Friday 21 January 2011


We have had several inches of rain, the river coloured up very quickly, indicating that much of what fell ran off; the springs could do with days of steady rain to get a good recharge, rather than heavy intense showers. The Brown Trout are a little more active and starting to regain some of the weight lost during spawning. Several were picked up by Grayling anglers this week and they looked to be in good condition. The Grayling however proved to be fairly elusive; four down from the wide-open spaces of Grafham had slow sport although they finished with fifteen fish on a bitterly cold day. Few fly are hatching and all fish caught have been taken sub surface, several Grayling of between pound and a half and two pounds have been decidedly chubby, not spawn but full bellies and in tip top condition.

We had a go at Duffing up Ducks. During the Christmas period a lot of food was going and as well as the usual Mallard and gadwall there were numbers of Wigeon and Teal. Conditions were perfect but very few Ducks came into the pond we fired twenty to thirty shots, we heard thirty odd on a pond a mile down stream and a handful of shots three miles upstream on the main river. Where they have all gone is anyone’s guess. The record-breaking temperatures of past months may have pushed some to warmer coastal climes, or there may not be the numbers flighting the river that there used to be, if any ducks are reading this, there is a chuffin great pile of Barley in the shallows of our pond waiting to be eaten, help yourself.

The interminable struggle with Crack Willow continues, with several more put to the sword. I also had a day killing Ivy (no relation) the waxy leaved parasite that strangles so many of the trees around here. A couple of senior Oaks that I did five years ago are now almost full to the crown, it may not kill a tree but it provides a bigger surface area in windy conditions, if any tree around here blows over in a wind, more often than not it is covered in ivy. Its advance is relentless and some parts of the wood are worse than others. In an alliance formed with Crack Willow, the world would be conquered and we would be governed by plant life…… and not for the first time.

As an entertaining interlude for the week, we played host to John Wilson, he of the television fishing programmes and much published fishing books. I grew up with Wilson’s articles in the angling press on trotting for Roach on Norfolk’s rivers, my son and his fishing mate have seen most of his fishing programmes, my mate saw him grumbling at the NEC when he’d had his best rod and reel pinched from the stand, his TV persona conveys a character who just enjoys his fishing. He spent all day trotting for Roach and Grayling, caught a few trout on the way, stayed for a cup of tea, and returned my sixteen year old son to the bashful days of primary school.
A few fishing pundits who turn up here no longer enjoy their fishing; it’s become a means to an end with an underlying jaded air. Wilson appears to be still in love with all things rod and reel. Him and his mate turned up at dawn and left at dusk, having caught Roach and Grayling to a pound and a half.

He knows his fishing and seems to genuinely enjoy it…top trotter and a decent bloke.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Muntjac make good pie

Muntjac make good pie

The weather warmed up this week, the birds sang a little louder, a few fly hatched off the river and the postman put his shorts back on. We have had several inches of rain and the river is starting to look a little fuller, although the spring ditches are not yet flowing very strong. Bizarrely the Ranunculus on the top shallows has flourished over the past month and despite being cut out in October is now waving in the faster current. A vitally important weed, we don’t yet fully understand the cycles of its growth, the only explanation that I can throw up is that the water has been crystal clear throughout the snowy period and the light intensity may have stimulated some growth despite the river being bloody freezing.
Much of the past few days has been spent engaged in the never ending struggle with Crack willow, it grows up, it falls over it takes root and grows up again, slowly creeping towards the river. Parts of some of the bends have become starved of light, inhibiting weed and marginal growth and it is these that I am tacking first, their removal has the added bonus of making some of the bends easier to fish!

