Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Even more snow

It snowed again, six inches deep around here, other parts of the country had considerably more. It hung around for ten days or more, our second shoot was conducted in falling snow and a few days ago the dawn temperature was minus thirteen degrees. Ice has formed on the margins of the slower parts of the river and millstream and the fish have switched right off as their metabolism slows with the low water temperature.

Most of the Pheasants stayed down in the warmer meadow eschewing the draughty block of Maize on top of the hill, A few Partridge pitched off the top, but most of what was around lay in the valley bottom. A few Woodcock and Snipe got up, some funny ducks that looked like Widgeon got up in the distance and several Muntjac ran to and fro as we bumbled our way through the wood. We shot a few and missed a few, which was understandable in the conditions, and were glad to get back indoors following a bitterly cold morning. Otis did OK, picked up a couple of tricky pricked birds and quartered and flushed his way through most of the morning. Now he has worked out what his nose is for it would be great to get him out on some Ducks in the Dark, but there are still very few duck coming onto the pond let alone flying up and down the valley. With the woodburner on the go twenty four hours a day, we are getting through logs at an alarming rate, the senior ash tree that did for the bridge six weeks ago has now nearly all gone, along with another that came down near the millstream.

The Brown Trout eggs are now all eyed up and will soon be hatching, this years batch have been particularly good, especially when compared to last year’s batch when I used a couple of duff cockfish. In the river there are no fish on the gravels any more, most have retired to the deeper water to get over the rigours of spawning. The low water temperature may mean that they are slow to regain condition. The Grayling are in superb condition, the water remains relatively clear for the time of year and they are by far and away the most active of the fish in the river bar the Pike who sit motionless until hunger takes hold and a hundred mile an hour ambush secures them a meal. With a bit of colour in the water we could have some good pike fishing in the early months of next year.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Snow and stuff

Freezing temperatures didn’t deter a couple of Grayling fishermen last week who struggled on their first day in low clear water and biting wind but caught fish on the second when the Grayling decided to join in. There are a few big fish around at the moment, and on the odd occasion this week they have fed on the surface mid afternoon to the odd Olive that has broke cover.
Snow midweek covered everything up and made the place look neat and tidy, night time temperatures fell to around minus six, which is positively tropical compared to the minus twenty in Scotland. The snow also revealed that the Otters are back and filling their boots in the stew ponds, the electric fence became buried in the overnight snow and the Otters were quick to take the opportunity of an easy meal, they are becoming increasingly bold in their activities and are not the creature of twenty years ago that would shy away from the slightest hint of human activity. On one of our fishing trips to France we saw several soporific and decidedly rotund Otters that seemed to have taken up residence on a coarse fish farm. The owners had become exasperated at their ineffective efforts to keep the creatures out of the ponds, and were fast approaching the last resort of reaching for the recipe book.
The shallows are bright with the clean gravel of freshly cut redds, more than I have seen for some seasons, the Leviathan that inhabits the middle bends put in her annual appearance, close to double figures she has been around for at least the last four seasons. Rarely seen during the season, she crashed at a Fisherman’s fly during the hot weather of summer, and in January she swam into my legs while I was moving some tin, but most of the time she tucks herself away in the deeper water.
The Merlin hasn’t turned up yet, although a few funny things are cropping up around the place. A Marsh Harrier was flopping around when my wife and I took the dogs down to the Common last Sunday.
The sledging field behind our house, which also doubles as quite a senior Pheasant drive, was once again the centre of attention with the local youth flinging themselves downhill on plastic sheets, upturned roof boxes and the odd orthodox sledge. Many stuck to the same run for the first hour or two, before moving ten yards across the slope for some virgin snow, the first run down put up two hares who had sat tight within yards of the screaming and crashing for over an hour. During the days of open Coarsing I was constantly amazed at a Hare’s ability to conceal itself in an open patch of earth and avoid detection, as the beating line stepped over it in open country.

On a bitterly cold day, we had our first shoot. The Field magazine with photographer and assistant turned up to take some pictures for their February front cover. A photogenic beating line containing the usual suspects worked the camera and put up a considerable amount of birds, although Duck were conspicuous by the their absence during the opening skirmishes down the spring ditches of the water meadow. Pheasants flew well, although the drive with the new and improved Iron age defence ditch sans trees and cover, proved a little tricky. We also saw quite a few Muntjac, two or three Woodcock and some nice Partridge. Otis performed surprisingly well, with one tricky pick up of a pricked Partridge on the other side of the river, he did however run out of beans towards the end of the day and must learn to pace himself, In Len’s words I’d give him Sevuuurrnn!

Got a bit of a bashing on the letters page of Trout and Salmon magazine this month. I questioned an entertaining article about fishing the River Rother at Petersfield that claimed the fish caught were genuine wild Brown Trout. I wrote to the magazine asking how the fishery conservation expert who advised the author could be so sure that they were wild fish, particularly as I had stocked the stretch below with mixed sex Brown Trout for several years. Fishery Conservation expert replied in emotive terms invoking the spirit of grand children with a “concrete” case that included the use of the words “probably” and “we can assume” I have replied in person and do not wish to enter into a messy exchange of letters in the angling press.

Unfortunately we probably can’t assume, because the argument over stocking has become muddied by the extremes of view held by the wild fish brigade and the corporate and commercial boys, a sensible solution lies somewhere in between.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Duff cocks, and a third interesting lump in my undercrackers

Duff cocks, and a third interesting lump in my undercrackers.

We have had some very wet weather with flooding in other parts of the country, around here, it has been fairly steady with minimum run off and most of it getting into the ground, to back up this theory, the river is not carrying much colour although we do have enough water to get the Mill stream running again. The Brown Trout are spawning hard, including one enormous hen on the middle bends, and there are many redds cut in the clean gravel. Herons are making a nuisance of themselves along with a brace of Little Egret who seem to be inseparable. The eggs in the hatchery are a week old now and look to be ok, I have picked very few dead eggs out this year, unlike last year’s batch when I think I must have used a duff cockfish during fertilisation.
We have had few Grayling Fishermen along this year, despite there being a good stock in the river. Now that the weed has been cut out several of the shoals of Roach have joined together to form one super shoal and will provide good sport to a single maggot presented under a trotted stick float. There are also a couple of Chub, or Chublets of around a pound plus the Perch on the bottom bends.
With the heavy rain the Pheasants have opted to spend much of the day in the wood, visiting the strips of Maize between the showers, which has meant I have been getting through a bit more corn. This year we are paying £160 a tonne for wheat, which is the highest, we have ever had to pay. As is the way of the enigmatic Wild Duck some days they are with us some days they are not, some nights the Barley on the pond is all eaten up, some nights there is a lot left over. I suspect that they are being fed very hard higher up the valley and shot at regularly, moving out to other ponds when their favourite feeding spot with its mountain of Barley has become to risky only to return when the memory of flying lead/bismuth has passed.
The Ash Tree that demolished the bridge has now partly been cut up; the replacement bridge will be over engineered in the grand manner of the Victorians, with big plates of metal and lots or rivets, or possibly a less elaborate wooden one sited away from any big trees. The Amber tree still clings on to its burgundy leaves, as do the Oaks.

