Saturday 24 December 2011

Sky Sports do nice Audi (so thats where my subscription went)

Drought conditions have been officially declared in the South East. Two days before Christmas, when most are manically dashing around, a chance to bury “bad news” was seized and it was quietly revealed that the water company concerned had not been measuring groundwater levels accurately and that steps to preserve water should have been put in place some time ago. I am not sure it would have made much difference as we still need two winter’s worth of rain in the next three months but it is a little disconcerting that those who legislate on our valuable water supplies could make such a simple mistake. It may have been decimalisation that caught them out or possibly the ruler was upside down, we’ll never know, but it’s a worry.

Our second day shooting threw up lots of birds but a smaller bag. Half a dozen Woodcock are currently in residence, along with plenty of Partridge in the top strip of maize but in four hours bumbling up and down the river valley we saw only half a dozen duck. Don’t know where they are and I haven’t heard much lead in the air on other ponds in the vicinity so I guess others are experiencing the same.

John Wilson was here the other week and caught a few Roach and Grayling; this week we have had Keith Arthur and the “Tight Lines” team from Sky Sports down to have a go. Cameraman, soundman and assistant all turned up in their own top of the range Audis, paid for by my subscription while Keith follows on in his ten year old white van packed full of fishing tackle. The Roach fishing isn’t easy at the moment with low clear water but he caught a few and Arthur, like Wilson ,is an easy going bloke, a good talker and knows his fishing.

The diploid Brown Trout eggs are eyed up and on the cusp of hatching and in the river the Brown Trout are feeding sporadically now that the rigours of spawning are done.

We have had our annual visit from CEFAS, an afternoon going over our records of fish movement, mortality and medicine and an inspection of stock and operating practice. CEFAS are a sensible bunch and regularly roll their eyes at some of the questions they are required to ask. We must be one of the smaller sites on the Fish Farm register, and now that we no longer stock other sections of river and only supply rainbows to another registered fish farm there our very few records to peruse. But boxes must be ticked so the CEFAS man met with The Bio-Security manager, Assistant Bio-Security manager, Fish diseases man and The Transportation director all positions currently held by yours truly. It is never a problem and titbits about what is going in the fish farming and fishery management world can often be gleaned. Of chief concern to CEFAS is VHS Viral Haemorrhagic Septicaemia a notifiable disease in Salmonids that is present in mainland Europe, to date there has only been one outbreak in the UK which had the effect of closing the whole of the affected river system down, an outbreak in the Great Lakes of North America devastated a thriving population of Char. VHS can be carried by water and also by birds so it is a miracle that we have escaped further outbreaks. Disinfecting nets, boots and tackle is one step that can cut down the risk of infection but the increasing number of anglers fishing overseas both Game and Coarse, heightens the risk of infection and not all will wipe their feet on return. We have agreed to host a disinfection point for boots and nets.

Problems with transportation persist, EU mandarins issued edicts stating that all animals “en route” should be given sufficient drinking water and comfort breaks to keep them in mid season form. Quite right for Cows Pigs and Chickens, but the same rule also applies to fish; a box must be ticked stating that we have transported our fish with sufficient drinking water for the journey and regular stops for sustenance, bowel evacuation and exercise.

Friday 16 December 2011

It's about time the keeper got the hang of it

The opening skirmishes of our shooting season proved fruitful. The first drive down the water meadow put up a flurry of ducks and the first of a few Woodcock, the two blocks of Maize were full of Pheasant and Partridge and the three drives along the river put up further Woodcock. The guns shot well and one of our bigger bags resulted, all with a skeleton beating line and only three dogs. Otis excelled (for once) the weather behaved. Amongst the flushed game were several Muntjac, quite a few Hares (all in the woods) half a dozen Roe Deer but no Fox. The only blight on the day the freshly ploughed fields where acres of stubble stood the previous week, Oh for a jolly farmer! Everything shot had lived a happy, free range organic life and ended up in a pot or freezer a few days later. The late lunch for beaters and guns lasted for much of the afternoon and was, as always, entertaining, bacchanalian and great fun. It’s an enjoyable day to which all contribute and a great advert for game shooting, to quote one regular beater with paint on his shoes

“After twenty years it’s about time the keeper got the hang of it!”

I wouldn’t go that far and am wary of hubris, no doubt next time we will struggle for double figures.

We have had some high wind, but only twigs and branches have fallen down. The accompanying rain has been heavy and much has run off with the river rising and falling within the space of 24 hrs, the river remains low and we need two winter’s worth of rain over the coming months.

The stretch of upper Dever that I was asked to have a look at is a gem, but in desperate need of a management plan. Crystal clear with fine loose gravel, it sparkles where the light gets in. A few months going bananas with a chainsaw would provide some super toothpick fishing for small brownies. I remember stocking the water twenty odd years ago as a student with mixed sex fish, it had a little more flow then and an angling club leased the water, it was managed and fish thrived. Let go for a decade it has died, marginal growth has been starved of light, crack willow has conquered all, and few fish remain; a sad example of why chalk streams must be managed.

Habit management on the Chalkstreams is key and done properly is highly effective. The two pieces of water for which I am now responsible, although both are chalkstreams, pose different fishery management problems. The angling press in recent months has been full of “ Fishery management experts “ pushing the National Trout and Grayling Strategy that is to be enforced in 2015, several articles have promoted management practice for all rivers. Woody debris was the feature one month, an irresponsible article that promised thousands of new trout if you bolted big bits of wood to the river bed, the resulting riffle would be teeming with small trout. It works in some situations but not in others and when you get it wrong it can actually cause damage. Another article on a particular stretch of river in Sussex highlighted the thriving Wild Brown trout population that had appeared once the Wild Trout Trust wand had been waved, no mention was made of the fact that the water immediately below had been stocked for some years with mixed sex trout. I know this because I supplied the fish and carried out the stocking, all under licence from the EA.

Facts and figures have been cherry picked and goalposts moved miles (the WTT definition of a “wild” Brown Trout is now very different to what it was five years ago) to pedal this National Strategy that will do little but detract from important concerns over water quality and effective habitat management.

With effective Habitat management diploid brown trout introduced to a chalkstream at a young age will thrive and also be subject to sufficient natural selection to ensure that only the fit and able reach maturity and spawn. A stocking strategy such as this in rivers where there is no longer a clearly identifiable wild trout strain provides numbers of fish of all age classes and offers a more commercially viable and natural solution to the one currently being promoted. It would require an effective fishery management and predator control strategy where Mr and Mrs Brown Trout are put first and may also sit better in the public eye. The proposed strategy of “triploids only” may appear an obvious solution, but the media savvy in some quarters would have no trouble in painting them in a bad light and push for their use to be banned, and what are we left to stock with then? ...........Nothing

Which is what many believed The National Trout and Grayling strategy set out to do in the first place, a ban on stocking, although the Wild Trout Trust, Hampshire Wildlife Trust, EA and a host of others would have us believe otherwise,

Cherry anyone?

Friday 2 December 2011

With a smile and a song

Today, the first day of December, a drought warning was issued for the South east of England. We have had some rain, and good rain at that, nice and steady stuff that gets down into the ground, but we need a whole lot more if the river is anything like what it should be next season.

In the river there are redds in all the usual places with fish kicking up hard. The eggs in the hatchery are of mixed quality and I have been busy egg picking most days this past week. We have had a few Grayling fishermen recently, mostly French they have returned mixed results with plenty of small fish caught but the bigger fish have not played ball, Monsieur also presented me with a two pound Perch for tea and a few tips on preparation and the appropriate sauce.

We have our first day shooting next week and I have had a few days clearing up crack willow that has intruded on some of the rides. There appear to be plenty of birds about although the acres of stubble have been ripped up this week so the day may be less a maraud and more a trudge. Otis is currently the “goon in the room” following recent parades by a bitch in season, fingers crossed his thoughts return to emanating from his head and not his loins as he will have a part to play come shoot day.

Over on the Itchen I have been clearing back some bank. Some are critical of the wide swathes cut on some banks of the chalkstreams but it does spread the wear on the riverbank, paths don’t develop and pressure is relieved on the all important fringe. The water is not as clear on this stretch of the Itchen and the gravel not as clean, although cutting the weed has certainly shifted a lot of rubbish. There is also a small spring ditch that is running still, despite the current conditions. Overgrown and with no clear margin it is in desperate need of light and water but it has clean gravel and a few small Brown Trout and could be an ideal nursery stream to the main river. I have also been asked to have a look at a stretch of the Avon which is a very different river to what I am accustomed too and a bit of the Dever that should prove more familiar.

Back on the Dever I was walking up the river one morning to chase back some errant pheasants, when I spotted a Kingfisher on the pool below the weir, close by was a yellow wagtail that flicked and twitched as I approached before rising into the air. The altitude of ten feet was attained before bandits appeared at twelve o’clock, a Sparrowhawk that threatened to pluck him from the sky as the Wagtail would a midday Olive, whether by cunning plan or complete accident the wagtail set off towards the kingfisher who flushed and set off in the opposite direction, distracting the Sparrowhawk who switched quarry and set off in pursuit of the flashing bluebird whose local river knowledge saw him to safety.

