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.