Avon Diary 2007 Jan-Sept

Stonehenge

What tales of the catchment might this place tell

(All photographs on this site will enlarge if left clicked)



23rd September

First flight Wildfowling

All is not as simple at it first appears

Misty mornings with the goose population heading out for the stubble fields to finish the last of the autumn bounty. Whilst it makes an atmospheric photo the subject of the valley goose population is an extremely problematic one. Only two or three decades ago, in the part of the Lower Avon Valley with which I am familiar, geese were far from frequent visitors. The late 70's and early 80's saw their numbers increase dramatically and they have continued to expand their population to the present day when we have over 600 in this section of the valley. Over grazing not only creating changes in the available food source for traditional grazers, cattle and sheep but the historic winter visiting Whitefronts and Bewicks, also the problem of foul grassland when the breeding flocks concentrate in one area they end up smelling like a chicken shed. They do at least provide some good wildfowling even if the resultant meat is best mixed with plenty of belly pork and seasoning and turned into sausages. Unfortunately at the rate we are shooting them they are more than keeping pace. We will have to resort to removing, oiling and pricking eggs if we are ever going to achieve a reduction in the population.

We have the Wessex Water Company contractors surveying river profiles to provide information for runs of the Ground Water Model to interpret and assess the impact of local abstraction points on the river height and the flow regime. This is all part of the Ground Water Model that has been produced by the Water Companies in partnership with the environmental regulators the Environment Agency and Natural England to evaluate abstraction throughout the catchment. There is currently a rising unease at the closeness of the association between the regulators and those to be regulated with regard to the critical parameters that will decide what is deemed acceptable with regard to abstraction. Whilst it is extremely difficult to find the funding from an independent source and the water companies have to meet the demands of legislation that require thorough investigations the regulators must not only ensure their independence but be seen to remain independent of commercial pressures. The parameters that are set to safeguard our riverine environment must be clearly backed by sound scientific research and peer reviewed, guesswork and historic practice will definately not suffice.

River survey Fly fishing for bass

Unravelling the complexities of abstraction and always an option if they get it wrong

20th September

Thanks to Pete Reading who has sent me this lovely photo of this 14 pound plus fish from the Middle Avon. Fourteen pounds or four this is a fin perfect specimen, I would imagine this fish would be every barbel anglers dream it certainly inspires me to try and catch one or two this season. You can find out more of Pete's exploits on his diary on the Barbel Society webpage.

Peter Reading 14 pound barbel

18th September

A cold north west wind and a clear night made for a very cold, bright start to the day. Despite the cold it didn't stop a hardy trout rod from visiting one of the stillwaters in the hope of a rainbow. I didn't have the time to stop to see if he met with any success but a look in the shed at the returns book confirmed the trout are still providing some excellent sport.

Do you recognise the subject in the second photo and if you recognise it can you see what's missing? I wont keep you in suspense, it's a cowpat and a subject that has provided me with much thought in recent weeks. What's missing are the huge swarms of dung flies that used to keep a constant buzz in the cow fields, orange winged blue bottles and dung beetles that I always associated with the cowpats "when I were a lad". We all bemoan the missing upwing ephemerals and the threatened salmon and roach stocks but who will campaign for the missing cowpat population? Its so elementary, there has to be a simple answer which may be the key to understanding the more complex interactions that are giving rise to the problems in our rivers. The previous generation of cattle wormers gave rise to similar concerns related to the residue of the chemical passing through the animal and entering the delicate food chains that were reliant on the by-products of the dairy industry. Is there a similar problem with the current generation or is there a more complex explanation? Whatever the cause of the lack of flies and their associated grubs and maggots, they are absent, as such are not available for the juvenile waders in the watermeadows and perhaps contributing to their crash in numbers.

Trout fishing A cowpat

A cold morning and there are no flies on that one - and there should be!

16th September

Time continues to be at a premium and with the dry weather continuing we are making the best of the good ground conditions to get some of the heavy work completed before the rains arrive. The set of photographs below typify the work that keeps me away from the river.

Sart the winch Chaining down Safely on-board Time for a breather

The winching and chaining of our fallen oak was always going to be an interesting exercise and I was glad to see that particular stick safely on its way.

14th September

A mixed bag of goings-on, the first photo shows a colony of Sand Martins that decided to excavate their nest holes in the soft sand of the gravel company stock heaps. Tarmac and their contractors Hydrex deserve congratulations for permitting the birds to occupy the site and allowing them the time to rear their broods. For the three months involved the stock heaps stood idle and the huge earth moving equipment has avoided the area to reduce the risk of sand slips that as can be seen in the photograph have swept down either side of the colony. How the birds knew that particular section was going to remain sound is a mystery we will never understand, luck or natural engineers?

The second illustrates how clear the river is at present and just how many chub of varying sizes are to be found in every run and stream. The chub population of the Avon is enormous with good year class recruitment visible everwhere.

The last two show the Environment Agency contractors starting work on the water level control structures that will ensure the fields will retain sufficient water height to attract the waders back into the valley to breed.

Sandmartin colony Juvenile chub Starting on the hatches Working on the hatches

10th September

Buff Tip caterpillars stripping every leaf from one of the young lime trees planted in the park. Why do they chose the vunerable young trees when the park has a couple of dozen mature specimens that wouldn't notice the loss of a few leaves? A shrew that had a lucky escape when we disturbed a tree that had fallen in the river, luckily Darren spotted him and placed him safely on a nearby stump.

The last photo is the result of my first barbel expedition of the season. With the autumnal feel of September I usually get the urge to fish the rivers as the barbel and chub are now back in prime condition and the ease of catching double figure carp in the stillwater is losing its appeal. What did I catch? A carp - they must follow me around.

Buff tip caterpillars Shrew Unexpected carp

2nd September

Iím playing catch-up once again, the end of the salmon season, the beginning of the wildfowl season and the river taking on its autumn garb, all in need of recording. Added to these we have the unscheduled events that make the Avon valley unique which are the true indicators of Natureís calendar.

The salmon season ended on a slightly subdued note in that the Avon grilse run failed to show in any numbers. I have heard that the Itchen rods are enjoying good numbers of fresh grilse entering the river. We will now have to wait until the counter results are published before we know if the Avon is enjoying a similar number of fish entering the system. Overall results for the season have shown a moderately good run of MSW fish able to enter the river and run upstream in the sustained summer flows. Rod caught fish numbers fail to accurately represent the run as rod effort has been so variable. Certainly effort more akin to that of the traditional rod list of past years would have produced considerably higher figures for Somerley. From my own experience this season I would imagine 50% higher results would have been easily witnessed. What does this mean for the recovery of the Avon salmon run? Very little I fear as we have enjoyed almost perfect conditions for the rods with good flows, overcast skies and reduced weed growth. My personal estimation would put the MSW run at that of last year with the grilse the unknown element yet to be determined. Of course we have seen a high average weight of fish and the ideal conditions have made being on the bank a real pleasure. Letís hope next season continues in a like vein and I look forward to seeing all the Somerley salmon rods in 2008.

Those of you that know the lakes and enjoy driving through the close cropped paddocks to reach the car parks will be sad to hear my lawn mowers once more are suffering the annual re-occurrence of that dreadful plague myxomatosis. Hopefully their resistance will continue to increase and we will see an end to this deliberately introduced disease. The suffering infected rabbits endure is not an unusual occurrence in Nature which is frequently referred to as being red in tooth and claw. The highly visual impact of "myxie" does however act as an annual reminder of mans exploitation of his environment. I had the equally distressing situation of a swan suffering the effect of "strike" to deal with yesterday when Ken from the swan rescue rang to tell me he had a report of an injured bird on the estate. With such a high swan population injuries through territorial disputes and power line collisions are frequent but it makes it no easier to understand Natures means of dealing with the situation. Strike is the result of blowflies laying their eggs on injured animals and the resulting maggots eating the creature alive. Death usually resulting when exhausted systems fail after several days of infestation. I have not included shots of the results of either distressing situation as they cannot convey the suffering involved, suffice to say we are becoming increasingly isolated and removed from the reality of Nature in our cosseted and sanitised society.

On a more pleasant note the swallows and martins are gathering in increasing numbers in readiness for their migration to the warmer climes of Africa. I always wish them well on their incredible journey and like salmon rods hope to see them all the following year.

Lawn mowers Swans Gathring martins

Rabbits mowing the paddocks in happier times. Swans facing natural perils and beyond Reg, playin a carp, can be seen the splashes of gathering martins as they dip onto the surface of the lake for a drink.

26th August

Newsletter No 35 is now online.

Autumn is gaining on us and the photos give a taste of things to come, my bonsai always forecast events. The wind remains firmly set from the north adding to the autumnal feel in the evenings and the early mornings. The high pressure and clear water are combining to make the rives very difficult at the moment with the anglers doing best in the last hour after a very cautious approach to the swims.

Bonsai maple

Autumn colour to come

The stillwaters are the best bet for a reasonable days fishing with the water colour remaining high and the fish making the most of the sunshine giving the chance for a surface bait.

Playing a carp Disrupted scaled common carp Playing a tench

Regulars on the valley stillwaters enjoying sport with tench and carp

New Forest view The New Forest

Foulford Bottom looking west from the forest, south east of Ringwood

25th August

Unfortunately time spent in the valley has been limited but I have heard from one or two of the anglers who have enjoyed some excellent results this week.

We are now entering the final week of the salmon season with water levels and temperature as well as we could possibly wish for. One rod who managed a visit one evening this week was Mike Bilson who grassed an eleven pounder and lost a second fish which he estimated at fourteen pounds. At least Mike neednít worry if he fails to fit in a final visit next week he has finished on a high note.

Fallen oak Stuck tractor Juvenile swallows

The fallen oak looking a great deal more user friendly, ready for the buyer; we even have two shiny new telegraph poles and everyone is back online. One of the problems with working in the valley are the wet spots!! Finally this year's young swallows take a rest from feeding amongst the ewes on the park.

Fish spotting is currently a pleasure as the clear water, with the light weed growth this season, providing an ideal balance between clean gravel and cover. I have seen some wonderful barbel lying undisturbed in their favoured runs. Many of these fish exist on a totally natural diet, not responding to anglers bait making for some very frustrating hours for the anglers who discover them. This is when the Avon is at her best, the knowledge that fish of a lifetime are within feet yet totally ignore the best efforts of mere anglers. At such time the wonderful settings in which these contests develop must be viewed as part of the reward. If you add to these huge barbel, chub that make you gasp when they drift through and huge river carp that have been seen in these same runs for years yet have never graced a net the Avon has lost none of her magic.

The carp lads have been having a good time on the stillwaters as the fish get their heads down for their autumn feeding spell. Fish over forty pounds have been landed with plenty of fish in the twenties providing rewards for the long hours on the bank. All in all the Avon valley is a pretty good place to be at the present time so if you get the opportunity donít miss the opportunity.

A good mirror carp

Valley regulars have been enjoying some great times with the carp

19th August

Events took on an added interest Thursday morning when one of the largest oaks on the estate decided to give up the ghost. Still and clear at nine oíclock in the morning this massive tree simply tipped over, tearing and snapping the huge supporting buttresses, blocking the road, snapping telegraph poles like matches. Strangely these wonderful oaks, at the end of their allotted span, have a recognised habit of dropping limbs and uprooting on calm days. Whatever the reason the end result is a couple of days extremely difficult and potentially dangerous work to clear the aftermath. I have reached a time in my life when policemen are becoming younger and I find it increasingly difficult to tell the difference between teachers and pupils yet these oaks remain thoroughly daunting. As one of the few people with the experience to deal with such trees it befalls my lot cut and clear them away. A task I liken to an adult form of "Pick-up-Sticks" - once more dating me long before game consoles and "Wii" - the difference with this adult form is that each stick weighs a ton and will flatten you if you get it wrong.

Fallen oak Clearing up

The demise of an English oak

Thursday was spent clearing the road, assessing the risks and arranging for a timber buyer to have a look at the stick; removing the root had shown it remained sound. The evening I had arranged to meet Jim to have an hour or two on the river so we decided to put up the spinning rods to allow us mobility and have a go with the surface lures for the chub. There is something almost hypnotic about these surface crawlers and poppers, the takes are sometimes so startling invoking involuntary snatches when concentration has lapsed. Other times will see a nose appear and suck this clanking, plastic and aluminium monstrosity silently into the depths. Thursday produced a couple of swirls behind Jimís Jitterbug but that was the limit of our hours fishing before we had to adjourn to meet the timber buyer. An hour with the buyer assessing the trunk and the problems of getting it safely clear allowed us a further hour on the river to look for a last salmon of the season. Unfortunately our salmon fishing was as successful as our chub session so we had to make do with a walk and a natter.

Surface fishing

Best described as fishing with a motorised mouse

Today when walking the dogs I had decided to take a rod and have a further look for a salmon. I was particularly keen to see if I could find any sign of the grilse as the rod effort hasnít given much clue to the state of the run. I put up my long established favourite and proven grilse attracter a number 3 long blade Mepp and thus armed headed for the tail of Woodside Pool. Fourth or fifth cast and I was firmly attached to a very lively fish which shot up into the pool and gave a bold performance that only a salmon could produce. Five minutes and I was able to steer a perfect little six pound grilse over the shallows to unhook and send back into the depths of the pool to sulk. Half an hour at Gypsy and Dog Kennel produced a pound plus brownie from both pools scaring any chance of further action with the grilse in the clear water but none the less a very pleasant hour. What this fish proved about the run is hard to say, other than there was one grilse in the middle Avon. It was a fish that had been in the river two or three weeks, colouring and darkening to enable concealment during the five or six months it had to wait prior to spawning. Whether there were fish in every pool or I found the only one present we are unlikely to know. It will have to be place along side those many other questions that remain to be answered; the meaning of life, the future of mankind and how "Coldplay" every came to reflect the musical taste of the nation? I had at least enjoyed the encounter and could look forward to breakfast before calling at the lakes to see how the "Introduction to Angling Day" that the local club organised was progressing.

The magic of angling The mystery

Apart from the fact all the youngsters that attended the "Introduction to Angling Day" caught fish it was the mystery, fascination and above all the obvious enjoyment derived that made the day. A big well done to Christchurch Angling Club, their sponsors, the NFA coaches and all involved.

14th August

I called in at the Lodge to have a look at the catch returns and was surprised to see that Peter Dexter had been out with the shrimp looking for some late season salmon action and has been remarkably successful. A look at the Somerley Salmon category on http://www.avondiary.net will show the results of his efforts.

Todate Peter has not seen or landed any grilse which should by now be well into the river. The counter at Knapp Mill is recording regular upstream movements of fish, although these are yet to be validated and many may be large seatrout Iím surprised we have not seen more evidence of grilse in the pools.

I mentioned in previous entries that it would have been interesting to have watched this years grilse run for any sign of an increase escapement as a result of the removal of the Irish driftnets. I fear we will not get a feel for the run until we see the final validated counter figures as the rod effort, apart from Peter of course, is virtually nil.

12th August

Dog Days

Invasive plants Purple loostrife Anne on the beach

Gatekeeper Dog Days New Forest ponies

Teasels Match fishing Oxbow in August

The photographs above give some indication of current activities which highlight the varied goings on without any real focus, so often the way in the "Dog Days" of summer. The photos lead on to subjects that will be occupying more of our time as they develop. The first shows Pete Reading of the Trust, Darren Smith of Ringwood and District Anglers and Martin de Retuerto of Natural England discussing the ever increasing threat posed by invasive plants within the valley. The shot of the Gatekeeper on the Hemp agrimony the Purple Loosestrife and the Teasels illustrate the indigenous plants and creatures that will be lost as species such as Himalayan balsam get established. Apart from the obvious loss of native plants we will see complete ecosystems change as dependent species disappear and bankside erosion alters due to changes in root mass density affording winter protection change. The subject of invasive aliens and the changes they bring is of such importance that I will dedicate a seperate section within the website to the implications and actions involved.

The other photos are of activities that occupy our time whilst we wait for the change of seasons; Anne and I head for the beach when time and tide are right to look for a bass or half a dozen mackerel for supper. The well attended "guys and gals" match fished on a local stillwater is as much a social event as a serious attempt at fishing, the evening barbeque being perhaps the highlight. The mares and foals enjoying the excellent year for grass growth all looking in peak condition. Lastly a shot of the Coomer Oxbow, cleaned out by the trust last season, showing how quickly the scars of the machine work are hidden.

I forgot to add the lab photo illustrates the dog day element when everything in the countryside seems to take an afternoon siesta, making fishing early and late the most productive times to get amongst the biggies.

5th August

Haywain

Mark's last run of the haywain after a long day

4th August

Where ever you are today if you are part of the rural community Iím sure your thoughts are with the livestock farmers. Letís hope that Defra can get to grips with this outbreak before it gets established with all the dreadful implications.

Cattle on the water meadows Porkers

Fingers crossed the foot and mouth outbreak is quickly contained

On a more normal theme, the river is clearing fast and we at last can get a glimpse of its inhabitants. This afternoon a walk beside a slower section of the river afforded a view of a fine salmon tucked under the bank in five feet of water. On a different section this evening at least two salmon were showing in one of the holding pools which all hopefully points to the fish having reached the sanctuary of the middle and upper river.

Equally as pleasing was the sight of one or two roach in the pool where I used to regularly find them in the late 70ís and early 80ís. Once the river clears properly it becomes the biggest of time wasters; what angler can resist just checking just one more run or pool? Thankfully the Lower Avon is such a large river that fish spotting can never give the definitive answer as to the number and size of the fish present. The secrets and mystery are what angling is all about, once the inhabitants have names or can be recognised the appeal is diminished.

1st August

Autumn has arrived and the earliest indication I have to add to the diary is the first blackberrying expedition of the year. Anne and I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours filling the measuring jug with the plumpest, juiciest blackberries I have seen in a long time; at least all this rain has benefited the brambles. The evening had started out as trip to pick some Gaultheria shallon berries. We are not familiar with the uses the berries of this invasive shrub can be put to so a few to experiment with were deemed a good idea. The blackberries were just too good to miss and we already know we like the end product.

