Avon Diary 2008
What tales of the catchment might this place tell
(All photographs on this site will enlarge if left clicked)
What an upside-down world this valley is, or perhaps its indicative of the entire eco-systems we profess to understand and manage. The salmon continue to spawn in the Trout Stream down with us, instead of up in the headwaters on the Wylye, we now have seven confirmed redds and a couple of scrapes. I have had further thoughts on why they should be down with us particularly in the Trout Stream and I believe it may be due to the fact that two or three years ago we removed an old weir that was serving no purpose. The result was to increased the gradient of the stream perhaps making it more salmon friendly. That still doesn't explain why they are out in the main channel but it does give a clue to what salmon consider desireable.
A further puzzle is that for the past three days the frost has failed to clear in the shade of the trees and the fishing in the river has become extremely difficult; even the dace that a week ago were feeding freely have slowed up and the chub have become very picky. Whats puzzling about that? nothing, its the fact the lads fishing on the lakes are continuing to catch carp under these freezing conditions. Not only have carp become a winter target species they have become a reliable one; if you add the winter Tench fishing that I have previously written about in earlier entries and you see what is confusing about the valley.
Sam with a 20+ common taken this afternoon
The morning was spent once more attempting to catch the broodstock for the eggbox scheme. This is my forth day and if you add the other rods and the electro-fishing team we are certainly adding up the man hours. What are the results of our efforts, not a lot I fear. We have had cock fish for which we were unable to catch hens, we have had hens which we have struggled to catch cocks; this despite being able to hold fish overnight. The eletro team managed to catch a dubious looking cockfish today to go with a couple of partially spawned, rod caught, hens hopefully we now have a few thousands eggs to place in the boxes.
What has been particularly galling is on my return to the estate there were fish cutting in the Trout Stream right under my nose; unfortunately the EA do not allow us to take fish from anywhere but from the section of the Wylye to which we have access. That aside there are one or two questions arising from this years spawning distribution that need closer examination.
In a high flow year we had hoped the reason we have not had good returns on the rods was that the fish were running straight through the lower and middle reaches of the river and waiting high in the catchment to run on to the redds when the urge dictated. Having walked four or five Km's of one of the historic spawning rivers we have discovered seven or eight redds. Returning to the estate the bottom 200 meters of the Trout Stream has at least five and possibly seven; I think two are secondary redds by the same pair. The main channel below Harbridge Island has at least two further redds and I have yet to look at the remainder of the Estate. Why have these fish chosen to stay down with us when the condition have been perfect for the journey high into the catchment? Is it our gravels are in better order? We are on a natural gravel substrate. Are there barriers to passage upstream of us that make fish reluctant to press on into the higher river? Is it we are able to maintain high flows through the troutstream throughout the year? Is it that we do not cut weed at Somerley providing good quality juvenile habitat throughout the summer irrespective of flow? Is it we don't gravel clean? questions, quetions, questions. The main factor in the decline of Avon salmon is our ignorance, if we new what they wanted we might be able to give a helping hand. What are we doing to answer the questions? very little. The main thrust of the EA salmon strategy, gravel cleaning is totally incapable of evaluation let alone providing scientific results capable of expanding our knowledge. The only other policies are restrictions on the rods; bait, season, method etcetera which will prove little other than we have seen ten years of restrictions and have yet to see any improvement in the run, despite what Bayesian statistics tell us.
The first photo shows a pair of fish cutting in the Trout Stream, the cock fish is covered in saprolignea making it look like it's donned the latest in camo gear. The second is of Robert May, out on a traditional days piking with dad Steve and showing dad how to do it. Well done Robert and thanks to Martin Pollok for the photo.
The beginning of the salmon spawning season on the Avon has been the signal for those of us involved in the Eggbox project to get out on the upper river in an effort to secure the broodstock. We have half a dozen named rods given a special derogation to catch up two or three pairs of fish to strip in an effort to establish the juvenile holding capacity of our streams.
Yours truly netting one of today's cock fish
Whilst we at last have the means to collect the required fish what we donít have are the fish themselves. We are restricted in the area we are allowed to collect to one of the Avon tributaries and currently there are not many fish showing in that particular stream. Why this should be remains to be seen, hopefully, unlike the fish in the lower river, they are not yet ready to cut and will appear in a day or two; only time will tell. We did manage a couple of cock fish today but hens eluded us, hopefully our luck will change tomorrow.
Whilst water watching today, in the hope of spotting a redd or two, I did spot a familiar shape! Slowly making its way upstream along the bank towards me was the unmistakeable shape I often see on the banks of the lower river some twenty plus miles downstream; yes it was Ron Davy out Grayling fishing. How odd is that? The only angler I have seen in several days on these lovely upper river fisheries was someone I see so regularly down with us at Somerley. It was good to see Ron and catch up on his latest exploits it was also good to see the hatch of Iron blues that saw several small fish rising freely to enjoy the winter snack.
The salmon are cutting from top to bottom of the Avon, a good size double redd
The carriers are also full of dace
The mild weather of the past day or two has seen the river begin to produce good bags of dace with some reasonable catches of roach to accompany them. Chub are also coming out making up almost the entire bag of fish landed in a middle Avon match today, given a further day or two of mild nights and the barbel will start to show again, fingers firmly crossed fror a settled spell of weather.
Trotting for dace and roach - Mike Window enjoying himself on the pin
I am frequently asked how I count birds on WeBS days when they are gathered together in large flocks and continually on the move. Unlike more experienced counters who seem to be able to look at a flock of wildfowl or waders and make an extremely accurate estimate, even when the numbers run into thousands, I thank the inventor of the digital camera. One click on a large format file which can then be taken home, blown up on the computer for a leisurely and accurate count.
