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.