Blackberrying Blackberry pies

Anne collecting blackberries closely watched by the dogs that never miss the chance of a dropped sample and the end result.

The sight of all those blackberries inspired a visit to the river to chase a chub or two. The beauty of blackberry fishing is that it is best on warm evenings with the minimum of tackle. The downside is that you tend to eat all your bait so ensure you pick plenty and keep them in a clean container, I also add a tablespoon of sugar to the tub before leaving home as I have a sweet tooth. A few blackberries into any likely run followed by a free-lined bait, as simple as that and devastatingly effective.

5.6 Chub on blackberry Blackberry bait 5.2 Chub on blackberry

Two five pound plus fish in less time than it took to pick the berries on the simplest of tackle.

The sunshine has woken up the flying ants and sent the cows and ponies looking for the shade of the trees. We also had a good hatch of Mayfly this evening accompanied by good numbers of Olives which the trout rose to as well as I have seen this year. A less welcome appearance was the EA weed boat upstream of us which sent the usual rubbish and cut weed through the fishery all day. Anglers are still paying through the nose to get their fishing disrupted by the EA as they destroy the fisheries.

Flying ants Sunshine and shade EA weed cutting

Flying ants, a shady spot and the EA messing up the river

30th July

The creature below spent the afternoon clambering over Damian Kimmins rod with an almost worrying determination to reach its unknown objective. Presumably it was looking for somewhere dry to pupate, why it should choose Damian's rod remains a mystery.

Vapourer moth caterpillar Caterpillar

Vapourer Moth caterpillar (Orgyia antiqua)

If ever a creature looked like it had been designed by a committee that caterpillar fits the bill.

29th July

Round up of the week involves a visit to Bath for the Wessex Water Low Flow project update, a visit to Wales and news of the rivers continued production of huge fish. The summer rains have continued and the farming community remain at a loss to know how to harvest the cereals and silage.

Matthew Day playing a fish Cenarth Bridge West Wales

Matt Day playing a good fish on the Middle Avon and a shot of Cenarth Bridge showing the Teifi in good order.

22nd July

The last few days have seen the senior match anglers in action and a 24 hour marathon match for those more inclined to suffer the discomfort of a night on the banks. When I say "senior" those eligible to fish have to be over sixty so perhaps senior citizen would be a better description. Interestingly the match is very well attended, fished in a relaxed and friendly fashion without the distraction of large prize money adding unnecessary tension. The weights reflect the years of experience, much learnt at the height of match fishingís popularity, with 80 pounds being needed to win on the day. The twenty four hour carp marathon was fished under a flat calm that as any "carper" will tell you is the kiss of death for feeding fish. The amount of bait that hit the water at the sound of the starting whistle also gave the carp plenty of warning something was amiss! The winner did have a better weight than the seniors but not by much and over four times longer to achieve it. Many of the young carp anglers that fished the marathon might do well to watch the approach of the experienced match anglers especially when it comes to feeding their swims. To be successful it is necessary to attract and keep fish in your swim which is the very essence of all coarse angling and little and often would seem the winning way.

Senior citizens match Twenty four hour carp match

The senior anglers and the 24 hour carp lads

I did take the opportunity this afternoon to pop down to Christchurch Harbour to see "The Swan Man" Dave Stone as he and a group of volunteers rounded up the non-breeding swans that had moved down to the harbour to moult their primary feathers.

Christchurch Harbour Gathering the Swans Penning Penned

Mudeford from Stanpit Marsh and in the distance you can see the flock of swans as they begin too surround them. If you look closely you can see the line of swanherds that have waded out across the harbour to direct the birds as the canoists push them forward. They progress up the harbour inside Blackberry Point and up into the inlet between Crouch Hill and Grimbury Marsh where the pens await them. Once captured they are weighed and ringed before being released, none the worse for their experience.

17th July

It has been very difficult to find time of late to get back into the routine of updating the diary but I will start with the stories behind the photos of the July the 12th entry.

The impact of the recent unprecedented weather on the farming community has been highlighted in the press and media but one aspect that has not been so well publicised is the impact on the livestock farmers. Those farmers controlled by agri/environment schemes, prevented from mowing before the 1st of July should have made up on lost time and now be mid way through the hay and silage season. The reality of the situation in the valley is that hundreds of hectares of meadow grass has yet to be cut, laying over-ripe and rotting in the fields. Every chance of sunshine or possible dry day sees a scramble for the mowers, balers and wrappers to get a few acres cut, baled and wrapped by nightfall.

Wet meadows

Good for wildlife disastrous for agriculture

The late floods of the spring prevented the grass getting a good start allowing undesirable weeds to become rampant, docks, meadow sweet and sedge making entire lays virtually worthless. To add to the problems of the Spring the Summer floods make salvaging the remnants desperately difficult. The cost of winter feed will increase dramatically and this will in turn lead to the cost of producing the finished animal much higher. Whether that increased cost can be recouped at market remains to be seen, animal prices in recent months have not been encouraging so there are some long faces contemplating the future.

The rivers have retained a good flow and with the cloudy over cast days the fishing has been excellent; an example of the silver lining. The three and two winter salmon have entered the river and hopefully reached sanctuary in the middle and higher river. Martin from the nets emailed me a couple of days ago to let me know the grilse had arrived so lets hope they manage equally as well in reaching safety in the river and donít get stuck in the harbour and lower river.

The coarse men have enjoyed some wonderful fishing, summer chub in excess of seven pounds with six pound plus fish a regular sight, three pound plus roach, river bream over eleven and barbel to fourteen pounds. If these fish continue to gain in condition at the present rate this winter will see many of the old Avon records tumble; lets all keep our fingers crossed.

Reg with a tench

The result of traditional methods in the margins

The lakes have produced equally well with some notable captures to the carp, tench and bream anglers. I have often said that what would have been thought exceptional a couple of decades ago are today the norm; forty plus carp, double figure tench and one hundred pound bags of bream. Night anglers catching over twenty fish to thirty five pounds in a couple of days. Day anglers landing a dozen fish to mid twenty in a day session, incredible catches but do they inspire the same anticipation and thrill as the lesser catches we struggled for in years gone by?

Himalayan balsam

Himalayan balsam, in need of urgent control

The photo of the Peacock butterfly on the Buddleia apart from being beautiful asked some very relevant questions about non-indigenous plants. We all enjoy the presence of the insects within the valley yet many are under considerable threat through their food plants being overwhelmed by introduced alien species. Iím not suggesting for one moment that Buddleia is likely to over run the indigenous plants but we have increasing at the most alarming rate large tracts of Himalayan or Indian Balsam. Himalayan Balsam has completely colonised and over run many of the rivers of the West Country and is in the process of doing likewise on the Avon. Concerned individuals have been warning of this problem for several years, if action is not taken immediately I fear it will be too late to prevent this same disastrous impact. I believe there has been considerable funding made available for the control of invasive species by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Under the auspices of the Life Bid this money needs to be put into immediate use if it is to be effective, protracted planning is not the route to deal with this plant it needs action, now.

12th July

Ruined grass crop Middle Avon Fishing the margins Summer flowers

I will catch up with the entries in a day or two and will give the background to the photos above, each of which has its own story.

8th July

June high water

I've been distracted for the past day or two so it will be a while before I'm up to speed again so the picture is a holding shot to illustrate the summer floods of last week.

2nd July

Yesterday we heard the sad news that Phil Tibbit, longstanding member and previous executive of the trust, having lost his long struggle against illness has passed away.

Phil Tibbit

In recent years Phil and Olwen had moved to Scotland there to live within sight of the Tay where Phil was able to indulge his passion for salmon fishing. Despite the distance involved Phil had remained a very active supporter of the Trust. In particular with his support for the Pike Match, always travelling down from Scotland for the weekend and attending the AGM to oversee the presentations.

The Pike Match was instigated and originally run by Phil during his period on the committee and is still very much a part of the Trustís current activities along the length of the Avon. The match is fished each year for the Oliver Cutts Memorial Trophy, a good friend and associate of Phil. For those of us who had the privilege of knowing Phil when we fish the match in years to come he will also be brought affectionately to mind.

A long association with the Avon and in particular Folds Farm had afforded Phil a deep attachment for the river which he never lost. He remained very clear on the way we should direct our efforts within the Trust and always kept us true to our objectives. Our sympathies and commiserations go out to Olwen on her loss.

1st July

Heavy overnight rain has brought the river up and added some serious colour and debris causing one or two immediate problems for the control systems. Whilst unusual this is not unknown and to my certain knowledge the sight of the hay underwater has occurred at least twice in the past fifteen years. We are certainly not experiencing the dreadful scale of the floods being endured in the Midlands and the North of the country. The impact for those that live in the flood plain is heart breaking but having said that the nature of a flood plain is just that - to flood. To live within one and expect to control nature is asking a lot and whilst we may be able to build one hundred year probability defences the speed at which they become fifty or ten year event defences has surprised many in recent years.

The unseasonal nature of this event has many unknown and potentially damaging consequences for nature and agriculture, which works in harmony with nature, they stand to suffer the greatest losses. Arable farms within the flood plain are in the same situation as those that build their houses in such areas, you have to risk the consequences. It is not a case of "if" it floods but "when" it floods, as flood it certainly will. You are dependent on Lady Luck with regard to the frequency and extent and the equation related to acceptable loss. Thereís no knowing when that one hundred year event will arrive next year or not for ninety. Livestock can be moved and hay will withstand a drenching if itís not prolonged which is the reason traditional farms within the floodplains were livestock units. The implication for hay or silage within the agri-environment schemes that cannot be cut until July 1st has greater problems. The hay is ready and at the point at which rapid removal is desirable for nutritional value. More than a week or two and we will be seeing a lot of rubbish being bagged-up, especially following the weed content this season due to the prolonged floods last winter.

Flooded livestock Coloured water Full spillway Oxbow during summer flood

Time to move the cattle to high ground and keep fingers crossed for the hay and silage. Coloured water and a dedicated angler hoping for a barbel below the weir. The oxbow excavated by the trust last autumn once more being called into action lets hope the fry have found it.

Natureís losses are not so easily seen or understood, what of the vole population and the dependent predators, owls, kestrel and the like? Hopefully most of the ground nesting birds larks, reed buntings, waders etc will have fledged and flown the nests? Many second broods will have been lost but they are Natureís bonus in dry years as a safeguard against such floods as we are currently experiencing. What of the juvenile cyprinids within the main channel, the chub, barbel etc larval and juvenile stages may be scouring through the system at this very moment? Letís hope the oxbows are enabling fry safe harbour. Juvenile salmonids hopefully will be in a slightly better position being that much older and designed to cope with faster flows but what of their invertebrate food? We donít know, we can speculate and guess and attribute future population fluctuations to various hypothesis but until the research is done we will be guessing and keeping our fingers firmly crossed.

29th June.

The river is in perfect condition for the salmon in that there is plenty of water for them to enter the river and pass any obstructions they may encounter. The water temperature is also at a level significantly lower than we have experienced at this time of year in the recent past, with plenty of flow and weed for cover things look well for the salmon.

An odd appearance of a bat skimming the surface of a local lake during daylight brought out the camera only for the creature to crash in the lake and require rescuing. The rescue involved me donning the chestwaders and recovering the doppy sod which I think was a juvenile Pipitrelle that promptly bit me for my efforts (follow that bat I need a blood sample) before flying off to hide, still without me getting a pic. I does look most peculiar to see swallows and a bat chasing the same flies, this season gets stranger by the day.

Budgie playing a carp Super curve on the rod Carp landed

I had been wading about in Budgie's swim five minutes earlier rescuing the bat when he hooked this. As I didn't get a pic of the bat you get three of Budgie playing a carp and Richard doing the honours with the net, any angler seeing this will be mightily impressed by the curve on that rod, super stuff!!

28th June

A swan that required catching in the trout stream and a sheep with a milk crate stuck on his head made for an interesting day. The milk crate was left by the floods and would have made a unique photo but in the excitement cameras didn't seem appropriate.

Goosander brood Wild rabbits Graylags Swallow

Goosanders, rabbits and Graylag Geese are doing well and the swallows are wondering where the summer went

27th June

Evening series Evening series 2 Match fishing lump

A busy evening series on a local stillwater

26th June

Leveret Chub 6.12

The result of all that "Mad" behaviour and a 6.12 chub caught by Pete Reading.

Apart from the fact that is a super summer chub it is also a super photo of a fish in a net, both down to Pete. It is one of the problems if you fish alone, how do you get a decent pic of your capture, well Pete caught the mood, bronze lustre with a mysterious dark background - lovely shot.

24th June

I've been away in West Wales for a day or two hence the lack of entries. As I came back down the Avon Valley it was obvious that there had been a great deal more rain down here than we had experienced up on the Preseli's, the roads were running and the river was up four or five inches. Some of that rise may be due to the weed now starting to coffer the river but the rain at this time of year is certainly welcome.

I did drop in the Lodge this evening whilst out with the dogs and notice that Pete Dibden has been out with the fly rod and managed to add a further salmon to his total; it would seem this rain in my absence has encouraged the upstream movement of a few fish.

Bridge leaning

I may not have had a rod this week-end but I found the next best thing, a bridge with a shoal of sewin and a frustrated angler underneath attempting to catch them.

I must thank Anne, my long suffering other half, for capturing the moment

21st June

A little pushed for time so just a couple of photos worthy of recording and hopefully greater detail in the future.

Antiseptic cream Mad hares

The first shot is of Brett Hirst applying clinic antiseptic cream to the hook hold to ensure the risk of secondary infection is minimised. This is a common and very welcome practice within the carp angling community and deserving of every praise. The second shot is of a group of hares out in the park, just going to prove they don't only go mad in March.

Having opened his account on Sunday we can't stop Grant Conley catching salmon he landed a fresh eighteen pound fish above Ibsley Bridge yesterday; well done again Grant.

20th June

I mentioned in the entry for the 17th that the Sea Lamprey were on the shallows looking as if they were about to spawn. I can confirm that is exactly what they were up as I discovered their redds a little further upstream with a male still on guard. In recent weeks I have been discussing with Jon Bilbrough of the EA fish counter the number of Lamprey that come through the counter as I wished to see if I could find them upstream. I have seen them in the rivers of West Wales but this is the first time I have found Sea Lamprey cutting on the Avon which I find odd in that it should ocurr in the year I have an interest in them. Perhaps its a case of looking specifically for them but I believe I would have spotted these under normal circumstances as they were highly visible. What many people may not realise is the size of the redd they cut from the photos you can see they are in the region of two feet across and six to ten inches deep.

Sea Lamprey redds Topping Docks

The male Sea Lamprey can be seen lying across the centre of the redd and Darren out topping the docks.

I found the Lamprey when I visited the field where we are cutting the docks before they set their seed. The prolonged floods of last winter killed of large areas of grass and the docks quickly colonised these areas. I mentioned in an earlier entry the Lapwing and Redshank had found the muddy areas, with clumps of docks for cover, very much to their liking; it was their presence that had prevented us topping the field earlier we had to wait until their broods had fledged and moved out.

Budgie Price with a 6.5 chub

Six pounds five ounces, cracking fish Budgie, thanks for the photo.

19th June

We have now had the opportunity to have a good look at the river and the lakes with an eye to the new season and it would seem we could not have wished for a better start. There have been one or two exceptional catches to experienced anglers who understand some of the Avon's secrets but in general it is rewarding those that are prepared to put in the time and bait. Barbel are as expected slow to get underway, there are still one or two good fish coming out but we will have to wait a month or two before we see the best of the barbel. As for the chub they are everywhere and in all shapes and sizes, trotting the glides will produce chublet after chublet to a pond and a half, the majority being the eight to ten ounces class. The gravel runs beside cover or deeper pools are producing the better fish, one catch of eighteen fish to six pound twelve ounces, taken on caster, is quite astonishing for a summer catch. The majority of those fish were over four pounds, it would be wrong of me to name swims or anglers and risk unacceptable attention but the fish are out there if you put in the time and Lady Luck smiles.

On the entry for the opening day I mentioned the three salmon, one in the twenty pound class, below the bridge and their ability to avoided capture. I can now congratulate Grant Conley on not being defeated and on his return the following day grassing a cock fish of twenty one pounds - well done Grant, richly deserved. I must also add my congratulations to Chris Pearson for he managed his third from Somerley this season with a twelve pounder from Ashley Bends. I believe Chris has also had a couple of fish from the Royalty so he is having a splendid season - see the report at http://www.avondiary.net/?cat=5

Common Carp

The lakes continue to produce some wonderful catches

17th June.

Out early to walk the dogs and catch up on events of yesterday and last night over at the lakes. It seems the night fishermen hadnít fared that well with only the odd carp showing up, still plenty of tench and bream to keep them on their toes. The river looked very well with very low weed growth which looks perfect for a couple of hours trotting.

Breakfast and pack the car, I was back on the bank within three hours, raring to go. It fished extremely well, Swallow pin, eighteen foot rod and a wire stemmed stick carrying 6BB. I managed to find a run of about thirty meters with a depth of six feet between ranunculas beds and it wasnít long before I had a chub of four pounds grace the net. I was feeding pellets well upstream with a catapult which always spills a few from each pouch full at your feet, after half an hour I glanced down and three barbel, with the best a comfortable double, were hoovering up the spillage. It was impossible to present float bait to them and I was determined not to resort to the lead today, I decided to ignore them and get on with my trotting. Youíd be amazed how difficult it is to ignore fish that are within six feet of you. I resisted temptation and continued fishing, managing to catch three chub as like as peas in a pod within an ounce either side of four pounds. After a couple of hours I was weakening with regard to the p*** takers sat by my feet when the float skidded sideways and I saw a bronze flank flash as a nice barbel headed rapidly downstream snatching the rod almost from my grip. It wasnít to be my day with the barbel for after five minutes he was heading back upstream via one of the weed beds. The line passed through the bed and out the other side making any chance of landing this fish begin to look slim and as if to prove the point the barbless hook pinged out. I think that was a sign and I accepted I wasnít going to catch a barbel and began to pack-up after a very enjoyable couple of hours. A last look at the barbel at my feet showed them to have disappeared only to be replaced by two very large sea lampreys intent on spawning. The first spawning Sea Lamprey I had ever seen in the Avon came only days after I had been speaking to the EA officer at the fish counter about the number that had been seen passing through the counter.

