Willie The Ghillie

Willie Wilson & an End of an Era At Loch Leven


It was perhaps fitting that the Guy Fawkes fireworks exploding around Loch Leven last night happened to coincide with Willie Wilson’s 65th birthday and, with that, the passing of an era at Loch Leven.  After 50 years on the loch, Willie officially retired yesterday and handed the reins over to his son, Michael.
To most of us, Willie is Loch Leven – quite simply, it runs through his veins (which might explain his occasional blue/green colour!). Although perhaps coming a close second to Mary Queen of Scots in the all-time Loch Leven Celebrity Stakes, Willie is up there for all the right reasons – and the recovery in the fishery’s fortunes over the last couple of seasons should be enough to ensure that he keeps his head!
Willie started work on the Estate on his 15th birthday on 5th November 1961 which meant that yesterday marked exactly 50 years of uninterrupted employment on Loch Leven.  That degree of dedication and loyalty is almost unheard of nowadays. In fact, his connection goes back even further because he grew up on the Kinross Estate where his father, Willie Wilson Snr, was Head Gamekeeper. 
Although Willie’s first job was actually working in the Forestry Department on the Estate under George Thorpe, he started working on the boats under the then Fisheries Manager, Jim Sneddon, just 3 months later in February where he was put  to work painting the boats in preparation for the forthcoming season.  Despite being just 15, one of his first jobs was to row out to the Reed Bower island with Will Stark in a near gale and spend four hours armed with a shotgun with the instruction from his father to ‘give the cormorants a hammering’!!  Those were the days…..
As chance would have it, Willie’s first season on the loch in 1962 turned out to be last year in which there were no outboards on boats.  Instead, there were two boatmen per boat who did the rowing.  Willie was assigned to boat No 23 (how sad is it to know that?!) with Jack Howell who was very good on the underwater geography of the loch and Willie is the first to acknowledge that he learnt so much about the loch from his time that season working with Jack.  It was a demanding job, both physically having to row the heavy clinker-built boats and in terms of the hours of work. The normal working day started at 8am, with boats leaving the pier with anglers at 10am. They returned to the pier at 6pm which gave the opportunity for Willie to rush home on his bike to a quick tea before getting back to the pier for boats leaving by 7pm for the evening session which in high summer could last until 11.30pm. These 14 hour day’s rowing boat No 23 must have been physically gruelling for a 15 year old but at least he got a day off on Sunday when, in those days, no fishing was allowed.
In those days, most of the boats were anchored offshore during the night or when not in use, and Willie was given the responsibility of doing this.  In return for this extra work, Willie received the princely sum of 6d (old pennies for younger readers!) per boat – none of which I suspect was ever declared to the tax man!
In 1963, Loch Leven Fisheries bought six Perkins 4.5hp outboard engines to trial on the boats.  With the older, more experienced boatmen tending to be rather set in their ways, Willie was given one of those first outboard engines.  He became an expert in the repairs & maintenance of outboard motors at an early age and this has held him in good stead over the years.
To his complete surprise in 1967 at the age of 21, Willie was made Fisheries Manager and his salary immediately doubled.  I suppose the one downside for him was being told that he would ‘no longer receive any overtime payments – but you may have to work it’! Never a truer word…..
Eric Campbell once joked (very unfairly) to Willie that Loch Leven had started going downhill as a fishery the moment Willie started work.  A look at the catch statistics would suggest an element of truth in this because the halcyon days for the Fishery were the 1950s and culminating in that extraordinary year of 1960 when no fewer than 85,883 brown trout were weighed in. During those 10 years, the average annual catch was just over 50,000.  During the 1960s, the average fell to (a still very healthy) 32,000 pa but the trend was sharply, and worryingly, downward – and this was set to continue.
Explanations for the decline in the fishery are many but in all likelihood it was a combination of many factors.  The decline in water quality was undoubtedly a major factor.  Phosphate and nitrate levels going into the loch soared with the Todd & Duncan factory, the Kinross & Milnathort sewage outflows and increasingly intensive agricultural regimes (increased fertiliser usage) all playing a major part. The hyper-sensitive ecology of Loch Leven simply got out of kilter and water quality declined steadily.  The main feeder streams into the loch, and in particular the South Queich and the Gairney both of which are so important in the rearing of young brown trout, were undoubtedly affected dramatically by the changed hydrology resulting from gravel extraction at Balado and below Cleish respectively – incidentally, is it not unforgivable the many environmental bodies of today, and in particular SEPA and SNH, are still approving gravel extraction applications within the Loch Leven Catchment area without any regard whatsoever about the hydrological effects it could have whilst at the same time trumpeting the loch’s vital importance? In addition to gravel extraction, the network of feeder streams in the catchment area were also undoubtedly affected by the financial inducements given to farmers to improve drainage on their land.
