Avon Diary 2006
What tales of the catchment might this place tell
(All photographs on this site will enlarge if left clicked)
Looking as if we are to see a damp end to the year, the river is out in the fields again. For the dedicated barbel anglers who relish these conditions please exercise extreme care when negotiating the banks.
Yesterday I mentioned we hoped to find a couple of pairs of salmon to supply the eggbox project with eggs to get up and running. Today six of us, under a block licence from the Environment Agency, visited the River Wylye on the Wilton Flyfishers Association water in an effort to make a start. Jon Bass who manages the project for the trust had been liasing with Adrian Simmonds of the Flyfishers in an effort to locate the fish, our efforts are recorded below.
As you can see we were at least partly successful in that we managed to collect one pair that were ready for stripping. The sequence of photos shows Jon Bass our project leader and Darren Butterworth, who very kindly came up from Trafalgar Fisheries to provide his enormous experience with the delicate task of stripping the fish, removing a cock fish from the anaesthetic and drying him off. The drying is essential to ensure water does not mix with the milt as the motility of the sperm is immediately effected. The second photo shows the cock fish being stripped of his milt and the third pic the hen being stripped of her eggs. Once stripping has been achieved the eggs and milt are mixed and the eggs allowed to go through the various hardening stages before they are transferred to the eggbox incubators. The final photo shows Pete Reading returning the empty hen fish after she had been stripped, hopefully to be one of the six percent of Avon kelts thought to return as second spawners.
With a day or two left on our block licence and before the salmon complete their spawning we may yet manage to get a second pair of fish to meet the eggbox requirements. I would like to record our thanks to all that have assisted Jon in getting this project off the ground, today in particular thanks to Adrian and the Wilton Flyfishers for their support and the efforts of Darren who so ably stripped the fish.
A settled spell of weather over the Christmas break has allowed the hardy anglers among us get out to search for those elusive specimens. The lakes have continued to produce fish for those who have prepared carefully and adopted a delicate approach, roach, carp and even the bream have turned up on a couple of occasions.
The rivers are still difficult, whilst they have continued to drop they are still very definately pushing through very quickly. The sidestreams are producing dace and roach where the tightly shoaled fish can be found, location is the key to success, so be prepared to move around. The larger channels are responding better to the maggot feeder, trotting maggot being more productive on the smaller streams.
Richard Biggs with a Christmas 20 in the shape of this very distinctively marked common and Matt Day with a 28+ Christmas mirror.
Tony Perkins finding some nice roach on the feeder. It's good to see one of the local fishing club officials finding a few fish, the effort put in to ensure the fishing for the rest of us deserves high praise and reward
I have received reports of kelts dropping downstream after the exertions of their spawning rights higher in the catchment. Lets hope they are still actively involved on the redds as we hope to obtain two pairs of fish to run the egg box project. The salmon spread their spawning over a week or two in most years so fingers crossed we manage to find the ones we need.
A couple of shots taken early afternoon to illustrate the freezing mist that hung about the valley all day
A misty view over the carrier and the coating of ice that the freezing mist across the lake produced
The meadows are almost clear of the flood water, just one or two of the lower lying areas to go. Last night the air temperature dropped below freezing and we had the first decent frost for what seems ages and with todays grey mists in the sheltered hollows the frost didn't lift all day. The river is clearing and looks very well, the dropping temperature will make results patchy for a day or two but hopefully once the fish get used to it we will see some good fish over Christmas and New Year.
One or two low lying areas are still under water
What a glorious day, even if it did start with a puncture in the truck, I should have taken the rods down and chased the chub about but I was happy to have a wander about in the flooded valley and enjoy the winter sunshine. I will definately get out to find a chub or two as the current generation of large chub are very special indeed, there are some wonderful fish capable of being the fish of a lifetime if my luck holds.
I must thank John McGough for the pic of the chub, at 6.14 it illustrates very clearly the quality of fish that are to be found at present. The middle shot has two anglers hidden in the reeds below the Dogwood frieze, capturing the strange atmosphere in the valley today. On the right a peregrine kept us under close obs. as we splashed through the flooded meadows.
As we came back through the lakes Dan Hall was just landing a fine 20 pound common, under the close scrutiny of some of the other lads who were out today. All in all it was a good day, I hope some of the pics go some way to capture the magic and mystery of what the Avon valley has to offer, even the candid shots have a "reel" charm.
Splash back.......Pleased or What?
The river remains high and the water and air temperature similarly so. Those that are managing to fish the river are finding the chub obliging with the odd good barbel still to be found hiding in the deep slack corners. We have reached the time of year when we would normally expect to see the salmon busy with their spawning, this prolonged high water has meant we are not sure what stage the salmon have reached in the procreative activities. We are hoping to find a couple of pairs in the higher river to provide the eggs we are hoping to place in the eggbox project that has been so meticulously planned by Trust committee member Jon Bass. I would appreciate any information from site visitors who find any signs of salmon showing in the Avon, not only fish cutting but any signs, kelts, active fish, mortalities, accidental captures please email info to me at - Salmon@jlevell.net
The lakes continue with the unseasonal production of fish with regulars Steve Peckham and Matt Day braving a night on a valley pit and both managing to land fish, Steve getting a brace of 30+ mirrors and Matt a brace of commons the best going 22 pounds. Matt has had a good run of commons recently but he was slightly worried about his bait as the mirrors have managed to avoid him. He need worry no more, Steve landed both his thirties on a handful of bait he had scrounged off Matt!!
The river remains high but very fishable for those that are dedicated enough. Steve Peckham with one of his brace of thirties landed last night. A kelt washed up on the bank last spring, please send details of any sightings in the valley.
Every picture tells a story, just what that discarded brolly has to say is totally depressing. On Monday when we called to check the hatches the weather was absolutely foul, torrential rain and the wind was making a good attempt at a hurricane. Two anglers were out braving the elements and the unfortunate guy sat just on the far side of the hatches in the pic suffered inverted brolly syndrome, his maggot tray took on water at an unprecedented rate, the occupants making a break for freedom during the chaos. I have to admit some sympathy for his plight but why, when he packed up at the end of the day, did he chuck his busted brolly in the brambles beside the car park. Ignorance? stupidity? I haven't got a clue but should I bump into our angling friend I will make a point of asking why he didn't tuck it in the back of his nice roomy Audi!
One of the great mysteries of riverkeeping is why there is always a shoe in the flotsam and jetsam that arrives with blocked gates and hatches. From the number of wellies, flip-flops and trainers I find along with the old wine and spirit bottles, tennis balls, conkers, pallets etc half the population of Salisbury must be hopping about with only one shoe on.
With the mild weather continuing we are entering new territory for many of the valley inhabitants, we have mallard mating, mistle thrushes pairing off and one other unseasonal event we are witnessing is that the grass in the meadows is still growing. That may seem a strange point to pick upon as an indicator of change but the implications of fresh grass in December will have knock on effects across the country. The weather dictates the movement and migration of the bird population as they seek food and shelter and at this time we might well expect to see wildfowl numbers increasing rapidly in the valley. The weather in the east of Britain and across the North Sea in the Netherlands remains exceptionally mild and the wildfowl are finding grazing to suit their needs much closer to home. Many of our indigenous species of flora and fauna require periods of cold weather to set their time clocks, if they fail to receive these triggers nesting birds, spawning fish and bud burst on such trees as our ash and beech get out of sync. Once the species seasons become confused will the food be available for the fledglings and the fry? What changes will we see if the species more dependent on photo-period fail to hatch at the requisite time and the insects are not there as food and to pollinate the flowers? Whilst the rain we are enjoying with the mild conditions is most welcome, with hopefully more to come to safeguard our summer flows from the aquifers, we could do with a fortnight or so freeze-up to remind every one in the valley winter has some way to run.
Left, only the local geese, gulls, lapwings and swans out enjoying the current floods in the valley today. Middle, last week out of the train window we witnessed small packs of widgeon beside the canals in the Netherlands, birds that under more seasonal weather may have been in the Avon Valley. Right, one of the valley Mistle Thrushes that is thinking of nesting.
Today brought around one of my favourite calendar events when the Springer spaniel field trials for the SW of England and Wales arrived with us to run the novices. To see those dogs working is a sight that never ceases to amaze me, their enjoyment to be working and the energy has to be seen to be believed; brambles, tree stumps, fences, water - bring it on. They just love every second and under the instant control of their handler, working dogs at their very best. Unfortunately I cannot show you any photos as my role as one of the walking guns requires total concentration but if you every get the chance to observe a trial I would recommend it to all who appreciate the rural lifestyle.
One result of the weekend storms were the number of trees we had down which will keep us busy for sometime clearing the debris. The limbs and bows that fall in the river will all eventually end up in the hatch gates and straining out all the water born rubbish making for many strenuous hours winching, cutting and heaving them clear.
2nd December 2006
The latest Trust Newsletter is on the "News" page and worth a look to keep you abreast of goings-on.
With the river out in the fields and raging through, the Oxbows are physically providing the sheltered areas intended. The first photos show the extent and force of the river juveniles have to contend with. The second and third are the culvert three quarters of the way down "Park" oxbow and looking along the length of "Park"; all taken within 20 minutes of each other. The oxbows are currently providing steady flows filtered through the reed beds with a mean depth of 1m with areas 2m deep, both sides of the main channel, lets hope the fish find them.
Two or three years will pass before we know just how effective our efforts have been.
Rain wonderful rain, flooding the valley and filling the aquifers. It may not be the most enjoyable weather to be out with the rods but without the rain of the last day or two and hopefully considerably more to come we would be in trouble next summer. This should also give the gravel on the redd sites a good scrub and polish which will see the next generation of salmon off to a good start, it may not be so good for the seatrout but their eggs should be safely buried and the floods will pass over the top.
The photo of the spillway gives some idea of the volume of water coming down the river, its well worth remembering that at a flow of 40 cumecs (cubic metres per second) translates to approximately 40 tons of water a second passing any given point. The Avon has the potential to reach flow rates in excess of 100 cumecs, at such flows the flood plain will be fully submerged and much of the force will be dissipated. It is as today, when the river comes out of the channel, that the forces reach their maximum. It is at this stage the ox bow fry refuges will hopefully come into play on behalf of the cyprinid juveniles. If you have occasion to build any structures in the lower reaches of a large river they will have to withstand an enormous amount of pressure and erosive power so make sure they are sufficiently robust.
Nowadays the number of young anglers that fish the local stillwaters is extremely pleasing, especially when we hear so much media criticism of youngsters these days. Only today I heard on the radio that the government is to recruit "Super Nannies" to ensure the well being of the next generation. All I can say is that the young men and occasional young lady that I meet on the fisheries are, in most cases, a pleasure to talk to. Perhaps the government would do better to look to the social benefits of angling and ensure the future of our sport is secure with increased investment in our rivers and lakes.
A view I often hear expressed by the more conservative, with a little "c", is that the young anglers today are only interested in carp and the other species are ignored, I have to admit I have in the past feared that this may have been a true reflection but now I think all aspects of the sport will endure. When I consider what species were available to me when my interest in angling was stirring the wonderful specimen carp of today were not an option, had they been I would undoubtedly have fished for them to the exclusion of all other species. At various times I have had periods when I have fished for salmon, seatrout, roach and carp to the exclusion of other species yet I do not feel I have failed to appreciate the value of those I do not target. The young carp anglers of today will widen their horizons, if they stay within our sport many will wish to experience what magic grips salmon, trout and the other species anglers and what pleasure those who are just "happy to be there" derive. Many of these young men and women now have the opportunity to go on into further education to specialise in the science behind the many mysteries of our sport and their combined knowledge and experience will help preserve what we all feel so passionate about. Sermon over, so below is a great photograph from the weekend showing one of the valley young men, Nick Dunn, with a real lump of 36 pounds 5 ounces, I only wish I had access to such fish when I was his age.
Brilliant fish, well done Nick and thanks for the pic
Back to rain and we now have a river that looks as it should at this time of year with a good flow with reasonable colour as the accumulated silt and summer weed are scoured away. One aspect of life beside the river is the repetition of several tasks that many people do not even realise occur, hatches have to be cleared and set, salmon passes cleared, screens cleared and debris removed; it is only when the jobs are not attended to that people realise the work behind their pleasant day beside the river.
Sparsholt College third year students arrived at the ox bow site today in an effort to establish the monitoring protocol that will be employed to evaluate the effectiveness of the scheme. Several different approaches are being field tested and as the snags and problems are ironed out we hope to arrive at the most efficient method to discover just what impact our efforts in providing the fry refuges are having.
The valley has seen an invasion of fieldfares and redwings as they visit us from their breeding sites in northern climes, flocks from a dozen or so up to several thousand strong visit in hard weather time will tell what this winter will send. The haws in the hedgerows are receiving the undivided attention at the moment, when they are exhausted they will change their diet to include the worms and grubs to be found on the close cropped grass of the sheep paddocks and parkland.
The Trout Stream salmon pass needs clearing, again. Students and lecturer from Sparsholt College field testing the practicality of setting a stop net in the Coomer oxbow.
Dramatic weather changes bring with them dramatic changes within the valley. The fabulous colour of the trees, following the frosts of a week ago, have been blown away with the squalls and hail of yesterday, it was not only the leaves as several large oaks gave up the struggle blocking local roads and providing hours of work to cut them clear. The forest streams came up over the fords Friday evening stopping traffic for several hours, any seatrout waiting for sufficient water to cover their backs will have hopefully reached the redds without any problems. Then the skies cleared, the wind dropped, the flood water drained away and the temperature dropped like a stone. The water temperature followed the air temperature and overnight the river temperature fell three degrees centigrade.
The best place to photograph Friday's torrential rain was from inside the truck
Overnight and early morning rain provided a brief rise of water in the forest streams which quickly cleared and dropped back by early evening. The coloured water gave the opportunity for a reasonable run of seatrout to move into the forest with good young fish between two and six pounds being the bulk of the fish seen. I would imagine that any big fish would have been reluctant to move on such a short spate with the risk of being stranded in the headwaters.
