The 2019 salmon season started with some optimism as a small run of large salmon entered the river during the 3rd week of April and a few lucky ISCA members managed to connect with one of these fish. The biggest salmon caught on fly on our beats was estimated to be more than 25Ibs and the second largest at 20Ibs. However, the optimism quickly faded away as it became apparent that the usual increase in numbers of salmon running the river going into May did not materialise. A few salmon were caught during May and June but nowhere near in the usual numbers and very few fish were observed in the pools where in normal years salmon show themselves regularly. When the heatwave finally took a stronghold on the river in July and no significant rain came, the river shrunk although the drought was not as severe as in 2018.
Another concern was that when significant rain finally arrived in September and October, resulting in good water flow and fishing conditions, very few salmon came into the river suggesting that only few salmon were waiting in the estuary to run the river.
This worrying decline in salmon running the river first seen last year therefore continued into 2019. The Usk salmon fishermen can only hope this is not the beginning of a more long term trend as this would have grim consequences for the several angling clubs and land owners along the river relying on income from the fishing. The once plentiful Usk salmon also provide significant recreational value for so many salmon fishermen.
The decline in salmon numbers running the river was to some degree anticipated as low numbers of juvenile fish were caught by the WUF and NRW in the Usk tributaries by electrofishing during the 2016, 2017 and 2018 surveys.
Very good runs of salmon occurred during the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons and it is therefore concerning why the spawning of these runs have not resulted in more substantial numbers of juvenile fish in the river. Either the spawnings were unsuccessful due to climate change (warmer winters) or other factors are having a detrimental effect on the survival of juvenile salmon.
Possible factors impacting the survival of juvenile salmon are many such as poaching, pollution (agricultural and sewage), decease, fish eating birds such as goosanders and cormorants, water abstraction, weirs acting as obstacles to migrating smolt and low water flows. In reality, the cause in the decline in juvenile fish is most likely explained by a combination of the above factors but unless the management of the river is improved significantly, the future of the Usk salmon is now in doubt.
Juvenile salmon are at time caught by trout fishermen and typically such fish are in a very good condition suggesting that feeding conditions in the river are good and that no serious deceases affecting the health of the fish are present in the river.
Although the new Byelaws introduced by the Welsh government will mandate C&R of salmon from 2020 and in the following years then the impact on the salmon stock from angling is considered low with very fish killed in recent years by fishermen. However, any initiatives to save the Usk salmon are very welcome.
In summary, the 2019 salmon season was disappointing for most fishermen but the hope remains there is still time for a turnaround in salmon numbers and that the hundreds of salmon fishermen fishing the river Usk therefore can continue to enjoy the fantastic sport and recreational value that salmon fishing provides.
As a reminder of the recreational value provided by the beautiful Usk salmon and that it was possible to catch a salmon during the 2019 season, below are a few photos of fish that I was very lucky to catch this year.