The Cree rises high in the South Ayrshire hills at Loch Moan and meanders down through moorlands and forests before entering the sea near Newton Stewart. The river was immortalised in Robert Burn's late eighteenth century poem 'The Flowery Banks of Cree'. Its catchment extends over 198 square miles, draining the Carrick and Glentrool forests as well as those at Kirroughtree and Cairnsmore of Fleet. The river's appearance changes dramatically over its length, from the stately splendour of the Water of Minnoch to the tidal pools of the lower Cree. The river is a spate river with a reputation for rising rapidly and a good fall of rain in the evening can mean that the water is in perfect condition by the next morning. The Cree fishes best on a falling water.
Historically, the Cree supported an extensive net and coble fishery in the estuary and good catches were made on an annual basis. The fishery was most productive in the summer months. Stake nets have also been in operation on the estuary for many years.
The main settlement in the Cree catchment is the small town of Newton Stewart, with adjacent hamlet Minnigaff, that the Cree flows through for around 1.5 miles of its length. The only other areas of habitation are the hamlet of Bargrennan and the village of Glentrool. The main land use is forestry although agriculture becomes important further downstream. Sheep farming is common in the middle part of the catchment but is replaced by dairy farming downstream of the tidal limit. The wildlife around the Cree is impressive with red squirrels and deer inhabiting the broadleaved woodland areas. Characteristic features of spring fishing on the Cree are the sight and scent of bluebells which are present throughout much of the lower river catchment.
The Cree is well regarded for its aquatic life being home to some of Scotland's more unusual fish species. The most famous of these is the mysterious sparling (or smelt) that enters the Cree during the hours of darkness to spawn during the spring time. Sparling used to be present throughout the Solway region and other parts of Scotland but are now confined only to the Cree, Forth and Tay estuaries. Their appearance in the Cree is heralded by the sight of thousands of tiny round eggs on the rocks and plants within the river. These fish are particularly strange as they smell strongly of cucumber! The sparling population used to support a commercial fishery but recent low numbers have made this activity unsustainable. The lower river has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest for sparling (as well as Allis and Twaite shad) and commercial fishing is no longer undertaken.
Linloskin pool in late summer
Fishing on the Cree & Minnoch
The Cree is best known for its grilse run although springers and summer salmon are also taken in lesser numbers. The grilse run is heavily dependent upon water levels but can be extremely productive when the conditions are right.The Water of Minnoch in the upper part of the catchment holds a good head of fresh fish throughout the season and is the final destination of springers. Sea trout fishing is generally confined to the lower river, with fish mostly entering the system around May/June. The Penkiln Burn, although small in size, offers exciting fishing for skilled sea trout and salmon anglers. The Palnure Burn also holds good numbers of sea trout and some salmon. Brown trout fishing tends to be confined to areas of the High Cree. Pike are present in the Loch of Cree area but have not been traditionally fished for.
The river is managed by the Cree District Salmon Fishery Board (CDSFB) with scientific advice provided by the Galloway Fisheries Trust (GFT). The GFT works on the Solway rivers situated on the Scottish side of the Firth - the Border Esk, Annan, Urr, Kirkcudbrightshire Dee, Fleet, Cree, Bladnoch and Luce. The Cree was one of the four founding rivers of the GFT and has been a member since 1989. The GFT's aim is to restore and maintain aquatic biodiversity in Galloway by means of practical, responsible and sustainable approaches to land, water and fishery management, based on sound science, for the benefit of the community as a whole. A hatchery and habitat enhancement programme is run annually on the river. For further information on the Galloway Fisheries Trust, please click here.