When my daughter was small and going through her first “Snow White” phase we found a squab one summer that had flown into the wall of our house. Ten minutes of gentle nursing and a few rounds of “Hi Ho” seemed to have returned it to mid season form so we climbed the bank in order to launch it back to the skies from whence it came. Rusty wings took it slowly to the height of the roof when with a Poof! it was hit by a Sparrowhawk who had lain in white in a nearby field maple, feathers floated down on myself and my bemused daughter who shrugged her shoulders and pitched into “With a smile and a song” before heading back inside.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Keepering by Braille

Grayling fishing in recent weeks has been good, with Olives hatching off throughout the mild afternoons. Most anglers have caught a dozen or more fish, both on the surface and below, with a few fish caught just shy of two pounds. There are bigger fish present but all have so far proved wise to what has been put before them. One chap caught a decent Perch and several Roach have all fallen to a nymph. Many big Browns have emerged from their hidden summer lies and are kicking over the gravel on the shallows, there are at least four fish of five pound or more on the shallow by the fishing hut that have come from goodness knows where, they certainly didn’t make their presence known for much of the summer.

I have stripped a few hens and have a couple of baskets of eggs in the hatching trough; they look to be ok and should be hatching out around Christmas time. A few fish in the stew ponds are showing signs of a white fungal infection on their head, as are a few fish in the river. We have had a some relatively fungus free years of late, although a few fish with infections are to be expected around spawning time, especially Cocks that have been chasing about scrapping over the hens.

The Hedge alongside the Millstream has had its annual trim, with the hatch opened and the channel drained to allow the tractor to drive up the millstream bed and cut the side that borders the river.

Another Egret has turned up, but no sign yet of the Merlin who turns up most winters.

Mega myopic, I have worn spectacles full time for much of my life, for the past few years a pair crafted from cutting edge titanium and rimless; NASA specs for the short sighted spaceman that weigh a couple of drams. The one downfall with these superlight specs is that it takes the merest flick of a feather to send them flying from your nose. On one occasion I was tending to a branch over the river that required me to walk along another branch small chainsaw in one hand, holding on with the other fingers tightly crossed. I raised the chainsaw to deal with the branch that had captured several flies presented by anglers, flicking a small branch on the way up that subsequently sprung back and catapulted my glasses into six feet of water. I held the pose for a minute, before exiting stage left, throwing the running chainsaw over my shoulder onto the bank and finding my way back along the branch by braille. Several times on recent shoots I have burst through a bush, only for the fog to descend and the beating line pressing on regardless as I scrabbled around in the scrub for my specs. Today I have taken delivery of some Kevlar plated, super reinforced glasses, My wife suggests that they are a little more "Alan Carr" and a little less "Heinrich Himmler", whatever, I am of an age where I don’t care what they look like only that they are comfortable and it will take a blast from a tank to shift them from my head.

I was recently asked to take a look at a stretch of the Upper Itchen that an acquaintance of my employer had recently purchased with a view to mee keepering it in seasons to come, a pretty piece of single bank on the main river that had not been fished much for many years. On previous occasions when I have been asked if I would consider taking on some extra river work I have turned them down, once when the owner wanted a part time keeper for the best part of three miles of river. This time I have said yes. It is very different to the stretch of the Dever that I look after full time and poses a very different fishery management challenge. There is a week or two of work to get the place up together, and then the upkeep through the summer. It will not be stocked and lightly fished with catch and release very much to the fore.

I have found the time by standing down as Groundsman for Barton Stacey Football Club where I had somehow become Hampshire FA’s Groundsman of the year and was subsequently put up for the FA’s National Groundsman of the Year competition. Suits were dispatched from Wembley and we were eventually found out but were highly commended in the final scores. I thought it best to go out at the top and informed Mr Chairman who thought that it was probably for the best as the white lines had been getting a tad wonky of late.

With two teenage drivers and the insurance costs incurred, plus one at University and one hoping to go once the fees have been put up, the extra money will also be welcome.

Thursday 3 November 2011

My long handled chainsaw

The weed is out and the fringe edged in, the river waits for rain. There is a lot of silt accumulated in places that will be easy to shift in the New Year provided we have some rain. The aquifers are at their lowest at this time of the year yet the stretch at Western Colley that was all but dry in July is now flowing suggesting that some supplementary pumping is going on, we certainly haven’t had enough rain to cause it to run and it may be to keep certain discharges into the Dever at the required dilution to avoid problems with weekly water quality sampling, I don’t know it’s just a guess we would be the last to be told if this kind of thing was going on.

There are a few Browns kicking up on the shallows although I have seen very few cock fish to date, they have normally had a month of charging and chasing each other around by now. The Browns in the stew ponds are showing little interest in spawning and it looks like I will be stripping eggs a little later than last year. A Little Egret has put in its first appearance of the Autumn no doubt attracted by lots of fish in clear shallow water, along with a couple of Heron who we chase up the river each morning. The few Grayling fisherman have found the fishing tough with small size 22 nymphs catching most fish, although I have seen fish on the surface in afternoon taking Olives. The Roach look to have fed hard this summer and although they are fewer in number than last year, there are several fish over the two pound mark just waiting for a stick float and a single pinkie on a sunny January afternoon.

I have a lot of chainsaw work this winter, both on and off the river and this past week I began by taking six foot from the top of the gargantuan hedge by the stable block. Each year it posed problems of how it must be cut, from wobbly ladders to a scaffold tower in the back of the pickup it was never easy and had become close to unmanageable, so this year it was forced to bow to the shock and awe of my new long handled chainsaw. I have had a long handled hedge cutter for some years and it is an invaluable tool on the river for doing all the jobs that used to be done with a slasher, but the chainsaw attachment with a couple of extensions although unwieldy, and quite dangerous in company, is very useful and will reduce the amount of time I spend up ladders with a bowsaw, or chainsaw if the health and safety man is not watching...........which he invariably isn’t, so chainsaw it is. It’s not top of the range, and is a 2 stroke which wouldn’t have been my first choice but so far it seems ok. I have had issues with some of the more expensive 2 stroke engines on strimmers, hedge cutters and chainsaws and have had several that claim to be for professional use, worn out in a couple of seasons. Some years ago I switched to a Honda 4 stroke strimmer that has proved to be far more reliable and robust than anything Sweden or Germany can proffer and starts after two or three pulls, it does not rev as high and I can hear the cricket in my headphones. The four stroke engine on my two inch pump that I use intermittently is as reliable and will start second or third pull no matter how long it has stood idle in the workshop.

The Pheasants are all were they should be bar a few errant birds heading for next door’s maize that we chase back over the road and river each day. I have rolled down a couple of rows of Maize which always helps hold birds and everything else besides, there are cobs strewn throughout the woods by creatures feasting on sweetcorn, and while cycling back at night from his shift polishing spoons at the local hotel and spa my son raced a badger down the road that had been munching on the flattened cobs.

I don’t know what is going on with the Ducks, early signs were good but now we have very few visiting the pond despite the offer of some of Hampshire’s finest barley tailings and the company of five plastic ducks to guide them in.

Thursday 20 October 2011

Putting the river to bed

Much of the past two weeks has been spent knocking the fringe off, edging in and cutting weed. The thin line of marginal reeds is key to effective management of the river channel. If water is low it can be allowed to encroach and squeeze the channel helping to maintain speed of flow which is vital for Ranunculus and all the bugs that live in her. If water is high the fringe can be edged in hard to maximise the channel weed and reduce water height. If the fringe is deprived of light by overhanging trees it thins or disappears and the bank is open to erosion, over-widening of the river can occur resulting in a slowing of the flow, silt deposition and dead Ranunculus. Cutting the fringe down to a height of around eight to ten inches and cutting it back to a foot or two thickness and a clean line between water’s edge and marginal reeds gives enough fringe for the coming season that can be edged in hard or allowed to grow out depending on water conditions as well as providing cover for the angler.

I am half way through stripping the weed right out of the river. The amount of blanket weed is causing problems as it rolls up into huge immovable balls that sit midstream despite the bombardment of flow; the river has dropped markedly on the stretches that I have already cut. And with the weed gone, all is revealed; loads of silt and loads of fish. Stretches that appeared barren through August and September housed a surprising number of fish, a lunker of around five or six pounds is holed up below the bridge over to the fishing hut and the pool below the weir is home to many Brown Trout from five ounces to five pounds, Grayling, Roach, Perch and a Pike. The silt poses problems that will be easily solved by a wet winter and increased flow. Olives continue to hatch throughout the afternoon with a trickle of Pale Wateries and BWOs hatching around me as I cut my way downstream.

The results of water samples taken following a slug of dirty water were returned, BOD and ammoniacal readings were a little higher than expected, but not too high as to cause concern all else was ok. Something went into the river, what it was, we shall never know.

The Ducks are proving to be as enigmatic as recent winters. Some nights they turn up, buckets of barley disappear and the pond is awash with feathers, other nights they don’t. There are a few flighting the millstream most nights, currently overgrown following a waterless summer the cover may be an important factor.

