Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A proper June Weed Cut

Two days to go of what has been a proper June weed cut. There is a reason that more days are allocated to cut weed in June than any of the other summer months and that is because historically it is the time of the year when there has been most weed to cut. This hasn’t been the case on the under replenished Dever for a few seasons, the Itchen was a bit manic this time last year, but good winter flows on the Dever have stimulated the weed growth to such an extent that Ranunculus is in full flower and water celery is poking through the surface. Sensibly most Keepers started cutting on day one, there can’t be much weed left in the Dever upstream from here, and on several occasions this past week the river here has been bunged up with cut weed backed up on a bridge, and for a few hours the bottom bends by the house were completely clogged as large rafts squeezed through a short section where the river narrows. All of my cutting has been carried out with an eye to drying out the banks while maintaining cover and lies for fish.
The manner in which the hundred yards or so below this beat is cut affects the water level through our bottom bends and on up to the fishing hut. During one of my first weed cuts I spent an age bar cutting these bottom bends maintaining what I thought would be a good level of water for the coming month, only for the keeper below to strip out the top hundred yards of his beat and drop the level of the water by six inches through all my fancy weed cutting. A lesson learnt, I now put a board in the top hatch to reduce the flow by a quarter, pushing more water down the mill stream during the weedcut, I then cut the weed in the main river with this reduced flow. If weed cutting downstream drops the level late in the cut, I can push the water back over my bars by pulling the board out and increasing the flow through the river. Chalkstreams are rivers that have been managed by man for one reason or another for hundreds of years and despite what experts would have us believe not every hatch is a bad hatch, it’s about knowing what is achievable with each hatch or sluice and operating it accordingly. A veiled reference to River Restoration Strategy and a bum report by Atkins perhaps, but scythe induced rumination reminded me that we were promised a report of reaction to the consultation by April but nothing yet has been published, and it remains one of the few UK River Restoration Strategy consultations undertaken under The Water Framework Directive not to have published comments that were invited following consultation.

Fishing through the weed cut has been a little hit and miss, completely unfishable when large rafts are pushing through, the fish have been quick to settle once the cut weed has passed as mayfly continue to hatch in numbers. Along with the mayfly we have experienced some huge hatches of olives, more numerous than in recent years, a few three tailed BWO, but mostly twin tailed medium olives. One afternoon while swishing my scythe, I was treated to a spectacular aerobatic display as many martins and swallows swooshed above my head tucking in to an appetiser of olives before a main meal of mayfly. Trout have also been taken on olive patterns, more so than during most periods when Mayfly have been on the menu.

The fen that we fired earlier in the year is dense with growth and hums to the drone of buzzy things dipping their wick into the many flowers of Knitbone, a few Orchids are pushing their way through and several seem paler than in previous years,
I don’t know why, and it may be my failing eyes, but I took a photo of this plant last year and it was definitely a darker purple.
The pond is crystal clear and completely free of carp following a winter with the otter. Roach and rudd abound and will no doubt tempt Billy the bittern to return in the winter months but the biggest fish in the pond are the bream, there are plenty of one to two year old fish mucking about in the margins but a troop of senior fish that must be pushing double figures regularly patrol, I have only ever found one dead on the bank, a fish of around eight pound done for by dear old Tarka, so maybe they don’t taste very nice, although we once fished for carp on the Saone in the summer near Macon and a neighbouring “pecheur” took a bin bag full of the things home after a night on the bank. They would not be my bottom feeder of first choice, I will always carry a torch for Tinca Tinca but boring as they may be Bream seem to do well in this pond.

