Sunday, August 17, 2014

Camping on trout and a daddy one leg

Dosed up with truth serum, I'll happily admit that August ain't the best month to be fishing the headwaters of a southern chalkstream. A quick flick through the catch records in the fishing hut reveal many seasons when as many fish have been caught in the last week in May as the whole of the following August, a diminishing river gin clear water and fish with their eye in make fishing a tricky business and many would attest that a single fish in August is worth four in May. In terms of Masterchef, your August Brown Trout is somewhat akin to Greg and Phil with their glasses on. They are seeing things well, the offering must be perfectly presented, easy on the eye and reasonably appetising. It doesn't take much for your August Brownie to turn up his nose, it's the principle reason why Rainbow Trout were first stocked into the river, a fish that is more willing to accept an angler's offering in the dog days of summer, although they are now introduced to some stretches throughout the season.

Some fishermen will return home in August with a dry net, and it is easy to slip into a habit of fishing by rote, failing to fish the whole river and moving quickly from one spot where success has previously been enjoyed to the next,ignoring the bits inbetween while replicating methods that were successful for them earlier in the year. The Brown Trout, their habits, their appetite and their diet have all altered in high summer. On this stretch of the Dever Brown Trout predominate and it pays to adopt a flexible approach, there are a few general rules throughout the month, numbers of sedge will always draw the eye of fish as the light fades at the end of the day, and a hatch of Blue Winged Olives or a fall of sherry spinners will always cause a few fins to twitch, but flurries of BWO are far less numerous than thirty years ago and those fish that sat midstream high in the water in the early part of the season are now far more circumspect and prone to tuck themselves away if they are not in the mood.

One of our regular rods advocated "camping" on a fish if it was the slightest distance off the bottom of the river, concealment and fine presentation are key if the method is to succeed, but as long as the Brown Trout remained on station he would systematically go through his fly box deftly presenting each pattern, and if the fish didn't spook or failed to rise, the fly would be changed. It was an arduous pursuit that required no little skill but was often successful, although some of our more senior Brown Trout who have been around the block will happily stay on station even if an angler reveals himself, in cricketing terms they are in and "seeing it like a football". Another regular rod who occasionally tried camping on a fish went twice through his fly box on a large Brown Trout tucked under the near bank, after a considerable length of time his exasperation knew no bounds and he stood up and poked the fish's flank with the end of his rod, the fish slowly moved across the stream a few inches and maintained his station.

Others swear by a Daddy long legs for August and rarely change their fly, a Doctor who fished here regularly in the middle of the week was a skilled angler but found himself struggling one week so purchased his first Daddy Long Legs from the fly box in the fishing hut. Within the hour he had broken his duck and ended up with three fish for the day. He didn't change his fly for the remainder of the month and caught fish on each visit despite a fly that when finally taken off his line was a Daddy One Leg.

Whichever approach is taken by the angler in tricky August conditions it has a far better chance of success if it is carried out positively and with confidence in the method, a negative approach leads to fishing by rote and fewer fish being put on the bank, and the succour that is September when conditions improve and fish feed a little harder in preparation for the rigors of spawning is just around the corner.

The August weed cut is upon us, twelve months ago the weed was dying off and algae was on the rise, this year the weed is in good health with less blanket weed, healthy weed at this time of the year helps to maintain water levels and it has just been a matter of trimming out the ribbon weed that threatens to grow clear of the water and hamper presentation of a fly.

The aquifers that feed the chalkstreams have fallen considerably since the flooding of last winter, historically they reach their lowest levels during September and October.. All the weed in this stretch of the Dever is cut with a scythe and it is possible to be fairly precise and cut bars that extend across the width of the river and help to hold the water up. Some anglers don't believe that it is possible to hold water up with weed, but each October I cut back much of the weed in the river and the level will drop up to ten inches, if a swan rips a hole in one of the bars or the weed becomes weak or smothered by blanket weed and pulls out and heads off downstream water depth on shallows can be reduced rendering them unattractive to brown trout and grayling who consequently congregate in deeper holes and sulk, continually spooking each other forgetting to feed and offer an easy target for avian predators. It's a particular problem on this stretch of the Dever which has quite a steep gradient for a chalkstream and the water doesn't need much of an invitation to rattle away through a gap in a bar of weed.
On the short stretch of the river Itchen that I look after there is no danger of this happening, it is not in the headwaters and has a greater discharge, the weed is cut in a completely different way, still with a scythe, but not with an eye to preserving water levels, it is much deeper with no shallows as such and the principle weed is ribbon weed that has been flowering four feet clear of the water' surface for a few weeks. This can make getting a fly on the water a little tricky so the plan for August weed cutting is cut all the ribbon weed out, the only short shallow lies at the head of the beat where the water exits a large hatch pool, the floods of last winter have scoured the pool to such an extent that a large amount of gravel spewed out of the tail of the pool leaving a sparkling gravel bar that is completely void of weed.