The cormorant population of the valley appears higher this year than in previous years during November. We have well over one hundred birds flying inland to feed every morning and there is also an inland roost which forty or fifty birds are regularly using.
Cormorants resting during the day on valley gravel pits
With between one hundred and one hundred and fifty cormorants feeding within the lower river every day there is a considerable impact on fish populations. Concerns have been repeatedly expressed, for more than two decades, to the authorities charged with statutory obligation to maintain, improve and develop our fisheries but these have fallen to the greater extent on deaf ears. The consequences of the change in feeding habits of these normally sea living birds, with the associated biological and financial implications, have fallen totally on the fisheries and their users. The authorities have hidden behind totally inadequate measures agreed with elements of the angling world with very little practical knowledge of dealing with matters on the ground; with the associated cost of implementing such measures once more falling entirely on the fisheries owners and tenants. This is exactly the same situation that is now arising with the rapidly increasing otter population, Defra enact protective legislation for these predatory species and walk away from any responsibility for the consequences, irrespective of the effect on livelihoods and employment. Have you ever tried putting an otter proof fence around twenty miles of fishery?? A lesson could be learnt from similar legislation used to protect species in the United States, where the protected species can be shown to be having a detrimental impact on people, be it their livestock or livelihood, they are compensated; our fishery "representatives" could do worse than take this message onboard.
A reminder that to replace a young leather carp of this size, killed by an otter, will cost the fishery owner well over £1000
To remind people what impact cormorants are having, one hundred birds eating two pounds of fish per day will have eaten fish to the value of one hundred and fifty thousand pounds (£150,000.00) from the Avon valley by the time they leave in the spring. Added to that many of the fish eaten will have been EU directed species such as salmon parr, bullheads and lamprey.
Monday 13th November
I've been without my computer for a day or two, which accounts for the lack of diary entries and was also quite an alarming situation for me. Realising just how dependent I am becoming was quite a reality check. Booking flights, "Skyping" the other side of the world, if that's the correct expression? access to unlimited opinion and information, all in seconds at the click of the mouse, quite staggering. I was in the middle of exchanging emails related to water level management plans for the valley and preparing Trust documents, suddenly, what was taking minutes grinds to a halt as we have to post and await responses delaying decisions and the production of future plans; my reliance on this gadget is frightening.
As for our river very little has changed, we remain very low and very clear for the time of year with a water temperature of around 10 degrees Centigrade. The fish have gone into hiding with the deeper holes and overhanging trees appearing to be the favoured areas. Having said that, finding them doesn't necessarily mean you're going to catch, the odd chub and pike with the best chance at last knockings. Failing to catch is not the end of the world as the benign weather makes the valley a superb place to be and angling is ninety percent imagination anyway so its worth walking the banks to work out just where your next monster will come from.
Damian Kimmins has just emailed me the photograph below; it is the scene that inspired my comment related to the percentage of angling attributable to imagination. When I met Damian yesterday he was trotting the pool in the picture and being steadfastly ignored by the chub that reside there-in, with the occasional rolling fish applying salt to the wound. The location speaks for itself; I can almost see those golden flanks under those willows beside Swan Island and as for the size of that barbel that still avoids capture in that beat my estimates would only upset the barbel anglers among you. Technique is important but in the great scheme of things if you don't have a feel for the place and that desire to peer into the depths in the hope of a glimpse of your dreams, you are missing the point.
Classic Avon, lovely photo, well done Damian
Yesterday was a one off, mild and overcast amidst the recent mist and cold. The stillwaters produced carp to 27 pounds and one angler managed 13 large bream, more akin to a mid-summer evening. Today we are back to the seasonal norm with early mist followed by bright clear skies and a drop in temperature to match.
Angling is definately a relaxing and social pastime, one to cast and play the fish, one to put on the bait and one to net and unhook the fish. They were catching plenty of dace when I stopped to look over the bridge and I bet they solved most of the world's problems as well.
Conditions remain extremely difficult, low, clear and cold. The dace continue to provide sport in the deeper glides and one or two chub and pike are active but nothing is easy.
Very photogenic but not so good for the catch rate if you are out with the rod. Despite the low flows the salmon pass on the side stream has still to be kept clear of weed and debris.
Mea culpa, that photo of Damian, the chub and the moon just may have seen the inside of "Paint Shop", it seemed to perfectly capture the feel of the evening, I will try and resist any further such temptation to enlarge Damian's fish
A very misty start to the day which lifted around mid-day to bring a warm, sunny afternoon providing ideal conditions for flooding the duck splashes.
The photos above show the sequence to flood a splash, from Darren closing the carrier hatch to the full pond at sunset; my dopey lab is trying to work out where the ducks are.
River water temperature in the low 40's Fehrenheit (below 6 degrees Centigrade), low flow, clear and sunny, this evening a bright moon heralded the arrival of the mist in the valley; not ideal conditions but trust member Damian Kimmins, not a man to be daunted, managed to find a chub or two.
THE MAN OF THE MOMENT
Brian Marshall our Chairman must be heartily congratulated on an extremely difficult job, extraordinarily well done - take a bow Brian - may I recommend all readers take the time to look at the Irish Nets page.
On a more local scale I should mention that we have had a second even colder night of frost and as I write this the frost is once more settling in the valley. The cold weather has seen the appearance of the pike anglers on the bank and with the clear water I would imagine we may well be seeing some good fish landed, Nic Price made a good start to his winter campaign when he landed the 15 pounder seen below in the photograph.
A sure sign of approaching winter when the pike become the focus of attention
November has arrived with the first frost of the year and the river clearing and dropping back. With the recent flush through much of the summer weed has disappeared, along with the associated coffering affect, leaving a channel with increased flow rate but greater freeboard than experienced throughout the summer.
I bumped into Jim Healy yesterday, he of the 12.4 barbel on the spillway 17th October, and he told me of an 8.6 chub he had landed the previous Friday. Unfortunately Jim's photographs have not come out, hopefully we will see that fish landed again this season and we will get a photo to record the event.
Footprints on the bridge planking as the first frosts settle on the valley
The trees refuse to take on their autumn colour, remaining stubbornly glad in green, we have yet to have a frost and today's weather is mild and overcast. The only sign in our house that autumn is with us is the blackberry vodka is now in the bottles and next years sloe gin is in the demijohn in readiness for a month or two under the stairs. One other sign of the warm autumn can be seen outside the window in the form of the fig tree which like those found in the Mediterranean has produced a second crop of summer figs, certainly an impact of global warming I can live with.
One aspect of this mild overcast weather is that the lakes continue to produce excellent catches of carp, tench and bream which in the case of one young man has made a fishing trip with his uncle an experience to remember.
Nine year old "TJ" playing a good carp with a somewhat unorthadox rod grip but the side strain was just as effective, Uncle Frank on hand to do the honours with the net and below the end result.
One of twelve carp up to 18 pounds 6 ounces landed by "TJ" and Frank on a valley stillwater, perch up to two pounds and some good rudd made for a day to remember for young "TJ".
With the river in such good order WSRT committee member Pete Reading has been out on the bank enjoying more success on the Middle Avon.
The result of Pete's efforts this magnificent looking chub of seven pounds six ounces.
The first good flood of the autumn arrived Friday following the heavy overnight rain Thursday, it was good to have all the gates open and see the old weed being flushed through the system. The change brought about by the first flood is always exhilarating with the clear air following the rain allowing a veritable invasion of the senses with all the pungent aromas of weed, silt and damp leaves that are being carried through the system. The high water has forced anglers to seek refuge in the carriers and sidestreams for a day or two and it has been good to see good numbers of roach and particularly pleasing to see boldly striped perch turning up throughout the system. I'm told the seatrout ran into the forest streams on their spawning mission, I unfortunately missed them on this side of the forest but hopefully they made it into the higher reaches of the tributaries and a new generation is safely hidden in the gravel.
One of the downsides of the storms are the blocked drains, wind blown trees, washed out roads and blocked hatches, combined with what is an extremely busy time planning and researching new projects and ever expanding current ones time is a rare commodity at present. Any committee members reading this entry can rest assured I haven't forgotten the minutes of the last meeting they are in the system awaiting completion.
The rain has continued throughout the last few days with torrential downpours last night (Monday) sending the river out into the meadows in several places up and down the valley. The brim full channel has given the ox bow fry refuges their first opportunity to come on line, it will be some time before we are able to assess the benefits but we are now putting the final touches to the monitoring programme ethat will be implemented by the Students of Sparsholt College.
All the hatches open and plenty of coloured water clearing out the accumulated rubbish and silt of the summer. Ken with a bright perch from a side stream, its good to see the perch returning with fish to three pounds being taken from thedeep holes. Many of you will recognise the footbridge over the carrier that provides access to Blashford Pool, this afternoon saw the river well out in the fields; the lapwings made the best of the wet ground with a couple of hundred appearing as if by magic. The final photo shows the Park Pool ox bow that had an extra 0.4m of water hopefully providing safe haven for this years fry.
The overnight rain has flushed a little more weed into the system and a tinge of colour so matters are progressing slowly in the right direction. Autumn is definitely with us and it's not today's showers and squalls I refer to but the behaviour of some of the butterflies and moths that live in the valley. The two pictures below show a Peacock butterfly and a group of Herald moths with a further Peacock with its wings closed, they are all clinging to the arched brick roof of an estate ice house; as are the mozzies also in shot. They all over winter in the ice house because it remains at a constant temperature a few degrees above freezing due to the insulated construction techniques employed to build it back in the 19th century.
Bearing in mind its pitch black in the ice house is it intentional on the part of the Peacock to choose to overwinter on the soot stain from a candle as it appears black when its wings are closed? The brilliant almost iridescent colours are a result of the flash not me messing about in Paint Shop, the image is untouched. The Herald Moths huddle in small groups, we don't know why they do that either.
Remaining low and clear with an increasing amount of weed drifting downstream, good barbel, chub and bream continue to be landed despite the difficult conditions. With little to report I have included a photo of some Parasol Mushrooms (Lepiota procera) good eating and according to one member the abode of sprites, elves and fairies. I can vouch for the excellent taste in garlic butter with added parmigiano, as for the domiciliary arrangements I will await more conclusive photographs.
No change to report on the river, the weather is staying unseasonably mild and the fish continue to oblige so things aren't that bad. As I sat here writing up the entry Frank Lamb has called to tell me of a 11.8 barbel he has just landed from a swim I cleared at the weekend that up until then hadn't been fished this season.
Colin Gilson enjoying a session after the dace at Ibsley
Ian McCall returning 50 pounds plus of bream from a local stillwater
Finally Jim Healy with a 12.4 barbel off the spillway
All the photos taken within half an hour of each other, proving what ever your fancy the valley is happy to provide.
Todays showers have not been sufficiently prolonged to have had any effect on the river, we remain desperately low and clear with weed continuing to drift downstream. Dispite the low conditions trust committee member Pete Reading has had a good week with a 14+ barbel and a chub within an ounce of seven pounds at 6.15. Fellow committee member Budgie Price was also out on the lakes today, float fishing a secret bait in the margins he landed six carp for well in excess of 70 pounds with a best common of 19.14.
Pete with his fabulous barbel and chub
A day or two ago my diary entry made light of a steer wading the carrier and eating his fill of aquatic weed which to many would seem to fly in the face of the perceived wisdom of the day to fence the stock out of the rivers and streams. With that entry in mind I will provide some food for thought that would seem to be at odds with the advice so readily handed out by our aquatic consultants. The photo below is a lowland carrier that cattle do not have access to; the completely overgrown and covered stream is almost a total loss to the aquatic fauna as light penetration is restricted and devoid of open water for over a thousand meters totally fishless.
The fish population migrate to the openings as does the desirable weed such as ranunculas, until eventually as the season progresses these openings close and the fish are forced to move out into the main river. There is a debateable benefit here in that the weed also keeps at bay the algal blooms that choke the gravel if the flow falls too low and the gravel under the floating weed canopy remains clean and free of debris. The winter kills off the cover and the carrier is clean and sparkling the following spring. That's fine in theory but in practice as the channel becomes choked the mild winters and low flows or the past decade are unable to cleanse the channels and the weed takes over loosing thousands of meters of carrier habitat and creating flooding problems for the hay meadows. Below is a sequence of photos showing the same carrier upstream of the photo above, where cows have access, the juvenile fish surveys always find strong year classes, good examples of the ranunculas community flora and fauna exist and the threatened breeding waders find soft margins.
The first two photos show Daisy and her pals doing an excellent job of clearing the channel. The margins have good cover, the gravel bed is loose and mobile and the desirable weed flourishes. The EA survey team find plenty of young fish such as the barbel in the final photo
I understand the desirability of fencing a stream on an overgrazed "blasted heath" or barren mountain or moorland such as on many west coast rivers or the Scottish catchments. The problem with the Avon is the fertility of the alluvial plain grows marginal cover at a rate that without a full-time work force to do continual battle soon strangles our lowland streams. As you go upstream, higher in the catchment the need to ensure poaching of the banks and overgrazing becomes a real issue; as do swans and the damage of an uncontrolled population. The lesson that must be taken onboard is that one prescription does not cure all ills, an individual approach to each catchment and even differing areas within catchments is essential; national policies do not fit with fishery management.
Entering the second week of October and the river is still gin clear and desperately low, shirt sleeves, sunshine and no sign of autumns recharge. Already talk is of a third low rainfall winter with all the implications for the ecology of the valley if the aquifers up on the chalk fail to recharge. Personally I think it is a little early to worry, there's a very long way to go with this autumn and winter.
Dace and juvenile barbel in large numbers throughout the river.