The Pheasants look fantastic and are currently enjoying some of the tallest maize this part of Hampshire has ever seen, bolting in the late summer rain to a height of 8ft. Otis and I spend an hour most mornings chasing back any birds that aren’t too keen on sweetcorn and are heading off to the Little Chef for an “early starter” but most make a beeline for the maize after falling from their roost when the sun comes up. We have some natty new Pheasant feeders made from lidded green buckets mounted on the unused laths from the mill house roof that are proving to be quite popular. I have cut down on the hand feeding as this current crop of Pheasants were starting to become a tad friendly.

Friday 7 October 2011

Scooby Dooby Doo, where are you?

The last day of a difficult season. Beautifully clear water and a hint of late season sparkle tainted by prolific blanket weed. Fly life this week has been good with Olives hatching throughout the day, a smattering of them blue winged, plus a few sedges. All the small stuff rise but most of the bigger lumps still sulk. A few fish have been caught but nothing like the sport of previous Septembers, after a fantastic first eight weeks the season has ended as one of the least productive in recent memory. There are plenty of fish in the river, but sport has been hampered by the lack of water and the need to let the river “grow in” to preserve water levels. In a week’s time I shall cut all the weed out and I expect it will drop the level by eight to ten inches pushing fish into the deeper holes. There are good numbers of Grayling and large numbers of fry in the millstream following the intensive spawning on the shallows by the ford in April.

A week ago, at 5pm I received a phone call from the factor of the local put and take big fish water, he had just been out and about cleaning screens and glad-handing the anglers and had had his attention drawn to the colour of the river, which was dirty grey and cloudy. A call was made to the Environment Agency pollution hotline, a sample of water taken and a phone call made to the bloke downstream, alerting me to the dirty slug of water. Three years ago we were issued with sterile bottles and a glossy book of pull out postcards on which we could record the details of such incidents and send in to Environment agency central.

After ten minutes scrabbling around in the garage the bottles and book were located, the bottle steam sterilised and a sample taken of the offending slug of water that tainted two hundred yards of river. I then made the phone call to an Environment Agency man a long way away. The opening exchanges revolved around my own personal details: name, address occupation, general fitness and what ethnic group I would put myself in. There followed some questions that didn’t seem to apply to chalkstreams before I interrupted the “checklist” to explain that the slug of dirty water was currently at this location, was moving downstream and if the Environment Agency wanted to come out and get some samples of their own they had better get out her “ tout de suite” which may well have sent them scurrying off towards Winchester, having previously had two section 30 stocking applications turned down for our location in a sensitive part of the upper Itchen.

I was informed by “ central control” that the information would be passed on to the relevant authority who may be in touch soon. Twenty minutes later I was called by team leader of the “dirty water squad” and was asked if the water smelt of anything and could I see any fish in distress,

to which I replied no.

I informed team leader that I had taken a sample and was in the process of sending him a postcard but team leader said that he could not take samples from Joe Public citing poor sampling technique and not to worry about the postcard.

Having given bloody battle with BT for several hours that morning over matters various I returned to my tent to prepare for the following day.

The next morning, there was foam on the river, blocks of it at the end of broken water.

Photos were taken and the enemy engaged.

A decline in chalkstream water quality has been of major concern for some years and is often overshadowed by the Wild Trout crusade and much more besides.
Contact was made with the Test and Itchen association who represent the Riparian owners who were suitably aghast at the EA’s inaction and made enquiries on our behalf. A few days later EA central made contact and asked for water samples. The clumsy factor of the local big fish water had spilt his (a not too uncommon occurrence where liquid is concerned} mine was in the fridge marked “do not drink”
A week after the pollution incident occurred, the sample was collected and we await results.

Nobody died, no fish were found belly up and everything seems to have returned to normal but something went into the river that shouldn’t have. Currently there are roughly three miles of river between here and the source. With the spirit of Scooby Doo, investigations could have been made and the identity of “The Phantom” revealed providing good publicity for a cash starved agency and "The Phantom" suitably punished/admonished.

At the very least a quick tour of the valley with a man in a van may have deterred the culprit from a repeat performance.

Friday 23 September 2011

Two weeks to go

Intense showers have freshened the river and fishing continues to improve, although high wind for a few days resulted in difficult conditions for flicking flies. Several large fish have been caught, along with many between one and two pound, most of which have been returned. Daddies have caught the most fish but emergers and small drably dressed nymphs have taken their share. With two weeks of the Trout season remaining it wouldn’t be unusual to see some of the Cock fish colouring up and chasing around, but no sign of any change yet. We have some very big Grayling in the river at the moment, and this week a fish of well over two pounds, the biggest this year, was taken on a PTN, October and November fishing for Grayling could well be some of the best in recent times. The Roach also appeared to have fed well this summer and we have a good head of fish over the pound, when I cut the weed out at the start of next month the small pockets of Roach join up into larger shoals and it will be easier to make an assessment of their numbers.

Currently the river is crystal clear, and has a hint of late season sparkle, the only blot on the copybook the verdant blanket weed that is currently smothering what’s left of the Ranunculus and Celery, any Ranunculus that is free from the shackles of blanket weed is in spanking form, emerald green and luxuriant. Mental notes are also taken at this time of the year as to which trees need sorting out over the winter, everything looks a little different when the leaves are gone and the branches have lifted. Some spots need hitting quite hard, with Crack Willow to the fore once again.

Away from the river, the Pheasants look pretty good, although a little friendly. They spend much of the morning in the long grass next to the river. Ten minutes of Otis tickling them up has made them a little less domesticated and shoved them back into the wood although they keep coming back for more. The Maize is some of the best we have had in recent year and the sooner they find that the better.

On the pond the early feeding appears to have paid dividends and we have good numbers flighting at night. I have cut the duck hides, and in a few days we will shoot the pond for the first time this year. Cover is still thick around the pond, so picking up in the dark (should we shoot anything) will be a test for a Labrador, who desperately needs to buck his ideas up. There have been ducks on the pond throughout the day. This may be down to the thicker cover around the pond or the presence of half a dozen plastic ducks bobbing about, that Otis will no doubt retrieve one by one in the pitch black and dutifully lay at my feet.

I have also spent some time pepping up the electric fences around the stew ponds. Cold weather and an empty belly sharpens the mind of the Otter who will look for the easiest meal possible once the frolicking of summer is done.

Thursday 8 September 2011

He can fly, he can fly, he can fly!

Summer is over, apparently. High winds and heavy showers have swept across the county and several thermostats have clicked as the central heating has kicked in for the first time in months. I haven’t given up on summer yet, the river can still sparkle well into October and daytime temperatures still hit the high teens and low twenties. September fishing is normally pretty good, although the wind and rain is making things difficult at the moment. On dry days the fish have risen throughout the afternoon, mostly small stuff, but several stately lunkers batting for close of play can still be tempted to flash outside off stump on a balmy afternoon. Several big fish have been lost on the surface, mostly to emergers but one to a Terry’s Terror, a fly that is always worth a try, late season, on this stretch.

Much of last week was spent shuffling our fish in the stew ponds. Our pond full of Rainbows achieved great exam results and have now gone off to the University of fishing life that is the neighbouring “Big Fish” water, we wish them well and trust they will not return at Christmas with a bag full of washing like Child A who is set to follow a similar path. Their departure set in motion a chain of events. With empty ponds, more Rainbow trout were brought in for growing on for next year, and all of our Brown Trout moved up a pond to give more space. Five days of lumping fish that put my healing hernias to their biggest test yet.

The Pheasants look fantastic, there is nothing like a belt of bad weather for bringing their feathers on and this lot look pretty good; and despite the wet, no gapes. Let’s hope they fly as well as they look.

We have Ducks. I have been trickling the feed into the pond each day, and most mornings there are a dozen or more still on the pond with plenty of feathers on the surface. I have started to clear around the hides in preparation for our first nights flighting, but am toying with the idea of leaving more cover around the margins. The pond has always held ducks at night, but few stay for the day. A little more cover may keep a few on the water to get up in the air on our Shooting Days.

Much of our Apples and Pear crop are ready. Four Pear trees have a good crop of small fruit, Of the five different varieties of eating Apple, two are laden with big fruit, the Russet and Cox have lots of small fruit, while the best of all, a tree that yields fruit that would not be out of place in a production of Snow White, maroon skin, ice white flesh, firm, crisp and of a size that fits perfectly in the palm of your hand, has had its best crop in years. King of the fruit trees around here is a Bramley that ought not to be alive having large parts of its trunk stripped of bark. Bestriding the paddock at the bottom of the garden where smaller fruits stand sentinel, it produces a huge number of apples. This year the fruit is small, but twenty feet up hang some large “easy peelers” In recent years, to gain access to the best fruit, I have used a trampoline that my employer purchased some years ago for her grandchildren. Like Eve on springs, two or three bounces get you to the crown of the tree and the best are plucked one by one. Far more fun than ladders, and probably safer too, Should apple picking by trampoline be a late addition to the Olympic schedule, I am a shoo in for a gold medal.

Some years ago when the Trampoline was delivered, I assembled it in afternoon in early June when all jobs for the day had already been done. With the last piece clicked in, I clambered aboard for what “Health and Safety” would term preliminary tests. After initial staggers a rhythm was found and height was gained. A fisherman was enjoying the Mayfly fishing on the bottom bends, and as I cleared the roof of the Bothy I asked him how he was getting on. The man with the rod stayed focused on his quarry while I interjected each time I rose above the roof line, five minutes of fishing chat followed while I bounced up and down, and to this day I don’t know if he was aware of what I was doing. He may have been politely ignoring the actions of a madman, or attributed it to an enthusiastic riverkeeper empathising with dancing Mayflies, whichever, it’s the best trampoline I’ve been on and it’s a great way of picking apples!

