Tuesday 26 August 2014

Wasps get a bad press

As I write, Annabel has just been stung by a wasp.

Wasps are quite the thing in this corner of Corfu and the creature whose existence I have previously questioned proved its worth as it cleared Annabel from the camera shot of a particularly attractive landscape.

Annabel was ok, but made quite a din as she interrupted Daddy's post prandial consumption of rose at a taverna in the next bay.

We are in Kalami, Corfu and I apologise for the quality of the photos, but there is no editing in the field, in reporting terms this is Kate Adie dodging missiles in Tripoli, David Attenborough being touched up by gorillas in the Congo or Brian O'Hanrhahanhan on the deck of the Hermes counting them all out and counting them all back.

Albeit with the sustained consumption of Mythos, a swimming pool and a surfeit of feta cheese.

Kalami is the place where Laurence Durrel wrote Prospero's Cell on the cusp of the second world war. The White House where he lived for fifteen months still remains, as do the rocks on which he and his wife lay peering down into a fathom of gin clear water and are relatively unaltered. The House is now a Taverna of not very much repute and the rocks play host to a boat hire company. It still attracts a crowd as this corner of Corfu is quite "chi chi" (until we turned up) and while chasing fish with a waggler and float one afternoon a few days back I was joined on the rocks by Imie and Millie, two young girls who I assumed had an interest in fishing. After talking them through my tactics and explaining that the weed that was putting a bend in my rod was not a fish, a fast boat entered my swim and radioed back to base that the girls had been found, siblings appeared and the girls were returned to their parents in the neighbouring White House Taverna where the parents were sited, punishing the Rose.

Which is great, they'd had an adventure and it all turned out ok, few kids now spend afternoons drinking water to see how far they can wee across the road, building dens or climbing a long way up trees, as they are protected more and more by well intentioned parents who end up doing the child's thinking for them. A few years ago while tending the pitch for the local football team a lad fell out of a tree and landed on his head, a crowd gathered and n ambulance was called and while treatment was underway a retired brigadier in pink trousers happened by with his small dog and made enquiries as to the nature of the incident, to which he replied "Well done! small boys should climb more trees" The lad was more than a little robust and today is one half of a duo who are the local town's finest deliverers of beds.

and with a nod to Annabel, a friend of mine who once ran a half mile home at an age in single figures pursued by a swarm of bees, because it was his turn to climb the tree and poke the nest with a stick ended up as a Major flying helicopters in the Balkans and Afghanistan,

He also played a good game of army, although he wasn't so great at reading maps, although that may have been me.

Returning to Corfu, I can't imagine that Madame evolution picked a beach in Kalami for the location for her fishes to emerge and populate the lands of the earth. On most beaches of this corner of Corfu, The lady on my left and myself exit Neptune's locker on all fours grasping for flip flops on smooth round stones that invoke Peter Crouch style robotics at the first attempt of two legged locomotion. My current pallor has led Italian Mammas to urge their bambinos to meet by the man with the big red face should they get lost, such is my status as a "Stand Out" landmark when laid prone on the beach.

Our apartment is tucked in an Olive grove and a hundred lemons hang from the tree that shades the door, in the apartment next door. An energetic couple in their early forties jog each morning and conduct an hour long exercise routine before reading self improvement books by the pool fro the remainder of the day, the ying to our yang, Mdme and myself feel duty bound to act as slovenly as we can to restore some form of balance to the day.

Which we are doing very well.

Yesterday we hired a boat, a small craft, but seaworthy nonetheless that almost carried us inadvertently to Albania, a map thing undoubtedly, but that's for another day.

Our passage carried without any real incident bar myself and a large pleasure craft carrying a hundred people or more who tried to park on top of our insignificant skiff in the town harbour, five minutes of floundering with painters, anchors, jibs and keel hauls set us right and waving my fist at the smiling skipper with "f*** O** you failed fisherman eased my agitated state.

We found some wonderful beaches, that even in this part of the world you can pitch up to in a boat and have to yourselves, although it pays to take some binos as one we pitched into was like the land that time forgot sans Raquel Welch and her fur bikini where clothes had yet to be invented and all stood loud and proud as God/Allah/Hal intended.

Each to their own.