One advantage is that we are still able to spot the fish and a walk beside the river is still extremely time consuming. We have a mix of summer and autumn with the low river and the fields full of mushrooms to slow progress even further. A word of warning for any thinking of gathering mushrooms in that this season is also remarkable for the number of Destroying Angels (Amanita virosa) actually on the edges of the fields beside the woods and hedges. This toadstool is deadly and whilst it is clasified as rare this season groups of four and five growing within feet of field mushrooms have been a frequent site.
Take care not to pick the Destroying Angel if you'r out mushrooming
The showers and squalls have given the river an inch or two of extra water and a tinge of colour causing the weed to break-up and come down in a continuous stream.
Despite the difficult conditions Frank continues to prove barbel are not that difficult to capture.
An interesting and welcome legacy of the carp fishing background is the use of the unhooking mat that can be seen in both the photos of Frank. Photos taken a couple of inches above a wet mat are an example that all should emulate where ever possible.
I mentioned a day or two ago Frank Lamb's efforts on the gudgeon front and that I was hoping for a photo of a thirteen pounder he had landed, well I can confirm I was correct and the fish is definately a barbel. Not a bad way to start your barbel fishing career though, a 13 pounder as your first fish; well done Frank.
You have to admit that as well as being a great first barbel this is a great first barbel photograph.
With the warm damp conditions of the past few days we have had a surfeit of mushrooms on the grazing paddocks of the valley. The Parasol mushrooms and the giant puff balls are also present this year in numbers greater than we have seen for some time. It will be interesting to see if the autumn woodlands produce in similar abundance.
The warmth has also encouraged the hatch of the Clouded Yellow butterflies that the earlier migrants to our shores laid when they arrived back in the spring.
The photos below are of Trust Vice President, Hugh Miles, filming the conservation work that is ongoing in the Avon Valley. Hugh is putting together a record of the projects as we endeavour to understand and assist in the recovery of the rivers; to take the positive message to a wider audience. I must say it is a long time since I have felt such a "feel good" factor within the angling community and in Hugh we are extremely fortunate in having an unparalleled talent available to spread the word.
Hugh recording phase one of the oxbow project in all its raw, nakedness. Within a twelve month we will see the transformation as Mother Nature cloaks herself in green and the creatures of the valley find the new areas of water and reeds that will be available to them.
The photos below show the construction of an otter holt as part of the oxbow habitat improvement scheme. Perhaps a little controversial in light of the number of fish kills to be found in the valley but as the predator at the top of the food chain their presences is vitally important to any ecological balance. In a healthy, self sustaining ecology there is room for all species to live in harmony, it is only when imbalances are present that problems arrive. If the fish that anglers seek, that in turn are the base of the economic survival of the river, are suffering population fluctuations and otters predate threatened stock conflicts of interests arise. Otters enjoy protection under the law and rightly so but where that protection detrimentally impacts on the livelihood of individuals a mechanism for compensation should perhaps be available to ensure loss of income and associated hardships do not arise. We are currently looking at the problems associated with establishing a scheme such as that proven to work in the states where Puma and wolves are being given protection that gives rise to similar conflicts of interest on a proportionally larger scale; I suppose we should be grateful otters don't eat cows but if you consider a large carp or barbel has a similar economic value what's the difference?
The stages of construction showing the final waterlevel entrance necessary to prevent it filling up with badgers as the park is, in local terminology, "cooty with them." It is not unusual to see seven or eight badgers at a time out rumaging about on the park in the evenings and any suitable housing is quickly occupied.
On a different subject I bumped into local gudgeon expert Frank Lamb this evening who informed me he had a thirteen pounder earlier today, he admitted it was probably a barbel but he seemed equally as pleased with the capture of such a magnificent fish. I haven't got a pic of the barbel yet but I have in my archive one of Frank with a thirty pound mirror he caught in February 1991 in a local lake, which I have scanned in because I like the pic, I will post the barbel when the pic arrives.
One of the regular barbel anglers, not being able to fish today, very generously offered me half a gallon of caster if I had a use for them. I couldn't refuse such an offer so I had to change plans for today and dig out the rods. For several weeks I have been promising myself a day trotting the shallows to have a look at the dace and this would seem the perfect opportunity. I must say it always amazes me that more anglers do not treat themselves to a day with the stick float or chubber trotting the gravel glides for dace, for the Avon is once more alive with them. Having spent the first couple of hours catching "Avon Herring" the mini chub moved in so I decided I would spend the rest of the morning just having a look at the likely spots to see if the recovery was just in isolated areas or more comprehensive. I can say without fear of contradiction that in every swim I fed hemp and caster, that was remotely suitable for dace, they appeared in good numbers, Ibsley, Ellingham, Ringwood - numbers to gladden the heart.
What is very starkly brought home by such a fish spotting session is the lack of roach in the middle Avon, one or two small shoals but nothing like there should be. Hopefully the first oxbow project that is now complete will go some way in providing a safe haven for juveniles in the event of severe flood events in the coming winters but we must continue to search for the elements that adversely impact on certain species whilst others thrive.
The other day I mentioned a superb catch of barbel by an angler who for years has taken his hols on the Avon. This time his week was topped by a fish of 14.10 and the photo below is the gentleman in question, Roy Chatfield, with his cracking fish - congrats Roy and thanks for the pic.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of this fishy tale is that the fish in the photo is not Roy's PB from the Avon
Oxbow project progress - I will add to the pics when I have time.
I attended the Wessex Water Plc "Low Flow Project Update" held at Wiltshire Wildlife's Langford Lakes today. The Examination of the sustainability of future public water supplies in conjunction with the newly established Avon Catchment ground water model made for an interesting meeting. WWPlc are engaged in the assessment of several of its abstractions with the objective of determining the potential to adversely impact on the riverine environment. This is a commitment they are obliged to undertake under the amp review processes that are running in parallel with the Low Flow investigations to determine alternatives sources of supply in the event licences have to be reduced or given up. Wessex Water are being as open and transparent as they are able in consulting with interested groups and individuals, perhaps the most interesting aspect is the price that true sustainability of supply will be fixed at. Will we see a quick fix to appease the short term concerns and keep the shareholders on-side or a real investment to ensure the projected increase in demand in the changing climatic conditions will be met without having to resort to "only in extreme circumstances" clauses in the abstraction licences. The next year or two will be a critical time in the future of the Avon where the link to abstraction is concerned, if we get it wrong at this juncture future generations will not thank us for our efforts on behalf of the riverine environment.
I have always encourage the cows in the local herd to eat as much aquatic weed off the shallows as possible, their presence in the stream clears the channel, loosens the gravel and allows good light penetration providing a rich variation of habitat. These shallows always hold the highest density of juvenile fish at survey times, the deeper sections becoming completely weeded over and the associated loss of light creates a habitat with far less appeal to the young fish. Normally the cows will graze in eighteen inches or perhaps two feet of water so you can imagine my delight on coming across the beast in the photo below, a herd with his fondness for aquatic weed could keep miles of channel clear. I don't think they would be so welcome higher in the catchment where they have a swan problem.
Changed sides of the river, the larger oxbow below Park Pool is underway, the fallen spiny oak has been left as a natural bridge.
A little more time down by the river has allowed me to have a chat to some of the anglers and catch up with the "Fishy News" The river is producing what can best be described as its autumn bounty with some astonishing catches, one very lucky rod in the last week has had over twenty barbel with nine in excess of 10 pounds, topped by a fantastic fish of 14.10. I listened enthralled as the angler concerned related the story blow by blow, fish by fish, it would be nice to think he may one day write his account up for all those who pursue barbel to enjoy. The four bream over eight and the chub to 6.3 just add to the jaw dropping tale - some weeks hol!! The river has also produced chub to 7.6 and a scale perfect common carp of 25 pounds, truly magical stuff. I don't have to fish these days I get as much satisfaction sharing the joy of those lucky anglers that appreciate the Avon and its wonderful surroundings and look on their good fortune as a bonus - well done to all those involved.
I had to put the two photos above on just because they give me such pleasure. Pete Reading landed the barbel and confirms the river is full of juveniles of a similar stamp. The gudgeon is one of Frank Lamb's recent captures and they were being a nuisance gobbling maggots which in itself is very pleasing as I remember periods in the late 70s and early 80's when a minnow and a gudgeon were a rare sight and as for a baby barbel it was unheard of, things will hopefully continue in a like fashion.
I have failed to mention the autumn migration of our avian summer visitors is well underway with the swifts long gone and the swallows' numbers rapidly reducing as they depart. The martins are still with us but not for much longer before they start their mammoth journey to Africa. The north south direction of the Avon valley makes an ideal route for the birds to follow and this last week has seen the warblers, pipits and reed buntings continuing to move in good numbers and a pair of whinchats provided a splendid sight for Hugh Miles and I as we crossed the meadows heading for the oxbows. Vice president Hugh is filming progress on the oxbow project to record the events for posterity. I must thank member Damian Kimmins for the photo below which he captured last week as a late osprey headed for warmer climes - it may be a fish eater but we welcome their presence in the valley - well spotted and identified Damian; not bad for a townie!! A less welcome migration is the winter arrival of the cormorants that have been down at the coast breeding for the previous few months; a flight of 41 passed over heading off up stream last week.
19th September 2006
The work on the oxbow project is progressing well and can be seen from the photo the east bank excavation is on schedule.
17th September 2006
Having failed for some time to keep up with the diary entries it has become difficult to know where to start. The seasonal clock continues to tick and we are now seeing full onset of autumn. The river still remains in a low flow situation for the time of year awaiting the autumn floods to clear the debris and clean the gravel in readiness for the salmon to complete their mid winter spawning. What little rain we have had has only just managed to get the marginal duckweed on the move before the river drops back as if it never happened.
The Canadian pondweed has become so heavy with the seasons growth it is tearing free from the riverbed leaving banks of silt awaiting the floods to scour it away. The curled pondweed has lost its curl, starting to die back with the algal layers building up and cutting the life giving light, the stringy stems will be with us until the frosts and the floods break them up at the turn of the year. The ribbon weed, Sagittaria sagittifolia that chokes areas of the side channels is is undergoing its strange metamorphosis, as the flow drops it grows the arrowhead leaves that stand clear of the water; totally different from the strangling ribbons of the summer.
We are just about to embark on the Oxbow fry refuge project the WSRT is establishing in an effort to provide a safe haven for the cyprinid fry in the event of major winter flood events. The excavators are on site and tomorrow morning we will start the process of removing the silt and rubbish from the old Oxbows. I will attempt to keep the diary up-to-date with events as they progress, I will also add the project details to the projects page in the research section of the site.
The orb spiders are doing their very best to brighten the mornings with their efforts to catch the fly life that abounds along the river and the more mosquitos they manage the more support they get from me; it's been a long hot summer of lumps and bumps this year. Their efforts have cast the dead chestnut in the weirpool in a mysterious light that Turner would have been proud of.
There may be an even more mysterious story contained in the photo of the web covered chestnut! The angler in the foregound is Frank Lamb who has haunted the carp lakes of the country for the previous decade or two, landing leviathans of immense proportions. He has not been sighted on the lakes for weeks and stories abound related to his mysterious disappearance!!. What is he doing fishing the Avon you may well ask??
4th September 2006
The salmon rod season finished with high water temperatures and low flows combining to make catching above the tidal limit extremely difficult. The 2SW fish of the late spring and early summer were the highlight of the season providing some excellent sport on some of the middle Avon beats. The critical element in deciding the success or failure of these middle river beats is the flow rate. Providing we see flows maintained above ten cumecs next season will, all being well, see a repeat of the 2SW run we enjoyed this year.
With the total rod catch for the river much in the order of the previous decade and the nets at an all time low we do not appear to be seeing the hoped for improvement in the run. A decade of gravel cleaning and catch and release is struggling with the changing conditions and demands on the river; what the future holds remains a lottery.
Last week the Avon Salmon Group met in an effort to bring a little order and direction into the ways of the riverís salmon. It was a very positive meeting with consensus being reached on the way forward for an Avon egg box trial produced by Trust committee member Jon Bass in collaboration with the EA. There are still several hurdles to overcome before we can see the scheme up and running but in association with other group members we are now firmly committed to discovering the practicalities of the process. I will add the details of the scheme to the research page in the next day or two, time allowing.
The season of mellow fruitfulness.
Extremely busy times in the middle Avon, Ellingham and Fordingbridge shows, world sporting clay championship and Christchurch club having an introduction to angling day at the lakes. Hopefully a quiet week or two will allow me the time to get out and wet a line and catch-up on happenings underwater in the valley.
National Federation of Anglers instructors were on hand to give one to one tuition at the Christchurch Angling Club's Welcome to Angling Day. The middle picture is the new WSRT display stand with the super new artwork and information sheets that executive committee member Trevor Harrop (posing right foreground) has produced in recent weeks. The photo on the right is of Bill Neil with a 2.14 crucian which shows he is well able to catch fish other than the chub for which he is justifiably famous. Bill had four crucians with two around the pound and a third at 2.15 making for a fine best brace.
The water temperature has been below the critical 19 degrees C for the past three days so in accordance with the voluntary agreement salmon fishing may recommence on the Avon
The Avon water temperature is over 19 degrees C, Avon salmon fishing is suspended in line with the voluntary agreement for at least two days, watch this space for information
3rd August 2006
We are caught in a period of change that has settled over the valley after the long hot days of late. The autumnal mists which are the norm toward the end of August have arrived and all inhabitants of the valley are reluctant to move through the heat of the day. The salmon fishing is all but over with just the odd angler out with the shrimp and the trout are refusing to be tempted by even the most delicate of fly. The coarse fish in the rivers are very wary, in the clear water, with not real desire to feed as they do not yet feel the need to stack on weight for the winter. The still waters are the best bet for a days productive angling with the carp, tench and bream still happy to get their heads down. Or perhaps just take the opportunity for a relaxing evening and a chin wag when any fish that join in are a bonus.