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Willie - and the one that got away!
Nobody is more knowledgeable about Loch Leven than Willie Wilson, as anyone who has taken time to talk to him about it will attest.  True, there are experts in certain scientific fields such as water quality who can beat him on pure science, but his knowledge about Loch Leven as a whole is completely unsurpassed.  But that is just a part of it – if you ally to his total love and dedication to the loch and everything about it and you have someone who is truly unique.  Despite the inexorable decline in fishery’s fortunes throughout the second half of the 20th century, Willie’s s never waned for one single moment.  He always felt the loch would start to recover at some stage and his faith never wavered – he was forever coming forward with theories about what was happening and what could be done to improve things.  Most mere mortals in his position during the darkest periods in recent decades would have found their faith broken but not Willie.  I have struggled to find a single word to describe his importance to Loch Leven and the Fishery during these times but perhaps ‘Colossus’ might be appropriate.
I suspect that if you asked him what milestones there were during the last 50 years, two that he would give you would be, first of all, the reinstating of the fish farm at Tarhill on the north shore of the loch in 1980/1 in response to the decline in brown trout catches. Starting more or less from scratch with Roy Fernie, setting up a brown trout hatchery and rearing ponds was an unbelievably steep learning curve for them both.  Over the years from 1983 to 2006, tens of millions of brown trout eggs were hatched, around 3 million of which were then reared to 6″ or more before being used to stock the loch.  It was an incredibly delicate operation where the slightest mistake could decimate stocks. With no model to base their operation on, we relied heavily on their ingenuity.
The second ‘milestone’, if you could call it that, was probably Scum Saturday (13th June 1992) when a toxic blue-green algal bloom started washing up on the shores of the loch.  By coincidence, Scum Saturday was the very day that Scottish Natural Heritage was celebrating its formation out of the erstwhile Nature Conservancy and had to cancel various activities on the loch – a portent perhaps?
Scum Saturday proved to be the wakeup call everyone needed to the fact that Loch Leven was in effect dying.  Subsequent actions by all parties over the last 20 years have turned this situation around to such an extent that the loch is now regaining its health to an extent that would not have been believable a while ago. One immediate result of Scum Saturday, and one with which Willie was heavily involved, was the controversial decision to stock rainbows in Loch Leven for the very first time in additional to its indigenous brown trout.  Only 2,715 brown trout had been caught in the entire 1992 season and it was felt that rainbows might help save the Fishery, but it was a decision over which there was much agonising.  As it happens, the rainbows initially thrived in Loch Leven and for the following 12 years they almost certainly did keep the Fishery afloat but then suddenly, probably as a result of changes to the loch’s ecology, they suddenly became vulnerable to eye fluke and stocking of rainbows ceased in 2004.
Mounting losses meant that all stocking ceased in 2006 and the fish rearing operation was closed down for good.  This was undoubtedly a blow for Willie but, as he has always done, he brushed it off and continued to be resolutely optimistic about Loch Leven and its fishing.  He was quick to seize on the possibilities from the loch becoming a natural pure brown trout fishery once again. 
Everyone connected with Loch Leven Fishery is delighted by the dramatic revival in its fortunes over the last two seasons, but most particularly because it enables Willie to bow out on a high (and to dispel the joke that it had all been downhill since he started!).  Nobody could deserve it more and we are all thrilled for him.
As was stated at the start of this piece, Willie officially retired as Fishery Manager at Loch Leven yesterday and has handed over to his son Michael.  However, do not for one minute think you have seen the last of him down at the Pier.  Whilst Michael is now the boss, Willie has only really semi-retired and will continue to work on a part-time basis for the Fishery for as long as he wishes. His love for fishing and Loch Leven is such that I think it would be impossible to try to keep him away – not that any of us would remotely want to try!
So Willie, from every one of us involved with Loch Leven Fisheries and I strongly suspect the entire brown trout angling community, may we all wish you a very long and happy (semi) retirement and express our sincerest gratitude for everything you have done for us at Loch Leven over the last 50 years.
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Willie & his 11 pound brownie - sadly this was at Rutland Water but hopefully to be repeated next season at Loch Leven

