Thursday, 23 October 2008
Cutting weed for most of this week, clearing the whole river channel and dropping the river level by around ten inches; the water is crystal clear and throughout the week there has been a steady hatch of fly throughout the middle part of the day. With the weed gone it is possible to make an assessment of the numbers of fish in the river and as I suspected towards the end of the summer, there are a lot. Quite a few are thinner than I would expect reflecting the poor hatches of fly and erratic feeding patterns during the second half of the season. In a relatively small river with gin clear water it is quite understandable to believe that you can see most things in the river, although it is quite remarkable how the Brown Trout if he doesn’t want to play will secrete himself away under a root or weed bed away from the angler’s eye.
While cutting the weed it is also apparent how much silt has been deposited through the season. The Ranunculas and Water Celery cut fairly easily, the Starwort however acts as a silt trap through out the summer and is a little more difficult to cut.
We have had two frosts this week, that have bought the leaves tumbling from the ash trees and willows, the oaks are still green and will require a few more frosts yet to make them yellow.
At this time of the year, leaves in the river can be a real problem to the stew ponds. The rearing ponds require a constant flow of water through them; fallen leaves flowing down the river can build up on the inlet screen restricting the flow. The ponds on this stretch of the river are not to affected by the leaves and will only require cleaning once or twice a day. While at college, a friend and I were employed for three weeks on a fish farm that had several thousand acres of forest a mile or so up stream; during our three week stay the screens required cleaning every two or three hours through the night, which meant getting up from the comfort of our twelve foot caravan walking a quarter of a mile to the top of the farm and cleaning the main inlet screen off with a rake. It is also a problem for water treatment works, who along with some of the larger fish farms have developed automated self cleaning screens; but why go to the unnecessary expense of one of those when you can use students.
I have trimmed the hides on the flight pond, and we now await the right weather for shooting ducks. The Carp in the pond are remarkably active. Cruising around, they are gorging themselves on the barley meant for the ducks when the lower water temperatures should be steadying them up; the spooky cormorant has put in another appearance as well. A barn close by the river that has lain derelict for twenty years is currently being converted into a house, the old roof is off and the skeleton exposed. The Barn Owl who has inhabited the place for the last five years at least, is a little perturbed to say the least at what is being done to his “Chez Nook”. With no roof for shelter he sits in the exposed roof timbers wondering what the world is coming to before roding the surrounding fields for rabbits and rats.
He is not the only one wondering what the world is coming to. This week on the radio a seemingly sane and reasonably eloquent lady of later years called for GPs to be encouraged to prescribe dog ownership for certain ailments. The example she gave was to prescribe a patient with High Blood Pressure a Springer Spaniel for stroking purposes; the effect was calming and beneficial for both the sufferer and dog alike. Spaniels in this parish have raised rather than lowered blood pressure in previous weeks. A call for dog ownership on medical grounds is irresponsible and further proof that the Loons have finally taken control of Bonkers Central. If dog ownership is to be prescribed as a treatment for high blood pressure, then like other prescribed medicines it should come with instructions on correct use and advice on side effects.
Misuse of prescribed medicines: A dog likes to know that it is a dog, it does not need humanising or Disneyfying it is happiest when it is a dog doing dog stuff.
Dosage: Take professional advice before increasing the dosage, for some people one dog is enough.
Storage: Keep in a safe secure place, do not leave lying around do not allow to wander.
Other Medicine: Take care when combining with other medicines such as Cats, Chickens or PHEASANTS.
Problems: If you suffer from any of the above side effects consult your GP and request another course of treatment, preferably a tortoise.
Rolf Harris has got a lot to answer for!
Friday, 17 October 2008
A dry week, the river gin clear and sparkling, a steady stream of hatching fly with many fish showing more than a passing interest, and our Trout season has finished! The Grayling are in superb condition and will provide good sport over the next few weeks until we put an end to fishing altogether to let the Trout in the river get on with spawning. Between now and then I have to put the river to bed for the winter. I have knocked the fringe of this week and edged the sides in, maximising the width of the river channel and preventing any of the bankside vegetation falling into the water; I carry out both of these jobs with my long handled hedge cutter. Up until a few years ago I would have used my brushcutter to knock the fringe off and a slasher to edge the banks in. Pre Brushcutter it would all have been done with a scythe. I have knocked my fringe off with a scythe before now, and as long as the scythe is kept razor sharp and you cut with the correct action it is not as hard as you would think. Part of the middle Test that I worked at briefly around twenty years ago kept one of the prototype brushcutters on the wall of their workshop. A Leviathan in the world of garden cutting equipment, it weighed a ton, the cutting head was driven by a chain from the engine that was situated at the other end of a seven-foot shaft. It was enormous and with the unguarded chain drive along the main shaft bloody dangerous. If I had been presented with it as the future of grass cutting I would have found cause for it to break down and gone back to my scythe. Things have moved on a lot now, the long handled hedge cutter being one of my most useful tools.