Away from the river, a third interesting lump in my underpants proved to be a hernia, that is to be dealt with in the new year, along with a second hernia that I was unaware off, and somehow I managed to finish runner up in Hampshire FA’s Groundsman of the year 2010 competition, and I didn’t know we were even entered.

“This Groundsman demonstrated considerable innovation in his refusal to use parallel or perpendicular lines, each line painted maintained its own unique identity and direction; occasionally straight, often curved his current work breaks new ground in football pitch design, his penalty spots in particular, are a triumph!”

An FA spokesman said

The final inspection by FA pitch gurus and mandarins occurred two days after the village firework display. Seven hundred people jumping up and down on the turf was explained as pushing the barriers of organic rolling, and the burnt patch in the corner where the bonfire had been as, efforts to change soil structure in a boggy patch through the medium of fire.
Luckily they had visited in the summer, incognito with muffled oars, when we had some grass.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rain at last

Went away at half term with the usual bunch, fishing for a week in the Loire Valley, mostly on the Cher near Chabris; a big derelict mill pool with the main hatch missing, twenty feet deep and holding all species of fish. We fished the pool a few years ago with some success and had the place to ourselves for a week, catching hundreds of pounds of Chub and Barbel, plus several torpedo shaped Common Carp to eighteen pounds. This year the river was three feet down on when we last visited and crystal clear. Fishing was tricky and the Common Carp that we had hoped to target proved elusive. Many fish congregated in the deeper holes, intent more on survival than having an autumnal feed. During a visit to the nearby Chateau at Chenonceau which is built over the river, we opened a window in the long room, to look for fish and immediately below were a dozen Carp between twenty and forty pounds. A "family event" where rods,tackle and all talk of fishing were banned, we reluctantly closed the window and attempted to banish thoughts of the leviathans that lurked beneath our feet.
Towards the end of the week we switched our attentions to a local lake. Constructed to provide irrigation for the surrounding fields and replenished solely by rain it was a third of it’s usual size, the mud flats revealed a huge population of Swan Mussels and in two relaxed fishing sessions we banked several Carp to twenty pounds.

Back home we have had some steady rain that has helped put a few more inches of water over the shallows where the Trout are starting to kick up their redds, there are a lot of fish left in the river and in shallow water provide an easy target for the Heron and Egret that are currently hanging around the valley. Fungal infections such as Saprolegnia can be a problem at this time of the year, but touch wood so far the fish in the river appear to be fairly clean. The Rainbows in the stew ponds destined for our local Big Fish water. Suffered a little from an infection of Costia brought on by the low flows of summer, but are now recovering after several doses of salt.
I have finished cutting the weed and all the fringe is knocked off. I still have to see to the Millstream, which has lain still for much of the year through lack of water. Next week we will drain it down and drive a tractor up the middle to cut the hedge that shield it from the road.
The hatchery trough is up and running and contains a couple of basket of mixed sex brown trout eggs. The fish seem to be a week behind on the spawning time of last year.
Ducks have found the pond and the heap of barley and we are all set to go with our first evening flighting ducks. The Pheasants continue to spend much of their day in the two strips of Maize and are in position for our first day in a few weeks time. This week the wind has blown and the sky opened up to dump several inches of much needed rain. Nice and steady with not too much run off, it has rained for much of the week. The weather map displays lows lining up across the Atlantic sweeping in to bring more, miserable weather for some, but just what the doctor ordered for this valley, if only the wind hadn’t blown so hard as to toppled an immense ash onto the bridge that I built last Easter, smashing it to a thousand pieces.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It come in, It goes out

We’ve had a bit of rain, and a lot of it has gone into the ground, not much is taking a drink at the moment and rain today should help the springs push a bit more water over the shallows at spawning time. We seem to have quite a few Herons up and down the valley at the moment that would cause carnage at spawning time if the river were too low. An egret has also turned up, a little earlier than usual.
We are into the final week of the season, and the fishing has picked up with fish rising to small Olives and Spurwings throughout the middle of the day, presentation is key, a clumsy cast spooking many fish. The Grayling are also in prime condition and are also feeding on the surface; there are also some large shoals of fingerling Grayling. As has happened on a few previous occasions the biggest fish of the season was taken in the final month, one of our regulars landed a five and a half pound cockfish that had been on the bottom bends for at least two seasons. It was not sporting spawning duds and was tempted to take a lightly fished Klinkhammer.

The Pheasants are in a routine of breakfasting in the wood, before taking coffee and lunch in the Maize, returning to the wood for tea. They are not wandering as much as previous seasons, due in no small part to the excellent strip of Maize. It must be some of the best in the area, which is just as well, as the Iron Age defence ditch that used to provide shelter for much of the parish’s wildlife is now a barren bank. Trees gone under decree by English Heritage and vegetation sprayed off so all can see the Iron Age bank that the Badgers have dug up.

We seem to have been invaded by Muntjac, two years ago we saw two or three on each shooting day, last year we didn’t see any. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see quite a few on our first beat through the bushes in December. A friend, who turned up to fish earlier in the year, gave me several chunks of Muntjac; we had the saddle a few weekends ago and it was fantastic.

