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.