Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sky Sports do nice Audi (so thats where my subscription went)

Drought conditions have been officially declared in the South East. Two days before Christmas, when most are manically dashing around, a chance to bury “bad news” was seized and it was quietly revealed that the water company concerned had not been measuring groundwater levels accurately and that steps to preserve water should have been put in place some time ago. I am not sure it would have made much difference as we still need two winter’s worth of rain in the next three months but it is a little disconcerting that those who legislate on our valuable water supplies could make such a simple mistake. It may have been decimalisation that caught them out or possibly the ruler was upside down, we’ll never know, but it’s a worry.

Our second day shooting threw up lots of birds but a smaller bag. Half a dozen Woodcock are currently in residence, along with plenty of Partridge in the top strip of maize but in four hours bumbling up and down the river valley we saw only half a dozen duck. Don’t know where they are and I haven’t heard much lead in the air on other ponds in the vicinity so I guess others are experiencing the same.

John Wilson was here the other week and caught a few Roach and Grayling; this week we have had Keith Arthur and the “Tight Lines” team from Sky Sports down to have a go. Cameraman, soundman and assistant all turned up in their own top of the range Audis, paid for by my subscription while Keith follows on in his ten year old white van packed full of fishing tackle. The Roach fishing isn’t easy at the moment with low clear water but he caught a few and Arthur, like Wilson ,is an easy going bloke, a good talker and knows his fishing.

The diploid Brown Trout eggs are eyed up and on the cusp of hatching and in the river the Brown Trout are feeding sporadically now that the rigours of spawning are done.

We have had our annual visit from CEFAS, an afternoon going over our records of fish movement, mortality and medicine and an inspection of stock and operating practice. CEFAS are a sensible bunch and regularly roll their eyes at some of the questions they are required to ask. We must be one of the smaller sites on the Fish Farm register, and now that we no longer stock other sections of river and only supply rainbows to another registered fish farm there our very few records to peruse. But boxes must be ticked so the CEFAS man met with The Bio-Security manager, Assistant Bio-Security manager, Fish diseases man and The Transportation director all positions currently held by yours truly. It is never a problem and titbits about what is going in the fish farming and fishery management world can often be gleaned. Of chief concern to CEFAS is VHS Viral Haemorrhagic Septicaemia a notifiable disease in Salmonids that is present in mainland Europe, to date there has only been one outbreak in the UK which had the effect of closing the whole of the affected river system down, an outbreak in the Great Lakes of North America devastated a thriving population of Char. VHS can be carried by water and also by birds so it is a miracle that we have escaped further outbreaks. Disinfecting nets, boots and tackle is one step that can cut down the risk of infection but the increasing number of anglers fishing overseas both Game and Coarse, heightens the risk of infection and not all will wipe their feet on return. We have agreed to host a disinfection point for boots and nets.

Problems with transportation persist, EU mandarins issued edicts stating that all animals “en route” should be given sufficient drinking water and comfort breaks to keep them in mid season form. Quite right for Cows Pigs and Chickens, but the same rule also applies to fish; a box must be ticked stating that we have transported our fish with sufficient drinking water for the journey and regular stops for sustenance, bowel evacuation and exercise.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's about time the keeper got the hang of it

The opening skirmishes of our shooting season proved fruitful. The first drive down the water meadow put up a flurry of ducks and the first of a few Woodcock, the two blocks of Maize were full of Pheasant and Partridge and the three drives along the river put up further Woodcock. The guns shot well and one of our bigger bags resulted, all with a skeleton beating line and only three dogs. Otis excelled (for once) the weather behaved. Amongst the flushed game were several Muntjac, quite a few Hares (all in the woods) half a dozen Roe Deer but no Fox. The only blight on the day the freshly ploughed fields where acres of stubble stood the previous week, Oh for a jolly farmer! Everything shot had lived a happy, free range organic life and ended up in a pot or freezer a few days later. The late lunch for beaters and guns lasted for much of the afternoon and was, as always, entertaining, bacchanalian and great fun. It’s an enjoyable day to which all contribute and a great advert for game shooting, to quote one regular beater with paint on his shoes

“After twenty years it’s about time the keeper got the hang of it!”

I wouldn’t go that far and am wary of hubris, no doubt next time we will struggle for double figures.

We have had some high wind, but only twigs and branches have fallen down. The accompanying rain has been heavy and much has run off with the river rising and falling within the space of 24 hrs, the river remains low and we need two winter’s worth of rain over the coming months.

The stretch of upper Dever that I was asked to have a look at is a gem, but in desperate need of a management plan. Crystal clear with fine loose gravel, it sparkles where the light gets in. A few months going bananas with a chainsaw would provide some super toothpick fishing for small brownies. I remember stocking the water twenty odd years ago as a student with mixed sex fish, it had a little more flow then and an angling club leased the water, it was managed and fish thrived. Let go for a decade it has died, marginal growth has been starved of light, crack willow has conquered all, and few fish remain; a sad example of why chalk streams must be managed.