Our small fish rearing operation is on the fish farm register, when the two main on-growing ponds were dug, hoops of Olympic proportions had to be jumped through before we were granted permission to go ahead. The Local Council, English Nature, English Heritage, Various departments of the environment agency, the man digging the ponds, all had input into the digging of what seventy years ago the Luftwaffe could have created with a push of a button. To use water from a river to grow a few hundred fish, you must first apply and pay to take the water from the river, you must then apply and pay to put it back; the former is called a “licence to abstract”, the latter a “consent to discharge”; both are dealt with by different departments of the environment agency. Unbeknown to us our licence to abstract had a ten-year shelf life, the consent to discharge doesn’t. This week an amiable cove. soon to leave the agency (unfortunately) arrived to inform us that our abstraction licence had lapsed two years ago we had been taking a quarter of a million gallons a day through a fixed pipe into our ponds, an oversight on someone’s part (the finger was pointed at me) but could we reapply, Oh and can we have another cheque for the application process. At no point during the two year period did the legions of office wallahs at the agency pick up on the fact that we were paying to put water back into the river but not paying to take it out. Where did they think we were getting a quarter of a million gallons a day of water? , I know the bottled water industry has taken off in recent years but we would require a cast of thousands, buying bottles and emptying Evian and Eau into the brook on a daily basis to get up to a quarter of a million gallons a day.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Media studies

This past week fishing has improved, despite the low clear water both trout and Grayling have been feeding hard in the middle of the day on a steady trickle of small Olives and Spurwings, proper September fishing. Swans have ripped a bar of ranunculus from the shallows in front of the fishing hut that has taken water from the Rainbows in the stew ponds, in order to push water through the ponds I have had to whack in a telegraph pole to act as a temporary weir to raise the river immediately upstream by a few inches. The Rainbows have also been flashing on the bottom of the ponds, an indicator of parasite infection, it has been necessary to dip the whole lot in a salt bath this week, this and the extra water should get them back to mid season form.
The Pheasants have found the Maize, which should cut down on the amount of “dogging in” Otis and I have to do of a morning. On our drive down to Cornwall a few weeks ago, much of the Maize seemed a foot or two shorter than ours, I am not sure why, perhaps it was drilled at a different time or we have a particularly tall variety, whatever the reason, ours look rather good!
We also took delivery of another half dozen chickens, the same strain as last year that had never knowingly underlaid , they are 70 weeks old, arrived with an egg on the way, and spared a slow death by shortcrust pastry. They’ve led a “free range” life but still have feather free bums. One moult and they will be back to full feathers.

On a different note, Wogan used to question the wisdom of educating so many media study students, where would they all gain employment? This week it became apparent where some are now earning their crust. A superbly filmed program about a population of tigers living at an altitude in the Himalaya never previously thought possible, was ruined by a couple of clowns who contributed little to the piece other than hyperbole and theatrical frightened looks. With little knowledge of the subject, they were the “X factor” that spoiled a fascinating programme. One attempted to convince us that he had been in mortal danger in the night, as Leopard prints had been found near his camp, another waited for Tommy Tiger in a pop up hide clearly visible from space. One waited up at night with oodles of equipment and was convinced that the eyes on which he was shining his polished piece of krypton, belonged to a Leopard heading his way, it turned out to be a sleepy squirrel in the tree just in front of his hide.

Goodness knows what the locals made of it. A theatrical bunch, on their nerve’s end following their dawn discovery of Leopard prints near their camp, set off up the mountain attired in real tree camouflage and packing all manner of survival equipment, their local guide led the way in flip flops with a John Deere umbrella on his arm; he probably sees tigers and leopards every week. The overpaid chumps added little but irritation; all that was required was an informed narrative to add to the superb photography and a few well-worded questions to the man in the flip-flops.

Ignorance and mistrust of local knowledge, with media folk to the fore, prevails a lot closer to home.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Where did all the water go?

Where did all the water go? No weed to cut in august, a proliferation of blanket weed and the river is now down to its bare bones. Fly life through August was reasonable with better sedge fishing than this time last year and Olives trickled off from late morning on the fine days. The rain we have had has done nothing but add colour for 24 hours, with fish rising between the showers. Now the river is crystal clear and with three weeks of the season left, several fish are more intent on making territorial charges than looking up for flies. There are many fish left in the river most have now moved into the deeper holes. On some parts of the river there is a thin line of mud between the water and the marginal fringe, a small beach that will be even greater when we cut the weed out in October. The Stew ponds are also short of water and it may soon be necessary to put a few sheets of tin into the river below the inlet to try and push a bit more water through.

The Pheasants are now out of the pen and all over the meadow, some are showing signs of adult plumage. I have feeders out through the wood, but the fatter they get on natural food and maize from the game cover the better as the price of Wheat has shot through the roof and currently stands at £150 per ton. Following the close of the cricket season and the start of school we had a week in Cornwall. A non-fishing holiday, at the end of a hectic summer, to a place we used to visit regularly, but had not been to for nine years. We also used to buy our day old pheasants from a chap who lives in a castle on a beach, we visited the beach several times during the week and the roads leading in were covered in tiny Cornish pheasants, half the size of a Hampshire bird they make a challenging target pushed of the top of some of the hills and cliffs that surround the beach. They did well here in Hampshire and flew beautifully, but had a tendency to walk a little further than their rotund Hampshire brethren sometimes over the hill and far away, and if it wasn’t your hill then they did not feature or your shooting day. In a week in Cornwall hanging around harbours, bumming on beaches and walking the cliffs I saw fewer Cormorants than I would on a mid winters walk on the middle Test.

Unfortunately during the past month, the best dog that we have ever had cashed in his chips. Zebo, our twelve year old Black Labrador developed a load of lumps where lumps shouldn’t be, that finished him off in a matter of weeks. Born into a well-bred litter of eight, he and his brother Jacko who lives nearby, were the two left that nobody chose. He cost a day’s fishing for two, and after initial efforts at training, it became abundantly clear that “it was all in there” and he knew far more about shooting than anyone else around here. He had impeccable manners with both humans and fellow dogs and did not have one fight in twelve years. On driven pheasant days he would quarter and flush as well as a Spaniel and then switch to picking up mode when the drive was done. On evening duck flights he came into his own, He abandoned all hope of me hitting anything at an early stage and would mark most ducks that fellow guns shot. These would then have to be located and picked up in the dark at the end of the flight, some on the water others in cover; on several occasions he picked the whole bag. He had two failings, the first a propensity to sit in front of us of an evening chattering his teeth if a neighbouring bitch was in season, and in his later years, after taking a long drink he would blot his gums on my wife’s thighs, best linen trousers or not! He had a week of Steak, Sausage, Chicken Breasts and Nan bread before it all got too much, and he now resides by the river at the end of a bridge where he would wait patiently for me to finish feeding Fish and Pheasants.
Big shoes to fill for his nephew Otis, Immature and great fun, he displays fleeting signs of high intelligence that are quickly extinguished by the slightest opportunity to arse about!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sorry!