Wednesday 24 August 2011

At Last!

At last! Fishing has improved. It may still be August but around here it looks like mid September and the fishing has responded accordingly. Heavy showers, including two inches in two hours have freshened things up and the fish have roused themselves from their midsummer torpor. Many rise through the day to Olives, although evening fishing is on the wane.

I missed the rain, having been on a kids free holiday with the wife. Child "A" had taken herself off to a Greek Isle, and then on to Portugal and Child "B" descended upon Cornwall with a group of friends and family. With concealed trepidation, and a big pile of books, Wife and I jetted off to the mountains and cold clear water of North West Corfu. Foolishly I forgot to pack my travel rod, but I would have been seriously under-gunned against a gang of Albanians packing spear guns and snorkels who chased the most baby of Bass from rock to rock. Next time, because there will be a next time as the whole week proved to be a bit of a success, the 9ft 8wt rod is going in along with a float rod for tiddler bashing off the rocks.

At home, control was ceded to parents who kept everything ticking over beautifully.... and spoiled the dogs. I am told that the intense rain lifted the river and sent some blanket weed bowling on downstream dragging out Ranunculus as it went. There are a few bare patches, and the level is as it was before we left, but the river definitely looks fresher for a flush of water. Some trees are already shedding leaves adding to the early autumnal feel,and the apples and pears are dropping from the trees, but the grass has gone into overdrive and much of days since my return have been taken up with mowing and strimming.

The Pheasants have arrived, and what a multicultural bunch they are, with poults of all shades and sizes from tiny pale and white to the big black and melanistic; who knows how they will fly, but they all seem to be sticking around. The rain has brought their feathers on and they look in pretty good knick. The introduction of the poults into the pen draws the attention of the resident pheasants who sidle over to check out the new kids on the block. We seem to have quite a few of last year’s birds about, judging by the number feeding on the rides around the pen.

The Maize has shot up with the warm wet weather although the Combine has drawn to a halt and the wheat in the fields that we shoot over is starting to look a little black. About fifteen years ago, heavy rain at this time of the year left part of the wheat crop unharvested and the seed dropped out in the field, subsequently the parish was full of portly pheasants and the food bill was minimal for that year.

After successive winters when the duck shooting has been poor, I am feeding the pond a month earlier to see if we can attract ducks and establish an early feeding pattern. With the heavy rain, Farmer Palmer has had little to do but drag around his plough and disks and little stubble remains. The ducks need somewhere to R&R, so why not the pond? Plastic ducks bob seductively, and barley is on tap to attract all but the most fickle fowl. I’ll leave plenty of cover for a few weeks and hopefully word will get round the duck world that this is the place to be.

Our Rainbows are soon to depart. Fin perfect lumps of four to five pounds they will make their debut on the angling scene at the local big fish water, I wish them well, next year’s lot arrive four days later.

Monday 8 August 2011

Plenty of Owls

We have had some rain and we have had some sun, the wind got up and a few branches fell down. The fishing? I could prevaricate a little more, but may as well get to the point. Still hard work, river low and not much really happening. Fish have been taken on nymphs, plain ones with anything flashy or splashy scaring more than it attracts, and a lots of juvenile browns dimple the surface for much of the day, but the big lumps lie doggo doing little. On the plus side the fly life has been pretty good. We have some reasonable hatches of Sedges and Medium Olives, and numbers of Blue Winged Olive are up on recent years. Most mornings this past week, I have opened the door to retrieve the paper and found a dozen or more BWO’s taking a rest on the front door and surrounding wall, no wind this week so hopefully a few Sherry Spinners will get back on the water to lay their eggs. The next weed cut is imminent but bar a little titivating there is very little that can be done. A family of Swans burst onto the scene one day this week and the water in front of the fishing hut dropped an inch after an hour of them pulling at weed. With water aplenty, the impact would have been negligible, but with water at a premium they have significantly affected the level of the water in a short stretch of river that holds a lot of fish, weed cover is lost and water level reduced, exposing the fish population to avian predators that seek an easy feast on fish trapped in shallow water. The fringe, left thick to squeeze the flow, is a riot of colour and a momentary distraction from the arduous fishing.

The Combine has been around and done the rape revealing a few well grown fox cubs, and the barley in our back field looks fit, but small and with short straw. The stubble attracted many Owls on the night after it was cut, my wife counted five while driving down the road at dusk, seeking critters exposed by the Combine's perambulations.

It is not just the Owls who are attracted by the easy pickings of a fresh cut corn field. Pikeys abound at the moment and a midnight raid on several sheds in the village resulted in the loss of several mowers and hedges cutters, cut cornfields provide easy access to back entrances and no matter what vehicle they turn up in, an alternative route home if pursued.

We have a few wild Pheasant about, and this week I have been getting our release pen ready for the arrival of our own Pheasants. Unfortunately a Roe deer looks to have got stuck in the pen in recent months and has trashed large parts of the fence in his efforts to escape. Radios are installed and the electric fence erected in keen anticipation of the eight week old poults arrival.

Recent articles by The Wild Trout Trust in the angling press have given cause for concern. It is irresponsible to peddle propaganda on fishery management policy in a national publication. I have previously banged on at length at the nonsense of a national fishery management strategy for the rivers of these Isles; what works for one river does not necessarily hold for all, media savvy cheerleaders encouraging all and sundry to have a go at this and that is irresponsible. Recent articles have centred on stocking policy and the merits of diploid and triploid trout. I could cut and paste ten thousand emailed words,cordial and considered, between myself and a high ranking WT man over the merits of each from which the only conclusion I can draw is that the “Final solution” for the WT is an end to stocking. If those who rely on stocking to maintain a commercially viable fishery are forced to stock with Triploid Brown trout and their use is banned (as it already is in some parts of Europe) will the WT and EA defend their use?
I have my doubts and with the stocking of diploid trout no longer possible, stocking will effectively have been banned and many fisheries will no longer be commercially viable.

Thursday 21 July 2011

If Jesus were a wildfowler

The July weed cut came and went with most scythes on this river standing undisturbed. The local “big fish” water fired up their water borne pantechnicon to snip the ends from some ribbon weed but most river flora was left untouched. Despite the wet weather, the river’s flow continues to diminish and fishing is understandably hard. Evening time has seen some good hatches of Sedge that have induced some feeding activity, and many fish occupying a mid water station and above will look at surface flies both natural and artificial but presentation must be bang on to induce a proper rise. More big Grayling have been caught with several around the two pound mark.
One evening I had a couple of hours on the pond banging out twenty odd Rudd, Roach and Perch on float fished maggot. Brian the brainless bronze bream put in another appearance. Stuck at around four pound he doesn’t put up much of a fight and for all the times that he has been caught he is in pretty good condition. With a perfect mouth and a small scar behind his dorsal fin he is undoubtedly a nice looking fish, just not very bright. I had hoped for a few Tench but was plagued by small perch who even snaffled two grains of sweetcorn fished hard to the bottom. There are a few Crucians Carp in the pond, although none have been caught for a few years. Notorious “home bodys” Crucians do not cruise a pond like Commons or Mirrors but have their local haunts that they stringently stick to. In my youth I fished a shallow marl pit from which we only caught Rudd, until, by accident, fishing hard to a particular reed bed we had an afternoon bagging up on Crucians. None could be caught in any other part of the pond, but pop a float in a particular spot and out would come a six ounce Crucian. I am sure, that given enough time,a similar spot in our pond, where all the Crucians hang out, could be located.

This week I received the gift of Barley. If Jesus had been a wildfowler he would have placed this higher up his wish list than Gold, Frankincense or Myrrh. A tonne of last year’s yellow gold pulled from the bowels of a grain dryer and bagged up in readiness for September when we start feeding ducks into the pond. There are a few Ducks about, and we currently have a few tufties on both the pond and the river, a bit of early feeding could bring an improvement on recent year's sport.

While we are on the colour yellow, in a Sesame street style of way, Hampshire is currently under siege from ragwort. Bright gold and nasty, it is poisonous to all things equine and bovine and has also been linked to some respiratory complaints in human beans. It used to be pulled up, we still pull it up whenever it appears around here, and Hampshire County Council had gangs that were employed to pull it from the roadside. For whatever reason this no longer takes place and ragwort has become firmly established with some roadside verges a swathe of gold.

Thursday 7 July 2011

They're in, and seeing it like a football!

In the name of cricket we recently had cause to trundle up the Bourne and Wallop Brook valleys, the Wallop brook is underground for a large part of its length and the Bourne unfishable above the Vitacress farm at St Marybourne. The flow on our stretch has reduced even further, a brief stop on returning from a quest for tractor parts to the head of this valley, revealed that the river had all but dried up at the gauging station at Western Colley. Throughout the length of the river, Keepers and Fishery managers are desperately trying to make best use of a diminishing resource, diverting water from minor carriers, closing down hatches, pushing water through stock ponds, allowing the margins to grow in and the weed to break the surface, anything possible to hold the water up.

