23rd January 2021
The view from my desk, despite the ice only having melted an hour earlier this lot couldn't wait for their daily dip.
Woody and Dave still catching dispite the hard frosts of the last couple of days. They look like a pair of old fish, odd that Woody's fish has no pelvic fins, a fish I have not seen seen previously. Whilst I was talking to Dave and Woody we were joined by the Great White Egret in the middle shot. Not an unusual sight these days but this bird was ringed on the right tibia. I'll be interested to hear from anyone locally who may have managed to read the ring and discovered an origin for this bird. I'll see if I can get a little closer to it next time I spot it and try and get a closer photo or read the ring myself.
The main spillway dealing with a great deal of water.
22nd January 2021
Definitely a case of what a difference a day makes as the torrential rain of yesterday gave way to blue skies and cold sunshine. Ibsley Pool, bank high and pushing through that should make it beautifully polished for the start of the season. Always providing we can get to the river banks as the valley floods once more, keeping the Avon Valley path closed for approaching four months.
21st January 2021
Today's view looking south, west and north from Blashford, once more well out in the meadows.
A further good day on the fishery on Tuesday as I got to grips with the preparation for the off of the salmon season. Park and Coomber are clipped up and almost complete, providing an uninterrupted run of 700m of fishing if you start at the seat in Pile Pool. I'm not sure what that equates to in fishing time but if like me you take a pace between casts that's quite a while. Also to be found down that bank are Mackenzie's and Sydney Pool, to keep you going with a further 350m. I must time myself down a couple of pools to see just what speed I do cover the water. It might help when I pop out for an hour in the evening to avoid having to pack up halfway down my chosen pool!
A really odd experience the other evening on the way home from work, I took a walk out to the river during the wind and torrential rain of storm Christoph's trailing front. The meadows at the spot I chose to visit remain flooded probably to an average depth of about six inches to a foot. There was one fifty or sixty meter section that was closer to the top of my thigh waders but nothing ventured! I was out there in the dark, wind and rain as Kevin had previously told me the water meadows in front of his place were alive with wildfowl during the night. Kevin has the advantage of a night vision scope that showed the meadows to be covered in wildfowl of every shape and size. He also mentions a very vocal, talkative group that continuously chattered away as they fed. It was this last group that particularly interested me as there are in the region of 1500 to 2000 BTG in the valley and it sounded as if it may have been them. Godwits have quite particular feeding requirements regarding water depth and the usual meadows I expect to see them remain too deep to let them feed. If the talkative birds that Kevin could hear from his home were these birds it would be the first time I have witnessed them feed during the hours of darkness on the Estate. Whilst the wildfowl were not in the valley during my daytime counts many hundreds, even thousands are day roosting on the pits.
Waders and waterproofs tested to the limit, I splashed my way on out to the far side of our newly created large area of open meadows. To a phragmites bed that I thought may afford a little cover from Christoph's excesses, to perch on a convenient willow stump to await the hoped for arrivals. The wind and rain were coming horizontally up the valley, meaning I could only face away from it to avoid the glasses immediately becoming covered and useless.
Half an hour and the first to arrive were the Canada's, I could hear them coming up the valley behind me in family groups of between twenty and thirty. They passed low overhead, turned in a wide circle in front of me and came back to land facing the wind. Next a few pairs of Mallard and Gadwall that seem to have paired off in readiness for the breeding season ahead. Their arrival overhead, keeping low and facing the gale, they seemed almost close enough to touch. Coil after coil of Wigeon arrived, whistling and splashing noisily into the shallow water, immediately starting to graze. Pipping Teal dropped in with a splash, now too dark to see them arrive. When almost too dark to see a rush of wing beats as a tight cloud of pointed, black and white contrasting wings, created an almost psychedelic pattern as they rushed over and settled onto the meadow less than fifty meters from where I stood. An hour earlier not a bird in site now I had no idea how many birds were out there, suffice to say probably well into the thousands. An amazing unseen world of our incredible valley.
Time to leave and half a mile back to the truck, into the face of the storm, across the flooded meadows. The glassy surface speckled with contrasting silhouettes of the clumps of rush and grass doing their best to trip me made progress difficult. My exit was noisy and very splashy. I stumbled along the flocks barely bothering to break from their grazing, those that did lifting only to splash down fifty meters behind me. Certainly nothing like any of the dozens of duck flights I have previously experienced.
18th January 2021
A fine way to start my day and a familiar sight to many of the early arrivals on the Estate as the sun begins to chase the frost from the meadows.