Been a bit busy, teenagers and all that,

normal service will resume next week

Friday, July 30, 2010

Week 104

Week 104

The river is fast losing any sparkle that remains; the water has dropped markedly and is not far off the level it was at this time last year. Weed growth has steadied up, although the ribbon weed is sticking its nose through the surface of the water. Fishing is hard; rods are now resorting to nymphs to take fish during the day, with some brief sedge fishing in the evening. Many of the Brown Trout have tucked themselves away and not putting in an appearance for most of the day. It is amazing how so many fish can hide away in a small river with gin clear water, the clarity and size of the river draw you into thinking that most fish must be visible, but Brown Trout are particularly adept at tucking themselves away when they need to, which is why many beats started stocking Rainbows at this time of the year, a practice that many now undertake throughout the season. There is one female Brown Trout on the middle stretch this beat of around 8lb that I have only twice this year, and felt once when she crashed into my legs during the weed cut.

The flight pond is alive with Roach and Rudd fry that provide a daily feast for a family of Kingfishers, distracting them from my pond of Brown Trout fry further down the river. They are on and around the pond most of the day, taking advantage of the low clear water, there are a dozen or more Bream of between four and six pound who occasionally get their heads down and colour the water, affording the fry a little protection, but they too have taken to spending much of the day basking near the surface in the warm water.

The winter barley in the hundred acre field that borders one side of this stretch of the valley was harvested recently, and within a few days the stubble played host to around a hundred geese, an obvious distraction for our own harlot of the Goose world whose charges are now almost fully grown, how long before she does a bunk to go and play with the boys in the corn. They must have put some barley out the back of the combine because they have been there a few days now, along with a few ducks that have discovered the free feed.
One of our Friday rods, recently brought along a well-known fisherman in these parts. Advanced in years and as fit as a flea, he would fish some or other part of the river most days of the week. A resident of Stockbridge high street, he used to strike fear into the fishery management students gaining experience on the middle river. He once barked from fifty yards for me to stand stock still as I returned home for lunch with, what was for a puny teenager a heavy strimmer. A fish looked like it may rise and I may affect its decision to take his fly. I stood for many minutes frozen to the spot as he waited intently for the fish to rise before standing me down and moving on to another fish. He is still an accomplished fisherman, and fishes more days than not. I compulsively stand still on hearing his voice. I once walked into a pub in the depths of winter, and was greeted with the bellow “ I Know You!” from across the bar, which froze me to the spot. At another fisherman/journalist’s 70th birthday party on a nearby cricket field, he fixed me from twenty yards with another “You’re so and so from up the river!” which left me standing on the same spot fielding fishing questions for twenty minutes, much to my wife’s chagrin who was heavily pregnant at the time and desperate to get home. An entertaining and knowledgeable fisherman I would imagine he has fished almost all of this river system during his life and maintains the same enthusiasm for the sport as he did when striking fear into the hearts of fishery management students twenty odd years ago.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Week 103

Week 103

Where did all the water go? The river that looked in great shape mid April has been reduced by half following a prolonged dry spell that has bought hosepipe bans to various parts of the country. It’s early season sparkle dimmed by an explosion of blanket weed that hides the clean gravel and swamps the once verdant weed.
Fishing has been hard but not impossible, unlike last season we have experienced some good sedge fishing with the fish feeding hard for a short period most evenings.

I have had a schoolboy with me on his year 10 work experience, and have made the most of the extra pair of hands to get some two-man jobs done. Most of the week has been spent moving fish around the ponds. We have had to have a reshuffle to make room for some Rainbows that we are growing on for our neighbouring big fish water, five hundred pink striped ravenous lumps that grow at twice the speed of our more refined home grown Browns. The lakes in question have had a hard time in recent weeks, the water temperature in the lakes soaring to 24 Celsius sending the trout soporific and reluctant to feed. The temperature in the river is currently around 18 Celsius, although the Mill Stream is now still water and several degrees higher as we no longer have enough water to run it.

The Pond is currently full of fry, mostly Roach, Rudd and Perch with the odd Bream. We have around a dozen Carp left that have been feeding on the surface, along with a shoal of twenty Bream of around 3lb that have broken with type and now look to the surface for sustenance. My son and his mate’s recent fishing efforts resulted in a net full of year old Perch and many many Rudd. There are also Roach fry in the river along with some huge shoals of Minnows.

We were away watching a cricket match in the centre of Basingstoke this past weekend and for over an hour a Red Kite was checking out the ground, they seem to be almost as common as Buzzards around here at the moment unless it is the same one or two who get around a lot. Swallows and Martins are still way down on numbers from a few years ago, while the Ducks who have had later broods have benefited from the warm weather with large numbers of off spring surviving through to adult plumage. Coots and Moorhens have also had a good year, and may need sorting out in the winter months. Coots and Moorhens shot on Vermin day on a stretch of the Test on which I carried out pre college work experience invariably ended up in the pot. Several Keepers would take them home to pluck in front of the fire while watching Crossroads, to be served up at a later date. One retired keeper liked the breasts fried in butter, along with much of his day to day food. He also grew his own tobacco and pitched up in the pub well into his eighties. His son, who is now also retired, was regularly talked off as one of the best keepers on the river and is blessed with carpentry skills that have chucked up a dozen or more fishing huts on the middle Test that could fill a whole series of “Grand Designs”

Monday, June 28, 2010

Week 102

Week 102

Not much weed was cut in June, the river has dropped off quite a bit and already there are signs that blanket weed is set to explode. The Mayfly hatch went on well into the June weed cut although, for the past week, fish are fed up to the back teeth with them. Numbers of sedge in the evening are up on last year, with many still bumbling around on the river the following morning before setting themselves down in the fringe. A bat has also been flitting about on the bottom bends in the middle of the day. While clearing cut weed just before lunch, it careered around above my head. I assume it had some demanding youngsters who needed a feed, driving their mother/father out at an ungodly hour in search of sustenance.

