18th Feb 2019
We still have the marsh up on the north of the estate flooded for the benefit of the wildfowl and waders. It will probably remain that way for a further five or six weeks before we lower the water level to allow the Lapwing, Redshanks and hopefully the Snipe that returned last year to select their territories and get on with nesting. Today there were the regular Mute Swans, Canada and Greylag Geese plus over 300 Lapwing, 150 Wigeon, 100 Teal, a couple of Green Sandpiper and pleasingly 20 Pintail and four Black-tailed Godwit. Out on the river there were Goosander, Coot and plenty of Tufted Duck, more geese and even more swans. All adding up to a well used, ideal habitat that we take great pleasure and pride in maintaining and improving.
17th Feb 2019
Not perhaps the fish I was looking for but a nice double that was ample reward for a couple of hours on such a wonderful February morning.
15th Feb 2019
I could get used to February days such as we have enjoyed over the last week. As someone who is beginning to feel the cold more and more each year I always feel growing apprehension as February arrives. Time yet for a freeze that could last until the end of March but I have my fingers firmly crossed we make it through without a return of the ice. My day started removing a tree from one of the surrounding lanes that required removing quickly, to avoid too long a road closure upsetting the morning comuters. All went well and we soon were on our way to less stressful tasks, myself heading for the right bank of Park pool to finish its spring clean in the welcome warm sunshine. Park clipped up and three quarters of a tank of fuel left in the chainsaw time to visit the lakes and coppice a stand of alder that is over grown and cutting light from the surrounding meadows. Three refilled fuel tanks later and a coppiced area that permitted the sunlit to once more progress across the adjoining grassland. The coppiced area looked a complete tangle of felled alder and willow, deliberately dropped in a random fashion to create a barrier to the forty odd fallow deer that strip every vestage of cover from under the trees.
I was not the only one enjoying the sunshine, the young cockerels were gleaming as the sunshine showed off their first capes. Whilst the heritage turkey Tom was strutting his stuff as he gathered his harem about him. He is usually out and about in the orchard but is in disgrace for going walk about with his wives and being punished by a couple of days in the pen.
14th Feb 2019
I'm sure most of you will be aware of the latest findings with regard to the state of the planet's insects. If we needed any more depressing news about what we are doing to this planet this certainly fits the bill. Just what it will take before we wake to the damage our misuse of the land is causing. Just when will we make the polluter pay and put a tax on the chemical soup we spray on our land everyday? Food may cost more but suck it up, its got to happen. On a brighter note today's sunshine brought out several early Buff-tailed bumblebee queens seeking nest sites, the honeybees were working the gorse and Peacock butterflies woke from the winter slumbers. Its our responsibility to ensure future generations can enjoy such a February day.
09th Feb 2019
The river, whilst high, is dropping back and remains below the spinning trigger level.
08th Feb 2019
If you fancy a shot at the river in its current high flow, coloured condition keep an eye on the East Mills Flume where the setting for the spinning cut off level for this season is at 1.18m. As I write the missive below it has not reached that point but it is still raining outside so you may get to use your Devon's once more.
Whilst on the subject of regulation we currently have the EA reviewing the future of the River Coarse Closed season, in all its outdated glorious isolation. I of course refer to the closed season legislation, not the EA!
I come to this as someone who manages both river and stillwater fisheries that are fished 365 days of the year. We also have the benefit of being large enough to impose our own management requirements in many instances. Fisheries that encompass salmon, trout, seatrout and the full coarse species list of the Hampshire Avon. Both riverine and stillwaters that retain a closed season yet provide all year round fishing. Added to this the demands of ESA, SPA, SSSI and Ramsar conservation designation and our very own conservation management requirements. Such requirements taking the form of up to 50% of voluntarily closed banks with no fishing or access, to avoid disturbance, Fishing from defined swims only, to prevent trampling and disturbance of vital habitat. All intrusive fishery maintenance work planned to consider the associated wildlife requirements related to cover and food. Large areas left undisturbed whilst other work is finished before growth and nesting commences. Deliberate management of many hundreds of acres of land surrounding fisheries to maximise feeding and breeding habitat of birds, mammals and invertebrates, as well as our fish.
