Saturday, December 27, 2008

Week 51

Week 51

Christmas week and a cold start followed by a warm middle and an icy blast towards the end. For two days we had the bedroom window open through the night, not because of a surfeit of seasonal sprouts but because the overnight temperature was approaching double figures; woken both mornings by a particularly randy Male Blackbird singing outside our window trying to convince any females in the area that now was the time to “get jiggy” as I believe they term it these days.

At the start of the week we had a crack at the ducks, my employer’s son and grandson along with an elderly gent from the village. Initially the signs looked promising with plenty of cloud cover and a steady wind that typically dropped just as it was getting dark. The wigeon that have been around for a few weeks didn’t put in an appearance and we only shot five birds, four Mallard and a Gadwall. A little disappointing after the numbers that have been coming onto the pond in previous weeks, but that is Wild Duck shooting for you. I declined the offer to shoot instead concentrating on picking up with Zebo and Otis. Zebo is a bit of a whiz at locating dead Ducks in the Dark and didn’t disappoint on this occasion, even picking up a roving Indian Runner that normally inhabits the lower river around my employer’s house. Twice the weight of a Mallard he bought it to me alive and intact for me to release onto the river. If it had been my stupid spaniel with jaws of steel the Duck would have been crushed in seconds. Zebo has always had a very soft mouth, when he was around one year old, and out with me feeding the fish one week, he would pop behind the fish food hut and carefully pick up a Duck who was sitting very tight on a clutch of eggs and bring her to me. Each morning of that week I would take the duck from his mouth and put her back on the nest, by Friday she had a resigned look on her face as she was carried to me each morning that screamed “Good grief here we go again!” She hatched off her eggs the following week and was spared her morning ride in a Labrador’s mouth.

The cold temperature and icy easterly wind towards the end of the week blew in a load of Snipe. The dogs putting up over half a dozen on a Boxing Day afternoon trek across Bransbury Common. On this particular stretch of the river the Snipe, if they are about, always seek out the same ditches, muddy scrapes, bends on the river that they have inhabited in previous years. I think I saw the Merlin that has turned up most winters, earlier in the week, the dogs spooking a small bird of Prey from the ground by the Flight Pond.

The river has cleared and dropped an inch this week, The Brown Trout have come through spawning very well, and on the two mild days in the middle of the week, even raise their noses to the odd fly that was on the water. The Grayling are in spanking mid season form and, as I have stated previously, are an ounce or two heavier for a given length than in previous years. The eggs in the hatchery have been hatching all week, and so far look to be a particularly good batch. For much of this week I have just left them to get on with hatching, next week they will need a good clean and the unhatched and empty egg cases removed. The fencing for the stew ponds was also delivered this week, Otter proofing the stew ponds one of the first jobs to be tackled in the New Year.
The Pheasant and Partridge are a bit thin on the ground on our morning feed around. I am feeding half as much food compared to a month ago, and much of this is being gobbled by Pigeons and Roe Deer; although walking up the road at Dusk this week I have heard quite a few birds“cocking up” as they go up to roost which suggests that they are feeding on something else somewhere else.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Week 50


Week 50

An up and down week again for the weather, beginning with a huge downpour followed by some nice cold days and finishing with high winds and the afternoon temperature climbing into double figures degrees Celsius. Early in the week we had our third days shooting. My employer’s grandchildren plus friends filling the sky with lead while we beaters poked around for the few remaining Pheasant and Partridge. For much of the week we have been inundated with pigeons although these failed to show on the day. The bag was half what was shot on the first two days but more importantly, all enjoyed the day, an important lesson to learn in all field sports: it's not about the bag, but all about the day.

A little Egret has turned up this week. Every winter we saw more and more of these highly conspicuous birds, I have a photograph somewhere of one fishing in the small stream that runs through the Mill House garden. In stark contrast to the brilliant white plumage of this small member of the Heron family is the black cloud that I see flighting up the main river every morning: between twenty and thirty Cormorants all heading to the Upper Test for a day feeding. I have seen groups this big while fishing a pond that borders the Middle Test and know of several keepers who see them roosting in numbers in a particularly isolated tree; sitting like the birds from Noggin the Nog. I have said it before but up until five years ago I had not seen a Cormorant on this stretch of the river, I now see numbers every day either passing over or pitching onto the river and pond to feed. With no national strategy to prevent their steady rise in numbers something radical must be done regionally to protect fish stocks on the chalk streams of the south where the clear water provides easy fishing for a Cormorant. An organised and concerted effort by keepers and riparian owners to go out with their shotguns, pigeon bangers, crow scarers and fireworks at the same time for a few days to keep these birds on the move and push them on somewhere else, preferably back to their natural coastal environment. It's an “I’m alright Jack policy” but in the absence of any National effort to limit the damage being done by these birds to freshwater fish stocks it seems the only option available.

The first few eggs in the hatchery started to hatch this week, they will go on hatching throughout the next week. So far they have been one of the best batches of eggs that I have ever done, with few to pick out daily. There is time for it all to go wrong yet.

With the National Trout and Grayling Strategy preventing us from supplying our natural mixed sex Brown Trout to the few people that we have supplied over the past five years, we are exploring various ways of replacing the income lost from these orders. Either by buying in some non indigenous Rainbow Trout Fingerlings and growing them on to a stockable/smokeable size or growing on some Carp to supply Coarse fisheries, either of which is alien fish culture to that which should be going on this river valley, the rearing of native mixed sex Brown Trout to replenish stock in the river.

The National Trout and Grayling Strategy for the River Test?….. Bonkers!

And like so many strategies dictated from on high over the past decades, completely unworkable, unenforceable and out of date before implementation.

On the dog front Otis had his best day shooting yet, although we are currently on our third house phone in as many months and he proudly demonstrates his soft mouth by pinching baubles off the Christmas tree.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Week 49


Week 49

A significant drop in the temperature this week with two nights of minus five degree Celsius and one of minus seven. No snow, but one morning rain fell shortly after the sun rose and froze on the road; The world’s worst Spaniel – Dobby, struggling with the conditions and like Bambi on ice with his gimpy back legs. Cold Snaps like this are welcome at this time of the year and reaffirm the point to everyone that winter is really here and the growing season has ended. Mild winters can often result in weed, grass trees and birds failing to go into their period of winter shut down, rousing themselves early in the new year with out of season buds and nests that are often caught by late cold snaps in late March and April.

The Flight Pond partially froze over during this week, the pond houses a spring that keeps the temperature a few degrees higher than other ponds but in prolonged freezing periods it will freeze over. It is tempting to divert river water though the pond during cold periods to keep the pond clear of ice, the pond would however act as a silt trap with suspended solids in the river water settling out and the pond eventually silting up, while a shallower pond would still attract Mallard and Gadwall, it would not prove to be as attractive to other types of Duck such as Tufted and Pochard – diving Ducks who prefer a greater depth of water. If there is a significant amount of ice on the pond, many ducks land on the adjacent river and toddle over to where the evening’s food has been tipped.

Cold Snaps always bring Wigeon onto the pond. Arriving en masse and at high speed they are smaller than the Mallard and have a distinctive whistling call. Many of the Ducks that overnight on the pond rouse themselves at dawn to fly a few hundred yards to my employer’s orchard where they are fed everyday. Most days this week when opening the bedroom curtains I have seen half a dozen or more duck circling overhead before pitching on to the river for breakfast. I have never shot Duck here in the morning but I am sure a hide by the apple trees would produce a few brace for someone who could shoot straight. A lot of Duck are shot up and down the valley, mostly wild, some are morning ponds some evening ponds, several estates will also drive the marshes for Duck. In some places they may take a bit of a hammering for a few weeks before learning a lesson and using other pieces of water. It pays to be sensible with wild Duck only shooting them when conditions are right, and leaving them alone when they are having a hard time of it with the weather, do that and they will continue to use your pond.

Few fish were active in the river, not even the Roach; my son failing in his attempts to tempt them or the Grayling while trotting a single maggot. A brief excursion to the neighbouring Put and Take Trout Fishery not only revealed a stunning display of Christmas lights being manoeuvred into place but also a brace of hardy anglers making their way home with a bag of Triploid Rainbow Trout. Sterile fish who maintain their condition throughout the Winter this is where they belong and is what they were initially developed for, a non native fish that is incapable of spawning but will provide good sport for anglers when native Trout populations are going through the rigors of Winter spawning, and not for a half baked, half hearted attempt at protecting a particular river’s wild trout population.
Heavy Rain at the end of the week has turned the river to cocoa, and put the Kibosh on a planned Sunday afternoon of Pike fishing and enabled me to go Christmas Shopping - Oh Deep Joy!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Week 48


