Monday 21 December 2009

Week 91

Week 91

A little more rain, followed by an icy blow from somewhere around Moscow bought the first heavy snowfall of the winter. The river has continued to clear throughout the week and the spring ditches have started to flow. It is about where it should be for the time of the year. Steady rain post Christmas and into the New Year will be “money in the bank” for next season. The eggs in the hatchery are now eyed up and are now reasonably robust, the basket of eggs from two year old fish have been more successful than the basket from older fish, as was the case last year. They should hatch sometime between Christmas and New Year.

We had another day shooting. After a heavy fall of snow the preceding night the birds where slow to come down from their roost and as a result had not moved far from the wood in the water meadow. The snow continued for much of the morning and we saw a fair number of birds, plenty of Pheasant, a few Partridge and Pigeon and, on the last drive, a lone Woodcock. The Snipe that were about a few weeks ago have moved on and the Geese have yet to take up residence on the upstream water meadows. For some reason, there seem to be fewer ducks flighting this valley than in previous years.

At the start of this week, I was summoned to retrieve my daughter from the bus stop. While returning down the lane in the dark at teatime, we were halted by a display of flashing lights blocking the road. After parking the car, and a cautious inspection it became apparent that, in its attempt to pass an Audi 4x4 from the local manor house, a brand new, and super low slung Mercedes sports car had backed into the ford across the river and become grounded. It’s mid section touched the ground and the left wheel hung in the air The brains trust initially assigned to the task where talking of Chinooks and Chains, I reckoned that if the Audi Pulled over, I had a rope at home that would pull them clear and the world could continue to turn. We edged past the incident, picked up the rope and returned to the fray. I approached the car where Toad of Hall and Nikki Lauda were searching for the manual for the brand the new vehicle. The two wives were behind me, and getting on famously, as I bent to attach the rope, one them exclaimed, “ I really must apologise for my husband, he has no idea what he is doing” A polite reply was called for, but what do you say? The truth? - He doesn’t know what he is doing and it would be really helpful if he just got back in the car, or a placatory, “ Oh I don’t know, at least he’s having a go” The rope was attached and the low slung Mercedes dragged out amid much scraping and not much of a thank you.

Two days later I nipped up to our top bit of game cover to flatten a row of Maize in an attempt to hold a few Partridge for the shoot on the Friday. Half way through the row a lorry burst through the hedge from the dual carriageway and became embedded in the sticky field. The driver replete in high viz attire set of across the plough before balled up feet halted his tracks and he sought an easier passage scuttling up and down the verge of the road. Wondering what he was about, I approached with caution. I repelled his initial charge and it became apparent that he was in a state of shock, Emergency services were summoned and I set myself to blocking the gap in the hedge to prevent him running in the road. After twenty minutes of me rejecting his advances, the Blue Lights appeared and took him to hospital, and then on to home where he is now ok.

Half of the Partridge, in the top drive on Friday made their escape through the gap in the hedge, that the Lorry had made.

Such is life!

I was a Riverkeeper once!

Thursday 17 December 2009

Week 90

Week 90

A lot less rain than in previous weeks and the river has fined down to a level that is now fishable for Grayling. One regular up from Dorset had a fish approaching 2lb, on a tiny pink nymph with a ton of weight to get it down in the flow. The fish was in peak condition and was not the biggest in the glide that he hauled it out of. A high proportion of the intense rain that we received in preceding weeks ran straight off the valley into the river, resulting in a quick rise in level and deepening of colour. Forty-eight hours after the last shower the river had cleared and has maintained a reasonable level at about what is expected at this time of year. The spring ditches on this stretch have started to flow, although the long ditch that leads up through the village and beyond is not flowing that high up it’s seasonal valley. Two days of this week were spent retrieving the tractor from a boggy morass in the wood. While ambitiously attempting to get close to a recently fallen Ash Tree, the tractor faltered and broke through the surface of the soggy water meadow. There is still a lot of water making its way down into the aquifers which bodes well for the coming months.

The Grayling Fisherman who fished this week has fished here for some time with a fishing friend of long standing. Sadly his friend died recently and the chap is now fishing alone. The impression that some non-fishers have of fishing is that of a solitary pursuit. In my experience the exact opposite is the truth. Most anglers have a friend, or friends, that they fish with on a regular basis. I have my own group of fishing friends, and the camaraderie and team play when fishing is as intense as it is when participating in team sports. Fishing alone has its rewards, but if a fishing pal should turn up unexpectedly then the banter and conversation rattles around like machine gun fire. The Grayling Fishermen had been left some tackle by his friend, which he used for much of the morning. I visited him on the bank in the afternoon, and noticed that he had reverted to his own tackle. I asked why he had made the change to which he replied, “ I always did catch more than he did when we came here, and now I know why!” instigating a clap of thunder and a bolt of lightening that sent the lone fisher scuttling rapidly to the hut.

The eggs in the baskets are now eyed up. The microscopic eggs that I took from the two-year-old fish have been far more successful than the eggs from the three-year-old fish. The Brown Trout in the river look to be recovering well from their recent spawning and as a result of the high water are occupying different lies than they would in the summer.

We have another shoot pending and, with luck, most of the Pheasants are back where they should be. Heavy snow is also forecast which will make the day a little different.

Friday 4 December 2009

Week 89

Week 89

We had our first shoot at the start of the week, a wet and wind blown affair. It stopped raining mid morning and the birds flew superbly on a variable wind. The final bag was between sixty and seventy, mostly Pheasants, with a dozen Partridge and a dozen pigeon. Surprisingly we saw very few Duck and no Geese. On the first drive we are required to bring in the water meadow above our top boundary. A broad expanse criss- crossed by spring ditches, it is normally a good place to put up some ducks and geese early in the day. This time we saw no duck and no geese, but did disturb a few Snipe that skewed away on the wind. After a very wet period there is a lot of standing water in the meadows so it may be that the Ducks are spoilt for choice for a place to splash and dibble. On our second drive, a brutal trek across saturated plough, we put up many Partridges, the first fifty of which eschewed an easy exit downwind to fly directly into a forty mile an hour wind and over a main road to safety. Fortunately we saw plenty in the top strip of Maize, but I reckon we could have surrounded that field with a cast of thousands and that first wave of Partridges would still have headed into the wind and away, so determined were they on their course of action we had no chance of driving them over the guns. Old Labrador Zebo, had a great day. After a couple of weeks banging his gums and surviving on basic rations while fretting over a bitch in season, he had lost a lot of weight. I was in two minds as to whether to take him shooting. He worked his way steadily through the day, picking up birds from every drive. Nephew Otis failed to impress. After giving everything for the first few drives, he was a spent force for the last two, and bumbled along behind me asking to go home.

The river has risen dramatically in a week, mainly due to surface run off. Much of the water sitting in the water meadows is working its way down into the aquifers, the spring ditches are not flowing yet, although it can only be a matter of weeks before they start to run. A large dead Ash tree has come down in the wind along with a few other limbs, although the Amber tree near the fishing hut clings on to its final few leaves. The flush of water is giving the river a good scour, gravels are cleaned and silt moved on. With the banks edged in and the weed cut out the channel is completely exposed to the flow and is currently getting a thorough makeover.

The Merlin is back. While driving up the lane earlier this week, it darted out from the hedgerow. Flying along in front of the car, rising and dipping in flight for sixty yards or more before banking left through a gap in the hedge. Incredibly agile in the air, they have been turning up here for some years now.

The week ended with Christmas tree duty. The School and Village Hall both required trees for Christmas Fairs pending. The Christmas trees down hear currently fall into three categories. Very small (less than 3ft), Bloody Huge (over 40ft) and a uniquely shaped mid range selection; The School got a mighty fine six foot Christmas Bush, and the Village hall a reasonable twelve footer replete with nest.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Week 88

Week 88

What a wet couple of weeks, we have had our fair share but up in the Lake District they had over twelve inches in the space of 24 hours. This “one in a thousand” event washed away bridges and flooded the town of Cockermouth, which sits on the confluence of the rivers Derwent and Cocker. Historically prone to flooding the populace of this small medieval town, accustomed as they must be to donning waders and wellies, can only have been astonished at the scale of this recent flood. We attended a family wedding at a smart hotel on the banks of one of the rivers; our first floor room overlooked the river and must be high on the list for new carpets having seen it on the BBC news. At lunchtime on the day of the family wedding my son and I were chatting to another guest at a table in the bar and just about to take the first sip of the day, when the full glass of beer slid a few inches across the table and toppled over. The lady from behind the bar appeared with a cloth, promises of a fresh pint and cursed “that bloody ghost that’s costing this bar a fortune” It was not an uncommon occurrence for glasses to fall over unaided in this spot. I was knocked off my stride for a moment and looked for an explanation but could find none. She faced this bizarre moment with admirable stoicism and practical common sense, while I looked under the table for Derek Acorha. Her outlook will serve many well in the wake of the recent freak flood, while mine will herald calls an ark.

It will be interesting to see what effect the flood will have on fish populations and invertebrates. A wet winter on the Dever invariably results in a downstream drift of invertebrates that eventually work their way back upstream over subsequent seasons. It is my guess that the headwaters of the Derwent and Cocker will have suffered the greatest loss, but hatches of fly will increase over the following years as flies work their way back upriver. The fish will be ok, they always seem to find somewhere to tuck away, although many salmonid eggs in redds will have been washed away.

On the Dever the heavy rain has lifted the river and there is now enough water to run the streams through the garden plus some extra to send down the millstream. A chap popped round in a fancy car this week, although I’ve seen fancier, selling photos that he had taken from his helicopter. I wish he had let me know when he was taking the picture as the garden looked a bit of a mess, as did an area round the back where I store much of my stuff, as a result much of this week has been spent having a bit of a tidy. Hopefully the fancy man in his flying machine will email the picture to me so that I can Photoshop out the untidy bits.