Part of today's Teal count of 642
Wet, freezing cold, grey and uninspiring and that was after yesterday morning which tried to blow us all in the river which in turn came out into the fields to meet us. Perhaps I should not include the uninspiring as I find the river in the process of clearing out the rubbish of the year a most dramatic place to be. The flood surges through the Hatches with a roar that makes speech impossible, the valley becomes a lake bringing the accumulated nutrient rich silt of the summer out onto the meadows. On Friday before the flood I found my first salmon redds of the season which hopefully will suurvive the torrent, those that have waited should find the gravel polished in readiness for their activities as nature intended. The anglers who have braved the conditions have found it a struggle with just the odd dace and chub to the ones I spoke to; fingers crossed for a settled spell to see a few bags of fish to bring the anglers out onto the banks.
A grey day.
Today was WeBS day which proves that a great many birds also find the valley a desireable place to be under these conditions. The Black tailed godwit numbers are building up with some 500 which proves we're warmer than the Icelandic breeding grounds. Pintail and Goosander both in the 70's and the odd rarity with a Bean goose with our regular flock of Greylags. I believe that between 8 and 10 Bean geese have been recorded in the valley in the last thirty years making our visitor a welcome distraction.
Newsletter 37 is now available online.
Newsletter No37 December 2008
So much for my wish for mild weather
What did surprise me were the number of people out and about despite the cold, I hope they are duly rewarded with the fish of a lifetime
When I look at the stunning surroundings perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised, working in the valley everyday I run the risk of failng to appreciate the wonders of this river. First thing this morning had the hush, almost the still reverence I always associate with Christmas morning, the crunch of the frosted grass, no traffic noise, the distant farmyard dog chatting with his neighbours and the shriek of the water rail that sounds as if it must be the size of a terradactyl. I can appreciate there's certainly more to fishing than catching.
A slightly worrying sight on this mornings walk was the appearance of what one might think would be the first salmon kelt of the season. This fish still had ova that had failed to be deposited and the bruised, swollen appearance of her vent had the distinct look of Anisakis, a most unpleasant parasite that can potentially disrupt the doposition of eggs. Lets hope the incidents of this parasite do not reach numbers where the already threatened salmon population of the Avon have a further cross to bear.
Worrying salmon kelt
To round of a remarkable day for the senses the sunset this evening kept up the standard. A walk through the lake complex and out onto the valley this evening was the perfect ending. The wood smoke from the cottages had drifted across and filled the valley with that unmistakable tang and the Snipe had started their evening flights sounding like splashy footfalls.
Sunset over the Lakes, mist and smoke at Blashford Pool
The last time you saw a photo of Mick he was holding a trout and a roach, well this isn't Mick Jones this is Mick Morgan, different fish, same chap, wrong name; sorry Mick put that down to pressure of work! or failing faculties!! Anyway, having now established who Mick is its good to see he is still catching roach. I hope to have a go myself this weekend so keep your fingers crossed for mild weather.
I spent an hour or two looking for the seatrout in the Dockens Water the other afternoon, hopefully the recent floods will have seen the trout run the forest streams to spawn. The height and colour of the river meant I was unable to see them running and when it had dropped and cleared the absence of redds hopefully points to them having run through the lower stream and cut their redds high in the forest. I did bump into one splendid specimen but it most definately wasn't a trout!
The wet summer has seen difficult conditions for the farming community attempting to cut hay and silage in the valley. There are now renewed calls for higher levels of weed cutting to ensure they do not suffer a similar fate in coming years. How the eA deal with this thorny issue after what was after all one of the wettest summers on record will be an interesting exercise. Natural England will be a major player in the eventual decision in that the impact of weed cutting will not be allowed to adversely effect the conservation requirements of the valley and river. The HLS payments will play a major role in deciding the outcome, if the public purse is to pay vast sums of money to support environmentally acceptable farming practices a knee jerk reaction to return to decimating the river macrophyte community will have the brakes applied.
Some of the flooded meadows in the Avon valley are unique in that they are higher than the associated ditches and streams. The highly modified nature of the Avon with the many weirs and braided channels often sees the main channel considerably higher than the surrounding fields. We then have the strange effect of water leaving one channel and flowing across the meadows and back into a parallel but lower channel. I will leave you to ponder any value of weed cutting or dredging the lower channels, as is the all too frequently heard cry??
Redd country. Pannage in action, pure pig bliss, judging by the look on her face. A perched flood flowing back into the river
At his time of year the topic of conversation that can almost be guaranteed to arise when anglers discuss the reasons for, or for not, catching will invariably be the water temperature. Water temperature is becoming a much researched and studied condition of our rivers. In the trust we have funded scoping studies into the anthropogenic influences on river temperature and our own Jon Bass is currently expanding on this work to look at specific determinants for the trust. What impact rising summer temperatures will have on our lowland rivers is an extremely complex issue. Creatures that have evolved over millennia are facing changing conditions over an unprecedented short time scale, will they be capable of adapting remains to be seen but we better hope they can.
At a more immediate level how do we deal with the day to day changes in temperature that control the metabolism of the species we seek. When after salmon and grayling cold conditions are favoured in most instances, with high summer temperatures being the kiss of death. Our coarse fish act almost in reverse with the summer seeing the greatest activity and the cold of winter seeing systems shutting down. there are always chub and pike to pursue but when do we look for the barbel, carp and roach? what temperature triggers them back into action with a chance of them picking up the proffered bait. Many anglers rely on the taking the water temperature on arrival and deciding what method or species offers the best chance of success, others let fate determine the result. One thing is for certain and that is we do not understand the mechanisms that control the most elementary aspect of our sport, everyone seems to have a different view and each view will sooner or later see exceptions that turn them upside down. The only certainty in all this is that if you do not have bait, fly or lure in the water you definately wont catch.
I can confirm the water was cold - Brian Marshall's photo of me attempting to catch broodfish last winter. My means of deciding if the fish are active is to look out of my back window. If my carp are all lying doggo on the bottom I look for the cold water species, if they're all up in the water then most cyprinids will be active - and I don't have to leave the house; perhaps that should read from the comfort of my armchair?
November WeBS count day, which is just as well as the weather was absolute rubbish for getting out with the rods, rain and a north westerly wind to chill through to the marrow. As for the birds it was quite an interesting day as there are several rarities about, Long-tailed duck, Golden-eye, Great white egret, Black tailed godwits, Black-necked grebe plus a snipe count over 100. What was surprising is that fish eaters are doing very well if you include Goosander, Cormorants, Egrets and Herons in the four of five miles I look after I had a count in excess of 250 which goes to prove something! Just what I'm still working on?