Week 48

Much colder weather this week, snow fell heavily in many parts of the country although here it fell as heavy rain, turning the river chalky grey. Little fly hatching at any time of the day and fish difficult to spot in the coloured water. The river had cleared by the end of the week; too much silt and colour in the water can affect the hatch rate of the Trout eggs, a fine layer of silt settling on the eggs inhibiting their ability to absorb oxygen eventually killing them. The eggs in the hatchery are eyed up and the developing fish can clearly be seen. The spring water that they are raised on has no suspended solids and is a constant temperature and rate of flow resulting in a far higher number of them hatching compared to the eggs in the river.
First job this week was to sort out a Christmas tree to stand outside the pub in the village. The Christmas tree plantation has two sizes of tree, massive and miniscule. This year I backed the pickup up to a fifty footer and dropped it straight onto the back of the pick up, chopping twenty five feet off the bottom to use as fence posts. The top twenty-five feet was then driven up to the pub and delicately erected between a spiders web of telephone and electricity wires. The Roe Deer have hammered some of the smaller Christmas trees and some will not make a good shaped tree at all. Later I will have to search out trees for the shop, church, village hall and myself.
I have spent much of the week refilling the wood shed with some of the wood that I cut up at the start of the year; some of it is still quite wet and has not seasoned much at all over the summer. Up until a few years ago the central heating in our house ran off the wood burner and we would get through around six tonnes of wood a winter, recently we have had oil central heating linked up which has eased the pressure a little on this stretch of river to produce logs. Over the past ten years some very mature trees have passed on, one ash in my employers garden was enormous, over a hundred and fifty years old it took a team of four the best part of two days to fell and kept both my employer and I in logs for one and a half winters.
I am seeing considerably fewer Pheasants on my morning feed round, many are sat in a block of Maize on a neighbouring bit of land, with luck they will shoot this drive before our next day shooting sending some of our pheasants back. Numbers of Duck visiting the pond continue to fall, and, with heavy rain this week, there are plenty of splashes out on the meadows for them to overnight on. The Canada Geese have turned up on the water meadow upstream from here and should be around for our next day shooting.I have received several messages of support this week about my letter to the Trout & Salmon Magazine in which I aired my concerns about the implementation of the National Trout and Grayling Strategy, principally with the enforced stocking of Triploid Trout into this river. The whole strategy is incredibly muddled, ill thought out and out of date. The Strategy was flawed at inception with the decision to develop a National Strategy and not a regional one. Far bigger noises than myself have raised their objections to the strategy in the angling press over the past year and I feel that is important that the pot continues to be stirred to force change to several aspects of the strategy.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Week 47


Week 47

A mixed week for weather with the early morning temperature ranging from minus three degrees on one day to seven degrees on another. There are still a few fish in the Redds, although the majority of the spawning is doe and dusted now. On the warmer days of the week we have had a flurry of Olives early in the afternoon with some of the early spawners raising a nose to the surface to feed. The quicker the fish get back on the feed after spawning the better condition they will be in come the start of the season. The Grayling are in prime condition along with the perfect Roach that average a pound and have a blue sheen to their silver flanks. With the weed all stripped out, several shoals of Roach have joined up to form a “super shoal” that move up and down the river like Mackerel in a harbour.
The number of Ducks coming onto the pond has tailed off a little; as a result the water on the pond has cleared a little making the Fish in the pond particularly vulnerable to Cormorants.
The Old Barn up the road that is being renovated now has a new roof, windows and doors. The previous incumbent a particularly soporific Barn Owl has not been given a key, the Estate putting up a smart new Owl box in the tree next to the barn, which he has yet to use. An estate further down the valley, for several years ran a Barn Owl breeding programme and put up several Owl boxes up and down the valley. Inspection a few months after installation revealed a few Owls had taken up residence but families of Mandarin Duck inhabited most. The Owl that lives next door is relatively used to human activity. On two occasions he has lolloped his way over the grass verge of the lane flying slowly at a height of six feet while I have driven alongside him for several hundred yards.
In the garden we have been invaded by Long Tailed Tits who visit the Bird Feeders en masse every day. We also have a particularly vigorous grape vine that covers a pergola behind our back door, the grapes are inedible to even the tartest of pallets so we leave them on for the birds, who are now whacking in to them as they have passed their maximum sweetness and started to ferment. By teatime and after several hours of getting tipsy on the alcoholic berries we have a huge Kafuffle instigated by the only Blackbird I know of with an Asbo, drunkenly hanging sideways from the pergola eating berries before having a drunken swing at a passing Blue Tit.
We had our second day Shooting at the end of the week. The weather was much better than our first shoot, we did not see as many birds as the first time through, but thanks to some particularly straight shooting we finished up with the same bag; predominantly Pheasant with a few brace of Partridge, Duck, Pigeon with a Woodcock thrown in. We saw four Woodcock in all, no Snipe and no Geese; a cold snap will change things considerably. On the first two days shooting last year we put up three or four Muntjac deer on each day, this year we have seen none.
I have sent the annual fishing report off to the Test and Itchen Association, a tale of woe with much grumbling about the weather and weed, and have also had a letter published in the Trout & Salmon Magazine revealing my old fashioned views about the stocking of Triploid Trout.Otis has now chewed through three phone cables and a pair of my wife’s best boots, although he received better reviews for his performance on the shooting day.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Week 46

Week 46

Brown Trout still on the redds, undisturbed by coloured water and a river full of leaves after a hard blow early in the week; the oaks and a spectacularly coloured Amber the only trees still hanging on to their leaves.
The eggs in the hatchery have, to date, been one of the best batches I have ever had, with less than a dozen to pick out in each basket. The eggs are picked with a large pipette, one by one, or in my case a turkey baster from the kitchen shop in town. The dead eggs easily identified having turned from their normal orange colour to pearly white. It is important to regularly pick out the dead eggs as they can easily become infected by the saprolegnia fungus that will spread and kill the surrounding live eggs. Soon it will be possible to see the developing fish in the egg, the eyes in particular clearly visible. Once “eyed up” the eggs are past their most sensitive stage and are reasonably robust.
To ensure a ready supply of packet sized trout to supermarkets, the table trout industry required eggs to be laid down at different times of the year. Brown Trout spawn only once a year in early autumn so to ensure a ready supply, large hatcheries would import Trout eggs from around the world wherever it happened to be autumn and Brown Trout were spawning, importing eyed eggs from right across the globe at different times of the year. The eyed eggs transported in polystyrene boxes without water with a tray of ice on top trickling down through the eggs, disinfected and laid down on arrival to hatch several weeks later non the wiser.
Other ingenious methods of obtaining out of season eggs involved varying the day length of the fish from which the eggs are to be taken. Keeping the fish indoors in tanks in order to control the day and night length, shortening a fishes day to eighteen hours or lengthening it to thirty bringing forward or delaying spawning by a few months.
This week we I have been busy clearing out the millstream, the half-mile man made channel that was constructed hundreds of years ago in order to control the river flow and turn the wheel at the mill. Dead straight and fairly dour fishing, it is now used to take excess water away from the main river in time of flood or closed down completely in times of drought to maximise the flow in the river. Bordered on one side by a large hedge it is possible to drain it down to its bare bones and drive a tractor up the riverbed to keep the hedge trimmed back. This is done every year and is essential to maximise the amount of light getting down onto the millstream and its weed. To improve the fishing on the middle section I have each year been planting up the far bank by the hedge with sedge and Iris in order to naturally narrow the channel, increase the river’s velocity, aid the growth of the weed and thus improve the fishing. This has been a great success, weed has become established and less silt now accumulates in the central section. Narrowing the river naturally by planting takes a while to have any real effect when compared with an instant fix such as sheets of tin backfilled with chalk, but is worth persevering with as it is a soft bank as opposed to the hard bank of driven tin. It can be cut back in times of high water to maximise the width of the channel, and allowed to grow in during times of drought to squeeze what little flow may remain.
The flow down the Mill stream is controlled by a set of boards at the point at which it leaves the river, and a cast iron sluice/hatch that was installed when Queen Victoria was on the throne, the stream itself dug several hundred years earlier by hand and lined with clay. It also provides a head of water to run the two concrete fry stews and an old brick lined swimming pool that is now used to grow fish.
The clay may well have been obtained locally, within a hundred yards of our house I can dig a hole three feet deep and hit any combination of chalk, clay, peat, gravel, or water. The clay is bluey-grey and incredibly sticky, clinging to the bucket of the small mini digger in huge clumps and perfect for lining ponds.

The Pheasants are slowly returning to the drives, and the ducks on the pond getting through half a bag of “seconds” Barley a night. A forecast of cold weather could well bring a few more unusual ducks on to the pond.
Late in the week I took some Bantams up to a part of North Hampshire that is in complete contrast to the Test Valley; steep rolling wooded hills it could be Devon but for the colour of the soil. On the way I saw five Red Kites a bird that was in short supply ten years ago but is increasing in numbers after a spectacularly successful breeding programme.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Week 45


Week 45

The week began with our first day Pheasant shooting. On the day of a shoot my first task is to get out just after first light and do a tour of our boundaries with the dogs, chasing any birds back that may be considering a day away from the place. Beaters, Guns and dogs arrive between nine and nine thirty, and after a quick cup of coffee the day begins. The first drive involves a walk up the road for the beaters, to bring back a piece of water meadow towards the guns who are placed along the river, it is ideal ground for, Duck, Geese, Snipe and always shows Pheasant and Pigeon but is the wrong ground for Partridge. The second drive involves a lot of walking for the beaters who must blank in two fields, and tap out hedges up towards the top piece of game cover. On a good day this is quite a senior drive, on a bad day a dead loss and a lot of walking for nothing. The quality of the top game cover makes all the difference, too thin and patchy and it is very cold place for a Pheasant to be. The birds fly high from this drive and if we shoot Partridge it is this drive that will have produced them. The third drive is back down in the water meadows to bang out some Spearbed and woodland that produces little before stooping for elevenses. The next drive is a straightforward knocking out of a piece of woodland with game cover running alongside, this drive invariably produces the bulk of the Pheasants, many of which fly particularly high from this drive. The last two drives are down in the water meadows alongside the river and around the house. These two drives will have Woodcock in them at some point in the winter along with the odd chicken or flightless Duck.
Throughout the day the weather was atrocious, the final bag of fifty-one head made up of forty-seven pheasants a brace of Partridge and a brace of Jay. With fairer weather we may well have shot seventy plus. I would have expected to shoot half a dozen pigeon and the same number of duck but for the high south westerly wind that also carried upwards of forty partridge and as many pheasants away from the guns, we also put up one fox and numerous Deer. The standard of shooting was high amongst all six guns despite the weather, the standard of beating mixed as a core group become ever more surly and unruly when given direction by the keeper.
Shooting done and dusted by 1pm, a good lunch was had by all. The dozen beaters emboldened by spirits and fine food embarking on a brain storming session that produced solutions for The credit crunch, world peace, stocking policies for trout, successful bread making and John Sergeant’s limp during the Cha Cha Cha.
Jays apart, all the game shot was taken home and eaten, bottles recycled and excess food fed to dogs. A great day, despite the weather, enjoyed by beaters and guns alike and a great advert for shooting.