We chucked no end of spinners at flashy fish in bays without any real success, had a fantastic picnic in a small bay surrounded by fish who ate our spare tomatoes and peppers but wouldn't touch a cucumber (note to self, stick to flies with a bit of red in when saltwater fly fishing in the Ionian) before returning to the jetty to bumble back to our digs, arm in arm singing "Shore leave shore leave"

We have a little bit of wifi. It's a valuable commodity that proves a bigger draw to a Taverna than "Happy Hour" or "Fresh Fish" emails are checked and sport followed but in such a contented state the news can be fairly grim. Reading choice for the break is Birds without Wings by Louis de B( I am not allowed to read Captain Correlli on holiday in Greece any more, it is stamped on my passport) the following quotes from a proper writer seem somehow pertinent

"history, which is finally nothing but a sorry edifice constructed from hacked flesh in the name of great ideas"

"the triple contagions of nationalism, utopianism, and religious effervesce together into an acid that corrodes the moral metal of a race and it shamelessly and even proudly performs deeds that it would deem vile if they were done by any other."

Madness and inhumanity currently prevail in several parts of the world, if you were an outsider looking in,

Mork perhaps (Robin Williams, what a man!)

Sparg from Kronk or those octopedial aliens on the Simpsons,

you could be forgiven for thinking, "what on earth is going on, will they ever learn?"

Sunday 17 August 2014

Camping on trout and a daddy one leg

Dosed up with truth serum, I'll happily admit that August ain't the best month to be fishing the headwaters of a southern chalkstream. A quick flick through the catch records in the fishing hut reveal many seasons when as many fish have been caught in the last week in May as the whole of the following August, a diminishing river gin clear water and fish with their eye in make fishing a tricky business and many would attest that a single fish in August is worth four in May. In terms of Masterchef, your August Brown Trout is somewhat akin to Greg and Phil with their glasses on. They are seeing things well, the offering must be perfectly presented, easy on the eye and reasonably appetising. It doesn't take much for your August Brownie to turn up his nose, it's the principle reason why Rainbow Trout were first stocked into the river, a fish that is more willing to accept an angler's offering in the dog days of summer, although they are now introduced to some stretches throughout the season.

Some fishermen will return home in August with a dry net, and it is easy to slip into a habit of fishing by rote, failing to fish the whole river and moving quickly from one spot where success has previously been enjoyed to the next,ignoring the bits inbetween while replicating methods that were successful for them earlier in the year. The Brown Trout, their habits, their appetite and their diet have all altered in high summer. On this stretch of the Dever Brown Trout predominate and it pays to adopt a flexible approach, there are a few general rules throughout the month, numbers of sedge will always draw the eye of fish as the light fades at the end of the day, and a hatch of Blue Winged Olives or a fall of sherry spinners will always cause a few fins to twitch, but flurries of BWO are far less numerous than thirty years ago and those fish that sat midstream high in the water in the early part of the season are now far more circumspect and prone to tuck themselves away if they are not in the mood.

One of our regular rods advocated "camping" on a fish if it was the slightest distance off the bottom of the river, concealment and fine presentation are key if the method is to succeed, but as long as the Brown Trout remained on station he would systematically go through his fly box deftly presenting each pattern, and if the fish didn't spook or failed to rise, the fly would be changed. It was an arduous pursuit that required no little skill but was often successful, although some of our more senior Brown Trout who have been around the block will happily stay on station even if an angler reveals himself, in cricketing terms they are in and "seeing it like a football". Another regular rod who occasionally tried camping on a fish went twice through his fly box on a large Brown Trout tucked under the near bank, after a considerable length of time his exasperation knew no bounds and he stood up and poked the fish's flank with the end of his rod, the fish slowly moved across the stream a few inches and maintained his station.

Others swear by a Daddy long legs for August and rarely change their fly, a Doctor who fished here regularly in the middle of the week was a skilled angler but found himself struggling one week so purchased his first Daddy Long Legs from the fly box in the fishing hut. Within the hour he had broken his duck and ended up with three fish for the day. He didn't change his fly for the remainder of the month and caught fish on each visit despite a fly that when finally taken off his line was a Daddy One Leg.

Whichever approach is taken by the angler in tricky August conditions it has a far better chance of success if it is carried out positively and with confidence in the method, a negative approach leads to fishing by rote and fewer fish being put on the bank, and the succour that is September when conditions improve and fish feed a little harder in preparation for the rigors of spawning is just around the corner.