Chub Ringing juvenile Barn Owl

A phone call after lunch requesting my assistance with some bird ringing was too good an offer to pass up. A climber was needed to climb the trees with a buzzards nest and clamber up to one of the Barn Owl boxes. Unfortunately the Buzzard chick was too well developed and any disturbance may have caused it to fall from the nest in its attempts too avoid capture. The Barn owls were similarly well advanced but we where successful in capturing the young this time which made the trip worthwhile. Before anyone gets over excited we are schedule one licensed which allows us to handle the owls.

I popped in the lakes on the way home and it seems the valley lakes have started to produce the goods with at least two thirty plus fish having been landed. I decided to have a further couple of hours on the lakes to see if I could catch a Crucian Carp which has always been one of my favourite species. A typically frustrating time followed as the Crucians rolled in my swim and I caught roach after roach after roach. You will not often hear me say I am fed with roach but it was almost impossible to get a bait down through them, all in the six to twelve ounce class. I think I have caught more coarse fish in the last two days than I have in the last decade.

Crucian Carp

I did manage one small Crucian

A damp end to the day

A damp end to the day

16th June

The 16th of June and the coarse season is up and running. An early start allowed me to speak to the night anglers at first light before checking the river prior to the river anglers arriving at seven oíclock. The night had been frustrating for the carp lads who had spent the night landing tench and bream with only one or two carp for their efforts. Iím of the school that doesnít mind catching tench and bream especially as some of them, having already spawned, are still well over seven pounds. Thankfully no problems on the river this morning which allowed me to be home for breakfast by five thirty.

A leisurely breakfast before a second round of the fishery to see how the new season had kicked off. I joined two other spectators looking over Ibsley Bridge to see the regulars finding dace and small chub in good numbers and just below us on the shallows three salmon laying in full view of the gallery. Today also signalled the start of the bait season for the salmon and one rod had spotted the trio and was feeling confident about a result. The three become two as the shrimp appeared in their domain but the remaining two, which included a fish close to twenty pounds, didnít so much as flinch and totally ignored all efforts to engage them. I must say how nice it was to see three such fine fish; lets wish them well and hope they avoid the many perils that may interfere with their attempt to reach the redds next December.

Traditional start Regular catching dace

A very traditional start and there's a forty in there! Ken is quite happy with his dace

The river was not responding to the influx of bait, the barbel were still engaged in spawning and only the odd chub having been caught by the anglers I spoke to. Iím sure by the end of the day one or two barbel will have been distracted long enough to make some lucky anglers day and the chub will have switched on but it was going to be slow.

Opening day tench Opening Day common

The lads have been showing the way, Brian Crofts with a fine tench and Luke Hirst with a good common.

The lakes had picked up with some decent carp to mid twenty and the tench and bream continued to provide good sport, it looks as if the season will be fine, I shall have an hour myself this evening.

Tench roach

My two hours this evening was probably the most productive June 16th start I have ever experienced. I would have been happy with a couple of bites with a tench as a bonus. It literally turned out to be "a bite a chuck" tench to five pounds, bream to four, carp to three plus dozens of roach and rudd between eight ounces and a pound. The Tinca in the photo encapsulates what angling holds for me, not just the fine fish but the complete memory. The rod is my favourite which is a rod I got secondhand from one time tackle shop owner and angler extraordinaire Dave Swallow in the late 70's early 80's. Built on a Pro Diawa blank to Dave's specification for his "Custom Tackle" it probably contains enough carbon to build a dozen rods now a days but it has certainly landed many of my most memorable fish. The reel is "Jim's reel" an old Trudex repaired by Jim Foster who kindly presented me with it as a perfect match for my old rod; what a fish, it took three of us to land that one!

15th June

Water meadows have been on the agenda on several occasions of late what with visits to Folds Farm plus ongoing water level management plans in preparation and the photograph below is a further example. The photo, for which we thank Roland Batten of the Salisbury Journal, shows WSRT committee member John Beckett with his "Friends of the Harnham Water Meadows" hat on. John is being recognised for his work for the community in looking after the Harnham Meadows being presented with his award by the High Sheriff of Wiltshire Peter Pleydell-Bouverie.

The meadows have been lovingly restored by the Friends of the Harnham Meadows and John, whose home overlooks the meadows, has acted as honorary bailiff since 2001 ensuring they are well maintained and look their best. It is reassuring to know that the historical significance of this wonderful section of the water meadow system of the Avon Valley has been safeguarded and is under Johnís watchful eye - congratulations and very well done john.

John Beckett

John Beckett, on the left, being presented with his award by High Sheriff Peter Pleydell-Bouverie

Photo courtesy of Roland Batten and the Salisbury Journal

10th June

The week end was spent ensuring all was ready for the start of the coarse season with the final clip round the paths and styles. The river has started to clear as the weed is filtering much of the algal bloom allowing us to see the fish out on the gravels wetting the appetite for the off.

Brown trout

Grass cutting didn't stop me getting out with the trout rod for a couple of hours in the evening spending a pleasant time catching a couple of browns and an escapee rainbow. It must have been the rainbows lucky day as he went back along with the brownies.

Canoe trespass Cygnet

Being a sunny Sunday always has its problems apart from the canoes what should be done with the abandoned cygnets?

I should point out the canoe in the photo was not responsible for seperating the cygnets from their parents but what ever the cause we have to decide whether we should intervene and attempt to rescue them or let nature take its course.

6th June

I'm still having trouble with the phone lines so please bear with me whilst BT renew the cables outside in the road.

Iíve just read the May Hydrometric Report issued by the Hydrometry and Telemetry team at Blandford and a disappointing report it has turned out to be. Not from the production of the document, which is always an excellent and concise report, but the content related to our rivers. After the good early season flows and May being the wettest since 79 the ground water wells and river flows have already gone into recession and are now both below long term average. The chalk aquifers seem incapable of sustaining the steady flows throughout the summer months we expect of the Avon.

These rapidly reducing flows have serious implications for the salmon that have already entered the river and those that are still to join us. I have been reliably informed that the early flows have encouraged salmon into the headwaters of the Avon above Amesbury. Just how these fish will fare over the next six months before they spawn will be critically balanced. As for the fish yet to enter the river we will soon see a slowing of the run and fish remaining in the harbour where we know mortality is higher than any where else in the catchment. It would seem the future of salmon in the Avon is finely balanced, if we see continued low flows and high water temperatures the ability of the species to adapt may be put to the test.

Stag Beetle

On a more encouraging note one species that is doing well in the Ringwood area is the Stag Beetle. Not perhaps directly related to the Avon but as I sat beside my pond in the back garden this evening at least half a dozen of these magnificent beetles rattled past. If you have a spare corner of the garden why not build an eco log pile as the grubs of these creatures depend on decaying wood for their food source.

1st June

The first of June and the netsmen are starting their season down at the Mudeford Run. A trip down to this evenings low tide to take down the seatrout tags, RED for 2007, enabled me to take a couple of photos and catch up with all the news. Today had seen three salmon and at least seven seatrout when I left there was still an hour to go so one or two more may have been landed. Just a reminder that all the salmon are released alive back into the river under a voluntary agreement with the nets and all seatrout taken are tagged with the carcass tags the WSRT supply. The reasoning behind the tags being that any fish being sold locally as "local seatrout" must have a tag to show they were caught by a legitimate licensed netsmen.

Looks interesting? Netting Mudeford Run

The first sight looks interesting, three good seatrout and no salmon to be held in the floating net that can be seen in the last photo

Seatrout tag Red 2007

RED for 2007

31st May

I've missed a day or two which is down to BT who had managed to mess up my line but we now seem to be up and running at last. To be honest there hasn't been a lot to report from the river in that I have hardly seen a salmon rod on the bank this week, perfect conditions and no one out here looking for them. I did have an hour myself this evening and had two fish come short to the fly, both were coloured and I would imagine they may well be fish that have been returned and are shy of tufts of hair and feathers having had previous experience.

I did spend a very pleasant hour or two a little higher up the valley than my normal haunts when I visited Folds Farm, between Fordingbridge and Breamore to the east of the river. Folds Farm is owned by Mrs Susan Cutts where she has her wonderful Cleveland Bay stud and also a fine beef herd of Charolais Simmental cross beef cattle. Folds is also the base of son Alistairís plant and engineering business Earlcoate Construction who recently cleaned out the Oxbows for the trust down at Somerley.

Indirectly it was the cattle that brought me up the valley in that I had been invited by Alistair to see their summer grazing down in the water-meadows and how they managed their meadows in such an eco friendly fashion. Regular readers of the diary will know of my interest in the water-meadows and the chance to poke about on somebody elseís was too good an opportunity to miss.

It is surprising the differences that were immediately apparent between the meadows that Iím more familiar with at Somerley and those at Folds. The nature of the sward was completely different with Folds having a far richer flora with the flowers and herbs in abundance. Artificial fertilizers and heavier grazing regimes further south had destroyed much of the variety. Whilst the artificial is no longer applied the damage is done and it will take nature decades to undo it. We would appear to have a few more Lapwings and Redshank lower down but I'm told that the Snipe still breed up here which is very pleasing to hear.

The main carriers and drains at Folds were also considerably shallower, never having been over dredged as is the case on many drains further south. The shallow riffles and streams looked perfect habitat for juvenile salmonids and cyprinids. I would dearly have liked to spend a few days exploring the gravel runs with a dip net to discover just what was living there. Whilst our deeper carriers provide plenty of cover for juvenile cyprinids we are desperately short of good riffle habitat. Gravel mobility being so slow in the braided channels of the Avon it will be years before the beds are back to more fish friendly levels.

Water meadows Folds Farm meadows Water meadows

Hatches and gates in a wonderful state of repair, which is the advantage of having your own construction company!! A very herb rich meadow lay and the shallow channels with beds of ranunculas all looking wonderful.

27th May

A quiet few days on the salmon front ended today with one landed and one lost by Mike Bilson at Ashley Bends, braving the rain justly rewarded. If the rain today brings a lift in the river the Mepp will be the order of the day tomorrow, perhaps we may see a few more rods out and about.

Elder flowers Otter killed bream Reed Warblers nest

The elder is in full bloom but what I can't bring you on this site is the perfume which is such a perfect distillation of early summer. The middle pic is showing that our dog otter is still crunching the bream. Rick Stein couldn't have filleted that one any better, its so perfect I think the moorhens may have finished the job. The last photo is the first stages of a reed warblers nest, just how they tie those first few stems together is a wonder of nature. I will try and bring updates as to how they get on.

23rd May

The water is disappearing before our very eyes, the colour and freshet of the weekend seems but a distant memory as do the salmon of Monday; as far as I know no further fish. I must admit to being to being absent from my post as this week has been one of meetings and combined with my truck being in the garage time beside the river has been at a premium. I have been using Anne's car to get about and for reasons beyond me she objects to my off-roading it.

Moorhen

Good news! one of the moorhen chicks has escaped the marauding pike I reported at the week-end.

I don't know what odds I would give on his survival when you consider the pike has eaten all his siblings and one of the parents, he would do well to avoid open water.

21st May

The week end may have to be marked down to the salmon but today definately goes to the rods with four fish on the Somerley beats; well done to the rods involved and you can find the details on - http://www.avondiary.net/ It is a relief to see the 2SW fish as this week would normally be expected to produce the pick of the Avon salmon fishing and with news of the 2SW returns nationally being disappointing I was fearing the worse. Numbers are hardly reason for celebration but four in a day would be a good pattern to repeat.

20th May

This week end has to be marked down to the salmon, I've not heard of anyone actually landing one but at least four have been lost. I spent a couple of very pleasant hours with the fly rod, having changed from a sinking line to a floating line with a sink tip casting is much easier and more enjoyable. My floating line is an old favourite, I think it cost in the region of a fiver about a decade ago from John Norris, its a double tapered, multi-shaded mill-end, having faded through exposure to the sun. One of its finest attributes is a lump in the coating just at a comfortable casting length that fits nicely between the finger tips as the fly fishes through. I have no idea how many fish it has accounted for but several stand out as some of my most memorable captures, with a floating line the take is very often visible which adds considerably to the excitment. One point it does illustrate is that you don't have to spend a fortune on the latest all singing, all dancing state of the art masterpiece, I've got several yet I always return to the old mill-end.

Goosander brood

Our resident Goosander still with her full brood

19th May

To see a newly hatched brood of cygnets has a basic chocolate box appeal very hard to deny, the implication of such a large uncontrolled population of swans has a somewhat tempering effect on that initial emotion. In the headwaters the stripping of the ranunculas beds from the shallows has a catastrophic impact on the natural ecology of the higher chalkstreams. Lower in the catchment where the river is sufficiently large and deep to be immune to the grazing of large broods and flocks of non-breeding birds we are lucky. In the five miles of valley where I have records of the swan population this year we have 22 breeding pairs plus a further five established territories. This population has reached a density where the territorial requirements of the pairs limit further expansion. In the event of increased pairs establishing nests cross border squabbles increase juvenile mortality dramatically and the balance is adjusted by the reduced size of the surviving broods.

Swan brood Dead cygnet Boating

New cygnets, the harsh reality of Nature and a Constable landscape.

Natureís reputation of being red in tooth and claw is well deserved, sentiment and emotion play very little part even in the gentle surroundings of the Avon Valley. A further example was seen today whilst we were engaged on a netting exercise to obtain a sample of fish for the ďRoach ClubĒ. As we arrived and set-up the nets a brood of four moorhens were feeding at the other end of the lake on the duckweed covered surface. The alarm calls of the hen bird along with a splash and a swirl attracted our attention to see the hen and two youngsters heading for cover. The hen and one youngster on one side of the channel and a single chick on the other, as we watched the single chick showed an obvious wish to join the others but appeared reluctant to cross the channel. Overcoming its reticence it started to cross only to be engulfed in a swirl and snap of a pikes jaws. The complete brood would appear to have gone a similar route but we do have a well fed pike. Sentiment would pull us to side with the fluffy, bumble bee like chicks but the pike has his needs. In previous entries I have mentioned the Moorhens regular habit of raiding Great Crested Grebe nests and stealing the eggs so perhaps the balance is being maintained?

17th May

Seeing Pete Reading land his super sixteen pounder at Hoodies yesterday set me thinking about the history of that famous pool. In the hey day of the Avon Salmon fishing the tail of the weirpool immediately upstream of Hoodies was reserved for the House. Meaning, His Lordship or House guest only were permitted to fish the islands at the tail of the weir and down to Hoodies. The water was also fly only, one of two areas thus designated due to the nature of the pools and potential for over exploitation, the other being Hucklesbrook upstream of Ibsley Bridge on the old beat one.

In the 60ís there were some remarkable catches from that tail, one in particular that stands out on May 16th 1963 being three fish with an average weight of twenty three and a half pounds taken one evening. They were in fact landed by a rod that, due to the House not using the beat on the day in question, had been permitted by the then water bailiff Colonel Crow to fish the evening from the islands. To stand on the gravel shallows between the islands, with the roar of the weir, the clouds of sedges and mayflies and a myriad minnows spattering the surface like rain in the slacks must have been truly magical.

Mr Bill Brennan

An old photo of Mr Bill Brennan captor of three fish in an evening, holding a 26 pound fish with a remarkable depth

I say, "must have been" as my immediate predecessor on the river decided in his wisdom to dredge areas of the weirpool and the resultant flow changes completely destroyed one island and filled Hoodies with silt. The intervening twenty years has seen the river put right some of that vandalism and the flow is once more coming through the tail of the weir and striking the bank in Hoodies. We currently fish Hoodies from the left bank well below the weirpool and from there yesterday Pete grassed his fish. Whilst watching yesterdays salmon regain his breath and head off into the depths I came to wondering if it might just be possible to wade out to the one remaining island and fish the tail as it was in days gone by. To that end I set out at 07:00 oíclock this evening to have a paddle about and investigate the chances of recreating those golden days. The rods had long gone home so my crashing about in the undergrowth was not going to disturb anyoneís enjoyment of the day.

It very quickly became apparent that there were considerable problem of just reaching the island through the tangle of nettles and chestnut saplings with a fifteen foot fly rod. Thick silt and decidedly dodgy channels, cut by the recent floods, made for a very lively attempt to gain the island and reach the run on the far side. Having managed to emerge through the chestnut and slide into the shallows the area of the lie, that looked so close to the island from where weíd been yesterday, was almost out of reach beyond several tresses of streaming ranunculas. From my new vantage point it was obvious I was not going to be successful with my recreation of the past but just perhaps the right bank might offer a new approach t the lie.

Back to the car, a quick drive round to Ibsley Bridge, across the field and into the jungle at the back of the weirpool. Five minutes to manoeuvre past the fallen willow and cross stream brought me out on the shallows at the head of the run. The next hour was perhaps the most enjoyable I have spent this season with the rod, it fished an absolute dream. I was soon lost in the past with a huge MSW fish about to take on my very next cast. Well, it didnít, had it done so I like to think it would have spoilt the moment completely ruining my evening.

What a super evening, I still had to call at the lodge to check the fishing log and walk the dogs, as they had not been able to join me for a run having had to park beside the road at Ibsley Bridge. Nothing in the book alas and with an hour of light left time to walk the girls at Blashford and throw a fly at the Island Run. I find it amazing that after three decades of fishing this river being beside it for the last hour of daylight has a magic difficult to explain. I let the sounds of the valley wash over me, the chug of Markís old "International" as he checked the cows, the call of the lapwings warning their chicks of the fox sat on the footbridge, the honking Canadas and ....whoosh ..... the line snaps tight - "Iím in".

Yellow tube

Check the Somerley Salmon - http://www.avondiary.net/category - perhaps that MSW fish wouldnít have spoilt my evening in the tail of the weir after all!

16th May

Even under what would appear ideal conditions Avon salmon fishing is proving far from easy, re-affirming the low stock numbers entering the river. The counter is showing a steady trickle of fish which means you are always in with a chance of a fish but you may have to put in the hours to achieve it when they are spread throughout the river as they will be under these conditions.