With the fringe knocked off I have started to get the Flight Pond ready for shooting, cutting back the beds of Phragmites that provided safe cover for nesting waterfowl, and tidying up the hides. The number of ducks coming on to the pond continue to increase as do the numbers of Coots and Moorhens attracted to an easy meal. The White Cormorant continues to put in the occasional appearance, next week I shall be cutting the weed in the river, which will make his attempts at fishing even easier. His days may be numbered, although one keeper friend of mine prone to the melodramatic statement, mentioned in his drunken mutterings that the soul who dispatched a white cormorant would carry a curse from that day to the grave.
There are also a few Herons about. As many fish die slowly from a clumsy Heron stab as are taken away by the Heron. Like a big eyed Billy Bunter presented with an oversized birthday cake they will often try and take a portion that is far too big for them; stabbing away at a three pound hen fish that they struggle to lift from the water, the fish failing to spawn and dieing a slow death from the stab wound in her back. For the spawning trout we must address the increase in stab culture and deal with the Heron in a Hoody!
Continuing with the deathly theme, I learnt this week of the death of a fishermen who regularly fished this stretch of the river for Grayling. He and his friend would fish several times with some success through October and November. His fishing friend rang, as he had done at this time of the year for the past decade to say that he would be fishing alone this year, his fishing buddy had died aged seventy two while waiting to be picked up to go for a day’s fishing, they found all his kit ready in the hall and him dead in the chair with a cup of coffee. He had died very quickly, while anticipating a day out fishing with his mate – not a bad way to go!
It is always sad when one of your regulars passes on, although I have yet to have one go on the riverbank, although I have come close. One hot sunny Friday afternoon I was walking home with my strimmer across one of the paddocks, when I was stopped in my tracks by an elderly half-rod flat on his back in the long grass twenty yards in front of me. Throwing my strimmer to one side I sprinted, Baywatch style, to the prone gent and knelt down beside him. My extensive first aid training kicked in.
He looked a bit grey, his mouth was slightly open, one arm by his side one arm outstretched; from my extensive experience of cowboy films I would say he was a goner. I gently leant over and prodded his cheek…………..
He opened his eyes, sat up and asked me what the hell I was doing, I explained that I thought he had died, he explained that he was sleeping off a rather good lunch, we had a laugh and he went on fishing with his favourite Snipe and Purple and died a few months later.
Monday, 13 October 2008
The last week of our Trout fishing season and as was the case last season, reasonable hatches of fly, clear water and fish rising throughout the afternoon. The biggest fish of the season caught on the first day of the week on a Red Wulff late in the afternoon. The fish weighed over seven pounds and had been in roughly the same area for much of the season. I would see it every morning when crossing the river to feed the fish in the stew ponds, on seeing me each morning it would drift slowly across to some tree roots and tuck itself away until I had passed. I guessed it was around five pounds, but when put on the bank it proved to be a very deep fish for its length. It led the captor a merry dance and has now gone off to be smoked.
Estimating the weight of Brown’s against other species of Trout is often hit and miss, less uniform in shape than Rainbows some Browns will retain a sleek torpedo shape throughout their lives others may have “shoulders” some may be wider and chunkier than a fish of the same length. Rainbows are far more uniform in size and shape, and it is far easier to make an accurate assessment of their weight by sight. This characteristic also renders them more suitable for rearing to supply supermarkets, where they must be exactly 12oz in weight and an exact length in order to fit into a particular size of CAP pack.
I had a look at the middle Test towards the end of the week and saw several fish rising to a variety of flies, although the water still looked murkier than it ought to at this time of year. The next few weeks will be taken up with putting the river to bed for the winter, akin to giving the Blue Peter Tortoise a bit of a buff-up before shoving him in a box under the bed. The fringe must be knocked off and edged in, and the weed cut, in order that the river channel is free from all obstructions and the anticipated increased flows of winter remain within the riverbanks.
The Pheasants are feathering up nicely, there is a lot of natural food around at the moment coupled with the ripe Maize in the Cover Crops. So I have been feeding slightly less each day. It is easy o overfeed the pheasants and if you find that food is not being eaten it is important to cut back on the food. If they fill up to quickly because off an over abundance of food they have more time to walk. The trick is too feed just enough and make them work for their food.
