Tuesday 26 June 2012

Try a Little Tenderness

Two months of record rainfall has returned the sparkle to a river that three months ago was in a parlous state. Weed has flourished and to date there is no sign of any blanket weed in the river although there is some in the stew ponds that I have had to pull out with the grabs, the weed pulled from one pond was thick with small water snails. Over the past week I have had cause to visit a few other stretches of both the Test and Itchen, a beat on the middle Anton had some fantastic beds of ranunculus but on an over-widened stretch the flow had slowed and blanket weed was flourishing. On a visit to the Itchen one keeper who attended the “low water workshop” in March was thankful that most who had attended seemed to have ignored the advice to throw as many bits of wood into the river to hold up water and speed up flow but who could have foreseen the weather to come, if they had followed advice most would now have been washed away and hung up on his hatches. The last two winters of the last millennium were dry and one chap to the east of here made a lot of money on the back of “experts ” who claimed to have invented faggots, bundles of willow used to build up a bank that have been in use since Iron Age Joe was a lad. Many who purchased the magic faggots pinched their flow a bit too much and after one of the wettest winters on record lots of the most expensive faggots ever produced ended up bobbing alongside the liners in Southampton water.

When the rain stops the fishing has been good with Olive patterns the most successful, a fish of three pounds was caught with a fairly unsavoury nymph/lure in its scissors, and the first Rainbow of the year, a long lean fish around the same size gave itself up from a pool just upstream from the fishing hut, goodness knows where it came from or how far it had travelled. The average weight for fish caught so far this season is around a pound and a half.

Over on the Itchen the river is carrying a little more colour and still the odd mayfly rises from the water. The weed growth is prolific and the water has come over the banks, it will be necessary to hit the weed quite hard in July which may persuade the river to get back within its banks, but it is a short stretch and it may be that we are in the hands of the keeper below as to what level the river runs at. The Spring ditch that was cleared out over the winter with the crack willow cut back has doubled its discharge after wet weather and now really rattles along, although the transformer dripping PCB’s remains in situ alongside the channel with a bucket beneath.

Our main flush of orchids have finally put in an appearance although they are almost swamped by the meadow grass that has gone leggy with the rain. Now they are visible to even these duff eyes the meadow can be topped and the Orchids avoided. The margins of the pond are full of fry, a scoop with a net revealed that they are mostly Roach Rudd and Perch. On an evening fishing during a gap in the Euro football I landed a lovely Tench of over 3lb on floatfished sweetcorn , a fat male with paddles for pectorals it thumped away on the rod for quite a few minutes. There are some decidedly chubby Bream doing the rounds, a group of twenty the biggest of which must be approaching six pounds, repeatedly circle the margins of the pond occasionally putting their heads down to feed.

All of the rain has drowned any discussion about becoming more “water wise” the reservoirs are very visible and may have been topped up by record rainfall throughout May and June but the aquifers in these parts are far from being fully recharged and some springs are only just flowing. Daughter is back from the grisly process of studying blood spatters at Uni, so she had yet to hear me sally forth on our extravagant use of a diminishing resource; I took the opportunity one evening last week to explain matters. Unfortunately number one child was engrossed in a TV programme on all things festival where it had rained for days and the whole site was reduced to swamp, which didn’t help my argument. The mood darkened when somebody called Jay Z came on stage to shout all over a backing track of Otis Redding singing “Try a little Tenderness” at the Montreaux festival, an inspirational performance by Otis that held me rapt when I first saw a recording of it in my youth, the black dog who lies at my feet was named in his honour, it was that or the lift company..... probably the lift company having being raised with Mary Mungo and Midge very much to the fore. Apparently Mr Z makes a tidy sum from shouting over other peoples finest work which I suggested was the musical equivalent of driving a JCB across a bowling green. Water was forgotten and a cross generational argument developed over the merits of music. It soon became apparent that her appreciation of music honed from many hours of piano tuition in her formative years and the heady heights of a grade three piano certificate had perversly morphed into some tuneless thump, thump, thump driven by a man who walked around a lot in a hat and dark glasses.
Then again she did used to kick the piano a lot while practising at home chucking in the odd expletive for effect so the signs of her appreciation of rap music were there from an early stage.

