With the river continuing to run high and coloured, with further rain forecast, it looks as if we will have a river in good order when the salmon season gets underway in a fortnights time. Today's showers and sunshine, perfectly captured in this shot of the Old School House at Harbridge.
We have seen some good pike this season, I certainly know of fish to 29.02 pounds. The photo above shows Adam Martin with a 22 pounder to go with a 19 pounder he had on the traditional start of the pike season back on 1st October. Adam has also managed an absolute beauty of 28+ a month or so back, which points to a pretty good season to date. Well done on the fish Adam and many thanks for the reports and the pix.
Yesterday's sunrise at Ellingham, taken by Jane on her way into the office; nice one Jane. The start of a good day beside the river.
Every day beside the river is a good day and clipping up the salmon pools is a great way to spend it. Looking upstream from Gypsy to The Reeds, Pile Pool down to Park and upstream to the Bridge Pool.
.........and there I was worried about micro-plastics! Just where we are heading with individuals such as the one-watt that dumped this in the river I have no idea. Especially when fly tipping in the New Forest District Council area incurs the wrath of the council with a FPN (Fixed Penalty Notice) and an £80 fine!
This might prove interesting. We know there is a lie just off the seat as fish have been lost there in the past. I've extended the fishable length of bank by 20m and will take the top off the brambles so that fish running downstream can be followed down to Pile Pool if the rod is held high.
One of the odd things about my role is that I do not have an obvious end to my year. The river coarse season retains a beginning and a separate ending, as does the salmon, the trout, the wildfowl, the pheasant and the deer to name but a few. Most run in harmony with the natural cycle of events in the valley. Migrants come and go, be they summer or winter visitors, there is however no clear point of change. If my year were to have a beginning and an end it would probably be the winter solstice. Not because I am some sort of practising Pagan but because it simply is the shortest day, with all the photo-period implications for the Natural World. The regeneration of the Avon salmon gets under way, foxes begin their barking and screaming, to accompany my night rounds and our swans along with other of the valley early birds begin to establish their territories.
Perhaps, on consideration, with Stonehenge in the catchment with its millennia of influence and filtered essence percolating down through our chalk the Avon is tainted? I have been immersed in the waters of this river for over fifty years it has probably seeped deep into my bones. Does this mean I should stick to my personal preference of the solstice? In light of my dilemma adopting that which the vast majority, along with Pope Gregory, feel to be the first choice would seem most logical.
A frosty start to January saw the lakes cowering in the face of the freezing north wind and the exposed sections of the valley proved a trial for all but the bravest souls. An improvement in conditions made the river more attractive with the fish coming back on the feed between the frosty night time temperatures. To prove a point Darrel Hughes landed what for me was the fish of the month with a stunning roach of 2.09. The chub and the pike continued to provide some wonderful fishing and great specimens. By the end of the month the north wind had given way to rain bearing south westerlies. The river levels rose and the water coloured making the February start of the salmon season a challenge with such heavy flows. Hopefully the early salmon made the most of the perfect running conditions to reach the higher river. It wasn't until the 9th that the first Avon Springer graced our banks when Paul Greenacre landed a magnificent twenty plus fish.
Right up to the end of the coarse season on the rivers the Avon continued to produce chub fishing that is hard to believe has ever been bettered. Its almost impossible to chose the best example but I think Ollie Johnson's float caught bag that included two seven plus, three sixes and a big five has to be the pick of the bunch. As the water temperatures continued to rise our barbel also joined the fray with doubles showing throughout the fishery rounding off a perfect river coarse season.
A warm ending to March provided a spring boost for the valley wildlife and the butterflies in particular enjoyed a far better start than the spring of 2016. The arrival of Spring is good for the soul and it was a particularly pleasant time to be in the valley and around the lakes. The appearance of the sun and a light southerly or westerly wind soon put the memory of the long grey winter behind us. With the close of the coarse river the salmon and stillwater syndicates came into prominence. The early flows of february collapsed by the middle of May. By the end of May the water temperature had also reached the critical 19 degrees centigrade cut off point for salmon fishing. The flow never recovered, continuing to bump along at low summer flows for the remainder of the season. Whilst the water temperature did drop below the conservation limit in reality the salmon season ended for us in the middle river by the beginning of June. One other fish I should mention was a great looking twenty pound cock fish landed by Ray Finch from Cabbage Garden. When the phone rang and Ray told me he was into a fish I was on the far side of the world out in the jungle somewhere north of Chiang Mai, in Thailand. A little distant for me to rush to Ray's aid so a quick phone call to Kevin on the estate produced the necessary assistance and honours with the camera. The wonders of modern communications. In total we did see seven fish over the magical 20 pounds mark banked in the early season, which wasn't too bad on consideration. Unfortunately it wasn't to be maintained and numbers and size dropped off dramatically making the salmon season a difficult one best put behind us.