A relaxing evening after work and below a bonus chub that interrupted the gossip on a very pleasant fishing trip
The seine netting season down at Mudeford has finished with the four nets suffering a very poor season. I will be surprised if the total for the season will reach 100 fish which must be one of the poorest seasons on record. Perhaps the flows allowing the fish to run directly into the river may have had some bearing with the fish running through the Mudeford run on the first high tide or perhaps close under the quay. What ever the reason, the nets have not been able to find the salmon this year. Despite the rods very responsibly refraining from fishing for almost all of July due to high water temperature we do have a rod catch close to 100 fish. If we assume the nets and rods have a combined exploitation rate of 20% there should be approximately 1000 fish in the river and harbour. It will be interesting this year to see how close are traditional methods of assessing fish numbers compare with the counter figures that we will have for the first time this season. Perhaps a little more worrying is the lack of seatrout which normally run into the river through June and July we have not seen them in the middle river so we can only hope they are yet to run.
We have once more this season been working with the netsmen to collect scales to add to our Avon/Stour archive. This archive may be used to establish a DNA signature for Avon and Stour fish to enable identification of our fish should they appear in commercial catches. All that will be necessary in the future will be a few scales from the fish to be identified and the river signatures should be available for comparison. All very high tech stuff but an extremely good use to put this new state of the art science to, I will give updates when available.
The water temperature has been below 19 degrees C for two days according to the EA readings at Knapp Mill which meets the agreed criteria for the re-commencement of salmon fishing. Check with your angling provider if you are in any doubt as to the correct procedure.
25th July 2006
It has been a very strange week since I lasted added an entry; we are still experiencing scorching daytime temperatures under cloudless skies yet last weekend brought thunderstorms with rain as heavy as I have ever seen. A two hour spell Saturday had the roads running like rivers and hay fields standing like lakes with four or five inches of water unable to soak into the baked ground. The Forest streams flash flooded and the main river lifted an inch or two but nothing to dispel the fears of a serious water shortage later in the summer if this heat remains with us.
The river temperature has remained above 19ļC for all of the intervening days so salmon fishing has not restarted. We have seen fish still arriving in the Middle Avon with one particular pool holding half a dozen good sized fish; this is particularly encouraging with the flows now in the region of eight cumecs. The barbel have now become accustomed to anglers bait as part of their diet and we are seeing some wonderful fish landed. The best I have heard of is close to fifteen pounds with a good many doubles backing up that cracking fish. The chub are still the mainstay of anglersí catches behaving in their normal greedy manner coming on to feed as the light fades.
With a clear river it is necessary to brush up on the watercraft most importantly making sure you donít skyline above the swim. Stay well back from the waters edge and ensure the brolly sunshades are set up quietly and out of sight. If you get the opportunity of a few hours fish spotting take note of the shockwave of small fish that go ahead of you out of the margins if you attempt to directly walk the banks. These minnows and fry warn the larger fish of your approach well before you are any ware near enough to glimpse their departure for the weed beds and deep water. Walk well back and approach the river at intervals where you think fish may be laying.
The heat wave continues and the river conditions become more difficult by the day. What fish are feeding are tending to be active in the very first and last hours of daylight. Anglers travelling any distance and having to spend the entire day on the river bank are experiencing very trying times. Probably the most productive way to spend the period through the middle of the day is fish spotting as the river is now running gin clear. It has to be remembered that the fish will be well tucked up in the shade, so take your time and don't rush or you'll miss that tail or nose poking out from under the bank or the weed bed.
The first silage and hay cut is almost finished and the river has stayed within its banks with weed cutting only on a reactive basis the damage to the system has hopefully been minimal. The uncut sections are looking wonderful with a good head of water, despite the reduced flow, with plenty of clean gravel and ranunculas; supporting the biodiversity so typical of the Avon and so deserving of the conservation designations afforded it.
Main channel weed growth as it should look with ranunculas tresses over twenty feet in length with clean gravel between and beneath. The Avon in summer dress is a magnificent river let's hope future generations are able to enjoy it. The photo has been taken throught the lens of my poleroid glasses as I didn't have a filter available which explains the section at the base of the pic. The second shot is of a large crack willow that just gave up the ghost and fell across the main channel now the hay is cut we are able to get to the river to pull it out.
Friday 14th July
For those fisheries that have agreed to cease salmon fishing when the water temperature reaches 19 degrees C, in an effort to minimise stress on the fish, have been advised that the temperature is unlikely to drop sufficiently to allow fishing to recommence this weekend.
Despite the cool nights the water temperatures are not going to fall if the sun continues to blaze down all day as it has recently
Water temperature at Knapp Mill is above 19 degrees
The latest Newsletter is on the "News" page or linked from the "Home" page
The EA have informed fishery managers that the temperature at Knapp mill was below 19 degrees C at 09:00 am this morning. I assume this to be the signal that salmon fishing may recommence on the Avon.
If you are uncertain as to the exact position adopted by your fishery I suggest you contact the provider of your fishing.
High water and air temperatures, sunny bright days and low flows do not make for the easiest of conditions for anglers of all disciplines or perhaps more importantly for the fish. The Salmon fishing having been suspended the anglers out in pursuit of the chub and barbel make up the majority of the anglers now on the river.
Having just spawned many fish have yet to regain their condition but this has not prevented some wonderful fish being landed. Given a couple of months to get back in trim we may once again see river records tumble with barbel and chub of immense proportions.
Just why we should see these increasingly large fish is a matter for debate some say the new high protein baits and pellets that are commonly used in extremely large volumes. Others attribute this growth to the mild winters of the previous decade giving the maximum period of growth as the fish continue to feed through out the year. What ever the reason and it probably is a mix of several the result is bigger fish in both lakes and rivers.
A word of caution not to let expectations of things to come spoil the pursuit of these same fish at this time of year when they do not weigh-in at their maximum. It is critical that every care is taken of these often exhausted specimens not only when returning them but when they are being played, I think firm but gentle, if thatís not a contradiction in terms. Likewise every respect must be given the smaller next generation and the unsought species for without them we will not see the monsters we all dream of in the future. "Only tench" "Only chub" or "Only a low double" send out the wrong signals, lets ensure they all go back in as good a condition as when they picked up our bait.
An eleven pound plus barbel and a six pound plus chub, spawned out and requiring every care to ensure their continued well being in the current hot conditions. We all can't expect fish of such magnificent proportions so don't set your sights too high, enjoy being in the valley and treat all your captures with equal respect.
Last week we heard the sad news that Gerry Barrell, founder member of the trust and very active supporter had passed away.
Gerry is best described as a countrymanís countryman, his vast knowledge of the area had been obtained through hard work and personal experience, giving him an understanding and insight that few will ever emulate. His years as a keeper on the New Forest at a time when the rivers and countryside were not under such pressure as we see today allowed him time to understand how the natural regime should be ordered. The runs of salmon and seatrout into the Forest streams were as familiar to Gerry as our own front gardens are to us. His own fishery on the Avon gave the opportunity to see the links that the forest had with the main river and his ability to observe and learn never left him.
With this vast experience Gerry was always prepared to advise and share his hard earned knowledge which we will find very difficult to replace. The New Forest, The Hampshire Avon and the Trust have lost a great character and a very good friend whose friendly smile will be sadly missed.
With a little effort and a bucket full of salmon parr and bullheads I reckon I could get these hand tame
The salmon fishing is still suspended due to high temperatures on the river so we have little news to impart on the salmon front. If we see a continuation of the cloudy weather of the last couple of days we will hopefully have the opportunity to have a last cast or two before the close of the season.
A little worrying with regard to our salmonids are the goosander who have taken up residence in one of the most important carriers for salmon spawning. If we are to see these new arrivals in the valley receive full protection under the law those that introduce such legislation must be held responsible for the potential damage of their wards. Defra must be prepared to compensate the fisheries for incurred losses, to do otherwise is a blatant infringement of riparian interests; I will inquire what the Defra view is and let you know the outcome.
We have also had the weed cutting boats blundering about in the river this week doing their best to destroy the ecology of the river. Weed within the main channel of the Avon has a very ordered growth pattern that has established over the millennium. The desirable weed of the chalkstream, the ranunculas community, requires a reasonable flow to flourish. Those that are familiar with the meandering habit of the Avon will be aware that the greatest flow of the unimpeded channel follows the outside of the bends. This area of greatest flow also is the area that encourages the most vigorous weed growth inducing coffering and increasing the height of the river. Exposed gravel shoals on the inside of the bends when the channel is clear of weed become submerged as a result of this coffering and become the areas of greatest flow encouraging a progression of ranunculas growth across the width of the channel. These newly submerged gravel shoals also become new habitat for the salmonid juveniles as the fast flowing water is forced over this clean, shallow bed with its fresh growth of new ranunculas. Then along comes the cutter reduces the height overnight exposing the gravel shoals again, killing the new ranunculas and leaving a channel full of old growth and stalks providing unseasonable new growth of little habitat value. Dissipated flow spreads back across the full width of the channel making ranunculas growth impossible and encouraging undesirable weed species.
(Left)Desirable ranuculas in a good flow. (Centre)Natural weed growth follows the flow. (Right)The weedcutting boat having done its worst.
Due to the very high temperatures discussed previously Christchurch Angling Club have very wisely suspended salmon angling on all its waters until further notice.
Temperatures will be closely monitored and in the event that they drop back to acceptable levels the club website, tackle shops and where possible individual members will be informed.
Yesterday at 04:00 pm the EA recorded a water temperature of 23 degrees C at its monitoring site at East Mills. The nature of the river is to get warmer the further down the catchment as such temperatures at the tidal limit probably exceeded 24 degrees which is very close to the limit salmon are able to tolerate.
2nd July (addendum)
I have just popped out and taken the river water temperature which at a depth of 1.0 meter in the shade was reading 21.5 degrees C, this was with my old hardy brass cased thermometer so I will have to get it verified but if it is a true reading serious consideration needs be given to calling an immediate halt to salmon fishing on the Avon.
Flaming June certainly and now we have flaming July with a blazing sun sending water temperatures rocketing, if it continues in this fashion consideration will have to be given to suspending salmon fishing as to expose fish to this heat on the bank would cause unacceptable levels of stress. The trust do not have a policy related to the suspension of fishing due to water conditions, we must ensure it goes on the next agenda. I know that the EA had previously advised that fishing stops at 18 degrees C but I am not sure at what flow consideration should be given to a suspension, watch this space and I will look into it.
The nets have been in operation for a month now and I believe that three nets have been working most tides with a combined catch of 18 salmon and 9 seatrout. Bearing in mind that all salmon are released the hourly rate for the netsmen is miniscule to say the least but it hopefully this signals that the flow in the river is still sufficient for the fish to gain the protection of the weed and main channel upstream of the harbour. The rod catch has been very difficult to assess in that very few rods have been out on the banks. There were a very busy couple of days at Somerley when three rods had six fish, four falling to one rod. I believe this action was attributable to the conditions as we had a couple of overcast rainy days ideal for salmon fishing. The fish were not particularly fresh so there was no reason they would not have been landed before had conditions suited. Just where we stand on the salmon front with regard to catch numbers is a little difficult to establish but I would estimate that the rods have accounted for somewhere in the region of 100 fish with the 20 from the nets making a grand total for the river of 120. If we work on he historical combined exploitation figure of 20% it would indicate a run into the river at this time of approximately 600 fish which I would think is fairly near the mark. Net exploitation is a little difficult to gauge as the season has been considerably shortened and the number of nets working has been a little eratic in recent years. Given the better flow this year, note I say better than last not good, the fish have been moving into the river quickly and we would expect the rods to have faired better than the nets. What will happen now the flow is dropping and the temperature soaring with the grilse run about to start, the first grilse being seen in the river this week, we must wait and see.
Willow down blown from the surrounding grey, crack and coral bark willows is making angling difficult on some still waters
There's a great deal going on in the valley at the present time which is making diary entries a little rushed, work is well advanced to get the ox-bow project consented and up and running this year and there are the articles for the newsletter Brian is chasing. Added to that the river and lakes are fishing well which is an added distraction, there have been four salmon off Somerley today with Peter Dexter having taken four this week. If I post some photos taken today they will at least give a feel for events and remind me at some future point to fill in the gaps.
The first is an angler on one of the valley stillwaters enjoying a few hours bream fishing after work, managing 50 pounds in three hours on a classic summer evening. The central shot is the main river bathed in gold with a brood of goosander "bless 'em" making their way up the shallows, a large hatch of sedge in the foreground give the grainy appearance. The righthand photo is of the rabbits that abound in the valley at present, the second week in August will see that dreadful disease myximatosis ravage their numbers but they are slowly developing a natural immunity ensuring their survival; and long may they do so as they form a vital link in many food chains.
Yesterday's refreshing rain was very welcome in most places, the farmers hoping to get on with the silage and hay may have a different view so for their sake lets hope for a fortnight return to sunshine and drying wind.
In the previous entry I mentioned the height of the river is related to the volume of weed growing in the channel and coffering the water. We now see the Environment Agency weed booms have appeared in the river along with the 360 that removes the weed; we await the arrival of the weed boats with trepidation. The machanical destruction of the natural riverine aquatic regime is giving rise to a great deal of concern within the conservation and angling community, this devastation is now being very closely scrutinised and justification of such action must be forthcoming from the Agency. A more flexible approach to the mowing of the hay and silage, now being adopted by the controlling agencies, should go a long way to easing the problem of flooded meadows for the farming community which is very welcome indeed.
Dennis, who lives in Spain, returns to the Avon valley for a month each year to enjoy the fishing on both river and lakes, seen hear with a fine tench.
Alan Bashford with a good looking double from the Middle Avon, a nice way to start the coarse season for Alan. The season is slowly picking up speed on the river and we are starting to see some excellent barbel and chub. All appear spawned out and are looking long and lean, it will be a month or more before they are back to peak condition but it's nice to know they over wintered well.