It is the online response facility that provides the first clues as to the ill conceived methodology involved in this review. The restrictive response windows appear skewed toward preferred objectives, preventing consideration of localised issues. In fact it is the usual one size fits all EA approach to the management of our fisheries that will ensure we end up with an unsatisfactory outcome. Is the process to be considered on each individual topic or question, one fore, one against? She loves me, she loves me not, she loves me, the closed season wins by one vote and will remain in place! Will the submission of Joe Bloggs, be given equal weight and consideration as that of Natural England? Just who determines the weight to be attributed to each submission. The demands of a mixed discipline river such as the Hants Avon or the Wye as compared to that of a coarse fishery such as the Lower Thames or Trent are worlds apart. Rivers under private ownership as opposed to public or commercial bodies have completely different requirements. Rivers in rural locations as opposed to urban or industrial environs require different consideration and management. The latitudes at which your river flows will have chronological implications for many natural functions triggered by temperature such as spawning, migration, feeding, all of which having triggers unique to your river. The water source and quality impacting differently, warm alkaline groundwater and acidic moorland run off making different demands. Barriers to spawning migrations creating unnatural barriers giving rise to enormously increased angling exploitation as opposed to a natural unmodified rivers allowing free passage of both salmonids and perhaps more importantly cyprinids that don't receive the protection of designated species conservation status.
Failure to enforce stillwater close season has seen the degradation of stillwater fisheries across the country, combined with their otter fences they are considered by many as barren wildlife deserts, environmental write-offs. to the extent angling is seen in many quarters as being totally at odds to conservation management. To further increase the perception of angling as a self absorbed, insular pastime needs to be seriously questioned. Anglers are all too frequently viewed as out dated pariahs in much of the conservation world. Disturbance and habitat destruction at critical times in the ecological calendar need to be rectified not added to, as the removal of the coarse river closed season will most certainly achieve.
Under the S&FWF Act 75 angling for gravid/unclean fish is illegal, yet this has been permitted by the EA through a dereliction of their statutory obligations on stillwaters across the entire country. When spawning shoals are located it is now down to individual fisheries and owners to close access to bays and lagoons where the fish wish to spawn. This puts such owners and fisheries at a distinct financial disadvantage, where other less scrupulous, ignorant or less caring organisations and individuals allow the continued exploitation of their stock. One very successful commercial fishery wrote off 50% of his pike to bad handling every year, replacing them with fresh stock annually. Financially brilliant, environmentally and in the view of some ethically disastrous.
The same can be witnessed on the rivers almost every season as spawning shoals gather outside the protection of the closed season, be it roach in early March or barbel and chub in late June. It then reflects the moral compass of the individual angler. Some will walk past the gathered shoals whilst others will ruthlessly exploit them freely writing and posting photos of their 'Red Letter Day'. The sight of female chub, barbel, roach, carp and tench bloated with spawn with extended ovipositor, heading national record lists and personal best shots, cock fish oozing milt, rudely dragged from the act of procreation, does little to portray caring angling. Should the protection of our wildlife and fish be left to a choice between ignorance and ethics as our regulators wash their hands of the situation?
On pristine or in undeveloped areas, disturbance and destruction of bankside vegetation, housing nests, food and cover, have seen bird populations on many stillwater fisheries crash. The scant consideration of the riverine habitat, as examined under this review, is ill conceived to the point of ignorance. Reference to seeking the views of wildlife trusts, Natural England etc will not meet the demands of modern fishery requirements. Whilst in most cases well meaning I have yet to meet very many members or staff within the conservation organisations that are equipped to look at the situation impartially. A great many in the conservation world first and foremost view fish as a diet item for fish eating birds. If we do have a duty of care towards our fish it is hardly enforced by weakening the scant protection they have at the moment. If anglers are to be allowed to access critically important habitats at crucial periods of the nesting calendar, I personally believe the vast majority of rivers are critically important habitats, obligations with regard to bankside maintenance need to be incorporated into any byelaw arising from this exercise. For instance; no clearing or cutting of mature bankside, or associated vegetation, to be undertaken after the end of February. Not as at present in all too many instances, with an unplanned, mass assault, on banks and swims a week before the season reopens.