Recently, we were invaded by the local over 60’s, for an afternoon of entertainment and sticky cakes. My employer laid on a Falconry display on the front lawn. The Chap in charge had a boot full of birds. Two types of Scops Owl, a Tawny Owl, Harris Hawk, Peregrine and Lanner Falcon, and a tiny American Kestrel. As soon as the birds were put out in the sun, a couple of local buzzards appeared, along with a Red Kite who swooped low to suss out the new kids on the block. From another box on the back seat he produced a Kookaburra. A whistle from his master set him cackling, and the sky above filled with crows, jackdaws, and many more eager to see the voluble alien creature. He didn’t fly the Kookaburra, but the Hawk went up, and the Falcons bombed across the lawn at speeds that were too quick for some eyes that had already wandered to the cake table.

My concerns over the Orchids proved to be unfounded. I have topped most of the meadow, rounding the Orchids as I spotted them. Walking through the half acre that we leave for Gamecover at the top of the beat there are a couple of places where there are a dozen in a square yard.
English Nature and English Heritage have set about the Iron Age defence ditch that forms one of our main drives on a shooting day. Most of the woodland has gone, although the mature Yew and Ash remain. A substantial Holly Tree was one of the first to go, revealing the mother of all Badger sets. Brock had gone to town in his endeavours to create “Chez nook”. Never mind me and my Pheasants damaging this ancient ditch, this bunch of badgers have flown in the face of English Heritage and dug a swimming pool, sauna, and chucked up a conservatory with mock Tudor frontage. It is quite a development and has impacted considerably on the historically important site.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Week 101

Week 101

Some spectacular hatches of Mayfly have resulted in some of the best fishing for years. This week Mayfly have been on the water from seven in the morning until ten at night. Fish have filled their boots on hatching Duns and some heavy falls of Spinners. Light winds throughout the heaviest hatches have resulted in large numbers of Mayfly making their way back to the river to lay their eggs which bodes well for next year. Heavy hatches of Olives have been mixed in with the Mayflies, mostly medium midday jobs, but a good number of three tailed blue winged ones coming off in the afternoon with a noticeable fall of sherry spinners most evenings.

Cricket kicked in big time for this household recently, and during our travels around the county in a pantechnicon full of whites and wet weather gear to festivals far flung, we can report that mayfly hatches on the middle Itchen looked good, The middle Avon is filled with flowering Ranunculus and experiencing good hatches of fly and several New Forest streams are low and weed free. At home, the weed is putting in a spurt, and Ranunculus on the top shallows has started to flower.

Last year we were treated to a fantastic show of early summer orchids, this year they are slow to put in an appearance. The surge in growth of meadow grass may have made them less visible, or, like everything else this year, they may just be late. Whatever the reason my dogs come back every morning covered in ticks having run through the long grass, it may be time to start up the topper.

Urban foxes have made the news recently, and are not quite the cuddly creatures that most envisaged. Fearless of a human kind who seek to preserve them at all costs, recent incidents may yet see the folk of Bayswater and Balham turn out with horns and hounds to run Reynard to ground.

The Goose problem persists. Three have hatched and are not the colour that they ought to be. Dad could be Canadian, Graylag or Lesser white front, who knows? Mum is proud, and Surrogate Dad incredibly protective of his mottled brood.

In recent weeks Stockbridge High street has taken on a Jamboree/St George's Day air as large numbers of guides in uniform, parade along the pavement. Along with Otters, Cormorants and Japanese Knot weed, numbers of Guides are up this year.

Now I have some good friends who guide, and I have even had to do a bit myself. Unable to do "flim flam"for much of the day I am clearly unsuited to the task. Living on the premises like many keepers I prefer to drop in and out on any who require assistance. I would suggest that most would have caught fish over the past two weeks without the aid of a guide; at Mayfly time, something big and fluffy presented to a fish that is feeding hard will normally suffice. How on earth you spin this advice out for ten hours or more and justify a sky high fee I do not know. It is in the Guide's interest to make fishing seem raltively compicated to justify his appearance on the bank.
One problem that has arisen recently with guided fishing on this river are Guided rods who catch their limit for the beat early in the day, then continue fishing catch and release till the sun goes down as the Guide is obliged to fill the day. The regular who turns up when the fish are rising, hoping to take 2 brace for the pot ,will return home when his limit is reached and the river is rested. Guided fishing does have its place in the angling world, but too much on this river results in an increase in angling pressure, that you do not get with unguided regular rods.

Week 100

Week 100

Hot dry weather, and with limited weed growth, the river is low. Hatches of midday olives have been the best for some years and rising fish are guaranteed throughout the afternoon. The river is stuffed with fish and with limited growth of marginal fringe and gin clear water, are easily spooked; disturb one fish and he may charge upstream and skitter another dozen. There are some huge shoals of Minnows in the streams around the garden and a podgy Brown Trout of five pounds or more hangs lazily in the slack water on the millstream in front of the house, the first few Mayflies have started to appear which may herald his imminent downfall.

After last years dearth of Swallows Martins and Swifts, the few that have turned up this year have gorged themselves on Olives in the afternoon, and, despite their late arrival should result in them bringing off a couple of broods at least. Some trees are still breaking bud, the Mulberry particularly stubborn in its refusal to join in the early summer festivities.
Some friends of ours on the other side of the river have recently completed an impressive pond project in their back garden. Three feet deep and full of natural goodness it teems with wildlife. Throughout a boozy late afternoon barbecue, Mayflies climbed clear of the water, frogs sang their song in the fading light and unfortunately a grass snake put in an appearance, sending “mien host” screaming to the kitchen. Keenly averse to snakes, a request has been put in for the triumph of a pond to be filled in, unless a plan for ridding the area of snakes is implemented immediately. The search is on for St Patrick’s mobile number, or at the very least some bloke with a mongoose. I couldn’t come up with an answer other than getting rid of the frogs which is almost impossible. Any ideas let me know.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Week 99