Pete Reading returning a 16 pounder Returning a 16 pounder

There is however a means to get your Avon salmon that appears to be gaining statistical support and that is by strimming and cutting the banks. The picture above is of Pete Reading returning a 16 pounder whilst chatting with Alan Bashford. Pete had been scything the paths most of the day and had stopped to have an hour with the rod in an attempt to open his account for the season. Within minutes he was into his fish and when considered with the first two of mine this season which were after strimming for most of the day a pattern is developing. Statistically 20% of the current seasons rod catch at Somerley came after grass cutting, based on that sound scientific evaluation in line with much fishery science, bring a strimmer to guarantee a salmon; if you haven't got a strimmer see me and I'll find you one and a mile or two of path to clear.

Hopefully Alan will have a shot of the fish whilst being unhooked, he arrived on the scene a little earlier, mine is a mobile shot that unfortunately failed to show the fish.

Alan came up with a nice shot of the fish in the net, thanks Alan

15th May

A traditional start to Avon spinning

Jim Foster and Pike

Jim Foster looking somewhat apprehensive about this Mepp eating crocodile

A good number of rods turned out to greet these super conditions, unfortunately apart from Jim's not so desireable pike the only other fish I heard of was Christopher Jarman's fine salmon of 16 pound from Ellingham - well done Christopher you saved the day.

I think the pineapple may have required custard - it certainly hasn't work on its own

14th May

The last day of "Fly Only" method restriction, as of tomorrow spinning will be allowed and with the present water conditions I will be very surprised if we do not see a fish or two by th end of the day. The start of spinning has coincided with this fresh water that has given a five inch rise in water level, a good tinge of colour and a spring tide that hopefully will see the bulk of the two sea winter fish arrive.

Harbridge Bend

I spent an hour this evening at Harbridge Bend, a pool that has yet to produce a fish this year, it looked absolutely spot-on and I was surprised not to see a fish particularly as can be seen in the photo I even had a rainbow as a good luck omen.

13th May

Walking the dogs on wet mornings can be a little tedious and spotting Kevin O'Farrell fishing the Island Run provided the opportunity for a chat to brighten the morning. I joined Kevin as he reached the tail of the run and we were saying how good the water looked when right on cue the line stopped and peeled away across the pool; lovely stuff, the type of take you dream about. A nervous, splashy five minutes in the shallow water and a bright as a button nine pounder graced the bank, well done Kevin.

Kevin O'Farrell playing a salmon

Playing an Avon salmon in the rain

11th May

The rain of yesterday has worked its magic and I was glad to hear Colin Morgan had landed a fresh twelve pound cockfish. http://www.avondiary.net/?cat=5
Colin has been unlucky recently having lost two fish; he can now relax having got one on the bank - well done Colin. The rain continues so we can expect more fish to be running whilst this water lasts, don't miss the opportunity!

Lapwing chicks

I had to post these, the fourth has just left, stage right!

10th May

It's almost audible the collective Ahhhhhh from the trees and plants of the valley as the rain picks up a gear and produces heavy rain at a beautifully even rate, no squalls or torrents just what we ordered. As I write we have enjoyed six hours and hopefully it will continue overnight and we will see a touch of colour to cover the backs of any fish this encourages to run up stream.

Swan brood First brood

Our first brood of swans arrived today, seven little weed boats who think this new world they've arrived in is a wet old place. One or two Mayfly braved the clearer weather at lunchtime but the heavier rain later put pay to that hatch. The only other point of note I spotted today was that the swift numbers have built up to proper numbers so it would appear they waited for the south west wind before they braved our British summer.

The pineapple is still to kick-in; me thinks I smell a rat

9th May

Overcast and rainy, its seems a long time since I wrote those words in the diary, despite rain for most of the day it was very light and will take days of such precipitation to have any effect on the river. Still, mustn't complain, any rain is already welcome in what is shaping to be a very difficult summer indeed.

One remnant of the winter floods was the pool in which I took the photograph of the grass snake which provided us with an interesting insight into the effect of the floods on the cyprinid juveniles. The pool in question is the result of the erosive effect of high water flowing over an impoundment bund and the only way for fish to enter that pool was from the section upstream. Once swept over the bund there is no means by which cyprinids of that size can regain the higher section and as such are lost to the reach in question. It has long been of great concern to me this passage of juvenile coarse fish down the Avon, with the weir and impoundment nature of this river each weir is acting as a one way valve with the risk of sections becoming completely denuded of the early year classes in periods of high flow. Salmon have the protection of the law to ensure the passage of both adults upstream and juveniles running to sea is not interupted, coarse fish have no such legal status. As for our small pool at a conservative estimate I would put the number of fish at well over 500 in that square meter of water, chub, dace, eels, lamprey, roach, loach, bullheads, minnows and what I found surprising dozens of sticklebacks. There is very little information in our area related to this movement of fish, in Europe there has been considerable work in trying to understand the importance of the effect of downstream drift; lets hope to get more information related to the Avon asap.

Darren counting juveniles

Darren counting juveniles

The oxbow project was an attempt to provide vital areas of sanctuary for fish during these winter spates but lets not lose sight of the other practices that create this same flushing effect at other times of the year, canalisation and cover removal for flood defence, weed cutting for flood defence and sudden hatch operations creating artificial high flows. I would hope to see considerable investment in the control structures of the Avon to ensure that they are not only salmon friendly but also cyprinid friendly and also higher priority given piscine interests when they shoot flood water past properties that have been built in the flood plain and historically liable to flooding.

Herons at the Oxbow

Herons feeding at the oxbows

7th May

A busy week-end, Bank Holidays are always a pain in the proverbial with people marching about in all directions but this one seems particularly bad. I've had travellers, poachers and canoeists I tend to lump them all together as people with no respect for property or wildlife and either ignorant of what they do or deliberately flouting the law of the land. Despite them I have had a good weekend, I have seen some wonderful wildlife, met some truly genuine people and caught a salmon.

Having just fished through a wooded pool I sat on a tree stump for a quiet minute to contemplate the lack of fish before the walk back across the meadows to the car when I spotted a bitch otter making her way up the shallows downstream of me. She was some hundred meters from me and slowly working her way towards me, searching the margins and splashing about on the gravel. I unslung the camera and waited to see just how close she would come before she winded me, she came on and on but was now hidden by the rushes just below me. When only ten feet from me she came into a clearing and immediately sensed me and dived; she reacted so quickly I didn't even get time to attempt a photo. Oddly she stuck her head out on the other side of the river under the cover of a tree trunk and watched me for a couple of seconds before once more dissappearing below water. I then received a lesson in the mysteries of the river as a salmon came vertically out of the water some ten feet upstream of her disappearance, exactly where I had just fished through and decided there were no fish, before bow waving back down the pool just under the surface. It just goes to show!

Grass snake Grass snake hunting fish

The shots above show a grass snake hunting fish in a pool that was left by last months flood stranding hundreds of minnows, loach, dace and bullheads. Whilst I watched she caught a loach and a minnow before slowly retreating to the cover of the bankside rushes to digest her lunch.

Damian Kimmins

Damian Kimmins who travels down from London at any opportunity to spend the day working on the banks of the Avon and extremely glad of his assistance we are; thanks Damian.

I think the pineapple must have a delayed action! More updates to follow

5th May

The chub have got into serious spawning mode with groups of fish activly chasing on the shallows, the barbel still appear to have the brakes on just the odd couple showing, I think the majority of them will wait for warmer water temperatures.

Spawning chub Bright salmon

I don't think David Bailey has much to worry about but they do record the events of the day

I owe the salmon above to Colin Morgan who lost a fish in the Run this morning which gave me the incentive to get out and have a go despite the bright conditions; thanks Colin.

I should dedicate this fish to Tweed boatman and fly tier extraordinaire the late Mick Williams. Every time I tie on a tube tied by Mick I think of the times I was fortunate enough to be a guest on the Tweed and lucky enough to enjoy the company of Mick. It was a Willie Gunn tied by Mick that brought about the downfall of this fish in the current low clear conditions and it nearly accounted for a second.

I started at the top of the Island and within the first few meters a fish came short, slightly coloured, between 12 and 14 pounds which head and tailed like something out of Jaws coming up to look at me. A further thirty meters down the run, at the tail of the pool, I was thinking of turning back and going over the fish again with a different fly when a single pluck signalled the attentions of tonightís fish. A cracking fight and as with the previous fish I have landed this season the barbless hook had fallen out and was caught in the net, an extremely rapid recovery making for a memorable evening.

Mick once told me of a cure for my Labradors and there habit of eating sheep dung which as any lab owner will tell you is a Labradors objective in life. I never had the bottle to try the recommended cure for fear of being found out and ridiculed. If Mick is up there looking down he may yet get the last laugh, I am desperate enough to try anything to stop my hounds hoovering up crap. Mickís recommended cure, "pineapple chunks", he assured me one portion of chunks with their dinner will stop their nasty habit forever; well Iím going to try it and I will let you know how I get on.

4th May

A very busy day at work means not much news from the valley but I felt these two pics taken this evening were worth adding.

Tawny Owl Lapwing juvenile

A young Tawny looking less than impressed and a lapwing chick that despite appearances is fine, he thinks we can't see him

3rd May

Things are not looking very rosy on the salmon front, if this desperately dry weather continues we will be lucky to see many salmon this year. We have already fallen well behind catch numbers when compared to recent years which certainly doesnít give much encouragement. Rods wanting to catch under these conditions might be well advised to head for the Royalty as the fish will soon be holding up at the bottom of the river. There are one or two fish showing in the pools but I believe these may well be fish previously caught and released reluctant to take a fly again.

The valley itself continues to be just as wonderful with the fields taking on their summer colour and the visiting birds arriving on mass. The Hobbies are back sweeping low across the fields in search of their insect food and the Common Terns are chattering away as they hawk the river for fry. Our breeding Lapwing are all of a fuss warning their chicks to stay hidden and still whilst we pass so keep an eye to the ground to avoid disaster.

Lapwing juvenile

Ringing a juvenile lapwing

The chub and barbel have gathered on the gravel in readiness for spawning but they appear reluctant to get on with the ritual the cold nights would appear to be holding their desires in check.

The salmon may be thin on the ground but the valley remains a delightful place to spend the day so donít despair.

1st May

Pete Reading has been spending a considerable amount of time this close season giving plenty of TLC to one of the valley stillwaters and part of that care was to renew the rotting boards on the lake monk. The monk in question is quite unusal in design in there being four or five feet between the double boards creating an impounded area some 8 to 10 feet square and about three feet deep. When Pete removed the lower boards to drain the impounded section contained within the tank, for want of a better description, were forty one very large swan mussels that must have spent their entire existance in that small area. Swan mussels are a classic example of out of sight, out of mind, many of the lakes in the Avon Valley contain them but how many of us see or even consider their existance; at least the ones Pete found are enjoying a new found freedom with the entire lake to explore.

Swan Mussels Lake monk Willow Pattern

A few of the swan mussels found between the boards that can be seen in the middle photo. The right hand shot is Nature's willow pattern being willow catkins floating on the surface of the lake.

29th April

Fred Clere and his team have made an excellent job of making one of the best pools on the Middle Avon even more accessible for wheelchairs which is deserving of a big pat on the back for him, his team and Christchurch Angling Club. Remarkably little of the Avon is wheelchair friendly due to the access points and difficult ground so to have such a productive area available is a very important step in the right direction, keep up the good work CAC.

Disabled Access

Lower Cabbage Garden, wheelchair friendly

Mirror Carp

The carp are feeding-up and getting bolder in readiness for spawning

28th April

Quiet on the salmon front the valley is however buzzing with activity with new life wherever you look. The mild winter has seen the early broods of ducklings off to a good start and similarly the rabbit numbers have quickly recovered from last years bout of mxyomatosis. The warm April has been held in check by the Northerly winds that have been with us for the greater part of the month without them the season would be even more advanced which gives considerable food for thought.

Wild rabbits Goosander brood Ringing stockdoves

Wild rabbits, the only breeding goosander in Hampshire and ringing Stockdoves squabs

Swans nest Otter eaten crayfish

The reedbed at the end of "Coomer" left bank oxbow has a new resident in the form a swan nest. Close by the otter, that I recorded earlier as having developed a taste for bream,is now eating his way through the signal crayfish that inhabit the river; definately a good lad.

27th April

Chris Harrison was about early today and managed a bright ten pound salmon from Ibsley at 08:00, before the bright sunshine sent them under cover, well done Chris an example to us all.

Mid morning we met "The Swan Man", to anyone in the Avon Valley that can only be Dave Stone; he has been studying our swans for well over two decades and is responsible for virtually every ring you ever see on a swan in the valley and over the years that adds up to many thousands. Dave is a little like the migrant birds that arrive in the valley, he shows up in the spring to count and record the nests, the summer to ring the non-breeders down at the harbour and finally in the autumn to count and ring the cygnets.

Dave Stone Ringing a pair

Dave Stone checking the eggs and seeing if she's ringed; she wasn't, nor was her mate but they are now

26th April

An excellent day for the "Trout in Schools" project as the students from Burgate and Ringwood joined forces to release the results of their efforts in the Trout Stream at Ibsley.

TIS Students Last look Trout Fry The release

Students from both schools on the banks of the Trout Stream, a last look at the fry and the release.

Thanks to Trevor Harrop for the pics

23rd April

Congratulations Orri

I'm sure you all will join with me in sending congratulations to Trust Vice President Orri on winning this most celebrated of awards the Goldman Environmental Prize.

The world's most prestigious environmental prize, The Goldman Environmental Prize, is being presented to NASF Chairman Orri Vigfusson, for his successful campaign on behalf of the Atlantic Salmon. This global award is recognised by over 100 heads of states.

The award ceremony was held at the San Francisco Opera House with more than 3000 people in attendance.

Orri

Not the best photo but the only one to hand of Orri from the last AGM. Below is the official Press Release of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Fight to save salmon from extinction wins top environmental award

Monday, 23 April 2007 An Icelandic businessman, fighting to save the Atlantic salmon from extinction, has been awarded the worldís largest environmental prize for grassroots activists.

Orri Vigfķsson, (64), from Reykjavik, Iceland, is one of six recipients of the international Goldman Environmental Prize awarded for his 17-year campaign to protect North Atlantic wild salmon. Since Vigfķsson founded the North Atlantic Salmon Fund1, commercial open-sea fishing in the Atlantic has fallen by over 75 per cent, and more than five million North Atlantic salmon have been saved. To build on this success, Vigfķsson is now calling on Scotland and Norway to end commercial net fishing for Atlantic salmon.

Vigfķssonís pioneering work to end commercial salmon fishing in the North Atlantic began in the late 1980s when, as a keen sports fisherman, he realised that wild salmon populations had dwindled to dangerously low levels: threatened by commercial driftnet fishing, salmon catches in the Atlantic fell from over 4 million to 700,000 fish between 1979 and 1999. Vigfķsson recognised that this massive decline in salmon not only affected the sensitive ocean and river ecosystems, but also the rural communities which depended upon them for income.

The problems for salmon began in the 1950s and 1960s when commercial fishermen discovered that not only European salmon but also salmon from the US and Canada congregated in the sea around Greenland and the Faroe Isles. Huge commercial fisheries sprang up and thousands of mile of driftnets were laid across the sea routes that salmon used on their way to and from the rivers of their birth. As a result, salmon catches soared and then collapsed, the decline steepened and the impact spread: anglersí salmon catches crashed, as did angling tourism on which many remote communities depend.

To fight against the over-exploitation of wild salmon and to protect communities from economic ruin, Vigfķsson set up the Iceland-based North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) and he began his innovative approach to saving the salmon from extinction. Vigfķssonís idea was simple Ė to pay licensed netsmen not to catch salmon. Anglers and conservationists from North America and Europe supported this approach with millions of dollars going into the North Atlantic Salmon Fund. By raising US $35 million, Vigfķsson has been able to buy the netting rights from commercial fishermen in numerous countries, including Greenland, the Faroe Isles and many other countries in Europe. In return, fishermen receive financial compensation and new types of jobs either in sustainable fisheries (like lumpfish or snow crab harvesting) or in a revived angling-tourism industry. Vigfķsson has prompted multi-million dollar buyouts and moratorium agreements with several national governments, most recently with the Irish government (January 2007) but also with England and Wales. In some cases, as with the UK, national governments have contributed millions to buyout schemes.

"Orri negotiated the cessation of salmon fishing in Iceland, Greenland and the Faroes - the breeding grounds of North Atlantic salmon - he negotiated the moratorium, and he arranged the financing alternatives as well. Massive is the word for that agreement." Brian Marshall, chairman of Britainís Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust.

The NASFís latest victory in Ireland was particularly hard won: Ireland resisted any moves to negotiate a driftnet ban because the nets were harvesting fish that had been saved by the buyouts established in northern waters. To prompt the Irish moratorium, NASF and their partners claimed that Ireland was in contravention of the UN Law of the Sea and the EU Habitats Directive by continuing to use driftnets, and the EU threatened the Irish government with prosecution unless it introduced a ban. Ireland finally bowed to international pressure and ended industrial salmon driftnet fishing off its coasts. As part of the buyout, the Irish government will establish a hardship fund of more than US $39 million to address the financial losses that Irish salmon fishers face, as well as providing an additional US $7 million to help rural communities deal with their loss of income. This ban shuts down a fishery off Irelandís west coast that at one time was taking up to half a million salmon a year, heading not only for Irelandís rivers but for rivers in Britain, France, and Spain. It will relieve the stresses on salmon that have brought populations in some rivers to the point of extinction.

"Without Orriís determination, his ability to talk to the state department and ministers in Washington and to European officials, and to address very large gatherings of netsmen, there would be little hope of recovery of this remarkable species of fish. He has come to be seen by a lot of people as a patron saint of the salmon." Roger Harrison, former chief executive, Observer newspaper.

