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.

Thursday 24 March 2011

You can leave your hat on

In the clear water I can see that a few Chub have turned up, nothing huge but half a dozen between one and two pound. A few years ago we had one of around four pound that moved around quite a bit. The Chub has a reputation for finding a tree root to sit under and being a sucker for slugs, but the fish that we have had here have always been reasonably nomadic and tricky to catch. The four pounder stuck out like a sort thumb and would move between the top and bottom of our stretch, once dropping right down the beat to come up the bottom of the mill stream and sit in the mill pool by the house for a few days before returning to the main river. I don’t know where this current influx of Chublets have come from, it may be pre spawning behaviour and there are plenty a few miles down in the middle river, although our friendly four pounder moved around regularly throughout the year.

The Grayling are looking to spawn and there are some very black fish currently on the shallows, no signs of any fungus but a few of the bigger ones will inevitably wash up white nosed and dead on the screens post spawning. The warm weather has also led to an increase in mid day hatches of fly, mostly medium Olives but more than enough to get the Browns excited, and the majority appear to be in good knick. The reed beds that I burned off a few weeks ago are now turning from black to green and the first blackthorn blossom has just put in an appearance. It will be interesting to see how the Hawthorn fishing is this year. The winter has been relatively dry which is good news for a fly based on terra firma, however we did experience some extreme and prolonged falls of snow and cold weather which may have done for a few.

My bionic loins saw a return to action this week and once again gave battle with Crack Willow. To date, I have rotated the areas with which I have slain the beast, trying to tackle each section around every five years. This year, under heavy fire, I have resorted to chemical weapons. Some of the stuff I cut down five years ago on the top shallows had grown to the thickness of Chris Hoy’s thigh. I have once again felled the f****** things and have administered a lethal injection to a few defiant stumps.

It’s chaos around here at the moment. Eight weeks of problems parking and heightened security as the roof on the Mill House is being replaced. A quirky roofline that has developed over five hundred years, it is more like five roofs of differing shapes shoved together. Grade II listing requires all of the tiles to be hand made from clay and come with a fifty-year guarantee. The logistics alone of getting twenty-six tonnes of tiles down from a higgledy-piggledy roof three storey high are mind-boggling. There is no room for skips and the only place a vehicle can draw alongside the scaffolding is at one end of the building. All twenty six tonnes of tiles were thrown five at a time along a chain of ten men lining the top of the scaffolding and dropped into a truck that whizzed up and down the road to a landfill site. depositing the broken pegs. The new tiles took the same return route with two roofers ripped with muscles and the shoulders of Atlas throwing new tiles, five at a time, to the third storey where a nimble cove in Hermes’ winged boots plucks them from the air and sets them on their way back along the chain; a “technology free” solution to a problem that would have set most heads scratching.
It has been warm this week and on the roof shirts have been shed. It’s a bit like "at home" with the Chippendales, and feelings of inadequacy are never far from the surface although the gloom is lifted by my wife, who has surprised me with her interest in roofing projects and normally has various extra curricular duties in her special needs role at the local school, promptly returning home when the school bell sounds.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Simmering anger at Woody Debris

It has been brought to my attention that there is someone masquerading as me in the April issue of Trout and Salmon, an older brother perhaps? Whoever he is, he has far less hair than myself and appears far less virile. My daughter suggested the facial expression conveyed anger, determination or simmering madness. On reading the Wild Trout Trust article on Woody Debris in the same issue I think it is possibly the first and the last.

I can only speak from my own experience of managing a chalkstrem, where woody debris has its place and in some situations can be of some benefit to a stream. There has been woody debris in place on some parts of this river that predates the formation of the Wild Trout Trust, although on chalkstreams where weed cuts are heavy and coordinated so that everyone cuts weed at the same time, its uses are limited.

The Wild Trout Trust is undoubtedly well intentioned, but applying general rules to all rivers does not smack of “knowledgable river management” rather a “little bit of knowledge being a dangerous thing”.
I don’t believe that all successful management practices implemented on one river would work on every other river, and to issue the cry “To the woody debris everyone” is irresponsible.

Monday 14 March 2011

One job at a time!

The days have warmed up a little this past week, a trickle of Olives breaking surface, shaking the Brown Trout from their winter torpor to rise sporadically. The Grayling have other things on their minds; several hens of around two pound are shooed from the shallows on the ford each time I pass through on the tractor. No redds yet but undoubtedly frisky. The river is low and clear at the moment and they will soon draw the attention of the Little Egret and Heron that stab away at spawning fish on the shallows. I have seen fewer Cormorants this winter than recent years, although Otters are still rampaging up and down the valley. My son and his mate had quite a few Pike these past few weeks, nothing huge but numerous jacks to around six pound, good sport on a six foot spinning rod with a small mepps, but it requires a bit of local knowledge to avoid picking up the Browns. There is the odd Perch about, nothing like the two-pound fish he hauled out a few years ago, but none came to the mepps.

Officially I am still off lifting duties following a couple of hernias, so I have been on the digger much of the week, clearing out a couple of ditches that connect the mill stream to the main river and clearing up crack willow that I felled in a frenzy of cutting before the operation. I also had a go at some “multi tasking” by burning off a few reed beds while sitting on the digger clearing silt from a ditch. Following dry weather and a few frosts to draw the moisture from the ground, the reed bed burning had been going decidedly well, on this occasion things picked up further, half an acre of spearbed disappeared in a matter of moments, the wall of flame leapt the ditch I was clearing and, in a flash, a forty foot Christmas tree behind my head was full of flames. Ditch work was abandoned and a hasty retreat made through what remains of the Christmas tree plantation. It always looks a bit stark after reed beds have been burned, and it isn’t the best place to walk a liver and white spaniel with wobbly legs especially when your wife has cleaned the kitchen floor, but within weeks, verdant growth appears from charred ground thicker than ever, providing a haven for all manner of flora and fauna.