I note the direction toward a mid April start to the closed season on rivers that would see the gathered spawning shoals of species such as roach deliberately targeted by anglers, as they are with the stillwater situation, risking loss of critical spawning windows and additional stress related damaged through retention of spawn. Our unpredictable weather may only provide one opportunity in any particular year to spawn successfully, permitting sufficient time for ova and fry to develop before the winter floods and cold weather. Once the trigger to absorb fluid into the ova is reached, stress and injury will inevitably result from disturbance and handling. Additional handling with the risk of infection due to the increased levels of pathogens currently found in our waterways would risk significant population damage at time of such close spawning shoals when the risk of transmission is increased. Such infections as saprolegnia can be witnessed by the frequency of diseased salmon, trout and coarse fish in areas of high angling pressure downstream of STWs and fish farms. The downstream incidences may be coincidental in the case of STWs and trout farms however under the Defra interpretation of the WFD the EA are obliged to adopt the precautionary principle until the cause of such high mortality and population collapse can be identified and eliminated.
Sea trout smolt shoal and leave the river earlier than those of salmon, in March and early April, as such adding any additional stress or injury through deep hooking or scale loss should be minimised. The potential risk of deep hooking and scale damage adding to existing pressure on the salmon smolt of our critically endangered salmon populations found in many of our rivers is incompatible with ethical or even best fishery management practices. The precautionary principle must apply.
At a time when our riverine environments have never faced such problems; micro plastics, barriers to passage, phosphorous, heavy metals, abstraction, an endless list, to even consider this exercise shows a complete lack of understanding of our rivers and angling. Any consideration of directing funds into this exercise is irresponsible, bordering on shameful.
Consultation risks being an easy management option to spread blame and responsibility. If it is to justify future funding to put sound science behind much of the conjecture it is a waste of valuable public funding That is always assuming funding will be made available from the public purse. As things are looking cash might be something of a scarce commodity in the coming years. Instead of creating 'jobs for the boys' to provide answers to hide behind why not get on and invest in issues that are known to be detrimental to the well being of our rivers. See above for a few pointers. If it is a cynical exercise in financial expediency on the part of the EA, as the cost of regulating the closed season would be reduced should it no longer exist. As many believe the removal of the stillwater closed season was just such an exercise. Hopefully it will be the final nail in the coffin for the EA fisheries departments ties to the over bearing bureaucracy that is the agency. Staff and regulation of our fisheries then might pass to the catchment partnerships and local representation.
07th Feb 2019
Its been an extremely busy couple of days that has seen the river take on the rise in water level and tinge of colour we had hoped for. If there are salmon in the system, with the river conditions as they are at the moment they have the perfect conditions to run upstream to us. Even in the hey day of the Avon Salmon fishing we never expected to see many fish in February but what did arrive tended to be good fish. I don't wish to raise false hopes but if a February fish is on your wish list now is as good an opportunity as you are likely to get. The rise in water level and the tinge of colour, combined with the rise in water temperature as it creeps back toward 8 degrees 'C' over the last 48 hours, will also see the barbel come back on the feed. There are several fish that could well be over 17 pounds so the fish of a lifetime is very much on the cards, make the most of the current conditions.
The finished pollard, significantly safer and hopefully fit for many more decades.
2nd Feb 2019
Just so members are aware we will be pollarding the huge, dangerous willow beside Hoodies Pool on Monday or Tuesday next week. If you see the team over there working please give them a wide berth and please do not attempt to fish Hoodies.
There were three or four rods out but our paths failed to cross on my travels about the estate today. Tizard's in the snow and the Lodge without a rod in sight, very picturesque but leaving me a little short on news. On the right the marsh up at Hucklesbrook remains frozen over with very few waders or wildfowl able to make use of it. Apart from the usual geese, couple of Green Sandpiper, fifty Lapwing and a dozen or so Snipe were all that was to be seen. The Swans, including the Bewicks that remains with us, had left for better grazing across the other side of the valley in the meadow behind the church at Harbridge. I believe there were a pair of whooper Swans lower in the valley but I also failed to cross their path in my travels.