 


Although we are still a few weeks away from the start of the new season on Loch Leven, we thought that it might be worthwhile giving everyone a brief update on what has been happening during the winter months and what our plans are for the forthcoming season.

As you might expect, the main activity atthe moment is repairing the clinker boats in the fleet, fitting new wood where required and then repainting.

Repairing the boats

Adam Dickson carrying out repairs

Michael Wilson repainting the interior

Michael assures us that he, Willie and Adam are on track to have the fleet in full working order by the start of the season.

On the subject of boats, you might be interested to learn that the Fishery has ordered a further two Coulam 16 boats from JM Coulam Boat Builders in Lincolnshire to add to those brought in last year.  They too should be delivered in time for the start of the new season. They are the same model of boat as those introduced on Loch Leven last year for the first time and, judging from feedback, they performed well.

The addition of these extra boats will take the fleet size up to 20 for the forthcoming season. It is interesting how things have changed – and indeed how quickly. In 2007, the fleet was reduced from 30 to just 13 and yet here we are in 2012 with it back to 20.  It is fair to say that I doubt anyone foresaw this dramatic upturn in fortunes back in 2007 (we certainly didn’t.

Do we now regret getting rid off all those fine old clinker boats back then, only to be having to purchase new ones to replace them now?  The answer is no.  Lovely though they are, the photos above give you a small indication of just how much work has to go into refurbishing the clinker boats at the end of each season.  Years ago when the fleet was much larger, we costed the annual maintenace costs at approximately £800 per boat (parts & labour) and it is safe to assume that figure has risen in the interim.

Traditionalists will be glad to hear that we have to intention of scrapping any of the remaining clinker boats and will continue to maintain them each winter for the foreseeable future.  If someone offers a really good price, we may be tempted to sell the odd one or two more and replace them with Coulam boats but we are not actively looking to do so and will happily hold on otherwise to all those that remain.

Other than that, the only other piece of news to update you on is that the new computerised booking system is now in place and working – with all this coming season’s bookings safely loaded on. Hopefully this will ensure that the odd glitch we had last year does not recur (and it is a darn sight easier for staff to operate than the last one which was so complicated that you really needed to be Einstein to work it!).

 

 

Loch Leven Fishing Report

Buzzer fishing has had some success this past few days at the Loch. Yesterday (Sunday) on a very bright and hot day, Alan Smith had 6 beautiful fish weighing 9lb 13oz.   Other methods did work but the buzzers certainly “won on the day”.  Janice Hall had the biggest fish of the weekend at 4lb 15oz and Mr Atkinson had the biggest for the week at 5lb 4oz, a lovely looking fish!

The fishing this week has been pretty challenging at times but some very good spells of fishing has still been experienced.

The no1 spot this week is probably from North Queich all they way to the North Buoy but Reed Bower to St Serfs, East Buoy and Elbow Buoy are all producing results.

Pearly Wickham & Invicta, Bibio, Yellow Owl Muddler, Snatchers and Black & Holographic Red Buzzers all working.

Water clarity remains at 1.5 meters and the temperature is also steady at 17°c.

Weed growth has now peaked with some very extensive weed beds to be seen all over the loch, which we welcome at Loch Leven.

The evening fishing is now getting a bit shorter, but afternoon and evening – when available – a very good “shot” at this time of the year, the day fishing in the last 6 – 8 weeks of the season should still produce good results.


Week ending 11th July 2010

High winds were the main feature of the weather this past week on Loch Leven, and at times stopped the fishing altogether as boats were kept in the harbour. However, during the quieter spells and especially the evenings, some very good rises were seen and some pretty good catches were recorded.

We experienced some huge hatches of big buzzers, predominantly Yellow Owl, and the fish certainly responded to these lovely flies.

Another very interesting feature this week was the appearance of the large numbers of perch fry in the stomachs of some of the fish caught – the most perch fry that we have seen in recent seasons which is hugely encouraging.

The best method this week has been pulling traditional patterns, close to the surface. Muddlers and Dabblers are working well, but snatchers and emergers in all their colours producing good results.

The favoured areas are still mainly at the west end of the loch with the pick of the best drifts between Scart and Alice’s Bower, around Roy’s Folly and Paddy’s Point and the open water between St Serfs and Reed Bower.

Water clarity this week a bit lower at 1.8 meters and the temperature 17.5°c.

Evening fishing when it calms down has often been quite exciting. The key has been to watch out for feeding gulls because fish are never far off!

Some catches from this past windy week:-

Clubs
Burleigh AC – 8 @ 10 lbs 8 ozs
Leslie and Llanilar AC – 13 @ 16 lbs 4 ozs and 28 returned
Stormontfield A C - 8 @ 11 lbs 2 ozs and 7 returned

Individuals
Bill Barnes (day and evening session) - 5 @ 10 lbs 10 ozs and 27 returned
Derek Purves – 5 @ 10 lbs 12 ozs and 20 returned
Mr Potter – 7 @ 15 lbs 1 ozs and 2 returned
Willie Simpson and Stan Headley – 8 @ 11 lbs 8 ozs and 4 returned

Finally the biggest fish this week weighing 5 lbs 2 ozs was caught on Saturday by Alister Middlemass.


Week ending 4th July 2010

The weather has become a little more mixed this past week and this has perhaps made the fishing somewhat unpredictable for anglers at Loch Leven. However, some very good catches have been recorded during both day and evening sessions when the conditions have been quieter, allowing good hatches of buzzers to take place.

The main event of the week was probably the SANA semi final with 14 anglers taking part, in total weighing in 31 brownies for 37 lbs, 1 oz with a further 23 fish returned.

Whilst there were some good catches from individual anglers last week, three club outings did well. Dunfermline AC landed 25 fish weighing 30 lbs 10 ozs, Kinross AC weighed in 14 for 20 lbs 5 ozs with a further 11 fish returned and Keithick AC .had 8 for 13 lbs 5 ozs.

As for individual anglers, Mr Picken had 9 for 11 lbs 2 ozs (& returned 6), Bill Barnes weighed in 8 for 15 lbs 12 ozs and returned 10 and Mr Sterricks also caught 8 at 8 lbs 8 oxs and returned 10. In addition, Dave Clark caught 7 brownies and returned them all, as did David Bowie who had caught 8.

Once again, it is worth reiterating that there are no limits on catches at Loch Leven and no pressure is put on anglers to catch and release. However, all of us at the Fishery are extremely grateful to those who are releasing most of the trout that they are catching and keeping just what they require for the pot.