Little egrets beside a valley fishery
Seeing the photo above made my day which up until that point had been pretty bleak, not only the two beauties being held but if you look closely you can see half a dozen more in the net. Itís amazing what the sight of an Avon two pounder can do and I have to thank Colin Gilson for letting me use the photo. If I had to put money on an angler to catch me a two pound Avon roach, or even a three in Colinís case, it would most definitely be Colin. I always enjoy watching him trot the Avon; it acts as a therapy when I canít get out on the banks myself. Ten minutes watching him feed his swim and present his bait so consistently and my batteries are charged again. You never know I may even get out myself one of these days and find another mystical Avon two.
I rounded off the day with a visit to the theatre to see Slava's Snow Show making it a magical evening all round, well done Colin and Slava if it comes to that but I don't think Slava will be reading my website to receive my congratulations!!
The dace and very pleasingly the roach have shown up in good numbers in the side streams with bags of ten or fifteen pounds providing good fun on the float. The roach are showing right through the estate, not yet the famed two pounders the Avon is famed for but fish of 10 or 12 ounces, there are many anglers with fingers firmly crossed that they continue to flurish.
Itís been a strange weekend in the valley with the river looking in good condition, temperatures seemingly perfect but the fish continuing their summer behaviour and playing hard to get. Whilst I have heard of some good fish with barbel to thirteen plus, thirty plus carp and chub in excess of six, it has been the odd bite here and there no one seems to be having a field day. I should perhaps add that Neil Justice, who can be seen in the first photo below trotting a sidestream in the centre of Ringwood, did have a red letter day last week on the lakes. I've forgotten the exact number of carp Neil landed in his short day session but I believe he had something in the region of ten doubles with the best going 22 pounds.
Neil showing he enjoys all aspects of our sport, Saturday morning after the dace and roach onthe side streams. The other shots show Matt Young enjoying a morning with the lure rod taking a fun jack pike from a flooded river.
For any readers wishing for an update on the state of the Avon the photo below was taken at 09:00am today, so bring your waders.
Over the banks at Blashford
We are now in the midst of the first real flood of the winter and its a beauty, rising like a rocket with rubbish and debris going in all directions. After the high flows of the summer I was wondering if Mother Nature might balance things out a little with a low flow winter; that doesn't seem to be her plan at present, perhaps next month?
Sallow disposal system
The problem of branches such as the sallow branches blocking three hatches today at Ibsley is not the branches themselves but the tons of weed and debris that gets hung up on them as they jam in the gates and channels. With the pressure of water from a rising river removing them without a winch is virtually impossible leading to hours of work, all due to someone either not bothering, ignorant of the means to do the job properly or illegally disposing of their rubbish down the river. Its a pity its not the individuals responsible who will get flooded out when the gates become inoperable but they are usually miles away. As can be seen in the first photo they could obviously reach the branch to cut it off so they could have slipped a rope around an inch or two above the cut to ensure it wasn't swept downstream. Not to fear, three were successfully removed during the torrential rain we suffered this morning, only leaving the main gates to clear as soon as levels drop back a little; bless 'em.
I've just enjoyed a truly memorable evenings fishing, I'd go so far as to say the most remarkable I've been privileged to be party for a long, long time. Iíll come clean and let you all in on the secret of my superb venue, Iíve just watched the first three of WSRTís Vice President Hugh Miles amazing series "Catching the Impossible" I have previously said of Hughís filming that superlatives cannot be found to do justice to his film making ability. In capturing the essence of what makes us seek the magic of our lakes and rivers this series reaffirms his remarkable talent.
I must warn you it is a terrible time waster, my delight on opening the package and finding the book and DVD cost me an entire evening when I should have been preparing for a particularly difficult meeting. I canít really complain as it totally reinforced the reasons I get involved in the politics of protecting and fighting to preserve our rivers and lakes.
What more can I say, other than heartiest congratulations and thank you to Hugh, Sue, Martin, Bernard and everyone involved in providing such angling pleasure.
More info can be found at; www.catchingtheimpossible.info to order the book and the DVD of progs 1 - 3 visit; www.calmproductions.com
On a more local level, but in the spirit of the series, I have included a couple of 30+ carp landed by Gaz Hooper from one of the valley lakes during October. Regular readers may remember a photo of Gaz landing a thirty back in August on a day when he could actually take his shirt off and enjoy the sunshine. His dedication in safely returning that 30+ common to the water during the chill of a misty October morning certainly shows he has a wide tolerance to temperature change.
Autumn 30+'s, well done Gaz, cracking brace of fish and thanks for the photos
Two very different days over the week-end made for a difficult time for the anglers out on the banks. Saturday clear and bright saw slow sport with dace once more being the saviour of the day. Odds and ends of other species but the only other catch of note were a couple of very large river bream 10.8 being the largest. These river bream almost appear as a seperate species when compared to their stillwater brethren, huge bronze sides without a trace of the slime that makes stillwater bream such a nightmare. Strangely, a species one normally associates with still and sluggish water appears to favour the fast flowing glides once in the rivers, its not unusual to find the barbel and the bream sharing the same swim and taking it in turn to pick up the bait.
Bracken's not responsible for the damage to the parkland sward that can be seen fading into the far distance in the photo above, I'm afraid its our enormous badger population out digging for worms. Its not unusual to see half a dozen or more lolloping about the park in the evenings their presence is not quite so welcome when they decide the golf course fairways are in need of ploughing.
I have managed to chat with one of two anglers this week and it appears there have been some good fish showing. The dace are perhaps the most encouraging with good year classes throughout much of the main river and side streams. They tend to be tightly shoaled up but once located have been providing some good sport. Massive chub continue to show up with fish over eight pounds being reported, along with several big sixes and one lucky angler on his first visit to an area not noted for its barbel managed three double figure fish.