Otis attended his first shoot and drew mixed reviews.

The eggs in the hatchery are developing well, the few dead eggs each morning removed by pipette in a matter of minutes. The Brown Trout in the river are in full spawning mode at the moment with most of the usual spawning shallows showing half a dozen Redds. Spawning activity attracts the attention of the Herons who will stab away gormlessly at fish they have no hope of devouring, one hen fish of four pounds or more still kicking up in her redd full of spawn with two puncture wounds in her back that will ultimately finish her off but hopefully not before she has spawned.On the dry days that followed our Shoot, Grayling were rising to a trickle of small Olives that hatched in the middle of the day, the few Grayling fishermen that ventured out over the past week caught fish on the surface and on the nymph. They are great measurers our Grayling Fishermen, and from this year’s measuring it is apparent that the fish are fatter for a given length than in previous years, in contrast to the Brown Trout.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Week 44

Week 44

A grey gloomy week for weather after our week away, fish, pheasants and dogs all in good order after a week in the hands of my parents. The dogs especially resigned to having to return to their place back on the dog bed after a week sitting on the settee with their Nana and Grandad.

The Brown trout in the river are now on the shallows and starting to kick up their redds; the Cock fish in particular looking and behaving in an aggressive manner as they jockey for position on the gravels next to the gravid females. Fish at this time of the year are particularly susceptible to fungal infections, a cut or scratch sustained while scraping a Redd or battling with a Cock fish easily becoming infected. If the fish is fit and healthy it has every chance of overcoming the infection and recovering; if a little under the weather or in poor condition the infection can take hold and ultimately kill the fish. The Redds are easily identifiable by the clean gravel exposed by the fishes digging, and every year the fish cut redds in the same places. The water must be fast and the gravel suitably loose, the hen will then lie in the scrape accompanied by a male/males express her eggs at the same time as he expresses his milt, any fertilised eggs becoming embedded in the pile of gravel at the rear of the scrape, it is incredibly hit and miss, a female Brown Trout will express several thousand eggs of which only a few will be fertilised.

I have also stripped some fish from the stew ponds and laid the eggs down the hatchery trough. This involves holding the female fish by the tail and firmly pushing down along her belly towards the vent to express the eggs. The eggs are yellowy orange in colour and between four and six millimetres in diameter. Three or four females are stripped into a bowl before the boys come on the scene; the cocks require a little squeeze by the vent to express a jet of milt into the eggs. The egg milt mixture is then mixed gently to ensure that all the eggs are fertilised and left for just over a minute. Pouring water in and out of the bowl before the eggs are left to swell up for ten minutes then washes off the Excess milt. The stripped fish are placed back into fast running water to recover and the fertilised eggs moved to the Hatchery, where they are laid out in baskets in a shallow trough of water with spring water flowing through them at a constant ten degrees centigrade. This process is simple and natural and produces normal male and female Brown Trout that we use to stock the river. Triploid Trout production and all female Trout production involve a slightly different procedure. For Triploids the eggs are submitted to either a high-pressure treatment or temperature treatment around twenty minutes after fertilisation, this interferes with normal embryonic development at the eight cell stage and results in a sterile fish. All female production requires the use of an XX male for fertilisation, these are female fish that have been fed a diet of methyl testosterone for a specific period resulting in them developing testes and male characteristics, they are however unable to express milt and must be sacrificed in order for the milt to be used to produce all female progeny.
We have our first day shooting next week, so I have spent some time trimming branches along some of the rides where the guns will be standing, the Ducks continue to pour onto the pond at night along with about half a dozen cormorants. We have also had a few Grayling fishermen over the past week who have caught several fish up to two pound. I think we have an Otter back on the scene and it may be necessary to improve the predator protection around the stew ponds.

Week 43


Week 43

Away this week fishing in France. For the past few years we have travelled to France at Easter and during Autumn half term for a week fishing with another family, two dads and two boys fishing, Two Mums and two girls shopping and spending money. Initially we fished a few Commercial Carp waters with some success catching many double figure Carp and Catfish but now fish the public waters on a “Carte de Pace” which allows you access to a huge amount of water in a particular region. This year we have fished twice in the Indre region concentrating on the River Creuse, Our week at Easter was spent on Lac du Eguzon at the head of the Creuse, a man made lake of some 700 acres or more it is very deep and ends in a dam over 70 metres high. It has held several eliminators for the French National Carp championship and is very popular with he French Carpistes, it is also one of the hardest waters we have ever fished in some of the worst weather. This week we concentrated on the central Creuse at Tournon St Martin, having seen what water released from Eguzon could do to the fishing on the Creuse we had a few alternative venues on stand by principally the Anglin, the Claise and a municipal Carp lake. The river was low and full of fish, looking off the bridge in Tournon we could see many Chub, a double figure Carp and over a hundred Barbel between three and five pounds, there was also an incredibly enterprising One armed French fisherman who held his rod in his hand and reeled in with his teeth, he fished three rods and landed several fish. On previous trips to other tributaries of the Loire, namely the Cher and Vienne the fishing has improved as the week has progressed as the fish have found our baited areas, this gave us a chance to look at the many Parcours de Peche situated in our area that we were able to fish. Several upstream had produced Carp to over forty pounds and Catfish to one hundred and forty pounds although with the river down to its bare bones we stuck to the fishing in Tournon. The Parcours de Peche are municipal stretches of the river that can be fished on a Carte de Peche. They often have picnic tables, toilets sometimes showers and it is often possible to drive very close to your swim. The stretch we fished was around forty yards wide to a depth of twelve feet. We caught many Chub to four pound, Barbel to six pound and Carp into double figures although the really big fish eluded us until the last night when one of the boys lost a fish that would have pushed thirty pounds. We saw Coypu, Muskrat, Otters and a many different types of Birds. We stayed in a house a mile from the river, surrounded by woods and ponds that echoed to the sound of Frenchmen shooting Ducks and Chasing Boar. The Creuse has huge potential for Coarse fishing and if it was situated in the South of England would be syndicated to Clubs from top to bottom, likewise the Cher where we all agree we have had our best ever river fishing, catching over a hundred pound of Chub, many Barbel and Bream, and River Carp to eighteen pounds that were shaped like torpedoes and had never been caught before. Two years ago we forsook the Loire for a week further south on the Lot, caught the ubiquitous Chub and Barbel and saw Common Carp in the centre of Cahors well over forty pounds before hauling a few of the monsters out ourselves to twenty six pounds. Like the Creuse, the Lot has several barrages in its upper reaches that can release water and disrupt the fishing so it is best to have a few alternative venues on standby. The Vienne was a little disappointing although fishing in the centre of Chinon with the medieval castle as backdrop was spectacular. My fishing friend who has a super fast internet connection likes to get on Google earth before a trip and pick a few swims, before our trip to the Vienne he highlighted a gravel spit where the Vienne entered the Loire as a good spot to start with and a central island a good feature to fish to. On arriving at the likely spot we found that the gravel spit was nearly half a mile long, the island a speck on the horizon in the middle of the Loire and the water chugging through at an incredible pace; It is a huge river that drains half of France, many of its tributaries would be considered big rivers in the UK and the whole system is full of fish.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Week 42