The marginal weeds have a big part to play in preserving the level of a falling river, currently in full flower and home to a million insects that draw the eye of pheasant poults on their first forays from the release pen, the marginal growth is slowly creeping out into the river helping to squeeze the diminishing flow and maintain a speed of flow that does not allow any deposition and keeps at least some of the gravels nice and clean. Each autumn I cut this marginal growth back. to open up the channel for a much need scrub behind the ears by increased winter flow. Over on the short stretch of the Itchen the depth of water means that the marginal growth does not encroach in the same way and it is managed in differently with the top taken off a few times a year. Each autumn I take the marginal growth down to half its height and cut back a proportion of what extends out into the river, it's been carried out this way for hundreds of years and also aids flood defence. I know when I first started on the river the theory was to get a neat and tidy line to the bank in order to get as much water scouring the edge of the river as possible, which has some merit but advances in machinery meant that this was carried out a little over zealously. A few years ago a complicated cabal of "experts" decreed that the practice was to be discouraged and many were instructed to cease management of marginal growth and allow it to do its own thing and grow out into the river. Last winter a short section of river upstream from here that, on expert advice had been managed in such a way for five years or more, (over the instincts of the resident riverkeeper with forty or more years experience). Infringed the main river channel to the extent that much of the river took a new course, backing up through the stock ponds of a nearby put and take trout fishery before breaking out across the water meadow to rejoin the main channel a hundred yards downstream, many fish escaped from the stock ponds and this year our anglers have banked many rainbow trout between two and four pounds, we don't stock rainbow trout and go some seasons without any being put on the bank.

The Dever converges with the Test around a mile downstream from here for the first four months of this year they made contact a mile further upstream as a Test carrier stream that had been "let go" made its way through an electricity substation across four fields of pasture to take out a chalk wall of several hundred years standing that never expected the river to come this way before making its way down the road into the river Dever.

There is a danger that people will drive at these two stretches of river and many others, with diggers and machines and clear marginal growth back every five years or so, although those charged with the care of the stretch upstream from here are making efforts to sort the errant growth out by hand on an annual basis. Management of marginal growth on this river may have become a little over officious but on a river that has been managed by man for a century or more the answer did not lie in abstention from a practice that had been undertaken for aeons, but in a recommendation to carry it out more sympathetically. The two stretches of river that I look after require different methods of fishery management, they can't be covered by a list of half a dozen modes of practice.

There are signs that the current River Restoration Strategy recognise this fact and also places some value on any local knowledge that may have accrued, unlike the daft policies of the past decade where management policies were generalised/nationalised and all were invited to conform to preconceived plans drawn up by "experts in the field"

On a lighter note, and donning my cape and cane, Calamity Jane at The Watermill Theatre was a triumph, the Kennet looked in pretty good shape too.

As I write England have just trounced an Indian side who no longer seem to have any interest in five day cricket. Shorter formats of the game are favoured in what is often described as the powerhouse of world cricket and their skill levels have suffered all the more for their extended time spent in their twenty over bubble. If India no longer value Test Cricket don't give them a five Test series, Sri Lanka, who were only granted two tests at the start of the summer seemed far more up for a game.

Automatic Reply: I am out of the office for a few days and will respond to your correspondence on my return. If your enquiry is of an urgent nature I can be contacted at chrisandtheladywhosleepsonhis left@snorkellingoffabeachincorfu.com

Thanks to everyone for filling in while we are away.

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