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.