If witchcraft is your thing it’s going to be a wet summer, the buds on the ash trees around here are just breaking out, but the oaks look as dormant or as dead as dodos. The warm week sent the fish looking to the surface as Olives flurried skywards around midday, the Swallows also enjoyed the feasting although I have yet to see or hear any Martins or Swifts. Things are starting to green up although the weed in the river has yet to get going, the river is full of fish and with little cover from weed and the marginal fringe growth, Mr Stabby, the Grey Heron, is starting to inflict some damage.
There are a good number of Duck in the valley with several sitting on eggs, the pond has been invaded by twenty or so Tufted Duck, who have nested on there before. Ten years ago it would have been covered in Gadwall, but we rarely see these now. There are no signs of any Carp remaining in the pond. One winter’s work for an Otter who when presented with an extensive menu of Trout, Grayling, Roach, Eels and Pike in the river and a pond full of Carp Bream, Tench, Perch Roach Rudd and Eels. Stuck rigidly to the double figure Carp in the pond and killed the lot, all over forty years old and unlikely to be replaced. Mr Fine Fleece would have us believe that they eat only eels, which they undoubtedly enjoy, and wasn’t there some concern over their declining numbers a few years ago. This troublesome Tarka killed only the large Carp. Commercial coarse fisheries that are suffering similar losses to their stocks face bleak times. The budget for compensation from our overlords is a drop in the ocean when compared to the value of the stock lost so far. There has been some talk in the angling press of the problem and a couple of MPs have also raised the issue in the run up to the election. The response from conservation bodies and the EA who proudly display PowerPoint presentations showing “Otters are up” lends little succour to those living with the problem, and adds to the general air of “who gives a toss about fishing” which currently prevails.

More news from Bonkers Central, and the current partiality for woody debris; expect to hear a lot about this one, any trees down in the river then please leave them where they are, along with the idea of opening up all of the hatches in the valley just to see what happens. The woody debris idea is in complete contrast to advice from flood defence who are part of the same body, who may also have concerns about opening all of the hatches. If we were to leave open the sluice gate in the front of the Mill house on this stretch of river, fifty yards of slack water upstream from the gate would benefit. The house, which has stood with its gate for over five hundred years would have a drained channel above it, water would be taken away from the main river channel and a thousand yards of fishing would suffer for the benefit of fifty, but hey lets have a go and see what happens. An advocate of this idea was recently offered a stretch of river on which to conduct experiments. Bemoaning the fact that there was little water coming down the particular stretch on which he planned to tinker, he asked the Keeper if anything could be done, who led him two hundred yards upstream to a hatch that had been in place for hundreds of years and sent some water down the stream on which he was to play.
Woody debris in the wrong place can cause all sorts of problems. Narrowing down the millstream with faggots, willow and sedge many years ago, (before The Wild Trout Trust, and Mr Fine Fleece and clipboard were even conceived) I did make use of some woody debris, it remains in place and has benefited that stretch of stream. Woody debris in the wrong place for the shortest length of time can do immeasurable damage to bank, bed and marginal weed growth.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Week 98

A bit of a gap, caused by Thunder and Lightning visiting the parish. A huge ball of sheet lightning bowled up the valley hitting the power lines and cooking our computer and skybox. Several TVs in the vicinity were fried and up at our neighbouring put and take trout fishery many fish in the lakes turned turtle and one fisherman was left a quivering wreck after discarding his carbon fishing rod seconds before the lightning struck. The computer has been replaced, along with skybox and normal service has resumed.

During the last week of the Coarse fishing season my son and his mate had some spectacular pike fishing, often at this time of the year, with the fish moving into spawning mode, males will congregate around the females who are making their way to backwaters to spawn. It is an easy time of the year to locate pike, and if you catch one small jack it is worth chucking your spinner in the same spot a few times more as invariably there will be several other jacks in the same hole, along with a much larger female, all of whom are high on hormones and will slash at anything shiny dragged past their nose. The two boys landed six and lost four from the mouths of two spring ditches.

The bridge has gone up, a telegraph pole split down the middle and fitted with a green oak deck, with luck it should last a few years. The battle with the willows is nearly won, for now. A little open, the gaps will be replaced by phragmites and sedge within months. The four month old Brown Trout in the hatchery are feeding well and are now around an inch long, they are getting a little tight for space but it may be worth holding off putting them out into the pond for a few weeks as there is still a little colour in the river water, the clearer the water, the fewer the problems with gill infections.

The Goose came back, exhausted after a fortnight roistering with Greylags, Canadas and Pink foots up and down the valley and beyond. Sightings were made half a mile upstream, and eventually she was recaptured a mile downstream shaking her tail feathers at gaggle of lusty Canadians. Dad’s admonishment was fleeting on her return and he has returned to his dotage, tending to her every need.

The first Swallow turned up, and feasts on a midday hatch of Olives that hints at warmer days. The Cettis Warbler is back and the Mallards pair and unpair, the Drakes ultimately rodgering anything that moves. No Ducks are yet sitting, probably a little sore, judging by the carnality of recent weeks.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Week 97


Week 97

Spring is close to springing, mid March and the first Daffodils have just come out. Another dry spell and the river level is holding up very well suggesting that the springs have been suitably charged during the “proper” winter that is hastening to it’s end. I had cause to travel up and down the Bourne Valley a few days ago and it is rattling along all the way up to Ibthorpe. As it races through St Marybourne, ranunculus is poking its nose from gravel that was dry in the Summer and I’m sure it wouldn’t take too much effort to find evidence of fish. A couple of Grayling fishermen turned up to fit in a day before the end of the season, and had some success on the surface with Olive patterns in the early part of the afternoon. They had several fish over 40cm in length, fat with eggs and in tip top condition. The Fish in the stew ponds have started to whack into the feed suggesting that the water temperature is on the turn.

The relentless battle with the forces of evil that reside in Crack Willow continues, another week should see the area safe from invasion for another year. Telegraph poles have also been delivered for a couple of bridges that I have to replace. They take a bit of manoeuvring so they were dumped near the top of our stretch. I then dragged them with the tractor to the river and floated them downstream to the bridge that has to be replaced. Many have nails and wire on them and it pays to remove these while the poles are in the water and easy to move around. Next week I will have to split them down the middle with the chainsaw to make two identical runners to put the slats on.
This week we were given the gift of Geese, Ninja attack Geese, and as bad tempered as they come. A Father and Daughter combination, they came with their own house and run, which we placed in the paddock. Fat White and Round they are to be our very own Fylingdales, an early warning system to warn of impending intrusion. Released from their pen after a week of incarceration, daughter has done a bunk, released from the shackles of her voluble Father she has shoved off to shake her thing with the hundreds of other geese that currently reside in the valley. Dad remains, a tad grumpy and warning of consequences when she returns. I spent one morning down on the Common looking for the winsome Goose but there was no sign. The Common was brown, not a patch of green to be seen. The winter really has hit the grass hard, but it will recover, there were also some huge stands of Phragmites, perfect habitat for our Bittern, who continues to hide in the same six foot square patch on the pond, booming away as the day draws to an end

