Thursday, May 29, 2008

Week 20

Week 20

My employer has a friend who is a well-known artist, he and his family visit annually for either shooting or fishing. This past weekend he has been down for some Mayfly fishing. He has been keeping a couple of Adders in a snake pit, because he likes snakes and needs to observe animals so that he can best portray them on canvas. Last week he looked in on his adders to find a hen pheasant in the snake pit, she had already battered one 26inch adult to death, and was in the process of finishing off its partner. Whether it was a maternal instinct to protect her brood, or just an inbuilt desire to “take out the trash” it was a remarkable display by what is normally one of nature’s more timid creatures. Snakes abound in this particular part of Hampshire every summer I come across Grass Snakes sunning themselves on the river bank, although harmless, I am always stopped in my tracks by their size, a three feet grass snake not uncommon. Occasionally I have seen Adders that are easily distinguished by their distinctive pattern and defined head. We have even had grass snakes munching frogs in our garden pond that is not more than four feet across, a reptile hot tub with snacks!
The David and Goliath theme is not that uncommon in the bird world in early summer when broods must be protected. Crows and Rooks will often risk life and limb mobbing birds of prey three times their size in order to protect their progeny. Swallows and Martins behave the same when faced with our gormless cat; his cross-eyed stare oblivious to their seventy mile an hour death dives across his nose. Other birds opt for diversionary tactics, spook a mallard mum with chicks and she will act the injured bird, flapping and crashing across the water away from her brood, drawing you away from her off spring before taking off circling once and landing back down with her brood. Lapwings, ground-nesting birds when faced with an oncoming mower will try and draw you away from the nest with some scatty running.
A few years ago I was mowing the rides through the wood on the tractor mower when I saw a Woodcock get up around ten yards in front of me, as I made my noisy and sedate progress down the path she circled my head a few times at a distance of about six feet before dropping to the ground in front of the mower. I stopped the mower and she sprung from the undergrowth with a chick between her knees, flying about eight feet before dropping to the ground dropping off number one son to return twice more for her other two chicks. She only flew a distance of eight feet and at a height of six feet, the flight was particularly laboured, but she picked her three to four week old chicks up by clasping them with her legs. Some years we have Woodcock with broods some years we don’t, one sure sign that they are about are the holes they make with their beaks in the muddy patches in the wood around the spring holes.
The Carp and coarse fish in the pond are very active, the Carp spawning vigorously on the tree roots, the Roach, Rudd and Bream getting the act over very quickly, one Bream that I picked out with my hands from the tree roots having skin like coarse sand paper, spawning tubercles transforming this normally slimy creature to an emery board. Grass cutting for most of the week, stand still and you can see the grass growing at the moment.

Week19

Week 19

More fine weather at the start of the week and the May fly hatches are building up, most rods are taking between two and four fish, while it has not been necessary to stock any fish into our beat yet, I have been delivering fish to several other parts of the river. We have a small surplus of fish that we produce to sell off to a few regular customers. This week it was up to the top of the Test, where the water is gin clear and around the same size as the River Dever. I have taken fish to this particular stretch for the past six years, only around fifty of about a pound and a half. It is not heavily fished, the fish are mixed sex Brown Trout and on this occasion I was amazed at the number of one and two year old small Brown Trout in the river.
Stocking fish means jumping in the stew pond with a seine net dragging it around the whole pound, making sure to keep the lead line on the bottom of the pond and the float line on the surface, if the lead line lifts, the fish go under, if the float line sinks the fish go over. Once you have circumnavigated the pond with net you pull the float line and the lead line slowly in reducing in size the area of the net in which the fish are held. Once the fish are all into the side of the pond the float line is pegged and the lead line drawn up the side of the pond until it is completely out of the water, the fish are now held in the net, which forms a kind of submerged hammock. The fish are removed from the seine net with a dip net which is like a reinforced landing net, and tipped into a tin bath half full of water, where I will sort through them by hand, checking that the fish to be stocked do not have torn or rounded fins, no lesions or scars, both eyes are working and that they look in good shape. The fish are then put into a double skinned fibreglass tank on the back of my pick up. The tank is three quarters full with spring water and has an Oxygen bottle alongside linked to a diffuser in the tank that keeps the water in the tank well oxygenated. Full to the top and brim full of fish the load weighs around a tonne and a half, and makes for testing driving, braking or accelerating causing the water to slosh around. The stocking trips this week have been short trips of only twenty minutes, I have three trips a season into Sussex of around an hour, the furthest I have delivered, to The Duke of Westminster’s Eaton Estate in Cheshire, two trips of 75 3lb trout to stock into a lake on the estate; the fish in the tank for over six hours in the middle of the summer, swimming away perfectly happily on arrival. Fish kept in a tank for a reasonable length of time on highly oxygenated water, have to readjust their swim bladders when stocked into a lake or a river, they do this by porpoising, breaking the surface to burp off the excess gas, inexperienced fishermen on seeing this will often mistake the surface breaking for a rise or feeding fish, casting their fly at flatulent fish that have no intention of feeding.
Otis is settling in well and getting along with the other two dogs, although the fat idle cat is proving a tough nut to crack, no training yet, just shovelling the food in one end and clearing it up when it comes out the other.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Week 18