One day this week was spent in the company of The Cefas man, establishing boxes that need a tick and records that have to kept, in order to keep the fishing world turning and the river Dever flowing. This was followed by a visual inspection of the site. It’s a regular event that all registered fish farms/fisheries have to go through. Our inspector is a nice chap, who recognises that as much can be achieved over an informal cup of coffee, as the stringent box ticking exercise that we are required to perform as formality. The introduction of non-native species and illegal fish movements are always on the agenda. Non-native species entered the public domain this week on an ITV Chinese cookery programme. Over the past few years, we have regularly been alerted to potential invasion by Chinese Mitten Crab. An invasive freshwater crustacean it is a Chinese delicacy that some enterprising Coolie has chucked in the Thames. As a result, a breeding colony of Mitten Crabs now inhabit central London. It is an offence to introduce a Mitten Crab to another waterway, but these critters are renowned for ignoring movement orders and hiking miles cross- country to pitch into another river. The colony in the Thames has been established for some time and their future has been the subject of much debate. Why not expose this urban Mitten Crab population to commercial exploitation? a ready supply of a “high end” food source in the middle of town, and if over exploited, as it is likely to be, everyone’s a winner. Non-native species eliminated, and a few years of top soup!

Is it me?

Friday 13 November 2009

Week 87

Week 87

A few inches of rain have added a little colour to the river but not raised it’s level. We really do need many weeks of prolonged rain to recharge the aquifers for next season. The fish in the river have all but done with spawning and many have returned to deeper water for some R & R and to regain condition. Any hatches of fly at this time of the year are welcome fodder for a post-natal Trout.

I have also stripped a few fish for eggs to lay down in the hatchery. Normal mixed sex eggs, nothing exotic. For the last few years I have taken the eggs from two-year-old Brown Trout, as opposed to fish of three years or more. The eggs are slightly smaller, more can be fitted into a basket and they are easier to pick. This year as always I went through the pond around Bonfire night for fish to strip, for some reason the two year old fish were not ready to strip, the eggs had not been released from the ovaries into the body cavity and as a result could not be expressed from the vent, the few three year old fish that I had left were ready and almost over ripe in one case. The two year old fish ready for stripping two weeks later than in previous years.

The weed has now been cut and the blanket weed almost all rolled away. Despite the hint of colour in the water the freshly turned gravels have a silt free sparkle, another welcome anomaly at this time of the year are the low numbers of fish in the river and stew ponds with fungal infections. A perennial problem when the river warms up or cools down, the fungal infection is clearly identified by white patches on the head and body of the trout. Some years losses in ponds and river can be devastating but so far this year we have lost none in the ponds and I have only seen one infected fish in the river. The Grayling are also in tip-top condition and will rise to a fly around midday.

The Pheasants area still scoffing maize and if we shot at them tomorrow we would have a good bag, fingers crossed they are still about in a couple of weeks time for our first day. A few ducks are pitching in on the pond but numbers are definitely down on previous years although there are twenty or thirty on the river when I walk up with the dogs first thing in the morning.
Most trees have now shed their leaves bar an Amber tree that has now turned a deep maroon and Winter feels like it is definitely here. We have had a few hard frosts but the stingers through the wood remain head high in some places and will need a bashing from further frosts if we are not to finish a shooting day covered in welts.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Week 86

Week 86

Just back from a half term trip to France. Fishing on the Yonne near Auxerre, a new river for us it once held the French Carp record with an 80lb fish caught by Msr Rieves near the river’s confluence with the Seine. The much photographed fish ended up in the Rieves family freezer, its value today to a Commercial Carp fishery that have spread right across France would have run well into five figures. The Carp on the river are few and far between and the chances of dropping in on some of them in a week are pretty slim. We fished a feeder or float for much of the week, catching numerous Barbel, Chub, Bream, Roach, Perch, Gudgeon and a Bullhead on maize, meat and maggots Great sport on light tackle, the fish were caught in fast flowing water gin clear and about five foot deep the Barbel in particular were in superb condition, rod wrenching bites and a thumping scrap on four pound line. The river was low, clear and many of the fish were clumped together in the deeper holes and glides, a familiar picture to home. Midweek we took ourselves off to a lake nearby and fished for twenty-four hours for Carp. Around eight acres in size we had the place to ourselves, the overnight temperature dipped to minus three and we did not touch a fish, not even a liner. The Fishery Manager proudly informed us that he had tipped three quarters of a tonne of pellets into the lake in the preceding weeks in his efforts to get the fish to grow for next summer, with little sign of feeding fish and clear unmuddied water most of those pellets must still lie on the bed of the lake what chance did we have of a fish taking our meagre offerings?

At home my parents kindly stepped in to do dog, fish, pheasant and Chicken duties. My employer shot the ducks for the first time, with few birds around and a clear night they were not too successful. The Pheasants are still holed up in the Maize and will make good tasty eating if Maize has formed the main base of their diet; a side dish of acorns can make them taste a little funny although they don’t seem to have found these yet. Strong winds and heavy rain greeted our return and the river has lifted a little, many of the leaves were blown off over a weekend and the screens on the stew ponds need regular cleaning if they are not to become blocked. The fish are now moving into full spawning mode with some huge redds dug on the shallows, Herons have become increasingly bold with the temptation of easy stabbings in the shallows, while the low water has at least kept the incoming Cormorants off the river.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Week 85

Week 85

Much of the week has been spent putting the river to bed, knocking off the fringe and edging in the bank, the blanket weed is rolling into balls and pulling out a lot of the good weed. Cutting back the banks has revealed just how little water there is in the river. After looking so promising in spring the speed at which the river flow ahs dwindled this summer is alarming.

The wind got up for a few days blowing many of the leaves down; the screens in the stew ponds are covered with leaves every morning. The fish in the ponds and river have finally started to put their minds to reproduction, starting to scrape their redds on the same shallows that they use year on year. I was kindly invited to fish a lake near the middle river on a keeper’s jolly, some of the big browns on that stretch seemed to be far more advanced in their spawning. It also came to light that an enormous Dog Otter had been found dead on the road. Over forty inches in length it was some distance from the river. The local Conservation Officer suggested that it must have been chasing Rabbits???? Which is not behaviour that I would associate with an Otter particularly one that would have trouble getting his head down a bunny hole let alone the rest of his body. After ticking various boxes and jumping through a number of hoops the Otter has now gone to the taxidermists where it is being set up, although tragically not with a Rabbit in his mouth as someone on the day suggested. An enjoyable and entertaining day, we all caught fish and were royally fed and watered, I can confidently say that I have never eaten as much Roast Pork in one bread roll.

The first Cormorants have arrived, three sitting in a tree looking down at the flight pond. The pond is shallow at the moment and coloured from feeding ducks so not ideal conditions for the Cormorant although the shallow water has attracted a couple of Herons who are stabbing away at whatever passes by.

The Pheasants still spend most of their day in the one block of Maize, returning to the water meadows mid afternoon before going up to roost. Walking up the river at dusk they make a right racket as they go up to bed at night.
We have had our first frosts and several days of rain are forecast, the water meadows are wrapped up in the throes of autumn and the local town are threatening to turn their Christmas Lights on. Is it me?

Monday 12 October 2009

Week 84

Week 84

At last the rain came, an inch fell in one afternoon, the river coloured a little and fish started feeding on the steady trickle of flies that hatched throughout the afternoon. Fish were caught on the following three days and then the season ended. A season that initially promised much, delivered a superb Mayfly season and great early summer hatches of fly before an alarmingly speedy drop in river level resulted in two months of frustrating fishing, a fish caught in September worth four caught in June. Despite their confined quarters few Brown Trout are showing signs of irritability towards their fellow fish. There is a bit of jockeying for position in the crowded flow but little of the pre spawning aggression that is often seen at this time of the year.

On the neighbouring Itchen the local wildlife trust are having another go at eradicating man’s influence on the river in order to return to the days of The Plesiosaur. Stringent rules imposed by people in cutting edge walking boots who wear fleece rather well, have resulted in the Fishing Syndicate, who have managed the stretch of water for some years, turning down an offer of lease renewal. The rules imposed in the name of conservation have rendered the syndicated fishing unviable. Man has managed the stretch of river in question for millennia, early grazing on the water meadows, flood control, numerous water mills, a source of fish and fowl for food, all have left their imprint on the valley. Amid much crossing of fingers the trust would like the stretch of river left alone, unmanaged. Similar hair brained impositions on weed cutting by the Trust a few years ago caused chaos and were dropped. Some of this brow beating over what man has done to mother earth can have a detrimental effect. On the southern chalkstreams where man has had an influence for hundreds of years, we cannot absolve ourselves of all responsibility and just abandon the river channel to mother nature. There is a responsibility to maintain and manage the water meadows in a particular way in order that the level of Biodiversity that exists in the river valley is preserved. Abandoning the management practices may help certain species but may also have a detrimental effect on others. There are important issues that need addressing on the chalkstreams, like abstraction, pollution and stocking policies, crackpot thinking by wildlife trusts detracts from these key issues.

The Pheasants are spending much of their day in the acre and a half of Maize alongside one of the woods. I am not having to do as much dogging in as I have been doing, the Pheasants content with the maize and having no real cause to wonder. This week the dogs have put up several Snipe and Woodcock, the snipe from the water meadows where you would expect them to be, The Woodcock smack in the middle of a rock hard field of wheat stubble where you would not expect them to be.