The river is clearing and it is now possible to see the fish on the clean gravel, fish spotting is a pleasant way to spend an hour or two when the fish refuse to bite and time spent locating shoals is always time well spent. The water is clearing as the weed builds up and becomes covered in an algal layer that absorbs and filters the nutrients from the river. The weed had a slow start, with the cold spring and the coloured water of May restricting growth, but is rapidly making up for lost time and the weed beds are starting to coffer the flow with the associated loss of freeboard. It should be remembered that the height of the river does not reflect the volume of flow, it is the extent of the weed that determines the height and the current time we have ideal weed growth and river conditions.
The evening series is underway on the local pit and many of those fishing seemed to be catching; there's nothing like a few fish to cheer up the matchmen.I have promises of lots more pics which in the event they materialise I will post here on the diary. I will add more info to this entry when I have a little more time.
The clear night skies and misty starts have been the prelude to continued scorching days that have provided some difficult conditions for the coarse anglers. Despite this the lakes have produced some remarkable catches of carp and tench and some even more remarkable cases of sunburn, I cannot emphasise strongly enough the dangers of dehydration and sunburn when sat beside the water. Time passes quickly and if you do not wear a hat, apply sunblock and bring plenty to drink you run a very real risk of permanent skin damage. Enjoy your fishing trips but use your common sense and parents dropping of children at the start of the day must ensure they are adequately protected.
Misty mornings on the river and a tench from the lakes for a traditional start to the coarse season
In the last report I said Neil Justice had two, twenty pound plus carp and a thirty, after I left him on the bank he landed a fabulous twenty three pound linear scaled mirror carp which added up to a very special opening day - well done Neil. I also mentioned the coarse angler who had landed a salmon, added to this a salmon angler fishing a shrimp, permissible from the 16th, landed a 13 pound salmon to add to the success of the day.
A picture of a rural summer day, corn marigolds have a richer colour than the more usual oil seed rape that is so common today
A cloudless sky and a misty start didn't bode well for the coarse season off, the temperature soon soared and the sun blazed down sending the fish for cover. Many struggled with the conditions but those who made the early start had the best of the day with plenty of good carp and tench from the still waters and the better chub from the rivers. Reasonable catches of dace and chublets early on and one regular at Ibsley landed a salmon on trotted maggot quickly returned to the water and not recorded in the returns.
Jack had to ask younger brother Harry to help out when he hooked two carp at the same time. A brief photo with his fish before netting Harry's fish, Jack went on to catch sixteen carp whilst Harry landed six. Neil Justice playing a good carp and a photo of the result a well spawned out 21 pounder, Neil also had a twenty three pound common carp and a mirror carp of thirty pounds two ounces.
One day to go until the coarse season gets underway on the rivers and on those still waters that still uphold the traditional closed season. The night anglers intending to start at midnight are already on the banks with their tackle checked and rechecked, bivvies and necessities for a comfortable stay set up and raring to go. The Magic of the 16th is not felt to the same extent in any of the other disciplines as the start of the trout and salmon season are often well before the best of the sport. Tomorrow morning could see a red letter day for some lucky angler so letís hope for a day to remember; hopefully I will be on hand to take a photo or two.
The valley is bursting with activity so before we get sidetracked on the angling front over the next day or two, I have added three shots that capture the mood of the moment.
A newly emerged scarce chaser is a great example of the wonder of the dragonfly with their jewel like brilliance. The buzzards werenít too impressed with the camera but clearly show the success of a species that only a decade or two ago were quite rare in the Avon valley. Great-crested grebe now nest on every available slack on the middle and lower Avon like the buzzard a successful population expansion.
The showers this morning brought an almost audible sigh of relief from the parched land after the recent scorching temperatures; it will hardly be sufficient to settle the dust but refreshing all the same. One aspect of the sunshine has been the presence of the carp on the surface as they soak up the warmth of the sun. With four days to go before the season gets underway who would begrudge these fish their last few days relaxation before the onslaught that the 16th will bring.
Don't be fooled by these shots of the local lakes, come the 16th not one of these fish will be visible and many anglers will go a season without a run from what today can be hand fed.
In the fields that are not registered under the ESA schemes, preventing cutting before the 1st of July, the scorching weather has allowed the silage cut to get underway up and down the length of the valley. The close cropped grass very quickly attracts the lapwings and starlings keen to feed on the exposed grubs and insects that had been hidden by the monoculture of long grass the current agri/environment schemes encourage. The patchwork meadow system that historically formed the valley scene has changed through the loss of the dairy herds. Suckler herds are slowly filling the void and the promise of a more flexible approach to the cutting of the meadows from Defra, who control the agri/env schemes, will hopefully provide a more sustainable habitat for our waders in the future.
Black bags of silage appearing in the fields the length and breadth of the valley
Warmth, sunshine, pleasant evenings, it must be summer at last; huge hatches of damsel flies, dragonflies, sedge flies, midges, mayflies and every creature that looks on them as food is enjoying the bounty, be they fish or fowl. The fox cubs are above ground during any quiet spell whilst the parents vie with the buzzards to catch the young rabbits that abound in every bank and bramble patch. The river continues to produce the odd salmon even with the bright sunshine, everthing adding up to make the middle Avon a very special place.
The carp in the valley lakes and ponds make the most of the rise in water temperature and get on with spawning. Below the spawning carp are layers of bream, roach and rudd greedily sucking up the millions of carp eggs adhereing to the soft willow roots that provide the perfect spawning medium.
The net season is underway down at Mudeford and the first tide saw the three boats working take one salmon and one seatrout. What they did catch was a considerable amount of rubbish from the spoil that has been dumped along the beach, moorings, wire, bottles and tins in every stage of decay plus one extremely large snag well out in the Run. The spoil that has changed the shape of the beach had been dredged from the top of the harbour to allow a greater number of boats access to the moorings.
The first day of the salmon netting season at Mudeford Run
Things are definitely looking up; today T&S were down doing a feature on Christchurch Angling Club's game fisheries and what with the colour of the river and the wind from the NW conditions for the trout streams had the potential to be difficult. Never daunted club and WSRT member Bill Godman managed to find a trout for the camera and not to be outdone yours truly provided a salmon so lets hope the Avon receives a good review in the July magazine.
A taste of things to come in the Trout & Salmon magazine July issue, fingers crossed the river looks her best.
The river is in good order and we are promised settled, warmer weather by the end of the week. There have been one or two fish after the recent high water so fingers crossed for some good fishing before the weed knocks it all on the head.
Interestingly the succesful method after the high water has been the wooden Devon Minnow, normally associated with the high water of spring. When mandatory "fly only" until May 15 was introduced how many rods looked at they boxes of devons and thought they would never have occasion to use them again, even unseasonable weather has a silver lining.
The valley's wildlife have had to cope with this unexpected high wind and rain and make the best of it but once the sun re-appeared it hasn't taken long before the normal patterns of life return to the river bank. The damsel and dragon flies are sparkling in the margins and the birds are chasing the mayflies, as they are blown from the river by the north west wind, to feed the hungry beaks hidden in the reeds and brambles.
A male Banded Demoiselle on the left, reed bunting chicks awaiting more grubs and a female demoiselle on the right.
Dropping back, as hoped for, slowly clearing only a couple of inches now over the spillway - excellent Mepp water, still requires a minimum of 48 hours to to fish the fly confidently, barring more rain of course.
The colour is still high but the river is slowly dropping back, with no more rain the mepp should work tommorrow and 48 hours should see the water fit for the fly.
06:30am After ten hours of overnight rain the river is up two feet, filthy and carrying rubbish, more later.
For viewers planning a visit to the Avon during this changeable weather I will give regular river condition updates to help with your trip.
The river has dropped back 6" but the colour remains high, as we are now receiving the water that fell at the top of the catchment 26 to 36 hours ago. This delayed water gives a clue to the rain that fell in the Nadder catchment as being a clay and greensand catchment the colour is much thicker; more akin to the New Forest streams that flow in from the mires on the heathland but rise within a couple of hours of the ran setting in.
As I write this, wednesday evening, it is raining outside and has been raining continuously for three and a half hours so don't expect the river to clear for at least a further 36 hours.
On a different subject, I noticed that two out of the twenty odd fish that have been grassed at Somerley this season had large wounds on their flanks. The damage whilst fresh pre-dated entry to the river leaving the high seas journey from the feeding grounds as the probable time these injuries occurred. One or two culprits can be eliminate by the shape of the wounds, they were not net lines or lamprey scars, large numbers of porpoise and dolphin have suffered at the hands of the pair trawlers that operate of the SW approaches and whilst we do not wish salmon predation to be excessive such by-catch is hardly an acceptable means to that end. As for seals we now see a greater population than many people realise and this increased population is spread along the entire coast of the salmons migration route so such injuries as we have seen this season will probably be a more frequent occurrence. The last couple of seasons have seen seals taking up residence down in Christchurch Harbour where they have been witnessed chasing and catching salmon and seatrout
In the early 70's I was involved in surveying the cliffs along the Pembrokeshire coast, the small cove at the base of the cliffs had approximately 200 grey seals hauled out on the beach. Where ever I was on the coast of Wales you could almost guarantee seals were not far away and the river estuaries were always well populated as the salmon run waited for spates to take them into the rivers. This picture is now reflected along the SW Atlantic approaches and well up into the English Channel which is one further obstacle for our salmon to overcome on their way home.
Up a foot, still rising and more to come, don't be alarmed by the submerged tree at the back of the weirpool, its always underwater.
I was musing yesterday on the impact this high water will have on the inhabitants of the river, unfortunately in common with a great deal that goes on hidden beneath the surface of water we will never know for certain. We may attribute missing year classes to this flood but we can never be sure as there are a multitude of potential pitfalls facing river ecosystems. One insect that may give a clue this year is the Mayfly itself, a day or two before the weather changed the hatch had just started with small numbers appearing in the evenings and drifting down stream. It will be interesting to see just what happens when the floods recede and the weather warms up once more; will the hatch take up where they left off or will the nymphs have been lost as they exposed themselves to the flow. Are they able to return to the silt where they have lived for the previous couple of years and delay their emergence for a further year or will we see the welcome sight of clouds of drakes dancing in the lee of the trees and shrubs waiting for their females to join them.
Spinners have had a very difficult day or two, blown miles from the river and unable to fly in their brief 24 hour existance.
The entries in the diary are almost entirely controlled by the weather, with any eco-system natures elements ultimately set the parameters and whilst we as man may meddle and interfere it will be the elements that determine the success or failure of any of our activities. With that in mind it was with mixed feeling I stood on the hatches this morning and considered the implications of the unseasonable chocolate coloured river that poured through the open hatches. Will last months emerging salmonids find shelter, will the eggs of the roach that recently spawned survive and will the dace fry, one of our earliest spawners, find shelter.
Every cloud has a silver lining and it must be remembered that the adult salmon migrating upstream will make the most of this and be able to easily navigate the downstream weirs and make their way well up into the catchment. We have seen a reasonable head of water in the river todate, it had held above 12 cumecs which had meant the salmon had been arriving steadily in the higher river. If the rod catch is anything to go by we must have had in the region of 400 fish moving upstream, historically the rods are thought to exploit approximately 10% of the run so if you add the catches to-date which I am told are in the order of Royalty 10, Somerley 21 and about ten or a dozen elsewhere we are looking at a rod catch in the region of forty fish hence my guess at 400 up river. Historically that would have been deemed a disaster but with the ideal conditions enjoyed on the Middle Avon the last month has provided some enjoyable salmon fishing for the few rods that have taken advantage of the access provided. Perhaps exploitation is a little lighter than in the past as many of the fisheries do not have the rod lists of days gone by, weighing against this is are the near perfect conditions and the level of competence of todays' rods which has improved in leaps and bounds in recent years. The run has changed out of all recognition, the springers of the Avon's heyday are gone, we now have to enjoy these 2SW fish that arrive before the fishery becomes almost unfishable by mid June, there are those who continue to fish after that but it bears little resemblance to Avon salmon fishing. A quote from Gregor Mackenzie's "Memoirs of a Ghillie" "By mid-May, however, the fish were stale and few anglers bothered to fish after that date." Makes the historic comparisons of run numbers very, very difficult, it comes back to the definition of a fishery and whether it is totally dependent on the number of fish or perhaps the quality measured in MSW returns.
The extent of the run entering the Avon will soon become a matter of fact as the fish counter is now up and running, with its own dedicated operator. A recent EA press release has hailed the accurate knowledge of the run as a vital management tool, I fear that if it takes the expenditure of such financial outlay to establish the fact salmon are struggling in the Avon then any remedial action doesn't look likely. What I would like to know is what the EA intend to do when they have these figures and they prove the run has not only declined but consists of different SW elements. If the figures show less than 1000 fish which comprise mainly of 1 and 2SW fish what will they do to re-establish the fisheries? What if the run is between 1000 and 2000 fish of similar 1 and 2 SW fish, what action is planned?? What if the counter proves there are in excess of 5000 fish, a little fanciful I suspect but contingencies should exist for all scenarios. If plans are not being seriously prepared and consulted upon then this wonderful counter can only be viewed as monitoring for monitorings' sake or a job creation scheme.
I think the trust should run a sweepstake on the number of fish that enter the Avon during 2006, I'm sure we can find a suitable prize and I don't want to hear talk of a days fishing on the Tyne, my guess would be 1487, time will tell!!
16th May 2006
The Adventures of Fred Whitlock
A phone call from Fred is never dull. Fred landed the first salmon of the year off the Avon back in March, that capture was marked for me by a call from Fred extolling the virtues of the wonderful salmon with the caveat that he thought he was dying and if anybody missed him he was on the bank beside Ibsley Pool. He failed to finish the conversation and on the open line all I could hear was Fred gasping for breath. A frantic drive to Ibsley found Fred totally exhausted but thankfully recovering from his exertions with the king of fish. My raging at him to phone a B*ĒĒ*y ambulance next time met with the thoughtful, rational response of a trained engineer, that they would never have found him on the bank, he didnít want to worry anyone and he knew I wouldnít panic - he knew more than I did in that case.