Friday, March 5, 2010

Week 96

Week 96

Fine weather, frost and not a drop of rain all week. Early afternoon Olives have trickled off the water with a few fish putting their noses to the surface. Some of the fish in the river are looking a little thin, the hard weather through January and February limiting the supply of food plus the urge to feed. The Grayling look in reasonable nick and will soon be making their way to the shallows and begin thinking about spawning. A Large Pike skulks in the deep water of the Mill Stream ten yards in front of the house. The Carp in the pond have taken a real bashing from good old Tarka, five have been dragged out and partially eaten this week, all superbly conditioned fish of over ten pounds and between thirty and forty years old. Fishing the pond in the summer you are invariably bothered by Eels, the staple diet of the Otter according to Colin the Conservationist, yet this fickle beast chooses to nibble on double figure Carp. Who will stand up and draw attention to the fact that the Otter population is now at a level that is causing damage to inland fishery stocks and inland fishery businesses.

The Bittern is back, a gormless bird, it is plainly apparent why its numbers are so low. Not content with flying across a line of guns on our last shooting day, it has been “hiding” in the smallest bunches of Phragmites, head in the air pretending to be a reed. On two occasions this week I have taken advantage of the fine weather to burn off some of the reed beds, on each occasion Billy the Bittern has tried to defy fire by acting like a Norfolk Reed, before rising like a Phoenix clear of the flames with smoke trailing from his bum. He sits in the same tree and returns to the meadow to sit in the smallest clump of marginals. I am told that numbers of Bittern are higher than normal in the UK at the moment due to a cold couple of months in Europe.
The Merlin has returned, I have chased him up the road on several occasions this week; He swoops in front of the car a foot from the ground before veering off into the hedgerow. Sunshine has raised the friskiness level of many of the birds, songs of seduction play loudly on the air, while a Woodpecker, bangs away for much of the day with his “look at me, look at me” drum solo.

Daffodils did not front up for St David’s day, although the Snowdrops have been spectacular. Shoots of weed are showing in some parts of the river, but as is the case with much of the flora, it will be a while before they open an eye from a deep sleep induced by a “proper” winter.

Gordon and his gods on Olympus recently decreed that 95% of all SSSIs must be in a favourable condition. Why 95% and what constitutes favourable, is anyone’s guess. Minions were subsequently dispatched on this quest for 95% favourable status.
This week we had our first visit from the person responsible for the implementation of the decree. An intelligent and eloquent ecologist, we spent a couple of hours going over various aspects of chalkstream management, White wellied Scientists with stun guns and phasers are to be teleported to the river next week to make an assessment of the river’s condition, and recommendations will be made on future work. The chap in charge had some sound ideas, and a few odd ideas. There is a feeling among many on the river that those working on the rivers are seen as “hicks in the sticks” by many of these policy makers, and despite a wealth of experience and qualification, we do more harm than good to the chalkstream environs. There is a back up group of advisors in place, some respected figures plus a few with inflated status born on the back of a wild trout revolution who I would hesitate to entrust with the school Goldfish bowl at holiday time, let alone a prime piece of chalkstream for an extended period.

I remain open to new ideas, and learn new things about the stretch of river I am responsible for every year, I await their report; although I fear that all reccomendations will be scuppered by future cuts in government funding

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Week 95

Week 95

Cold, rain and sleet, bog and mud underfoot with the river level about where it should be. Someone flicked the Snowdrop switch and in the space of a couple of days the majority came into flower. Daffodils and Bluebells should be the same having benefited from a proper winter cold snap. The river temperature is low and there is no sign of the mad midday Olives that can sometimes appear at this time of the year.
The tin shifting the silt is working well with the good flow and some parts of the gravel are starting to regain their sparkle. The Bittern that we disturbed the other week appears to have moved on, and a few birds sound like they have changed their tune in the hope of an early onset of spring friskiness. Plenty of Pheasants are strutting around, once the banging stops they can become quite bold. Pigeons have hammered the maize that I rolled down and several friends had a good few hours shooting, they are still pitching in from mid morning to mid afternoon but not in the numbers that they were when it was first rolled.

I have once again taken up arms, in the perennial struggle to repel invasion and occupation by Snap Willow. The stuff is indestructible, growing high, falling over, and taking root to climb high again. Someone once said that in the event of a nuclear holocaust there would be one survivor, the equally indestructible Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, who in a barren wasteland would emerge dazed from behind a tree to declare “I saw the lights and I thought we were on” The tree from which he took shelter would undoubtedly be a Snap willow and it would still have green shoots. The Willows that I have been clearing this week have started to starve the bankside fringe of light leading to it thinning and exposing the bank to erosion. It only takes a few years of diminished light for severe damage to be done to a bank. I have also been killing the ivy on some of the bigger trees in the wood, cutting through the ivy at the base of the tree. At this time of the year it is easy to see the trees that need doing.
Once again Otters are to the fore this week. One or more has found the flight pond, and despite Mssrs Fine Fleece and Sandals, assurances that an Otter’s staple diet is Eels, has started to work his way through the Carp. Scales are scattered like confetti along the bank with three corpses so far, the biggest a Common Carp of around ten pound that was over thirty years old, two others also met their end despite the pond holding a good head of Eels. There are two large Koi Carp in the pond that I rescued from someone’s derelict swimming pool, they stand out a mile, and must be highly visible to an Otter but these have yet to be eaten. Maybe the answer is to issue fish with High Viz jackets to deter this latest threat. There is over a thousand pound worth of stock in the pond that we are powerless to protect, and will not be able to replace until the problem of a burgeoning Otter population is addressed.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Week 94

Week 94

We had our last shooting day of the season. Beaters and Bums trudging through the drives, firing at anything that flies to finish off the season.

For a variety of reasons, our penultimate shooting day had to be called off; a first in this watch, but the result was a Wood full of birds for the final the day. Otis and I ran the top water meadow down, and put up twenty Snipe, who jagged their way towards the guns before doubling back and heading back up the valley. The Geese got up, and got down onto the neighbouring Big fish water, and ditch dwelling Ducks climbed steeply and made their way safely over the line of guns, mostly Mallard, a few Teal, and a tight group of Widgeon spectacularly whistling away high on the wind.