Monday 21 September 2009

Week 83

Week 83

The dry weather continues and the river continues to drop. I contacted the EA recently requesting some flow data from the main monitoring station for this river, which just happens to be at the bottom of this stretch. At huge expense and disruption the river was diverted and lots of fancy electrical equipment built into the bottom of the river bed under the bridge that measure the discharge of the river on a daily basis. Spikes appear in the graphs when I open the hatch on the mill house which caused some initial concern with EA boffins when they first started using their new equipment, the hatch in question was installed midway through the nineteenth century so it was not exactly something that was sprung on the them. The Data showed that over the last sixteen years this particular river has only been lower than its current level on two occasions. Tree roots and old riverbank repairs stick out of the bank like Dinosaur ribs, the fish have shoaled up in the deeper holes and several of the shallows that the fish will spawn on in just over a month’s time are close to breaking the surface of the river.

The grass growth is slowing up now and most trees bar the Oaks show signs of autumn. The temperature has dropped markedly in the evenings and, as is often the case during September, much of the fly hatch and most of the fish caught are in the afternoon. Several bigger fish have been caught,one rod had a brace of four pounders and a two pound fish which would have been a good bag in May. Most fish have been taken on a nymph although those skilful enough to fish a lot finer and lighter have managed to take fish on the surface.

Hedgehogs are on the move, the weakening sun instigating a last big feed before they settle down for the winter. My old Labrador doesn’t understand Hedgehogs, it is the only thing that will send him silly, he circles them with staccato barks nudging and flicking them with his nose before finally plucking up the courage to pick the spiky thing up and bring it to me to release unharmed some distance from the house. The Young Labrador has a very soft mouth, picking up a fragile Pheasant Poult and bringing it to me unharmed. I have been going over a few things with him with the dummy and it all seems to be in there, he just needs to steady up and grow up and stop going at everything at a hundred miles and hour. The Spaniel shows no sign of improvement and remains completely useless but highly entertaining.

All the corn is cut now and the Pheasants are finding their way up to some of the best Game cover we have had in years, seven foot high Maize adorned with some of the biggest cobs I have ever seen.
While marking out the local football pitch one evening this week, I saw a man in the corner of the field with what looked like a large net or coat. I assumed that it was the local ferret man who had been hired to tackle a burgeoning Rabbit problem along that side of the pitch. I carried on with my marking and two minutes later heard a series of squeaks and squawks, intrigued as to what he could be squeaking I stopped and watched him from eighteen yard box. He was firing up the mother of all sets bagpipes, Banned from the back bedroom at home, he had chosen this particular spot to go over his repertoire without complaint from family or neighbours. I carried on marking the pitch to the skirl of a lone Pipey marching up and down the touchline, and wondered if the Pipey may not be a better solution to the Rabbit problem.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Week 82

Week 82

This is all getting a little repetitive; fishing remains difficult with poor hatches of fly, low clear water and a proliferation of blanket weed choking the river. A few fish have been caught, mostly on small brown nymphs or cdc emerger patterns. September normally sees fish hurling themselves at a Daddy Long Legs or a Terry’s Terror but with fish crammed into the deeper holes they are more concerned with maintaining their position than feeding. The bottom bend near the Mill House is one of the deeper stretches and it currently holds forty plus Brown Trout along with a hundred Roach and Grayling.

The Shallows are now smothered in blanket weed; any holes that do exist are shallow and a vulnerable spot for a Trout to lie. The Environment Agencies Catchment Management Strategy of 2006 that looked at the possibilities of extra abstraction from Hampshire’s aquifers, acknowledged that the Trout fisheries of the middle and Upper Test were amongst the most valuable in the country and concluded that there was no more water available and the catchment was over abstracted, they also highlighted concerns about high phosphate levels in the river. The river is currently low and blanket weed is thriving in nutrient rich water. Glossy brochures and fancy media campaigns give the public the impression that the EA are on the case. I would suggest that the problem highlighted by the EA in the 2006 report has got worse in the years that followed the report’s publication, and that money spent from a limited budget on glossy brochures and fancy magazines may have been better spent on tackling the problems the report highlighted.

This obsession with media image and public perception has crept into many sectors of public life. I would hazard a guess that the Police have more “media trained” officers than ever before. Our local paper devotes a page a week to Mr “Jolly Face” Community Officer who is no doubt backed by a cast of thousands to get his copy in on time. If we lose hundreds of pounds of fish from a pond, out comes a Constable, kicks over a few leaves then sends a letter two days later informing that they have looked into the matter and are unable to take it further, Oh, and if I hear anything more about who could have stolen the fish could I please let them know; I still have the letter. Our Council send out their Glossy Newspaper to tell us all how prudent they are being with our money, in the post; many must question why they do this, including those compiling and sending the damned thing, as must many police constables question the value of the amount of media/community based work they are required to carry out when they would rather be out smashing in drug dealer’s doors or cleaning the streets of crime.

Several fish in the river are looking a little thin; this month’s invertebrate sample revealed lower numbers of most invertebrates in the river. This may be normal for this time of the year or it may have something to do with the condition of the river. A keeper on the main river experienced similar results.

The Pheasants are moving further and further from the pen, the four fields of Spring Wheat that we shoot over have yet to be cut and must be some of the last fields to be combined in Hampshire. As a result I am feeding the Pheasants hard in the wood, and chasing back with the dogs any that look like they are heading off anywhere else. A few Ducks are coming in on the pond at night, although I have yet to start feeding the pond.
Some leaves are turning and some have fallen, the forecast for the coming week is dry and warm, although it is definitely starting to feel like autumn is on the way.

Thursday 27 August 2009

Week 81

Week 81

The river is down to its bare bones, crystal clear and fishing is very hard work. Fish are not feeding hard with sporadic hatches of fly and evening sedge fishing poor. Most fish that have been caught have been taken on plain nymph patterns that do not splash or startle. There are plenty of fish in the river the low water has pushed several from the shallows to congregate in deeper holes. The blanket weed has smothered much of the ranunculus and Celery. In parts the blanket weed has rolled into a ball and ripped out the middle of a weed bar letting all the water go. Algal blooms in harbours and estuaries along the south coast featured in the newspapers this week and are an indicator of how nutrient rich the water is flowing down some of our rivers. Blanket Weed is a filamentous algae that thrives in warm nutrient rich water this year, the growth this year is particularly luxuriant. The water is not particularly warm although it is low and clear allowing light to penetrate. Nutrient levels cannot be assessed easily with the naked eye, although the amount of blanket weed would suggest it is high. High levels of nutrients get into rivers through direct run off from fields or from Sewage outfalls. Much of the Dever Valley is now direct drilled with a harder field surface than one that has been conventionally ploughed. The intense showers that we increasingly experience run off a direct-drilled field faster than one that has been conventionally ploughed, the sewage works half a mile upstream has, at vast expense, had its capacity increased over the past two years. Neither may be a direct cause of the nutrient rich water running down this river, but then again?

Most nights this week we have climbed the stairs at bed time to find our bedroom invaded by Hornets. An inch or more long, they bumble and crash around the room while my wife and I chase them with plastic cups in our pyjamas. I am not sure if they are our native hornets, or some of the advance force of Mediterranean Hornets sweeping northwards across Europe. Not as agile in flight as a Wasp or Bee they are not difficult to trap and release but they will insist on coming back again and again.

Swallows and Martins are still here although it will be difficult to assess when they are gathering to fly south as there are so few of them. The Pheasants are doing well packing on weight and half are flying in and out of the pen to feed. I have cut all of the rides through the wood, and am now starting to feed them away from the pen towards the drives where we need them to be on a shooting day. There is a Fox about and once the four fields of wheat are cut that we shoot over, we shall have a good crack at shooting it.
The grass has had a late season flush while the fringe is just past its best with many of the flowers starting to fade. The water meadows will require one last cut before falling temperatures steady the growth.

Friday 7 August 2009

Week 80

Week 80

Heavy showers throughout the week, Combines laid up and fasting, desperate for a fill of ripe corn. Fishing has picked up a little, with fish caught on the surface and beneath with the drabbest of pheasant tail nymphs. Two fish over four pounds have been caught this week along with some very chunky Grayling. One fish caught on an Olive Klinkhammer had a mouth and gullet full of Yew berries. Bright red, a quarter of an inch across and poisonous, they would have cashed in his chips in days if the angler hadn’t hauled him out. I am not sure how you would imitate a Yew berry and what he saw in a Klinkhammer that was remotely similar to what he was feeding on.
Trout eggs are around the same size, and fish will munch eggs washed out of a Redd but that delicacy is six months away. Brown Trout are reasonably discerning creatures when it comes to diet, opting for morsels that are in season. Chuck a Mayfly at a Brown trout outside May/June on this river and you will receive a two-finned salute. Sedge in winter, a Hawthorn in September all will receive the same response. So why this fish was feeding on little red ball shaped things, so far out of season, is a mystery. Anyway, maverick Trout is bagged and in the freezer - normal service resumed.

Conditions must be good for Butterflies as the water meadows are full of them, Painted ladies, Cabbage Whites and many more lifting from the Loostrife as the dogs crash about.

The first few Pheasants are finding their way out of the pen, the heavy showers have not affected them and they continue to be bombarded with Radio 4 to scare away the foxes, a high brow group congregate in the corner to contemplate Thought for the day, while several argue over selections for Desert Island Disks; all come together over The Archers and are disturbed that Tony Archer finds time to wash his Landrover in the middle of Harvest.