In cricketing terms some of our fish are now “in” and “seeing it a like a football” Some that were hooked and lost earlier in the season, the equivalent of being dropped in the slips, are a little more cautious but others will rise and nose most offerings rejecting confidently the majority of artificials put in front of them. Some fish have been taken and an improvement in midday hatches of Olives has certainly perked things up, but presentation is still key, lighter lines and smaller flies that settle lightly on the surface reaping rewards whenever fish have been interested. This time last year we had a river full of fish who had become preoccupied with sub surface feeding, a few are currently in this state but most still look up for sustinance, and three days ago, a Grayling of just over two pounds, a big fish for this river, was taken on an Olive Klinkhammer.

The return of the Otters has not helped the fishing, a few half eaten eels and trout on the bank each morning betray their return. We have new batteries on the electric fence around the ponds, and so far the stock fish have been left alone. Video surveillance by a friend on the middle river revealed electric arcs throughout the night as damp Otters made attempts to gain access to ponds guarded by an electric fence. Several hours of video resembled a night in the north taking in the Aurora Borealis, as either an army of Otters nosed at the fence, or several persistence critters kept coming back for more.

We have two large broods of young pheasant in the long grass by the top shallows, I came across one lot dusting on a bit of bank I had scalped with the mower and they didn’t look to be more than a few weeks old. We have a few young ducks about including a bunch of tufties on the pond, much of the juvenile mallard on the river are now three quarter size but not yet independent. Moorhens abound, to Otis’s delight, and we may have to hit them hard this winter. Further down the guest list, Voles are in the house, along with grass snakes, slow worm and millions of Muntjac. In a Moth rich environs the first few funny flutterers are banging around the light shades of an evening and a Nightingale sang its song the other night. On the fruit front, we have trees laden with apples and pears, and Blackbirds grow giddy on the ripe cherries that fall from our tree in the garden, the plum trees however stand like a quartet of eunuchs, four in number and not a plum between them

Friday 1 July 2011

Tricky Fishing

Fishing for Brown Trout on this stretch of river is currently very challenging, and it has been a few weeks since anyone returned home with their four fish limit. In crystal clear water moving at half revs, the fish get a good long look at what is being offered. Fish have been taken by those who have persevered and fined down their tackle, last evening one of the biggest fish of the season, a tubby Brown of just under five pounds, was taken on a Sedge, a beautiful fish stocked last year or the year before, and worth four fish in May. Several large Grayling have been taken on the surface along with many undersize Brown Trout currently learning the trade. Fly life has been a little disappointing with hatches of midday Olives not a patch on last year although sedge fishing has been what it should for the time of year.

The lack of water? take it as read, I have been asked to “let it go” for the sake of my marriage.

Some swans have hatched off cygnets on the Common land below and each day they make concerted efforts to breakfast on our bars of Ranunculus. They can’t be that hungry because they vacate the premises as soon as the wobbly spaniel puts in an appearance, but a few hours of them pulling at weed would result in us losing several inches of water on the bottom bends. It is comforting to know that the wobbly spaniel still has a role play, as he is on his last leg, though don’t tell the swans who currently put him on a par with “he who shall not be named“. There is bitch in season in this parish and the Labrador with a butt to rival J Lo is in pieces and full of ideas about scattering his seed, wobbly spaniel is immune, or else he considers himself a swan, and his advances each morning are in fact foreplay, I wouldn’t put it past him, he has done far stranger things. I have not seen many broods of Pheasant or Partridge on my bumbles about, the intense showers of recent weeks may have done for a number of newly hatched chicks.

We have several snakes, grassy ones, one of which gave our resident painter, GP Jenkins decorator to the rich and famous (an advert, but he did buy me a drink) a start when it popped out from behind a window sill he was painting, we have had one in the pond and another crossed the road while walking the dogs one evening. I have also had cause to pull a bat from tree that had become entangled in some discarded nylon. Funny little things and far more numerous than we think, it was hanging upside down six inches above the surface of the river. Carefully untied, as the thin skin upon which they fly is incredibly fragile, it was given some R&R in the woodshed before taking flight in the night. Over the years, several rods have hooked bats while fishing late at night and there seem to be plenty of them about in these parts.

Work this week has mostly centred around cutting grass, with the warm weather and heavy showers, you can almost see the grass grow. I have topped the meadows, skirting the orchids, giving them a few more weeks to let seed develop, and done much strimming. The fringe, although full of colour, has bolted and will need the top taken off next week if any fish are to be caught.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Kingfishers at 12 oclock!

Well we’ve had some rain, days of steady stuff, some of which will have got down into the ground. Numerous intense showers have flooded the road and run quickly off into the river adding a flush of colour and a brief lift before quickly returning to its current default level. The weed cut has now ended and nothing came down from up river, we sent our cut-weed on down the river with a day to spare, and what normally takes half a day took a little longer due to the reduced flow.
Fishing has become quite tricky. Fish have been caught, including several around the three pound mark but it has taken a lot of effort. Some who have camped on a midwater fish for an hour, have toured their fly box and been rewarded for their travels/travails.
There are few free-risers bar a brace of errant Rainbows, although many undersize fish have been spotting the surface on the shallows. Today an angler had his hook straightened on the middle bends by a fish he thought was around six pounds. There is a fish on that stretch that has been hooked and lost for the last three seasons, but it is considerably bigger than six pounds. Whichever fish it was, it will be another dark sulky lump on the bed of the river for the coming months.

The Millstream that was formed by man hundreds of years ago to turn the wheel at the Mill, is now a pond. As the river drops, water is diverted from the millstream to maintain the flow on the main channel; in times of flood, the mill stream carries extra water away from the main channel to prevent excessive flooding. In it’s current benign state, it is almost unfishable, bar the bit in front of the house and the top twenty yards where it first forms. Currently it is home to a huge shoal of Minnows. Mum and Dad must have thought it a good place to spawn when the water was flowing, but now the water is gone, things look bleak for their babies, Kingfishers congregate and war has broken out between a pair at the top of this stretch and a rival pair just below our bottom boundary. Both pairs appear to be feeding young, and continually chase the other pair up and down the narrow channel. One day this week, while making my stately passage through the ford with the trailer on the back, they passed, shrieking at low level, between trailer and vehicle. A walk along the road with the wobbly dog is often accompanied by the whine of Kingfishers dog-fighting over a plate of minnows; a plate of minnows that may not have been as accessible had the river not been managed by man.

The student from Sparsholt has returned north. A useful and entertaining addition for three weeks he should go far in the Fishery Management field, although the canny Carp in the pond defeated him. He did hook a couple fishing on the surface but both fish were lost. The few that remain are around fifty years old, double figures and pretty cute. The Perch, Roach and Rudd proved to be more obliging along with Brian the brainless Bream who, at this week's weigh in, clocked four pound. A few Tench have put in a an appearance around the Lillies and I hope to have a go myself sometime soon.

I was invited to fish a stretch of the Kennet by a friend who provides one of the premier country-store retail experiences in the area. Beer and an excellent lunch were taken and an enjoyable afternoon followed on plenty of water in Berkshire. The keeper was worried about water levels (obviously) but the fishing was good, with fish taking Olives from mid afternoon on. I had several fish on a Klinkhammer before thunder and lightning (not the fly) hove into view and I exited stage left. I have yet to fish the Kennet and not catch a trout, even when fishing for Barbeland Chub. A pretty and productive river it needs to be looked after, this stretch is obviously in good hands.

Thursday 16 June 2011

Just a bit off the fringe, and no gel!

Well we had some rain, a whole day of it, and a few showers to follow on, but I had cause to dig up some potatoes one day this week and the soil was like dust ten inches down and the potatoes the size of peas. No matter who you talk to up and down the river, the conversation inevitably turns to the lack of water. The current wet week does nothing for the aquifers, if it doesn’t rain from November to March the rivers that run through chalk are stuffed. With the June weed cut upon us, I had a quick scout up the valley to see what weed was likely to come our way, not much to speak of but the river at Western Colley, a mile and a bit below the point at which the river normally puts in an appearance was a foot below the measuring station and not far drying up. We are informed that the aquifers are marginally below average levels. A mile above Western Colley lie ponds that have been in regular use for Salmonid production, bar this year, they have they been unusable only once in recent memory due to lack of water and then towards the end of the Summer; we have a long way to go this season and the river will only get lower from here on.
I could go on, but my wife says I am getting obsessed with the water issue to the extent that I admonish her for bringing a glass of the stuff to bed.

Fishing picked up towards the end of this week, with several fish looking to the surface following a post mayfly nap to take medium Olives from midday through to mid evening, a few sedge are about along with the occasional Mayfly but most fish caught have been taken on Olive patterns or a Daddy Long Legs. We have cut some weed, the Ranunculus on the top shallows was of sufficient thickness to justify a bar cut along with some of the celery on the middle bit, the rest I will tittivate to a reasonable state of tidiness and leave to hold up the water, In Coiffure parlance, a trim of the fringe over a short back and sides. While we have blanket weed in the stew ponds there are no signs of it in the river, although this could change as the water temperature rises; the neighbouring “Big Fish” water has already recorded water temperatures above twenty degrees Celsius.