The most productive method at the moment, albeit ‘by a short head’, is still fishing buzzers static, but pulling traditionals is also working well especially during the evening rises.

Kate McLaren, Bibio, Wickham and all the snatchers continue to be the best of the pulling flies although Diawl Bachs and buzzers in many different colour combinations still seem to be working. Line densities when pulling can be important in bright and windy conditions - DI5 & 7 will work but, when fish are up, floating lines are best.

The same drifts as last week still appear to be working, namely Scart Island, North Queich, South Queich to Reed Bower whilst the open water area west of St Serfs is now working well particularly in the evenings.

Water clarity has remained pretty much the same as last week at 2.8 meters whilst the water temperature has dropped down a degree or so at 17.3°C.

 


Week ending 27th June 2010

Strong winds have made conditions somewhat trickier on Loch Leven these past few days, but, having said that, there has been some good sport still to be had.Michael Smith, out on an early morning session, had the week’s biggest fish, a really beautiful specimen weighing 6 lbs 9ozs which he caught on a dry fly just off the Castle Island. Buzzer fishing is still probably the number one choice of daytime methods but pulling ‘traditionals’, especially during an evening rise, will certainly work.

Best areas are nearly all at the west end of the loch at the moment. The Green Isle, Scart Island, Factor’s Pier and the area just outside the harbour itself are currently the most productive spots and is great to see that there have been some very nice evening rises in these same areas. Buzzers patterns and Diawl Bachs seem to be doing well, with the Kate McLaren, Black and Green Snatchers and various muddles proving to be the best of the pulling flies.

Water clarity remains still pretty good at 2.8 meters whilst the water temperature has risen now to 18.6°c. Buzzer hatches in the evenings are somewhat unpredictable. On Sunday evening, we did see a large hatch and the fish responded well with good rises seen in most of the main ‘hot spots’. As mentioned in previous reports the importance of good weed growth has been highlighted. We currently have some of the most prolific weed growth that has been seen for many a year and so hopefully this augurs well for the fishing towards the back end of the season.

Some notable catches during last week have included: Grahame Connelly who had 9, all returned Ian Jones & ‘Buzzer Bob’ (2 boats) weighed in 8 brownies @ 14 lbs 12ozs and 3 returned Peter Wills landed 6 @ 9 lbs 4ozs St Serfs Ladies AC recorded 11 @ 13 lbs 9ozs Willie Fulton weighed in 5 @ 10 lbs and returned 12 Edinburgh Trout Anglers had 11 @ 13 lbs 11ozs and returned 4 and finally 14 year old Connor Campbell landed a beautiful fish at 4 lbs 9ozs on a dry fly - well done Connor!


Week ending 20th June 2010

We are pleased to report that Loch Leven continues to fish well. Buzzers appear to be active subsurface and good catches using standard buzzer methods are still to be had. Even in the warm and very bright weather experienced during the latter half of the week, catches have been in the main pretty good.

Pulling methods are working well with D15 lines being the most productive. The area just off the harbour is still producing good catches and the drop off just south of the North Queich appears to be holding a lot of fish at the moment. Open water drifts along the north shore and off the point of St Serfs are beginning to work, mainly to pulling methods.

Kate McLaren, black and claret Snatchers and the good old fashioned Whickham all seem still to be working, as are a whole host of buzzer patterns. Water clarity remains pretty good at 3.1 meters and the temperature now a pretty warm 18.4°c just below the two foot mark.

Weed growth is now prolific in large areas of the loch and, in the open water, zoo plankton are also in evidence in good numbers. Evening fishing has still been plagued by cool and sometimes very strong east – south east winds, but some very good rises of fish have been seen coming up to some prolific hatches of buzzers.

Messers Ainsworth and McAllister had 17 fish on Sunday - they kept 2 @ 4 lbs 11ozs and returned the remaining 15. Of those returned, 8 weighed between 2 – 2¾ lbs and 2 were over 3 lbs! They had a great day – all these fish were caught on buzzers. St Boswells A C had 8 @ 10 lbs 11ozs, Alan Smith had 2 @ 3 lbs 11ozs and returned 9 - all were caught on pulling methods! Tap Shop had 13 @ 16 lbs 4ozs, David Downie had 4 @ 7 lbs 8ozs and returned 5 whereas Dave Clark had 5 @ 12 lbs 11ozs and returned 19.


Week ending 23rd May 2010

What a bumper catch last week !!! Loch Leven fished very well and saw Jeff Lawson and Eck Dewar with an amazing basket of 32 fish (see picture below) of which they kept 19 weighing a total of 39lb 4oz, returning the remaining 13. They were fishing buzzers, static, using a floating line. All of the fish were taken just off the South Queich in 9 -11 feet of water. One very significant feature of the catch was that there were 3 year classes represented – fish from approx 1lb to the biggest which weighed 4lb 5oz.