Well you can imagine my feelings when I had another garbled phone call from Fred who managed to get out that he was in trouble before he was cut off. I couldnít get a response when I attempted to phone back and I was just explaining to Pete Reading who had joined me on the bank when Fred called back. This time between hissing, crackles, grunts and shouts it transpired Fred had hooked a fish in the Ibsley Bridge Pool that had shot downstream through the main hatches and was now in the main Weir Pool. Pete and I were some half mile downstream but I shouted down the phone for him to hang on and we would join him asap, the photos below tell the tale.
Every picture tells a tale, (L) Fred hooks a fish upstream of the hatches. (C) The fish shoots through the hatches Fred had to strip off his line and fish out the loop below the hatch before cutting his line and tying it back on. (R) Back in action in the weirpool, Pete and myself on hand to give moral support.
Pete doing the honours with the net and safe and sound on higher ground
Fred on the dash upstream to release the fish safely back in the Bridge Pool where the epic had started half an hour earlier
I haven't had much time to update the diary but I just had to put these two photos of Kevin Styles releasing his second fish of the week. To see these fabulous fish safely back in their river is a thrilling sight and one I will publish whenever I get the opportunity. I'm sure these photos taken by Jim Foster will give many of you as much pleasure to see as they did me.
Well done to Kevin for sparing no effort to ensure this sixteen pound cracker is released safe and sound back into the Middle Avon.
A bit of a puzzle to start with, the valley equivalent of spot the ball, in the photograph below its called "spot the woodcock chick" answer at the bottom.
Heavy overnight rain has lifted and coloured the river and hopefully brought the salmon from the first spring tide of May well up the river. Allow 24 hours for them to slow down in their rush to make the head waters and the pools should be in perfect condition for a further good weeks fly fishing before we see the spinning get underway.
For those who gain much of their pleasure from the valley's natural surroundings, whilst attempting to outwit a salmon, will find it hard to find a finer time to be out. The meadows are an absolute picture kingcups are in their full glory and the delicate water avens add a touch of refinement to the scene, the young of the inhabitants are putting in their first appearance amidst a absolute cacophony of warblers and waterfowl. A bird that has become a regular in the middle Avon is the common tern now nesting on the islands of the valley gravel pits, their raucous cry interspersed with their piping chatter is now an accepted accompaniment to the indigenous avian population. There has been a good hatch of hawthorn flies that have brought the chub and dace to the surface to make the most of the windblown bounty, its odd that the grannom fail to bring about the surface feeding such a large potential food source might expect; they must have an unpleasant taste but all in all a great place to be.
Did you find them - there are definately two woodcock chicks in the photo, the odd part is that when I was looking through the viewfinder I could see three??
The greylag geese have started hatching and as if to greet the goslings the weather has turned markedly warmer which is appreciated by creatures great and small throughout the valley. Dave, "the swan man" has been counting our nests and the five miles of middle Avon I am associated with can boast ten occupied nests that now have full clutches of mostly six or seven eggs a piece. There are a further seven occupied territories with younger pairs attempting to establish sites for future seasons, add the 50 odd non-breeders and the population is looking remarkably robust.
A point of interest today was the stocking of the "Troutstream" with its latest triploid introductions. Triploids are now introduced to comply where ever possible with the Wild Trout and Grayling Strategy which is keen to avoid corruption of the indigenous stock. I find it odd that within 50 meters of the stream there are the remnants of the old trout hatchery where in the late 30's 8000 two pound brown trout a year were reared for introduction to the stream. The ova for that hatchery came from any river that could offer brood stock, you would have to look long and hard to find an indigenous wild trout in the Avon
As this is an Avon Diary, on the Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust website, I should report the success of our Chairman in opening his Avon acount with a fine 12 pound fish from Somerley. Well done Brian, though perhaps I should point out that John Sargent grassed a 14 pounder from the same pool three hours later - there was no need to leave that fish for John he's already had two this season!
Rhodi Sims stocking a Middle Avon troutstream with triploid stock reared at his trout farm at nearby Fordingbridge
1st May 2006
My apologies to anyone logging on in the last couple of days only to find a bandwidth close down, my fault I fear, failed to appreciate the demand hopefully I can ensure this doesn't happen again.
The previous entry, with the mention of hobbies, makes one appreciate just how quickly the valley has filled up with the summer arrivals. A month ago we were still shivering as we saw out the end of March, with the arrivals looking equally unhappy with the weather that greeted them at their journeys end. With the warmer days the plant growth and flowering, the margins and woodland filled with bird song and the fly life hatching in waves beside the river, life seems much more pleasant. Later arrivals usually include the swifts and the nightingales and yesterday in Ringwood the site of several swifts appeared over the main car park and reports of singing nightingales from downstream signal very nearly every one is here.
Dave Stone the Hampshire Avon swan man is doing his rounds this week counting and checking on his wards throughout the valley. This season the pairs appear to be about a fortnight behind with their nest building and laying which would be in line with the colder spring we have endured. Dave has been recording, ringing and counting the swans in the Avon valley for as long as I can remember, he is quite an institution in his own right, I will have to ask him just how long he has been at it! His work has ensured the wild swan population of the Hampshire Avon Valley is perhaps the best understood in the country and his expertise ensures Defra have a good reference when problems arrive.
A couple of visitors to the valley that have recently become residents, as opposed to migrants, are the raven and the goosander. Both are succesfully occupying nest sites again, whilst the ravens can only be considered welcome the goosanders welcome is a little more guarded considering the potential impact on EU designated species within the river.
Not only the regular arrivals in the valley, keep your eyes peeled and you may be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the fabulous Hoopoe such as the one above. I must thank the lady who took this picture for allowing me to include it, unfortunately mention of her name would possibly give rise to a swarm of twitchers making life intolerable but her efforts are most appreciated. The goosander is a photograph I took five years ago of a duck on her clutch of eggs in a hollow ashtree, the first record of a goosander breeding in Hampshire. The site has been occupied continuously ever since and again this year.
Time spent attempting to get a picture of a hobby taking flies over the river this evening proved an extremely frustrating interlude. I will a have a further go over the weekend as these aerial acrobats are a sight to see and an even better sight to record.
I mentioned on the 26th that John Sargent had landed the tenth of the season from Somerley, he went one better today to land the largest fish to date, "a cracking fish, twenty plus" with John's experience and his penchant for understatement I would have dearly like to have seen that fish. John tells us that the fish went back well which is always a relief with these fabulous Avon Springers.
Yesterday Wessex Water held the second phase, low flows project consultation meeting, at the same meeting Wessex Water made available it's Drought Plan Consultation for the region. The low flows solutions projects have been whittled down from the original number, in excess of one hundred, to 26 and that number is hopefully to be reduced further, down to ten. The selection process has been extremely complex but Wessex have endeavoured to ensure those involved have been kept fully informed. The remaining ten or so will be subjected to yet more intense scrutiny but will hopefully give a much clearer understanding of the low flows implications and the means to minimise any detrimental impact. Hopefully Wessex will continue to provide the thinking behind their decision making processes to ensure interested parties will have a full understanding.
The Consultation period for the Drought Plan is extremely short, responses to Defra by the end of May, any one interested in the intentions of the water industry in the event of a serious drought would be well advised to obtain a copy from Wessex Water; the Trust will certainly be looking very closely at the measures to be implemented.
Today must go down in the record as a good day for the river and the next generation that will hopefully care for and be involved in its future. The "Trout In Schools" project, successfully established by Pete Reading at Ringwood School, saw this years science lab exercise come to fruition with the release of fry into their natural habitat. The event was recorded by Hugh Miles hopefully for inclusion in a project currently in production recording the life of the river which we all await with eager anticipation. Whilst standing in the stream filming the young trout and future scientists only Hugh with his extraodinary powers of observation could pointed out a small shoal of wild salmon smolt pass by on their way to the sea. With the added bonus of warm weather and new spring growth, we have young trout and salmon being studied and observed by the young men and women that will make the scientists, anglers and keepers of the future, some days certainly are better than others.
Teachers and students from Ringwood School release the fry reared in the classroom incubators in the "Trout In Schools" project under the all seeing eye of Hugh Miles camera
To add to the feeling of well-being in the valley Bob Kay has landed his second salmon of the season from Somerley and John Sargent landed the tenth of the season for the fishery. The total catch and release as practiced on the Avon requires that anglers often spend sometime nursing tired fish to ensure they are fully recovered and able to swim strongly before being set free; time well spent in return for the brief glimpse of these superb fish capture affords the lucky angler.
Peace and tranquillity.....................shattered..............................elation...............................relief
Peter Bunce getting the better of a sixteen pound cock fish from the Middle Avon at Somerley, a black and orange 2" tube did the damage. It was touch and go for a while whether Pete or the fish won the day, when I arrived on the scene both were showing signs of fatigue; congratulations Peter.
The cold wind that feels like it has blown up the back of my jacket since November actually dropped this evening and the effect was immediate. The grannom that have struggled with the NW wind for the last fortnight hatched in their millions throughout the evening and right into dark. The sight was one to wonder at, the hiss of millions of wings audible over the sound of the river, flying into eyes and ears and covering jacket, net and the dogs, for a river that has apparent species imbalances giving rise to great concern - the grannom are fine.
The brain plays tricks trying to cope with the scale of the hatch, the majority of the hatch are flying upstream and the brain registers this movement to the exclusion of all other directions. However if you focus on a single fly moving downstream the hatch suddenly appears to be drifting downstream at about half the volume of the upstream movement, attempts to focus on both directions of flight give a very brief glimpse of total confusion that the brain then selects the major flight pattern and the apparent upstream drift takeover once more.
Welldone to the farmer of this land, marking out the lapwing nests to avoid destruction. There are two nests in the photo.
Is this an act of rebellion? "nobody tells me what to do" or do snails just like yellow? It would appear to be more than colour judging by the second photo. South west side of the pole so not early morning sunshine and the wind has been in the NW for days so no clues there. Possibly a ploy to scare song thrushes? I will leave you to make your own minds up.
A point that has been raised since I first published these snail pics; how do they know the yellow sign is up there? Do they all stand down the bottom looking up saying "Hey guys, there's a yellow sign up there lets go for it" or do they spend their time climbing up and down all the electricity poles on the off chance of a suitable sign. From this you will see there are others out there that think outside the box!! or are bordering on senility.
Jim Foster playing what we thought was his second salmon of the season which mysteriously turned into a pike! Always a sight to gladden the heart, seeing the first trip of the year, a mallard duck with eight ducklings at Ibsley today. Not the duck in the photo she's from the archive and her's are a nearer a week old.
I believe the rods that fished the Avon this weekend were in agreement in that everything on the river looked perfect except for one factor and that was the total absence of salmon. If you consider we are now at the peak of the historical Avon season the lack of fish is desperately disappointing. We have now suffered the lack of a realistic opportunity to catch for over a decade whilst we have seen the imposition of method restrictions, season restrictions, gravel cleaning, catch & release; everything but the means most frequently requested by the rods that of stock enhancement to support the fisheries whilst we discover what is impacting on the salmon population in the North Atlantic. Time must surely be approaching when the EA will have to recognise there is more to a fishery than a remnant stock of the chosen species; fishermen and the income derived from them are equally important.
More of those surroundings that go some way to compensate for the unrewarded effort; the sunshine has brought the spring with a rush as the cuckoo and the redshank fill the fields with their calls, the sallow is in bloom and the sheltered side of the hedges hum with the sound of the bees gathering the pollen to feed the rapidly expanding brood chambers. To stand out of earshot of traffic, amidst the clouds of grannom and cover the water in as lazy a fashion as possible gives plenty of time to dwell on the thought that this river deserves better service from those of us charged with its well being.
Ideal spring conditions but little to show for the effort.
The problem with the river at the moment is deciding just which beat to fish, it all looks perfect, good flow, no weed and cloud cover to encourage the fish to move. Whilst the water and the weather are on our side the main run of fish from the last spring tide seem to have gone through and we are looking for the odd straggler at present, the higher tides of this weekend will hopefully see a further run of fish that will hopefully bring more rods out onto the bank.
The count for the river to date is creeping up, 6 at Somerley, 2 at The Royalty and 1 at Bisterne with probably a couple of fish that I have yet to hear of we are into double figures. Mid April, which in reality is half way through the season, with the prospect of a low water summer ahead of us the prospects overall do not look overly inspiring so I intend to spend as much time on the bank as possible in the next week or two.
The river is in as good a trim as one could wish for, a splash of fresh water with a tinge of colour. Bob Kay and John Sargent made the best of the conditions at Somerley today and grassed fish of 12 and 14 pounds with the added bonus of warm sunshine and a light grannom hatch. What better place to be in the spring than the water meadows beside the Hampshire Avon?
The sunshine struggles with the chill of the wind but slowly the seasons are turning, today has seen the first hatch of grannom and large numbers of martins and swallows feeding over the river.
Grannom and Hirundinidae.
The spring weather has brought with it an extremely busy time with the need to finish work in the valley prior to the birds nesting. Added demands of five hundred of the world's top event riders has seen time to consider the river and the diary strictly limited. I must also admit to spending a day or two in Dublin purely for pleasure further adding to the distractions.
Today has seen the second salmon off Somerley, landed by Jim Foster on his first visit of the season, a bright fish of between 12 and 14 pounds, nice one Jim. With the lack of anglers on the bank, I haven't seen a dozen at Somerley this season and two catching on their first visit, might indicate a reasonable head of fish making the most of the recent rain and high tides, anyone with Christchurch membership might do well to get down here and give April some serious attention.
Whilst down at the river talking to Jim the arrival of four young canoeists from upstream brought the success of the capture abruptly down to earth. I left Jim to his angling whilst I explained the lack of rights of navigation and the economics of fishery management to the canoeists, paying 20 million a year to the government in licence fees plus a considerably larger sum for access that entitled us to a measure of privacy. They agreed with my reasonable argument and the last I saw of them was as they carried their canoes back to the nearest public highway some mile or so away; for which I thank them.
