Panic! Rainbow Trout invade the River Exe …

Is it just me or are the people who inhabit this piece of rock we all know as England the best in the world at panicking? If it’s not clearing the shelves of bread & milk at the first signs of snow, it’s conjuring up rumours that from now on the only fish in the River Exe will be a Rainbow Trout!

The floods back in December were unprecedented, in fact only the great floods of 1952 could top what happened here on 22nd December 2012. Exe Valley Fishery was a good 3 feet under water and at one stage the lake became part of both the River Exe and several acres of fields. For a while it was Loch Exe!

We got off relatively lightly with some damage to the shoreline, a few misplaced casting platforms and the loss of a couple of picnic tables that are probably somewhere in Exmouth by now. The folk over in Exebridge, did not fare so well. Even now, almost 2 months after the event they are still clearing up.

Many people and businesses have suffered a great deal of distress as a result of these events, including several fish farms and yes it is true that a huge number of Rainbow Trout were washed out by the floods. Eye watering numbers have been rumoured, 25000 …. 50,0000 or maybe even 100,000+. The truth is that it would be impossible to calculate exactly how many fish became displaced. But is it worth all this panic? Fish farmers may well be justified to feel a little alarmed and we should spare a thought for the people who lovingly reared these fish, the hard work and capital that went into producing them.

Rainbow Trout Skin

Have you seen this fish?

Is there anything we can do? The Environment Agency granted a special licence to members of the River Exe & Tributaries Association (RETA) to fish the Exe for Rainbow Trout in contravention to the usual byelaws relating to the close season, using barbless hooks. I am not so sure this is such a good idea when Salmon Kelts will no doubt be heading back to sea and what about the Brown Trout that may take a fly or spinner destined for one of the brutish Rainbows?

I have received reports of plenty of Rainbow Trout being extracted but based on the huge numbers rumoured to have escaped the catches have numbered 100s, rather than 1000s. So why is that? Because a huge amount of the fish that were washed into the system were fingerling’s that will have found it incredibly difficult to survive in the cold, muddy, high flow conditions. Most of them are dead for sure and if the water conditions didn’t get them then a predator (cormorants, goosanders … hungry wild Brown Trout) probably did.

It is true that Rainbow Trout will be a pest for a while but the speculation that these non indigenous fish will now harm Salmon stocks or do damage to the wild population of Trout is exaggerated. These are stock fish that began their lives by swimming around a pond feasting on pellets. Are they going to suddenly develop the skills required to hunt down agile Salmon Parr carrying wild genes? Personally I don’t think so.

And isn’t it the case that most of the Salmon redds on the lower to middle river will have been washed away by these massive floods anyway? That concerns me a great deal more than a hungry population of Rainbow Trout which let’s be honest are hardly difficult to catch. Instead of the negative attitude why not turn this problem into a positive? Think of the sport to be enjoyed on a light line rod for a few weeks during the early part of the open season (from 15th March) and who knows in years to come there may even be a run of Steelhead?!

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9 Responses to Panic! Rainbow Trout invade the River Exe …

  1. Once again nick a very good post.I fished the Exe by E.V.F in january for grayling and i was told by Fred that i may encounter some Rainbows, so i thought it might be interesting to see how many are about.As it happened i hooked six ,not as many as i thought it was just like i would emagine fishing in British Columbia very enjoyable (as a cheaper alternative).But like you said it’s the possible loss of salmon redds thats the worry,lets hope some make it.As for the rainbows natural predation will thin them out.

    meurig parsons | February 16, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  2. Today my farther and I fished a few miles of the exe below Tiverton and a few miles above with fly and spinners and we caught no rainbow just some lovely brown trout a little over the pound mark so as you say I to believe there is no panic and there is definitely not the number of fish suggested in the river

    Chris kurniak | February 16, 2013 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  3. I seem to be inhabiting a different rock! So far ,in six hours fishing over the last two weeks I have personally caught forty seven rainbows between two and a half pounds and four pounds. My two fishing colleagues have caught similar numbers, one rod has taken over thirty rainbows in one three hour session below Tiverton. This is obviously an environmental disaster. The damage caused to the system by this huge influx od ferocious predators is incalculable. Obviously the Environment Agency , as is required by section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, will peruse those responsible, should they not have the foresight to do this ,there are those that will. The River Exe is a delicate Eco system with the balance of nature needs to be maintained at all costs and it will be