1st Feb 2019
The difference a day makes as we wake on the opening day of the salmon season to a covering of snow more like a Scottish start, which at least made Largue feel at home. Its worth noting that the flow is still over the spillway, which would indicate plenty of flow to allow fish to make their way upstream to us. The vis is perfect so fingers crossed we find an early fish. I found half a dozen rods who had arrived to welcome the start of the season enjoying the fire in the Lodge at lunchtime, where the undoubted highlight of the day for me was the appearance of Ronnie with a supply of Val's most excellent sausage rolls that went down a treat. Very much appreciated Val, certainly hit the spot. There was a fish briefly hooked and lost, after three minutes of deep down head shaking, so we will never know if it was our opening day Springer, at least it gives us encouragement in the thought it just might have been!
31st January 2019
The last "One to watch" before the off, in the shape of Provosts Hole down down to the top of Cabbage Garden, on the right bank. The erosion of the previous year or two has smoothed the flow through this section of river. It is deep and narrow giving ample pace yet much of the flow has settled into smooth glides looking ideal for early fish to rest before their next push upstream. It is an early pool as the flow encourages weed growth to make fishing difficult after mid May and oddly the current low water may suit this pool as fish slow on their upstream passage. Whether I'm right, or raising false hopes, as of tomorrow we will begin to discover as we will be once more casting a fly on our hallowed waters. We could undoubtedly do with a flush of fresh water to raise the level six inches and a little colour wouldn't go amiss. Having said that there has been sufficient flow in recent weeks for the odd fish to creep into the system, so you just never know unless you have a fly in the water. Looking forward to seeing everyone on their return and especially looking forward to hearing of our first fish.
25th January 2019
At this time of year, weather permitting, I am usually to be found out and about preparing for the start of the salmon season. As I visit the pools I do my best to envisage where the fish are likely to be laying and making sure, as best I can, they are accessible. With over sixty salmon pools on the estate obviously many do not produce a fish from one year to the next. With that number of pools deciding which will provide the sport in the coming season becomes a bit of a guessing game. Trying to double guess the flow and size of the run makes such decisions even more difficult before the season even gets underway. I always like to pick a pool that has been under producing in recent years that I think is looking particularly well and that is likely to enjoy an upturn in its fortunes. I base my choice of pools likely to succeed on several factors, the flow I like to see is a strong but steady linear flow gently rising towards the tail of a pool. It doesn't have to be overly deep, perhaps between three and six feet, over clean gravel with some nearby cover in the form of either deep water or bankside vegetation. My choice of pool deserving of more attention this year would be Pile Pool, off the right bank. In reality its not strictly Pile Pool, its the section between the seat on the left bank and the tail of Pile sixty or seventy meters below the gate but fished from the true right bank. It looks just spot on and I can feel it in my water, there just has to be good fish using such a pool. The river could currently do with a flush of rain to give us a six inch lift and enciourage any early fish to venture upstream, even without that extra water it remains my favourite to throw up a surprise.
24th January 2019
Cabbage Garden and Lake Run looking the part and ready for the off.
Quite a dramatic start in the frost and warning sky, having said that its not too bad an office!
20th January 2019
That one certainly came out of left field, I think the forecast was cloud all day. It was also a WeBS day, which required an early start to be on site before first light. The valley remains quiet on the bird front with the mild weather failing to bring us the birds out of the east, its just as well we have an interesting local population. The walk in to the start of my area was accompanied by the waking flight of over 750 Jackdaws making a terrific din to welcome the day. The Magpie roost ejected 33 chattering birds, cross at my arrival getting them up five minutes early. The herons were heading for the trout stews as were over 150 Cormorants. The shattering explosion of the crow scarer came as the fuse slowly burnt away scattering the birds for a few minutes before they quickly resettled before a repeat performance on the next report. More reluctant to rise, it was a further five minutes before 31 Little Egret and one Great Egret headed out from the roost immediately dispersing up and down the valley. My move a mile south was timed to see the Mute swans, plus our one Bewicks, leaving the river where they roost and heading out into the meadows to feed. If its one thing we are not short of its Mute Swans, today's count was the first of the winter to reach over 200 with a total of 217. Lots of various geese plus odds and ends of ducks and waders but nothing that will set the twitcher world alight. The redd is in the usual place just short of the trout farm screens, blocking any further upstream migration, the cock fish was still in residence guarding his patch. The final shot just captures the finer points of being a cow on such a sunny winter day with a belly full of hay.