The Brown Trout Fry in the Hatchery are now up on the fin and feeding well. Currently in an oversized tank I hand feed sporadically and keep out of their way as much as I can.

The wood alongside the river is full of Pheasants, I came across nine hens scratching around one afternoon with a senior cock looking on, their plumage is as good as it gets at the moment, and boy don’t they know it, even our chickens swoon! Ducks are paired up, the group of Swans in the water meadow above have dissipated and the Hares in the field behind our house are bumbling about doing daft things in the middle of the day. Buds are swelling on the trees and there is a hint of blossom on the cherry tree that always goes too early. We could be on the cusp of spring, but then again it could snow. It would be great if we had weeks of cold rain before the trees wake up, but I fear that this is all the water we have for the coming season, and it ain’t very much!

Thursday 3 March 2011

Erotic frogs and an ultrasonic bridge

Erotic Frogs and an ultrasonic bridge

Last week we had cause to drive up the Bourne Valley in the name of under sixteen football. The bourne at St Marybourne is barely a trickle. Before the ban, we used to attend several Alresford Coursing Club meetings on ground just north of St Marybourne always in late February or early March around the time of the Waterloo Cup. The Bourne would always be rattling along under the bridge in St Marybourne and on one occasion it had broken its banks and sandbags were in use around the doors of several houses. I don’t want to labour the point but we need a few wet weeks if the river is to sustain a decent level throughout the season.

The particular coursing meeting in question was held over two days and was quite a grown up affair with one big stake offering a decent amount of prize money and drawing entries from far and wide. There would always be a party over from Ireland, a Cornish contingent, plenty from East Anglia. The North was well represented with Yorkies, Scots and several from the North West, a large Pakistani contingent would turn up from the midlands, plus a few over from Europe. The mix included Racehorse trainers, game keepers, bookmakers, chefs, landed gentry, a lifeboat coxswain, a fireman, celebrities of varied standing and many many more. A Rolls Royce would stand next to the most beat up dog van in a muddy corner of a field. It wouldn’t be my first choice of field sport and more often than not I was performing some role on the day, either beating, flanker, taking dogs in and out of slips or catching them up after they’d run. But those who chose to be there showed incredible dedication to their sport. It doesn’t happen now, and I would challenge anyone to come up with a field sport that attracts such a wide mix of people. Horse racing must come close, but for several years after the ban the club’s annual barbecue and duck race would be held here in midsummer with the same bunch travelling miles to talk over the past season and bet on plastic ducks floating down the river, Mr Younis in his Shalwar Kameez, beard dyed red, with the coxswain of the Cromer lifeboat taking in the yellow plastic ducks on a bench by the river, you couldn’t make it up!

Each afternoon our pond in the garden plays host to a raucous frog orgy. As each gravid female flops into the pond she is immediately pounced upon by half a dozen randy males. One confused hopper (who will obviously try anything once) had a four-ounce Goldfish in his clasp for much of yesterday afternoon.
The Pike are grouping up, my son and his mate had three out of one hole while fishing at half term. They were helping me out up the river, clearing up a load of wood that I cleared before I had my hernias dealt with, not sure how the Pike rod got to be there.
A few Cormorants have looked in this week, although nothing like the numbers of previous winters, they seem to be sticking to the main river at the moment. The local put and take trout fishery reports having seen none on their water all winter.

Sixteen years ago the road bridge in this village was taken apart and two electro magnetic coils inserted in a concrete base in the riverbed, the bridge was then reconstructed over the top. The river was diverted and the road closed for four months. The electro magnetic coils would provide flow data for the River Dever every thirty seconds that would be transmitted back to a desk somewhere in the south of England. The cost to the taxpayer was around one and a half million pounds (at 1995 prices). This week while on a restorative potter with the dogs I came across two technical types tinkering with the bridge. They informed me that the electro magnetic coils in the riverbed are now obsolete. Flow data would now be measured by ultrasound via this silver box they were attaching to the bridge, but the really great advantage was that flow data would now be measured constantly as opposed to every thirty seconds.

I scratched my head for much of a very long walk.

Why do we need flow data every thirty seconds? Why do we need flow data for every second of the day? A man in a van measures all of the water quality parameters manually, at regular intervals. Why does flow data need to be monitored so closely? There is no danger of flash flooding on this river. Why did they put it under that bridge anyway? A hatch at the mill a hundred yards upstream (that has been in existence for hundreds of years) will compromise data every time it is opened?

A man could have measured the flow data manually every day for sixteen years and been paid a wage that attracted the highest rate of income tax, and still come in at half the cost of these coils in the river bed.

Was the close monitoring of flow data a national strategy implemented by flood defence following serious flooding in other parts of the country twenty years ago? Was the decree issued that all rivers should be monitored for flash flooding, even the chalkstreams that don't flash flood. An action group was formed, media campaign arranged, all who lived near rivers would be saved by people in cutting edge wet weather gear and shiny wellingtons who would issue flood warnings through their giant copper coils. And the bill? Oh don't worry about it, now what's next a national monorail scheme or roads in the sky, I know lets do both!

If the flow is monitored every thirty seconds or every second of the day for flood defence reasons then it is completely unneccessary on this river and a lot of money has been wasted. If it is for another reason, I would love to know, because I can't for the life of me think what it is.