Sunday 15 June 2014

With my left foot, Thierry Henry would be complete

Midway through the June weed cut and the odd fish still feeds on a rearguard of mayflies that signal the end of one of the heaviest hatches in recent memory.

A second film titled “Brown Trout feeding frenzy II” portrayed our hero laid dormant under a bed of weed stuffed and sated and was panned by the critics.

This weekend, the beginning and end of the ides of June a significant number of Mayfly continue to crash and die on the river. There were concerns from some quarters over this year’s mayfly hatch following the floods of last winter but these have proved groundless and this has been one of the heaviest mayfly hatches in recent memory.

What a lot of weed, not so much on the short stretch of the Itchen that I jump in and out of, but plenty in the Dever where ranunculus, ribbon weed and water celery all grow clear of the water. Fishing has become quite difficult, after one of the more productive May’s in recent memory, fish are now hunkering down and contemplating the after effects of their orgiastic behaviour throughout much of the last month, rafts of cut weed can prove unsettling and also provide an alternative source of sub surface bugs and beasties. There are still rising fish to be found, but they are decidedly more circumspect and sedges, CDC’s and olive patterns are increasingly more successful patterns of dry fly. There are also some significant grayling putting in an appearance along with quite a few one year old pike. Minnows are massing in the millstream providing the perennial midsummer feast for our resident Kingfishers, and Grass snakes have also put in their first appearance of the summer.

We have several juvenile grass snakes in our garden pond which sits six feet from the kitchen window, and they currently slurp their way through a surfeit of tadpoles, and a visiting angler caught sight of a thirty inch adult on the river bank last weekend. This valley is riddled with snakes, harmless I know, but the briefest glimpse never fails to give me a start. There is something shifty about a snake that both man and animals detect (see Walt Disney’s interpretation of Kipling’s Jungle Book, “Trust In me, trust in me, close your eyes and trust in me”) although the best dog I ever had didn’t bat an eye at a basilisk, his nemesis was Mrs Tiggywinkle who would send this puritanical black hound doolally as he bayed mournfully for many minutes at the curled up spikey form laid before him.

An incident that sent me reaching for a mongoose occurred several years ago while grading some trout in a tin bath. With the pond netted up and the selection process of which Trout goes where well under way (Think Elle McPherson in The UK’s next top model with a bath full of fish) I leaned over the tin bath and hand sorted my way through their flapping only for a large grass snake to rear from the bath and flip over the side of the bath causing me to squeal like Yvette Fielding on a Ghost Train.

Although the event is highly unlikely to be repeated, each time I kneel to grade fish in a tin bath a small voice at the back of my head cries “see the snakes”

A year ago today our local water company called for a three month consultation on its draft water resources management plan to secure water resources for the next 25 years. With an expanding population in the south east and the supply of water becoming increasingly problematical, a long term plan makes perfect sense. The preferred option stated in the plan included an increased use of groundwater in parts of the region, particularly a perceived surplus in the ground around Portsmouth, plus the transfer of water from one river to another to balance abstraction across river systems. The surplus of groundwater has been questioned by some and the practice of moving water from one river to another suggested that one aquatic environment was being favoured over another. Mention was also made about fixing leaky pipes and encouraging people to be more water wise. Following public consultation and talks with Defra, many with an interest in the southern chalk streams implored the water company to draw no more water from the ground, and questioned the practice of favouring one river over another by the transfer of water. Subsequently a wider range of alternative options to secure water resources for this region for the next 25 years has been added to the list of preferred options for consideration. These include a desalination plant to provide an alternative source for the 136 million litres a day that is proposed to be drawn from the lower reaches of this river, and water re-use to provide the 10 million litres a day that is proposed to be pulled out of an aquifer and pumped around the county. A steering group has been set up with representatives from Defra, the EA, Natural England, various wildlife trusts and a few more besides, although it remains to be seen whether this is a genuine shift in tone or just tokenism from the water company, they didn’t hold these same agencies in much regard when they sent sewage down a chalkstream and SSSI for six months, after the drains failed in one branch of this valley, although they have now made significant efforts to rectify this. So maybe there is a ray of hope, but in their considerations over the course of action to be taken over the dodgy drains between shareholders, profit, customer requirement and the aquatic environment the final decision weighed heavily against the latter.