.......and the day continued in that good vein with nothing drowned, blocked or busted. This afternoon I even managed a couple of hours exercise behind the strimmer after weeks of not finding the time or being flooded off the banks. Personally I think it just has to be the best work out ever, no one to bother you and after a couple of hours you get the satisfaction of the visible return for your efforts. The salmon season will be getting underway in less than a fortnight with miles of pools still awaiting my attention. It will be a very strange start to the season with the limit on travel restricting access for many out of town members. Hopefully within a month or two, as the best of the Avon salmon fishing arrives, we will be out of the strictest lockdown rules and travel will be permitted. If you are fortunate enough to be local and able to get out for your exercise don't forget the lower end of the Estate, especially if its running water as fish always pause before running the gates at Ringwood.
I was thinking about the exercise attached to fishing and to that end I considered the weight of the tackle we carry miles out across flooded fields. Salmon fishing is probably the lightest tackle requirements, rod, reels, end tackle flies, disgorger plus an eco net. Modern rods and reels weigh just a few ounces, most if not all the remainder of the tackle can be stowed in pockets, net across the back and we are off. When chasing the elusive salmon it involves being continuously on the move so by the end of your visit you may have several miles under your belt.
Compare that to my river coarse gear and it doesn't get close, especially when I am undecided on just what I intend to fish for. The rod holdall may contain, two tip and a couple of float rods, landing net handle, bank sticks and a brolly. depending on the brolly that alone can amount to far more than the salmon gear. Add the carry-all that contains the seat, net head, rod rest heads, unhooking mat and most of your bait if it involves a couple of loaves. Then comes the rucksack or tackle box, reels, weights and feeders, float box, scales, terminal tackle beyond description and probably a load more fancy bait. I weighed the lot I take on a normal impromptu visit and it came to over sixty pounds! I have said for years I will slim that lot down and each time I try I end up with even more that I seem to need - just in case. Try carrying that lot out across half a mile of flooded meadow. That's probably why I don't fish a great deal these days! Or if I do I decide exactly what I intend to target before setting out.
As for the stillwater, carp lads don't even go there, that's why if you can't drive to the swim the motorised tackle cart has become a more common sight on the banks of some lakes.
17th January 2021
We seem to be experiencing the lull before the storm, if the weather forecast for the coming week is anything to go by anyway. Not surprisingly there are very few people about at the moment giving the valley an unnaturally quiet feel. Its actually more than the lack of anglers, it also seems to apply to the bird world as the numbers remain well below what we might expect under such ideal circumstances. As usual the swans and geese are about yet wildfowl numbers barely reach into four figures. As we see the water levels drop perhaps birds that are currently elsewhere in the valley will appear to take advantage of the newly exposed feeding. It also applies to the birds using my garden feeders with the resident populations ever present yet we have failed to see any influx of migrants. Siskin, Chaffinch, Brambling and Goldfinch have been noticeable by their absence. Hopefully this is down to warmer conditions in their home countries making their risky, long distance flights unnecessary.
During the current drier day or two the river is slowly dropping back and the carriers continue to play a vital role as juvenile fish habitat. The rising flow and water levels had created impounded sections at the confluence of hatch controlled carriers with the main channel. These slack, impounded sections that may have extended for many hundreds of meters upstream into the carriers from the main river confluence, along with our oxbows, created vital sanctuaries to shelter juvenile fish from the scouring velocity of the rising floods. As main channel water levels fall the velocity in the carriers slowly increases, requiring many of the fish that had taken advantage of the previously created slack water to move. Main channel velocities remain high continuing to make the controlled carriers a better option for juveniles to avoid being flushed through the system. As Spring progresses and we begin thinking of draining the water meadows, to allow livestock out for the early bite the valley provides, our manipulation of the water levels is critical if we are not to undo all the good our sanctuaries have provided for the previous winter months. Key to ensuring a controlled lowering of the water height across the meadows is the graduated manipulation of the gates and hatches. Avoid single visits where gates are opened and levels dropped by several inches or even feet, three or four visits with small incremental changes allow fish to adapt and find new areas of safety. Its noticeable that where flow and cover remain unchanged fish will always be found in areas that suit their needs. Their preferred area may be just a few square meters yet year after year fish will be found in those spots. In carriers that are subject to change shoals appear one day and are gone the next.
A shot or two from about the valley as I checked hatches and gates this morning. The oxbow providing wonderful cover for both fish and birds, a couple of Great White Egret rising from amongst the bullmace as I passed on my way to the top hatches. More pollarding where ever I look, if I can carry the saw and fuel across the meadows. These wizen old crack willows epitomise the lowland rivers, their ancient faces have witnessed centuries of slow and gradual change. Many are now coming to the end of their allotted span and where ever possible we do our best to pollard these grey giants to remove the stress of supporting such extended canopies. To finish just another lost soul wandering about the valley in search of a the Avon Valley Path, or his way home! I say that as a tongue in cheek reference to the basic shelters in Japanese parks that bear the motto "For those that can't find their way home" It always gave food for thought and cause to count our blessings each time we came across such shelters.
