We kept our fingers and everything else crossed over the weekend for dry weather. For once things went in our favour and when we arrived at the Kilmarnock Water this morning to undertake a very public fish rescue, we were relieved to see the river flowing about it’s lowest levels since last summer. Scottish Water are replacing the Kilmarnock sewers and their main contractor MBV, had requested ART’s assistance to clear as many fish as possible from a 575m stretch of the river prior to them commencing their operations. MBV are planning to construct a temporary road up the river bed from Howard Park to the culvert at Sandbed Street to allow them access to install a replacement pipe on the right bank (looking downstream). The work may take around 6 months and see the river reduced to about half it natural width during this time. To prevent the unnecessary loss of many fish, MBV engaged ART to rescue as many as possible from the affected area. Quite a task considering the total area extends to over 5000 square metres with perhaps as much as 35% pool habitat. With some pools over 700mm deep, and no shortage of boulders to offer cover (or trip the unwary electro-fisher), we weren’t quite sure how many fish to expect.

Just a few of the team fishing

We were joined by Max Stobbs, Gordon MacDermid (from Mauchline AC), Garry Anderson and Craig Inglis (from Galston AC) who had generously given up their time to assist. I had promised them an interesting day so with everyone briefed, we started our fish rescue in Howard Park just upstream of the footbridge at the Galleon Centre. This first pool is the largest and deepest extending to over 100m long. By the time we reached the top of the pool we knew we had our work cut out. Trout were abundant with several specimens just over 1lb in weight coming to the nets. Salmon parr were common and we even captured quite a few smolts ready for migration. We continued upstream into the town centre where passers by were fascinated to see and hear  what we were up to. We were like goldfish in a bowl at times with numerous watchers peering over St Marnock Street Bridge.

Electrofishing downstream of St Marnock Street Bridge

We didn’t quite manage to complete the whole stretch today as we ran out of time just below the last pool but we will start here again in the morning before we re fish the entire stretch for anything we missed.

A selection of fish in a bucket

Due to the time of year we didn’t catch any fry as they are still in the gravel and will have to take their chance with the contractors. Minnows and stone loach weren’t that common, again probably due to the time of the year. Eels were frequent and and as always difficult to capture but we did get quite a few. Brook Lamprey were also amongst the catch in low numbers. We were aware that bottom mouth Gudgeon were present on the lower Irvine but we rather unexpectedly caught a few on the Kilmarnock Water which just illustrates one problem with introduced species; once present, they will find a niche wherever they can reach. Thankfully, they shouldn’t be above the Black Rocks Waterfall, a short distance upstream which is impassible at present.

Once we sorted the catch, the salmon, trout and eels were transported to new locations on the Kilmarnock Water that provide them suitable habitat. The loach and minnows were taken further afield to the River Irvine all as per the stocking licence we obtained from Marine Science Scotland.

Re stocking the captured salmonids and eels

We didn’t have time to count the species accurately but I’ve given our best estimate below.

Trout 5 – 600, (smolts 15 – 20)  Salmon, 150  (smolts 20 – 30), Eels 50,  Brook Lamprey <10, Minnows & Sone Loach (200 – 250), Gudgeon <10.  The largest trout were just over 1lb in weight with many more  9 – 10″ long. The largest salmon smolt was approximately 225mm (9″) and a brace of sea trout smolts topped that at around 250mm (10″). One Gudgeon was around 125mm (5″) long which probably makes it a specimen if caught on rod and line! (A total catch of around 1000 fish for day 1.) We didn’t have time to take individual photos or scale samples but we will try tomorrow if possible.

A typical selection including a nice sized trout and a salmon smolt

Even more fish

I think the quality and quantity of trout and salmon that we caught took us all by surprise. The Kilmarnock Water is often thought of as a ‘dirty wee river’ probably due to it’s peaty coloured water and the amount of litter that is thrown into it. I’ll need to check our records, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of a more productive trout water anywhere in Ayrshire; (although to be fair, we don’t normally fish pool habitat like this, so there could easily be). With obstacles such as the Black Rocks Waterfall and Dean Ford soon to be passible to migratory species once again, I don’t think we will have to wait long until the upper catchment is naturally producing good numbers of salmon and sea trout smolts once more.

The team worked tirelessly, hardly stopping other than to move equipment. By 5.15pm we called a halt to the fishing and set about re distributing the catch. We will be back in action at 9.00am tomorrow and will hopefully finish a bit earlier than 7.00pm. Our thanks goes to our dedicated team of volunteers.