Week 18

Beautiful weather, and the first signs of Mayfly, only a few hatching but towards the end of the week the fish were starting to take the odd one from the surface. It often takes a few heavy hatches before the fish start their annual gorge during which even the most canny and gnarled old trout in the river may make a reckless mistake. Termed “duffers fortnight” by some, the length of the Mayfly season varies from year to year the heaviest hatches and the best fishing are normally the last two weeks in May and the first week in June, although for the last few seasons I have seen the odd Mayfly hatching at the start of May, and the end of June. Fish become preoccupied with these huge ephemerids, as do the birds. It is no fun being a Mayfly, assuming you make it up from the bottom of the river where you have spent your life so far as a larvae, you must endure a risky period when you are breaking through the surface film opening and drying your wings as the river takes you downstream over all species of hungry fish, and past all manner of hungry wildfowl. You must then take flight, starting slowly, avoiding the wagtails that dart out from the bank to pluck you from the air. You can then rest a while before performing a mating dance in the open air where the Swallows and Martins will mercilessly pick you off before falling back onto the river to die dropping your ball of fertilised eggs into the river, where they will fall to the bottom, hatch out after a few weeks as larvae who will live in the bed of the river until the following May. Fish gorge themselves silly on Mayflies, although every year they will reach a point where they become sated, and will not rise to a natural or imitation mayfly, sticking to the canapés of smaller flies such as Iron blues or medium Olives that may also be hatching at the same time. Early on in the mayfly season the fish may become preoccupied with the hatching Mayfly – the dun. Green, yellow and Grey patterns of imitation Mayfly with the wings erect are the most successful. As the Mayfly period progresses the numbers of spent Mayfly – spinners falling on the water increase, and the fish ignore the duns hatching in the day preferring to wait for the heavy fall of spinners in the evening. These spent mayfly are represented by black and white patterns with horizontal wings.
It is a very popular time to be fishing the southern chalkstreams, most beats will be fully booked, with rods travelling a long way and paying premium prices for the best days. On this stretch of the Dever, if a monster is to be landed it is often during this period, the small number of double figure fish that have been caught here have all been during the Mayfly, the best a fish of over twelve pounds that had been in roughly the same lie for five years.
This week I have also been able to move the fish out from the hatchery and into the concrete stew pond, I normally carry this out during April, but have been holding off because of the coloured nature of the river water due to the heavy spring rain. The hatchery is run on spring water, gin clear and a constant temperature; the concrete stew pond into which they have been moved is much bigger, providing the extra space that they need, but is run on river water. If the river water is too coloured the suspended solids can irritate the young fishes’ gills, causing a build up of mucus, their gills fail to function efficiently and make them susceptible to other infections. At the first sign of a gill infection I dip the fish in a rock salt solution, which is relatively effective if carried out early. If the infection takes a hold then antibiotics are the only course of action.
Midweek we got our new black Labrador puppy – Otis. Nephew of my nine year old black lab Zebo he has already chewed through a phone cable. If he is to surpass his uncle he must now go on to chew a mobile phone, digital camera, and completely consume, bar the reel seat and bottom ring, an eight-foot Hardy fibalite spinning rod.
He is a chunk of a pup with a dome of a head and great big feet, my spaniel – Dobby although male has gratefully accepted the role of dotty aunt.