If you are in the south of England and are fortunate enough to be able to walk alongside a chalk stream, do so this summer, because they are currently in particularly good shape, as a direct result of good groundwater flow. Warnings are writ large in the travails of the rivers Chess, Beane and Misbourne, three groundwater rivers that have suffered greatly through depleted groundwater flow. Those consulting on how we in the south satisfy an increasing requirement for water should keep that at the front of their minds when deciding on a course of action for supplying the next generation with water.

It cannot be ignored, but the world cup is upon us. In my youth in the North West, football was all consuming. Liverpool are my team and many visits were paid to Anfield to stand on the Kop and watch what was at the time the strongest team in Europe, for the sum total of a couple of quid, although the first live football match I attended was on the other side of Stanley Park where Everton duffed up Coventry City by six goals to nil with Bob Latchford hitting a hat trick. The earliest world cup tournament I can remember was the 1978 kerfuffle, when briefly all in England declared allegiance to Scotland (Dream on Alex Salmond) after Ally MacLeod informed us that his side were amongst the favourites to lift the trophy in Argentina. Defeat to Peru and a draw with Iran were not part of the pre prepared plan although a win over eventual finalists Holland including one of the world cup’s most memorable goals from Archie Gemmill provided a modicum of redemption for the bullish Macleod.

A brief sabbatical from the game for babies and their upbringing, was broken by Child B’s burgeoning interest in the game at the age of six, consequently I became the finest coach of junior football in this village (population – 46) Leaning heavily on the mantra that my left foot was a magical object that had once had a feature film made about its achievements in which Daniel Day Lewis starred, and should Thierry Henry ever gain such an appendage he would become the complete player. This lasted until the side reached the age of nine whereupon I was shuffled sideways to look after the pitch, run the club website and produce the club’s fanzine, which I did, with mixed results and the odd complaint, for several years.

It was prior to this world cup that some expressed surprise at the machinations of FIFA and their methods of awarding world cup tournaments to host countries, drawing comparisons with mafia mobs and shady wheeler dealers, although the clues were there a decade earlier; for Septimus Bloater and FIFA, read Juan Antonio Sammaranch and the IOC, whose dressing room riders would have made Mariah Carey blush. At the time of the announcemnt of who was to host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022, I remember commenting in print and online at the brave decision to stage the 2022 competition in air conditioned halls in the middle of the desert. I don’t suppose Septimus ever received his copy of our club fanzine, which was distributed “village –wide” or checked out the website, which was more widely read and included recommendations from several large supporters websites that led to frequent requests for club shirts. But a little time spent checking out public opinion rather than sitting in a darkened room rummaging through carrier bags full of cash may well have served Septimus better. A month long festival of football will distract from an organisation that is now widely seen as corrupt and requires tearing apart and rebuilding from a more sound and moral base.

I could now bang on about cricket and match fixing in the IPL and County game, but I won't, it's a tad depressing, but in both sports money corrupts,

which is why I'm glad this pure soul employed in this industry doesn't have any,

No, hang on, that's not quite right, let me re-word that last sentence and get back to you,


Currently there are two tomes available at bookshops throughout the land regarding life on the chalk streams.

The first “A multitude of Fins” is written by Graham Mole, a professional journalist, award winning TV producer, ambassador for the Angling Trust, lecturer in journalism and compiler of the Wessex Rivers report in Trout and Salmon Magazine in which this written rubbish is occasionally cited, albeit in the slow months for news.

A collection of his published pieces over the past few years it covers many aspects of chalkstream life, from funny fishing stories to serious pieces on the challenges that these precious rivers face. The whole thing bounces along nicely and is well worth a read.

The second is penned by a fishing agent who claims to have discovered a chalkstream then set about righting a hundred years of neglect,

Which is quite a claim

But then again that is what Fishing agents do.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

The Carron in a Corsa with Two-Tone Trim

A little bit late I know,

still chasing my tail a tad,

but a few weeks ago I was kindly invited North to fish the Carron an hour north of Inverness, a repeat of a trip made last year in which a triumph for drunken blundering delivered a salmon to the bank on only my fourth cast with a fly. This year I had put in several hours of spey casting practise on the outfield of the cricket pitch, purchased a new rod having broken a rather good one last year, and hopped on the same orange aeroplane for a fare whose rail equivalent would have delivered me six miles past York.

This is the age of the train - further falsehoods from Savile in the `1970’s

Few fish had been caught the week before, but relentless rain on landing and a highland capital bearing puddles across every roundabout raised hopes for the coming days.