What ever ones views on winter cereals, ploughing with this beautifully restored Fordson does make for a lovely Autumn picture. The second shot is Fred Whitlock landing a carp in a most dramatic fashion. Interesting to see Fred has taken up carp fishing after all those years chasing salmon - perhaps keeping his hand in, in readiness for next season might be one explanation??
Apologies for the lack of entries, time seems extremely scarce these days. Since the last entry Autumn has arrived with the first frosts and the leaf fall has started to strip the ash and poplars. The dace are shoaled up in the slower deeper water providing some great sport on the float, I expect they will do their usual disappearing act within a month or two and we will be wondering where they have all gone to hide in the depths of winter. As I didn't land a salmon this year I have promised myself a trip or two with the chub and pike in mind so if my luck holds I will have some photos to post in the not too distant future.
Mick Morgan with a small but welcome roach. Increasing numbers of Aussies and Mick with an accidental brownie, he has also managed three chub over six in recent days so the river is fishing well for one or two people at least.
We didn't have to wait long for the forecast change in the weather or the colour to appear in the river, after a night of heavy rain first light showed a fast rising and muddy river this morning. First light also showed what our local otter had for dinner last night which proved to be one of our barbel. Just how long the losses to the fisheries will be endured before one of our representative fishery organisations makes the case for compensation from Defra, presumably through Europe as Lutra lutra is an annex ii species; though I'm not sure it is a qualifying feature on the Avon SAC?
A coloured river and the remains of last nights meal
I've included this particular view before but it does no harm to see a sunrise of this beauty more than once. One of the advantages of the shortening days is that you can enjoy this spectacle at a reasonable time of day, in this instance 07:10am from the fishermen's car park at Ellingham. The clear easterly weather which has dominated the valley for the past two or three weeks is forecast to come to an end which will hopefully see the colour return to the river and we will see a return to the Avon in her winter best blue-green.
Despite the cold clear water barbel have been showing with one or two particularly good fish being landed, the chub are still making most of the running with one angler taking 24 fish during three session last week including three fish over six to 6.15, well done that man.
If you look closely in the sunrise you will notice a pair of Lesser black-backed gulls, they are unusual in that there are only two and they are heading south at first light. If during the last month you had stood on Ibsley Bridge at sunrise or sunset you would have seen literally thousands of these birds flying north to feed on the ploughland of the plain in the morning and back to the Blashford Lakes in the evenings to roost. Counts in excess of 7500 have been recorded which all adds up to an awful lot of earthworms and leather jackets also making the trip.
Interesting day, in that today was the first WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) count of the winter which gives me an excuse to walk the river for several hours. The bird life in our valley changes dramatically with the onset of winter and regular counts ensure that the bird numbers are monitored nationally to ensure all is well; its a pity our local fish populations aren't as well understood. Just what lies in store for us this winter remains to be seen, cold weather will bring large numbers of wildfowl across the North Sea from the Netherlands and even further. A wet winter will see the waders moving in from the harbours and estuaries of the south coast; I must say I look forward to the floods that bring the huge flocks of Black tailed godwits. Only time will tell but what ever it brings if its no good for fishing it will at least have the silver lining of bringing the birds.
A young Grey Heron, I wonder if he appreciated our efforts on his behalf today?
One other enjoyable aspect of my walk was that the river has at last cleared allowing the gravel runs to be studied in the hope of spotting a fish or two. Strangely in a year when weed cutting has been such a contentious issue up and down the river we have had remarkably light weed growth in many areas. I have mentioned before in the diary that the dace and chub anglers have been able to trot all summer which is unusual as in most years by late June clear runs are like hens teeth putting an end to all hopeof running the float through. With the opportunity to see the gravel bed so clearly we also can have a look at the state of the weed. With such good flows throughout the summer the ranunculus has had a good year and completed its annual cycle and beginning to drop back to the winter clumbs in readiness for the winter floods. All in all the river is looking very well indeed, lets hope the flows hold up and let the salmon and seatrout safely reach the redds.
Clean gravel runs between neat weed beds allows Ron Davies some upstream nymphing for the grayling.
We are currently enjoying a longed for spell of sunshine in an Indian Summer which has at least allowed us to get some of the usual summer jobs of mowing and cutting brash in readiness for the shoot season. Our spell of settled weather has prevailing east winds associated with it and in keeping with the old adage "When the wind is in the east the fishes bite the least" proving to have some grounding in fact. Some good catches are being reported but the better bags of barbel have still to show and the majority of rods are managing just one or two bites a session. You have to keep your fingers crossed in the hope that one of them will be an Avon monster.
With the end of the salmon season we have started to add up the catch for the river which does nothing to improve the confidence in the measures being taken to restore the run to the abundance we so dearly wish for. As far as I can tell at this stage we will be very lucky to manage three figures for the entire river. Whilst we did enjoy one or two good multi-sea winter fish, into the high twenties, it is very much one swallow doesn't make a summer by far the majority of rods failed to even make contact with a fish.
As regular readers will be aware I have always had a fascination with the much maligned eel. Each season I try to have a trip or two to the local lake in an effort to waylay one or two of these most mysterious of fish. My fascination probably relates to the reciprocal life cycle to that of my other favourite the anadromous Atlantic salmon. The migration of the catadromous silver eel, as it makes its way downstream toward its eventual destination the Sargasso Sea in Mid Atlantic, meets the upstream migration of our returning salmon. Just how that fits with my love of roach fishing is yet to be decided!!
As someone who runs commercial eel stages it might seem at a little odd that I get pleasure from catching these large residents of the local lakes and returning them to the water. We don't see these large fish on the eel stages and under the present circumstances when the dynamics of the eel population is little understood and the species is felt to be in decline we have reduced commercial effort to the minimum. This year we have not fished commercially at all and in the previous five years we have only covered the cost of the licence so our impact is minimal. What retention of the licence affords us is a say in the policy that the EA is trying to implement, unfortunately in common with many EA policies we have a restrictive policy but no balanced research into trying to understand the requirements of the species. More crossing of fingers in the hope Mother Nature smiles on us.