Habit management on the Chalkstreams is key and done properly is highly effective. The two pieces of water for which I am now responsible, although both are chalkstreams, pose different fishery management problems. The angling press in recent months has been full of “ Fishery management experts “ pushing the National Trout and Grayling Strategy that is to be enforced in 2015, several articles have promoted management practice for all rivers. Woody debris was the feature one month, an irresponsible article that promised thousands of new trout if you bolted big bits of wood to the river bed, the resulting riffle would be teeming with small trout. It works in some situations but not in others and when you get it wrong it can actually cause damage. Another article on a particular stretch of river in Sussex highlighted the thriving Wild Brown trout population that had appeared once the Wild Trout Trust wand had been waved, no mention was made of the fact that the water immediately below had been stocked for some years with mixed sex trout. I know this because I supplied the fish and carried out the stocking, all under licence from the EA.

Facts and figures have been cherry picked and goalposts moved miles (the WTT definition of a “wild” Brown Trout is now very different to what it was five years ago) to pedal this National Strategy that will do little but detract from important concerns over water quality and effective habitat management.

With effective Habitat management diploid brown trout introduced to a chalkstream at a young age will thrive and also be subject to sufficient natural selection to ensure that only the fit and able reach maturity and spawn. A stocking strategy such as this in rivers where there is no longer a clearly identifiable wild trout strain provides numbers of fish of all age classes and offers a more commercially viable and natural solution to the one currently being promoted. It would require an effective fishery management and predator control strategy where Mr and Mrs Brown Trout are put first and may also sit better in the public eye. The proposed strategy of “triploids only” may appear an obvious solution, but the media savvy in some quarters would have no trouble in painting them in a bad light and push for their use to be banned, and what are we left to stock with then? ...........Nothing

Which is what many believed The National Trout and Grayling strategy set out to do in the first place, a ban on stocking, although the Wild Trout Trust, Hampshire Wildlife Trust, EA and a host of others would have us believe otherwise,

Cherry anyone?

Friday, December 2, 2011

With a smile and a song

Today, the first day of December, a drought warning was issued for the South east of England. We have had some rain, and good rain at that, nice and steady stuff that gets down into the ground, but we need a whole lot more if the river is anything like what it should be next season.

In the river there are redds in all the usual places with fish kicking up hard. The eggs in the hatchery are of mixed quality and I have been busy egg picking most days this past week. We have had a few Grayling fishermen recently, mostly French they have returned mixed results with plenty of small fish caught but the bigger fish have not played ball, Monsieur also presented me with a two pound Perch for tea and a few tips on preparation and the appropriate sauce.

We have our first day shooting next week and I have had a few days clearing up crack willow that has intruded on some of the rides. There appear to be plenty of birds about although the acres of stubble have been ripped up this week so the day may be less a maraud and more a trudge. Otis is currently the “goon in the room” following recent parades by a bitch in season, fingers crossed his thoughts return to emanating from his head and not his loins as he will have a part to play come shoot day.

Over on the Itchen I have been clearing back some bank. Some are critical of the wide swathes cut on some banks of the chalkstreams but it does spread the wear on the riverbank, paths don’t develop and pressure is relieved on the all important fringe. The water is not as clear on this stretch of the Itchen and the gravel not as clean, although cutting the weed has certainly shifted a lot of rubbish. There is also a small spring ditch that is running still, despite the current conditions. Overgrown and with no clear margin it is in desperate need of light and water but it has clean gravel and a few small Brown Trout and could be an ideal nursery stream to the main river. I have also been asked to have a look at a stretch of the Avon which is a very different river to what I am accustomed too and a bit of the Dever that should prove more familiar.

Back on the Dever I was walking up the river one morning to chase back some errant pheasants, when I spotted a Kingfisher on the pool below the weir, close by was a yellow wagtail that flicked and twitched as I approached before rising into the air. The altitude of ten feet was attained before bandits appeared at twelve o’clock, a Sparrowhawk that threatened to pluck him from the sky as the Wagtail would a midday Olive, whether by cunning plan or complete accident the wagtail set off towards the kingfisher who flushed and set off in the opposite direction, distracting the Sparrowhawk who switched quarry and set off in pursuit of the flashing bluebird whose local river knowledge saw him to safety.

When my daughter was small and going through her first “Snow White” phase we found a squab one summer that had flown into the wall of our house. Ten minutes of gentle nursing and a few rounds of “Hi Ho” seemed to have returned it to mid season form so we climbed the bank in order to launch it back to the skies from whence it came. Rusty wings took it slowly to the height of the roof when with a Poof! it was hit by a Sparrowhawk who had lain in white in a nearby field maple, feathers floated down on myself and my bemused daughter who shrugged her shoulders and pitched into “With a smile and a song” before heading back inside.