Bit short on pictures this week, didn’t want to get my camera wet!

Sunday 17 June 2012

Let's have a heated debate!

In the words of Mrs Merton

“ So Debbie Mcghee, what did you see in millionare Paul Daniels that made him the one for you?”

sorry wrong quote, should read:

“Let’s have a heated debate”

This rubbish that i write about the river on which I live and work seems to have provoked some vociferous comment of late, much of it anonymous and at times rather accusing, insulting and all too often one eyed. So to remove some heat from the debate the following entry will not allude to fish, the river or its management.

So what to talk about, Football? I have written bits about it for a few years and could fill a page on England’s recent scrambled victory over Sweden in the Euro 2012 competition and how they twice neglected to pick up Seasick Steve at the back post. Or cricket? and how Ian Bell is the best batsman England have had for some years, if only he believed it himself. Julie Walters is one of our finest living actresses and merits a page or two or perhaps a review of a few Mark Rothko pieces pulled from a Manhatten restaurant currently on exhibition and how their looming presence do nothing for the digestion. Big Brother is back on and there is always the X factor on which to waste a few words, or a scoop on the identity of the banker in Deal or no deal. A lament on a tomato plant stricken with blight, or the pros and cons of losing the conkers on a Labrador full of lust.

Near the river, we had the village elders pay us a midweek visit, forty odd aged sixty to ninety who turn up each year for an afternoon of entertainment and tea. Previous years have seen a magician sawing limbs off, “Who wants to be a millionaire?” , WW2 Karaoke which all got a bit emotional, and this year a falconry display on the front

lawn in the only spell of full sunshine we have had all week . Our Owl rich environs was enriched even further by the presence of two types of Scops Owl and a chunky European Eagle Owl with an aversion to helicopters who subsequently declined to take to the skies. A brute of a bird with huge feet for crushing prey, the chap in charge had only had her for a few months. He had been called to a big pile of bricks in the

home counties, where there had been reports of an injured owl on a swimming pool lounger, the bird wasn’t injured but the high hedges surrounding the compound did not allow enough space for it to take flight. The bird was caught, the ring on its leg revealed that it was domestically reared and had passed through several hands before being illegally released by an “anonymous” ( that word again) owner who probably believed he was buying a budgie until it grew up and out of its cage. The star of the

show were a pair of Harris Hawks who for twenty minutes terrorised the local pigeon population, one on being called to the glove pitched in to land before taking flight over the handler’s head to wallop a passing pigeon, a cloud of feathers fluttered down on the audience and the bird took to a telegraph pole to wait for the pigeon to emerge from the large laurel in which it had taken refuge. The other bird checked out various corners of the garden, including the roof, a precarious perch on some bean canes,

before finally settling in a small ornamental tree. A Koockabura was then produced whose call sent the surrounding bird population into silence as they contemplated their alien visitor before the Harris hawks were finally caught up in time for tea.

Following the accusations slung my way in recent weeks I thought it best to do a quick trawl of the internet to make sure that I was not being trashed too much in certain quarters. A search of my name with the word “riverkeeper” threw up some favourable

reviews on “Angler’s net” some kind words by Sportfish, Fishtec, Countryside Alliance, an old buffer on a“fullbore forum” and a site called “Swinging Heaven” which did not feature any mention of Joe Loss and his ilk, but had a lengthy debate about the current drought conditions in which pieces I had written on the subject were apparently quoted at length.

Recent rain has had some effect on the river although much of what has fallen has run off, The Mayfly is done, and fishing could be a bit slow for a few weeks. Several types of Olive continue to hatch throughout the day along with many types of caddis in the afternoon. There are a brace of huge Grayling in front of the house, well over two pounds they have survived the rigours of spawning and are in pretty good nick. A headless eel of three pound or more indicates that Otters are back in town and the Kingfisher feeds hard on the minnows in the millstream. The meadows remain unmowed as many orchids have yet to reveal themselves and several branches have dropped down in the recent high winds.

