. For
the first time in its history the Tweed's governing
body is considering corporate sponsorship as a
would seem unthinkable that the river would ever
be linked overtly to the name of a sponsor. Anything
so vulgar as "the Suntory Tweed" would
be enough to choke a gentleman Scot on his Macallan.
the Tweed Foundation, a charitable trust established
by the Tweed Commissioners, the governing body
for the river, believes that sponsorship could
help secure the future prosperity of the fishings.
foundation has engaged Deloitte & Touche Consulting
Group to undertake a study of the economic benefits
to the Scottish Borders region of fishing on the
Tweed and its tributaries.
Early indications from the study suggest that
fishing contributes well in excess of £10m
and hundreds of jobs to the region.
foundation, established in 1993 with an administrator
and a full-time scientific staff, is responsible
for pursuing a programme of research and habitat
development. It hopes to use the findings of the
study in fund-raising to help finance the programme,
which has already begun to deliver results.
surveys, for example, have found that sheep grazing
to the edge of good spawning burns have been responsible
for eroding banks and flattening stream profiles.
During hot spells, with little water depth or
shelter, fry can die from lack of oxygen. By persuading
farmers to allow stretches of bank to be fenced
off, the foundation is gradually restoring miles
the addition of natural sedges and willow cuttings,
the streams narrow and deepen, adopting their
former profile and appearance that provides a
perfect habitat for salmon parr.
the meantime, the study team is tagging fish to
determine their runs when they return from the
sea. They have discovered that spring salmon are
particularly choosy about which tributary they
enter on their return.
entering the system later in the year tend to
run into the upper Tweed. The upper reachers are
usually ignored by spring fish, half of which
run up the Ettrick tributary while a quarter of
them run straight up the comparatively short Whiteadder,
which joins the river near its mouth at Berwick-upon-Tweed.
next stage of the research will attempt to discover
the reason for these different runs. Do the Ettrick
fish, for example, differ genetically? The team
intends to find the answer by taking and comparing
DNA "fingerprints" from parr in different
sections of river. If there is such a fish as
a "springer" that differs genetically
from its autumn brethren it may be possible to
determine the factors that have contributed to
Nicol, director of the foundation, believes that
the river is at the forefront of professional
fisheries management. "DNA finger- printing
and genetics, scale reading, fish counters, electric
fishing and radio tracking will all be used to
find out more about the resource we are trying
need new solutions to manage fishing and these
will be based on science. These might even be
as radical as changing the fishing season."
if we knew everything about the salmon's behaviour
we might lose that feeling of anticipation, optimism
and expectation, the constant companions of the
much we discover, I don't think we will ever remove
all the mystery from the salmon. I wouldn't want
that to happen," says Nicol.
© Financial Times