The Partridge had gone; the sparse hedge and game cover in the top drive offering little warmth. The Pheasants had hunkered down in the warm meadow and provided steady sport for the remainder of the day. The odd Woodcock got up, and just before lunch, a Bittern put in a suicidal lunge in front of a Cock Pheasant that someone had in their sights, a hasty cry from a neighbouring gun saving the endangered bird from an appearance on the game cart. With all eyes peeled for white tiger and dodo, little lead/bismuth was fired in the final drive.

Otters, a popular topic amongst keepers in this valley, raised their head at lunch. This stretch of river has been relatively untroubled in recent months, but prints in the snow on the middle Test revealed an Otter motorway between various stew ponds, and a two acre pond providing fishing for a cash poor fishing club, has seen it’s stock significantly diminished by the Cuddly Critters. The club have limited funds to restock and are reluctant to do so, understandably, if all their replacement stock is to end up on the bank with a bite out of their back.

In a recent article, the newly formed Angling Trust highlighted the problem of Otters taking stock from rivers and lakes, and the futility of the compensation scheme put in place by the EA to cover losses from Commercial fisheries. This year £100,000 has been handed out to those who have lost stock to Otters, which constitutes a quiet night in for the nation’s Otter population. For Seals on Salmon Rivers, read Otters on trout and coarse rivers and lakes.

The springs up an down the valley are now running well. The ditch that circumnavigates the village football pitch is now flowing, always a good sign that a decent amount of water has got into the ground. No sign of any fungus on fish in the river although the water is still fairly cool. The Roach look in tiptop condition and the clear water in the pond has revealed that we have some very chubby Bream!
Following the final day of the shooting season, I rolled one of the strips of Maize. This has drawn Pigeons from Trafalgar and beyond and will provide some good pigeon shooting in the weeks to come.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Week 93



Week 93

The snow stayed for over a week, finally disappearing over a forty eight hour period when the wind switched from a Moscow departure to it’s more usual route across the Atlantic. A few white patches remain under hedges where the sun never shines but much of it has now gone. The Rabbits were relieved to see the grass again, the prolonged covering of snow driving them to gnaw the bark from trees as a means of getting a meal. Footprints in the snow give a strong hint as to what is about at the moment. The path of a fox setting off in a straight line across a field, a well worn path as a platoon of pheasants make their daily trek from their roost to game cover, the scatty route of an errant dog bumbling around where he shouldn’t be, the snow shoe prints of a pair of swans walking their way from one river channel to another, the fine lines of an Egret print as it silently approaches the water’s edge. The egrets in this valley show little concern over the presence of man, and it is not uncommon to get within ten yards of one before he flies off. Most mornings this week the dogs have ejected a pair of Waterail from a bank of sedges near the pond, they keep going back to the same spot, although I think it is a little early for them to be pairing up. The Roe deer and Hares congregate in the same place in prolonged cold weather a shallow dip in the hundred acre field seems to be a warm sheltered spot, it is nothing to see a dozen hares hunkered down in this dip on a cold morning.

For much of a school free week, the field behind our house became the hub of village life as many turned out to rekindle their passion for sledging. The bridleway from the village bore a procession of people armed with tea trays, plastic sheeting, blow up boats and much more to use up some adrenalin on one of the fastest slopes of this parish and beyond. It normally plays host to a particularly senior Pheasant drive but even the gamekeeper turned out to pitch his young children headlong down the slope. Not a warning sign to be seen or even a nod to health and safety, just an army of kids and parents flinging themselves down a slope and enjoying themselves.

During the freeze the river fell away and was maintained by spring flow alone, it coloured and rose during the thaw, falling back to level that is about right for this time of the year. The long spring ditch that leads up through the water meadow and around the football pitch has yet to start running on the other side of the village, a sign that the aquifers can accommodate a good deal more rain yet.

The tinning is underway and I have also had some welcome limbs of ash to chop up, the woodshed took a bit of a hammering in recent weeks and is in desperate need of replenishment.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Week 92


Week 92

Snow, snow and more snow. Proper snow, about six inches of it, all piled up at the side of the road after my friend peeled the cellophane from his ten year old snow plough, attached it to his tractor and went a ploughing!

Much concern over the amount of salt and grit available, and our local supermarket is all out of Saxo. Panic in the aisles as folk stock up with non perishable food in readiness for a month inside following weather warnings from the grave and austere weatherpersons.

Snow is great. Cold and ice is what everything needs at this time of the year, Flora and Fauna need to know that it is wintertime and will be all the stronger and fitter for pulling through a cold snap. Perhaps it is a lesson that we could learn from nature. I don’t mean the Inuit practice of putting the old folk out on the ice overnight to see if they make breakfast. But those amongst us who can, should, get out and embrace the wintry conditions. Instead of asking everyone to stay at home, encourage the able bodied to get out and deal with life amid the snow. Have a go at driving on snow covered roads and develop a memory bank of how to adjust to conditions, rather than hiding away and waiting for the sun to come out again.

The frozen ground has resulted in the river falling and clearing, the spring ditches are flowing at about the average rate for this time of the year. The Brown Trout in the river look to be in reasonable condition, feeding sub surface and regaining the ounces lost post spawning, the Grayling remain in spanking form.

With heavy snow on the ground, the Pheasant feeders come into their own and become a magnet to a wide range of wild life. The small patch of ground beneath the feeder, clear of snow, with a handful of corn in the middle is a welcome meal for not only Pheasant and Partridge, but many other species of birds. Hand feeding with a bucket of corn in areas clear of snow can really concentrate birds in these conditions.

Ducks remain few and far between, although the wintry conditions have bought the Widgeon whistling up and down the valley. Gadwall have been all over this valley for the past five or six years, but this year, numbers are low. A few more Snipe jag about the valley, and I am sure that a few other species of Duck are on their way to these spring-fed and ice-free waters.
Christmas passed in the usual fun filled and hectic manner, a pile of meat devoured and a trailer full of empties for the bottle bank. New Year was, as always, a jolly night with a similar amount of meat consumed and a second trailer full of green and clear bottles with the added bonus that, for the first New Year Party in recent memory, no one fell in a pond!