As for my eeling expeditions this year they have yet to materialise which is leaving it a little late in the day as the nights draw in and the water temperatures drop. Having said that I did get the opportunity of meeting some of the National Anquilla Club members when they visited one of the valley lakes on one of their weekend "fish-ins" Despite the easterly winds and bright conditions they did manage to catch some fish, no monsters but one or two good ones amongst them.
Landing is only half the battle, still lively, "quick" take the pics
Christchurch Harbour, over the "Nursery" on Hengistbury Head.
I took a trip down to the estuary Saturday morning in the hope of doing a little bird spotting as the valley acts as a conduit for the summer migrants as they head south for warmer climes. I was particularly keen to see if I could find a pied flycatcher, a bird I have seen in Mid Wales but I had not been fortunate enough to have seen this delightful little bird as they visit our valley each year. These small birds are only a very minor element of the huge migration that is currently going on in the valley. A visit to the website of the Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Club will give an insight into the numbers involved; up to 10,000 house martins a day, 4/5000 swallows, 500 meadow pipits, redstarts, wheatears, whinchats, ring ouzels, snipe and many, many more. The numbers involved are quite an eye opener and many of them are using the Avon Valley to make their way south so when your next out looking for that Avon specimen its a good time to keep an eye to the sky if you would like to spot some of the other Avon Valley visitors.
I failed to find my flycatcher but there was one reported Saturday from the very area I had spent a very pleasant couple of hours during the morning, seems very similar to my recent angling luck!!
This morningís walk illustrated very starkly the cruelty of nature as "Brack" pegged at least half a dozen myxi rabbits in just one short meadow. She knows sheís not meant to pick them up, hence her rather hang dog expression in the photo, at least it allows me to despatch them quickly and save further suffering. We always see the annual return of myxomatosis in the second week of August and whilst I can make no claim to be a rabbit fan I still find this deliberately introduced disease repugnant.
"Bracken" up to her old tricks, with a myxi, after having been for a swim in the lake; both on the banned list.
6th SeptemberTorrential overnight rain has brought the river out into the fields once more. It looks as if you would get pretty long odds on the hoped for "Indian Summer" A high coloured river will hopefully see the barbel getting their heads down to make up for their reluctance to feed with any confidence so far this season.
The river is once more out in the fields where it seems to have spent most of the summer. Feeding beside the river as I arrived was a Great White Egret with two or three Little Egrets, it'll be interesting to see if these larger egrets establish as successfully as their smaller brethren. The second photo is of a well known 40+ Mirror Carp that Tony Balsdan had just landed as I walked around the lake this morning, massive fish, well done Tony.
Jamie Gold had already left the lake when I last paid a visit but I am told he landed eight carp over twenty pounds, up to twenty six and a half, during his visit. I imagine he is feeling even more pleased with himself then when I took the photo of the twenty four. I was also informed all of Jamie's fish were commons which is extremely unusual; that's some catch, congratulations Jamie.
Well, the salmon season has ground to a close and some would say not a minute too soon. The high expectations that the early season high water gave rise to soon evaporated as the keenly anticipated high points of the May spring tides came to nought. In terms of rod effort against fish banked this season must rate as the worst ever on the middle Avon. Iím sure the EA will tell us the Bayesian curve shows a definite improvement and the counter numbers will tell us the run was enormous. What this fails to reflect is the fact the Avon fishery is a spring fishery and our fish are multi-sea winter. Six and seven pound grilse creeping about in the weed do not amount to a recovering Avon fishery. Best keep our fingers and anything else capable of being crossed, firmly crossed in the hope Mother Nature takes pity on us and adapts to the changes that confront her. We will at least be monitored and surveyed to the enth degree to provide a comprehensive record of what a failing fishery looks like. Just where we go from hear remains to be seen but the rod catch for the entire season doesnít amount to a decent day's returns on a good Scottish river. For the EA to say they are maintaining, improving and developing the Avon salmon fishery doesnít need further comment from me. In the words of an internationally recognised salmon expert, "we risk being accused of sitting with our thumbs up our bottoms."Not a phrase I was previously familiar with but it would seem to succinctly capture the mood of the moment.
A brief visit to the lakes lifted the spirits, as I arrived Jamie Gold was playing his second carp of the afternoon, success in the form of a twenty four and a half pound common to go with the earlier twenty two plus beauty. I couldnít help think of the prophetic words of the late, great Dick Walker when he said the future of angling would lay in the still waters. Perhaps a little simplistic in his views but certainly much of the angling that takes place in the valley occurs on the lakes. The rivers are far from deserted but the character of the pursuit has changed. As the salmon and salmon rods have disappeared the barbel and barbel anglers have taken their place. Our chub are at an all time high and our roach at an all time low, as with the dearth of salmon there are no hard facts to explain the population dynamics - they are there so we exploit them, or not as the case may be!
Jamie Gold looking justifiably pleased with himself.
The lakes offer easier access to more dependable results, no miles of flooded banks to suffer a cold blank - good car parking within casting distance of catches that could not be imagined a few years ago. One other advantage the lakes have is that they do not come under the same EA national dogma as do our river fisheries. Trout and Grayling strategies, Salmon Action Plans, Fishery Action Plans, Eel Strategies and a couple of decades since the control of these private assets was handed over to the government our river fisheries do not show one jot of improvement that can be attributed to the current strategy that controls our fisheries.
Bob Windsor perfecting the art of catch and release, to go with the salmon he lost at the net yesterday at Ashley he lost this one at the tail of Tizzards today. Ever philosophical, Bob simply enjoys the battle and accepts he at least doesn't have the worry of the delicate business of unhooking and returning them to the water.
I must start by saying well done to Steve Hutchinson who landed a salmon down at Ashley today; it goes to prove that they are, as the counter suggests, creeping into the river. The nets of course finished last month with a total number of salmon for the four working nets taken in two months in the region of 70 fish. All of those fish were as in previous years returned to the river to continue their journey to the redds.
The Kingcombe Aquacare team spraying balsam on the Dockens water.
I should add that the task of spraying close to, or within, water channels requires specilist, trained operators and chemicals licensed as being safe for use in the aquatic environment.
