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.