One of 500 "eventers" with Park Pool, Somerley in the background. Jim Foster landed the second fish of the season at Somerley, Blashford right bank.
Below are some photographs of the results of this years "Trout In Schools" projects running at Ringwood School and Great Wishford Primary School. Adrian Simmonds of Wilton Flyfishing Club has worked tremendously hard to set up the hatchery at Great Wishford using WSRT equipment and help from Pete Reading who leads the TIS project for the WSRT. Pete informs me that the set up there is outstanding he went on to say, "the children have worked hard and learnt a lot from this, an excellent result"
Fry resulting from the TIS project at Ringwood and a shot of the equipment. The Paintings of developing ova and fry from Great Wishford pupils who have worked with the project.
I haven't forgotten the diary and will add entries related to Trout in Schools and current rivers conditions asap. The Water framework Directive is keeping me busy at present having spent the day in Exeter taking part in a River Basin District Planning Workshop. In the meantime I have added some pictures of the wild daffodils that grow in some areas of the valley to act as a calming influence for those not able to get out on the banks.
Congratulations to that most enthusiastic of anglers and angling broadcaster Dean Macey on his superb Commonwealth Gold Medal in the decathlon.
Confusion on the chancellor for promising investment in the environment and research into global warming in today's budget whilst allowing the closure of CEH.
This young lady has certainly been busy since the lakes shut for the closed season. With anglers no longer on the banks to scare the cormorants they are able to feed undisturbed hence madam having to move on a daily basis. Leave her in one spot for more than 24 hours and they ignore her, feeding without the least concern.
I know I have harped on about this for decades and appreciate that licences are available to cull them but that is not the way forward when the responsibility for these birds lays elsewhere. Its bad enough we have to spend hours moving scarecrows and having a presence on the banks to disturb these birds - times money as is so correctly pointed out. The dramatic increase in the numbers of cormorants feeding on the Middle Avon in the last two or three decades coincides with the large bodies of water formed by gravel extraction that has occurred. We now have between 100 and 200 cormorants with us for five or six months of the winter, each eating up to two pounds of fish daily. Do the sums yourself, 100 birds X 2 pounds X 150 days = at a conservative estimate we are losing ten tons of fish a year from the Middle Avon - TEN TONS as a financial loss to the fisheries it adds up to more than £100,000.00 (One hundred thousand pounds annually if they had to be replaced at the going rate of £5 per pound).
These birds find sanctuary on these artificial expanses of water created through gravel extraction, many now forming nature reserves which are created alongside the Avon Valley. With any activity that potentially impacts on an SSSI there is a responsibility on those involved to ensure the impact in not detrimental. I believe it is the responsibility of the gravel companies and those that subsequently buy or manage these pits to ensure they do not provide sanctuary for, or encourage ecological regime change of, species that adversely impact on the EU designated species of the SAC/SSSIís. Of that ten tons the cormorants gobble up each year you can now add the dietary requirements of 50 plus goosanders that have in the last decade frequented these sites.
Perhaps our national fishery representatives would like to take this up with the aggregates industry and the powers that be within the minerals and waste planners. To ensure that the easy way out with the restoration planning by calling it green gain is recognised for the potential disaster it is and ask who is going to find the 100 K annual to put right their damage. Over to you S&TA, FACT, NFA. Etc.
First of the season off the Avon
Don't get over excited about the first photo - it was taken almost twenty years ago - it does however show Fred Whitlock has not lost his talent when it comes to catching salmon. Today at Ibsley, Somerley Estate - Christchurch Angling Club water, Fred grassed the first Avon salmon of the season, the second shot shows the fifteen pound fish just prior to release. Taken on a black and yellow Waddington, well done Fred, congratulations.
A photograph of Fred with a brace of fresh fish from Somerley which I took when he was a member of the rod list and a quick shot prior to release of the first of the season.
Last evening saw the Annual General Meeting of the Trust, held at the the Brian Whitehead Sports Centre, Downton, members and guests travelled from far and wide to attend the evening. Vice president Orri Vigfusson flew in from his home in Iceland to be with us before he had to rush away to meetings in Copenhagen today to ensure the continuation of the NASF agreements that have protected the salmon stocks in the North Atlantic. Our guests from the South West came up to support us and very grateful we are for their considerable efforts on our behalf, we hope guests and members alike had a worthwhile and enjoyable evening.
From L - R John Slader, Trust Treasuer. Orri Vigfusson VP Chairman of NASF. Trust Chairman Brian Marshall. Hugh Miles VP and John Levell Vice Chair and yours truly. The Chairman's address to the meeting can be found on the "AGM" section of the "News" page.
Thank goodness for that, the coarse seasons closed removing that dreadful distraction, if like me you are a traditionalist and observe the full three months on both river and stillwater you can relax and put that out of the equation. It also fits very nicely with the best of the salmon fishing in the Avon Valley as the weather improves and the watermeadows burst into life the 2SW salmon will hopefully arrive; must make a note to dig out the fly rods.
The end of the coarse season did not see an improvement in the weather leaving the rivers cold and windblown so I decided on an afternoon off and a visit to a sheltered stillwater for a last day session. On arriving around two o'clock a walk around the lake did little to lift the spirits, lots of glum faces with very little to show for the efforts of those like me determined to enjoy a last cast. A choice of a sheltered swim with plenty of cover for the fish in the event they decide to join in for a short feeding flurry as the light fades they at least should be close at hand. After a couple of hours with the float rod fishing single maggot and feeding maggot and trout pellet I was starting to believe that it would be an uneventful finish, pleasant in my sheltered swim but just going through the motions. Then, as if scripted, I noticed the water not three feet from my rod tip, where some of the loose fed pellets had been falling, the water was discolouring and twigs and blackened leaves floating to the surface. I didn't need a second invitation, out of the bag came a pound and a half Avon and a reel loaded with ten pound braid was quietly threaded up and not being one to complicate matters a size eight owner with two banded 8mm pellets completed the outfit.Free-lining close to the bank must be one of anglings most exciting forms, an hour hardly daring to breath, kneeling on the bank watching the lines movements with the breeze and the occasional jig and dart from being disturbed by the grubbing fish. Eventually the reward with the line tightening, unlike anything the wind could produce, as a fish found my pellets. Contact resulted in a huge swirl in the shallow water and a rush for cover, successfully avoided and a battle that I wont relate blow for blow other than to say I enjoyed every single second; I hope any of you who ventured out had a similarly rewarding close.
Thankfully lake regular Reg Persaud was on hand to record my last carp of the season, a fine twenty two pound common, I should perhaps add it was also my first, I shall have to remedy that next year and get out on the banks a little more often.
Two days remaining of the coarse season and the weather is refusing to move to the south and give some milder conditions, alas I fear even a change tonight will struggle to get the river in trim before the end of the season.
In an effort to collect some stock fish for a large new lake in a neighbouring valley some of the local anglers spent a very cold but enjoyable day attempting to net an Avon Valley stillwater. Netting carp is never an easy task but netting them from a ten hectare lake full of gravel bars and snags is close to impossible.Todays efforts were however rewarded and hopefully the results will form the nucleus of a fine stock for the new water.
The intended quarry, plenty of doubles and a couple of 20's taken earlier in the year and the rewards for all the effort with a net full of carp.
The wind has at last changed to the west bringing the Atlantic lows and milder, hopefully, wetter weather. The rivers have a tinge of colour and the water temperature has climbed into the middle 40's with the promise of roach, barbel and with a little luck even a salmon or two.
The rise in water temperature has also brought about a change in the ponds inhabitants, the toads of mid February have now been replaced by frogs in plague like numbers. Their progress across the water meadows can be plotted by the piles of spawn left by their predators, just what it is that eats frogs and leaves the spawn is a mystery but otters must be favourite.
3rd March 2006
This week I had occasion to travel over Salisbury Plain and it provided an opportunity to have a look at the headwaters of the Avon and the Bourne and catch a glimpse of the waters that determine the state of the river lower in the catchment where I have greater involvement. The impact of this low rainfall winter could clearly be seen with the clear riffles and stark appearance of the Avon trout beats. The frost has stripped the weed and margins yet the rains have failed to provide the colour to veil the Avonís nakedness. Travelling over the top between, Netheravon and Everleigh and down into the Bourne valley a dry stream bed shows the winterbourne springs have failed to break. Collingbourne Kingston, Tidworth, Shipton Bellinger not until Idmiston do we find any water in the river, five miles from Salisbury.
The east side of Salisbury Plain, between Netheravon and Everleigh, looking toward Sidbury Hill that overlooks Tidworth.
It was peculiar to see the cultivators and presses working the shallow free draining topsoil without effort. Lowland farmers must look at these seedbeds in disbelief having perhaps a window of as little as 48 hours to work the land between the wet and dry conditions making the soil unworkable. Economy of scale determines that maximum yield must be achieved from the shallow soils that cover the hundreds of feet of chalk that form the aquifers so vital to the southern chalkstreams. Modern cereal production has placed enormous pressure on the natural abilities of the ecosystem to cope with the residues of pesticides and fertilizers that inevitably wash from the vast fields. We are now at last seeing measures to deal with the nitrogen application and we are seeing increasingly tight controls on the use of agri-chemicals that may adversely impact on the environment. Perhaps the saving grace for much of the Plain has been the Army training grounds where live ammunition has made cultivating the land somewhat impractical.
This contemplative mood also had a serious side in that I must submit the Trustís response to the Defra consultation on River Basin Planning Guidance; anyone reading this considering submitting views should get on as the response period ends next week on the 7th - thank goodness for email.
The recent news that the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) has banned the sale of Cypermethrin sheep dip with immediate effect is good news for every river in the land that has sheep within the catchment. The risk involved with the use of this agri-chemical was considered too great to allow its continued use even under the most professional and controlled conditions. One of the most encouraging elements of this decision is the role of the angling bodies involved in highlighting this problem and the effectiveness of their lobby. Congratulations must go to all those concerned with the success of this campaign.
The new season lambs are arriving in the meadows beside the Avon.
We are a month into the salmon season and the Avon still awaits the capture of the first salmon. To be brutally honest the chance of catching a February salmon on the Avon in recent years must be considered a long shot. Recent years have seen the 3SW spring run almost disappear and the 2SW summer fish, that arrive over the next three months, provide the best of the fishing. Hopefully with the forecast of spring weather arriving at the week-end we may see the start of our season with a fish or two to show for our efforts.
The "Fishing Lodge" at Somerley awaiting the capture of the first fish of the year to be recorded in the Log Book.
28th February 2006
We have recently received the sad news of the death of Dennis Herring who died after a short illness on 7th January 2006 at the age of 90.
Dennis and Barbara, the quintessential husband and wife fishing partnership, fished at Somerley for over thirty years and after the loss of Barbara in 2002 Dennis continued to visit the river they both so enjoyed. Both were founding members of the Wessex Salmon Association, now the Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust, never missing a general meeting and gave wholeheartedly of their support.
Dennis with a 37 lbs. fish from Somerley, he will be sadly missed by his many fisher friends and will leave a gap on the bank at Somerley difficult to fill.
26th February 2006
A cold day for the annual "Oliver Cutts Memorial Pike Match" fished on venues over the length of the Hampshire Avon from Salisbury to Bisterne. A full report will be added to the "News" page as the results are confirmed.
22nd February 2006
A return of the winter blues has chilled any enthusiasm that may have been budding, cold grey and very few fish to reward those that are braving the weather, having said that the photo below shows what can be achieved by the very hardy. Trust committee member Pete Reading needs no introduction as a barbel expert and to prove the point this is a 15 pound 14 ounce example from the Middle Avon. I very nearly didn't publish this as it give false encouragement to us mere mortals but seeing how pleased Pete looks with this stunning fish I have to put it up there to give us hope.
Fantastic fish well done and congratulations to Pete
The smile of a contented angler speaks volumes, great picture, great fish.
15th February 2006
The hoped for rain materialised last night and we now have a river reacting to the rapid run-off, bank high and very coloured, it looks and smells wonderful. Any spring fish waiting down in the harbour will have had the opportunity to run into the river and as the rivers fines-down in the next day or two it may well offer the first realistic opportunity to find a spring salmon.
The temperatures have risen streadily over the past day or two combined with the fining river the chance of finding the roach and barbel in a more obliging mood is on the cards. The lakes have responded quickly with roach and bream feeding confidently and several large carp have been landed by the youngsters making the best of their half term break.
Perhaps the best measure of the turn of the seasons has been the racket kicked-up by the toads that have moved on mass into my pond at home. Their annual migration to the lakes and ponds throughout the valley has seen the "toad warning" signs appear on the minor roads to prevent the traffic wreaking havoc.
The New Forest streams have reacted very quickly to the overnight rain and the postman had an interesting round this morning. The hatches also required clearing and resetting the first time in what seems weeks.
Sunday 12th February 2006
At last we have the wind from the SW bringing Atlantic low pressure, perhaps the river will wake from its slumber, you never know we may even get some rain.
The latest newsletter (No 31) is now on the "News" page with a link from the Home page, non-members who do not receive a copy may find it of interesting - I can recommend it.
We have decided to record potential projects and areas of concerns, that have been discussed by the committee, on the research page in an effort to raise awareness of our concerns and hopefully get input from outside sources. Many instances relate to lack of reliable sources of information which we envisage will change as research and investigations fill in the blanks. Funding studies to increase our knowledge will play a major role in future trust activities as many investigation will involve considerable outlay in time and effort which unfortunately does not come cheap.
To give a flavour of our concerns we are trying to make sense of the decline of roach in the Avon. The number of potential factors influencing the population are vast; chemical, predation, flood, temperature the list will appear on the projects page, how we discover the relevant ones is the difficult bit!
Avon still waters that have a direct Avon water feed do not have a problem with roach production. A dipnet with juvenile roach from the margins of a valley still water. Why do Avon carriers such as the one above not support a vibrant roach population?