It's not the fact "Gaz" is playing a 30+ mirror to make a cracking brace with the 27 he landed an hour earlier, its the fact the sun is out and he has his shirt off!!
Spearheaded by Trust Exec and barbel angler supreme Pete Reading there has been a flurry of activity in the valley in an effort to gain control of the Himalayan Balsam that is so rampant on rivers in the west of the country. Pete has organised several very successful voluntary days with the local angling clubs in an effort to get to grips with the problem and several large areas of the dreaded weed have been cleared. The implications of alien species becoming established is at long last being recognised by the agencies that control such issues in the valley. The concerns were raised over a decade ago but it is only in the last year or two, when funding has been achieved through sources independent of the government, has the problem been taken seriously. Unfortunately the project funding from EU and other sources is species specific and we see potentially devasting plant species being allowed to establish, some with the actual support of the agencies involved. The target species under the terms of the present funding are Giant hogweed, Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed the impact of several other species is deemed outside the remit and conveniently ignored!
Crassual, completely dominating a local pit, yet ignored by the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Local Authorities. Ragwort, potentially controlled under the1959 Weed Act and Himalayan balsam threatening to strangle the Dockens Water.
I will expand on the threat from these species asap
The wonder of the internet, my request for photographs of the Scottish Avon was answered today by Roy Arris - publisher of the superb Atlantic Salmon Atlas - from his home in Iceland.
Photographs courtesy of Roy Arris, Silver Run Films.
As can be seen from Royís super shots of the Minmore House water, below Bridge of Avon, our Scottish namesake is an extremely good looking river - now I wish I had taken the rods with me last week!
Iím back from my travels in the north, having driven over the Bristol Avon, Warwickshire Avon and one rising amidst the Munros atop the Cairngormís in Glen Avon. For some bizarre reason, which defies all logic, I failed to get a photo of the Scottish name sake resplendent in seasonal heather. As some one who almost always has a camera to hand this is even more difficult to understand!! Any of you salmon rods that intend to spend some time on the Spey in the future, any shots of the Scottish Avon that runs into the Spey at Ballindalloch, would be appreciated.
I imagine that most would put my presence in Scotland down to attempting to extract salmon from those wonderful rivers; not so, a little too close to a busmanís holiday in my case. Some element of the river and its associated braided channels requires my attention almost every day of the year. Not only the physical control of the water levels but also the requirements of the land and inhabitants. Add the politics and administrative requirements and it is all too easy to become jaded, even on the Hampshire Avon. With that in mind you may understand why the top of the Scottish Highlands have an attraction for for me at times.
Recharging the batteries, high tops, tall trees and small birds
On my return I find the real Avon even fuller than when I left it at an all time summer high of a week or so back! The rain in my absence has once more reduced the freeboard and sent water out into the water meadows. Despite two weed cuts one section of the middle river is still at a level that will prevent any mowing this season.
My absence has seen the barbel begin to get their heads down with several anglers I have spoken to on my return reporting good fish. The chub have continued to feed freely during these summer high flows which will hopefully see further remarkable fish landed this autumn and winter. The carp in the still-waters seemed to have sensed the same urgency to get on with the autumn feeding spell with fish in the thirties and forties coming from the Middle Avon lakes.
There would appear to be a few salmon about as the coarse rods are also reporting active fish showing well in quite a few of the favoured holding areas. With only a couple of weeks to go I would think Woodside, The run upstream of Gypsy, Ibsley Bridge Pool or Island Run would offer a reasonable chance of a fish; all it needs is some one brave enough to have a go.
I was delighted to hear that our Trust Chairman, Brian Marshall was presented with the CLA Life Time Achievement award at the Game Fair. Well done Brian, congratulations, richly deserved, due recognition for your commitment and dedication that sets an example to us all. I will add one or two photos asap but for now just the briefest of updates.
Brian with the CLA Lifetimes Achievement Award
Thanks to John Slader for the use of the photograph
I may have mentioned in previous entries that my labrador Bracken has recently undergone a major operation on her leg which has curtailed our extensive riverside walks. Our walks in recent weeks have in the main been restricted to the soft, spongy turf of the rabbit mown meadows beside the lakes. Our walk yesterday evening gave rise to a pleasant surprise in that the local club were holding a twenty four hour carp match providing ample opportunity to natter with the anglers and see how the carp were recovering after the rigors of spawning eight weeks ago.
Kevin Mitchell playing a carp, I believe his son Harry is four bivvies along, I wonder how he will fair against Dad? Brian Perkins keeping an anxious eye on the scales. It was Harry just down the bank and he seems to be doing okay.
John Turner, Tony Perkins and Grant Flory the stalwarts who make it all happen and finding time to treat the odd cut and damaged lip.
I can tell you young Harry gave Dad a lesson in how to catch carp, having said that he gave everyone else the same lesson as he was top weight with 162.2 pounds. Brian Perkins was placed second with 133.13 pounds and third weight was another junior Dan Ryan who also managed a new personal best carp of 17 pounds, everyone caught with almost 100 carp being landed.
Unrelenting rainfall yesterday and last night has brought about unprecedented July water levels, just what the implications for the valley ecology will be remains to be seen.
A rapidly rising river meant the ewes had to be quickly moved to higher ground
Lots of rain, lots of wind and wind blown debris and lots of water making July conditions as unpleasant as I can recall; I am definately in need of some sunshine. The grilse have arrived in the system, if I can find the time I may take the salmon rod out of the bag where it had gone at the end of May and try and cheer myself up with my first salmon of the year. Those of you who read this and are expecting emails from me please accept my apologies as my email system is playing-up; I will try and get it sorted out asap.
Despite the awful weather it was good to see the junior section of the Christchurch Anglers Club still turn up to fish their match on one of the local lakes. The future of the sport depends to a great extent on these lads and it is through the efforts of the coaching team led by Tony Perkins who also deserve a vote of thanks for their time and effort.