The August weed cut is upon us, twelve months ago the weed was dying off and algae was on the rise, this year the weed is in good health with less blanket weed, healthy weed at this time of the year helps to maintain water levels and it has just been a matter of trimming out the ribbon weed that threatens to grow clear of the water and hamper presentation of a fly.

The aquifers that feed the chalkstreams have fallen considerably since the flooding of last winter, historically they reach their lowest levels during September and October.. All the weed in this stretch of the Dever is cut with a scythe and it is possible to be fairly precise and cut bars that extend across the width of the river and help to hold the water up. Some anglers don't believe that it is possible to hold water up with weed, but each October I cut back much of the weed in the river and the level will drop up to ten inches, if a swan rips a hole in one of the bars or the weed becomes weak or smothered by blanket weed and pulls out and heads off downstream water depth on shallows can be reduced rendering them unattractive to brown trout and grayling who consequently congregate in deeper holes and sulk, continually spooking each other forgetting to feed and offer an easy target for avian predators. It's a particular problem on this stretch of the Dever which has quite a steep gradient for a chalkstream and the water doesn't need much of an invitation to rattle away through a gap in a bar of weed.
On the short stretch of the river Itchen that I look after there is no danger of this happening, it is not in the headwaters and has a greater discharge, the weed is cut in a completely different way, still with a scythe, but not with an eye to preserving water levels, it is much deeper with no shallows as such and the principle weed is ribbon weed that has been flowering four feet clear of the water' surface for a few weeks. This can make getting a fly on the water a little tricky so the plan for August weed cutting is cut all the ribbon weed out, the only short shallow lies at the head of the beat where the water exits a large hatch pool, the floods of last winter have scoured the pool to such an extent that a large amount of gravel spewed out of the tail of the pool leaving a sparkling gravel bar that is completely void of weed.

The marginal weeds have a big part to play in preserving the level of a falling river, currently in full flower and home to a million insects that draw the eye of pheasant poults on their first forays from the release pen, the marginal growth is slowly creeping out into the river helping to squeeze the diminishing flow and maintain a speed of flow that does not allow any deposition and keeps at least some of the gravels nice and clean. Each autumn I cut this marginal growth back. to open up the channel for a much need scrub behind the ears by increased winter flow. Over on the short stretch of the Itchen the depth of water means that the marginal growth does not encroach in the same way and it is managed in differently with the top taken off a few times a year. Each autumn I take the marginal growth down to half its height and cut back a proportion of what extends out into the river, it's been carried out this way for hundreds of years and also aids flood defence. I know when I first started on the river the theory was to get a neat and tidy line to the bank in order to get as much water scouring the edge of the river as possible, which has some merit but advances in machinery meant that this was carried out a little over zealously. A few years ago a complicated cabal of "experts" decreed that the practice was to be discouraged and many were instructed to cease management of marginal growth and allow it to do its own thing and grow out into the river. Last winter a short section of river upstream from here that, on expert advice had been managed in such a way for five years or more, (over the instincts of the resident riverkeeper with forty or more years experience). Infringed the main river channel to the extent that much of the river took a new course, backing up through the stock ponds of a nearby put and take trout fishery before breaking out across the water meadow to rejoin the main channel a hundred yards downstream, many fish escaped from the stock ponds and this year our anglers have banked many rainbow trout between two and four pounds, we don't stock rainbow trout and go some seasons without any being put on the bank.

The Dever converges with the Test around a mile downstream from here for the first four months of this year they made contact a mile further upstream as a Test carrier stream that had been "let go" made its way through an electricity substation across four fields of pasture to take out a chalk wall of several hundred years standing that never expected the river to come this way before making its way down the road into the river Dever.

There is a danger that people will drive at these two stretches of river and many others, with diggers and machines and clear marginal growth back every five years or so, although those charged with the care of the stretch upstream from here are making efforts to sort the errant growth out by hand on an annual basis. Management of marginal growth on this river may have become a little over officious but on a river that has been managed by man for a century or more the answer did not lie in abstention from a practice that had been undertaken for aeons, but in a recommendation to carry it out more sympathetically. The two stretches of river that I look after require different methods of fishery management, they can't be covered by a list of half a dozen modes of practice.