We had another bumble around on a shoot day. Still no Geese, but plenty of Widgeon and more and more Snipe, Otis sprang over twenty from a puddle no more than six feet square on the top water meadow. The top drive was the best it has been all year, with plenty of Partridge and Pheasant coming out in ones and twos, it was raining for much of the morning and I thought it would be blank. The Iron Age defence ditch that has proved to be our best drive for some years has been ruined by the work carried out in the name of English Heritage. Cold, bare and bleak, where it was once full of bottom, bushes and shelter, it offers little to the wildlife of the Parish other than the Badgers who dig away at it with gay abandon. We put up a fox close to the house, and blazed away at quite a few pigeon. A few Muntjac scurried through, these funny little deer have now gone to the top of my favourite Venison list. We have had haunches and saddles cooked in a variety of ways these past few months and we have not been let down yet. Braised slowly the meat tastes like steak and kidney, a haunch roasted with rosemary, like strong lamb. It won’t be long before Nigella or Marco are singing its praises, because there are plenty of them skipping about the Home Counties.
The Bittern are back, I have not seen one yet but there have been several reports of their sighting. So far we have seen fewer Cormorants than last year although the Otters have taken their place as “destroyer in chief” of the local fish population. I have now got radios on each of the stew ponds. Radio 2 is keeping them away at the moment with Richard Madeley’s two-week stint standing in for Chris Evans on the Breakfast show proving to be particularly effective. Further down the river some video monitoring is taking place to provide evidence of what the cheeky little critters are up to. It may help in demonstrating the problem to a public who see all things cuddly as something that must be protected, although it is interesting to note that the fine fleece and sandals brigade have little to say on the matter. “Let those who have commercial interests in fishing shout about the problem lest it harm our image in the media” seems to be their take on Otters, although what these cute creatures will eat when stocking is restricted or no longer permissible is a no brainer.

Thursday 6 January 2011

It's Triplets!!

Christmas came and went, the temperature dipped to minus thirteen and ice formed in the margins of the river. The local put and take big fish water was frozen over for two weeks or more and snow lay on the ground until the day after Boxing Day when the temperature rose and turned the parish to mush and slush, and caused a brief flurry of flies to hatch around midday. A few of the Brown Trout in the river are looking a little lean and could do with starting to think about feeding again. The Brown Trout eggs in the hatching trough are now hatching, a little later than last year, but they seem to be a reasonably decent batch.
Father Christmas brought me a new float rod for Christmas after my old one was broken in a mysterious footballing incident in the garden. My first foray with a stick float, trotting a piece of pinched bread, produced one of last year’s stockies that was particularly lanky, a three quarter pound Grayling and half a dozen immaculate Roach to just under a pound. The river is low and clear, a bit more colour and water would now doubt produce a bigger bag.

More and more Wigeon have moved into the valley over the past few weeks, along with quite a few Teal, and a very funny duck that must be some kind of Hybrid, the Snipe are still about, but unusually the Geese have not moved onto the top water meadow. There seem to be plenty of Pheasants about, although our remaining two shooting days may prove otherwise.

The cold weather has ensured that all the flora and fauna are aware that it is Christmas time, Snow drops have only just started to show above ground, and the daffodil bulbs that my dopey spaniel dug up in the garden, seem to have a long way to go before they will be bursting into bloom. Most things seem to be in their winter dormancy apart from the Moles, that somehow manage to throw up fresh hills of earth through six inches of frozen ground.

On New Year’s Eve, our two children are now of an age where they would prefer to go off to roister and raise hell elsewhere than spend an evening in with parents and friends, this left the two of us on the evening of the thirty first. Fine wine, fireworks, food and conversation were done by ten thirty so we went to bed, rising early on the first day of 2011 to take the dogs down onto the Common.
There was a fox with a rabbit in its mouth, Roe deer and Muntjac scuttling away, a cacophony of quacks signalled the departure of several varieties of Duck and we almost trod on three short eared Owls, who were decidedly reluctant to leave the area and flew their floppy flight around our heads before settling in a nearby ash tree.
Chuck it all together in an Old Chinese proverb and they would no doubt prove to be incredibly significant events that would culminate in my wife or I bearing triplets with small ears some time in September, alternatively it could just be that we were the first down on to the Common that morning and nothing had yet been disturbed, If sickness and stomach cramps strike I will let you know.