Showers at this time of the year provide little succour for the trees, some of which look decidedly sick. The Balsam Poplars remain at death’s door, while the Horse Chestnuts struggle on. On a day trip to London to visit urban relations we walked down an avenue of ten year old Horse Chestnuts that looked to be on their way out. Fifty yards on, a mature tree of a hundred years or more thrived, positively in the pink and occupying “position A” between the river, bandstand and ice cream van. Trees can be fickle things. Some will go tall, some will stay small, their condition heavily dependant on the site in which they are planted or the genetics of their parents.
The Chickens are looking to raise their game. Whisper it quietly, but these fortunate fowl who laid oversized eggs thus qualifying them for a first class ride in a Waitrose pie, are now laying smaller eggs. They rattle in our egg box in the fridge door (the eggs not the chickens) The Chooks only eat corn, household scraps and whatever falls into their pen, maybe the reduced intake of pellets that promote egg laying has had an effect.

Monday 3 August 2009

Week 79

Week 79

Heavy heavy showers, few fishermen on the bank and few fish coming out of the river; the majority of fish that have been caught, taken on small drab nymphs. Anything too flashy or splashy in the low clear water scaring more than it attracts. A few more big fish have been lost, in various parts of the river. Playing and landing the long established leviathan Browns difficult in a heavily weeded river and on fined down tackle. The Blanket Weed has really taken off and in some stretches has smothered the Water Celery and Ranunculus, it has bloomed very quickly this year which is surprising given the mixed weather of the past few weeks.

The Pheasants have arrived; the collection day put back several times after heavy showers were forecast. At eight weeks old they are fairly hardy but can still be susceptible to a heavy deluge that can leave them cold and wet and result in losses. The showery weather is also perfect conditions for the onset of Gapes in the young birds. A nematode worm that sits in the windpipe of the young bird it will eventually kill its host if left untreated. The infected Poult will make a coughing sound and gasp for air. Many treatments are available although most of the effective off the shelf treatments are now only available on prescription; today the easiest way to administer the treatment is to buy food with it already added.

Many of the surrounding fields are fit to cut, much of the Winter Barley and Rape has been cut, although with ninety percent of the harvest still to be carried out there must be some concern over the medium term weather forecast. The strips of Maize grown for gamecover are some of the best in years unlike much of the other maize grown in the valley for cattle feed. Once the fields have been cut these strips of Maize act like a magnet for all wildlife looking for shelter and food.

Some Ducks have found the small patch of Barley cut on the outskirts of the village and are choosing to pitch in there in the evening to fill up on spilt Barley rather than the safety of a sheet of water. A skein of Geese makes it’s way noisily up and down the valley looking for stubbles to feed on.

I have just completed the monthly invertebrate sample which threw up identical results to last month; there were large numbers of small Mayfly nymphs which bodes well for next year and thousands of Gammarus. Blue Winged Olives, however continue to be thin on the ground.

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Week 78

Week 78

Weed cut done and dusted and the difficult fishing continues. A few Browns are showing on the surface but many are now fixated with sub surface feeding. Despite the mixed weather fly hatches continue to be good, flurries of Olives appear from midday onwards and the sedge hatch builds from mid afternoon. A few settled days would, I’m sure, get many of the fish slashing at Sedges. This kind of tricky fishing led many beats to first start introducing Rainbow Trout that were considered to be more free-rising under these conditions. Nowadays they are stocked into the river throughout the season. They are more willing feeders than Brown Trout. Put a 50/50 split of same-size Browns and Rainbows in a pond and the Rainbows will out compete the Browns for food, the difference in size clearly visible within a matter of weeks. We don’t stock Rainbows and there is no pressure to provide a maximum bag for every angler, sometimes a fish caught in July/August is worth four caught in May. Piling more Browns into the river is not the answer and can cause more problems in the close season with too many fish over wintering in the river competing for a scarce food source. Guaranteeing bags can induce bad practice in game bird management, guaranteeing bags in fishing does the same, with water overstocked and any sense of natural balance lost.
Any chump can pile heaps of fish into a body of water, bung on a sparkly nymph/lure and haul four fish out for the most inept of clients, corporate fishing relies on this kind of sport as do some of the more disreputable guiding services. Fishing is not about a guaranteed bag, fishing is about the day, for every successful day there may be an unsuccessful day that will make the rewards of the good day all the more greater.

Angling has taken a bit of a bashing in the press this week, with celebratory headlines proclaiming the return of the Otter, and Griff Rhys Jones clumsily sticking his oar into the water over public access to rivers.

Otters are great. They are furry and brown, fiddle with crabs, and do cute things in water; Hugh Heffner made a million on similar creatures in America. At some point the decision must be made that we have enough Otters, as indeed Hugh had to make in his mansion in Beverly Hills. Currently I have several miles of electric tape encircling the stew ponds and have picked up half a dozen fish with chunks out of their back, dead, on the weed bars. Who will say that we have enough Otters? As Homo Sapiens occupying top spot in the evolutionary triangle, we have a duty to maintain a balance.

Griff Rhys Jones hasn’t looked too good on the water in any of his recent series. Stuck in a Wind in the Willows world, he has shown little understanding of the true riverine environment. His disneyfication of the river environment appeals to a wide audience and is typical of an increasingly media driven world.

I enjoy canoeing; once upon a time I was quite good at it. I also enjoy fishing; there is room for both. For the true canoeist much of the rivers of this isle hold little appeal. On the Tryweryn in North Wales, the Dee at Langollen - excellent canoeing water, canoeing and fishing have cohabited successfully for many years. Jones’s call for the masses to break out their kayaks and start breaking lines is daft, and an ill thought out publicity stunt to increase viewing figures.

Thursday 16 July 2009

Week 77

Week 77

The hot weather came to an abrupt end with some intense showers that bashed loads of leaf laden willow branches down into the river. Much of the rain was absorbed into the bone dry ground, greening up the brown bits. It had little effect on the river other than to give a brief flush of colour. Fly life continues to be much improved on the past few seasons although many fish are tucking themselves away and concentrating on sub surface feeding. The Browns behaved in exactly the same manner last year, it is one of the reasons that some beats stock Rainbow Trout at this time of the year as they are more predisposed to continue feeding on the surface for a greater part of the season.

The weed cut is going ok, I am having to leave thick bars to hold the water level up. I am also bumping several fish with my scythe that are lying doggo, including one fish of eight pounds or more in the middle bends that I had not seen since the winter. Several Eels are putting in an appearance as they start to make their way down river and ultimately to the mid Atlantic and the Sargasso Sea. Big Eels most of them. 2 foot long and between 1 and 2lb in weight.

The Grayling in the river look to have had a bumper time with the flies, many are feeding on the surface and are decidedly rotund; high in the crystal clear water over emerald green weed with sun on their back they look stunning.

The fine spell of weather has brought the wheat and Barley on no end, and early start to harvest is anticipated, although yields may be affected by grain size due to the lack of rain. Plenty o Partridges are “chuckaawing” away in the field of Barley behind our house which also houses a few Leverets.

There are at least two broods of Pheasants in the wood, and the Ducks seem to have had a reasonable year. The pair of Swans on the Flight pond have failed
A sexy young Greyhound over the road has been in season for a few weeks. My eldest Labrador Zebo has been turned to Jelly by her romantic offerings. Off his food for many days he has shed pounds in his efforts to roll back the years. My Wife tells him to stop being such a silly old fool, and that the deed is overrated. The 10 yr old dog when presented with the flighty piece standing, tail akimbo amid the buttercups, failed at the first post. His bottom jaw started banging in a decidedly unattractive manner, his gaze turned milky and he came close to keeling over. The strumpet in question presented herself to the worst Spaniel in the world who passed her by without a second glance, and then to the 18 month old, six stone puppy who shot off to chase Moorhens, leaving the elder statesman to rue his wobbly legs and amorous mind.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Week 76

Week 76

Thirty-degree temperatures for much of the week, and fishing is hard to say he least. The weed has grown out of the water and is maintaining the level of a fast falling river. Several fish who have been resident on the bottom bends for some years are proving to be real timewasters, with only the finest tackle and perfectly presented fly inducing a take or a play and miss. Sedge numbers are building in the evening and surprisingly the Grayling have remained on the fin and feeding for much of the day. The fringe bordering the river is bursting with colour, purple spikes of Loostrife mix with swathes of forget me nots, yellow monkey flower and balsam.
There are good numbers of Butterflies in the meadows, although I couldn’t name half of them, and funny moths adorn our house wall in the morning. A Nightingale has been singing for much of the week and the Swallows and House Martins that bothered to turn up have all had broods, many of which have fledged.

This year we have once again been warned about the falling number of Bees across the country, for much of this week the perennial Geraniums and other garden dainties around here have been alive with Bees, I have not seen as many for a long time although I have not come across any nests yet, or seen any swarms hanging from trees.

The water temperature in the pond and the river is climbing slowly, algae has bloomed in the pond and it has been necessary to bash the water around with the pump to freshen it all up and add a little oxygen.

The July weed cut is imminent and it will be a heavy one and a tricky one, leave enough weed to hold the water up and cut enough to make areas hold fish. Cut too much and the water is lost and the weed replaced with blanket weed, cut too little and the river becomes impossible to fish. The reduction in flow over the past few weeks has been quite alarming; the Mill Stream is now a pond with all spare water pushed down the river. Fishing over the coming weeks promises to be difficult, but that is often the way with High Summer fishing, and is more often than not followed by a bumper September.

All of the Chickens have now been tagged and ASBOed after numerous incidents of anti social or over social behaviour, and reside in an enclosure with Gun Turrets on an island in the river. An Avian Alcatraz, it can only be a matter of time before one of the resourceful fowl starts chipping away at the walls with a tea spoon and swims across the bay to resume what it considers to be its rightful position on our neighbour’s antique dining table; a sentiment no doubt echoed by our elderly neighbour who would, I’m sure, insist on a dress code of Sage and Onion.