13th January 2021
Anyone lost a foot bridge? If so I know where it is, or more correctly I should say I know where it was, well and truly jammed under the Eel Pool hatches. I did in fact smash the thing up and its gone on its way, leaving a well beaten up set of hatches that look as if we will have to replace them come the Spring.
12th January 2021
Now we are once more allowed out on the river banks for our exercise don't forget the EA are seeking dead kelts to help with a research project that is attempting to identify certain attributes of different salmon populations. Should you come across any on the estate give me a call. Other fisheries should give the EA a call and hopefully someone will come out for their daily exercise and collect it. If you are local to the estate and the owners of the fishery are happy, give me a call and I'll come out for a walk.
I have been speaking to syndicate member, Peter Littleworth, about the potential for the use of circle hooks for salmon fishing. Peter is also interested in giving them a try and with his catch record we are perhaps more likely to have a measure of success for our efforts. I'm keen to discover if the shallow hooking ability, associated with circles, can be brought into our daily use to make catch and release an easier, less risky process. I have used circles for everything from sharks to black bream at sea and carp, pike, chub and perch on the river and have been delighted with the results. I've received lots of advice and information from diary readers for which I thank you all very much indeed. The accepted key to success seems to be keeping the hook articulated from the bait or lure and Peter introduced me to "swing tubes" These seem to be designed for use with circles and they look spot on and definitely the way I will be going when we eventually get underway this season.
The red swing tube can be seen in the top fly, the lower being fixed in the conventional tubing. Don't read anything into the choice of fly, or the line gripper. I simply used them as they are lightly dressed and the gripper keeps the line from slipping through the fly.
10th January 2021
Just some ramblings to pass the time and a question that has been occupying a great many of my thoughts in recent days is just what our environmental protection will morph into now we have finally left the EU? Obviously the commitment by our government not to allow the current protection afforded our watery environment by the WFD to be diluted is well documented. Just how much faith you have in our current regime to honour their word is perhaps a little worrying. Especially in light of the latest neonicotinoid news.
We have seen the appearance of the Environment Bill, the 25 year plan and the Agriculture Bill, all will no doubt have considerable impact on the future of our valley. The Environment Bill will see the establishment of the Office of Environmental Protection that will advise the government and have powers to investigate complaints against our environmental regulators. As long as there is not an in house complaints procedure. That's handy, they'll only investigate if those that are being complained about haven't already investigated themselves! The fact the Environment Bill is a little tardy in its appearance has seen a provisional, interim environmental protection secretariat established to clear the way. Not withstanding that the overriding problem as I see it at the moment is whatever you call it, the new group, office or agency, will answer to the secretary of State for the Environment. That about buggers it!
Whatever the extent of the perceived transgression by the government, or the integrity of the board that will be chaired by the vastly experienced Dame Glenys Stacey, the final say will be in the hands of the Secretary of State. Chocolate fire-guard springs to mind! I just hope its not just a further tier of underfunded environmental bureaucracy. I guess the courts will have to be the arbitrators if satisfaction cannot be found through the proposed channels. That has all the hallmarks of a dodgy old route with the current views from government on our judiciary. It all seems a long way from the protection afforded our environment through the WFD via the EU Environment Commission that could hold our government to account. I can almost guarantee that as the mist lifts and the way ahead becomes clearly defined this is a subject that will crop up on here again in the future.
9th January 2021
The river continues to clear and drop back to almost within its banks. Most of the ice has disappeared, so the water looks a little more fishy, chub and pike anyway! The dead hen fish was laying in six inches of water being attended by a Great Black-back Gull that gave away her position. As can be seen in the photos, she had not spawned so a total loss to the system. There appears to be heavy saprolegnia infection around the vent and anal fin possibly damaging the oviduct preventing completion of her vital task. I would dearly like to know the pathogen load the Avon carries from all the STW's and aquaculture discharge load the river collects. A clue might be that the aquaculture industry claim it is impossible to use main channel river water to hatch eggs, yet we expect out wild fish to manage! All that pathogen load is being constantly washed over the incubating eggs deep in the gravel redd.
Good to see the wildfowl numbers increasing today. The old duck in the photo thought she would just take a wonder about the SSSI as the Avon Valley Footpath was flooded. Bless her!