Week 42

Cutting weed for most of this week, clearing the whole river channel and dropping the river level by around ten inches; the water is crystal clear and throughout the week there has been a steady hatch of fly throughout the middle part of the day. With the weed gone it is possible to make an assessment of the numbers of fish in the river and as I suspected towards the end of the summer, there are a lot. Quite a few are thinner than I would expect reflecting the poor hatches of fly and erratic feeding patterns during the second half of the season. In a relatively small river with gin clear water it is quite understandable to believe that you can see most things in the river, although it is quite remarkable how the Brown Trout if he doesn’t want to play will secrete himself away under a root or weed bed away from the angler’s eye.
While cutting the weed it is also apparent how much silt has been deposited through the season. The Ranunculas and Water Celery cut fairly easily, the Starwort however acts as a silt trap through out the summer and is a little more difficult to cut.
We have had two frosts this week, that have bought the leaves tumbling from the ash trees and willows, the oaks are still green and will require a few more frosts yet to make them yellow.
At this time of the year, leaves in the river can be a real problem to the stew ponds. The rearing ponds require a constant flow of water through them; fallen leaves flowing down the river can build up on the inlet screen restricting the flow. The ponds on this stretch of the river are not to affected by the leaves and will only require cleaning once or twice a day. While at college, a friend and I were employed for three weeks on a fish farm that had several thousand acres of forest a mile or so up stream; during our three week stay the screens required cleaning every two or three hours through the night, which meant getting up from the comfort of our twelve foot caravan walking a quarter of a mile to the top of the farm and cleaning the main inlet screen off with a rake. It is also a problem for water treatment works, who along with some of the larger fish farms have developed automated self cleaning screens; but why go to the unnecessary expense of one of those when you can use students.
I have trimmed the hides on the flight pond, and we now await the right weather for shooting ducks. The Carp in the pond are remarkably active. Cruising around, they are gorging themselves on the barley meant for the ducks when the lower water temperatures should be steadying them up; the spooky cormorant has put in another appearance as well. A barn close by the river that has lain derelict for twenty years is currently being converted into a house, the old roof is off and the skeleton exposed. The Barn Owl who has inhabited the place for the last five years at least, is a little perturbed to say the least at what is being done to his “Chez Nook”. With no roof for shelter he sits in the exposed roof timbers wondering what the world is coming to before roding the surrounding fields for rabbits and rats.
He is not the only one wondering what the world is coming to. This week on the radio a seemingly sane and reasonably eloquent lady of later years called for GPs to be encouraged to prescribe dog ownership for certain ailments. The example she gave was to prescribe a patient with High Blood Pressure a Springer Spaniel for stroking purposes; the effect was calming and beneficial for both the sufferer and dog alike. Spaniels in this parish have raised rather than lowered blood pressure in previous weeks. A call for dog ownership on medical grounds is irresponsible and further proof that the Loons have finally taken control of Bonkers Central. If dog ownership is to be prescribed as a treatment for high blood pressure, then like other prescribed medicines it should come with instructions on correct use and advice on side effects.

Misuse of prescribed medicines: A dog likes to know that it is a dog, it does not need humanising or Disneyfying it is happiest when it is a dog doing dog stuff.

Dosage: Take professional advice before increasing the dosage, for some people one dog is enough.

Storage: Keep in a safe secure place, do not leave lying around do not allow to wander.

Other Medicine: Take care when combining with other medicines such as Cats, Chickens or PHEASANTS.

Problems: If you suffer from any of the above side effects consult your GP and request another course of treatment, preferably a tortoise.

Rolf Harris has got a lot to answer for!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Week 41


Week 41

A dry week, the river gin clear and sparkling, a steady stream of hatching fly with many fish showing more than a passing interest, and our Trout season has finished! The Grayling are in superb condition and will provide good sport over the next few weeks until we put an end to fishing altogether to let the Trout in the river get on with spawning. Between now and then I have to put the river to bed for the winter. I have knocked the fringe of this week and edged the sides in, maximising the width of the river channel and preventing any of the bankside vegetation falling into the water; I carry out both of these jobs with my long handled hedge cutter. Up until a few years ago I would have used my brushcutter to knock the fringe off and a slasher to edge the banks in. Pre Brushcutter it would all have been done with a scythe. I have knocked my fringe off with a scythe before now, and as long as the scythe is kept razor sharp and you cut with the correct action it is not as hard as you would think. Part of the middle Test that I worked at briefly around twenty years ago kept one of the prototype brushcutters on the wall of their workshop. A Leviathan in the world of garden cutting equipment, it weighed a ton, the cutting head was driven by a chain from the engine that was situated at the other end of a seven-foot shaft. It was enormous and with the unguarded chain drive along the main shaft bloody dangerous. If I had been presented with it as the future of grass cutting I would have found cause for it to break down and gone back to my scythe. Things have moved on a lot now, the long handled hedge cutter being one of my most useful tools.
With the fringe knocked off I have started to get the Flight Pond ready for shooting, cutting back the beds of Phragmites that provided safe cover for nesting waterfowl, and tidying up the hides. The number of ducks coming on to the pond continue to increase as do the numbers of Coots and Moorhens attracted to an easy meal. The White Cormorant continues to put in the occasional appearance, next week I shall be cutting the weed in the river, which will make his attempts at fishing even easier. His days may be numbered, although one keeper friend of mine prone to the melodramatic statement, mentioned in his drunken mutterings that the soul who dispatched a white cormorant would carry a curse from that day to the grave.
There are also a few Herons about. As many fish die slowly from a clumsy Heron stab as are taken away by the Heron. Like a big eyed Billy Bunter presented with an oversized birthday cake they will often try and take a portion that is far too big for them; stabbing away at a three pound hen fish that they struggle to lift from the water, the fish failing to spawn and dieing a slow death from the stab wound in her back. For the spawning trout we must address the increase in stab culture and deal with the Heron in a Hoody!
Continuing with the deathly theme, I learnt this week of the death of a fishermen who regularly fished this stretch of the river for Grayling. He and his friend would fish several times with some success through October and November. His fishing friend rang, as he had done at this time of the year for the past decade to say that he would be fishing alone this year, his fishing buddy had died aged seventy two while waiting to be picked up to go for a day’s fishing, they found all his kit ready in the hall and him dead in the chair with a cup of coffee. He had died very quickly, while anticipating a day out fishing with his mate – not a bad way to go!
It is always sad when one of your regulars passes on, although I have yet to have one go on the riverbank, although I have come close. One hot sunny Friday afternoon I was walking home with my strimmer across one of the paddocks, when I was stopped in my tracks by an elderly half-rod flat on his back in the long grass twenty yards in front of me. Throwing my strimmer to one side I sprinted, Baywatch style, to the prone gent and knelt down beside him. My extensive first aid training kicked in.
He looked a bit grey, his mouth was slightly open, one arm by his side one arm outstretched; from my extensive experience of cowboy films I would say he was a goner. I gently leant over and prodded his cheek…………..
He opened his eyes, sat up and asked me what the hell I was doing, I explained that I thought he had died, he explained that he was sleeping off a rather good lunch, we had a laugh and he went on fishing with his favourite Snipe and Purple and died a few months later.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Week 40


Week 40

The last week of our Trout fishing season and as was the case last season, reasonable hatches of fly, clear water and fish rising throughout the afternoon. The biggest fish of the season caught on the first day of the week on a Red Wulff late in the afternoon. The fish weighed over seven pounds and had been in roughly the same area for much of the season. I would see it every morning when crossing the river to feed the fish in the stew ponds, on seeing me each morning it would drift slowly across to some tree roots and tuck itself away until I had passed. I guessed it was around five pounds, but when put on the bank it proved to be a very deep fish for its length. It led the captor a merry dance and has now gone off to be smoked.
Estimating the weight of Brown’s against other species of Trout is often hit and miss, less uniform in shape than Rainbows some Browns will retain a sleek torpedo shape throughout their lives others may have “shoulders” some may be wider and chunkier than a fish of the same length. Rainbows are far more uniform in size and shape, and it is far easier to make an accurate assessment of their weight by sight. This characteristic also renders them more suitable for rearing to supply supermarkets, where they must be exactly 12oz in weight and an exact length in order to fit into a particular size of CAP pack.
I had a look at the middle Test towards the end of the week and saw several fish rising to a variety of flies, although the water still looked murkier than it ought to at this time of year. The next few weeks will be taken up with putting the river to bed for the winter, akin to giving the Blue Peter Tortoise a bit of a buff-up before shoving him in a box under the bed. The fringe must be knocked off and edged in, and the weed cut, in order that the river channel is free from all obstructions and the anticipated increased flows of winter remain within the riverbanks.
The Pheasants are feathering up nicely, there is a lot of natural food around at the moment coupled with the ripe Maize in the Cover Crops. So I have been feeding slightly less each day. It is easy o overfeed the pheasants and if you find that food is not being eaten it is important to cut back on the food. If they fill up to quickly because off an over abundance of food they have more time to walk. The trick is too feed just enough and make them work for their food.
I have also caught a Stoat this week in one of the Run cages, that I have set near the chicken house. Ruthless and efficient predators they kill both game and vermin two or three times their size. We once had a small Tabby Cat who was also a Natural Born Killer. My wife and I watched a Stoat chasing a Rabbit on the bank in our garden into the path of our small Cat. Instead of nabbing the Rabbit, the Cat went for the Stoat and all hell broke loose, the Cat eventually winning the day after several minutes of scrapping, the dopey Rabbit taking a ringside seat for the first two rounds before shuffling off backwards. There is an argument that Stoats are a good thing, if you have a burgeoning population of Rats; something that we have experienced since the fields behind our house were cut. In the end the Stoat was dispatched, poison put down for the rats and the Chicken’s safety preserved.
For several weeks I have been using an off the shelf poison, that has had no effect on the rat population whatsoever. On taking advice from the ratman I have changed the poison, he reported that many rats in the area were becoming resistant to difenicum the poison that I had been using. Since changing the poison the number of Rats have begun to fall. I have also been cleaning the fry tanks and egg baskets in preparation for Fish Stripping at the end of the month. Disinfecting all of the equipment and putting in the order for the fry fish food. The cost of fish food has risen dramatically over the last few years, High Protein Fry Food in particular becoming expensive. These are all costs that have to be balanced by the cost of a day’s fishing. With the current economical climate and people wary of spending money it is often the Leisure activities that people cut back on first, affecting all aspects of the Angling world. From tackle manufacturers to fish suppliers, sport Fisheries to sporting agents, all could feel the pinch over the coming year.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Week 39