Thursday 25 June 2009

Week 75

Week 75

A tricky week for fishing, several days towards the back end of the weed cut completely unfishable. Everyone seems to have had a lot of weed to cut, and it took me longer than ever before to clear all of the cut weed down. Unfortunately during this time the inlet pipe to the fry stew became partially blocked and several hundred of this year’s fry perished. Further down river a keeper has lost hundreds of Brown Trout Stock fish after weed built up overnight. Fortunately we have still have enough fry for our needs, my friend downstream is desperately scouring the country for pound plus Brown Trout that seem to be in short supply. The weekend following the cessation of weed cutting saw a marked improvement in fishing with good hatches of Olives and fish taking spinners in the evening. Sedge numbers are building up and the fish feeding time is getting later and later in the day.

It is a fantastic year for Orchids, more and more push their way up in the meadows, and I put back the topping as increasing numbers appear. The Balsam Poplars are having a terrible time, several of the younger one’s have died and the more mature ones look decidedly tatty. All other trees are in the pink bar some bankside Alders that have lumps and bumps on the leaves that could be a virus.

With the warm temperatures the Flight pond has experienced another bloom of algae and is full of fry, mostly Perch, Roach and Rudd. The Tench and Bream have also been carrying out some late spawning, thrashing around in the margins of the island. My son scooped half a dozen of the Perch fry out to put in his fish tank, where they lasted five minutes, and now lie inside a Malawi Cichlid.

The Grass Snake has turned up again in the garden pond, Last time he/she was the size of a bootlace, now over a foot in length, it is wreaking havoc among the newly formed frogs.

One of our new hens that have never knowingly underlaid has been introducing herself to the inhabitants of the Parish. Not content with coming into our house through the patio doors, she has ventured further afield. My daughter opened her bedroom door at teenage dawn (about 10am) and found the errant hen pecking at the carpet on the landing. Our elderly neighbour rang the house on several occasions this week to inform us that our nosey hen was touring her kitchen or perched on the mantle above the fire. Unfortunately the wandering hen has had to be incarcerated, although our neighbour requested incinerated, after a calling card was left on her highly polished antique dining table.

Tuesday 16 June 2009

Week 74

Week 74

Fine dry weather, Mayfly still hatching – the fish, relatively unresponsive. Full of food after a fortnight of bacchanalian feasting on tasty Mayflies the Brown Trout and Grayling lie mid-water or hug the bottom, physically and mentally digesting the excesses of the past few weeks. The odd fish rises, mostly small stuff, juveniles who never seem to tire of feeding, Mum and Dad sit on sabbatical from the hard stuff, turning their noses up at the tastiest Mayfly that passes their way. Give it a week and they will be up feeding again, the odd Olive and maybe a Sedge, but show them a Mayfly and they will turn away, the effects of surfeit and excess still fresh on the mind.

The June weed cut has been one of the heaviest I have known, with the river flow decreasing by the day. The weed that is left becomes more important than the weed that is cut. Enough must be left to hold up the water level with spaces cut for fish to lie. Half of this water is “bar cut” – bars of weed left to hold the water up, with space between the bars for fish to lie. Strip too much water out and the water would drop by up to a foot on the shallows, the fish would congregate in deeper holes and become concentrated, and reduce the number of fishable areas. The Mill Stream has now been reduced to a pond with all the water pushed down the main river.

The House Martins have turned up, a pair taking up their summer residence on top of the security light sensor in the stable yard. For unbeknown reason they have arrived eight to ten weeks after their normal arrival date and have missed out on a feast of fly life. No Swifts in the eaves of the Mill House as yet, although several were performing high-speed acrobatics over Longparish Cricket ground at the weekend.

I have come across three separate broods of Partridge this week, all French, but an indicator of the favourable conditions for raising chicks this year; with luck English Partridges will also be enjoying the same success with their broods.
Orchids are poking their heads up in the meadows, only early purples, but orchids all the same. The yellow of the alien invading monkey flower mixes with the Forget me Nots as the fringe starts to bloom and herald the start of summer proper.

Monday 8 June 2009

Week 73

Week 73

A warm week and the Mayfly hatches continue with some heavy falls of spinners in the evening. A few spinners have fallen early in the morning giving a brief rise, the fish taking a lengthy siesta before rousing themselves for their evening feast. The weed growth is phenomenal, Water Celery a foot out of the water and Ranunculus in full flower, the water flow, although reduced after the long dry spell, is pushing over the banks due to the dense weed growth.

On a weekend cricketing foray to Woodgreen in the New Forest, we passed over the Avon a mile from the ground. The Ranunculus was up out of the water and flowering as far as I could see downstream.

The dearth of Swallows, Swifts and House Martins continues. There are several large broods of Mallard on the river along with Two tufted Ducks still sitting on clutches of eggs. The Ducklings are feasting on the heavy hatches of fly, as are the Wagtails that momentarily hover as they pluck an ascending fly from the air. I almost trod on a brood of French Partridge as I tramped my way through the wood, the mother refusing to leave her brood as they bumbled their way around my wellies. The current spell of hot dry weather is perfect for rearing chicks, plenty of insect life for food and no heavy rain that can kill a fluffy feathered chick in a matter of minutes.

A similar hot spell a few years ago would have resulted in a particularly amorous couple breaking cover. Always on a Wednesday afternoon, The Army officer who like his comrades was given the midweek afternoon off to do PT opted to put his privates through their paces with a bottle blond beau who also happened to be orange all over. Making themselves comfortable on a bridge with an aptly romantic sobriquet at the top of this beat, a picnic would be laid out, wine would be taken and before long the clothes would come off. I was first introduced to their antics by a rod who stopped me on my way home for lunch after some weedcutting. He informed me that there was a bit of a “Holiday Camp” atmosphere at the top of the beat and would I mind taking a look as it was disturbing his fishing. Unsure as to what to expect I grabbed my dog and set off, still in my waders, up the bank, jumping into the river before the final bend leading up to the bridge to cause the maximum surprise to what I expected to be kids mucking about. I charged around the corner and was stopped in my tracks by the pair, set to partners and galloping their way over the bridge, The Officer cool as you look tactically withdrew and stood to attention to meet my gaze,

Dumbstruck the best I could come up with was,

“I hope you’re not fishing!”

He assured me he wasn’t, my dog found his picnic before he could introduce me to his “wife” and I made my way downstream frantically calling the dog’s name.
They turned up a few more times that summer and although funny at first did become rather tiresome. By chance I bumped into him in Homebase in the winter, not with Lady Marmalade it has to be said and fleetingly he looked please to see me, until grey cells reminded him of where we met last.

Monday 1 June 2009

Week 72

Week 72

A fine and warm week, the river is down and the weed is up, out of the water and flowering, temperatures in the twenties most days and a slight wind have resulted in some of the best Mayfly fishing in recent years. While driving down the lane at eight thirty from a cricket match earlier this week, there were clouds of Olives and Mayflies dancing over the fields and hedge, the still air allowing them to return to the river and lay their eggs resulting in some heavy falls of spinners that all fish have feasted hungrily on. Evening fishing has been fantastic with Mayfly patterns catching most fish; some have struggled in the morning when the fish have been at their most soporific after the previous night feasting.

While eating in the garden one evening this week a similar scene was played out over our heads, as the Mayflies massed beside a Sycamore tree that stands in the corner of my vegetable plot to perform their courtship dance. In Previous years this sight has been accompanied by the whistling and whirring of Swallows and Martins as they criss cross the garden spectacularly taking the Mayflies in hundred mile an hour mid flight. This year, we have to date, a handful of Swallows, no House Martins and a handful of Swifts. In previous years up to a hundred swallows and Martins have used the stables and house eaves for nesting sometimes up to three broods in a summer. I don’t know where they have got to but they are missing out on a real feast.

I also carried out the monthly invertebrate sampling this week. Once again high numbers of Olives and Gammarus came up along with a similar number of caddis and mayflies as the last sample. There were more Blue Winged Olive in this sample, double figures, but not a significant amount.

The flight pond is warming up, and the algae blooming strong, it may be necessary to flush some water into the pond to drop the temperature, the fish do not seem distressed although they are not being fed at he moment.
All of the chickens have settled in and are producing eggs at a slightly reduced rate now that they are fed with corn. We have feasted on Omelettes and scrambled egg for much of the week and probably have a cholesterol count bordering on life threatening. But in the words of a well known Scottish comedian “ The graveyard’s full of people who’d love my cholesterol count”

Thursday 28 May 2009

Week 71

Week 71

Reasonable weather bar the wind that seems to have blown for much of the week, causing a particularly large bough of a particularly senior ash tree to give up the ghost and crash to the ground.

The fishing, although difficult, has been rewarding for those who have battled the breeze. The river here follows some huge meanders, and with woodland on the opposite side, more often than not it is possible to find a sheltered lie to cast to. Once again Olive patterns have caught the most fish, The same was true twenty years ago, although then the Olive imitations were more traditional patterns like Greenwells Glory, Kites Imperial or a Ginger Quill, rather than the Wulffs and Adams developed on the other side of the pond that are in wide use today. Mayfly have started to put in an appearance although few fish are looking at them yet.

The grass in the meadows has shot up and is dotted with Cuckoo Flower, Ramsens are up and out, along with the Iris. Balsam Poplars look a little iffy, particularly some of the younger ones that were planted ten years ago and the Oaks have beaten the Ash in the race for full bloom.

