Salmon fishing near BallantraeThe River Stinchar has its headwaters in the Carrick Forest to the north of the Galloway Forest Park, only one kilometre from the source of the River Girvan. It has a main drainage course of 54km and initially flows north but for the majority of its length flows south-west via Barr, Pinwherry and Colmonell, finally entering the sea at Ballantrae.

The river has a catchment area of 314 sq km, which includes the main tributaries of the Muck Water, the Duisk River, Water of Assel and the Water of Tig. The upper reaches of nearly all the tributaries have experienced rapid forestry development over the past twenty years. Forestry, hill grazing and agriculture are the main land uses in the Stinchar catchment which has a low human population density and very little industry.

The geology of the Stinchar catchment is relatively uniform and is dominated by sedimentary greywacke. Knockdolian Hill in the lower catchment is formed by a volcanic outcrop and the burns draining this area have a higher pH than those on the opposite side of the river.  The river main stem of the river runs through a relatively low lying valley with tributaries draining steep valley sides. The maximum altitude that salmon can reach naturally is approximately 150m which is much lower than the highest naturally accessible point of the River Ayr which is at 300m altitude.

Water quality in the River Stinchar is generally very good with a diverse range of invertebrates present even in the lower reaches.

The River Stinchar is a famous salmon fishery and is renowned for its autumn run, producing fish which are often large. The Salmon Fishery Board of Scotland Report 1887 notes that the “Stinchar, remarkable for its shifting mouth, and for yielding larger salmon than any river of its size in Scotland“. A 62lb salmon was caught in the coastal nets in 1898. The Ballantrae gravel banks at the mouth of the Stinchar are an SSS1 for its nesting bird population and coastal features. There has been a collapse in the sea trout fishery in recent years and they are now rarely caught. River management is carried out by the River Stinchar Salmon Fishery Board with advice and assistance from ART and in cooperation with private riparian owners.

For current river levels please click here

Key features:

  • Mixed Land Use in Stinchar ValleyMost rural of Ayrshire river catchments with low human population. Main settlements are Ballantrae, Colmonell, Barr and Barrhill
  • The Stinchar is a highly responsive catchment with rapid run-off from the steep valley sides resulting in sudden changes in river flow
  • With no major industry or large sewage treatment works in the catchment, and little intensive agriculture, water quality is generally very good. The river supports large stoneflies such as Perla bipunctata, throughout its length
  • Some water is abstracted from the upper reaches of the Stinchar and diverted into Loch Bradan, Ayrshire’s major water supply reservoir. No major man-made obstructions
  • The Stinchar has a number of tributaries, the largest of which is the Duisk River which enters the Stinchar at Pinwherry. The Duisk River catchment is extensively afforested. Low pH levels are a feature of many of the Duisk tributaries.
  • Upstream of the Duisk confluence the Stinchar is known locally as the “Wee Stinchar”.
  • Common fish species include salmon, trout, eels, minnows, sticklebacks and lampreys (sea and brook). The Stinchar is the only one of the major Ayrshire rivers which does not have a stone loach population, adding weight to the argument that it is a non-native fish with it occurrence linked to spread by humans. The Stinchar is a stronghold for eels with a widespread and abundant population. Vendace have been introduced into one of the small lochs in the Stinchar catchment in an attempt to establish a sentinel population for threatened stocks.

Ayrshire Rivers Trust research and monitoring on the River Stinchar includes:

  • Stocking salmon fryAnnual electrofishing surveys on behalf of the River Stinchar District Salmon Fishery Board (DSFB) to monitor salmon fry production in the main stem as well as a comprehensive survey of tributary sites.
  • River Stinchar Habitat survey published in 2003. This survey provided a detailed inventory of habitat type and quality, obstructions to migration as well as identifying priority areas for habitat restoration. The survey showed that main impacts on river habitat quality in the Stinchar were commercial coniferous plantations with localised impacts from intensive livestock farming and riverbed excavation. Forestry has resulted in acidification in the headwaters, and more rapid water runoff due to an increased number of drainage channels. Although the Stinchar  as always been a spate river due to the steep nature of its catchment, flash floods are increasingly common. These have degraded instream and riparian habitat, and transported large amounts of potential spawning gravel downstream.
  • Lamprey survey as part of a national survey funded by SNH. Lampreys are widespread throughout the catchment. Sea lampreys are also known to spawn in the river.
  • Invertebrate surveying introduced in 2005 to complement other data collected at electrofishing sites.
  • Shell of a freshwater pearl mussel was found on the banks of the river in 2007 although live specimens have yet to be found.

Fisherman’s Map – Buy a colour print of the River Stinchar here

River Camera – See the River Cam at the Colmonell bridge here