The capture of some stunning carp from Mockbeggar with multiple catches of 30+ fish gracing the bank on several occasions went some way to lift the spirits. The Somerley Lakes complex continued as it has for decades providing some wonderful fishing. Our efforts in removing the bream are starting to show positive results with the tench getting the chance to reach the bait and as for the carp even the resident old girls are putting on weight in leaps and bounds. The tench in Meadow are getting very long in the tooth but with new blood safely installed in the complex the future looks well. We still have some way to go in removing excess carp and bream, hopefully this summer will see the carp numbers in King-Vincent sorted out at least. If all goes to plan the biomass in Kings-Vincent will be sufficiently back under control to see the crucians introduced in the not too distant future.
With the arrival of 16th of June the coarse river season just couldn't have had a better start. Paul Allen's incredible 8.02 chub gave a flavour of the chub that inhabit this amazing river. Once spawning was out of the way they put their condition back on quicker this year than I have ever seen. As autumn arrived the number of six and seven pound fish throughout the length of the fishery has been staggering. It often requires a second take to ensure I had heard the correct details of some of these catches. There seem to be shoals of younger year classes in the carriers, which would seem to bode well for the future. I would suggest that if you have access to the Avon you should make the most of these astonishing fish as I find it hard to believe we will enjoy them indefinitely.
Paul Allen's staggering chub.
The summer turned into a vintage one with warm weather providing perfect growing conditions for the valley flora and fauna. Mockbeggar continues to delight with the winter grazing regime producing a blizzard of wild flowers for the pollinators to feast upon. Butterflies drifted and danced in every meadow with three new species being recorded on the Mockbeggar transect. The valley not to be outdone produced massive hatches of both Small Tortoiseshell, feeding on the creeping meadow thistles and Green-veined Whites on the mint of the floated meadows. Its a further therapy for the soul to walk through a meadow surrounded by literally hundreds of butterflies.
The resident bird populations seemed to enjoy an equally successful breeding season with several species appearing in good numbers as they fledged. Not perhaps the stuff to excite the twitching fraternity but our Blackbirds, Bullfinches and Goldfinches appeared in numbers I haven't witnessed for years. Brenda Cook, of recent warbler ring recovery success, produced further evidence of the successful summer with her Mockbeggar warbler study. If only such information could be attained for all our species, not just the birds but the insects, fish and valley mammals as well. The sooner we understand and are educated in the needs of our valley wildlife the sooner we will be able to ensure their sustainable future.
As with the chub the barbel soon recovered their condition after spawning and we witnessed some superb fish even in the height of the summer. The low summer flows and clear water visibility meant fishing became harder as the summer turned into autumn and we failed to get the expected rains. Eventually we did see one or two decent spates and the barbel responded as we hoped with some magnificent specimens. If we include the fish north of Ibsley we could be looking at five fish in excess of sixteen pounds on the estate. One of the Ibsley fish certainly in excess of seventeen and one south of Ellingham possibly equally impressive. Simply wonderful, long may it last, just ensure you make the most of it. If we add a healthy pike population that has seen some superb specimens landed things are definitely looking okay on the fishery front.
Keeping the infrastructure of the place up together is always a balance between Estate events and the weather. We continue to clear fallen and dangerous trees, pollard willows, reinforce roads, renew hatches and replace bridges and styles that fall into disrepair. Conservation projects such as the Ellingham oxbow, Harbridge wader splashes and the Mockbeggar meadows add a further element. It all takes time and along with trimming the paths and pools keeps me extremely busy. Hard work and time consuming it might be but I for one can think of nowhere I would rather be.
I look forward to seeing you all on the banks in 2018, whatever your chosen pursuit lets hope for a good one.