(L)A nice skimmer for Harry. (M)Steady Dan, almost there.(R)The weigh-in favoured Harry who had one or two slabs in the net for 47.9
There's a further lesson for everyone to learn from the weigh-in; the use of the unhooking mat - that really is good to see.
We are entering one of the most interesting periods in the valley as the hay and silage mowing gets underway. One or two farmers have kept a few meadows out of the agri-environmental schemes and have been mowing for a week or so. The majority, who have joined the schemes, are allowed to mow from the 1st of July so the rush to get the meadows cleared is underway.
This year we have seen extraordinarily high river flows which normally mean heavy weed growth, however this year due to coloured water the growth in the main channel has remained very low. The shallows where light has been able to penetrate have very heavy cover but the water over four feet or so has, as I mentioned in the previous entry, allowed excellent conditions for the float fishermen.
This loss of head has a further advantage for the fish population in that it allows the weirs to be negotiated yupstream with the minimum of effort. The high water in the weir pool is down to the high flow and gravel piled at the tail of the pool as much as weed growth. The last fortnight has seen the water clear and as the sunlight reaches the depths we are seeing an explosion of weed growth any farmers wishing to make silage or hay would be well advised to get on with it.
In an effort to allow the tractors on the watermeadows, without sinking, water is being directed down the opposite side of the valley; making for a busy time opening and closing hatches in an effort to balance the flow.
Cut and cleared in a day.
Time is definately in short supply these days, my lack of entries due to my failure to get down to the river as much as I had hoped for this season. From what news I have been hearing the high flows and lack of weed have at least provided a bonus for the trotting brigade with clear runs and plenty of chub throughout the middle river. The chub have been the highlight with superb catches such as one rod landing eighteen over four and a quarter pounds and a lucky angler at Lifelands landing 22 from one swim. As well as the average size being enormous, with fives fairly common and six pounders no rare sight the best todate being 8.2 which for a summer fish is collosal. The barbel in the middle river are always a week or two behind those down the bottom end at the Royalty where they have been getting some fabulous fish to 14 pounds. From the middle reaches thirteen six is the best that I have heard of todate with only odd ones and twos gracing the net but once they get their heads down on the bait the numbers will begin to increase.
Salmon continue to be noticeable by their absence with no further fish that I am aware of from the river. I have heard one or two more reports of fish in the higher river so fingers crossed they have all run straight through. Salmon fishing or chasing about after the chub seemed far too much effort this evening so Jim and I decided on a leisurely hour or two beside the lake and apart from a temperature more akin to October we had a very pleasent evening.
A lovely male tinca for Jim
Well done Peter - Dexter that is - on landing a fresh thirteen pound salmon from Ibsley today. The salmon rods are in dire need of a little encouragement as the past month of which we had expected great things was a disaster. There has been considerable speculation as to the reasons we have not seen the fish but we hope the answer is that the fish are running straight through to the headwaters on these unseasonably high flows.
Budgie in action
On the way home this evening I spotted Trust committee members Budgie and Trevor taking time out from baby sitting their roach fry to indulge in a spot of chub fishing. During the twenty minutes I spent gossiping Budgie landed chub of 5.13 and 5.14 to add to a 5.13 and four others landed during their afternoon session.
Trevor doing the honours with the scales, "5.14 best so far"
Almost a repeat performance of yesterday with the pits fishing well and the rivers being difficult with only one or two anglers managing good bags of chub. The chub would appear to be on the gravel shallows close to the spawning grounds with anglers who are able to find them getting some remarkable bags. The barbel are noticeable by the absence, I only heard of two today. That is generally the norm with the barbel, slow to get going as they are not bait responsive, it usually takes a week or two for them to get their heads down.
One angler enjoying some excellent sport with carp on the fly rod
The coarse season is underway as is the bait fishing for salmon. The coarse anglers have had a good start to their season whilst the salmon anglers have continued to suffer the dearth of salmon already experienced in May and early June. The area of the Middle Avon that is primarily concerned with this diary has several lakes that continue with the traditional closed season. It was good to see the anticipation reminiscent of years gone by as the anglers queued all night outside the gates to start the season at seven o'clock this morning.
How did the anglers fare? the stillwaters produced good numbers of carp, tench and bream, with at least eleven carp in excess of twenty pounds up to twenty eight pounds when I walked around one of the lakes at lunchtime. The river was far more difficult with one or two good chub bags and dozens of rainbows which forced several anglers to call it a day early as they couldn't get through them. Hopefully their numbers will drop quite quickly now that the coarse lads are on the case.
Sean Collier with a good looking twenty plus common to start his traditional opening day. Escaped rainbow trout spoilt the day for many on the river as they couldn't get a bait past them. I must ask Joe what he intended to do with that broom???
May has drawn to a close and June has continued in a similar vain with rain adding to the already flooded valley. I have previously said May provides the best of the Avon salmon fishing; unfortunately this particular may followed the weather and turned into a completely damp squib. Why this should have been so with such ideal conditions is a mystery to me and many others I have spoken to. Have the fish gone straight through the lower and middle river and are now safely tucked up in the headwaters awaiting the winter rain for the final push to the redds? I personally donít think many fish came through on the May tides; I would be surprised if more than a hundred or so came through us during the entire month. I am keeping my fingers crossed that in keeping with recent years with the run getting later and later June will see the bulk of the fish arrive.
The changeable weather also conspired to keep the Mayfly hatch reduced to a dribble and unfortunately they were greeted by the hoards of escaped rainbows. Those that managed to reach the surface were immediately scooped up by the black-headed gulls and common terns that arrive each day from the sanctuary of the nearby nature reserve. There is a bright spot in the sanctuary afforded these previously non resident predators in that the cormorants, that also have been encouraged to establish and breed at the expense of our fisheries, can eat the b"**'y rainbows instead of our salmon parr!!
The rain over the last day or two has flooded the meadows giving rise to conditions that I have only seen on one previous occasion. The unique aspect of this flood is that it has come in the summer months providing shallow warm water ideal for the river carp to come up on to the meadows to spawn. The scene today looked like something more likely to be seen on the Danube Delta with twenty or thirty large carp rushing about in the meadows with their backs clear of the water doing what comes naturally. There is a slightly worrying aspect to this in that the cold water of the main channel has meant that river carp have never been able to successfully hatch and survive to maturity; the current population of river carp are escapees from upstream ponds and lakes. Should the warmer wetter weather we are promised with climate change become established we may well see river carp numbers increase dramatically.
