River at a good height with spring ditches running strongly, just about what we would expect at this time of the year. The week has been entirely frost-free, the grass is greening up and there has been a hatch of fly during early afternoon that has drawn the attention of both Trout and Grayling.
Most of the week has been spent cutting back Willows and Alders on the non-fishing bank. Allowing more light to get into the river and removing any Willows that look like they may drop down into the river when in full leaf.
There are many Ducks on the river now, paired up and starting to feel frisky with the warmer temperatures. Swans are trying to stake a claim to certain bends, several look a little thin, and one dead one turned up on the river this week. Pigeons are still massing, moving from the rolled game covers on our patch to the freshly drilled fields on the other side of the valley. The otter is still about, the addition of an electric fence around the stew ponds persuading him/her to dine up at our Local Put and take Trout fishery, where it has been spotted on several occasions.
Disappointingly I have received no response to any of my letters concerning the Implementation of The National Trout and Grayling Strategy. Conspiracy theorists would suggest that there is a policy of not acknowledging any dissenters, others that these are the words of a crank. Whichever, I remain deeply concerned, initially about the many obvious flaws of throwing your whole hat in with Triploids, but also at the suspicion that the strategy team is happy that the Triploid policy is a flawed one. With compliance by 2015 everyone will be forced into stocking Triploids, only for a European Directive to be issued a short while later banning their use. With no fish available to stock, the EA and the Strategy team - heavily influenced by the Wild Trout lobby will have achieved the goal that they have always denied seeking: A total ban on stocking Brown Trout into rivers. Couple this with a directive on the introduction of non indigenous species ruling out Rainbow Trout, and a push by Conservation groups to stop man’s influence and return the valley to its state just after the dinosaurs popped their clogs and no job for me and other keepers, and an end to fishing as we currently know it in this valley. The strategy team and the Wild Trout Lobby would issue reassuring statements about how a population of the original Brown Trout will spectacularly resurrect and there will be enough fish for all. This resurrection will need to be spectacular to support the many businesses up and down the valley that rely on, and support the influx of fishermen each season. Hotels, Shops, Restaurants, the earnest Wild Trout bunch are more comfortable with a flask and sandwiches than taking lunch at the local pub or finishing off the day in a nearby Restaurant. All will be affected.
This river is what it is, because man has managed it for hundreds of years. Trials were carried out recently on a neighbouring chalkstream where a Wildlife Trust allowed a stretch to remain unmanaged for a number of years, the experiment was a disaster and the stretch is now back under the umbrella of a fishery management programme.
In the past hundred or so years the Test and the Itchen have been at the hub of the development of fishery management, fish farming and fly-fishing techniques. Both rivers have hatcheries and stew ponds in use and mothballed throughout their length. An internationally renowned Fishery Management and Fish Farming College lies between the two valleys. With this concentration of Fishery Management activity, wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to take eggs from a Wild fish population where it can be identified, hatch them out in hatcheries up and down the rivers to be stocked undersize the following summer. Support the keepers with legislation on efficient predator control and allow them to manage the river in a manner that best suits these juvenile fish. It is an exact copy of the much-vaunted Salmon restocking programmes on many rivers. It would require a great deal of coordination, especially during January targeting the late spawning fish that are supposedly a characteristic of a Wild strain of Brown Trout. I would gladly give it a go for the next few years, and would reduce the number of takeable size fish stocked each year. It could work, the main problem, as has always been the case, identifying a population of fish to take the eggs from. I don’t see these late January spawning fish; I do see an intense period of activity throughout November by fish that the Strategy would have us believe are stockies. The strategy would have us believe that the number of progeny that go on to sexual maturity from these November spawners is insignificant, yet on the two occasions that The EA have surveyed this stretch of river, significant numbers of juvenile Brown Trout have been identified. These successful November spawning fish are fish that we have stocked undersize and have grown up in the river. This stocking policy will not be allowed after compliance in 2015.