Week 39

The penultimate week of our Trout season, fishing still difficult but more fish caught on the surface than subsurface with a nymph. Terry’s Terror always a successful late season fly on this stretch of the Dever with both Brown Trout and Grayling alike. The temperature dropped several degrees this week, checking the growth of the grass and fringe and instantly starting the change in colour of the leaves on many trees. The Horse Chestnuts are bare already, The Ash trees, that looked particularly sick last year, seem to have recovered and look particularly healthy.
For much of the week the river was crystal clear, the weed is getting a little straggly now its growth having been checked dramatically in the past few weeks. This year has seen very little blanket weed in this stretch of the river. A Filamentous algae that thrives in low water, high temperatures and a nutrient rich environment. It normally puts in an appearance in the last half of the season and can smother any good weed. At this time of the year it starts to roll up into balls and move down the river, it can’t be cut with a scythe and must be dragged out with grabs, a hard task as it is like dragging out a wet duvet. It can be a problem in the stew ponds and can be prevented to a certain extent by introducing Barley Straw in net bags in the spring. After many weeks an endotoxin is produced by the decomposing Barley Straw that inhibits the growth of the Filamentous algae, in ponds the effect can be quite dramatic. One year on the Flight pond, which is very high in nutrients due to the numbers of Duck roosting on there, and can heat up quite quickly due to the depth of water. Balls of blanket weed were seen to be forming, that disappeared over night, I had put a couple of bales of Barley Straw on the edge of the pond during the winter on which I fed the Ducks. The Ducks broke up the bales as they dug the feed barley out and the straw spread across the pond, sinking to the bottom, slowly decomposing until one day the level of the particular endotoxin was sufficient to quell the fast growing algae overnight. It appears to have no effect on fish or fly life.
I have started to feed the pond, and currently there are around fifty ducks coming in at Dusk. Four swans have also turned up for a feed, and have also been tearing at the weed in the river, pulling it out by the roots and turning the river to cocoa. We have had some reasonable hatches of Olives this week with some spinners getting back onto the water late in the afternoon. I have had to pull a chicken from the river today, I am not sure if it was chasing flies, but I had to dry the poor egg laying machine off with the hair dryer, it’s the first bit of hair styling I have had to do in a while; not sure it appreciated the hair straighteners though!
With the few colder days, the pheasants are beginning to gain their adult plumage. I am now feeding them in the woods and game covers where I need them to be on a shooting day, the feed walk around in the morning now takes the best part of an hour with a bit of dogging in on the way home.
Spaniels continue to be a problem, a phone call from a neighbouring keeper informing me that there was someone in a high viz jacket picking blackberries next to my top game cover and his spaniel was doing what it was bred to do and flushing game from cover. The dog was everywhere while Mr High Viz picked his berries, next to my game cover and fifty yards from a main road. I politely informed him that he was in the wrong place and asked him to make his way back to the footpath over a hundred yards away, which he did. What would someone think if I let my dogs jump all over their desk in an office or run around a shop damaging goods and then walk out with the briefest apology.
My boss and her son have been away in Scotland for their annual week Salmon fishing, not many fish but they did experience their first frost of the autumn, so it won’t be long before we have our first one here. She very kindly bought back some very nice award winning Black Pudding from a butcher in the town where they stay, I filled my case with it last year when I was invited up to fish and have only recently run out – Food of the Gods!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Week 38

Week 38

Another dry week and a continued improvement in the fishing. It is still not easy and many of the bigger fish’s thoughts are turning increasingly to spawning over feeding. The rewards at this time of the year can be so much the greater. To winkle out a sporadically feeding two pounder, worth a basket full of suicidal stockies at Mayfly time. This week I was lucky enough to be invited to fish on the Avon near The Woodfords. A similar size to the river Test near here, it had luxuriant weed growth, a steady trickle of Olives throughout the afternoon and several free rising fish. I have fished this stretch on several occasions at this time of the year and each time have seen Mayflies hatching, twice inducing fish to take a Mayfly Dun imitation in the middle of September. If you threw a Grey Drake at a fish on the Dever in September it would run a mile or sulk on the bottom for several days. On the Dever and the Test, Mayfly hatch intensely through the last two weeks in May and the first week in June in true “duffers fortnight” tradition and are non existent from the late June onwards. Twenty miles to the West on the Upper Avon they hatch throughout the summer with no particular peak time. Ten miles to the East on the Upper Itchen they rarely see a Mayfly; It’s a funny old world.
One morning this week, while feeding the Pheasants. Otis put a White Cormorant off the pond. I have never seen a white Cormorant before, through the power of modern technology I was able to contact several fellow keepers, who questioned whether I had been drinking and could it have been a Pelican, Flamingo, Spoonbill or Egret. I was twenty yards from the blasted thing and it was a white Cormorant; further investigation proved that they are occasionally seen on the Tweed in Scotland. I assume that it was an albino and not an “ermine” Cormorant heralding the onset of a particularly harsh winter.

The river has a late summer/early autumn sparkle at the moment, the weed is still in good condition and the water gin clear, fly trickles off the water and the trees lining the river are on the turn. The fringe has ceased to grow along with the grass, with two weeks left of our trout season there is little to do on the river.

The Pheasants have found the strips of Maize and are hammering the feeders. I hand feed a big bucket of wheat every morning and am filling up the pheasant feeders on the rides once a week. When the maize in the game cover has gone the Roe Deer knock the feeders over to get at the corn, at the moment there is an abundance of food for the Deer so they leave them alone.
The first part of this week I have spent cutting the hedges around the place. I do this by hand. For the large hedges around the stable yard and bordering the road I use a scaffold tower in the back of my pick up truck. Back my pick up truck up next to the hedge and climb to the top. The hedge bordering the stable yard is fifteen feet high and fifteen feet across and makes my arms ache; there is something to be said for fences and brick walls!

I continue to have a problem with an errant Spaniel, although I am assured that the owners are doing their best to keep him within the confines of the village. If numbers of Pheasants are low on a shooting day, the explanation to the guns that “Mrs Miggins” doesn’t keep her dog under control carries little weight.

By coincidence, a previous occupier of the same house was an elderly country gentleman who lived alone and had taken on a young Yellow Labrador Puppy for company and shooting. The dog was strong willed, lively and called Lark. On walks around the village and finding himself unable to keep up with the highly mobile “Lark” the elderly gentleman could be heard on his afternoon walk calling and calling,

Lark, Lark, Lark……… LARK!

F… Y.. Lark!!!

As the dog headed in a straight line for the Moon;

A shooting man he had Lark sorted out within a few months, but the Yellow Lab was forever known as F… Y.. Lark !

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Week 37

Week 37

No rain all week and an instant improvement in the fishing. Fish have been caught on every day of the week, mostly in the afternoon. From eleven o’clock onwards there has been a steady trickle of ephemerids hatching through to late afternoon, small Spurwings, Medium Olives and Pale Watery Olives; not huge numbers but enough to get the fish interested. Several of the Brown Trout in the river are starting to muck about and chase each other around, they also have periods when they become impatient with any passing Roach or Grayling that may be passing. This is often a sign that they are switching their minds away from feeding and onto spawning. They will feed less and less in the coming weeks, bringing a natural end to the Brown Trout season. The Grayling and Roach in the river are in prime condition, not spawning until early spring they are feeding hard. Several Grayling approaching two pound have been caught along with some Roach around the pound mark.
The dry weather has also enabled me to get the tractor out and top the meadows, I normally do this around four or five times a year, and try and tie it in with various Test matches as I can then sit on the tractor and listen to the cricket all day, this week it was the Ryder Cup.
I continue to have problems with the errant Spaniel, several times this week he has been found crunching pheasants, still no word of an apology just a “have you seen my dog?”
I have also been through the Wood and Game cover cutting the feed rides for the pheasants. These are pathways through the cover/wood on which you spread the corn to feed the pheasants, leading them to where you want them to be on a shooting day.
Otis my own puppy has had an operation on his eye, the lower eyelid was turning in on itself so he has had two dissolving stitches inserted to enable the eyelid turn outwards. He can now see twice as much of what is to him, is an incredibly exciting world. His cruising speed has now increased to around 20mph with brief bursts of 30mph. After a few years of sensible sedate dogs, Otis is proving to be quite a shock to the system; a garden of five thousand acres would not be big enough. On the training front, he retrieves the dummy very well, will walk to heel off the lead - if not distracted too much, and quarters reasonably well when searching out a hidden dummy in cover. He is however proving difficult to stop, when hunting game. When “dogging in” in the morning it is crucial that you are able to stop the dog before he reaches the young game birds, the idea is to “chivvy” the birds back to where they came from. One day this week Otis pursued a covey of Partridge over a hundred yards before he would respond to my call. He is very young, quite clever, full of personality but bloody hard work!
I have started to feed the Flight Pond this week. Seconds Barley are tipped around the edge of the pond to induce Wild Duck to spend the night on the pond. The Ducks like to feed in relatively shallow water and come into the pond at dusk. The half acre flight pond can have over two hundred ducks coming in to feed and roost at certain times of the year, and provides very exciting and sporting shooting. The types of duck visiting the pond vary throughout the winter, as do the numbers, and the time of night that they arrive. A good nights shooting on the pond would result in a total bag of around twenty having seen around two hundred birds.
The signs are obvious if you have large numbers of duck visiting the pond, the surface of the water is covered with feathers and a half-hundredweight of Barley has been eaten.