Week 18

Week 18

Beautiful weather, and the first signs of Mayfly, only a few hatching but towards the end of the week the fish were starting to take the odd one from the surface. It often takes a few heavy hatches before the fish start their annual gorge during which even the most canny and gnarled old trout in the river may make a reckless mistake. Termed “duffers fortnight” by some, the length of the Mayfly season varies from year to year the heaviest hatches and the best fishing are normally the last two weeks in May and the first week in June, although for the last few seasons I have seen the odd Mayfly hatching at the start of May, and the end of June. Fish become preoccupied with these huge ephemerids, as do the birds. It is no fun being a Mayfly, assuming you make it up from the bottom of the river where you have spent your life so far as a larvae, you must endure a risky period when you are breaking through the surface film opening and drying your wings as the river takes you downstream over all species of hungry fish, and past all manner of hungry wildfowl. You must then take flight, starting slowly, avoiding the wagtails that dart out from the bank to pluck you from the air. You can then rest a while before performing a mating dance in the open air where the Swallows and Martins will mercilessly pick you off before falling back onto the river to die dropping your ball of fertilised eggs into the river, where they will fall to the bottom, hatch out after a few weeks as larvae who will live in the bed of the river until the following May. Fish gorge themselves silly on Mayflies, although every year they will reach a point where they become sated, and will not rise to a natural or imitation mayfly, sticking to the canapés of smaller flies such as Iron blues or medium Olives that may also be hatching at the same time. Early on in the mayfly season the fish may become preoccupied with the hatching Mayfly – the dun. Green, yellow and Grey patterns of imitation Mayfly with the wings erect are the most successful. As the Mayfly period progresses the numbers of spent Mayfly – spinners falling on the water increase, and the fish ignore the duns hatching in the day preferring to wait for the heavy fall of spinners in the evening. These spent mayfly are represented by black and white patterns with horizontal wings.
It is a very popular time to be fishing the southern chalkstreams, most beats will be fully booked, with rods travelling a long way and paying premium prices for the best days. On this stretch of the Dever, if a monster is to be landed it is often during this period, the small number of double figure fish that have been caught here have all been during the Mayfly, the best a fish of over twelve pounds that had been in roughly the same lie for five years.
This week I have also been able to move the fish out from the hatchery and into the concrete stew pond, I normally carry this out during April, but have been holding off because of the coloured nature of the river water due to the heavy spring rain. The hatchery is run on spring water, gin clear and a constant temperature; the concrete stew pond into which they have been moved is much bigger, providing the extra space that they need, but is run on river water. If the river water is too coloured the suspended solids can irritate the young fishes’ gills, causing a build up of mucus, their gills fail to function efficiently and make them susceptible to other infections. At the first sign of a gill infection I dip the fish in a rock salt solution, which is relatively effective if carried out early. If the infection takes a hold then antibiotics are the only course of action.
Midweek we got our new black Labrador puppy – Otis. Nephew of my nine year old black lab Zebo he has already chewed through a phone cable. If he is to surpass his uncle he must now go on to chew a mobile phone, digital camera, and completely consume, bar the reel seat and bottom ring, an eight-foot Hardy fibalite spinning rod.
He is a chunk of a pup with a dome of a head and great big feet, my spaniel – Dobby although male has gratefully accepted the role of dotty aunt.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Week 17

Week 17

Opening week of the fishing season and weather affected to say the least. Buds are still waiting to break on many of the trees and the fishing has been heavily affected by the weather. For the first two weeks of the season you would expect most of the fish to be caught on a fly imitating the Hawthorn fly. These flies only appear at this time of the year, are large, black and have two large black legs hanging down from their bodies as they fly. They are easily distinguishable, as they look like no other fly. They are a land based fly and are often an indicator of how wet the preceding winter has been. Wet winters result kin many of the Hawthorn larvae being drowned, resulting in small hatches of Hawthorn. Dry winters can often result in bumper hatches of Hawthorns. They get their name from the Hawthorn that blooms around the time of their hatching, although around here the Hawthorn hatches have been more in sync with the Blackthorn. In this stretch of the river valley, it is not unusual to find large numbers of Hawthorn bumbling around over hedges some distance from the river, sometimes with the right wind you can get large number of these blown down onto the river resulting in some spectacular fishing. The over wintered trout taking advantage of the fat black flies blown onto the water. Over on upper reaches of the Itchen they will be hoping for large hatches of another dark sedge like fly, The Grannom. These will also provide a feast for early season trout; this stretch of the Dever does not experience hatches of Grannom. The number of Olives hatching have built up as spring progresses, coupled with a short hatch of Daddy Long legs that we always experience in late April early May.
This year the hatches of Hawthorn have been later than usual and smaller in number, reflecting the prolonged wet winter. Most of the fish caught this week have been caught with old-fashioned Olive patterns like Greenwell’s Glory. Early in the week the fishing was affected by showers, fly hatching during the brief dry periods from late morning to late afternoon, the drop in temperature late in the day putting an end to the fishing. Wednesday was a wash out with torrential rain all day; the river turned the colour of cocoa, and didn’t clear until Thursday afternoon when rods started catching fish again. The river continued to clear towards the end of the week, the temperature rising and the fishing improving because of it. All of the fish caught so far have been fish that have over wintered in the river, the best a beautifully conditioned Hen Brown Trout of four pounds. This may well have been a fish that was stocked several seasons ago, no fish are stocked on this stretch of the river over two pounds in weight. Several of the fish around the two-pound mark were in tiptop condition, several rods commenting on the hard fight they had put up before being landed. Several looked like they could be some of the fry that we stock directly into river, these smaller fish have to take their chance, growing slower in the river, they often have the appearance of a wild fish when caught, fin perfect with white leading edges to the fins, and a firm streamlined body. One over wintered fish in poor condition was caught; it appeared to be recovering from a Heron stab to its back and was very thin. As spring progresses more and more varieties of bird turn up, the swifts that nest in the top eaves of the Mill house are here, as is the incredibly loud Cettis Warbler that turns up each year, the Martins have yet to arive. Several broods of Mallard, Gadwall and Tufted Duck have hatched off, with others still sitting. The Coarse fish in the pond are showing no signs of spawning yet; due entirely to the water temperature not yet being high enough, but it won’t be long.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Week 16

