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.