But the battle to protect the North Atlantic salmon is not over. Vigfķsson and the NASF have offered to support the Irish government and there is now an urgent need to ensure that Irelandís ban on driftnets is properly policed, that driftnets are not replaced by draft nets, and that the waterways are now managed effectively. Vigfķsson is also calling on Scotland and Norway to follow their European neighbours and to end commercial net fishing for salmon.

Commercial salmon fishing is a truly global environmental issue: for example over-fishing in Greenland would affect the health of salmon populations in Canada, Iceland, Scotland, England, Sweden, and Norway, demonstrating that protecting wild salmon in the open sea is an intrinsically international concern. "Orri and the NASF campaign go far beyond fishing. Theirs is a global conservation effort to protect an endangered species." Charles Clover, Environment Editor, The Daily Telegraph.

Vigfķssonís aim to halt commercial salmon fishing in the North Atlantic is within reach: he is currently negotiating with individual governments to ensure that policy making and economic decisions influence fishing practices, working to end mixed stock salmon netting in Norway and Scotland, and building a global network of young people to advocate for the protection of salmon and other threatened fish species globally.

Vigfķsson believes that the NASF can restore the Atlantic salmon to its abundance by ending indiscriminate coastal net fishing in the open seas and coastal areas. In its place he wants to establish "in-river" management protection, promoting lucrative sport fishing that he says not only revitalises rural economies but creates surplus revenues for compensating driftnet fishers.

Vigfķsson is a new kind of environmental champion - an entrepreneur who combines business skills with fundraising and negotiating at a senior level to protect the environment. He is the first businessman to be awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize and, as such, he represents a new breed of environmental leader. "Vigfķsson is tireless. He really is unrivalled. He has focused on one species, and heís chosen this animal that he loves. And he represents that creature in the world. He stands up for its survival and is making a huge difference." Bill McDonough, US architect and sustainable urban planner; author of Cradle to Cradle.

Established in 1990, the Goldman Environmental Prize is awarded each year to environmental heroes from six continental regions. Endorsed by more than 100 Heads of State and often referred to as the Nobel Prize for the environment, the Prize rewards grassroots leaders for their outstanding work in protecting the environment and campaigning to preserve vulnerable natural habitats. Frequently described as voices in the wilderness, Goldman Prize winners have often taken great personal risks. The 2007 Goldman Environmental Prize of US $750,000 (shared equally between the six winners) was presented in San Francisco on 23 April 2007.

22nd April

Yet another gorgeous day beside the river and I didn't see a single salmon rod out all day. The club dryfly clinic was well attended and a group of travellers were happily ridding the river of escaped rainbows, spinning above the weir but not a single salmon rod in sight. I passed the time of day with the trout men and threw the travellers off; who were doing such a good job of catching the rainbows I almost felt like letting them carry on - I dare say I will see them again.

Dryfly Day

John Slader, (S&TA, WSRT, Orvis, ASSIGAI and BAR). giving a talk to an attentive audience at today's dryfly clinic on the Ibsley troutstream

The grannom continue to hatch in much reduced numbers and I promise the two photos below will be the last you will see this year of grannom but they are such amazing insects I feel I should record the result of all their efforts of late.

Grannom More grannom

The underwater egg sacs - if you look closely you can see individual eggs.

Head and tail

Thanks to Damian for this shot of me missing a salmon at the tail of Pile Pool yesterday evening

The salmon can be seen head and tailing dead centre of the pool tail having missed my fly, I was obviously too busy posing for the camera.

21st April

The sunshine continues to give us days more akin to mid summer yet the cold nights hold in check much of the spring development. Whilst the martins and swallows arrived early the numbers have failed to build up as would normally be expected. The cold, dry north wind, in conjunction with the sunshine, has hopefully persuaded many to stay the other side of the channel until southern more friendly winds arrive and we will see them on the change of the weather.

Dry ground

A month ago ankle deep in mud, now more like the Serengeti

I spent much of the day strimming the salmon pools and the trout stream and if I say so myself they do look well, conditions are as good as one could wish for for the Avon game angler. For those readers who have occasion to strim banks at this time of year keep an eye open for the inhabitants who have failed to get out of the way.

Grass snake Mallard clutch

A large grass snake and a clutch of mallards eggs

Thanks to Alan Bashford for the shot or the mallard eggs.

At teatime I thought I'd cast a fly for half an hour and said to Fred Clere, who was with a club work party building the disabled platforms at Ibsley, that if there was any justice I would find a fish. Well the Avon is undoubtedly a fair and just river as I was rewarded within ten minutes with a fine fresh fish of about ten pounds; so they're still there to be caught.

Into a fish

Yours truly into a ten pounder watched by Fred Clere

Taken on the mobile, I'm afraid the lens could have done with a clean.

19th April

Misty dawn

A cold misty start

Those regular readers of the diary among you may remember "The Adventures of Fred Whitlock" relating to my concern on hearing Fredís voice when I answer the mobile. The first fish of the season last year which very nearly did for Fred and the one that shot through the main hatches at Ibsley requiring lots of line stripping and tying of very rapid knots.

Well, heís been on the phone again. Darren and I were putting the final touches to the footbridge over the Kings Stream inception at Ashley when the mobile rang. I didnít manage to get to it in time and was trying to find the missed number when "121" cut in with Fred announcing, "into a good fish at the tail of Blashford, left bank, been on for fifteen or twenty minutes and yet to see it."

Kingstream bridge

Kings Stream Bridge once more in action

Bugger - as fate would have it we were two hundred meters downstream on the right bank. Well at least we could shout moral support across the river so off we ran upstream to find him.

Sure enough there was Fred on the opposite bank firmly attached to something very large and very reluctant to do anything other than sulk in the deep pool. Fred informed us it had already run one hundred and fifty meters upstream and returned to the same lie and also gone to the tail of the pool and once more returned to the original lie - big fish behaviour if ever Iíd heard it.

Fred in the distance Into a good fish

Sure enough, there he was and it looks like a good fish

Darren and I sympathised and gave unnecessary advice for half an hour and it was becoming blatantly obvious that Fred was going to have a real problem landing such a fish from the high banks and fast water at the tail of Blashford Pool. Iíve never actually measured it but I would imagine Blashford pool must be as near half way between Ringwood and Ellingham as it is possible to be; which ever way you chose it has to be well over two miles. There was nothing for it but to wade the shallow upstream of Blashford Island and to that end, off upstream I headed. First glance it looked OK, it was probably forty meters but I could see the bottom for most of the way across. Off I set and all was well, if a little cold around the appendages, until half way when the pace of the current began to wash the gravel out from under my boots. The pace made it impossible to about-turn and the bottom now had disappeared; it looked as if I was in for a soaking! Luckily I had left the mobile with Darren, in case such a scenario cropped-up, but I still had the camera held well above water to avoid a soaking. I kept edging across, all the while considering how far you can throw a Canon S3 IS to dry land, when, thank all the deities that look over me, the bottom firmed up and despite deep silt in the margins I was across.

A very splashy run down to Fred and it was immediately obvious the fish was behaving differently, looping out into the flow and heading relentlessly downstream. Fred had got a glimpse and assured it was a very big fish comfortably 25+, when suddenly matters heated up considerable. The fish failed to stop at the tail and went straight into the shallows obviously heading for "Above the breakthrough" two hundred meters below. Fred set off in hot pursuit but was rapidly losing ground and then disaster - a knot in the backing - from then it was inevitable. A very large fish on a tight line has only one outcome and sure enough with an enormous commotion in the shallows fifty meters below us all went slack; the fly came back.

There is never much that can be said in such circumstances, not that can be repeated here at least, and it just remained for me to persuade Darren to go back to the truck and drive round and collect me; there was no way I was going to wade back across the Avon.

Drying time

Thanks Fred

I ran into Jim Foster this evening who was lamenting the loss of a fish unlike anthing he had ever hooked before. When he pulled the fish ignored him! Now Jim is no shrinking violet, he's a big lad and if he pulled and it ignored him it was big fish. Two nil to the fish today lets hope we even things up this weekend.

Dusk

The close of a good day

17th April

The first Cuckoo, my first New Forest foal and no Grannom - you'll be happy to hear. The one salmon rod I met today opened his account with a fine cock fish over 20 pounds which was not only his first fish from Somerley but his first English salmon and the largest fish he had ever seen, congratulations to Peter Lewis, some way to open the account. Particularly pleasing for Peter in that it was taken on a self tied Willie Gunn.

Entrance to the Otter holt

The entrance to the otter holt, constructed at the time of the Oxbow project, polished and paw prints showing signs of occupation - we certainly got that right!

16th April

I made a point of taking the camera down to the river this evening in the hope the Grannom would still be hatching and I can confirm they most definately were. Despite the all singing digital camera I found considerable difficulty in getting clear shots in the fading light however I intend to bore you with more shots of bugs!

Grannom laying in the margins Grannom flying up stream Grannom up close

The three shots can only give the the slightest impression of the scale of the Avon Grannom hatch, if you multiply the metre or two of margins in the photos with ten, fifteen or twenty kilometres of river the numbers are incalculable, millions upon millions, a true miracle of nature on our doorstep.

15th April

The July weather continues, temperatures of 26 degrees C in the shade this afternoon and more to come, according to the weather forecast. The roach are making the most of the rapidly warming river twisting and flashing through the fontinalis attached to the stones at Ibsley and Penmeade; attended by swarms of minnows making short work of any eggs not hidden in the weed. Pleasingly for Trevor Harrop and Budgie of the Roach Club the hard work in making all the spawning boards has proved successful in that the roach in one of the stillwaters have made use of them.

Work Party

Work on repairing the swims and putting the finishing touches to the banks of the lakes and river has continued apace.

Grannom laying their eggs Tadpoles and catkins

The first photo, taken on the mobile unfortunately, shows the solid layers of Grannom on the marginal Irises as they make their way beneath the surface to lay their eggs. If you look closely you can see the layer of flies well under water, when they finish the stems are coated with millions and millions of their jelly like eggs. The second photo shows the tadpoles that similarly swarm in their millions around the valley lakes; there is certainly a recovery in the toad and frog population of the Avon Valley. Unfortunately tadpoles appear high on the menu for many of the lakes piscine residents so remaining in the weedy shallows has many advantages.

14th April

What a good day, warm sunshine, the company of fellow anglers and signs of nature's rising sap all around us. I must thank Damian Kimmins and John McGough for giving up their Saturday to help fix styles and build bridges, I think like myself they find just being in the Avon Valley reward in itself, we had an very constructive and enjoyable day. There were photo opportunities in all directions but time to capture and record the days events didn't arise, that is one problem of river work it tends to be wet and heavy, not conducive to delicate cameras; I'll see what I can find tomorrow.

The Grannom put on a display as good as any I have seen in recent years, cloud after cloud drifting past and this evening columns of midge smoke between the lime avenue on the A338 will soon have the swifts and martins feeding in the hundreds as they move north for the summer. It seems the Cetti's Warblers are shouting at the top of their voices from every clump of available brambles, I think the dip in numbers resulting from the previous cold winter would seem to have been rectified. I say shouting as Cetti's are probably the most striking call in the valley, once heard never forgotten.

I also received a phone call from Chris Harrison, past secretary of Christchurch Angling Club, to say he had managed a day at Ashley Bends yesterday and had landed a fresh salmon of 16 pounds. Icing on the cake, the seventh fish from Somerley despite the very limited fishing effort. Remember the seasons catch return from The Estate can be found on one of my other sites at;

http://www.avondiary.net/?cat=5

Select "Somerley Salmon" from the "Categories" section on the right of the page and it will take you straight there.

11th April

The water has dropped back to the extent we decided it might be possible to clear the main hatch gates of the tree that has been caught up in them for the previous month or more. The water pressure is enormous on the branches increasing the necessary pull to clear the gates many fold our efforts today resulting in four snapped ropes. It wasn't until we had a steel cable through out that we were successful.

Darren posing just before the forth snapped rope

10th April

Grannom Hatch

A fine Grannom hatch at lunchtime today

9th April

Good Fry Day

It's actually Easter Monday but I make no apology for the play on words as I have news related to two Trust projects both of which have fry as the driver. The eggbox project is now producing results and swim-up fry are appearing daily which John Bass and Adrian Simmons collecting the fry and transplanting them out unto their news homes in the headwaters of the Avon. As soon a Jon has time he will produce the interim info related to hatch rate which we wil put on the project page in the form of an update. The second area of fry interest has been a further examination of the oxbow site to see if any fry had found them during the floods. The water has dropped very nearly three feet from the height of the floods to a level of just a few inches which will be warming very quickly so we would expect any fish that used the sanctuaries throughout the period of the floods to move back into the river very soon.

Swim-up salmon fry Fry in the Oxbows

Swim-up fry are now appearing in the eggboxes and the Oxbows remain full of fry, most of which are minnows but roach, chub and dace are known to have used the Oxbows this winter. Thanks to Damian Kimmins for the Oxbow pic.

6th April

What is it? An unpoered craft? Coracle To the nearest public highway

What's this putting the wind up the swans and heron? Is it a boat? is it a canoe? No its a coracle!!

and that's the way to the nearest public highway

5th April

The river levels have dropped back significantly so I took the opportunity to visited the ox-bows to see what state they were in. The levels are down two feet and the excavated channels are very shallow for the majority of their length. Hopefully at the peak of the floods the average depth of about a metre should have provided the desired shelter. As it was the shallow water was still alive with tens of thousands of fry that were moving in waves along the length of the channel.I would imagine the bulk of the fry involved must be minnows but the initial investigations by Sparsholt have found silver fish amongst them so it all looks very positive for the future.

The otter holt that was included at the time of the original construction appears to have been visited as there are several sets of tracks in the soft mud at the entrance, I will attempt to get a photo of the visitor to add to the records.

Goosander

A recent resident of the valley that always creates debate

Avon salmon

A bright Avon 14 pounder, modesty prevents me from naming the captor

4th April

I was just congratulating myself on bagging the mole that had been excavating the Top Park and was feeling extremely pleased with myself when Jim Foster rang to say he was playing a fish in "Cabbage Garden". On hearing this my efforts with the mole didn't seem such a conquest, five minutes saw me at the pool beside Jim who had landed the fish and was carefully returning it. This was Jim's first visit of the year and he had missed a fish half an hour earlier when it had come unstuck but undaunted fished on to add a 12 pounder as fresh and bright as could be wished for. It was April the 6th last year when Jim put in his first appearance and he managed a fish on that occasion as well, today perhaps proving it was no fluke last year.

First fayre Returning a salmon

A further sign of spring when the marquees start to appear on the Top Park. The second shot is Jim Foster returning his first fish of the new campaign in the shape of a twelve pounder.

3rd April

No more salmon, as far as I know, and the cold bright conditions are not the most conducive to encourage action. Having said that yesterday with the north east wind rushing down the valley casting off the left bank at Blashford was a dream, liquid slow motion as the line snaked out across the pool, almost salmon dapping Avon style.

Interesting habit the large dog otter currently hanging about Ibsley has developed, he seems to have a taste for Avon bream. Now many Avon anglers would argue that the Avon is no place for bream as they are likely to hybridise with the legendary Avon roach; based on that this otter seems to be a traditionalist.

Blashford sunset Otter kill

Whatever your views on the otter population expansion, with the recent death of three on the A338 within two miles of Ibsley in the past three months, I must admit I was pleased to see at least two different individuals leaving their tracks on the muddy banks.

1st April

13:00
I've been out for a couple of hours with the rod, to no avail I fear, I did however see the ravens that have nested in the valley for the last couple of years. To those of you in more remote and rugged areas the "cronking" that usually pre-empts their arrival is all part of the norm, for us down south their presence is newly established having been absent from Hampshire for over a hundred years. These intelligent birds invoke in me fond memories of times spent in mountain and moorland areas in the west, I appreciate they can give rise to problems but lets hope we can tolerate them and make a few minor adjustments to our routines to give them room. I would also ask keepers and land managers in the valley to ensure they take a closer look at any crows that are being culled to ensure no cases of mistaken identity arise.

Raven montage

A raven montage showing the huge bill, wedge shaped tail and distinct primaries.

My refernce to "no avail" earlier applied to salmon but I did manage to find one or two trout and as can be seen in the poor quality photo below we have some rainbows in the river once again. I must admit the fish farms have made great strides in preventing outbreaks but prolonged floods as we have experienced this winter would appear to overwhelm some of the precautionary measures at the farms. It makes one think what a 8" trout is doing attaching itself to a 3" brass tube fly, is it attempting to eat it or chase it away from an established territory?

Escapee

Escapee rainbow trout

08:00
Profuse apologies for the disappearance of the site, I will arrange greater bandwidth as soon as I can; its all your fault, if not so many of you read it it wouldn't do this sort of thing.

More importantly, news of the river, running very clear and now within the banks at all the pools. The mud that currently makes access difficult is drying rapidly, within a day or two we should be able to fish in comfort. No more fish have been caught as far as I am aware but conditions are ideal and as the recorder at the bottom is showing fish entering the river they are there to be caught. Marginal growth is being held back a little by the cold nights but as it appears the pools are being kept clear. The strong northerly wing doesn't make casting a fly very easy on one or two of the more exposed pools hopefully a return to our prevailing south westerly will soon be on the cards bringing with it a little warmth.

Talking of the counter at Knapp Mill, there is now a website written by Jon Bilbrough who runs the counter, which can be found at http://www.knappmill.co.uk it gives recent info and is well worth a visit.

29th March

If you fished Park Pool at Somerley today care was necessary with the back cast - one of these has you down to the backing in no time.

Somerley Cross Country

Sharp left at Park Pool

28th March

John Sargent has opened his 2007 salmon account with a third 20+ fish from Somerley, taken from Tizzard's on the favorite black and yellow tube. It is very welcome to see these large spring fish making an appearance again, we can only hope its a sign of things to come. The river is in perfect condition at the moment, good height and good visibility the only problem is that it all looks "fishy" so deciding where to concentrate is the greatest problem.