On Thursday Tom Duff had 3 fish at 5lb 3oz and 2 returned, Dunfermline Railway had 2 at 5lb 6oz and 2 returned. Messrs Lawson and Dewar had 10 at 23lb 2oz and 6 returned. Friday saw a SANA prelim out. The 16 competitors had 31 fish at 52lb 2oz and 19 returned. Aberdour out on Sunday had 17 fish at 18lb 7oz. Heron fly fishers had 6 fish 12lb 3oz and 1 returned, and A Middlemass and David Bowie had 3 at 8lb 6oz and 6 returned.

With the onset of the very warm weather the water temperature has moved up to 16.6°c; the clarity has also increased to 4 meters.

 

Fly hatches are a little sporadic, some very good evening rises have been seen, but if the wind stays up the fish usually stay down! It does look like we may see good buzzer hatches if the stomach content of the kept trout are anything to go by.

With the increase in clarity, weed growth will follow, which is great news for later in the season – weed beds are a haven for numerous types of food trout use, both day and night.

Evening fishing is also showing signs of coming on with some very good rises and some pretty sensible catches recorded this past few nights.


Week ending 16th May 2010

Things were pretty much the same as last week at Loch Leven, with fish hard to catch in the cold and windy conditions. Nevertheless, some good fish were caught during the week with pride of place going to a 4lb 6oz brownie taken by Andrew Muszynski on Sunday evening, just off the South Queich.

Some good hatches of buzzers are starting to occur. Anglers fishing through Carden Bay at the weekend saw some very good hatches during the day and into the evening.

Best flies still appear to be the Kate McLaren, Snatchers and Dunkeld Sparklers, all of which have been getting a mention from anglers catching fish.

All the usual drifts still seem to be working, with the best seemingly still the Hale ‘o’ the Inch and Brocks Hale. However, the Thrapple Hole and Kirkgate Bank drifts are beginning to produce a few fish.

Water clarity is improving, it is now just on 2.3 meters but the temperature is still a pretty chilly 11.5°c.

Evening fishing starts this week on Loch Leven. With the help of buzzer hatches, these evening sessions will hopefully produce some action but some slightly warmer weather would also be welcome.

 


History of Loch Leven Fisheries

From a talk given in Lodge St. Serf No.327 in 2003

by Mr. Willie Wilson, Manager

I will run through the history of the fishing on Loch Leven. We use fishing collectively to start with because Loch Leven was and still is a tremendously productive Loch. It is well documented in the diaries of the late historian, David Marshall that very many fish were taken out and netted and this is how a lot of the names on Loch Leven have arisen-The Old House Sett, The Rough Hole Sett and The Pow Mouth Sett. These Sett’s were Net Stations and fish were sold. Some of the best times and some of the most prolific times for netting from October through the winter, where the nettings were what we would call the close season, and how Loch Leven sustains all that and how it managed to sustain it with what we see nowadays is amazing.

However, I am only touching on that because it’s not relevant to the modern day fishery that Loch Leven tries to be. Loch Leven was lowered by some four and a half feet (1.37mt.) in the 1830’s to accommodate industry in Fife. The old Levenmouth where the Leven used to run out which was by-passed and a new cut made and it had incorporated, at the Loch Leven end, sluices and these were some four and a half feet (1.37mt.) below the water level. Now if you can imagine Loch Leven being four and a half feet on average higher and if you take the middle line then it was massive. Its surface area was some 70% bigger than what it is now so in the days before it was lowered it covered a very large portion of Kinross-shire. When it was lowered and the water was used it then became very, very prolific.

Now Loch Leven was scooped out by a glacier. The glacier formed and you can see, by the surrounding hills, this whole valley from Stirling right through and out to the west and into Fife coast in the east. Had there been an architect who specialised in the making or designing of a fishing Loch he could not have bettered Loch Leven because there are banks and features within the Loch. Anglers can fish the whole surface area of the Loch and these features, underneath the water-banks, form hundreds of yards out into the Loch. There are huge plateaus that may only be three feet deep (.9mt.) in the summer time, and others that drop down to areas which may be between six and eight feet (1.8mt. & 2.4mt.) depending on the level of the Loch. There are very deep holes, by Loch Leven standards. One is in the “South Deeps” which is the deepest part of the Loch and goes down to eighty feet (29mt.) just off the southwest point of St. Serf’s Island. The other deep hole is just in front of Milnathort, the “North Deeps”. It is not great but at 70ft (21.3mt.), it is fairly deep. Now these provide wonderful boltholes as the fish in wintertime can retreat into these deep-water marks. The water becomes a little bit low in oxygen content there but because it is so cold over-winter well. These features therefore, are very helpful for Brown Trout and indeed for the other course fish-Perch, Pike and so on.

Water comes in from the west catchment, and the main carrier streams are the North Queich, the South Queich and the Gairney Water. The Gairney Water is purely man made as it is a drainage channel and it runs out at the east end so the turnover is genuine. It comes in at one end and goes bowling round and goes out at the other.