I am a week or two behind in topping the meadows. Diktat dictates that “thy meadow shalt remain unmowed until the first week of this month” For the mower’s absence, this year we have been rewarded with an even better display of Orchids than last year’s show. Numbers of phallic purple pretties must run into the hundreds, although the grass is a tad long, but I won’t mount the tractor until they have finished.

The home grown mixed sex brown trout fry are thriving on river water, although they draw the regular attention of a kingfisher with young to feed. There is a huge shoal of Grayling fry on the shallows by the ford and parts of the pond shimmer with Roach, Rudd and Perch fry. A brief trawl of the pond with a number one Mepps produced several Perch who will grow fat consuming silver fish fry in the coming months.

Monday 6 June 2011

I don't believe it!

Today we have received a message from EA central, Airstrip One, Oceania. An old fashioned message sent with a stamp but containing a poster that we are to display in a prominent position and three hundred words of fishery management advice on signs of drought conditions, fish in distress and possible courses of action.
One of the principle signs of drought conditions according to the faceless “Inner Party” are ponds that are half full/empty and a sure sign of fish in distress is dead fish on the surface of the water.
Also in the envelope were two sides of doublespeak assuring the reader that aquifer levels were only marginally down on the seasonal averages and there really was very little to worry about.
Accuse me of “Facecrime” but I am incredulous at the claims made by the Government appointed agency. In “Oldspeak” It’s an absolute load of b******s The Aquifers in this part of the valley are the lowest I have seen in my twenty years on this stretch and I have not seen the spring ditches that feed this river rise such a short distance from the river. For the Environment Agency to peddle the lie to the general public that we have enough water in the ground for the coming summer is a disgrace. There are many others who hold this view and are concerned that the Governing body who could do something to protect the amount of water that we have in the ground are apparently blind to the problem.

Breathe, Breathe!

The Mayfly are still hatching but few fish show interest. After a couple of good weeks in which most fish gorged themselves, most are now sated. We have had some of the heaviest hatches for some years with plenty of Spinners getting back down on the water. The Yellow Sallies are hatching now, which is always an indication that Mayfly time is coming to a close. A few Blue Winged Olives have put in an appearance, and numbers of Sedge seem to be building a few weeks earlier than normal. Some big fish have been lost this week which means we will have a few sulky lumps in the deeper stretches throughout the Summer and several Grayling around the 2lb mark have also been caught.

Our gamecover was drilled several weeks ago, and after a shower of rain earlier in the week has put its nose above the soil, which has now returned to dust. In the water meadows we have another good show of Orchids with at least three different “pinky purple” types. Some of the weed in the river has now broken surface and it may be possible to hold a bit of water up after the weed cut that starts next week. A perennial passage to play cricket amongst the horses and cows of the New Forest takes us over the Avon at Braemore. Last year there was flowering Ranunculus as far downstream as the eye could see. This year the river was down to its bare bones with very little weed showing.

I have a Sparsholt student with me for three weeks on a work placement, embarking on his first year of a Bsc in Fishery Management. The course is similar to the one that I completed a long time ago, although the entry requirements seem to have changed. A Level requirements are similar but there is now no longer a requirement for at least twelve months experience in the industry to gain entry onto the course. This may be because of the difficulty in finding twelve-month placements for so many students. Fewer hours are spent at college and the amount of vocational placements during the course have also been cut, along with the hours spent in college. The Course tutor, who visited last week, was present during my time at the College. The number of courses offered has risen dramatically and large numbers of students now graduate each year looking for jobs in the Fish Farming and Fishery Management field. He explained that most want to work with Carp in France or chase Cats on the Ebro, areas of work that were unheard of when I completed my course. But there seems to be a lot of students leaving college each year, chasing a diminishing number of Fishery Management jobs.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Magnificent Mayfly!

This week has seen some of the best hatches of Mayfly in recent years on this stretch of river. Nothing much doing in the morning with any fish caught falling to Olive patterns, Mayfly have started to hatch around midday and between 4pm and 7pm the air has been thick with mayflies, with some spots boiling as fish dash around to take flies from the surface. Some fish leap to snatch already airborne flies, while others have taken to the spent Mayfly and will touch nothing else. Wind was a problem for part of the week, and prevented some Mayflies from returning to the river to lay their eggs, but for the last few days there have been high numbers of Mayflies flopping down on the water to die and lay their eggs. A shower of rain led to some ditching on the shiny rain covered road, and while parking our car on our return from our weekly trip to the local food emporium several bounced up and down on the shiny bonnet to jettison their ball of eggs. Some anglers who fish other waters report that the Mayfly is almost done, here it is in full swing and nothing short of spectacular.

Our house is in turmoil at the moment, the kitchen is being "zazzed up" and my wife is busy daubing undercoat and gloss paint on any visible woodwork. At the weekend a few friends fished and several others dropped in throughout the morning, "Child A" returned, from whence we know not, with boyfriend in tow, and "Child B" had various cricketing friends turn up; subsequently a party developed. With the house upside down we opted to drink beer in the sunshine and set fire to a variety of meat products by the fishing hut. Some fished and others just chatted, but while food and drink were taken, a Blackbird held us rapt as it sang its head off, before perching on the handrail of the bridge to take brief flight and clumsily pluck hatching Mayflies from the skies; not as agile as the Wagtails or as spectacular as the Swallows and Swifts but entertaining nonetheless, some he got, some he missed, he will probably have just about got the hang of it by the end of the Mayfly.

We have had rain, but only brief showers. The grass has greened up but the river is still falling away. Some of the water celery has broken surface and it may be possible to bar cut some of the river to hold up the level. The Ranunculus looks decidedly ropey, some is turning brown and only the bits in the faster stretches of the top shallows will flower this year. Hatches of midday Olives are down on previous years and I have yet to see a Blue Winged Olive, Sedges are early with good numbers of small brown and black.

There is a lot of mowing and strimming to be done at this time of the year, and the showers of rain have caused several leaf laden branches to drop, these must be cut back where they block paths or restrict casting. The fish in the hatchery are now out on river water and doing well, around an inch and a half long they are very pale when first put onto the gravel bottom of the fry stew but within an hour they have darkened and are very difficult to spot, although the nesting kingfisher seems to have got his eye in. There are fry in the margins of the pond, a scoop through a shoal with a net revealed that they are mostly Roach and Rudd, but with the odd Bream and Tench, no Carp from what I can see.

My employer has been away this week, fishing the Carron with family and friends. They had some success, but returned a day early because of heavy rain that lifted the river by five feet! Following devolution the Scots followed their own path on many issues from university fees to prescription charges. It transpires that they also established diplomatic links with the rain gods and are investing heavily in all available precipitation, to the detriment of the Sassenachs in the southeast, they must be laughing their heads off!

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Blanket weed in May!

A metrosexual tit (it’s not in any bird book) employed as a radio reporter, was dispatched by the lunchtime news programme this week to report on the dry conditions in the south east of England. He travelled to the river Itchen at Eastleigh and reported that the river was flowing, ducks were quacking, Swans were swimming, Otters were ottering and the ice cream was lovely; the river had water in and he couldn’t see what all the fuss about. Had he travelled to the headwaters of this river, he could have reported on spring ditches that are dry and a river fast disappearing before our eyes. Cracks in the ground big enough to take a hand would provide a perfect opportunity for dramatic visual reporting, much arm waving and tales laden with doom. A missed opportunity for our intrepid reporter but then we are just that little bit further away from the M3. The middle river will always feel the pinch less than the headwaters.

Out and about on fish business, much of the conversation is centred around the water level. A visit to a stretch at the very top of the Test that we have stocked for many years revealed a river down to its bare bones, gin clear and full of Brown Trout from parr to fish of a great age, it has been stocked with mixed sex Brown Trout for some years, a practice that will be forcibly discontinued in years to come. The middle river is fishing well and on a recent excursion the colour of the water seemed to be much improved on recent years, although this may be due to the reduced flows. Most report good hatches of Mayfly. On the stretch at the top of the main river that does not normally see many Mayflies I saw several spent Mayflies crash landing down on to the water.

At home the fishing has been very good. A lot of fish have been caught, predominantly between 4pm and 6pm on Mayfly patterns. Mayfly have started to hatch from late morning onwards peaking around 4pm with fish rising hard to slash at the surface fly. Biggest fish to date is four and half pounds, fin perfect and probably stocked a couple of years ago, hauled from an Irish Lough on a dapped Mayfly many would swear it was “wild” whatever “wild” means these days.
On the over-widened shallows of the ford, there are large shoals of fry, some tiny Grayling, and Trout approaching an inch long, the cry from some quarters that prolonged stocking with mixed sex Brown Trout hinders replenishment of this river’s stock does not hold here.

Lack of water is raising problems in the stew ponds, The jumbo Rainbows that we rear for the neighbouring big fish water, are always likely to get a bit “gilly” in low flows with protozoan parasites thriving in the stale conditions. Salt treatments help along with Formalin but the sign of blanket thriving in one of the ponds in mid May hints at troubled times ahead.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Mayfly time

Finally it rained, two inches over consecutive nights. A spectacular thunderstorm one night and steady rainfall the following night tainted the water and briefly lifted the level by a midge's dick, but it has since dropped down to last week’s level. It takes a lot of rain at this time of the year to affect aquifers, demand for water is high at this time of year and little is left to save in the underground piggy bank.