19th January 2019
A nice shot of Richie who was a guest on the estate today and had just a Jack to show for his efforts and a good soaking when I bumped into them this morning. Its been an okay week, considering the change in water temperature, which has produced a barbel a couple of ounces short of 14 for Darrel and a chub an ounce short of the magical seven for Tony. Well fished all, proving what ever the weather you just never know what is going to turn up.
17th January 2019
I spent a couple of hours today looking for a particular pike I would like to see on the bank this year, simply to see what size she is these days. I was looking in some of the less frequently visited slacks where I managed to find three nice doubles to about fifteen pounds yet, alas, the lady I was seeking managed to avoid me. Never mind always next time!
14th January 2019
The Bewicks Swan that has been about with the Mutes for several weeks.
9th January 2019
Talking of eagles, as I was recently, this isn't one! This is one of our many Buzzards that has found a decidedly dead goose, every cloud etc. The eagle is still close by so if you see it when out and about please text or call as I would love to get a closer look at our dramatic visitor. Talking of wildlife, as I was yesterday with our dead salmon, that most learned of members Tony Crisp has come to the aid of my speculative bear. Being also a compassionate man Tony was quick to point out that killing our salmon "must have been a point of 'last resort'. What else was a bear supposed to do, when someone has eaten all the porridge?"
A clear, frosty morning a perfect morning for cleaning up the salmon pools. 'Below the Break Through' one of sixty pools now cleaned and ready for the off in less than a month. All 'Gold' 'Salmon and Coarse River' and 'Salmon' syndicate members should have received their renewal notices. If you haven't please give the office a ring and they will sort it out.
Above the Break Through cleaned and ready, the tail of the pool is where the strimming finishes, please do not fish into the reedbeds. The reedbeds will be the nesting sites for many of our native bird population so please keep clear. Whilst fishing down such a pool, step, cast, step, cast, lost in a world of flies and huge 'Springers' make sure there is a piece of bank under your feet. Look down, step, cast, look down, step, cast, much of the bank will be soft and crumbling after the erosion of the recent high water. A dip this early in the season is not too be recommended.
7th January 2019
The heron have returned to their nests to proclaim the start of the nesting season with their raucous calls echoing about the valley. The otter kill is a little odd in that the hen should have spawned by now and usually the first thing the otter devours is the spawn. The usually bitten out throat has been replaced by a large section of bone and flesh ripped out of the back. Looks a little like a bear kill to me so keep your wits about you if your down the bottom end of the estate near the forestry!
3rd January 2019
The single dark bellied Brent Goose is still out with the Canada's and there was also a single White-front flying about with the Greylag plus a single Bewick up at Ibsley. I imagine the Harbridge Ibsley area will sound like a grandfather clock for the next few days with the sound of twitchers getting their year tick!
2nd January 2019
Hopefully, if my html is up to it, a click on the link below should open Brenda Cook's 2018 Report on her ongoing ringing study on Mockbeggar. It's a really interesting paper and already showing some intriguing findings about our warbler populations. In this day and age with so much negative news on the environmental front its pleasing to see such positive trends resulting from Brenda's hard work.
1st January 2019
To get the New Year under way I plucked up the courage and spent three hours trotting bread through the roach swims at Ibsley. In actual fact I trotted Botney pool as one or two members were up for the challenge and were having a go around the bridge. I have yet to hear if they met with any success but I have to say I didn't cover myself in glory by landing a huge roach, or any roach come to that. I did however see one or two encouraging fish move and as on the last visit a single chub saved the blank. Despite the lack of fish I enjoyed the time trotting immensely, a downstream wind and bright sunlight reflecting off the water made life tricky but failed to dampen the spirits. I fished the entire session without a tangle, quite an achievement for me and fished over a dozen glides to learn the lay of the land, or river in this case. Discovering where the weed remains and the flow plays tricks, the whereabouts of the shallows and holes, all vital if I'm to get to grips with this difficult section once more.
Wishing all Avon Diary readers a healthy and prosperous 2019.
31st December 2018
A great shot of a great fish to round off the year. Thanks to Bob Edwards for this photo of his simply stunning 15.14. Not a fish I recognise and certainly not one of the five recent 15's I have photos of. I have given up speculating on how many 15+ barbel and 7+ chub we have about the place, I just think its about time I had one or two on my rods.
30th December 2018