Angling as we know it today, really started almost at the beginning of the nineteen hundreds, probably a little bit earlier in the late eighteen hundreds when the netting for some reason or other ceased. I’m not quite sure why this happened, I think there may have been a transition to rod fishing, probably the economy of the times, the lack of value of the fish that they were netting or the increase in value of the rod-caught fish. At the start, there were only seven or eight boats on Loch Leven and the boats interestingly enough had names, not numbers. Angling in those days was relatively low key, people would come by horse and trap or indeed if by train they were lifted by horse and trap from the station and taken down to the Pier and on to the Loch by two Boatmen and they would be brought back in again, usually with a handsome number of fish.

After the early part of the nineteenth century the increase in the number of fish caught was steady. The Loch was probably at its most prolific in these days. If you can just imagine all of the water coming in from the west so all the sponges, I mean where water came out of the ground up in the headwaters of the North and South Queich and the Gairney, very, very slow-there was no extensive drainage in these days, it was pretty basic by today’s standards. Now that carried on right through the early years of this century through to the twenties. There was one slight change in the twenties and thirties; there were Fish Ponds built. Now these fishponds were built on the north shore of the Loch and we in fact, use the same ponds and, some of the same drains in these ponds are used to this day. We resurrected them for our own fish farm when we started
a few years later. But these fish ponds were built to rear fry for selling, mainly sending away to local fisheries and in these days there was over production and the Ovawas sold, and indeed Loch Leven Ova trout was exported to many parts of the world. They found their way to New Zealand, Canada and all sorts of places, in fact, we had an enquiry from someone from Chile not so long ago. Apparently down in Tierra del Fuego there is a wonderful Sea Trout Fishery and they reckon that, unfortunately there is nothing in writing about this, it was Loch Leven progeny that started off one of the Sea Trout Fisheries there because a Sea Trout is just exactly the same as a Brown Trout.
The Fishponds were built in the twenties and were operated in the twenties and thirties. Very quickly the Loch Leven Fisheries or the Kinross Estate Company as it was known in those days, for some reason or other, leased out the fishing’s and PD Mallock of Perth, who was a wonderful fisher (I don’t think you could call him a fishery biologist) but he had a wonderful way with fish and he was extremely interested and rented the fishing’s on Loch Leven along with the Fish Farm. But it was taken back sometime in the thirties by the Estate Company and the Loch just trundled on and kept producing huge catches of fish, when I say huge catches of fish you’ve got to remember that angling pressure in the thirties, forties and early fifties was probably quite a lot lighter than it is nowadays. People could come and perhaps fish from ten o’ clock to six o’clock. There wasn’t much evening fishing and the dreaded Sunday fishing hadn’t been introduced and even more dreaded early morning fishing hadn’t been introduced.

Without getting too technical, Loch Leven is not only a wonderful fishery it is a wonderful site for homebred and migratory wildfowl. In fact it is one of the most important sites in the world-inland breeding sites and inland over wintering sites for all sorts of migratory wildfowl. Now the two go hand in hand. If a water is producing a lot of homebred duck and is fit to overwinter them, not quite so important for the over wintering because they mainly just need a body of water to roost on, but if it producing a lot of duck it has the potential to produce an awful lot of fish.

In the late fifties there was just an inkling of some of the troubles that were going to beset Loch Leven from a fishery point of view. The water in Loch Leven, even away back, has always been nutritious, very rich in nutrients and it lies, as I said, in a formed basin glacier and it’s a very rich basin. It’s a sump also, obviously most lochs are sumps, and, as sumps, they drain from these nutrient rich fields and collect all sorts of wastewater. The man at the bottom of the ladder has got to collect everyone else’s waste. This waste is turned into nutrients and for years there is a nice fine balance. Now things were very good in Loch Leven for a long time, but it got too good. The word for nutrient over enrichment is nitrification. Now nitrification was beginning to rear its head probably as early as the late fifties but certainly in the early sixties. Now the start of nitrification conditions, fishing can get very good and it was probably at its most prolific in the late fifties and early sixties. In 1960 records show that there were 86,000 fish caught by anglers, now that’s a tremendous number if fish. You can do all sorts of breakdowns but it equated to somewhere over five fish per rod visit. Now if any fishery could produce that over a whole season nowadays it would be a tremendous high rod average and Loch Leven churned that out for several seasons. However, as I said, the water was becoming rich, just too rich and the balance tipped over. The analogy that I use is that you get a strong person who can carry something on his shoulders and he doesn’t worry, but as he gets older or a bit weaker, probably a bit of both, he tries to run faster and it just can’t be done. This is what Loch Leven was doing; it was producing so much food that 1960, which is an easy date to remember, was the peak. After that, the numbers started to fluctuate but, more importantly, the quality and condition of the trout started to fluctuate terribly. The good stock, the fish that ran up the burns, took longer to come back into condition, and sadly, some of them didn’t. There was disease, I don’t know if any of you remember seeing, about 1963/1964, a whole lot of fish with white spots-the name of that was saprolegniaceae That was a secondary thing; it was because fish were probably in such poor condition that the final straw of running the burns and reproducing just put them over the edge.