Dog Kennel

Rods out enjoying "Dog Kennel" on the Middle Avon

26th March

What a grand day, warm sunshine, river in perfect condition and half a dozen rods out on the bank. Perhaps the sunshine didn't make for the best conditions in which to catch salmon but from my point of view it was good to chat to the rods and catch up with the news; there's more to fishing than catching fish. I don't think any fished were landed today but in Alan Bashford's words, "the biggest fish I've ever seen" did show only ten feet out as he was tying on the fly - I bet tying that on turned into a nightmare.

Hoodies Pool

Looking from Ibsley Pool upstream to Hoodies

Knowing how many of you like to know where the fish came from in the past I have scanned a page from the Somerley Diary from exactly fifty years ago, as you will see fish were spread throughout the fishery. You have to bear in mind that with a full rod list there would have been twelve rods on the bank almost every day and they were on a rotational beat system having approximately one sixth of the fishery for each pair of rods. I did mean the water was meticulously covered from Ringwood to Bicton; in the case of some of the pools mentioned I would wager they were not fish at all last season making for a very much lighter rod effort these days. The Mr Sawyer mentioned was Frank Sawyer, famed keeper of the officers water at Netheravon, enjoying a day away from the trout.

Diary Page

A very different catch rate fifty years ago

24th March

I'm not sure if the success of the previous couple of days has continued on the salmon front, I didn't manage to get around to visiting the Lodge to check the book this evening. I did have a look at the meadows this morning to see how the floods were receding and can say all looks well on that front and within a day or two most pools will be accessible without the need of chest waders. An added bonus as the water on the meadows drops back the black tailed godwits are back enjoying the shallower feeding with over of a thousand in residence. The valley has one or two very encouraging sites for the bird population for as well as the godwits we have shoveller, gadwall, widgeon, teal, curlew, snipe, redshank, lapwing, peregrine, little egret, ravens and thats just what ten minutes peering over the gate had to offer. Many of these will move on to their summer nesting sites but whilst they are enjoying our floods we get to enjoy their presence.

Black Tailed Godwits

A few of the Black Tailed Godwits making the most of the receding floods in the Middle Avon

23rd March

I discovered the details of yesterdays fish from Somerley when I met the rod today. He is Mr Pete Dibden and had the fish on a black and yellow 3" brass tube. I met him today after Fred Clere telephoned me to say, "the angler who had the fish yesterday was on the far bank playing another fish which looked even bigger" By the time I reached Ibsley the struggle was over and a fish of 40" had been landed and safely returned. Forty inches makes it twenty seven pounds plus, according to the scale for Avon fish but Pete has settled for 25+ as twenties on consecutive days makes him a very happy angler without need of greater detail. Pete did manage two fish in a day at Ashley last season so he is of the opinion that Avon fish are easy!! Perhaps one of the most amazing co-incidents of the day was that Mr Andrew Dunk, who actually landed the fish, was visiting Ibsley to scatter his father's ashes who had been one of Somerley's rod list in the Hey Day of the Hampshire Avon salmon fishery and had very fond memories of Ibsley Pool.

By the way, the same fly accounted for todays fish and the other lesson to be learnt here is that if your not out here fishing you most definately will not catch a fish of a life time such as Pete has managed on TWO occasions.

Ibsley Pool

Pete Dibden sharing information with a second rod out at Somerley today

22nd March

That didn't take long! a 23 pounder from Ibsley on the Christchurch Water on Somerley Estate, again I have yet to get the details once I have them I will let you all know.

21st March

I hear rumours of a 28 pound fish having been caught on the Royalty, when I get more information I will let you all know. In the meantime with the river almost back within its banks and a steady trickle of fish coming through the counter it's time one or two rods ventured out on the middle or even higher river as the fish will have spread throughout the system.

The coarse season for many is over and the weather for the trout and salmon rods is completely miserable, to say the least, so I have included some light reading to pass the time. Most of what is written below has formed articles I have written for the trust newsletters but I have knocked them all into one piece to spread the word as the readership of this diary grows at an alarming rate.

A Personal View of the Future

by John Levell

In recent years I have been giving considerable thought to what the future of our fisheries will hold. Unfortunately the more time given over to the consideration of this subject the more I have become convinced that the only way fisheries will survive is through radical change of the structures that govern them. We are currently faced by a both financially and morally bankrupt system that is failing fisheries at every level.

The Environment Agency Fisheries Division would appear to have lost its direction along with its funding. This is attributable in my view to weak and inappropriate management that have been unable to make sufficiently robust defence of the department to secure adequate funding. The case for funding can only be made through the line management process making the case for higher prioritisation than currently allotted fisheries. Once this process has failed the chosen route to deal with the shortfall is to cut services and staff.

The statutory obligation to maintain, improve and develop appears to have been replaced by hiding behind a policy to protect the species. The role of the EA fisheries division was to protect the fisheries whilst this obviously involves the species it is not the definition I would use to define a fishery. A fishery is a capital asset and through the exploitation of that asset is the owner/lessee able to maintain the river and so the species. The most important facet of which has to be the income that allows for the investment in the future, without investment all businesses will eventually fail and that is the sorry state we have reached with our fisheries.

The monies that are raised from licence fees and Grant in Aid go the Environment Agency that in turn invests it in the salaries of inadequate management, bureaucracy and administration. In many cases they have gone beyond the point of no return, there is insufficient income to allow for any serious investment. Private individuals prepared to take on the commercial gamble on the recovery of the fishery and invest heavily with money from outside sources have to run the gauntlet and jump through hoops as the agencies provide spurious arguments why such commercial support is not welcome. No other business I can think of has to submit its investment to so many regulatory controls.

What is happening on the rivers? We have our fingers crossed and fervently pray that Mother Nature will smile benignly upon us. There are one or two private initiatives that struggle with the forces arrayed against them, for these entrepreneurial soles to support the whole system is quite frankly asking too much. Richard Walker way back in the 60ís prophesised that the future of angling lay in the still waters. Lakes and gravel pits developed by individuals with the minimum of EA interference have sadly proven his point.

Where do fisheries actually fit within the great plan as directed by the government through Defra and the EA - well they are spread out and effectively emasculated between enforcement, monitoring and biodiversity. We come way down the hierarchal scale when compared to abstraction, discharge monitoring, flood defence and land drainage that exploit and control the river. Fisheries are afforded the same priority as navigation, ecology and public access, this despite anglers not only paying 20 million a year in the form of the rod licence for the EA to maintain, improve and develop our interests but also paying in the form of considerable rental values and in many cases as riparian owners. Why should some well intentioned environmentalists, canoeists or local authorities who contribute absolutely nothing have an equal say as a body that contributes in such a direct fashion? That could be viewed as a deliberate policy to ensure those that own and lease and directly use the rivers are not in a position to threaten the politically sensitive uses the government see as the primary role of our water ways. If the selection of committees is based on as wide a remit as possible the views of the owners and tenants are effectively diluted.

The running and control of the rivers as a corporation/business by the government, generally under the guise of public interest, to me is nothing short of being a nationalised industry. The difference in the case of the rivers is that historically businesses that have been nationalised have had their shareholders and boards compensated for the loss of their property as the case with coal, steel, the railways etc.

So just what does owning a fishery enable you to actually undertake to improve your asset? The answer to that question is remarkably little without the express permission of the government in the form of its self appointed management committee to ensure you donít rock the boat by doing something to improve your lot or asking those that impact on your property or rights to pay for the privilege. God forbid that those that use and exploit the rivers for profit and gain by abstracting the life blood and replacing it with an enriched soup should be held to account for the damage to your asset.

You may say that is why we have representative bodies to consult with the EA on our behalf. If that is the case why were fisheries ignored by defra/EA when the WFD stakeholder groups were established, probably the most influential piece of legislation we are to face in the future. Where were our representative bodies? What were they doing to protect our interests? I hope they were not so caught up in the cosy relationship of representative panels, groups and committees chosen by the EA to give a facade of consultation that they failed to notice what was going on.

EA/Defra appointed committees are a management tool for maintaining the status quo and manipulating the outcome to toe the predetermined line. Rocking the boat by demanding action for which someone may be held accountable or responsible is a forlorn hope, modern management practices do not include initiative. Nothing will be done based on management experience and decision making ability, a consultant will be employed to muddy the water and provide a screen for the ineffective management to hide behind "We were following best scientific evidence" or "the consultant recommended that course of action."

Many that are chosen to sit on these groups are completely out of their depths and provide a veneer of consultation rubber stamping the official line fed them by the EA whilst the rivers stagnate and decline? Having a seat at the table isnít enough, if you are there to represent an aspect of riverine ownership or rights you have to be accountable to those owners and tenants and carry their demands to the table and perhaps most importantly that table has to have executive powers or it is a waste of time. One of the major problems is that many of our representatives are amateur volunteers, run ragged by the scale of the forces arrayed against them. Whilst under the current system some do an admirable job what sort of business with a 3.4 billion pound turnover is represented by the retired and part time. Why do we spend 22 million pounds a year on representatives to maintain, improve and develop our assets and then spend all our energies fighting those self same people? Restrictions placed on independent efforts are so prohibitive as to doom them to certain failure. Anything that does not follow the EA dogma is undermined at every opportunity; who other than anglers would pay to make themselves so bloody miserable?

The EA doesnít have the corporate capability to manage our fisheries; particularly under BRITE staff are trained as scientists, enforcement officers etc and rise through the ranks to become the managers of a regulatory monitoring service. The EA is a regulatory agency and we are so over regulated any spark of initiative, innovation or original thought is rapidly stifled. Any management system requires innovation and original thought, to do otherwise is to stagnate and any business operating in the private sector very quickly learns the consequences of that strategy.

Let me state in BLOCK CAPITALS THAT I REFER TO EA FISHERIES IN THIS ARTICLE, the role of abstraction licensing, discharge monitoring etc are not the issue here. I am also not attempting to get rid of fishery staff, quite the reverse, I see the many of those currently within the EA forming the nucleus of catchment boards but independent of the EA, given decision making powers, with dedicated areas of responsibility, with fisheries as their sole role. A professional workforce answering to an elected, representative executive much as the Scottish system would seem sensible. I hear many say this is not a realistic option in this country, well all I can say is I hope those same people do not represent my interests.

Mis-information has created a false belief among the general public and those on the periphery of the fishery world that EA fisheries are looking after the interests of owners and participants. The media perpetuate this view with the emphasis on celebrity and superficial issues. Those that are portrayed as the experts are very often those that indulge self interest to the detriment of fishery interests and without concern for fishery future. Continual selfish pursuit of sport/specimens without consideration of the future is portrayed as the path to follow. Altruistic individuals cannot be expected to save the day; certainly human nature will not provide sufficient manpower to see a secure future for fisheries. Volunteers will not be able to meet the demands placed on fisheries in the years to come, there has to be a professional body in place to deal with future fishery needs.

Until we give local management its head to expand and develop the multitude of different approaches aching to be employed across the land we will languish in our current state. Diversification and innovation are the only way ahead for our fisheries; catchment committees or groups of like minded individuals need to be allowed the right of self determination that we pay so dearly for. Allowed to experiment and research problems they perceive as having direct bearing on the assets or areas of concern. It would have to contain an element of government involvement to ensure vital infrastructure wasnít put in jeopardy. Our right to get it wrong has been paid for and the belief that there are sufficient committed individuals out there to get it right has to be recognised.

To remain run by the government through national policy or national bye laws is a certain route to disaster; it locks all rivers into a bland catch all that is never the prescription to deal with the huge variation of rivers through out the length and breadth of the land. Diversity with every unique river creating the strategies required based on local knowledge and aspirations. Never underestimate the value of a policy that has the support of the local users and owners; the fact it has that support alone gives value and credence to such a route. Outcomes will not be the fault of the agency they are the results that answer the questions asked by concerned local river users. Failures can be examined and valuable lessons learnt, successes can be exported and adapted for use elsewhere, as success elsewhere can be evaluated and adapted for use on our own catchments. We need dozens, no hundreds, of differing approaches to problems we all share, enrichment, endocrine disrupters, weed, population dynamics, silt dynamics, barriers to passage and the multitude of other concerns.

MP Martin Salter has as Iím sure you are aware, endeavoured to start a debate that will help define the future of angling. Whilst talk of a one pound levy to support a dedicated governing body for angling is stimulating discussion it would seem to me to be paying twice for the same service. I thought I paid sixty odd pounds per year to have my fishery interests maintain, improved and developed!

In my personal submission to the 2000/2001 EA Review Board* I included a scenario for the shape of fishery representation in the future. That future did not include a fisheries division within the EA and at the time support for such a proposal was pretty thin on the ground. The intervening years have seen several changes in fisheries division of the EA and alternatives are now being seriously considered. There have been a flurry of questionnaires and forums asking the views of informed recipients of the Fisheries Departments services; the results do not paint a rosy picture.

BRITE arrived and went, or didnít, its difficult to decide just what did happen with regard to the Better Regulation In The Environment. Fisheries funding in the form of GIA has now been subject to cuts imposed by Defra to help relieve the in-house cock-up single farm payments turned out to be. With the cuts in funding come the associated cuts in staff and services. Research and staff on the ground have become a distant memory in many areas. Fisheries now have to rely on handouts and scraps thrown to it by conservation funding and agri/environmental schemes from the EU.

We have the legislation to protect the ecology of our rivers from pollution, abstraction etc. We also have the legislation to maintain, improve and develop our fisheries yet the past two decades have seen a catastrophic decline in the state of many fisheries throughout the country. We have the EA congratulating themselves on seeing an improvement in a self determined target to maintain the species such as the salmon conservation targets. What we donít have is the means to determine how we go about creating an abundance that allows a commercial exploitation of the species and that include rod fisheries.

When we look to the future we must look for positive elements that we can reliably predict will remain constant. We must assume that angling will remain a pastime that attracts many to participate. We must also assume that the continuance of this participation is dependent on there being abundant fish stocks to exploit. It is amazing how buoyant fish stocks attract anglers be they dace in the Hampshire Avon, seatrout in the west coast streams, salmon in Russia or carp in the bagging pools; provide the fish and they will come - anglings "Field of Dreams" - but its true.

One other constant is that some one will own these rivers and this ownership is the factor that has to be the driving force of future management. We are all too well acquainted with the ability of the various angling representative bodies to organise themselves. The areas that appear to have the most influential and successful representative groups are those that are steered by riparian interests because without the backing of the owners most strategies are struggling before they get of the ground.

The harsh reality is that the groups representing the various disciplines and species are in the most part ineffectual in the management of rivers. They are at best effective lobby groups but the right to determine the fishery future of most rivers lies with the owners and tenants. Should an owner be in a position where income from fishery tenancy is not required he has the simple option of saying his or her river remains closed to all but guests. However in the majority of instances the asset has to be realised in one form or another and the various groups representing the disciplines and species have the opportunity to have their say. In most instances the advice available from the various experts in their fields is well met and appreciated but it is just that advice.

The rationale is to have an effective management group in position on all rivers with an umbrella organisation such as that which exists in every other sport in the land. In reality the infrastructure already exists on our rivers. We have riparian interests well represented on many catchment groups and we have, in ART, an umbrella organisation capable of representing those catchment committees and forums at a national level. That in its simplest format is all that is required to manage the future of fisheries in England and Wales. Obviously the professional employment of fishery administrators, scientists, enforcement officers etc. will be for catchment groups to determine. Each catchment may possibly have a Defra financed fisheries officer and associated staff, their role would be regulatory in that they would advise the catchment committees of their obligations under the law. They may also be responsible for contract specification and data storage and distribution but this will be a role independent of the EA.

Rod licence money should be distributed per capita and individual catchment levies should be permissible on waters which warrant them; you wouldnít expect to play golf at St Andrews for the same price as the municipal course next door. How the local rate is raised is for the catchment committees to decide but the simplest way is a fixed percentage on tickets or leases. The local rate on the Tweed is raised through the head price paid by the riparian owners on each salmon and seatrout landed. This is obviously passed on the rods but with a premium of 80 pounds per salmon with in the region of 15000 landed annually I will leave you to do the sums.

I can see this is not a format that will find much favour with the plethora of groups and associations that exist within angling but if we are ever to be masters of our own destinies it is time for personal aspirations to be placed on the back burner for a while. If the various bodies representing species and disciplines wish to have the right of self determination within of our sport, time for them to get behind the Association of River Trusts and jointly produce a working Strategy Document that can be presented to the Minister. Once the message that this is the only realistic means to provide a secure platform for the future of fisheries management has been publicly aired will we see the government take action.

The reputation of the EA fisheries division is fatally flawed and no number of reshuffles, reviews or reorganisations will ever allow that to be regained without enormous government funding. The likelihood of such funding is slim to say the least and why should we expect the public purse to support our sport. Time for the EA to be removed from the equation and allow those that own and lease the rivers to determine their fate. Whilst the EA continue with this pretence of management we will continue with this downhill slide.

* SALMON & FRESHWATER FISHERIES REVIEW GROUP SUBMISSION

If as river owners and users we are to continue to have the EA fisheries division with mandatory powers, it is essential that central government meets its responsibilities and increases funding enormously. At a time of fiscal restraint this obviously gives rise to the sensitive subject of public money being used for the benefit of private fisheries. A further area of concern is that fisheries in many parts of the country have declined dramatically. Capital assets have plummeted and we would be asked to have faith in the same system that has so dramatically failed to improve, maintain and develop as per current statutory obligation.

As an alternative the management of fisheries in England and Wales should be determined by those who are directly affected by the well being of the rivers. An executive catchment committee formed from elected owner/users afforded powers of self determination with the added benefit of local knowledge to apply local prescriptions to local problems. From the example that follows it can be seen that emphasis on local knowledge is fundamental to this strategy. This is not to say national policy has no part in this system, a MAFF appointed fishery officer and staff are central to ensure a national over view where necessary.

The great advantage of this new approach would be the many new innovations driven by local funding and alliances from numerous differing approaches success is more likely. Work deemed necessary contracted out to the private sector and overseen by a fisheries officer would form the basis of future development. Public education, preferably within the school national curriculum, on similar lines to the Canadian approach would take a very high order of precedence in future strategy.

The approach advocated puts in place a clear decision making structure offering flexibility to meet ever more rapidly changing circumstances.