This month we were down to one chicken, natural wastage and mysterious disappearance cutting the herd to one, a very good one, but despite all encouragement and training, only able to produce the one egg per day. A few phone calls to source new fowl, revealed that some Free Range chickens laying eggs for one of the more upmarket supermarkets were out of contract and were available for a small fee. Further enquiries revealed that the birds in question were only 72 weeks old and had been offered short term work filling pies for the same supermarket; the eggs that they now laid were too big for the egg boxes that displayed a happy chicken in a field living to a great age living on grass and tofu.
In a shed on wheels there were several thousand hens, they had access to the outside world of willows and gravel, and yes they were fat, but then their future was in a pie. They were undoubtedly better kept than Battery hens of old, but bore no resemblance to the free-range chicken on the egg box.
I took home twenty, but could have taken a thousand. Few had feathers on their bum and all were a little reluctant to leave the sanctuary of their new hen house for a few days. They all came with an egg in, and have continued to lay every day, we are inundated with eggs that are never knowingly undersold; they may not fit the supermarket egg boxes but they do fit the egg box in our fridge. It’s easy to keep chickens and you get good eggs from a happy chicken. Undoubtedly they are a nuisance in the herbaceous borders, but get them on your veg garden in an arc that you can move every day and they will not only provide you with eggs but bigger and better veg too for several years - surely a greater long term return, than one family sized Chicken and Mushroom Pie.

Week 70

Week 70

Water clearing with each day although the brown algae that lifts from the bottom of the river and breaks up in broken water adds colour in the afternoon. The Flight pond is showing signs of blooming with algae, nutrient rich from all the Ducks that sit on it, green patches with a purple tinge form on the bottom and then lift to the surface, it is a sure sign that water temperatures are on the rise. Roach and Rudd fry are in evidence in the margins.

Fishing on the river has been good with all anglers catching fish, The Hawthorn hatch has been very disappointing although the steady trickle of Olives from mid morning onwards has more than made up for this. As is often the case at this time of the year we are briefly inundated with early daddy long legs, these will vanish for a few weeks before appearing in numbers through July and August. The Otter is back although currently kept from the stew ponds by electric fence; half eaten eels and Trout sit on the fishing bank most mornings. There are a number of small Perch in the river at the moment, year old fish they are stunning in the clear water, the vivid stripes and red fins give the appearance of a tropical fish. They inhabit the same deep and shady holes that have held big Perch in the past and rarely move more than ten yards from home, unlike the ever-transient shoals of Roach who roam up and down the river and rarely seem to settle.

The weed growth in the river has been spectacular, the white buttercup flowers of Ranunculus already breaking the surface, the luxuriant growth raising the level of the river, Marsh Marigolds are out and the oak trees are breaking into bud, a solitary cuckoo does the rounds and several Ducks sit on eggs in the fringe, the only thing missing from this heralding of Summer the lack of Swallows, Martins and Swifts

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Week 69

Week 69

First week of the new fishing season, steady rain on the first day improving throughout the week. Fish have been caught on every day, all are fish from last year or longer, all have over wintered well bar one of two and a bit pounds that had been chewed by an Otter. Olives have been hatching steadily throughout the day with a few sedges fluttering about. The Hawthorn have been disappointing although I have seen numbers of them on hedges a hundred yards from the river, a good blow of wind would have instigated a feast for surface feeding fish and some exciting fishing.
Fish have been rising but not freely, looking and rejecting Naturals as well as imitations, it may be that the river is still a few degrees too cold to set them off.

I carried out the monthly kick sample to assess numbers of important invertebrates. As expected there were oodles of Gammarus Shrimp, hundreds of Olives and Caddis along with many Mayflies and Stone Flies. The Blue Winged Olive numbers were low, only nine, where previous samples on nearby stretches of river ten years ago threw up hundreds of the tri tailed, stripy legged little critters. The sample also threw up a huge number of newly hatched Bullhead.

A lone Cuckoo continues to patrol, the main body of Swallows and House Martins have yet to arrive along with the Swifts. A pair of Swans is “loved up” near the bottom boundary. The courting ritual of mirroring the other’s movements and wobble necked courting dance mesmeric, although I don’t think I would get anywhere with my wife if all I did was copy her movements and waggle my neck. “You’ll have to try a bit harder than that” would be the response.

The candles are out on the Horse Chestnuts, the Oaks and Ash holding on for a little warmer weather. Ramsens are in full bloom and scent around the pond and much of the week has been spent cutting grass and sorting through fish. The small fish in the hatchery are thriving in the big tank so I may hold off a little longer before putting them out into the pond running with river water.

While visiting a friend on the middle reaches of the river concerns were aired about the quality and clarity of the river. Last year the middle river to the sea suffered from coloured water and rafts of weed for much of the season. This year the winter colour remains and weed continues to make it’s way down the river. Twenty-three years ago I saw my first Grayling, an alien species to an angler who did much of his fishing in the pits and meres of Cheshire. I saw the fish with my parents while being interviewed for pre college student work on the Middle Test. The fish was in around six feet of gin clear water, the interview was held in mid May. A Baby Hippopotamus could conceal itself in the same hole today and not be visible to the passing angler, let alone a pound plus Grayling.

Water quality is becoming a real problem for parts of this river, and one that needs to be addressed if the reputation of the fishing is not to be damaged. The “gin clear” water for which the Southern Chalkstreams are famous is a rare thing for some beats which are vulnerable to actions and operations carried out upstream.

Monday 27 April 2009

Week 68

Week 68

A fine week of weather, no rain and the temperature in the high teens. The first handful of Swallows have turned up along with a solitary cuckoo. Fly has been hatching from mid morning to mid afternoon with fish up and looking, rejecting a few and taking the odd one. A few dead Grayling have turned up this week, post spawning fish that have finally reached their sell by date. Each fish was between a pound and a half and two pound. The Roach and Rudd in the flight pond that have managed to evade the Cormorant were massing under the shade of the large weeping willow, the Carp have yet to start thrashing around in the roots.

The river had a brown tint to it for much of the week, weed cutting was carried out on a few of the beats above which can result in silt being exposed to the current, or it may be the start of a bloom of brown algae that lifts off the bottom and breaks up as it goes through faster water. I had one day cutting weed, the Ranunculus at the top off this stretch out of the water and on the brink of flowering. Cutting weed this early is often an indicator of a reasonable season to come, although this was not the case last year. I have also finished the bank repairs that I started before our sojourn to Spain; fifteen tons of chalk on the areas of bank that come under the most pressure. On the first three days of the week I managed to get my pick stuck on each day, requiring a pull out by an amiable neighbour or digging the truck out with a spade, on the fourth day I left the pick up at home and got the Tractor stuck instead. If nothing else it shows that the water table is reasonably high in the river valley. The roof has gone onto the new shelter half way up the river and the Fishing hut spring cleaned, we are now set for the start of the new season next week.

A story this week in a National broadsheet highlighted the case of a Swan in the South West who regularly chased some Canada Geese from a corner of a small lake, it was suggested that the Swan might have killed one of the Goslings. The story was accompanied by a quarter page picture and featured in the first ten pages of the normally sensible paper. Has metro sexual man behind his journalistic computer screen in the city become so detached from life in the country that he would consider this news, or has the disneyfication of the countryside blinded those who have recently settled there to the harsh realities of nature.

If this is news, then call up CNN, Sky and the BBC for the daily goings on around here: Day to day gang rape of female Mallards. The incestuous life of rabbits. Cannibalistic Pike who would eat their own mother and bullocks in the field that have been without a woman too long and have to make do! …. And in public at that!

Swan chases goose is a ridiculous piece of news that highlights a worrying trend in the press who are increasingly isolated in an urban environment and seem to believe everything that Rolf Harris and his kind tell them.

Monday 20 April 2009

Week 67

Week 67

An unforgettable week on an unforgettable river, the whole valley home, or stopping off place, for an incredible variety of wildlife; Hoopoe, Bee eaters, Montague Harrier, Storks. Purple Heron, Two types of Egret and Swallow, Scops Owl and much more have been performing in the skies or providing a backing track to our fishing. Two species of Snake and Lizard plus Ibex and Lynx in the surrounding mountains share the bank, and then there is the river and its inhabitants. Fine weather and the holding back of cold snow melt at the barrages has instigated fish to feed, peaking when the river has been at its lowest.

Outside our hundred-year-old riverside apartments tucked below the castle walls, the river is fifty to sixty yards wide. A huge backwater where boats are moored provide some comfortable bank fishing. The river varies in depth from six feet to forty feet. On one stretch a few miles upstream where the river is forced through a narrow gorge it is reputed to be approaching a hundred feet deep.

It has a very fishy greenish tinge and once the snowmelt has passed is a good deal warmer than any river in the UK; the high summer temperatures rendering it unsuitable for any population of Salmonids throughout much of it’s length. It is world famous for its population of Wels Catfish; behind the dams at Mequinenza, Caspe and Riba Roja, and further down in the Delta they grow to over two hundred pounds and attract a huge amount of angling interest. Here in Mora a hundred and fifty pound fish is exceptional. The river did not hold a population of Wels Catfish until thirty or forty years ago when they were introduced by German anglers. As a non-native species they are supposed to be killed upon capture, but few are not returned. Pre conceived ideas about these creatures, borne out of previous captures that suggested a primitive animal that chugs around the riverbed, feeding nocturnally on anything that crosses their path, go out of the window on this river. These animals are intelligent, adaptable and opportunistic. From our apartment we have seen them feed on the surface at lunch time, cross the river with their dorsal fins out of the water and charge into reed beds to take ducks settling down for the night. They are one of the few fish that are able to swim backwards when hooked and can be quite choosy about what bait they are likely to take; in evolutionary terms the Cats in this river are only two stages away from sprouting legs and walking out of the water. This week we have caught four: three of around thirty pounds, and one of a hundred and eight pounds, all tempted on strips of Squid and Octopus.