Only the other day I was wishing for more swans to help with the weed clearing and today over a hundred were present in just a couple of fields. There were sixteen cygnets in one small area, which would seem to point to the swans having had a good summer. Add two Great white Egrets, hundreds of geese, plus numerous wildfowl and the wet meadows were looking more as they should at this time of year. The river is still high but if you have wellies it is now possible to cross the oxbow again at Ellingham, making it possible to walk around the Ellingham Island copse. The old scaffolding bridge has been dismantled and is laying close by on the mud. Once the soft ground, after all the recent rain, has hardened up we will get a tractor down to remove it.
Mid-day today and I was clearing hatches when this chap insisted on passing.
Our troublesome oaks looked a great deal easier the morning after than they did at midnight in the rain and gales. A couple of hours with the chainsaw and the 4CX soon had them cleared and awaiting preparation of the trunks for the timber mill. Our planned efforts with the timber thinning is progressing well as about half of the forwarded material safely roadside awaiting hauling away. Finally, as I walked back from the hatches this evening on my last weed clearing round of the day, the Starlings put on a great dislay as a Sparrow hawk kept them on the move. Numbers have dropped to roughly half that at the time of the peak counts before Christmas but they still looked very dramatic. As grandaughter Katie said a week ago when she visited, the sound of their wings as they wheeled overhead sounded just like waves on the beach.
As regular readers will be aware in recent weeks I have been doing my rain dance at every opportunity in a bid to encourage Mother Nature to replenish our aquifer up on the plain and provide us with a good flush through to clean out the summers detritus. Well, things are most definitely looking up. First Dylan and now Eleanor have been doing their very best to meet my requests. As I said yesterday the river is well up and flushing through beautifully, lovely height, water temperature and colour. It really is looking spot on.
Whilst we are delighted with the conditions there are also less desirable consequences that we have to put up with for the overall good of the river and its inhabitants. It is certainly the end of sight fishing after the prolonged low clear water of the summer and autumn we are now under real Avon conditions. If the flow remains high the fish will also have moved from their summer haunts dropping into the deeper slacks and glides. I have to admit to never being a fan of sight fishing, I always feel I'm cheating or gaining unfair advantage over my intended quarry. My idea of the Avon is when its running bank high and what I refer to as winter green. If the rain eases off in the next day or two and the flood water clears the river will then take on the wonderful grey-green slate colour of winter. In the early sixties when I first fished the river, on what was then the White Horse water at Charford, if we could we would trot bread for the roach by the old boathouse. Or ledgering lumps of cheese for the chub just above the weir. That was in the days when a good chub was four pounds and most were in the three to three and a half stamp. Enough reminiscing, back to our current river and the problems associated with our floods.
All summer long the weed in the carriers and the side growth in the main channel has been growing thicker and denser with no pace of colour to curb it. Now the rising water, following one or two decent frosts, has loosened this growth and sent it swirling on its way downstream. Rafts and islands of Fools Cress and Sweet Grass are heading line astern for every hatch on the place. Add a few wind blown willow branches and an uprooted tree or two and we have a recipe for the perfect storm. No sooner is one hatch cleared than another blocks. As the rubbish is dragged out and cut up, the flow increases and sucks another half ton of trash straight back in. My day is spent patrolling the gates and hatches sending one lot after another on their way downstream. Why bother? You may well ask. To enable the flow to do its work and clear out the mud and weed from the river bed. If left water upstream of blocked gates quickly rises and spills over the banks dissipating its flow in the process. Once we have scoured the gravels its fine to allow it to carry its silt burden out onto the flood plain but first it must collect the mud and rubbish to do its work. Once again a potential downside is that it risks taking the salmon redds that were so recently laid down with it. As we stand at present the flow hasn't reached that critical point and the eggs remain safely within the gravel mounds. Fingers crossed it remains in that happy state of balance.
Yet another downside to storms Dylan and Eleanor as the ancient oaks give up their grip on life. Fortunately the roads were empty at the time, although Andrew probably needed removing from his lounge ceiling having that mighty oak crash down just yards from his front door.
Rafts of weed heading downstream to block every hatch and culvert. Its a time when we could actually do with more swans to break up the masses of weed and enble it to pass through the hatches. Unfortunately the twenty or so resisent pairs will not tolerate the flocks of non-breeders anywhere near the river or carriers in the heart of the estate.
As its the first of the new year I feel that an entry should be added if only as an update on river conditions for any members heading this way. As can be seen the oxbow has an extra couple of feet in it but in the background the river is well within its banks. It is carrying plenty of colour and today the water temperature was in the region of eight degrees celsius, which means everything should be on the feed if you can just find them. It also gives me the opportunity to test the new HTML page!