There are signs that the current River Restoration Strategy recognise this fact and also places some value on any local knowledge that may have accrued, unlike the daft policies of the past decade where management policies were generalised/nationalised and all were invited to conform to preconceived plans drawn up by "experts in the field"

On a lighter note, and donning my cape and cane, Calamity Jane at The Watermill Theatre was a triumph, the Kennet looked in pretty good shape too.

As I write England have just trounced an Indian side who no longer seem to have any interest in five day cricket. Shorter formats of the game are favoured in what is often described as the powerhouse of world cricket and their skill levels have suffered all the more for their extended time spent in their twenty over bubble. If India no longer value Test Cricket don't give them a five Test series, Sri Lanka, who were only granted two tests at the start of the summer seemed far more up for a game.

Automatic Reply: I am out of the office for a few days and will respond to your correspondence on my return. If your enquiry is of an urgent nature I can be contacted at chrisandtheladywhosleepsonhis left@snorkellingoffabeachincorfu.com

Thanks to everyone for filling in while we are away.

Saturday 2 August 2014

Looking for a patient, a sailor boy will do

Well all the water has nearly gone, and with the onset of ugly algae the sparkle that the river bore for the first half of the season is now dulled. Blanket weed and brown sludgey algae are a depressing sight after things had been progressing so well, but if this is the climatic boom and bust that we have been assured is on its way for the south east of England, we will need another winter like the last to restore the sparkle to the river. No mention has been made of diminishing groundwater in any form of media, but a quick peek down the borehole on the edge of the square of our local cricket pitch which sits slap bang in the centre of the river valley, reveals groundwater levels that are falling fast. It has made for tedious high summer fishing in the headwaters of this river, although from the middle river down fishing should be a little easier. Gin clear water and educated fish mean that tackle must be fined down and a fly presented with the utmost delicacy, it isn't easy and fading light at the end of the day improves the angler's chances when a host of caddis may persuade a fish to drop its guard, nymphs are worth a go in the day when many fish stick to sub surface feeding but anything too flashy or splashy will spook more than it attracts so drab patterns sympathetically presented are the way to go. The fringe in full bloom serves as part compensation for difficult fishing, it is at its most colourful throughout this month and draws the eye of a distracted angler with a plethora of butterflies, flutterbies and pretties.

A few times this week the light outside our front door has been left on in order to guide Child A and Child B home following midnight manoeuvres. Lights at University conveniently turn themselves off to conserve energy and minimise bills, which is great, but has rendered a generation unable to use light switches, or basin taps whose flow is quelled after ten seconds by magic sink pixies but at home quickly fills the soakaway.


On two occasions the outside light was left on through the night which attracted all manner of funny moths. This river valley is decidedly moth rich and each August we have a variety of colourful and intricately patterned moths cling to the wall. The pick of the bunch this week was a leopard skin number with an auburn head that we don't know the name of but have nicknamed Joan Collins. There have also been quite a few Blue Winged Olives hanging around the door, It's peak time for the BWO but numbers are still not a patch on twenty years ago.

Last Sunday morning while returning from the river a hen harrier worked its way up the valley, en silhouette it was difficult to determine whether it was male or female, but hen harrier it most certainly was. The common land downstream from here is prime hen harrier territory with wide expanses of low cover that they can take in while circling gracefully at height before descending to flop around at low level to seek out their quarry, they also work a few strips of maize planted for cover crops. Midweek while recovering from a season of educating small children, Madam was lazily reclining in the garden popping grapes into her mouth when looking up past the umbrella of her cocktail she picked out a quorum of birds at height, I was dispatched to retrieve binoculars and provide the information that she required namely "what are those birds" my trusty ten by twenty fives confirmed that one of the birds was undoubtedly a harrier, another two may also have been, they were a long way up and Madam was making other demands.

Hen harriers have been in a tad of trouble for some while, the RSPB and several others pointed the finger of blame firmly in the direction of the shooting community and illegal culling, a plan of action to aid its recovery was drawn up by DEFRA following consultation with Natural England, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the RSPB, and The National Gamekeepers Association. This was several years ago, The Hen Harrier Joint Recovery Plan has yet to be published there is suspicion that the report's findings didn't confirm preconceived ideas over the hen harrier's decline. We have hen harrier/ harriers on a substantial water meadow surrounded by three large commercial shoots run by professional game keepers and one small shoot keepered by a doofus who has been winging it for years.