Fishing has been good with the Hawthorn now over and the Mayfly begun. A few fish were caught last week on small sedges and today, for the first time this year, fish were caught on Mayflies. Biggest fish so far is just over three pounds and had probably been in the river for at least a couple of seasons. Generally the fish caught have over wintered well although two lanky fish have been caught both very silver fish of around two pounds. Fish have risen when fly have been on the water, although midday Olives have been noticeable by their absence. As is the case most years early season fish have risen short or crashed the fly, both natural and artificial; occasional clumsiness that will fade as the feast of flies on the surface develops through the coming weeks.

The birds have found the Mayfly and put on an entertaining afternoon aerobatic display. Swallows and Swifts hit the rising flies at high speed while Wagtails dash from the bank to pluck them feet from the surface sometimes off a rising trout's nose. If in a later life, I have to come back in another form, please not as a Mayfly who must annually endure the invertebrate equivalent of “going over the top”

In the hedge bordering the field of wheat behind our house an English Partridge sits on eggs; the first that I have seen in this field for some time. When our chickens were at the top of the garden we once had a huge brood of English Partridge that would come and feed with Pocahontas (the children were young then and our chooks had names) and chums. The estate who own the land have put a lot of work into encouraging English Partridge on the surrounding land but to date results have been disappointing. We have seen them on our shooting days, but not for some years. The intense showers that we have seen in recent days provide a big test for young chicks of all birds bar wildfowl. This lot could do with a bit of a break and I’ve half a mind to lend them my fishing umbrella just in case. Several pheasants are sitting on eggs in the Christmas tree plantation, and surprisingly Otis the arse gives them a wide birth on our morning preamble.

Currently Fishermen are ensconced throughout the valley with numbers swelling each day. An influx of guides parade, tackle shops titivate displays, picnics are prepared and many more set themselves for a perennial boost to business provided by a fly that takes an incredible hammering from all quarters, but thankfully,keeps coming back for more.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

A Baobab perhaps?

Finally people are talking about the lack of water. Thirty-five days here with little enough rain to do for the dust. An enlightened MP raised a question at PMQ’s about possible water shortages and suggested that farmers and horticulturists be given free rein to take water from rivers to make up for any short fall they may experience from depleted reservoirs and ground water supplies. I don’t think such action would affect this stretch of river too much, but in some parts off the country it could have a major affect on discharge. The source of the Thames is already dry above Lechlade and perhaps the MP wasn’t required to study the water cycle at school; rivers require rain for their flow; the water doesn’t just keep on coming! The quest for alternative sources of energy is carried out with incredible zeal. Anything from solar panels on every roof (we have several phone offers a week, even one to site a panel on the car roof if we park it in the right place) to growing Hamsters with thighs of thunder that could turn a wheel really fast. The provision of water needs to be given an equal footing. We cannot keep pulling more and more water out of the ground and out of our rivers as the population increases, look to store rain that falls or desalinate sea water and return the waste efficiently from whence it came, as they do in countries with far harsher climates than this.

The fishing here has been steady, with every fish so far caught on a Hawthorn mostly in the middle of the day. As is often the case early in the season, fish can rise clumsily as they adjust to a food source on the surface and several miss the fly, both natural and artificial. The fish in the river have over wintered well and there is no sign off any fish with fungus on their noses as can be the case early some seasons. The Roach look to have spawned, as have the Carp in the pond, although some of the tree roots on which they have laid their eggs in previous years are out of the water. Marsh Marigolds are out along with pungent Ramsens, accompanied by brown patches of grass rather than the usual verdant sward. The last dry summer we had, several trees shed leaf early. The Horse Chestnuts are currently as good as they get, covered in candles and dark green leaves, but in a month brown patches will appear as the annual virus puts in its appearance. Climate change gurus would suggest that the South is getting more Mediterranean and that we should be turning to Olives and Grapes, but the Olive Tree we have here looks to be struggling, maybe Baobabs are the answer.

We have Swallows and after last year’s “no show” some Martins, still no Swifts although they have been bombing around the cricket ground a mile away for a few weeks. Plenty of Ducks, with several nesting, but where are they all going in the winter? Not to our pond judging by recent years' flighting. Half way up the river a Water Rail sits on eggs on the quiet far bank, half a dozen spotted cream mini eggs, and a Kingfisher is busy in the bank on the top shallows. No Otters at the moment, the fear of Richard Madeley continues with his two week stint on the breakfast show over Easter continuing to strike fear into the local Otter population.

Sunday 24 April 2011

Hair by Annette

A warm week with the temperature consistently above twenty degrees has broken all buds bar the Oak, Ash and Mulberry. Last time we had an April such as this we had a pretty poor summer. Hawthorn are everywhere from mid morning on, and I wouldn’t mind betting that every fish caught next week, when we open, is on a Hawthorn imitation. Unfortunately the warm weather has brought on the filthy brown algae that rises in clumps from the slower moving reaches of the riverbed and breaks up as it passes through broken water, tainting the water. It’s the stuff that colours the water early season on the middle river and down and seems to get worse each year. A good scour through the winter normally helps but it is something that we all need to get a handle on if early season water quality is to return to what it was only a short time ago. I have said it before and I will say it again, I can clearly remember the first time I saw a Grayling, it was in late April twenty five years ago when I was being interviewed for work experience on the middle river, the fish was in six feet off water along with a bunch off Roach getting on for three pounds, If I looked off the same road bridge late in the past few Aprils, a Hippopotamus could have lain in the same hole undetected. Early season water quality remains a problem undressed throughout this river system.

We have our first ducklings and for much of the week the errant goose, who last year eloped for an exotic week with some Canadians, has looked to the skies in search of adventure but none have given her the call. Oedipus stands primed, the first deed done, waiting to make his move, while we anticipate a plague of infertility and crop failure. On the pond the warm shallow water has instigated some early spawning behaviour, with the Carp that the Otter left, heading for the tree roots to spawn. A group of tufted Duck are on the pond most mornings although the water level may be a little low for diving Ducks to feel comfortable for long. On the top shallows the Ranunculus is in fine form and drawing the attention of swans that drop down from the top water meadow. An established pair of swans that try to nest each year on the pond chase off the young pretenders, and generally leave the weed at the top alone, preserving the prolific growth for any prospective progeny.

Bank Holidays galore at the moment and for the first ones, wife and I headed north on family business. Junior was left in charge along with daughter, whenever she got back from the beach. First stop was Cheshire, where the rains broke and we had a terrific but brief thunderstorm. It was a flying visit, and not long since our last, but each time more and more buildings have been given the Farrow and Ball heritage treatment, brickwork cleaned up, and a smart white Audi plonked outside. It is a far more salubrious county than the one my wife and I grew up in, but signs of countryside activity still abound. Cows are in fields, where good grass maintains a long established dairy industry. Market gardening continues to thrive on the sandy soil, fields of potatoes lie ridged up, and pass any canal bridge on a weekend, and cars parked betray a host of anglers chasing Bleak, Roach and Bream. The high streets of the two villages that my wife and I grew up in now host wine bars, boutiques and salons to satisfy the most idle of footballer’s wives. The wooden DIY stores of Charlie Paraffin and Harold Hughes were done for by Homebase and Focus Do It All and their under the counter supply of hooks, maggots and Arlesey bombs, lost to a generation of local anglers. “Hair by Annette” is still there, although Mr Swaffield who also cut hair for less than a pound, at the back of his newsagents while watching the racing is no longer in operation. A hunt continues to thrive and marl pits full of Rudd, Crucians and Tench are dotted across the county, and a good friend currently farms dendrobaenas ( so there is still a bit of bait around; look beyond the bling and brushed metal, and much still remains the same.

We moved further north for a family party in the lakes, it rained, and on Cockermouth high street the Farrow and Ball heritage range was, once again very much to the fore. Two years ago the town was devastated by floods, with the high street under six feet of water after the Derwent and Cocker burst their banks. Much of the town has undergone a facelift and vital bridges replaced and repaired. The river looked pretty benign on our brief visit, but a brief trawl of youtube revealed a video of our hotel under siege from water and a helicopter hovering overhead plucking people from the roof.
Bank holiday and the lakes were full of people. Dressed to the nines in the latest Gore-Tex, bearing collapsible walking sticks and donning shoes made from Kevlar, Like fishing, and so many other pursuits, Fell walking can look an expensive business, but I can remember popping up and down many a peak in jeans and Dr Martins with an ex army canvas rucksack containing twenty Bensons, a cagoule, pot noodle and map. We got up, took in the view, and got down, survival was never an issue, unless someone had forgotten the matches!

Friday 15 April 2011

Hawthorn are here

One week to go before the season starts. We have our first Swallows and the Cuckoo has turned up. Lady’s smock and marsh marigolds are all out in the meadows and each morning the dawn chorus builds. The river is low, Hawthorn flies are about and we have had the obligatory flush of April Daddy Long Legs. A dry winter normally results in us being inundated with Daddies midsummer and imitations will catch a fair share of fish. Not seen too many Olives on the water this week, with Brown Trout taking smaller stuff off the surface, with the weed yet to get going many of the Browns remain bunched up in the deeper holes. The Grayling look to have done their business and have also vacated the shallows. I have caught a couple of magpies in the Larson trap, but currently lag behind the neighbouring Trout lakes who currently have birds to spare. For whatever reasons the number of Jay and Magpie stalking this parish appear to be down on recent years, which is good news for the remainder of the bird population.