The Ducks shot are never wasted; Wild Duck is one of my, and many other’s favourites and tastes superb. The farmers around here have been combining like mad this week, quite slowly as most of the crop is laid on the ground but cutting well into the dark before they are stopped by the particularly damp night air. I am not sure of the quality of the crop cut and it still requires some drying but at least it is in off the field, although the straw cut cannot be of much quality.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Week 36

Week 36

We had a dry day at the start of the week and the fishing was fantastic, a steady hatch of Olives throughout the middle of the day and fish taking them just off or just in the surface. This was followed by three days of steady rain and wind in which little fly hatched and that which did was blown off the water, another dry day towards the end of the week found the fish back on station and feeding on a steady trickle of emerging Olives. Trout Grayling and Roach were all feeding steadily, occasionally breaking off to chase each other around.

The main part of the harvest is still waiting to be completed, I have been able to purchase some wheat to feed the pheasants, but getting hold of seconds Barley to feed the Ducks onto the Flight pond is proving very difficult. Every year several hundred acres of poppies are grown around the village under licence for medical use, I may be a simple riverkeeper but aren’t the Afghans quite good at this, and shouldn’t we be encouraging them to grow poppies for a legitimate market to help a war stricken country get back on its feet.

The dew in the morning is starting to get quite heavy now, and it highlights the incredible endeavours of spiders in their attempts to catch flies. Delicate and intricate cobwebs, weighed down by the dew. I am constantly amazed by their ability to spin a single strand of up to ten yards from one tree to another overnight, the logistics involved are mind boggling, and all for nothing when my stupid spaniel bumbles his way through it on our morning feed round.

I have also had the problem of a young Cocker Spaniel escaping from a house in the village and wreaking havoc through the woods. I had just spent an hour circumnavigating the boundary with my own dogs pushing the errant pheasants back to where they should be, when a local lady approached me and asked if I had seen her dog. The wood that I had just pushed all the pheasants into bordered the bottom of her garden, and the pheasants were now hastily exiting the wood in all directions. I suggested that she might find her dog in the wood and could she please remove it, so off she went without even a word of an apology; her last dog was the same. More militant keepers than I would have shot the dog and been within their rights to do so.

This week has also seen the first appearance of the blackberry pickers, which do seem to be quite large and plentiful this year - the blackberries, not the pickers. I am also on the lookout for Mushrooms and have already picked a puffball. Living in Cheshire, mushroom picking was a furtive, secretive and lonely pastime. Particular fields of pastureland produced good crops of mushrooms. My friends and I along with several other grown ups “in the know” would rise early in the morning so no one would detect your destination, pick a few pounds of mushrooms before returning the long way round to cover your tracks. One field in particular with a pond that we used to fish produced mushrooms for June onwards. They are few and far between down here, but it is interesting how the ones that grow in the wood under the Pine trees taste different to the ones that grow in the water meadow. During our trips to France, I am constantly aware of the foraging abilities of Mr and Mrs Frenchman, low tide on the beach will find them harvesting every different type of Winkle, Cockle and more, mushroom and fungi picking is a national pastime along with the gathering of nuts and every type of berry. I once fished a river in Burgundy where the Hommes in the neighbouring swim filled the boot of their car with over a hundred pound of Bream to keep them going through the winter: Sea Bream I can understand, but the good old dustbin lid Abramis Brama ?

We have many fruit trees around the place, most of which are reasonably well laden this year. Several years ago while feeling the pinch after the birth of our second child, I got into all things home made; Alcoholic mostly. Monday and Tuesday evenings would be spent making all manner of undrinkable homemade wines the majority distinctly average fizzy reds. We still have a few bottles that are aproaching their second decade and are primed for that special occasion when the drains need unblocking. Most of the recipes for the wines I produced came from the “Daddy” of home wine production - CJ Berry; an Andover man, whose early publications recommended the use of asbestos as an agent to fine down your wine. This may have been the vital ingredient lacking from my brew, as most of them turned out to be a disaster. Not wanting to waste the alcohol I had produced I distilled the most undrinkable batches using a home made still constructed from a saucepan, old heat lamp, and a copper pipe passing through a lemonade bottle of water as a condenser. The clear liquid produced was lethal; the only compliment it ever received was from a Scotsman raised in the outer islands, who did not get out much. I moved from wine to beer and not wanting to buy my own kit, I opted instead to produce my own malt extract. Several bags of Barley were soaked in water, then spread across the garage floor and allowed to chit. This was then heated over some burning peat that I dug out from the water meadows, and the malt extracted on the stove. Hops are abundant in this part of the Dever Valley, so I chucked in a handful along with some powdered yeast and awaited results. Several weeks later I had some crystal clear light beer, with a slight spritz that tasted of the Garage floor, give me John Smiths every time!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Week35


Week 35

Another tough week for fishing, and speaking to other keepers and rods who fish elsewhere the story is much the same up and down the river. The weather continues to be wet and windy with sporadic hatches of fly and fish feeding intermittently, if at all. There is a distinct autumnal feel in the air, with some trees starting to shed leaves, soon the Brown Trout in the river will be turning their minds to other things. We are around ten weeks off spawning although a fish caught this week contained some very well developed eggs. The urge to spawn in Trout is induced by decreasing day length, while the past few months have been particularly gloomy I can’t believe that the fish think it is November already. Hopefully they will have one last period of concerted feeding before committing themselves fully to the throes of spawning. The Grayling in the river are in superb condition, fatter than most years they will provide good sport once the trout season has finished. A fisherman reported seeing an Otter earlier in the week, hopefully it will have moved through and not got stuck in to one of the stew ponds.
Eels have been on the move and visible during the day. Mature Eels work their way downstream throughout late summer and autumn as they start their journey to the Sargasso Sea to spawn. Further down the river there are a number of large Eel sets used to catch the migrating Eels. The Eel set is a large cage mounted on one half of the back of a set of sluices that span the main river channel. During the day the river flows through the half of the sluices that do not have the Eel set mounted behind them, during the night these are closed and the sluices in front of the Eel set opened, the river flows through the Eel set and the Eels migrating downstream along with anything else that happens to be coming down river are caught in the set. The set must be cleaned and checked throughout the night by the keeper, the Eels removed and kept alive in a secure tank. Dark nights with no moon and wind and rain are the most productive nights, the catch can number many hundreds of Eels. The majority are between one and two pounds in weight, with the bigger Eels coming towards the end of the run; twenty years ago most of the Eels were picked up by a man who ran a famous Eel pie shop in London, today many are taken to the continent or are used for smoking. Occasionally at this time of the year I while come across a big Eel making its way across the meadow to the river, having grown fat in the pond and reached a great age, the urge to spawn leads it to cross dry land in an attempt to find flowing water that will take it to the sea. We are a little high up the river to justify running an Eel set, and lack a suitable set of sluices. I have used a Fyke Net to catch a few when conditions have been right my best catch being between thirty and forty some years ago.
We still have wheat waiting to be cut around the village, along with several fields of beans. Our cross eyed cat, that was sold to us a female killing machine but is in fact a fat male slug, has made great use of the open stubble field behind our house, moving on from terrorising frogs and dragonflies to the odd Rabbit. To achieve success the rabbits must be sat in pairs so that when he dives for the one on the right he catches the one on the left, he then leaves the bloody stump of the back end of the rabbit on the stairs. On one occasion my wife woke the house with her screams after putting her bare foot straight into the pile of blood and gore while seeking out a glass of water.The Pheasants are moving further and further away from the release pen each day. I feed them a bucket of wheat every morning and have feeders placed throughout the wood. Each day I feed a little further from the pen leading the birds to the game cover or the part of the wood where you would like them to be on a shooting day. It is important to get the amount of food right; too much food that is too easily available and the birds fill up quickly and then go for a walk, hopefully not off your land. Too little food and they will walk off looking for it. As the birds do get older they will inevitably wander. To counter this I will have to circumnavigate the boundary of the land with the dogs every morning, gently chasing the Pheasants back into the woods and the game covers. Some strains of Pheasant particularly Michigan Blues have a tendency to wander more than others, they are a smaller bird with a blue/grey back that fly particularly well, but cover a substantial acreage on their travels. For our relatively small area we require a big old Hampshire bird with short legs and strong wings that has no desire to see the world