An isolationist at heart who hankers for a cave and a stockpile of tinned food, I don't normally do petitions, but if you would like to see the hen harrier recovery report published please sign here :


Freedom for Tooting!

We also had a Hobby about last week,whuch is quite unusual but no petitioning required.

and now here's Bob with the News

In a speech this week, Coalition leader Prime Minister Cameron stated that Fracking in National Parks and environmentally sensitive areas will only be carried out in exceptional circumstances. What happened to the "Race to Frack" is a mystery that some have suggested is linked to the next general election.

A party spokesman said

"The accusation that the exceptional circumstances to which the Prime Minister referred are safe seats and no mention must be made of shale gas extraction in any marginal constituencies is completely unfounded"

Concerns remain over the current Government's eagerness to slacken shackles placed on fracking by the EU law, and some have interpreted today's statement as an attempt to reassure sceptics that the Government can be trusted to implement the required safeguards with regard to fracking,

A Mr Horace Hermit was quoted as saying:

"Weapons of mass destruction, failure to increase threshold on inheritance tax, stamp duty, national policies on fishery management, inept reports by companies of international repute, and the price of cider, yes, the price of cider, I could go on and probably will, but we are increasingly being mugged off by the loons who lead us"

and finally,

In a remarkable volte face, former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, aged 78, has had second thoughts on the sanctity of life and thinks that Dignitas may be on to something.

While we may do many aspects of life spectacularly well the western world's struggle with life's denouement is maintained.

Here's Tanya with the sport,

The Commonwealth games have been good, great atmosphere and well supported. The Gymnasts may carry a tad more timber and the divers shift a bit more water than Olympic competition, but...

Sorry while we are on gymnasts, when they are out walking in the country, and the law of percentages dictates that a number of their bendy band will be ramblers, how do they deal with gates and styles? is cover maintained and they pass through the obstacle as any other rambler would or is it too good an opportunity to miss for a brief run through of a routine.

Wardrobe have been asked to make Gary Lineker look a little less "football" his waistcoat midweek invoked a Pearly King/Queen on a down day, and the comfy sweater and slippers for the bowls coverage set the tone perfectly, thankfully he didn't do the diving. In the "Strictly" season Madam insists that she can identify who are wardrobe's favourite by the gowns they are given in which to implement their hoofing. Wardrobe's favourite at these games must be Rebecca Adlington who has looked sensational and made a fair fist of punditry by the pool, I couldn't comment on what Victoria Pendleton was wearing as she worked the radio waves in the Chris Hoy Pleasure dome, but she is a natural on the radio and an innovative analyst.

This week a senior Turkish minister called for women to smile less. In a Birmingham school girls were asked to sit at the back of the class, in some parts of the world, girls are denied an education and Prime Minister Cameron chaired a summit to highlight female mutilation.

Dark ages anyone?

A list of significant females could follow but won't, for fear of running out of download space, megabits or internet blobs.

From personal experience, if Child A had been denied books, an education, a smile, laughter and friendship with males she would be significantly diminished.

The subjugation of women by some societies is bonkers/abusive

Madam's mum has come to stay and the two have just returned from an evening at The Watermill Theatre near Newbury to take in a production of Calamity Jane, that they described as one the best theatrical experiences they had ever had. Tickets have been booked for a return visit with yours truly and Child A in tow; report to follow.

Several would testify that I will not watch a film unless a submarine features at some point and live theatre has never been my bag, but at the back of our wardrobe sits a cape and cane that were earned following hard graft treading the boards.

A seven night run as Lead Nurse in the 1978 Gang Show at Chester's Gateway Theatre has been described by some (mostly myself) as a triumph for provincial theatre and Melvyn Bragg once bemoaned the fact that fishery management's gain was the theatrical world's loss,

albeit during an advertisement break on The South Bank Show.

Most days I still run through the lines and ponder what could have been:

Lead Nurse; ( gusto )

When the Soldiers are in battle and the navy's gone to war,
they need to have a helping hand as all their wounds get sore,
we smother them in bandages and then we try to nurse,
but we seem to make them ten times worse,

Chorus: (ad captandum vulgus)

Looking for a patient, a sailor boy will do,
slings and splints and medicine, especially for you,

Barbra Dickson nabbed my gig in Chess and when I eventually bump into Elaine Paige I will remind her of that fact.