Thanks to everyone who has commented in recent weeks, both good and bad, informed and uninformed, and to the many messages of support. Contrary to several accusations I am not some non-thinking neanderthal who doesn’t give thought to his work and its environs. When you spend much of the day in your own company there is little else but thought. I had hoped that in writing this rubbish it would not only serve as a reminder as to what I am supposed to be doing but also explain why it is being done. With some of the recent comment I can’t help feeling that I have somehow failed in that task.

Apologies for river talk creeping in at the end after earlier promises for it not to be included.

Monday 11 June 2012

The bottom jaw of a Klitchko

The Mayfly continues and despite the change in weather we have seen some very heavy falls of spinners. Heavy rain and wind made conditions tricky and we have just had the average rainfall for the month fall in a day sending the river over its banks for the first time in a long time and flattening a neighbouring field of flax but for over a week it has been raining spent mayfly from around 8pm onwards. Fish continue to feed hard and several more fish over four pound have been put on the bank, one a mean looking cock with the bottom jaw of a

Klitchko, there are also tales of larger fish hooked and lost, all to Mayfly patterns. Olives hatch from mid morning onwards and the number of Sedge is building along with the odd Alder fly but it is the Mayfly bounty that most fish hold out for. A small jack Pike fell to a large Wulff and several large Grayling have also been caught. Several of our visitors who fish elsewhere in the valley have reported instances of fish that have been bunched up and slow to rise.

This can happen here during times of low water and slow weed growth but it is also a tag that is being applied to the increasing numbers of Triploid fish that are now being stocked.

With the June weedcut imminent on this river, the scythe has been serviced and sharpened and put to use on the Itchen where the June weed cut starts a few days earlier. On the Dever there is little to be cut and it will be a short exercise in tidying and titivation but on the Itchen the Ranunculus has been in flower for over a week, the water has gone over the bank and there is plenty enough for bar cutting. The opposite bank is owned by someone else so there must

be a certain amount of cooperation between the two as to where the water goes. There was just under a day cutting which was a tad tricky in places for a first time through as the river bed has the odd surprise hole which I have mentally noted for next time. Plenty of fish have been caught from this single bank beat including a ropey looking Rainbow in the top pool with a farm escapee look about it. The Mayfly hatch has also been heavy although a little later than on the Dever. The proprietor fished late last week in the mayfly bonanza and was preparing to leave when a roadworks lorry turned up and out climbed two chaps in waders headlamps and spinning rods. The stretch is fairly isolated and was a place to keep an eye on twenty five years ago when I was seconded to what was then the National Rivers Authority for three months work experience. With the luxuriant weed growth I am not sure what damage they would have done with conventional spinning methods, and with so much road resurfacing carried now out at night I am surprised they got the time, off but with a registration number and the Traffic police depot for the A34 and M3 a mile away it shouldn’t be too difficult to push them elsewhere.

The first Orchids have put in an appearance, about twenty of the paler purple jobs (I need a better flower book) on one of the middle bends, I think there are another two types to come, a darker purple job of similar shape to its lighter version and one that is vivid purple and shaped like a policeman’s helmet, pictures to follow, when they pop up.

Recently this column has drawn the attention of anonymous comments, An honour, and briefly exciting, the chap didn't hold with our current stocking policy and didn't seem to be as busy or enjoying the weekend as much as I was. The tone became irritating as the one eyed thinking of some who prevail in certain quarters bubbled to the surface. With the language of Galafrei and all things Dr Who, the rhetoric rang heavy with “genetic purity, regeneration” and persistence of the enemy” In fishery management terms I was accused of being a dinosaur with the intelligence and ability for free thinking to match. This went on for much of the weekend, and if I’d known who I was talking to I would have happily continued the debate but no name was forthcoming and the Antiques Roadshow was on which seemed rather apt for a dinosaur such as myself so I signed off

Feel free to get in touch, I don't expect everyone to agree or like what I write, and I will do my best to answer any questions, but let’s have a name!