7th January 2021
I'm sure many of you will now be aware that there has been a further change of directions related to fishing during lockdown. The latest advice coming from government, via the Angling Trust, states that fishing is permissible providing it is local and of limited duration. To that end the Somerley Fishery is once more accessible to members provided they adhere to the advice that can be found in the link below. It does mean night fishing is NOT allowed until further notice.
Don't get carried away with the fact we are allowed out on the banks again to take our exercise, ice and freezing mist remained on several of the lakes throughout the day. The rivers don't appear much more attractive with many areas still flooded with cat ice in the margins. The Godwit was a single bird that I think may have been trying to avoid a Peregrine that was circling above. If you discount gulls,swans and geese the valley remains disappointingly devoid of wildfowl and waders during the day. The Wigeon and Teal can be heard overhead as they fly out to feed at dusk but very few remain during the day. Highlights today were probably a couple of Great White Egret and a fine male Marsh Harrier. The tracks on the bridge give an indication of the use our access bridges are put to in reaching areas of the meadows. Good to see he was using the non-slip central section. We were considering making our bridges and culverts fox proof during the wader breeding season, I somehow don't think that will be happening in the near furture.
5th January 2021
Unfortunately as of midnight tonight the Somerley fishery will be closed until further notice.
With the fishery now shut it no longer applies to keep your eyes open for gulls and crows scavenging any salmon corpses that may have been washed up. At least it saves me trudging out across the flood for a no return! Just another powerline strike!
4th January 2021
The river is taking on its true colour as the cold water clears a tinge of "Avon Green" is creeping into it.
In readiness for the start of the new salmon season a selection of early season flies to suit the Avon. You guessed it, black and yellow are my favourite early season colours. Most are between half and one and a half inches, the majority dressed on heavy tubes to get down in the water. If the water remains as cold as it is at present the depth may be crucial, if however we see it warm a little and continue to clear hopefully they will be keener to chase. The water currently has a vis of about five feet that is looking perfect for the off.
The second shot shows a fly with a single, barbless, circle hook, which is the fashion I will be fishing for as much time as I am able. The results I have experienced trying circles in other aspects and disciplines of our sport I believe they should be perfect for salmon fishing. Fly fishing with the rod pointing at the fly is the norm, on a take just lifting into the resistance is exactly what circles require, no striking or jerky retrieves. The tubing at the tail of the fly should be thin enough to allow the hook to separate from the body and articulate on setting the hook. Sounds perfect, I'm sure you'll hear about it on here if I'm successful!
If you do brave the elements just a reminder that we are looking for dead salmon. As the water drops back and slows the passage of kelts through the system will also hopefully slow. Currently, dying and floating fish are being swept through the system in a very short period of time. If they are stranded on gravel bars and slower eddies they are very quickly spotted by scavengers, which is one of the best ways to spot them. Should you see Gulls, Crows, Ravens etc feeding beside the river send me a text and I will check it out but please be quick as they will have completely destroyed the carcass within a few hours. You never know you may spot an IoW eagle recognising a free meal!
2nd January 2021
Combined with the radar tracks coming out of Belgium, showing the scale of avian disturbance caused by New Year's celebrations, pointers to why I have an intense dislike of fireworks.
1st January 2021
Looking as if it may be desperately hard going.
With a year that for many must go down as the most apalling they have endured lets hope that 2021 is a vast improvement. To that end may I take this opportunity to wish all readers a happy and most importantly a healthy New Year. Lets all try and keep our guards up and not fall with the end in sight. I look forward to seeing many of you out on the bank, when conditions and Covid allow, to catch up on news and simply enjoy the magic of the Avon Valley.
An almost ethereal feel to the valley this morning as the freezing mist froze on the cobweb festooned trees. The floods and lakes were like mill ponds, reflecting every scene and there were even a couple of anglers out and about. Not I fear they had done any good but enjoying the wintery scene.
Look on the bright side this will be the last shot of a flooded valley I will show you this year!
I will do my best to shed some light on the situation related to the fishery in light of New Forest now being upgraded to tier 4. Under the current guidelines we are able to continue fishing that is not contested, due in large part to the solitary nature and therapeutic value of our pastime. This has to be viewed in relation to the advice coming from government that states to avoid unnecessary journeys and stay at home. Equally as important, do not to cross tier boundaries. As we are now in tier 4 members living in lower tiers should not travel to the fishery. Similarly travelling the length and breadth of the land to fish is hard to justify as "necessary" and we would ask members not to do so. I can't put a distance on your travels but please be sensible and fish locally where ever possible.
Remains confusing and for many disappointing but with the vaccine on the horizon this will hopefully not be an overly prolonged period before we can resume normal play once more. There is a plus to this in that the weather is freezing, the waters are in flood and the fish aren't feeding, as good a time as any to stay safely at home.