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.
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?!