    Adrian Howell | February 21, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Reply
    • I would tend to agree with Mr Howell. For the last couple of weeks I have been catching about 20 fish during weekly sessions of about an hour and a half. I have heard of one individual catching over 1000so far. Surely it is wrong for anyone with a concern for the river ecosystem to make little of the possible environmental consequences of the introduction of a non indigenous species on this scale. The numbers can only be guessed at but anecdotal evidence and the number of fish which i have seen being caught would tend to indicate something of a scale never before experienced. The assumption in the article above appears to be that there will be little or no impact. My impression is not based on any greater degree of scientific evidence but surely it is common sense for there at least to be concern that a mass of hungry rainbow trout will be a danger to young brown trout, grayling, salmon parr and the smolts which will begin their migration later this year.

      Dan Simmons | February 28, 2013 at 11:12 pm | Reply
  4. Thanks for your comment Dan. Please see here which provides a few more of my views, including a report into an incident when a large amount of Rainbow Trout escaped into a river in Scotland. There is no conclusive evidence that “farm reared” stocked Rainbow Trout will predate on Salmon smolts, Parr, Brown Trout, Grayling etc … and as my follow up blog notes I have never found any of these species in Rainbow Trout when I have caught them myself or while guiding on the Exe. It is not the case that I am making little of this event, I am just not willing to join the argument that the escape will have a detrimental effect on the natural population of fish in the River Exe. For sure it may annoy a few Salmon anglers and Wild Trout fishers for a while, but that is not the same as touting this as an ecological catastrophe.

    Nick Hart | March 1, 2013 at 8:52 am | Reply
  5. The articles mentioned by Mr.Hart are very interesting and ones I have studied myself. The last paragraph is particularly interesting as it concerns the successful prosecution of a fish farm on the Kennet by members of a club who won their case and set a legal precident by claiming that the enjoyment of their members was ruined by escapee rainbows from a nearby fish farm. This case was brought about because the normal defence is to say that it cannot be proved where escape fish actually escape from. It is very interesting that both Mr.Hart and Mr Maund, owner of Exe valley fishery , actually acknowledge that the fish in the river are theirs!
    The arrogant assumption that fisherman on the Exe are somehow enjoying free fishing, just because they don’t have to go to to Mr Hart’s fishery, is also puzzling, as most anglers have already paid for their fishing elsewhere . As Mr. Hart explains in his article, neither he, nor any other fishery owner,intentionally lost their fish and livelihood but perhaps a little more understanding of the strength of feeling and outrage caused would go along way to allowing a more co ordinated approach to dealing with this type of situation should it happen again. I and my fishing companions ,have no desire to kill fish on such a large scale and Mr. Hart is very welcome to come fishing with me and to take both his and anyone else’s fish away him.

    Adrian Howell | March 2, 2013 at 10:09 pm | Reply
  6. Thanks for for your follow up comment Adrian. Please lets not be so formal about things, I am Nick and perhaps we need not be rude either. The comment about an”arrogant assumption” is unnecessary. I have received many calls to my shop requesting information about the “free fishing”. That is not an assumption (I believe there is a well used military phrase attached to the word assumption) …. it is fact. Also I would like to mention that I lease and manage the fishery at Exe Valley, I am not a fish farmer. My original blog was written from my viewpoint as a fishing guide on the River Exe for many years. I too have seen the legal claims that have been made in the past , but if you read my blog again you will notice that I have been discussing the “assumed” ecological effects of this event, now spreading like wild fires amongst the fishing community. I don’t think I have made a claim myself for any of the fish in the river, instead I mentioned that a thought should be spared for the fish farmers so badly effected by the flood. If you would like to meet up and go fishing how about we set a little challenge? Lets examine the stomach contents of each fish and if we can find evidence of predation on Salmon Parr then you are welcome to choose a brand new rod, reel and line kit from my shop.

    Nick Hart | March 3, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Reply
  7. Pingback: What are the River Exe Rainbow Trout eating? | Nick Hart Fly Fishing – Blog

  8. Pingback: The Fishing Season 2013 – A bit of a review & a few reflections | Nick Hart Fly Fishing – Blog

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