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Week 34

Week 34

Weather wise, a more settled week, September often sees an improvement in fishing. Fishermen had a slightly more successful week, taking most fish on plain drab nymph patterns, anything too flashy or too weighted scaring more fish than it catches.
There are several fish that I would term as “time wasters” to all but the most experienced angler. Every season we have them, fish that have been in the river for two seasons or more and have grown to a good size. They will sit high in the water on the fin, rising sporadically but looking at most things that cross their path. They hold station for hours and are seemingly oblivious to human effort to remove them from the river. In cricketing terms they are “in” and “seeing it like a football” Completely aware of the human presence and confident in their ability to discriminate natural fly from artificial. If they had hands they could tie a hundred patterns of fly from memory and would stick two fingers up to any passing angler. Once or twice a year they may make a slight mistake and slash at the wrong Mayfly or mouth an unusual nymph, their size and bulk rescuing them as they are hooked and banking the memory for future reference.
Other fish, although slightly less discerning still require near perfect presentation. Often with choosy fish at this time of the year some anglers will get hung up on fly pattern, Choice of fly is important, the decision made by observing what the fish are feeding on, or by what people have been catching on. There are thousands of different fly patterns representing the different life stages of less than fifty natural flies. The surface feeding trout sees flies against a light background in silhouette making size and shape important, colour less so. The way they sit on the surface is also a factor, and ultimately it must be presented correctly. The difference between a gold flash on the body of the fly or the shape of the wing is minimal, but can become a distraction for the struggling angler, who will not fish as confidently and ultimately as well if they are not one hundred percent sure about what they are offering to the trout or doubts persist about the nylon they are using or the knot they have tied. The keeper is often asked what fly the angler should be using, I will often give three or four patterns and if successful often wonder if the fly caught the fish because the choice of fly was taken by someone who is “supposed” to know what he is talking about and thus the angler fishes with more confidence, or if any other pattern would have tempted the fish if the rod fished in the same way with the same degree of confidence.
The harvest around here continues at a sporadic pace, and there must be some question marks over the quality of the crop that is now being harvested. The mustard that I broadcast into the gaps in the Gamecover crops has germinated and is now around a foot high. It provides good early winter cover for game birds, but suffers at the onset of the first hard frosts.
Many stubbles are now “direct-drilled” as minimum tillage becomes the “en vogue” method of farming. Instead of the field being ploughed, pressed and drilled, the seed is scratched into the surface by the direct drill. For three consecutive years the fields that we shoot over were cultivated in this manner, it is quick cheap and provides a similar return per acre as ploughing and drilling. One noticeable feature of direct drilling is the hardness of the surface of the ground over the winter months. The ground has not been turned over and fluffed up by the plough and is more compact. The water runs off it much quicker, whereas a ploughed field has a greater ability to retain water that will ultimately get down into the aquifer. A ploughed field will have a hard pan underneath the surface but the twelve inches of soft soil above it has a greater ability to hold water than a field that has been “direct drilled”. A thick sward of grass on pastureland also has the ability to retain a certain amount of water that will ultimately make its way down into the aquifer and ultimately the chalk stream. It may come across as a crackpot theory borne out of too much tractor noise while mowing the paddock, but I am sure that water runs faster off a direct-drilled field than it does a ploughed one, and along with it the chemicals and sprays that have been administered to the crop. Geese and Ducks are now stubbling on the few fields of barley stubble around the village. At football practice the other night there were over fifty Greylags in the neighbouring field with various ducks flighting into the field for a late evening feed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Week 33

Week 33

More rain and more wind, the weed cut ended on Tuesday and true to form a load of weed came down the river on the Wednesday. Fishing is still difficult, as many fish caught on the surface as on a nymph. Fly hatches are sporadic and very weather dependant, the forecast for the coming week is more settled and it will be interesting to see what effect it has on the regularity of fly hatches and the feeding patterns of fish.
The pheasants are doing well. Hard as nails after the recent spell of weather, and beginning to move further away from the pen during the day. One morning this week I arrived at the Chicken run to find my nine brown egg-laying machines accompanied by about fifty pheasant poults; they all seemed to get on and were quite happy to sit down and break bread together.
Another example of a bird being in the wrong place occurred on Thursday. A regular rod had to share part of his day with a Cormorant that was fishing in a short twenty yard stretch of river. Unbothered by his human competitor the bird continued to fish for a full ten minutes before lumbering away with a belly full of fish.
This stretch of river is an alien environment for a Cormorant. Too small, too shallow and full of weed this bird must have been a juvenile pushing the boundaries. He left having taken a few fish and leaving his mark on several others.
Cormorants are a menace to inland fisheries. My son and I fish a pond lower down the valley that is regularly visited by Cormorants, the most we have seen get off the pond is twenty one. The pond is now void of any fish under two pounds and stocking with any other fish is out of the question.
Lakes and rivers in the middle of the country, as far as is possible to be from the coast, have experienced similar problems with this coastal bird. There are too many Cormorants, or not enough fish around the coast; whatever the reason the problem needs addressing with a healthy dose of common sense.
The corn in the fields is still waiting to be cut, a couple of farmers commenting that some crops are past their best and hardly worth cutting, I can only remember one occasion when crops have been chopped in the field and ploughed back into the ground and that was about twelve years ago after a fortnight of late summer rain destroyed the last knockings of the harvest. Currently our neighbouring estate is less than half way through harvest with corn way past its best.
The Game cover this year has been a little patchy. We have one good strip of maize, and one on top of the hill that is not so good with less than fifty percent germination; we will be charged the same for both strips as billing for Game Cover is not performance related.
Yesterday my wife and I were roused in the morning to the sound of a Collie pinning a three month old Roe Deer in the field behind our house. After I chased the dog off in my dressing gown (a sight that would undoubtedly deter larger beasts) The fawn recovered, the dog departed confused by it’s base actions, and everyone survived to see another day. There are lots of Deer around here, and lots of footpaths with people and dogs, occasionally things like this happen that could be avoided with a little more thought by the dog’s owner.
A friend of mine works on a farm, and is also employed as a part time Fireman. He drives the engine and is a “vital cog” in the whole operation, or so he tells me. One late summer Saturday evening they were called to fire in a barn containing some newly harvested bales of Barley Straw. The fire was safely extinguished and his engine was detailed to stand watch overnight in case the barn should flare up again. At first light the dozing firefighters were approached by a distressed lady who had just hit a Roe deer with her Nissan Micra, she was concerned for the stricken animal and could the gallant Firefighters come to her assistance. With a gurgling stomach the ravenous engine driver assured the lady that he would deal with problem, finished off the doomed deer with his fire axe, restarted the barn fire and fed his compatriots on Fillet of Venison for breakfast!
Living the dream boys, living the dream.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Week 32


Week 32

Another hard week for fishing plus the August weed cut is already upon us. Heavy Showers in the early part of this week turned the river the colour of cocoa, although a rare brace of successive settled days towards the end of the week bought about a huge improvement in the fishing. Two days of reasonable hatches of medium Olives and Spurwings and the fish came up on the fin and looked vaguely interested in what was going on around them.
I will not have to cut too much weed this week, growth is not so prolific on this stretch at this time of the year, any holes or bars cut in the weed can often be replaced by brown or filamentous algae which gives the river a sickly appearance; I will cut and edge in the fringe and trim the ribbon weed and leave it at that.
Pheasants are fine and fast developing webbed feet. After one overnight intense shower during the week, I arrived at the release pen in the morning to find the floor of the pen covered in a sheet of water and the pheasants still up on their roost.
The weather is wreaking havoc with the harvest on the surrounding land, no corn has been cut around here for a fortnight or more, the past two days have seen fine weather, instigating a mad dash among the combine and corn cart fraternity to get some corn in the dryer. The field of Barley behind our house is far from dry. In the current weather conditions farmers will be forced to cut corn with a high moisture content that will take a great deal of drying in the corn dryer. This will use a lot of oil and with the current high energy prices will no doubt result in a rise in cost of many items on the shelves of our shops. Last year I paid £120 a ton for wheat to feed the pheasants, almost double what I had paid the previous year, this year I anticipate a similar increase: and they say that inflation in this country is running at between four and five percent!
This week we have been out rabbit shooting on the fields that we shoot over. This involves three blokes standing in the back of my pick up, two armed with shotguns and one with a high powered spot light driving around the headlands of the fields just after dark shooting as many Rabbits as they can. The Rabbit population, if left unchecked, would eventually take over the world, on my patch they would munch several acres of the farmer’s crop if we didn’t carry out our annual cull post harvest.
While the Rabbits are our main quarry we will also shoot the odd fox. We often see Badgers, numerous Roe Deer and the odd Muntjac. Owls are always very entertaining, often they are out for a Rabbit themselves and can often be quite obstinate; we regularly drive to within ten yards of a Tawny Owl that stands on a particular fence post; after a brief stand off it is always us who blinks first and moves on. One of the disturbing features of later years have been the few foxes that have been released on to our land after spending time in animal rescue centres or been caught up in urban areas. Unafraid of man and his lights and guns, they are easy prey for the earnest Gamekeeper. Well intentioned as their actions may be, these animal rescuers undoubtedly fail when releasing their mended animals back into areas where shooting and fishing are a way of life.
As I write, my hooligan of a black Labrador puppy Otis, lays on his back, under my chair, a gardening glove in his mouth snoring his head off. It’s a long and arduous journey this dog training lark!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Week 31