My chariot, Europcar’s finest Vauxhall Corsa replete with two tone trim, bucket seats and baseball cap to be worn in reverse (backwards on the bonce, not while reversing the car) transported me across the Black Isle and an hour over a hill where, had it been clearer, I would have made out Dornach Firth the body of water that receives the waters of The Oykel, Shin, Carron and Cassley and hopefully full of salmon eager to run up rivers.

I trod my plotted course as inconspicuously as a Jayzee Wanabee can up a nine mile single track road that wound its way up the stunning Strathcarron, where a rising river sent many rods to chuck their chotapegs and make for the riverbank in anticipation of a pre prandial tug on a line.

The Carron is a beautiful river and a la Miss Minogue is shorter than most, but with a reasonable rise in water salmon can run a long way up its course, hence the requirement to be on the bank when fish are running as fish can quickly pass through your beat.

Five miles up the track all contact with the outside world in the form of mobile signal and wifi was lost, four miles on and I discovered my employer and her family and friends who had kindly beckoned me north.

With a quick “Dr Livingstone I presume” the formalities were done with, a beer chucked in my hand, a rod erected and I was bustled to the riverbank. Four casts in and my fly was grabbed by a gorse bush from behind. The spey casting practise had not paid the dividends anticipated, and then the mental bomb dropped that I had left my pyjamas at home.

I was to share a room in the house in which we were staying with a fellow rod, and having missed the last series of Gok’s “How to look good naked” I decided to resort to my childhood practise of going to bed in my fishing clothes for an early start the next day, bar the buoyancy aid.

The next day we first fished the spectacular Glencalvie Falls and the beats below, which are engaged from a series of precipitous platforms attached to the rock walls of the gorge that many estates in the South of England would instantly dismiss as unsafe or unfishable. Unforgettable for me and very exciting fishing, We're too soft in the south when it comes to walking the riverbank.

My first fish on the new rod was a Brown Trout of over two pounds which was probably quite a senior fish, a few salmon were sighted but none caught and sage Ghillie - Ronnie Ross expressed concern over the numbers of fish that were currently running the river.

I hadn’t appreciated how good conditions had been on my trip the previous year, when even I managed to bank two fish and the party I was fishing with caught seven in the two days I was there. Several fallow weeks had followed, and the total for the year was considerably bumped up by a productive few weeks towards the end of the season. This week the party had caught two fish to date and the party with whom we alternated beats on the Amat and Glencalvie beats had caught only one which backed up Ronnie’s theory of fewer fish running the river. There are concerns over what is happening to Atlantic salmon out at sea which serves as a reminder as to what a miracle of nature the Atlantic Salmon is. Popping out from an upriver freshwater gravel to feed for a few months before an adolescent switch is flicked that sends it swimming downstream and thousands of miles across the ocean to grow fat on seafood somewhere south of Greenland, only to curtail its comfy saltwater existence for freshwater and return to the same spawning gravel from which it emerged. The freshwater travails of the Atlantic salmon receive close scrutiny with every effort made to aid their quest upstream, but it forms a brief period of the salmon’s life and with numbers down the focus may need to be placed on its time at sea. If anyone from the Atlantic Salmon Trust or the Salmon & Trout Association approaches you in the street and rattles a tin, chuck a few coins in, they do some good stuff to aid this beleaguered creature’s quest across many international borders.

My employer banked her first fish of the week later in the afternoon quickly followed by one to my bedroom buddy’s rod which instigated vivid late night dreams during which I was sharply awoken at 2am by a cry of “get the f****** net, I’m in” from the neighbouring bed. A request that I politely ignored.

Last year, pre breakfast bumbles uncovered a Bar Tailed Godwit that probed for dainties in a splash in a neighbouring field. this year Cuckoos were quite the thing. There haven't been many in Hampshire this year but in this corner of Scotland there were plenty.

The next day proved fruitful, a few welcome tips on spey casting from one of my hosts saw me chucking a fly most of the way across the river with the biggest bush at my back, Ronnie advised us at to where to concentrate our efforts and emboldened by Margaret's superb cooking, fish duly followed. Six to be exact, with two somehow attaching themselves to my rod.

A fantastic place to fish in a superb sporting valley, if you are ever invited to fish a river in the Kyle of Sutherland do not turn the opportunity down, it is well worth the trip.

Thank you very much for the invitation.