The last day of a difficult season. Beautifully clear water and a hint of late season sparkle tainted by prolific blanket weed. Fly life this week has been good with Olives hatching throughout the day, a smattering of them blue winged, plus a few sedges. All the small stuff rise but most of the bigger lumps still sulk. A few fish have been caught but nothing like the sport of previous Septembers, after a fantastic first eight weeks the season has ended as one of the least productive in recent memory. There are plenty of fish in the river, but sport has been hampered by the lack of water and the need to let the river “grow in” to preserve water levels. In a week’s time I shall cut all the weed out and I expect it will drop the level by eight to ten inches pushing fish into the deeper holes. There are good numbers of Grayling and large numbers of fry in the millstream following the intensive spawning on the shallows by the ford in April.
A week ago, at 5pm I received a phone call from the factor of the local put and take big fish water, he had just been out and about cleaning screens and glad-handing the anglers and had had his attention drawn to the colour of the river, which was dirty grey and cloudy. A call was made to the Environment Agency pollution hotline, a sample of water taken and a phone call made to the bloke downstream, alerting me to the dirty slug of water. Three years ago we were issued with sterile bottles and a glossy book of pull out postcards on which we could record the details of such incidents and send in to Environment agency central.
After ten minutes scrabbling around in the garage the bottles and book were located, the bottle steam sterilised and a sample taken of the offending slug of water that tainted two hundred yards of river. I then made the phone call to an Environment Agency man a long way away. The opening exchanges revolved around my own personal details: name, address occupation, general fitness and what ethnic group I would put myself in. There followed some questions that didn’t seem to apply to chalkstreams before I interrupted the “checklist” to explain that the slug of dirty water was currently at this location, was moving downstream and if the Environment Agency wanted to come out and get some samples of their own they had better get out her “ tout de suite” which may well have sent them scurrying off towards Winchester, having previously had two section 30 stocking applications turned down for our location in a sensitive part of the upper Itchen.
I was informed by “ central control” that the information would be passed on to the relevant authority who may be in touch soon. Twenty minutes later I was called by team leader of the “dirty water squad” and was asked if the water smelt of anything and could I see any fish in distress,
to which I replied no.
I informed team leader that I had taken a sample and was in the process of sending him a postcard but team leader said that he could not take samples from Joe Public citing poor sampling technique and not to worry about the postcard.
Having given bloody battle with BT for several hours that morning over matters various I returned to my tent to prepare for the following day.
The next morning, there was foam on the river, blocks of it at the end of broken water.
Photos were taken and the enemy engaged.
A decline in chalkstream water quality has been of major concern for some years and is often overshadowed by the Wild Trout crusade and much more besides.
Contact was made with the Test and Itchen association who represent the Riparian owners who were suitably aghast at the EA’s inaction and made enquiries on our behalf. A few days later EA central made contact and asked for water samples. The clumsy factor of the local big fish water had spilt his (a not too uncommon occurrence where liquid is concerned} mine was in the fridge marked “do not drink”
A week after the pollution incident occurred, the sample was collected and we await results.
Nobody died, no fish were found belly up and everything seems to have returned to normal but something went into the river that shouldn’t have. Currently there are roughly three miles of river between here and the source. With the spirit of Scooby Doo, investigations could have been made and the identity of “The Phantom” revealed providing good publicity for a cash starved agency and "The Phantom" suitably punished/admonished.
At the very least a quick tour of the valley with a man in a van may have deterred the culprit from a repeat performance.