Then came profuse blooms of algae. Loch Leven was always famous, or infamous, for weed. Saprolegniaceae is the collective name for all different weeds. I am not a weed specialist, apart from my garden, and I don’t know all the names but there were many and quite a variety and they supported all types of flies. When algae becomes prolific the most prolific type we have are called blue/green algae’s. Now there is an algae for almost every day of the year and Loch Leven can produce, or can have its water column at any one time, twenty or thirty different types of algae. One of them, depending on conditions, will become dominant. Now when we get all the trouble the blue/green usually becomes dominant in Loch Leven and it doesn’t but its one called macrophyte.  Now what happens is that the alabina stops the light penetration through the water and the macrophyte if this happens over a few weeks at the right time or the wrong time the macrophytethe plants cannot photosensitize and they die back. Now with the dying back of the macrophyte you lose all the aquatic insects that were supported by the macrophyte and the whole thing collapses relatively quickly. When you are looking up environmental history a few years is but a second in time and this happened very, very quickly. By the end of the sixties and the early seventies in some seasons we would have very big trout, short term, perhaps a couple of years, where fish did very, very well. They grew very fast there were fewer of them; the catches were up and down, the graphs were just like mountain ranges, and it was very worrying. We just got through the seventies, and just about had enough anglers were despairing. Loch Leven used to be called the duffers loch. You could go out there anytime and catch a few fish or a lot of fish. I have been involved in fishing all my working life, I’ve never done anything else, and I can relate to one group and that’s anglers and I know every mood an angler can get into and, believe me, they are the mildest people you will ever meet. They are at one with nature because if you consider that we spend four hours, eight hours, some of them longer, sitting throwing a rod back and forward looking around them, it’s not only fish that they take note of, they take note of everything. They saw what was happening and it was very upsetting, it was upsetting for everyone concerned, not least the people who worked on the Loch and something had to be done.

Loch Leven is three thousand five hundred acres, it’s a massive water body and if you are standing on the side and look out and say, “Well, we’ve to sort you out” you’ve got a big job on your hands. It was in the eighties, and I am categorising this, but it’s very convenient because it was in 1980 that we decided we would go forward and see if we could help nature along. In our naivety we say “yeh” just do this, we’ll start up the fish ponds again, we’ll chick in a few Brownies and away we go. Well, that was in 1980 and it’s now 2003 and dare I say we are struggling a little bit. But let’s go back to 1980. We were very careful, and still are, that we wouldn’t change the integrity of the Brown Trout. I didn’t know just how important this was, but I thought it was fairly important and we stripped fish from the streams and laid down the eggs. We do everything ourselves at the Fish Farm. Now the fish farm is very unique, it’s a great piece of kit if you like, it’s taken us a long time, we are at one with Brown Trout but where we fall woefully short, in my opinion, I think, is in pure numbers. There was a survey done in the mid sixties and the survey was not done with an knee-jerk reaction; there were no panic buttons getting pushed at this time, it was what is now the Fresh Water Fisheries Laboratory, conducted a survey on juvenile production and juvenile numbers from the streams run by John Thorpe, who was ahead of it at that time, he is now retired, reckons it could have been as many as a million, perhaps as many as two million, Brown Trout recruited back into Loch Leven in one season. Now these were fish from either one plus or two plus years old. These fish have been looked after in the streams for one or two years and were then released back to nature’s way of stocking the Loch itself. Remember, Loch Leven was stocked like that year in, and year out, until we tried to help it in 1980. Now we started off by putting in about one hundred and fifty to two hundred thousand and thought we were doing wonders. It made a difference, and it is making a difference, so hopefully we haven’t done any damage because we have got to be so careful when we are working with nature. Personally, on the Brown Trout front I don’t think there has been any damage done at all, the genetic integrity of the Brown Trout I think is quite strong. The fact that they still run the main burns, not in anything like the numbers that they used to, is a very good sign.

Through the eighties the fishery went through one or two changes. I have forgotten to add that in the old days the boats were all rowed by two fourteen feet oars. One man to each oar, you needed to have long arms to reach a fourteen feet oar. There was a transition to outboards and, I think, the first outboards came on the Loch in 1963. It wasn’t the first outboard on the Loch but it was the first commercial outboard for fishing. Sir David Montgomery, my boss, he tells the story that his father took an outboard motor out one day in 1939 or something like that, and 1940 was a terribly bad season so they never allowed another outboard motor on the Loch! The outboard motor certainly opened up the fishing from an anglers point of view because Loch Leven, as I have said is a big Loch, it is four miles from the Pier to the Sluices all but a little bit and its just about as wide, so historically the outboard motor probably was one of the biggest changes we have seen.