Fears over fracking in the Test Valley have got a few roused. Water supply is the key issue in these quarters, along with the disposal of post fracked water, as it is full of nasties that won’t do much for the chalkstream environment and all who live in her. Bridge design will need to be addressed if seismic activity is to increase along with earthquake damping on the fishing hut. Research across the pond over whether fracking is a goer reported that environmental impact was ok if it could be “managed” Big business and the bottom line speak if ever I heard it, why not “eliminated” rather than “managed”? Recent events on the Bourne suggest that our agencies entrusted with environmental protection are a toothless bunch. If they were an educational establishment subject to regular inspection I have no hesitation in suggesting that they would be classified as “failing” when what these rivers require is an “outstanding” classification, especially when faced with big business and the bottom line. The trashing of a chalkstream environment would be small beer in comparison to some of the things that have gone on worldwide in the name of energy provision. I like my electricity , but give me a thousand hamsters spinning wheels in the garden over this dodgy process a few miles up the road any day.

A report by the Institute of Fishery Management has called for fishery owners and managers to lay off Cormorants as their numbers are dwindling. A bizarre request as numbers of cormorants on inland waterways needed to dwindle. Graculus is not on his uppers, and can still be found in numbers in places far from the sea where he really shouldn’t be.

Bonkers! too much Noggin the Nog.

Further ruminations while swishing a scythe:

“Wild” is a much used word on the river bank these days. Many anglers have been wild at the weed running the river this past week, for which I apologise, but more often than not it is used to describe a small Brown Trout that has been plucked from the river and returned with gentle hands. Like “Organic”, “fat free” and “The Duchess of Cambridge” it is often uttered with great reverence and can impart a warm glow on the orator. It is a small fish I have caught so it must be wild.

Now on some bodies of water you could be reasonably confident in the statement that the small fish that gulped your fly was wild, whatever wild is?

On some lakes and rivers a self sustaining population of Brown Trout could confidently be termed as wild. a Scottish Loch full of four year old four ounce fish or a wild welsh river with no history of stocking. It’s a tough life and they have retained a genetic purity that some may covet, and others consider an evolutional hindrance. An island not far from these shores was inhabited by a small population of homo sapiens that for hundreds of years bore one of two surnames before everyone got fed up with marrying their cousin and hit the bright lights and exotic arcades of the mainland. History suggests that quests for genetic purity are not the way to go. A side on view of myself hints at distant origins somewhere around Easter Island, particularly if the statues on the hill looking out to sea are anything to go. A match up with a paramour from the island displaying a similar profile as my own would have resulted in an extended run in Dr Who for the generations to come.

Last year during an EA survey under EU Water Framework Directive to assess fish populations, all fish caught were counted and measured, and the Brown Trout given a classification as to whether they were wild or stocked; a visual classification that, to some, determined their genetic line. Half of the fish captured were deemed to be wild.
A Chalkstream to a Brown Trout is akin to a high end grow bag for tomatoes, conditions are perfect for their culture. Chalkstreams have been stocked with fertile fish for over a hundred years and the genetic line of the native fish that flipped a fin when Jove was a lad was mixed up decades ago, if it’s genetic purity you are seeking to preserve, it probably disappeared around the time that the white horse was walking about on Wembley.

If however “wild” means brown trout getting jiggy despite their source of genes then there are wild fish in the chalkstreams, their lineage may be a complicated soup, but fish do spawn and fry are present. If a few fingerlings sought refuge from a stock pond, or were stocked deliberately in numbers, some would cash in their chips early in the piece. Others would adapt and survive through to a sexual maturity and spawn, a process that some would term “natural selection” These fish could be described as stocked fish that have gone on to spawn, but are they Wild? Filthy genes, undoubtedly, but in a perfect habitat for Brown trout reproduction they have been stocked, been subject to natural selection before reaching maturity and spawning.

If it pops out of the gravel, no matter what its lineage, it’s a wild fish, if it has been hatchery raised, stocked at a young age and survived through to sexual maturity it’s a stockie. But I am buggered if anyone could tell the difference by visual inspection alone. So if preserving genetic purity is taken out of the equation, does it really matter if both go on and reproduce, where's the harm in stocking fingerling Brown Trout and would "The Brown Trout Habitat Preservation Trust" be a more preferable moniker for The Wild Trout Trust.

My head's a whirl

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