With low flows, tinning has been a waste of time this winter, and some silt remains on some of the bends, there is nothing like good winter flows for scouring and cleaning the river, in motherly terms the equivalent of a rough face scrub with a wet flannel. It looks like we are in for a summer of letting the margins grow in, and leaving as much weed as possible to make the river channel as small as possible to maintain maximum speed of flow. Right now we are stuck with what we have got, as little rain is forecast for the foreseeable future. The fish in the hatchery are tubby and huge (about half an inch) and will soon be out in the pond supplied by river water, while the Rainbows that we grow for the neighbouring big fish water are ravenous and would eat twenty four hours a day if asked.

Earlier this week, we pushed the defrag button and headed off for a few days Carp fishing. Two Dads and two lads sitting behind bite alarms on a five-acre lake in the Champagne region of France. In fishing terms, a beach holiday anywhere in the sun. If pushed, it would not be my first choice of fishing, but it is very relaxed with cheese, wine, books to read and much joking from all quarters. The weather was fantastic, apart from one night when we had frost, and every night we were serenaded in our bivvies by a trio of Nightingales in the trees around the lake. We all caught fish from this newly opened lake, with three fish over thirty pounds and twenty something over twenty pounds. All the fish were in fantastic condition and provided great sport at all hours of the day. A similar lake that we fished a few years ago has recently been hit by an outbreak of SVC, a devastating disease that requires the culling of all stock and the lakes lying fallow for a considerable time and all bookings and income for the season have dissipated. In the Carp fishing business, stock and a reputation for quality fish is everything and a huge proportion of money invested is tied up in the fish in the lake. An outbreak of SVC can finish a Carp fishery off, as can predation or fish theft.

Thursday 7 April 2011

It's the Taste!

What a warm week, the roof is nearly done and I anticipate a return to something like alpha male status once the roof candy has gone. Otis is also having a hard time, he passed his third birthday this week, twenty-one today, and some bitch in season has been parading up and down the road for the past few days, reducing his brain to mush. Twice on a walk he has bolted, stopping after a hundred yards to sit down and look back at me quizzically and ask “ Why the hell did I just do that?” thankfully the world’s worst spaniel has long since given up on that kind of caper, although by the time he’d followed the trail to the pot of gold, there is every chance that the mood would have passed and she would no longer be in season.

Buds are breaking out all over, and the birds are making a right racket for an hour from first light. There has been fly on the water from midday and well into the lighter and longer evenings, providing a welcome feast for much of the bird life although fish rise sporadically. The Carp in the pond have woken up and are quite active; I have been feeding them for a few weeks now, although this has also attracted the attention of a pair of swans who look like they may be about to nest. Bridge rebuilding plans have now moved on to plan E or was it plan F, I managed to save much of the oak deck from the smashed wreckage of the old bridge, and have replaced the runners with another split telegraph pole although getting the second hand timber to resemble something safe and straight is proving tricky. The fishing hut has had its annual timber treatment, and shows few signs of decay and the table and chairs patched up in preparation for the Brown Trout season, which is now just over two weeks away. Because of the roof chaos we did not have our annual fishing lunch, to which all the regular rods are normally invited, so the opening day of the season will be the first sight many have had of the river since they were last here in September. We have a few new faces, although an elderly lady who fished with us well into her eighties is now filing her return in the great fishing hut in the sky. We have a waiting list for midweek rods and any gaps are soon filled. Weekends are for family and friends, charity days and a few days let through Strutt and Parker.

We also attended the funeral of the lady who used to live next door. A chocolate box cottage with thatch and a large garden it also had a small bit of river frontage, she lived there for over thirty years before moving in with her son in a nearby village. At the end of each weed cut, I would clear down any cut weed from in front of her house, that, if left, caused water to back up a spring hole and flood some nearby allotments as well as having an affect on the bottom reaches of the stretch that I am responsible for. As I worked down the river she would invariably appear, no matter what time of day, with a steaming cup of something laced with liquor, rum usually, and would stand and chat until the cup was empty. She was great fun and when younger, our two children would bumble down to see her several times a week to bang away on her piano and eat better biscuits than they did at home.
When she told us that she was leaving she asked us if we would like the piano, as she had no room in her new quarters. We readily agreed and one day when my brother was visiting I asked if it would be ok if we came down in the tractor and trailer to pick it up. The lady was out for lunch, but as I was a key holder for her elaborate alarm system, it was ok to go on in and take the piano. All went well as we backed the trailer up to the patio doors heaved the piano up the ramp and closed the doors and reset the alarm, or so I thought. We put the tractor into the lowest gear possible, crawled across the back paddock and started to make our way up the road. After twenty yards, we heard the sirens. Police cars appeared, the road was blocked and our stately progress of less than a mile an hour was halted. My eight-year-old daughter ran home to leave her dad uncle, brother mum and grandma to give up their story. The alarm had triggered and alerted the police because I had not reset it correctly, the lady was summoned from her Sunday dinner with her son to reassure the law that we were not pedestrian piano thieves, or filming a new PG Tips ad, but neighbours who had been given the piano. We got it home and my daughter appeared from under the bed to bang away on the thing to grade four, before being distracted by boys and booze.
Toady the house is owned by some who live in town, and bar a few holiday lets is largely unused, a man lives in the garage to keep an eye on the place, and for some time someone would be summoned to shout things at me as I passed down the river with my scythe. Ipods are a wonderful invention, and I missed much of what was said, but a solicitor’s letter followed asking me to keep out of their river.
Unfortunately what they believed to be their river wasn’t. They owned some bank and a soupcon of fishing rights. The far bank is common land and the riverbed throughout the short stretch is owned by our neighbour on the other side who is happy for me to walk up and down on it clearing weed.
Riverbank, riverbed and fishing rights are three different areas of ownership where rivers are concerned, and fortunately I am permitted to cut the weed through this short section, because if I didn’t no one else would.

Thursday 31 March 2011

The Cuckoo is a pretty bird it singeth as it flies

One line from a nursery rhyme ingrained on my memory from an interminable march north to fish the Tummel below Pitlochry one spring. Three year old and Five year old enthroned on the back seat insisted upon the tape for much of the drive. Somewhere around Shap my wife and I were in open rebellion and were arguing with the tape. The Cuckoo was not an effing pretty bird, was of questionable moral code, and had few friends; we only herald its appearance for one brief moment of the year before it drifts into the background to continue its sordid life! The Muffin Man who lives in Drury lane also copped some verbals around Ecclefechan. We stayed in a nice house on a hill above the town, but as with so many of our Salmon trips north we didn’t catch many fish. The highlight of the week was a drive along Loch Tay, that I have fished a few times and from which I once miraculously hauled a 21lb Salmon, before cutting round the side of Ben Lawers to drive down Glen Lyon. At one point we stopped for a potty break and the chosen spot was one of the most stunning places that anyone can have chosen to open their bowels, Five year old daughter wasn’t at all impressed by the four thousand foot peak that formed a back drop to a steep sided valley with twinkling stream and occasional signs of habitation, she just tinkled away loudly listing Pokemon, oblivious to the hundred or more Red Deer who had popped their heads over the brow at the sound of Pikachu and Bulbasaur.

Here no cuckoo “singeth” or “flyeth” but with twenty degrees forecast for the weekend it can’t be far away. The ink black flowers on the sedge in the fringe have popped out and the balsam poplars are starting to smell. A Cetti’s Warbler has turned up, they must have “bolt on app thingies” attached to their voice box because they are significantly louder than any other warbler, and sometimes don’t sound off until you are almost upon them. Ducks are paired up and there is a great deal of rape and pillage on the water. A pair of Swans are also gliding around, looking for a spot to nest. This time two years ago an Osprey stopped off on its way North, no surprise visitors so far this year although there are reports of a White Tailed Fish Eagle cruising the south coast, I think even my decaying eyes could spot that one if it turned up in a tree round here.

Much of the week has been spent getting ready for the start of our Trout Fishing season which is just under four weeks away. I have split a couple of telegraph poles down the middle and am halfway through replacing the bridge that was squashed by a an Ash Tree last October. I have also been patching up a weir, part of which blew out just after Christmas. There has been a weir on that particular spot for a very long time, with old piles in the river bed and bank, and heaps of broken staddle stones thrown in behind. The Ranunculus is pushing through in most places now, although I don’t see there being any to cut in late April other than the bit on the top shallows that flourished mid winter. Mid day hatches of fly continue to increase with most fish, bar the spawning Grayling, showing some interest. There is very little fungus on the Brown Trout in the river, although this may come on as the water temperature rises a few more degrees. The Fish in the hatchery are now an inch long and, with the river water as clear as it currently is it may be possible to get them out into the stew pond earlier than usual, too many suspended solids in the water and fish reared on crystal clear spring water inevitably pick up gill problems. Several new seats have been put up along the river carefully sited to give a vista of open water that can be observed for any sign of rising fish, although a call for cushions has fallen on deaf ears and been discretely ignored.