Week 31

More mixed weather and the difficult fishing continues; with poor hatches of fly and changeable weather it is difficult to predict the exact time at which the fish will choose to feed. An indicator of the poor hatches of fly is the behaviour of the Swallows, Swifts and House Martins. Eager to source insects to build up strength for their impending flight south, they would at this time of the year be expected to be swooping low over the river and water meadows to feed on the hatching flies, instead they remain high in the sky or whizzing across unharvested fields seeking out terrestrial insects. Some years the Martins and Swallows nesting in the stables adjoining our house have had three broods, this year few have managed a second brood.
This time last year we were inundated with Daddy Long Legs that made up for any shortfall in fodder for feeding fish or birds, so far this year we have had very few Daddy Long Legs.
The Pheasants in the pen are doing well, bad weather makes for a hardier Game bird and this lot seem as tough as teak, coping easily with the intense showers and driving wind. To deter Foxes and Raptors I place a radio in the release pen along with several flashing lights in the hope that potential predators will associate the light and noise with a human presence and back off. I have often wondered whether the choice of channel affects the behaviour of the birds in the pen. A night of Radio Four or Three and they can appear particularly austere. Twenty four hours of dance music and they are all strutting around like James Brown, two hours of Radio Two and Terry Wogan and they are sat around shooting the breeze, while a short spell of Radio One in the evening has them fighting and tearing holes in the wire.
With the first cut of corn comes the perennial problem of poachers and pikeys out to take a deer or chase some hares with dogs or rifles. At the moment with little corn cut in our area there are small patches of stubble across the county. This has the effect of concentrating hare populations, which attract the illegal lurcher boys who are out to run dogs illegally for big money. They are not a nice bunch; don’t care much for their dogs, the quarry, or for anyone who happens to get in their way. They will travel many miles to run their dogs, and while out on their travels will have an opportunistic eye out for anything else they can lift. I have had to deal with several groups of these “gents” intermittently during my time here. Normally if you let them know that you are “on to them” they will move off to another area, sometimes they will get grumpy and rough you up a bit, something that has happened to me only once. Occasionally if the police have got there in time, and in an appropriate vehicle they will set off on some lunatic charge across fields crashing through fields and hedges until they make their escape. They are more often and not built like brick outhouses and not open to reasoned conversation.
This week we have been blessed with the presence of a particularly engaging bunch. Up from Southampton they have been chasing Roe deer with rifles in an old Range Rover. No barrier will stop them, tree trunks placed across farm tracks have been eased out of the way by the three Leviathans that emerge from the vehicle’s rear seat, bolted double gates smashed from their hinges and chucked in the hedge. They are breed apart and probably don’t exist on any register or poll in the County; one that I came face to face with recently had some particularly distinctive tattoos all over his face that would make him instantly recognisable to anyone who had made his briefest acquaintance, he had a history of misdemeanour written all over him (not literally) yet I would bet that he was known to few government agencies or departments.
This time last year the ash trees were looking very sick with significant die back in the crown, this year the ash trees look fine and it is the Horse Chestnuts and Poplars that look a little sick. Both have leaves already turning brown on both young and old trees. A Whitebeam in my employer's garden has also lost a third of its leaves.
With the school holidays upon us, my son and his mates have been fishing the pond. Yesterday as he was landing a twelve ounce Roach a Pike of around five pounds grabbed the fish held onto it for ten seconds before escaping, an occurrence that occassionally happens in the river. My son re-cast with his float rig on 3lb line with bread flake as bait on a size 18 hook and within seconds the Pike he had just lost took his bread and was landed within a few minutes. I have heard of Pike occassionally eating strange things, a friend once caught a double figure fish on Cheese and I remember fishing the Dorset Stour and throwing my sandwiches at the end of the day into an eddy of a weir pool. A double figure Pike rose from the depths and took one of the crusts from the surface, as a trout would delicately take an Olive. While spinning on the river I was attending to a tangle on the reel with my number 2 Mepps was static on the bottom, A Jack Pike of around 5 pounds drifted across the stream and picked up the Static Mepps from the bed of the river
Otis is coming on well. Full of beans, his energetic bounding highlights the ageing of his Uncle Zebo. Gifted added wisdom in recent weeks, Zebo dispatches his “Old Chinese proverbs” in staccato barks at inopportune moments that have us all jumping out of our chairs.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Week 30

Week 30

Another tricky week for fishing, July is always a hard month on this stretch of river this one particularly so; there was even a four day period when no fish were caught despite the stocking over the previous two weeks. Some rods would put a fishless day down to the keeper not stocking and the river being devoid of all fish; it is a small river, the water is clear, we must be able to see everything in the river channel. Occasionally when stocking with Brown Trout at this time of the year they will put their heads down, tuck themselves away and concentrate on sub surface feeding, this is particularly the case if hatches of fly are poor. To counteract this quirk of mixed sex Brown Trout, some beats stock with Rainbow Trout that are more free- rising in the second half of the season. As we have a “ mixed sex Brown Trout” stocking policy, rods have to accept that this is the way the fishing may go at this time of year and develop tactics to deceive the Browns that feed for only a short time during the day.
As I have stated previously, a batch of hatchery reared mixed sex Brown Trout will all be different in appearance, some will be completely clear of spots, others will have a line of ten or more red spots on their bronze flanks. Some will have a complete covering of large black spots, some covered in fine black spots. Each one is unique, and when it comes to stocking the story is the same. Some will be caught within the day, others within a week. Some will take a month to rise while one or two will tuck themselves away and occupy a particular lie for three or four years. Several seasons ago we had a stocked hen fish in the middle of our stretch of river, that we would see for the first two weeks of the season and the last two weeks of the season. I witnessed her spawning for three years in succession, and on the final time I saw her she was approaching double figures in weight. For three years she disappeared for the majority of the season, tucking herself away under some tree root or overhanging sedge mat, feeding well and packing on weight. She was never caught, and probably died without any one knowing, unless she has grown so fat that she can’t get out of her hidey-hole.
This stretch of river is twenty feet across at its widest point and gin clear; yet canny Browns with no real hunger can still conceal themselves with ease.
An improvement in the midday hatches of ephemerids would help matters, hatches of sedge from late afternoon onwards remain good, a lower flying insect than the Olive, their ability to get back to the water to lay eggs less impaired by the wet and windy weather of twelve months ago. A sure sign of a dearth of hatching Olives during the day are the Swallows, Swifts and Martins who climb ever higher in the sky in their quest for an afternoon snack. If Olives are hatching they will all be swooping low over the river to snack on the hatching Olive Duns. Wagtails too will also be darting out from the fringe to take the hatching insects, along with the rapidly maturing juvenile waterfowl. I have spent several days this week preparing for the arrival of the Pheasants. Eight weeks old they will have their flight feathers clipped to prevent them flying out of the pen. The pen comprises a wooded area surrounded by a six feet high wire fence; this has a ten-inch high electric fence around it to deter foxes. The pen is wooded but has clear areas cut through it to provide areas of sunlight, there is a radio playing- the human voice deterring predators, and several flashing lights that serve the same purpose. The birds are fed with pellets and have a ready supply of water, within one or two days all the birds will be roosting at night in the trees in the pen. As the birds’ flight feathers grow back they will be able to fly over the perimeter fence and spend the day in the woodland outside the pen, although they will continue to return to the pen or the trees surrounding it to have an evening feed, listen to the radio, and roost at night

Friday, July 25, 2008

Week 29

Week 29

A better week for weather but not for fishing; Monday and Tuesday were allocated as “clearing off” days, when all cut weed that hangs up on bridges, weed bars or shallows is moved on downstream. The clearing off days are staggered, for example if Monday and Tuesday are “clearing off” days on the upper Test and its tributaries, Tuesday and Wednesday are the “clearing off” days for the Middle Test, and Wednesday and Thursday for the Lower Test. Weed Cutting Dates are roughly the same every year, are proposed by the Test and Itchen Association and Licensed by The Environment Agency under the Water Resources Act. The main aim behind the Weed Cutting dates is to ensure the minimal disruption to fishing on the river, if keepers were permitted to cut weed whenever they choose there could be cut weed coming down the river on every day of the season, which would ruin the fishing. A mechanical digger on a weed rack North of Romsey takes all of the weed cut out of the river, if the weed were allowed to go beyond the rack it would block the many culverts that flow through Romsey and flood the town centre.
Over the past few seasons, more and more weed has been flowing down the river outside the weed cutting dates, “clearing off” days are used for weed cutting particularly by hard pressed keepers who often have several bits of river to look after across the county. It is not that long ago that upstream of this stretch of water there were four full time keepers, now every keeper above this stretch has other fishing elsewhere to look after, with their stretch of the Dever keepered part time.
Several years ago I was asked to look at a piece of water on a neighbouring chalk stream with a view to looking after it on a part time basis, the stretch was nearly twice the length of the stretch that I currently care for and needed several major areas of work to bring the fishing up to the level that the owners were looking for. I declined the offer and the owners have gone through more keepers than I can count on one hand in less than ten years. While machinery and technology can be labour saving, there are still many aspects of this job that are labour intensive, cutting weed with a scythe is one of them, requiring the same number of man hours today as it did fifty years ago.
This week after clearing my stretch of river of cut weed on Tuesday, I awoke on Wednesday to find my beats choked with cut weed, nothing had come down the river in the preceding seven days. It is not the first time it has happened, and it is becoming all to frequent, last year, after a particularly heavy June and July weed cut, I was still seeing huge rafts of weed coming down the river two days after the last “clearing of” day
I have spoken to several keepers on the middle river over the last week about my problem of cut weed coming down the river outside of the weed cutting dates, all have shrugged their shoulders and said that has been the way for the past few seasons.
Twenty years ago, as a student on the middle Test I was admonished by a keeper from a lower beat for allowing fringe cuttings that would not fill a supermarket carrier bag to fall into the river. Cut weed should not be going down the river outside of the weed cutting dates. Anglers are having an expensive days fishing spoiled by cut weed coming down the river outside the weed cutting dates, in “corporate terms” the reputation of the end product is being damaged by the ineptitude of the few, and we will suffer all the more because of it. Weed Cutting dates are stipulated by a Government Agency under a Legal Act yet no one is ever admonished for breaking the rules.
On a lighter note, the fringe of the river is coming into flower, the Purple Loosestrife and the fine weather bringing an influx of butterflies. The fishing is the hardest I have known it for some years; wild fish and fish stocked have kept their heads down, although I have just taken some fish in for smoking from a rod that has had some late evening sport with a Lunns Particular, a fly that imitates the spinner stage of the Blue Winged Olive, and has hardly been seen so far this season.