Week 16

On the Sunday at the start of the week we had our annual fishing lunch. All of the rods who fish midweek are invited along with their partners for lunch, and a look at the river. The mid week fishing on this stretch of the river is run along the lines of a syndicate. Each full rod will fish on the same day of the week through out the season, half rods will fish every other week. The fishing is not divided into separate beats, as the rods are fishing with the same person every week or every other week they divide the river up as they see fit. Each full rod has a certain number of guest rods so the maximum fishing at anyone time will be four rods. Rods are allowed to share a rod with a guest, if they are unwilling to use up one of their guest days. Several of the regular rods have been here longer than the seventeen years that I have been here, they are in the main a happy, mixed bunch of varying ability, made up of big noises in the banking and insurance sectors of the city, retired servicemen and civil servants, teachers, medicos, one man from the film industry and an octogenarian lady who learnt her trout fishing as a girl in India and is an avid Formula 1 fan. We have a long waiting list for our weekly rods, spaces invariably only come up through the passing away of one of the rods or incapacity.
The weekends are kept for friends and family of my employer, although a few days are let through one of the more reputable sporting agents, and a few are auctioned off at various charity auctions.
Each rod is allowed to take four fish, of over a pound a day. All rods will get their limit at some point during the season; all rods will have a blank day. Fishing varies from shooting in that often you will buy a days shooting and know roughly what the bag will be at the end of the day. You don’t buy a four fish day when booking a days fishing, the blank days will be hard and disappointing but go to making the limit days all the more special.
Many of the day rods are sold to overseas visitors, or ex pats returning for a taste of English fishing. One chap exiled in America, regularly pops over for some early and late season fishing fitting it in around, trouting trips to Argentina and Alaska. Many of the American rods love the chalkstream fishing, particularly the fishing history surrounding the Rivers Test and Itchen, their fly boxes are something to behold, patterns imitating far more “critters” than you’re average UK fisherman.
The vast majority of the rods are great to be around, they are more often than not in a good mood, it is their day away from work/family duties and are out to enjoy their day. You do get the odd puffed up rod, who expects treatment commensurate with his high status, invariably these never catch the number of fish that they feel they ought to and rarely return.
During my time here I have a fund of stories about various incidents with the rods. Hooks getting stuck where they shouldn’t, rods falling in while doing something they shouldn’t. A fierce but friendly old lady threatening to punch me on the nose, an elderly gentleman prone on the riverbank eyes shut, who whispered in my ear when I checked to see if he was still breathing. An amorous couple, in the midst of a mid life crisis; naked as the day, who refused to move from a bridge near the top of the beat when challenged them with dogs and a scythe, and lots more besides. All help to pass the day, and are the reason that I do the job that I am doing.The fishing lunch passed with the usual comments about how there couldn’t have been this many fish in the river at the end of the season gone, and how easy it will be now I have taken such and such tree down, although by June I will be receiving requests from the very same rods to get my chainsaw out, as the leaves add weight to branches that drop and create a good spot for a trout to lie and a difficult one for a rod to reach