7th February 2006
The big topic of debate in the angling world at the present time is the impact that the expanding population of otters is having on the viability of many fisheries. Many carp fisheries and several major river fisheries are suffering considerable predation, to the extent that they are becoming uneconomic. The advice from the Environment Agency and Defra is totally inadequate with the use of fencing and decoy ponds being unrealistic on major waters. The cost of replacing large carp, tench, and barbel is prohibitive but that is not the only concern when well know and much sought-after fish are lost to predation. There is much gnashing of teeth and ill informed argument proposing the taking of direct action to protect vested interests and if this undesirable situation is to be avoided the agencies involved have to review the situation at the earliest opportunity. As I have said earlier on this site, one five mile length of river in the Middle Hampshire Avon killed as many as thirty otters a year. We certainly do not wish to see a return to this situation so positive action is urgently required.
The devastating decline in the otter population in the 60ís and 70ís has been linked to pesticide residues; I doubt we will ever find the exact cause but the result was catastrophic for the otter. The rockier more remote west coast and Scottish rivers suffered less than those of the more intensive agricultural areas in the south and east of the country yet the population collapse was dramatic and rightly saw the otter put on the protected animal list. The point at which the otter population is deemed to be self sustaining and limited culling be considered is well in the future, at a time yet to be even considered.
I believe the solution lies with Defra and a simple compensation scheme must be set-up and implemented by those that control the legislation and the fisheries industry. Registered fisheries that can show clear evidence of otter predation must be compensated for the loss exactly as the North American Timber wolf and the jaguar in parts of South America.
It is up to the bodies purporting to represent angling to get this scheme up and running before we have a complete breakdown of cooperation between anglers and those acting in the best interest of otters.
To find a replacement for a young, high twenty leather carp such as the one in the picture, may well cost a fishery in excess of five hundred pounds
Sunday 5th February 2005
A cold and frosty morning gave way to a bright and sunny day for the Christchurch Angling Clubís salmon fly casting clinic held on Somerley estate on the Middle Avon. Charles Jardine gave an extremely informative and thorough demonstration and talk that was appreciated by forty members that attended. It was good to see the rods out on the bank as the new salmon season, whilst underway, is looking less than promising with the low water conditions at present.
A hard frost at the start of a very enjoyable day, well done to Christchurch Angling Club and Charles Jardine for producing a good show.
3rd February 2006
The weather aside the Avon Valley is undergoing dramatic change that is having unknown long-term impact on the ecology of the site. The Avon Valley SSSI is in, what is termed within the conservation bodies, unfavourable condition, that means it is failing to provide a favourable, sustainable habitat for the chosen species deemed worthy of protection. Why do migrating waders still find the valley so desireable yet the indigenous populations are dying out, be they redshank, lapwing or snipe. Why are the species that give the valley such importance for migrating wildfowl changing their habits; Bewick numbers tumbling and White fronted geese that have had counts in excess of 1000 birds all but disappeared from the fields. Possibly free food in the Dutch potato fields and the wetland sanctuaries in Norfolk, or perhaps they arrive to find the grass already eaten by the six hundred or so feral graylag and Canada Geese that now inhabit the valley. Or is it that the food supply that was in this valley has changed, due to the dramatic reduction in dairy herds and intensive grazing. Grazing animals be they cattle or sheep change the sward and provide an insect rich habitat, dung attracts bugs and grazing animals disturb them for the attendant birds. Since the dairy herds have gone the majority of land is cut for hay, often twice a year and I have even known a third cut, the beef herds are nowhere near so numerous and the once luxurious pasture has become coarse and weed infested, docks, meadowsweet, kingcup etc.
Is it possible or even desirable to attempt to put the clock back and once again see the species and populations that inhabited the valley during the period deemed by the conservation bodies the most important? Perhaps we are adopting an almost luddite position where we should be accepting the change and welcome the new species putting all our efforts into ensuring they have as clean and unpolluted environment as possible? This obviously has important implications for the piscine population as the species we are endeavouring to save may well fall into the category of being unable to adapt and fit in with the new conditions - food for thought anyway.
The Bewicks so long associated with the field north of the Harbridge Road at Ibsley have taken to grazing further south in the privacy of an estate offering areas of grass heavily grazed by sheep during the summer. Is it the grass is better or are they avoiding the recent arrivals in the form of the forty feral Barnacle geese or they may even be attempting to get a little peace and quiet from the continual parade of twitchers that creep about attempting to get the closest view. Attempting to define the exact reasons for change, when so many factors are involved, is extremely difficult.
Note the freeboard on the river bank, this time of year would normally see the water level at field level or even out in the flood plain.
29th January 2006
The first daff of the year, struggling with the chilly weather conditions, this particular bulb was open on the first of January last year.
The cold, bright conditions have given an ideal opportunity to take a picture or two, one of which was the famous view of the Breamore Shallows from the view point on Castle Hill. I have fond memories of that particular stretch having been on the committee of a local angling club, twenty plus years ago, when a lease was agreed for our members to enjoy this classic piece of Middle Avon. Great dace fishing at the top end, above the shallows and under the pylon line, wonderful trotting water. Huge roach and the odd big barbel down below the hill in the deeper downstream section, with the bonus of good chub throughout. Perhaps the most memorable incident on the day we agreed that lease was that a colleague on the committee, who was part of the negotiating group, decided to bring along his tackle to "try out" the water for an hour. If I remember correctly his best roach was two pounds seven ounces and he was fishing little more than an hour, he does have the advantage of being one of the best "bread men" I know on the Avon but it was still very impressive and it certainly added to the incentive to sign up the water. I also went on to enjoy some classic fishing for those wonderful Avon roach, whose offspring hopefully still swim down below the hill.
Breamore Mill in the middle distance with the magnificent Elizabethan Breamore House top right. On his "Rural Rides" Cobett said "I never before saw anything to please me like this valley of the Avon" and I think he had a point. I perhaps should add he was actually speaking of the valley north of Salisbury but I'm sure the emotion is still justified below.
27th January 2006
For the banks of the Hampshire Avon
The river here
That like a serpent through the grassy mead
Winds on, now hidden, now glittering, now in sight,
Nor fraught with merchant wealth, nor famed in song.
The cold clear conditions on the river at least have afforded me the time to dig around in the history and literature attached to this great river. I can't claim to be the author of the above lines they are the work of Robert Southey (1774 - 1843) who lived in the village of Burton a mile or two upstream from Christchurch. The young Southey and his wife, Edith Fricker whose sister Sarah had married Coleridge, lived in the village in the last couple of years of the eighteenth century, as far as I'm aware no one knows the exact location of his cottage. It was a brief period before his move to Cumbria to become perhaps better known as one of the Lake poets attaining the position of Poet Laureate in 1813. Those of you that didn't recognise the lines penned for the Avon may better know his work "The Old Mans Comfort" "You are old, Father William, cried the young man"!!
Don't worry my recourse to poetry will be infrequent but I felt that those brief lines had to be recorded in a diary claiming to reflect life in the valley.
23rd January 2006
Low, cold and grey not the most inspiring of places at the present time, very little happening on the river just the odd chub and pike at last light for the die-hards.
19th January 2006
The valley lakes continue to produce carp and the odd tench, one angler catching three carp in excess of twenty pounds in the space of four hours in what is now considered a good but not exceptional days carp fishing. How carp fishing has changed, in the sixties or seventies he would have been a national hero, one summer fish of that calibre would have made headlines now three winter carp over twenty are "A good day"!!
What has brought about these changes? More commercial stillwater fisheries? Climate change, allowing longer optimum growth periods? High protein baits? Perhaps even better anglers? What ever the reason the result is higher expectations from anglers who now take for granted winter carp, tench and barbel fishing for specimens of undreamt of size just thirty years ago.
A well coloured winter mirror carp from an Avon Valley stillwater
17th January 2006
Pleasant January days best describes conditions, water sun, blustery showers but for mid-winter deceptively mild, there's certainly plenty of time yet to live up to the earlier Met Office warning of a cold winter.
The Environment Agency monitoring team were out on the Middle Avon today counting the redds, one five mile length gave a count in excess of fifty which for this area is the highest for a long time. If, as I suspect, the fish have cut lower in the catchment due to the low flows it gives rise to an interesting point related to the theory that salmon return to their natal gravel within a very defined area. If that is so and we see a second or even third low flow season does that mean the population migrates down the catchment or as has also been suggested the rivers fill up from the top with the fish making their way upstream to the limit the flow will allow. I tend to favour the second hypothesis as salmon certainly appear to queue in a most orderly fashion below some obstructions when awaiting high water, just how the priority of the lie occupation is arrived at remains one of the many mysteries still waiting to be unravelled.
The Environment Agency Monitoring team searching for salmon redds in the Middle Avon, a redd is just visible in the foreground.
14th January 2006
The tinge of colour has stayed with us and the temperature has risen slightly, making conditions more favourable for a session or two after the roach. I have heard of some excellent chub bags so things are looking-up. First port of call was the local tackle shop for the bait and to catch-up on the latest news and gossip as to where the fish are being caught at the moment. I parked in the centre of town and walked alongside the Avon carrier close to the tackle shop and as with all anglers and water, couldn't help but peer over the bridge. I was very pleasantly surprised to see half a dozen lads fishing for dace and pike in a picture that would gladden the heart of anyone concerned with the future of angling. Dace one a cast and the chance of a double figure pike right in the middle of the town gardens, reminiscent of times gone by as the introduction so many youngsters had to angling and a lifelong interest in the riverine environment. It goes to show if the fish are present in sufficient numbers the lads (and lasses) will soon develop an interest, long may the mercurial Avon dace thrive.
The next generation of anglers.
13th January 2006
Very little change, the river has risen slightly and taken on a tinge of colour after the rain of the weekend but the temperatures have remained low. The EA are well into the redd count and as soon as I get any feedback I will post it here on the diary. The initial feeling is that the spawning has been lower in the catchment and the high number of redds in the Middle and Lower Avon is not reflected in the higher river and tributaries.
These swans think the water meadows are a great idea, frost free grass with easy access, I'm not sure that was what the builders had in mind when they constructed them.
7th January 2006.
As the otter population continues to expand we have the makings of an interesting dilemma ahead. The entry in November of last year pointed toward the problem that lay ahead in that the otters are targeting the large specimen fish that are also the quarry of the specimen anglers that fish the Avon. These large fish are presumably slower and easier to catch making easy targets; it is only natural that any wild animal will expend the minimum amount of energy to acquire its food. Otters only eat a very small proportion of these magnificent specimens and leave the remainder for other scavengers to clear up.
The problem arises when fish that cost fishery owners in excess of £500 become a single meal for a passing otter, fisheries and specimen hunting that are dependent on these large fish will be hard pushed to survive. The EA give advice on keeping otters at bay but many of these techniques do not apply to large rivers and very large lakes so a clash of interests is inevitable. I donít think anyone would wish to harm otters but what will be the eventual point of equilibrium is difficult to fore see at this time.
Fishery income hence maintenance of banks, hatches, carriers etc is dependent on anglers; if the anglers donít come the income is not available to support the river. With revetments and reinforcing costing many hundreds of pounds a meter leading to engineering works often in excess of 100K sources of income must be maintained. If fisheries are to retain their anglers more fish will be required and this will lead to considerably more pressure on the Environment Agency and English Nature to ensure fish populations expand at a similar or faster rate than that of the otters; in particular their favourite food the eel.
A prime condition two pound plus roach, rarer than the proverbial hens teeth on the Avon today, ending up as a meal for Lutra lutra.
5th January 2006
All very quiet on the river, slowly falling and clearing, continuing to give ideal conditions for redd counting. As I mentioned in the 2005 diary the count on the middle river is particularly high this year if this is reflected throughout the length of the river it certainly bodes well for the future. We continue to see the kelt drifting back downstream with foxes, greater black backed gulls and crows taking advantage of this seasonal bounty. A pair of raven were in attendance, also joining the feast, an increasingly regular and welcome sight in the valley as these birds so characteristic of the west coast mountain and moorlands now nest locally.
The relatively mild weather has a knock-on benefit for the robins that inhabit the valley. The frozen lakes and cold river a few weeks back meant the anglers stayed at home and the meals on wheels they provide in the form of maggots, bread and boilies disappeared. This week has seen the angler numbers pick up and the robins have got their food supply back. It will be interesting to see if the diet of high protein bait in the form of crumbled up boilies the carp lads keep feeding them will have any longterm impact; the prospect of robins the size of turkeys could put a whole new slant on the Christmas robin.
Within 100m upstream of this kelt, just upstream and downstream of the island, there are at least nine redds which is very encouraging. This robin knows how to attract some attention.
Monday 2nd January 2006
A new year underway and we start with the very pleasing news that Hugh Miles, wildlife camera man extraordinaire, dedicated roach angler and long term WSRT member, has accepted the position of Honorary Vice President of the Wessex salmon and Rivers Trust and will join Orri to double our VP numbers. I hope members were fortunate enough to have seen Hugh's most recent, incredible film "Searching for the Snow Leopard" set against the backdrop of the Himalaya mountain range, which was screened today; I do not have words to describe the wonder of his latest achievement.
Hugh Miles, new Trust Vice President with a magnificent summer bag of crucian carp from an Avon Valley stillwater.
Just what the year ahead will hold for the Avon Valley will be recorded on this page, the weather will as ever determine what awaits us. Will we get the much needed recharge of the aquifers in the next couple of months or are we to see a further low flow year with scorching summer temperatures, time will tell and I will do my best to capture the progression for the diary. Perhaps the photograph below is a harbinger of things to come?
Certainly some species are flourishing, my count of a nearby goosander roost gave a high of 68, which apart from the big freeze winter of 1963 which produced a freak count of 100, is a record for the valley and a dramatic recent year on year increase.
Do these snails know something we don't? judging by the height above the floodplain they have climbed up the bridge they are expecting some serious rain!