There is some concern that this burgeoning population of Catfish may be having an adverse affect on the native population of Common Carp. These run to sixty pounds, the larger fish again cropping up in the more famous waters behind the barrages. The fish that we have caught this week to just shy of twenty pounds have been in superb condition. Carp living in a river are twice as fit and strong as their lake bound cousins in fitness terms as Sally Gunnel is to Dawn French, and are a superb test of angler and tackle. The stretch that we have fished is heaving with Carp. A greater threat to their numbers than the Wels Catfish are the large numbers of Eastern European workers who are accustomed to killing and eating Carp. Fishing with rods and hand lines with six or seven baited hooks, they are chased up and down the river by the armed River Authorities. We have seen many fish killed of all sizes stowed in the bushes this week, and have been offered money on several occasions for fish that we have caught and are about to return. It is a cultural problem that needs to be addressed if the Fishing on some stretches of this river is to stay as good as it currently is in years to come. Surveys have shown that there is a dearth of smaller Carp in some reaches, their low numbers blamed on the burgeoning number of catfish, the number of smaller fish falling to hand lines and pennel rigs must also be a contributing factor as must the possibility of large flushes of snowmelt washing away eggs during spawning time.

The river is inaccessible to the bank angler for considerable stretches, it would be interesting to see what fish surveys throw up in these wilder stretches, but how you go about electro fishing a river forty foot deep and fifty yards wide is beyond me. The view of the man who walks the bank and floats his boat most days of the year seems to be that there is not too much to be concerned about. There are areas void of smaller fish, and there is evidence of Cats adapting to other food sources. Imbalances are certainly inflicted by man pouring pellets into areas fished by the professional guide, and over harvesting by Eastern European workers. One mid river stretch has been tainted by Mercury from an industrial spillage and like many rivers it seems to be in desperate need of an affective management plan, although the sheer scale and productivity of the river would suggest that it is a reasonably robust environment that would cope with most that man can throw at it.

There are also large numbers of Barbel, Chub and Roach along with Ablet and Bleak that are relatively untouched and unfished for. It has been a unique and memorable fishing experience and one, which we hope to repeat in the coming years.

Monday 13 April 2009

Week 66

Week 66

River continues to clear, the weed beginning to wave in the water as it grows a little more each day. The fish in the ponds are feeding more and more each day and the colours on the fish in the river growing ever more vivid as the light reaches further and further below the water’s surface.

Easter week. River, fish, dogs and everything else left in the capable hands of my parents and we are off to Spain for some fishing. Six flew down with hand luggage only courtesy of Ryanair, my wife and I leaving a day early to transport tackle and cases a thousand miles to Catalonia.

Driving through rain and fog for much of the journey, we paused overnight for some interesting sausage and a good nights sleep a few miles from the Millau Viaduct. The highest bridge on earth, it had clouds passing underneath as we crossed this awe inspiring Norman Foster design; I would not have known where to begin if asked to bridge such a span with green oak and nails.

On arrival in Spain the clouds cleared, we met up with the rest of our party and made our way over the mountains to Mora del Ebre. Twenty miles inland from the Ebro delta and a world away from the chips and ice Cream of the Coast Brava, we are housed in a couple of apartments in the heart of the town overlooking the river and fifteen euros has purchased licences to fish the river for Carp and Wels Catfish.

Fishing on the hoof and eschewing the flim-flam of the professional guide we are just “havin a go” The river is high and prone to rise suddenly as upstream barrages release snow melt from the Pyrenees. It is an incredible river valley that is home to a huge variety of wildlife, the locals taking full of advantage of the fertile alluvial to grow oranges, peaches, olives, almonds and much much more.

If we catch, we catch.

If we don’t, it won’t be the first time.

Sunday 5 April 2009

Week 65

Week 65

It just gets clearer and clearer!

Not some lucid period of middle age enlightenment, but the river. Sparkling in the spring sunshine it is crying out to be fished. No Hawthorn hatch yet, but an increasing trickle of Olives draws the interest of the Trout through the middle of the day. The Grayling, distracted by the rigors of spawning, declining the offer of food. The Carp in the pond have moved into the shallows, their minds affected by lusty thoughts, blind to the Heron who will stab away at their crashing and thrashing amongst the tree roots.

A bit more chalking, and construction of an oak table for the fishing hut to seat four. Very “Arts and Crafts” with a liberal dash of rustic, the table’s a dead cert for the Antiques road show 2080. Also knocked up a small shelter half way up the river. More of a seat with a lid, or advance base camp for those fishing the upper reaches, it will provide shade from the sun, shelter from the rain, and negate the mad dash for the fishing hut when the weather breaks.

Another letter in Trout & Salmon magazine detailing concerns about the National Trout and Grayling strategy. Brief words with a few keepers at the recent invertebrate monitoring course echoed my concerns. For this river, it still doesn’t make sense, it remains an “Airy fairy” do what you can policy that will achieve little and doesn’t do what it says on the tin. Several voiced concerns about the influence of The Wild Trout Lobby and their ability to influence policy over those who have live beside, and managed a particular stretch of river for much of their lives.

This strategy is not a done deal. If ever a river system cried out for a regional policy it is this one. If these post Christmas spawning Brown Trout, that denote a genetically distinct population exist, then lets get out there and take their babies. This river has enough hatcheries and manpower from source to sea, not to mention the leading Fish Farming and Fishery Management College to target this late spawning population of Brown Trout. Strip the fish, hatch out the eggs, first feed the fry, and release back into the river in spring. It mirrors many Salmon stocking policies and in many cases works. We have carried it out on this stretch of river for over a decade, and it works, alongside a sensible stocking policy of takeable sized fish. Under the strategy we will be unable to continue with this stocking policy on account of broodstock selection.

The crux?

Is a fish derived from locally sourced Broodstock and stocked into the river between six and nine months old and survived several years in the river to sexual maturity, inferior to original stock?

He/She may differ slightly in DNA, but I’m damned if I can tell the difference!

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Week 64

Week 64

More fine weather, and the river is starting to sparkle, green green weed, the colours on the Brown Trout intensifying as the water clears, buds breaking on the Weeping Willow, Cherry and Thorn bursting with blossom. The bloody Otter is still about and fishing the river at the moment, It will be necessary in the coming weeks to go through the stew ponds and calculate the bill for his winter feast.

This week I have attended a one day course on Invertebrate moitoring down on the middle river. Run by The RiverFly partnership, The Test and Itchen Association and The Environment Agency the main driving force a Dr Cyril Bennet. Dr Bennet lives and breathes riverine bugs and beetles and has monitored populations of Blue Winged Olive in many parts of the country. His main work on this river carried out at Leckford over a number of years marking a sharp decline in BWO. Entertaining, informative and with good sandwiches, the day instructed keepers on how to take a three minute kick sample and highlighted key species to count from each sample. The results collected monthly and collated by Cyril and the Test & Itchen Association to provide a clear picture of fly populations throughout the river. Few BWO showed up in the samples taken on the day, although as Dr Cyril pointed out it was a little early in the year, the BWO having a complicated phase in its lifecycle when the developing eggs go into a dormant phase, unlike many flies that hatch after a few weeks and bumble about the bottom as nymphs. A key indicator to the health of the river are the numbers of freshwater Shrimp Gammarus Pulex . Turn over a stone on this river and there would be a seething mass of shrimp of all different sizes. Breeding six times a year they are a huge source of food for all river life. A pollutant, insecticide and pesticide even at low level can wipe out the population of shrimp overnight, akin to a miner’s canary they are the first sign of a problem in the river. From now on I will be kicking over a few stones once or twice a week just to make sure that they are all still alive and kicking.

Fisherman’s day at the end of the week, same old merry bunch, come to lunch then walk the river to look at all the fish they missed last year. Trees that I have cut down have made it far too easy they say, until July when it will be “can you take a little bit from that branch please?” Four weeks to the new season although fish are already up on the fin most days.
I have had some bank repairs to do this week with chalk, along with picking up a load of wood from the sawmill for a table outside the fishing hut, and a sheltered seat halfway up the beat. The small fish in the hatchery are looking nice and chubby although I will hold on a little before getting them out on the river water.

Week 63

Week 63

A prolonged period of dry weather with daytime temperatures slowly on the rise and the briefest of frosts first thing in the morning. The river has continued to clear weed is growing well, one particular parch of ranunculus on the top shallows that was cut back in October now at the water’s surface, the luxuriant growth unhindered by grazing Swans this year. A short stretch of the main river not half a mile from here has been hammered by Swans since Christmas, clear baron gravel replacing yards and yards of ranunculus beds by over thirty grazing Swans. The fish in the river look to be in tip top condition, feeding gently on the surface in the middle of the day. A few Pike have shown up, mainly small Jacks but also a couple of larger females. All dabbed up with Pike pomade to draw as many males as possible to spawn in the spring ditches.

My son and some friends were lucky enough to be asked to fish for Pike further on down the middle river, having some success on a glorious afternoon, they knew that if they started to pick up a few Jacks in the same spot more often than not there would be a big Female in the vicinity. The biggest they had was just over sixteen pounds, although twenty pound fish are not unusual in the lower half of the river, and thirty pounders do exist. The middle to lower river suffered terribly last season. The annual Test & Itchen Association report reflecting this. Look beyond the flim flam of the jack the lad fishing salesmen who now inhabit much of this valley, and it is apparent that many keepers have grave concerns about water quality and clarity during the fishing season.