The threat of climate change and ever increasing demands on the water resources cries out for a clear future approach. It would not be in the interest of anyone or anything to add further tiers of bureaucracy to that already proven to be failing.

Responsibilities/Objectives:-

Funding:-

Funding in the form of GIA, at a significantly reduced rate, would still be necessary from Central Government, to be removed as the recommended alternatives come on line.

A return to the polluter pays principle where-by abstraction and discharge would incur a "Conservation Levy", the rate must reflect the implications of enrichment and reduced flow, it must not just cover EA admin costs. The agri-chemical industry would also come into this category with a mandatory rate attached to hostile products.

Riparian owners would pay in the form of a revamped 142, under the newly proposed structure with executive say in its expenditure, there-by negating the principle of "No say, No pay".

Angling licences would continue, the responsibility for enforcing and policing being a statutory obligation of owners and clubs. In house expenditure would be of direct financial benefit providing the incentive to ensure the maximum return.



Conclusion

Radical changes, however the advantages far out weigh any problems. I believe with the ever increasing demands on the public purse, the government will eventually have to re-assess the statutory obligations administered by public agencies. It is for those involved on the ground to recognise their responsibilities and deal with the problems. The primary object, that of the protection of the riverine environment, has become secondary to the maintenance of EA fisheries division. The rivers can no longer afford to support the EA as has been the case for numerous riverkeepers throughout the length of the land with the collapse of the fisheries. Time for change.

19th March

As I write it is snowing outside and we are gripped in the midst of the blackthorn winter, certainly up on the Salisbury Plain the flowering blackthorn has always been a harbinger of cold weather and it seems to hold true further down the valley. Let's hope the wind chill and frost doesn't last and the nesting birds and fresh shoots are not severely checked.

Blackthorn winter Fred Clere

The first photo taken this morning would seem to support the blackthorn winter theory. The second is of Christchurch Angling Club fisheries manager Fred Clere making advances toward a cock pheasant. His motives are quite honourable; he has just crushed some dog biscuits for this friendly bird that has learnt Fred is a soft touch.

Hampshire Avon Coarse Review 2006/2007

A personal view by John Levell

Probably the obvious place to start a review of the Avon coarse season is with the barbel. It is barbel that are the chosen quarry of many of the anglers we see on the banks these days and the dedicated pursuit of this species brings anglers from far and wide to enjoy the banks of the Avon. Barbel have been increasing in both size and numbers for several years and the trend continued this season. The Royalty has had a good season with fish coming throughout the year providing many of those visiting anglers the reward they seek. The Middle River has produced some remarkable catches with multiple catches of double figure fish and some true monsters appearing from areas that have no previous history of such fish. The fish that holds the Avon record died this season but there are several fish that are within a few ounces of tumbling this weight. The longer feeding period allowed the fish, as our winter weather becomes milder, to this add the ease at which high protein bait can now be purchased and the volumes that go in each season the growth is guaranteed to continue.

13 pound barbel 14 pound barbel

This appearance of fish in areas with no record of similar catches has brought about considerable discussion related to the movement of barbel on the Avon. There are long reaches that have weirs which are passable by the barbel and fish from the lower reaches are thought to be travelling considerable distances migrating through the weirs. I have personally seen barbel passing through the gates at Ibsley and I have heard rumours of fish captured on the fisheries below Ringwood being subsequently landed upstream of Ibsley. The summer at Ibsley saw several fish in the 12, 13 and 14 pound class being landed downstream of the weir. This winter has seen a similar number of 12s, 13s and 14s coming from upstream of the weir. With the present high flows the spillways and passes do not present a barrier to passage for such a strong swimmer as a barbel. With more suitable slacks and holes in the higher reaches it would make sense for the fish to utilise them during prolonged floods. Are these the same fish and will they drop back downstream when the flows return to normal? There is also the possibility that barbel naturally migrate upstream prior to spawning to compensate for subsequent flushing downstream of fry. This upstream movement of barbel is well recorded on the Rhine with one fish pass recording 23000 fish move through on what they describe as a pre-spawning migration. It would be a relatively simple exercise to establish the movement of these fish with the modern tagging techniques available. What scientific value such a study would have is debatable and it would certainly take away a great deal of the magic associated with the capture of these super fish. It is probably better left to see what happens come 16th June; one for the anglers to resolve. The thorny issue of barriers to coarse fish migration also rears its ugly head when considering the implications for the Avon. Easily negotiated structures such as Ringwood and Ibsley are not the issue, the problems arise when barriers such as the Great Weir, Bickton etc that have a step or jump that has to be traversed. I must find out from the EA if barbel are ever recorded in the salmon pass?

One other species that is at a peak of condition and numbers are the chub of the middle river. It is hard to credit some of the catches of large chub that have been made between the Severals and Breamore. Bags of up to 18 chub including four of five over five pounds and two and three sixes in a session. Seven pounders are the target with the largest I can confirm at 7.10 and there are even reports of eights but I havenít been lucky enough to witness such as fish. As well as these wonderful specimens and they are in scale perfect condition there are continuous year classes to follow on. Some of the anglers enjoying the resurgence of Avon dace have on some occasions been landing almost as many small chub. The carriers and side streams are full of juveniles with some small ditches appearing to move as the juveniles rush for cover.

6.14 chub

There is one aspect of this chub population that gives rise to the question of what these huge numbers are feeding on. The chub is an opportunist and anything edible will end up on the menu. Is it possible there may be a link between the huge numbers of chub in the middle Avon and the low numbers of roach in corresponding reaches. This doesnít apply to just the larger highly visible specimens but the year classes to the large numbers of first, second and third juveniles not so easily studied; are juvenile roach and chub able to co-exist in the same habitat they appear to favour? I would love to resolve this one but I donít know how one would go about it; food for thought for a future Trust project?

The higher river above Downton is probably fishing as well for roach today as it has at almost any time in the history of the river. Multiple catches of two pound fish, large bags in excess of 70 pounds made up of all year classes and exceptional specimens over the magical three pound mark. The Longford Estate water, Britford LAA water and Salisbury Club waters above Salisbury. The very bottom of the river down at the Royalty has also produced good bags of multi year class groups. The lower river has not attained the results of higher up and it is difficult to decide just where these lower fish originate, are they spawned down near the tidal reaches of the lower river? Are they flushed down from upstream or do they swim around the corner from the Stour which has a very buoyant roach population.

A project that would be of great interest would be to take the DNA techniques that have been developed for identification of individual salmon populations and apply this knowledge to the DNA of the separate areas of the river roach populations. Perhaps this is a future project for the Trust to look into it would certainly take a lot of the guess work out of trying to establish the problems that effect the Middle Avon roach population.

I made passing mention to the dace in the previous paragraph and what a pleasure it is to see these delicate fish once again in vast shoals throughout the river. Again there appear to be good following year classes so fingers crossed that the Avon dace is secure for the immediate future. The dace have already spawned and will be back in good condition by the start of the season offering the opportunity of some of the best fishing the Avon has to offer during the warm summer days ahead.

Dace Perch from the sidestrem

One other species that has made a very welcome re-appearance is the Avon perch and this bold character is very welcome. Most anglers are pleased to see a perch turn-up as Iím sure they bring back memories of early attempts at angling when the perch invariably saved the day. We have seen good fish throughout the river with specimens well over three pounds and several reasonable bags of two pounders. The beauty of Avon fish is that the clear water means they develop bright colours and the perch shows this attribute better than any other inhabitant of the river - letís hope the recovery continues.

I should include the pike anglers but the feedback I have received this season has been very limited. I know of several 20ís but Iím afraid I have no reports of any of the 30ís that the Avon usually produces. Perhaps the volume of water this winter has reduced the angling pressure and afforded the pike many more channels and ditches to hide away in, thus avoiding capture?

The river has also produced some large bream bags and specimen carp, whether this is a good trend I will leave you to decide. Certainly they provide some good sport for those prepared to target them. What impact these escapees and non indigenous species have on the overall biomass is uncertain but proving any links would be extremely difficult and expensive.

I think that about sums up the season on the River Avon, without doubt this must go down as an extremely good coarse year. We are at present experiencing a flood event of considerable duration the impact of these high waters are an unknown quantity but lets hope the flushing effect doesnít put the resurgent populations of Avon coarse fish at risk. The oxbow project undertaken by the Trust last autumn would appear to have been at a very opportune time lets hope the fish found and made good use of them.

As for the still waters many now do not observe the traditional close season so it seems a little pointless to review the season for the valley lakes. Suffice to say there have been some huge carp and tench with water records tumbling on an almost weekly basis. Large bags of bream from some of the larger waters and some of the smaller pleasure fisheries have provided consistent sport throughout the year. They have and continue to provide a quality of sport that past generations could only have dreamt about. Todayís anglers have higher expectations but there must be a limit to the introduction of fish into unsuitable waters to provide sport for the incompetent. That is an ethical question and not one that will be solved in this review so letís all hope for a 2007/08 season of equal quality and ensure we do our utmost to protect the precious Hampshire Avon that allows us this bounty.

17th March

The AGM went as well as can be expected of any AGM, official business complete gave the opportunity to hear Mark Lloyd of the ACA and Vice President Orri Vigfusson NASF give a brief account of their years work. The opportunity to catch up with angling friends and a good chat made for a pleasant evening. I will give a more complete account and place the minutes on the AGM page of the News section asap.

Orri Annual General Meeting Presenting the prizes

Left On his feet Trust Vice President Orri Vigfusson, who flew in especially from Iceland, giving an update on the vital work of the NASF. On Orri's right, Chairman Brian Marshall who did his usual efficient job, overcoming incredible odds to attend in that he underwent major surgery only last week - many thanks to both for their extraordinary dedication and effort. Right Susan Cutts owner of Folds Farm presenting the Phil Tibbet Shield for the largest fish to Dave Cole. Dave was also the overall winner of the Oliver Cutts Memorial trophy with 25 pound 6 ounce total weight from Hale Park. Standing on the left Trust treasurer and auction organisor extraordinaire John Slader who once more produced a masterly set of accounts and successful auction.

The photo below is to give a view of the river to allow those who travel to fish to see the current state of play which is still over the banks as a result of the groundwater springs in the chalk aquifer. One odd aspect of this extra water is that it has become too deep for the waders that were previously enjoying the wet winter. The 2000+ Godwits that were in the middle valley have dwindled to a couple of hundred as the majority have had to travel back downstream to find suitable feeding grounds.

Ibsley Pool

Ibsley Pool still over the banks

I said I would endeavour to obtain a picture of one of the 40+ carp that now grace the valley for which I must thank Stuart Morgan for the photo below.

45 pound mirror carp

Stuart Morgan with a 45 pounds 2 ounce Mirror Carp

16th March

A reminder that the WSRT "Annual General Meeting" is this evening at The Brian Whitehead Sports Centre, Downton

07:00pm for 07:30pm start, we would be happy to see you there

A further sign of the change of season is that the swallows have arrived in the valley, lets hope the forecast cold weather next week does not have too hard an impact.

Primroses

Primroses to brighten the day

14th March

The end of the river coarse season I consider an important date in the angling calendar of the Hampshire Avon, coarse anglers are away on their enforced break and the salmon rods can reasonably expect to see a salmon or two arriving with the next spring tides. Hopefully the newly arrived Spring will take a firm hold bringing the long awaited warmth to kick start the growing season. For those salmon rods wishing to know the current state of the river the three photos of Blashford below will tell their own story. The river is still out in the fields running very clear with the groundwater springs high in the catchment sending millions of gallons of sparkling, filtered water down to us in the lower river.

Looking north from Blashford Blashford footbridge Looking south form Blahford

North from Blashford, the Blashford footbridge and looking south to Ringwood church

The last day for the coarse rods was obviously difficult due to the height of the water but Mike Window managed to have a very enjoyable day catching dace in the middle river. I do enjoy seeing anglers fishing for the dace and I must thank Mike for allowing me an hour in his swim this evening to end my river season with a dozen fine Avon dace: I think 06/07 can be signed off as a successful season all round.

Mike Window In Hooked kelt Kelt jumping

Left Mike Window into a good fish. Centre No roach this one!! Right Definately a kelt.

I should point out that kelts must be returned with the very minimum of stress as they are already exhausted from the rigors of spawning from which less than 10% survive. No posed photographs and certainly no exposure to dry ground.

Kelt returned

Mike showing the correct way to nurse a tired fish back into the river

13th March

I just checked on the 2006 diary page in "News" to see when I caught my "annual twenty" last year and it was the 14th so todays capture gives me a complete days grace before the close of the season at midnight tomorrow. I thoroughly enjoy catching these huge fish yet failed again to make the time to get out more frequently this season; I must try harder - sounds like end of term report! I think this one comes under the heading of an old war horse, she seems to have been hooked a few times judging by her war wounds but for all that and her added caution she came from within twelve inches of the bank in the middle of the day. A quiet, concealed approach produced the goods and on such a glorious spring day who could ask for more, she certainly made for a perfect end to my stillwater coarse season.

My annual twenty Off she goes

My first and last twenty plus of the season and back she goes for three months R and R.

12th March

Warm and sunny, spring would appear to have sprung and judging by the various sightings that herald the season I am not alone in thinking this. The Sand Martins appeared in the valley last week, along with the Brimstone butterflies and even the first Hummingbird Hawk Moths. Whilst the Hummingbird Hawk Moths usually migrate across the channel from the Mediterranean some believe these very early specimens hibernate with us in the south of England. I find it astonishing to think of the delicate moths and butterflies that cross the channel each year to visit us; perhaps we will see more of these as a "benefit" of global warming!

Spring lambs Lamb and daffodils

Not the earliest lambs, or daffodils, but worthy of a photo to record the spring like weekend we have enjoyed in the valley

11th March

The last Sunday of the season for many coarse anglers and a better end could not have been arranged. Despite the high water there have been some great catches of chub, barbel and dace from the rivers with carp, bream and tench from the lakes - and that's only from the small section of the middle valley I collected the news this evening; after the match!! I must attempt to get a day off to join in before the close on Wednesday.

Cracking common

Its becoming a little like the "Brett Hirst carp show" but I make no apology for including yet another 25+ Brett landed today and what a cracker. Its well worth pointing out Brett has caught all his fish this week just fishing the days, proving long sessions are not always necessary. A fish of 46.2 also came out during the day today, to an angler on his first visit to the water in question - that's some start. I will see if I can get photos of other catches that have been made today if not I will see if I can add a bag of tench to the closing shots myself. I've been promised a photo of a 7.10 chub if the captors computer behaves itself - watch this space.

10th March

With the end of the coarse fishing season on the rivers and many of the lakes in the Avon Valley fast approaching the emphasis will begin to change to the salmon and trout; with that in mind I will add a few more pics of fish soon to be enjoying their well earned rest.

Pike 22.12 37 pound mrror carp

The first shot shows the result of one of Dave Stirzaker's wading efforts, as shown a couple of days ago! There are one or two problems associated with such dedication in that first you have to find somewhere to unhook your fish without it swimming off, then as you are on your own, the only evidence that you caught the fish in question are the toes of your boots!! Seeing the result in the form of such a fine Avon pike at 22.12 makes it all worthwhile. The second photo is Gill, yesterday hugging a common, quite rightly looking extremely pleased with himself grinning over the top of a 37.4 mirror from a local lake.

Going back

A pretty shot of the same fish going back into a tranquil lake

Line cut mirror 27 pound linear mirror

A diary entry for the carp lads in that both the photos above are worthy of a mention. Thanks to Brett Hirst for the photos of two fish he landed this week, the first is a 28+ pound mirror with half a tail, most fisheries have an "Arfer" which has been lost through line damage. This is relatively old damage as scar tissue has covered the wound and regrowth has started. These cuts result from the fish becoming entangled in line and their immense power in rolling free causing these cheese wire like cuts. Fish becoming tethered or entangled in weed during landing can also give rise to a pull for a break slicing through exposes fins and lifting the big mirror scales along the side of the fish. These injuries are also being seen with barbel on the rivers which like carp are hard fighting fish with a habit of diving into thick weed and snags. Despite the disfiguring injury this is still a great looking mirror with plenty of room for further growth. The second photo speaks for itself a 27+ linear that is in mint condition both great fish and Brett deserves congratulations on both, I should also add he landed a third big fish making for a great trio - well done Brett.

8th March

25 pound common carp

The lakes continue to produce plenty of very large carp despite the recent deluge. Whilst the fish in the photo above is not the largest this week the beauty of the photo, apart from a record of Gill's capture of a superb 25 pound common, is the condition of this carps' mouth. On a large commercial fishery such as the one that produced this fish it is very pleasing to see a fish that has been born and bred in the lake with a completely undamaged mouth. All too frequently we see the result of ill considered rigs with torn and damaged mouths yet this fish aged between eighteen and twenty years old has remained in pristine condition. The basic principle of the hook length being the weakest link in the set-up seems to have been long forgotten; we now frequently see coated braid links with a 25 lbs breaking strain, attached to lead core at 60 lbs breaking strain with a running line of 10 or 12 pound. The crack-off during casting or pulling for a break often leaves tens of metres of line tangled on the lake bed, often with a rig that continues to fish. The use of anything other than a barbless hook ensures the only way a fish will rid itself of such tackle is to tear it free. We now see the use of braid and even coated braid as hook lengths on the rivers in pursuit of barbel, the results will be equally devastating on some of the less fortunate fish.

7th March

The sun came out today, along with the anglers in a last bid to get on the river before the end of the coarse season. I had the opportunity to catch up with events of the last week or two and there have been several anglers very well rewarded for their efforts. This late in the season to mention specific catches would be a little unfair to those who have put in the effort to locate the fish, suffice to say the size the barbel are now attaining is quite remarkable. I certainly need to add a pound or two to my personal best and hopefully the opportunity may present itself this last week of the season.

Still over the road 5.4 chub walking on water

Water is still flowing over the Harbridge Road but those anglers making the effort like Ken Martin are still finding good fish as this 5.4 chub shows. Paul Martin who was fishing with Ken had just prior to my arrival landed a barbel of 9.4 making it very much worthwhile facing the floods. The photo on the right I took this lunchtime and I think the Blashford footbridge is about there, at least I hope it is or those recent catches of Dave Stirzaker may be down to more than water craft!!