Another change and it’s certainly something I’m not proud of. It may or may not have been very necessary, and it has not been very successful, and that’s the introduction of the Rainbow Trout. If you want to start an argument in a pub, and nobody’s interested in football or religion, and they are all fishermen, just mention Rainbow Trout to a Brown Trout fisherman. You will get so many exchanges going, it’s wonderful. In 1992 there was an Open-Day planned for June 14th by the Nature Conservancy Council, the NCC, and on the 13th June there was a massive bloom of alabina. It is the one that is dominant, and by Jove it was dominant. There is one very impressive aerial photograph taken of this and its just like, well, I don’t know what its like, it’s just not like water at all. All this stuff just forms and twists round with the wind. When algae’s growing, it grows in the main in a column but the blue greens and especially alabina depicts nitrogen, it becomes buoyant, it comes up to the top and gets its fix, but it’s vulnerable and starts to stick together and forms a mass. This is when it can become toxic

In June 1992 we had this massive algae bloom and it was brought to a head. It was a bad day, it was our Black Sunday if you like. It started everybody thinking, and if you will pardon my French, all hell was let loose. SEPA,  Forth River Purification Board, Scottish National Heritage, all environmental agencies put their hands up and said “We didn’t know is was coming” but we had seen it happening for years and years, algae was not a new phenomenon in Loch Leven. But as I say, it did bring to a head all that was gong on. A lot of good work came from that, the local authorities have been wonderful. In Milnathort there is now a massive and wonderful waste water treatment plant and in Kinross north the water is treated there.

The Woollen Mill did put a lot of phosphate, phosphate is the one thing that the algae’s cannot glean from nature, they can get everything else but not phosphate and phosphate comes into Loch Leven from three main sources, one is waste water treatment sewage, one is from the Mill by their own admission and the other is from the farmer. Now the one that is hardest to control by the fragmented nature of the whole thing is the farm one and it’s very difficult for farmers. Phosphate doesn’t bleach but it can be washed off, it can be washed into streams and if you are unlucky after phosphate has been applied, you can get it coming down the burns in particular. But the worst, without a doubt, in my opinion, is the wastewater treatment because it comes in and goes to the water column and is readily available. We call that saturated reactive phosphate, it doesn’t really mean too much but it is pretty technical and I don’t know very much about it but the total phosphate coming in has been cut by over 50% since 1992.

The other big thing that happened was that the Brown Trout fishing was really very poor at that time and we took the major decision for us to use Rainbow Trout. Again we tried to introduce them by what we thought was the best way, we got eggs, all female eggs, from Ireland and they were very good and the Rainbows from these eggs were pretty good, but because they were all female they became gravid the following year. It wasn’t very nice catching fish in April and May full of eggs so we decided to have a go with trout eggs. Now an all female is a diploid which is double sexual reversal. It means that they are neither male nor female. They have a slightly lower growth profile in the early part of the year and just carry on growing after that. They are not very robust. This is why I have all sorts if ideas about Rainbow Trout, I really shouldn’t be saying this, but it gets a bit frustrating. They are not nearly as robust as Brown Trout, nothing like it at all, the wonderful Brown Trout and especially the wonderful Loch Leven Brown Trout. Loch Leven would not have been viable from the numbers of Brown Trout that we are catching. But the Brown Trout as we thought would have pulled up, the numbers would have increased, have not, and it worries us slightly that perhaps the Rainbows are suppressing the numbers, but I doubt it very much. The water clarity, the water quality, has not improved all that much either. The water clarity this year was, at its best, about 2 metres on secchi, a secchi disc is a black and white disc that measures water clarity, you just put it down, it’s not very scientific, but is the one that the scientists use to measure the water clarity and it sits about 1.5 to 2. meters. Now that’s OK for a lot of the Loch but an awful lot of the Loch requires 2.5 to 3 metres clarity to allow the macrophites and all the growth of these macrophites to start up and keep growing. The position we are in at the moment is that we are going to stick with Rainbow Trout, certainly for a few years we will have to, for the short term viability of the Fishery. Longer term we have doubled up our capacity in the fish farm and we are putting out at least 2.5 times the number to try and boost the Brown Trout and we are looking to see if anything can be done in the headwater and streams feeding Loch Leven. It is very doubtful because the drainage system has been changed totally since the 1950’s and 1960’s when there were huge subsides available for draining and also gravel extraction in the lower parts of the Gairney and the South Queich.

So in a nutshell that’s the history all the way up to present day. I am not going to say anything of the future because everything I say about Loch Leven-it is bigger than me and it has an uncanny knack that if I say one thing it does the other and I will never be right. My feeling is it’s a wonderful sheet of water; it is without a doubt the most important trout fishery probably in the world. I am not saying it’s the best, I personally think it’s probably the best, but then I have reason to say it. I am just back from fishing somewhere else, I won’t mention where, and it was a wonderful Fishery but there were several things when you just cross check, Loch Leven has everything. Historically, as a Fishery, it’s been the talking point for anglers for more than a century. There have been flies, generations of flies, come and gone that have been on Loch Leven. The Kingfisher Butcher which is a fly that nobody would have been without in the 70’s their cast. The Burleigh, now the Burleigh, was the fly called after Burleigh or was Burleigh called after the fly, we don’t quite know. But it’s the whole, the whole concept of angling on Loch Leven, it is pure pedigree, it is without a doubt something that I am privileged to have been part of and still a part of. It knocks you about a little bit, but it’s a privilege that I know a lot of anglers, they curse it, thy bless it, they come back for more but when they catch one of these wonderful fish, or even a bag of these wonderful fish, they know they have got it there and then go back out and it stings them quite a few times, but that’s what Loch Leven’s all about and that just about says it all for me.

Curling On a frozen Loch Leven

© 2007 - Lodge St. Serf 327