Thursday, 21 November 2013

Redd Counting With The River Dee Bailiffs

My uncle Stuart and I tagged along with River Dee bailiffs Mark and Diarmid whilst they were out doing their redd counting today. The plan was to survey the River Feugh but a sharp rise in water over night made it impossible so we headed to the Upper Dee near Braemar. Not a bad substitute in my opinion! Braemar has to be one of my favourite parts of Royal Deeside and just looking towards the snow covered hills and beyond, you would easily see why.

We stopped at one of several Victorian suspension bridges which span the Upper Dee and walked upstream to the first area to be surveyed. After a walking upstream for a while, we arrived at our designated pool at which Mark and Diarmid gave me crash course in spotting redds. The showed me what to look out for and explained about the types of flow and gravel the salmon like to use. We waded out into the river and there was a good number of redds cut in the pool and quite a few salmon milling about too. Most of the fish we were cock salmon because after the hen fish lay their eggs, they tend to head back downstream soon after leaving the cock fish to guard the redds and die. These dead fish provide easy picking for the otters and other animals at this time of year and it would be stupid to turn down the chance of a free meal. It was great to be out on the Dee watching salmon in their natural habitat doing what nature intended. When you fish for salmon, you don't really think about what happens after the season ends so for me, it was really interesting to watch and learn a thing or two about their behavior during this period.

Once we finished surveying the Braemar area, we headed off down river to spawning grounds near Aboyne. Pretty much as soon as we arrived, you could see the fish scurrying away as we approached.  The gravel, the flow and the cover all make this prime spawning habitat and it was full of redds. We walked a stretch of the stream, counting as we went and also looking out for any salmon about. Half way down ,we stood and watched as a big cock salmon lay almost motionless under the surface. It wasn't until we got closer that he took off. He would have been a beauty when he entered the river!

After a bite to eat, we headed down river to our final survey for the day near Drumoak. The water was slightly coloured here, probably due to the extra water coming down the Feugh which enters the Dee at Banchory. The higher water made it more difficult to see the redds but after a while of looking, we soon found plenty. There was no sign of any fish near the redds as they all must have moved on. The bailiffs thought this was quite early for them to do so considering fish were still spawning up around Braemar. Whilst surveying this area we also came across a few sea trout redds. These were harder to see than the salmon redds due to being smaller in size but Mark and Diarmid soon pointed out the characteristics of a sea trout redd how you tell them apart for a salmon's. Their locations were taken using GPS and we left the pool to count up the total. This signaled the end of a great day out with the bailiffs and it was good to see up close a small part of the excellent work they do on the river.

Considering the low water we had for most of summer and the back end, there were plenty redds about in most areas which was very encouraging. When you see salmon on their spawning grounds, which for most, is the final leg of an amazing journey, it brings it home just how much of a hardy creature they really are. We should do all we can to help protect them from the dangers and threats they face, many of which are brought about by mankind.

The River Dee Team do some great work regarding habitat improvements to many of the streams and burns that enter the main river. This in turn provides good spawning grounds for returning salmon which will eventually see a greater return of adult fishing in future years. To find out more about the River Dee Trust's work check out their website at

A Victorian Suspension Bridge across the Dee near Braemar.

Stunning view towards the hills.

Idea spawning habitat for salmon. We saw many redds and salmon in this area.

The clean gravel on the right behind a salmon redd. The bigger key stones to the left of the picture are where the eggs are laid.

A spawned out female salmon which had been taken by an otter. This was a good sized fish, maybe 12lbs or so.

Walking the river looking for redds near Drumoak.

More ideal spawning habitat which salmon and sea trout have taken full advantage of.

Tallying up at the end of the survey.

River Dee bailiffs Diarmid and Mark.

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