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.