1996 - 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 to sing.
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 knot?
my fifth back cast the rod snapped.
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 air balloons.
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.
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 potential
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
Early indications from the study suggest that fishing contributes
well in excess of £10m and hundreds of jobs to the
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
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 of burns.
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
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 its decline.
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
if we knew everything about the salmon's behaviour we might
lose that feeling of anticipation, optimism and expectation,
the constant companions of the salmon fisher.
much we discover, I don't think we will ever remove all
the mystery from the salmon. I wouldn't want that to happen,"
© Financial Times