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