Last year, we were celebrating the 30 years since salmon were recognised as having returned to the Clyde. I took the opportunity to update the appropriate chapter of the Centenary Booklet which was written in 1987. This year, we are celebrating 130 years since our original association came into being. I use this as an excuse to update the booklet again.
It was in 1887 that William Robertson and Matthew McKendrick met in Abington and decided that something ought to be done to turn the upper Clyde into a worthwhile fishery. They adopted the title of the “Upper Ward Angling Protective Association,”
While lower down, pollution was the biggest single problem, at the top end of the river, poaching was rife. Netting and double rodding were stripping fish from the river regardless of their size. Robertson and McKendrick knew that their task was obviously an uphill struggle.
First they drove iron spikes into the river bed to make the poachers’ work more difficult. Then they set about stocking the river. This was achieved by releasing 100,000 newly hatched trout fry, every year, from their hatchery near Abington. Soon after the Second World War, it was possible to rear around 30,000 fry, during the summer, and then release them as parr. A second pond allowed something like 60,000 parr to be stocked into the river each year.
These fish were spread about the river as much as possible, except in 1948. That year, a major cyanide poisoning seemed to have wiped out the entire population of trout downstream of Garrion Bridge. It was decided that every young fish available to the Association would be consigned to the affected stretch. Within a few years, the lower end of the river had recovered. Similar incidents were met with the same kind of prompt action and the Clyde continued to prosper.
Of course, it could take three or four years for a four inch trout parr to reach the nine inch size limit. It took several fish of that size to make a decent meal for a family. By 1960, there was no need to catch trout to provide food for the table. Gradually, the majority of the Clyde’s anglers were becoming more interested in angling as a sport. They still wanted value for their permit money.
In those days, any angler who purchased a permit was regarded as being a full member of the Association. The membership, at the end of the sixties, was recorded to be more than 4,000 strong. Fortunately, not all of them tried to attend the Annual General Meetings. Even then, large halls were often too small to accommodate everyone who wanted in.
There was a call, at one of these meetings, to stop stocking with small fish and buy in better specimens to give the average angler some instant gratification. The cost of a nine inch trout was probably not much less than £1.00 but the permit price was less than 50p, but this was before our currency was decimalised, or decimated, as some observers have since remarked. The cost of presenting every angler with a single fish, over the size limit, was going to be prohibitive. There had to be some way of improving the population of trout in the Clyde, preferably in a sustainable and economical way.
Frequent biological surveys had suggested that the Clyde was capable of producing incredible numbers of fairly large trout, if they were allowed to live long enough. Two trout are on record as having been caught at weights of 13lb and 15lb near Abington. The obvious approach, to the problem, was to increase the size below which both trout and grayling could not be killed. This was brought about in two stages. The nine inch limit was first increased to ten inches and then to the twelve inches that it is today. Larger trout lay more eggs and this increases the rate of natural recruitment based upon the indigenous strain of trout adapted to the conditions that they experience in the part of the Clyde where they are living.
Hand in hand with raising the size limit, came the introduction of a bag limit. It should have been obvious, many years ago, that it was not possible for anglers to kill a dozen fish, regardless of their size, every time that they went out. When there was a possibility of catching trout, of around a pound in weight, it did not make sense to kill trout of half that weight. Soon, there was a very real possibility of catching trout weighing two or even three pounds. These were fish worth preserving.
Although the effects of the rule changes took several years to become obvious, the result has now been demonstrated by the number of trout, weighing more than three pounds that have been reported, not only as being caught but almost always being released safely, every year. We do not need to kill a magnificent fish to feed our families and fish of that quality are too valuable to be caught only once. Most of our anglers are now true sportsmen and most of those fishing the Clyde are buying their permits.
Our team of River Wardens and Bailiffs are finding that they are able to spend more time improving our access to the river because so few of the anglers that they meet are flouting the law and, let’s face it, poaching. In fact, our anglers are quick to report any activity that causes them concern.
Pollution can still occur but such incidents are usually reported, very quickly, to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. As far as we are concerned, SEPA had its origins in the Clyde River Purification Board. Before it was changed from being a QUANGO to becoming a Governmental body, the CRPB often had a director of UCAPA as a member of its board. But that is another story.