5th March

The rain has had its expected effect and the valley looked extremely damp this morning. Whilst the fishing is difficult, to say the least, the floods make for very dramatic scenery.

Blashford in flood Flooded car park Dace from the sidestreams

Left The river is somewhere out where the swans are. Middle The car park looked quite fishable. Right Plenty of dace for those who did venture out. The water meadows beyond look dry as the hatches control the access of water on that side of the carrier.

Water meadow plan 1 Water meadow plan 2

To give an idea of the length of carriers and drains that make up a water meadow the plans above shows the section beyond the angler in the photo: the two plans overlap north/south. To keep the channels in working order was the lot of the drowner, unfortunately we do not have drowners in the valley these days and the water meadows have all but disappeared. The reason is simply the cost of labour, when constructed between 1680 and 1720 rural labour was cheap. Today water meadows are not "cost effective" so we are loosing all the ditches and drains that provide a part of the vital habitat that helped make the Avon the river with the greatest bio-diversity of any river in the UK.

Field system Chinese field system

Present day Chinese field system

Other societies, where labour remains cheap, maintain their field systems. It will be a tragedy if we loose our examples of the first tentative steps into intensive farming.

4th March

I hate to think where the river will be in the morning, continuous heavy rain throughout the day with the river already at the top of the banks. I doubt if it will be fishable for several days and that is providing we do not get more rain making for a very soggy end to the coarse season.

With the high water news from the river is very scarce, hence the lack of entries, I have heard of one or two roach bags and reasonable chub catches. I will mention one concern that has arisen this week and that is dead or injured birds. With avian flu having once more been splashed all across the media recently the dead swans are causing concern requiring inspection to determine what brought about their demise. Anything that looks suspicious has to be reported to Defra for them to collect and carry out post mortems.

Powerline strikes Heron beak

Two of the four swans that have hit one small section of powerline this week; our foxes are looking well on it if nothing else! The poor quality photo of the heron is to serve as a warning should you, in your visits to the river, ever come across an injured or one stuck in a netting fence as was the case with this individual. It is an instinctive response of any injured bird to strike out toward the face and with that beak herons can do an awful lot of damage. Do not go near them unless you are experienced in dealing with large birds and be particularly careful with regard to dogs ensuring they do not rush in as they will risk very serious injury.

I have also included a shot of the wild daffodils that are still plentiful in some areas of the Avon Valley as a peace offering to the Welsh readers for not including a St David's Day entry.

Wild daffodils

Wild daffodils

25th February

The day of the Trust pike match, fished for the Oliver Cutts Memorial Trophy, dawned with a river the colour of milky tea and out in the fields on many of the fisheries. Very disappointing, the higher catchment particularly to the west must have had considerably more rain than we had down the bottom end. I say the west side as the muddy colour looked as if the Nadder with it clay and greensand geology had added considerably to the mix. With fifty anglers heading our way a from as far afield as Dunkeld on The Tay we had to make the best of it and fit in where we could. Almost a full field made the trip and despite the conditions the day was very enjoyable with a welcome curry waiting at the Royal Oak at the end of the day. A full report of the match will be added to the "Annual Charity Pike Match" page in the "News" section as soon as possible.

Winner Dave Cole A curry to finish

Provisional winner Dave Cole with a fish of 13 pounds from the Hale Park Syndicate water and a warming curry to chase away the chill of the river bank.

Whilst out with Jim Foster on our rounds as Pike Match stewards we did call at the lakes to catch up on news, I just had to include the photo of a cracking bag of fish one of the anglers had this morning. What is also extremely pleasing is the presence of the unhooking mat to avoid damage when preparing to weigh or release the fish. Both this photo and the one of Brian Reed a couple of days ago show the techniques developed in the carp world are being adopted by the good anglers after other species; a big well done to those anglers.

Eighty pounds of bream and tench

Colin Crabb with a superb catch of bream and tench from a local lake.

One other snippet that came my way this week was that during the exploratory dip netting exercise recently undertaken by Sparholt College to establish a monitoring protocol for the oxbows they discovered juvenile chub, dace, loads of minnows and roach. Far from conclusive evidence of the worth of the projects but very encouraging news that at least some of the intended juveniles had found the hoped for sanctuaries we had provided.

23rd February

With the river once more out in the fields we all have our fingers crossed that by Sunday, when the WSRT Charity Pike Match due to be fished at various venues from Salisbury to Christchurch, will have cleared and dropped a little. With the river pushing through, as it is at the moment, it should at least make the pike seek the more sheltered bays and slacks; making location easier. Watch this space to find out how the fifty odd anglers got on, (that's approximately 50 anglers) not fifty oddstrange anglers. Come to think of it!!

Violets

I promise to get out and photograph some fish this weekend but I just had to put up this pic of the violets that are putting on their delicate display beside the lakes at the moment.

20th February

The river continues to drop back and is looking well, so if you have the opportunity tomorrow would be a good day to be out as we are forecast more rain upto the weekend. I have even heard of a roach catch or two coming out, mainly from the higher river but the bottom end is producing the odd fish so get the trotting gear sorted out and make the best of it.

Black tailed godwits Avon ostrich

The first photo is of the godwits that are still with us, the second is an Avon Ostrich doing the head in the sand trick. Almost deserving of a caption competition.

18th February

The river is dropping back within the banks, has a lovely green tinge and a temperature in the high 40's which all points to a river in good order. Plenty of chub have been coming out but unfortunately very little else to report but that may well be down to the lack of rods on the bank as very few anglers appear to be out.

I mentioned a week ago that there were godwits in the lower valley and as the water has continued to drop they have moved into the middle reaches. Along with the hundreds of ducks, gulls and lapwings over 1000 black tailed godwits are providing a wonderful site beside the river.

Black tailed godwits Wildfowl over the flooded meadows

Flooded meadows managed for the birds

16th February

Bank high and muddy has meant that only the brave and foolhardy have been out on the river during the previous few days. I have yet to hear of a fresh salmon off the Avon and very few kelts, that is probably more a reflection on the rod effort than the number of fish dropping back down the river. On that point the latest info from the EA counter at Knapp Mill last year recorded in the region of 1100 salmon entering the Avon. I must admit I found the figure disappointing, having gone on record at the start of the year with an estimate of 1456. My estimation was based on exploitation rates, redd counts etc whilst disappointing the counter at least highlights the desperate state of the run on the Avon.

February bream

Brian Reed with the results of a days February bream fishing

News still reaches me of some wonderful catches that have been made despite the soggy conditions; roach to 3 pounds 5 ounces and another huge chub of 7 pounds 8 ounces. The lakes have produced bream, tench and continue to set records with the size of the carp a 46 pound fish being landed this week. The days when Richard Walker's common carp "Clarissa" or "Ravioli" as I believe he called her, from Redmire seemed an unobtainable goal are long behind us.

11th February

We missed the snow in the lower valley which I personally don't mind in the least, Salisbury Plain had a covering but it looks as if it will be short lived. Whilst we missed the snow the cold north westerly wind made for some very unpleasant conditions for those braving the great outdoors. I visited one of the stillwater trout fisheries during the mid week chill and found to my surprise that the rainbow trout remained active and were providing excellent sport for the one or two rods that braved the elements. The photo below shows WSRT member Ron Davy leading by example, in the ten minutes I was there he landed a sparkling six pounder. The only entry in the fishery log book for the previous day recorded a catch of eight fish all over three pounds with a best fish of six pounds seven ounces; note to self, must get the trout rods out.

Hamer trout fishery

The birds remain convinced spring is on the way despite the cold snap, one of the many mysteries of nature is just how the geese and ducks know the shooting season has ended. Between the first of September and the end of January you can't get within half a mile of most wildfowl and yet come February the first they are all over the lakes not batting so much as an eyelid even when a shotgun is discharged above them during vermin control rounds. It almost appears akin to roach swimming in close proximity to pike which they know are not in a feeding mood but I find it hard to believe Canada Geese use the Gregorian calendar.

Swans on the meadows Bewicks at Ibsley Black swan Canada geese

Despite the dominant pairs establishing their territories we still have a good number of non-breeding swans in the middle river, the first photo shows part of 143 in one small area. Added to the mutes we have eleven Bewicks and even an antipodian visitor of which there are about half a dozen in the valley. The last photo is of the Canada Geese that are now getting on with nest building.

I note with interest that swans have been giving rise to much discussion in the media regarding their detrimental impact on fisheries and farmland. In the higher catchment they are certainly creating a problem when they concentrate on shallow stretches of river and denude them of the vital aquatic weed that supports the delicate eco-system of the chalkstream tributaries of the Avon. Lower in the valley we are more fortunate in that the river is sufficiently wide and deep to be beyond the reach of the grazing flocks. The surrounding water meadows are perhaps not so fortunate having to support all time high numbers of swans throughout the winter period.

7th February

My early morning walk around the lakes to keep the cormorants on the move at first light was an extremely cold one, any water sheltered from the wind had a thick covering of ice. On reaching the bottom bank one of the night anglers was trying to get the blood back into his fingers just having just got them soaked landing a 27 pound mirror. The fish was still in the landing net and as we did the photographs the ice was forming on the unhooking mat and the net was stiffening as the ice set in. Amazing to think a few years ago carp were considered a summer fish, uncatchable in winter, now they are targeted throughout the year. The 27 wasn't the only capture of the night, a 20 pound common and a 31 mirror were also Trevor's reward for enduring the cold of last night.

Frozen carp

Trevor Cooke with his 27+ pound mirror carp

There is a considerable effort currently aimed at understanding and managing the water levels in the valley with the EA and NE working closely in an attempt discover the best management practices for all involved, agriculture, fisheries and wildlife. As the water recedes from the meadows the areas that are left flooded attract greater concentrations of wildfowl. The numbers in the valley are not as high as in some previous wet winters due to the late date at which the rains have arrived. We are seeing reasonable numbers of widgeon, teal, shoveler, gadwall, tufted duck and pintail. The numbers of some species such as gadwall and pintail have increased considerably in recent years for reasons not completely understood, we even have numbers of black tailed godwit now regularly making use of the lower valley in these periods of high water so not all is gloom and doom for the bird world. Admittedly breeding waders in the meadows are in rapid decline, this is hopefully the area that the close look at the water levels and agricultural practices will help to recover.

Wildfowl in the floods Displaying peregrine falcons Pintails

Left Wildfowl over the flooded valley. Middle The reason the ducks all took to the air, a fuzzy shot of a pair of peregrine falcons displaying and making false passes at the panicing ducks. The female is flying upside-down beneath the male. Right Pintails now a more regular visitor to the valley.

4th February

A continuation of the cold clear weather, combined with the very high river, has meant that conditions for those brave enough to venture forth have remained very difficult. Amazingly the stillwaters have continued to produce some massive carp to one or two lucky anglers; those who fish the nights with the current temperatures deserve any success that comes their way.

Salmon coaching day

A very well attended Christchurch Angling Club salmon fly casting clinic at Somerley

3rd February

Remiss of me not to have added an entry to welcome the start of the 2007 salmon season my only excuse being that I have been somewhat busy since my return from hols. It was very pleasing to see several rods out on the first day and they found a high river but one that offered a real chance of a fish if Lady Luck were to smile. Iím sure there are one or two fish in the river and only by being out there and having a fly in the water are you likely to find one.

The cold bright start today at least gave the opportunity to get out with the camera but it did the fishing few favours. I am still catching up with events and have heard of some fabulous fish coming out with barbel over 15 pounds, chub to high 7ís and at last some pike in the 20ís.

The frogs have arrived in the spawning ponds and ditches, their massed croaking sounding like a well oiled machine; hopefully the frosts will not put an end to their efforts.

Salmo rod atIbsley Pool Common frog Phragmites reeds

Left Fred Whitlock out at Ibsley Pool trying to repeat his success of last season and get the first salmon off the Avon. Middle The frogs arriving in readiness for their spawning rituals. Right A shot of the phragmites reeds because along with the fish that spawn and seek cover in their stems and the birds that roost and shelter in them; I like them! I cannot recommend them strongly enough for any fishery.

31st January

A very bright and sunny start to the day which followed a dawn chorus from the bird population that is convinced sprng has arrived; I hope they're right as there is plenty of time for hard weather left in this winter. Certainly the geese and ducks have now paired off and are busy arguing over the prime nest sites, the wood pigeons are cooing and displaying with the hazel catkins and snowdrpos in full bloom.

Soaring buzzards Access to Blashford Pool Snowdrops

Buzzards soaring in a clear blue sky at noon today, two of twelve that were circling high over the lakes. The access to Blashford Run still underwater making for a sticky start for the salmon season tomorrow. Clumps of snowdrops making a bright splash under the trees.

29th January

I've been out and about all day assessing the impact of the recent storms with the dozens of wind blown trees and blocked hatches. The height of the river makes hatch clearance almost impossible so it will be a day or two before we can get the river back under control. Despite the height the river has a good colour and is running clear due to the volume of water that has scoured out the accumulated silt of the summer. Hopefully this late high water, after the salmon has spawned, will not wash out the redds after the encouraging number of fish seen in the higher river this winter. The water temperature today was 9 degrees C which combined with the clear water makes the chance of an early spring salmon when the season gets underway on Thurday better than for several seasons. We lost a further otter to the traffic on the A338 just south of Ibsley during my absence. Hopefully not the little bitch that has reared her cubs for the last couple of years just over the bank from where the casualty was reported. What ever your views on otters and their impct on the fisheries it is always a shame to see such a beautiful animal fall victim to the traffic.

Ibsley Pool high water Goosander drake The run into Park Pool Cleaned kelt

Ibsley Pool today showing the water still just over the bank. Despite the high water in Lower Cabbage this drake Goosander didn't appear overly concerned. The run into Park Pool looking very fishable and offering a real chance of an early fish on the fly. The remains of a kelt pecked clean by the moorhens.

Trotting the Ellingham Carrier Dace and small chub

Most anglers are struggling with the high water with only the odd chub making up the bulk of the catches. Those that chose to fish the sidestreams appear to be getting more sport in the form of dace and small chub. Even in the sidestreams the dace are shoaled up so a little searching is necessary if a decent bag is to be landed.

28th January

Greetings, I'm back from my travels

Cormorants in China

I have been out discovering how others deal with issues that impact on the Avon

From what I have been reading in the papers and hearing on my return I picked a good time to be on the other side of the globe.

In the couple of trips out with the dogs since my return I have seen the number of wind blown trees and flooded meadows that provide testimony to the storms and floods that the valley has experienced. Tales of an inch of snow on Salisbury Plain and several hard fosts only confirm conditions have been far from easy home here.

Conversations with the few anglers I have met indicate that the conditions may have been difficult but one or two good fish have continued to show. The Royalty and one or two of the middle river fisheries have produced some massive barbel and chub and the stillwaters contined to throw out one or two massive carp.

It will be a day or two before I have caught up with all the goings on in the valley, in the meantime I must thank Damian for a couple of very atmosheric shots of the valley taken during my absence.

Dog Kennel in flood Park Pool in January

Photos of the January floods courtesy of Damian Kimmins who has been out with his camera enjoying the extreme conditions

INTERMISSION

6th January

Rain again - just dropping back within the banks and we are currently enjoying heavy rain and are forecast to enjoy a further three days of it. The mild conditions probably will mean the fish are active the problem is down to safely locating them. Please remember the Avon is an alluvial river and the banks are subject to considerable erosion and movement, take extra care under these conditions.

4th January

OUT

First daffs of Spring

I think these can be judged to be "out" to announce the arrival of Spring.....

.....and that ash tree that was well and truly stuck in the hatches, is thankfully "out"

3rd January

Remaining mild and overcast with the water dropping very slowly, very few anglers out on the river just the odd barbel and chub die-hard managing the odd fish. The lakes continue to produce bream, tench and large carp in numbers that would have been undreamt of just twenty years ago.

Eggbox broodstock Swans on the watermeadows

Left Jon Bass and Darren Butterworth stripping a hen salmon for the eggbox scheme. Right a few of the 150 swans that live on the estate at the present time enjoying their seasonal rich grazing on the water meadows; the flock currently includes a couple of Bewicks and a Black Australian Swan

The high water throughout the valley meant that today's attempt to catch the second pair of fish for the eggbox scheme had to be abandoned. I think we will now be very fortunate if we manage to catch the fish required, spawning is usually about finished by this time of year. It is very disappointing that the efforts of all involved are dependent on such a hit and miss manner of obtaining the broodstock. We have all the means to run a far more efficient scheme yet the Environment Agency refuse us permission to enhance our salmon stocks in anything but a manner almost guaranteed to struggle through the draconian conditions they impose. Funding for our salmon work does not come from the public purse or the rod licence, it would not cost the Agency a bean yet we are prevented from attempting to discover the problems that face our stocks. I should perhaps add that the work the EA does on the salmon front, in many areas there are comparatively efficient schemes running, does not cost the coarse angler a bean from the rod licence money there is no cross funding only GIA and private funds develop the salmon schemes.

1st January 2007

Extremely high water but what else is happening on New Years Day in the Valley of the Hampshire Avon

Today's floods Tree in the hatch

Daffodils Over the banks Roosting herons

Today's bream catch Brian Reed fishing King'sVincent's

The top left shows the Middle Avon mid morning well out in the flood plain. Top right is a very large ash tree that waits our attention in one of the hatch gates.

Middle left is a small group of daffodils in my front garden that are just about to bloom. Middle shot of Ibsley Bridge with the water flowing over the bank into the fields. The Middle right shot is of a group of herons at dusk awaiting access to feeding at a local trout farm.

The bottom left Taken today on a valley pit is of Bill Neil sharing a swim with a friend, both landing landing plenty of bream to six pounds. Finally Brian Reed fishing a pit close by landing bream, roach and tench; hardly mid winter angling!!

What will be on the agenda this year, abstraction, stock enhancement, cormorants, angling representation, I dare say the old favourites will remain and many others. What ever arises Iím sure it will be an enjoyable and interesting year in the valley which I hope to record on the Avon Diary.