I have also caught a Stoat this week in one of the Run cages, that I have set near the chicken house. Ruthless and efficient predators they kill both game and vermin two or three times their size. We once had a small Tabby Cat who was also a Natural Born Killer. My wife and I watched a Stoat chasing a Rabbit on the bank in our garden into the path of our small Cat. Instead of nabbing the Rabbit, the Cat went for the Stoat and all hell broke loose, the Cat eventually winning the day after several minutes of scrapping, the dopey Rabbit taking a ringside seat for the first two rounds before shuffling off backwards. There is an argument that Stoats are a good thing, if you have a burgeoning population of Rats; something that we have experienced since the fields behind our house were cut. In the end the Stoat was dispatched, poison put down for the rats and the Chicken’s safety preserved.
For several weeks I have been using an off the shelf poison, that has had no effect on the rat population whatsoever. On taking advice from the ratman I have changed the poison, he reported that many rats in the area were becoming resistant to difenicum the poison that I had been using. Since changing the poison the number of Rats have begun to fall. I have also been cleaning the fry tanks and egg baskets in preparation for Fish Stripping at the end of the month. Disinfecting all of the equipment and putting in the order for the fry fish food. The cost of fish food has risen dramatically over the last few years, High Protein Fry Food in particular becoming expensive. These are all costs that have to be balanced by the cost of a day’s fishing. With the current economical climate and people wary of spending money it is often the Leisure activities that people cut back on first, affecting all aspects of the Angling world. From tackle manufacturers to fish suppliers, sport Fisheries to sporting agents, all could feel the pinch over the coming year.
Monday, 6 October 2008
The penultimate week of our Trout season, fishing still difficult but more fish caught on the surface than subsurface with a nymph. Terry’s Terror always a successful late season fly on this stretch of the Dever with both Brown Trout and Grayling alike. The temperature dropped several degrees this week, checking the growth of the grass and fringe and instantly starting the change in colour of the leaves on many trees. The Horse Chestnuts are bare already, The Ash trees, that looked particularly sick last year, seem to have recovered and look particularly healthy.
For much of the week the river was crystal clear, the weed is getting a little straggly now its growth having been checked dramatically in the past few weeks. This year has seen very little blanket weed in this stretch of the river. A Filamentous algae that thrives in low water, high temperatures and a nutrient rich environment. It normally puts in an appearance in the last half of the season and can smother any good weed. At this time of the year it starts to roll up into balls and move down the river, it can’t be cut with a scythe and must be dragged out with grabs, a hard task as it is like dragging out a wet duvet. It can be a problem in the stew ponds and can be prevented to a certain extent by introducing Barley Straw in net bags in the spring. After many weeks an endotoxin is produced by the decomposing Barley Straw that inhibits the growth of the Filamentous algae, in ponds the effect can be quite dramatic. One year on the Flight pond, which is very high in nutrients due to the numbers of Duck roosting on there, and can heat up quite quickly due to the depth of water. Balls of blanket weed were seen to be forming, that disappeared over night, I had put a couple of bales of Barley Straw on the edge of the pond during the winter on which I fed the Ducks. The Ducks broke up the bales as they dug the feed barley out and the straw spread across the pond, sinking to the bottom, slowly decomposing until one day the level of the particular endotoxin was sufficient to quell the fast growing algae overnight. It appears to have no effect on fish or fly life.
I have started to feed the pond, and currently there are around fifty ducks coming in at Dusk. Four swans have also turned up for a feed, and have also been tearing at the weed in the river, pulling it out by the roots and turning the river to cocoa. We have had some reasonable hatches of Olives this week with some spinners getting back onto the water late in the afternoon. I have had to pull a chicken from the river today, I am not sure if it was chasing flies, but I had to dry the poor egg laying machine off with the hair dryer, it’s the first bit of hair styling I have had to do in a while; not sure it appreciated the hair straighteners though!
With the few colder days, the pheasants are beginning to gain their adult plumage. I am now feeding them in the woods and game covers where I need them to be on a shooting day, the feed walk around in the morning now takes the best part of an hour with a bit of dogging in on the way home.
Spaniels continue to be a problem, a phone call from a neighbouring keeper informing me that there was someone in a high viz jacket picking blackberries next to my top game cover and his spaniel was doing what it was bred to do and flushing game from cover. The dog was everywhere while Mr High Viz picked his berries, next to my game cover and fifty yards from a main road. I politely informed him that he was in the wrong place and asked him to make his way back to the footpath over a hundred yards away, which he did. What would someone think if I let my dogs jump all over their desk in an office or run around a shop damaging goods and then walk out with the briefest apology.
My boss and her son have been away in Scotland for their annual week Salmon fishing, not many fish but they did experience their first frost of the autumn, so it won’t be long before we have our first one here. She very kindly bought back some very nice award winning Black Pudding from a butcher in the town where they stay, I filled my case with it last year when I was invited up to fish and have only recently run out – Food of the Gods!