A declining Grayling population on the main river is also of some concern. It has been heartening to see big numbers of Grayling kicking up on the shallows over the past week. Fat females and dark males backs occasionally breaking the water as they chase around on the shallows, a ford that I regularly cross in tractor and truck has had up to a dozen Grayling wriggling around, oblivious to oncoming traffic it is almost necessary for me to toot the horn to shift them from the gravels. They are particularly vulnerable to Heron and Egret on the shallows, some have stab marks some have a touch of fungus on their nose over the next few weeks some of the bigger and older fish will die, the rigors of spawning proving too much. Year classes in Grayling population are relatively easily identified by size. One of our regular Grayling fisherman with a particular talent for measuring and graphs, has monitored the population here for some time. All year classes are present in numbers which is encouraging and is not the case on stretches of the main river.
Along with the Grayling many other animals have become dumbstruck by impending Spring. Hares are going crackers in the field behind, while Cock Pheasants scrap in the middle of the road holding up the traffic. A few female Mallard are on eggs, the boys reformed into gangs before another bout of rape and pillage on the water. The Jackdaws are hoarding all sorts of odd things in their “chez nook” in the big ash tree and all the damn Doves do all day is coo and dance on the roof above our bedroom; the dance of love kicking off at first light.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Week 62

Week 62

Another fine week and spring has definitely sprung. Daffodils out, tulips up and fish up on the surface and looking for food. A regular and accomplished Grayling Fisherman filling his boots late in the week with fat fish on a dry fly in the middle of the day. The river continues to clear, revealing abundant weed growth and sparkly gravel. Most mornings we have had slight frosts, dissipating with the rising sun to a flag-cracking day, the warmth in the sun putting a skip in the step of most in the parish. Hares have gone bonkers in the field behind, skitting around and squaring up. Cock Pheasants, assured by the click of a closing gun cabinet fight in the road for the plainest hen, oblivious to oncoming traffic. A couple of fine roe bucks parade regularly, with magnificent trophy heads, while passing migrants add to the exotic mix of fauna in the valley. This time last year, the Osprey turned up. No sign of him this year, although the Otter continues to pester.

One sure sign of the end of winter is the arrival in the skies overhead of The Blue Baron of Popham. An acrobatic blue bi-plane, occasionally accompanied by his sidekick in a scarlet equivalent - Red Rita; looping the loop and dicing with danger they practice their performance in the sky. Now and again engines stall; intentionally or not, I do not know. The failing engine drawing eyes to the sky, and fingers to be crossed.

Aerial action is a feature of the river valley. The Army Air Corps learn their stuff at Middle Wallop; the Chinooks come from Odium to train hereabouts. Each year there is an air show at Middle Wallop preceded by several weeks of practice. All seem to use the river as a means of navigation. Ten years or more ago, posters proclaimed the “last fly past of the Scout helicopter” a defunct machine that was deservedly put into retirement. The last flight of The Scout went on for months in this valley as wave upon wave came over the hill in preparation for their final hurrah.

A lot of army owned training ground surrounds this stretch of river. Occasionally we fall asleep to the sound of machine gun fire, and it is not unusual to find spent flash flares on the bed of the river. Chinooks regularly dangle swaying Landrovers and large boxes over our heads accompanied by distant “kabooms” from nearby Salisbury Plain. The first British Apache helicopter was hesitantly tested over the river along with a brief experiment into the world of airships. The sun bleached dirigible flying past on the slightest wind, and then struggling to make its way home into the wing. Hedge hopping Hercules have frightened the living daylights out of me, and cocky Chinook pilots on a shooting day have cleared a drive of Partridge.
A friend of my employer who lived in a nearby village and was a Helicopter pilot occasionally plopped his helicopter into the water meadows if the nearby airfield was fully booked. On one occasion he took me up and allowed me to wiggle the Cyclic. I asked him how he knew where everyone else was, half expecting there to be some computerised air traffic control system. “Oh you just have to keep a look out” came the reply. I handed over control and requested a return to earth

Monday 9 March 2009

Week 61

Week 61

Mild and warm weather for much of the week, with the river clearing and fish showing through the middle of the day. No sign of any friskiness amongst the Grayling as yet, the midday sunshine getting the Carp in the pond up to the surface and looking for food. There are signs that the Roach in the river and the pond have taken a real hammering from the cormorants over the past few months, for much of the winter they formed into large shoals and moved up and down the deeper stretches of the river, With little winter cover in the pond they were easy prey, Cloudy water offered some protection along with a fallen tree in one corner, but after five years of a burgeoning population their numbers have now been decimated.

All sorts are on the move at the moment, Ducks paired up, flitting from ditch to ditch, courting and house hunting. Several days this week we have been inundated by pairs of Swans looking for somewhere to “make out” The elderly grumpy pair that have taken up summer residence on the pond for so many years have passed on. The Cob a super alpha male would give incomers short shrift at this time of year. This year it is down to me and the dogs to keep the Swans on the move; the sight of a very wobbly spaniel and a Labrador crowned fattest bottom in show, enough to lift the most settled of Swans from the water. The cock pheasants that remain are up in arms with each other, three times this week I have come across a pair arguing in the middle of the road, neither giving ground, oblivious to human and canine presence taking in their handbags at ten paces.

This time last year the Osprey turned up, no sign of him yet, although I did catch sight of an ermine stoat, not completely white but not far off it. Pike are on the move, there are several long spring ditches in the meadow above us that are a haven for lust fuelled Pike, a fish of five pounds sat mid stream in front of the house for two mornings this week.

The springs continue to rise, a good sign for the first half of the season, and after one day of gales, no trees came down, a sure sign that the winds of twelve months ago cleared out a lot of trees that were about to go. Buds are swelling on the Willows, Hazel and Thorns and Daffodils are out. Ramsens and Bluebells poke their noses through to continue the succession.

I am still chopping willows down from the non-fishing bank and have taken delivery of several tonnes of chalk for bank repairs. The fish in the hatchery continue to thrive; the fish in the stew ponds continue to be threatened by Otters. Sometime in the next few weeks it will be necessary to take stock of the actual damage inflicted by our visitors granted environmental immunity.
The fishing season rushes towards us, invitations for rod renewal have been posted and the fishing lunch date fixed. There is a lot of work to be completed in the next few weeks , fingers crossed for the weather.

Monday 2 March 2009

Week 60

Week 60

River at a good height with spring ditches running strongly, just about what we would expect at this time of the year. The week has been entirely frost-free, the grass is greening up and there has been a hatch of fly during early afternoon that has drawn the attention of both Trout and Grayling.

Most of the week has been spent cutting back Willows and Alders on the non-fishing bank. Allowing more light to get into the river and removing any Willows that look like they may drop down into the river when in full leaf.

There are many Ducks on the river now, paired up and starting to feel frisky with the warmer temperatures. Swans are trying to stake a claim to certain bends, several look a little thin, and one dead one turned up on the river this week. Pigeons are still massing, moving from the rolled game covers on our patch to the freshly drilled fields on the other side of the valley. The otter is still about, the addition of an electric fence around the stew ponds persuading him/her to dine up at our Local Put and take Trout fishery, where it has been spotted on several occasions.

Disappointingly I have received no response to any of my letters concerning the Implementation of The National Trout and Grayling Strategy. Conspiracy theorists would suggest that there is a policy of not acknowledging any dissenters, others that these are the words of a crank. Whichever, I remain deeply concerned, initially about the many obvious flaws of throwing your whole hat in with Triploids, but also at the suspicion that the strategy team is happy that the Triploid policy is a flawed one. With compliance by 2015 everyone will be forced into stocking Triploids, only for a European Directive to be issued a short while later banning their use. With no fish available to stock, the EA and the Strategy team - heavily influenced by the Wild Trout lobby will have achieved the goal that they have always denied seeking: A total ban on stocking Brown Trout into rivers. Couple this with a directive on the introduction of non indigenous species ruling out Rainbow Trout, and a push by Conservation groups to stop man’s influence and return the valley to its state just after the dinosaurs popped their clogs and no job for me and other keepers, and an end to fishing as we currently know it in this valley. The strategy team and the Wild Trout Lobby would issue reassuring statements about how a population of the original Brown Trout will spectacularly resurrect and there will be enough fish for all. This resurrection will need to be spectacular to support the many businesses up and down the valley that rely on, and support the influx of fishermen each season. Hotels, Shops, Restaurants, the earnest Wild Trout bunch are more comfortable with a flask and sandwiches than taking lunch at the local pub or finishing off the day in a nearby Restaurant. All will be affected.

This river is what it is, because man has managed it for hundreds of years. Trials were carried out recently on a neighbouring chalkstream where a Wildlife Trust allowed a stretch to remain unmanaged for a number of years, the experiment was a disaster and the stretch is now back under the umbrella of a fishery management programme.
In the past hundred or so years the Test and the Itchen have been at the hub of the development of fishery management, fish farming and fly-fishing techniques. Both rivers have hatcheries and stew ponds in use and mothballed throughout their length. An internationally renowned Fishery Management and Fish Farming College lies between the two valleys. With this concentration of Fishery Management activity, wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to take eggs from a Wild fish population where it can be identified, hatch them out in hatcheries up and down the rivers to be stocked undersize the following summer. Support the keepers with legislation on efficient predator control and allow them to manage the river in a manner that best suits these juvenile fish. It is an exact copy of the much-vaunted Salmon restocking programmes on many rivers. It would require a great deal of coordination, especially during January targeting the late spawning fish that are supposedly a characteristic of a Wild strain of Brown Trout. I would gladly give it a go for the next few years, and would reduce the number of takeable size fish stocked each year. It could work, the main problem, as has always been the case, identifying a population of fish to take the eggs from. I don’t see these late January spawning fish; I do see an intense period of activity throughout November by fish that the Strategy would have us believe are stockies. The strategy would have us believe that the number of progeny that go on to sexual maturity from these November spawners is insignificant, yet on the two occasions that The EA have surveyed this stretch of river, significant numbers of juvenile Brown Trout have been identified. These successful November spawning fish are fish that we have stocked undersize and have grown up in the river. This stocking policy will not be allowed after compliance in 2015.