River carp spawning out in the flooded meadows
Trout and Grayling Strategy
THE HUNTERS RETURN
Escaped rainbows taken in an hours fishing with my £5 wonder rod, recently confiscated from one our travelling friends.
There is a comic element to this situation in that we have got used to escapee rainbows over the previous couple of decades and yet the EA are enforcing the Brown Trout triploid only stocking policy from 2015 despite being totally powerless to do anything about these tens of thousands of rainbows.
We had what best can be described as a deluge last night, Brian Marshall who measures such things tells me 45mm fell. For a summer flood that is a significant amount and will have implications we are yet to define. Our river roach have just hatched and are probably in their most vulnerable larval stage, where they are in relation to the spawning grounds? We have no idea; hopefully in our oxbows and similar slack areas. Did the salmon we expected on the spring tides of May know of this spate and wait at sea? We hope so. I think the commercial eeling season, due to start in a weeks time, will probably be a poor year. There will be sufficient flow from this spate for eels to trickle to sea throughout the summer and early autumn, it will be an interesting season to watch closely. One thing for certain many of the low lying meadows will be submerged and remain soft for some days to come. Livestock will have to be closely watched to ensure they don't poach these fields. Those in the agri-environmental schemes do at least have a month for the weather to return to a more benevolent frame of mind before the hay and silage can be cut at the end of June. Livestock farming outside of the schemes will be a very precarious business for a week or two should the weather remain changeable.
Tizzard's yesterday with its bones showing.Today the gates all open, the spillway gone and Tizzards at the top of the banks
It may appear at odds with today's torrential rain, we are however entering the period of reducing flows and coffered water levels which have the potential to give rise to conflicts of interest between conservation, angling and farming requirements. The concerns of the SSSI/SAC are retaining or improving the lot of species that are deemed worthy of such conservation designations; lapwing, snipe, redshank, salmon, otters etc. To this end we have seen considerable investment of public money in attempting to recreate the habitat these species require. We have water level management plans and hatch protocols and land management agreements, in the form of the old ESA's now becoming the ELS and HLS funding packages, all endeavouring to get the SSSI back in favourable condition.
Some of our 180 swans that help to keep the shallows clear in the lower river and avoid flooding the hay meadows. There are also a pair of Black swans, a confused farmyard goose that thinks its a swan and "Poppet" our Greylay X Black swan. The meadows do look well in their cloak of flowers with the buttercups taking over from the kingcups to keep up the show.
Steve Hutchinson turned up this week and did his usual trick of grassing a fresh fish. I don't know if Steve has noted his success during this week in previous seasons. In 2005 he did his memorable feat of three salmon in three casts from Ashley on the 23rd of May, 2006 a fish on the 19th, 2007 a fish on the 21st, 2008 a fish on the 19th. Well done Steve, quite remarkable; you only need to fish one week of the year to put us all to shame.
I'm continually being asked the latest score at Somerley so I have attached a pic of the first page of the return.
The first page of the Somerley Salmon Return
Nice one Bob! I have to congratulate Bob Windsor on grassing a lovely fresh fish Saturday morning from Woodside, one of my favourite pools. Particularly pleasing in that Bob has continued to fish the fly and reaped his justifiable reward. I have been pleasantly surprised at the number of rods that have continued with the fly when conditions are not the easiest, it proves a point about there being more to fishing than fish.
The idyllic evening rise, tranquility and peace, as long as that back cast doesn't snag that cow! The second shows Paul of barbel fame having adopted a new way to attract the grayling! He has also managed a barbel fairly on the Mepp, a 7lb pound rainbow and a couple of double figure pike. When his turn for a salmon comes around this season I'm sure it will be a monster!!
The first Spring tide of May having been a damp squib lets hope for better things this week as we build for the second. Added to Bob's fish this weekend I spoke to Rae Borras up at Northend and he tells me he had a sparkling ten pounder with lice that still had their tails. Typical summer fish and if the lice still had their eggs attached getting to us in less than 24 hours.
We did manage one other salmon today, a fourteen pound fish from Ashley. What do we learn from this? There were fish with us which would appear to have taken up residence in the deeper holding pools, more difficult to fly fish. The extra rod effort with the spinner makes this water available and hence today's fish. It will be interesting to see if this cooler weather we are currently experiencing encourages the fish to show more readily and continue on their upstream migration.
Peter Dexter enjoying the results of the first days spinning - Esox lucius
"Fly only" has now come to an end and we have had the unseemly rush to be the first on the bank with the egg whisk. I believe it was five minutes into the new discipline that the first, a fish of eighteen pounds graced the bank. What is so disappointing is that the first fortnight in May which is the finest fishing the Avon has to offer produced virtually nothing. Why this should be is a mystery, we had good water and of course a spring tide but the fish didnít arrive. I say didnít arrive, spinning may well disprove this but the fish were not caught on the fly. We have enjoyed good flows which may have seen the fish pass straight through the middle reaches making the best of the opportunity to get nearer the spawning grounds. We have suffered a thick algal bloom making the water very murky and the recent very hot, sunny days made the water temperature soar. Today is overcast and showery and there will be a considerable increase in rod effort, I have seen more rods in the first hour than I normally see in a week, which should certainly see the fish caught if they are there.
Yellow iris beside the lake covered in willow down. Lapwings nests have become rarer in the valley hence the efforts to manage the water levels. Nature's wallpaper and Carp spawning during the warm weather.
Whilst the salmon fishing has been disappointing the valley has continued to delight us with the new arrivals and warm weather. I have just heard that we have at least five European bee eaters up in the forest beside one of the tributary springs. I have yet to see these beautiful birds but I will certainly be keeping an eye out when I next do my bees! The riverbanks are an absolute wonder with the newly emerged dragon and damsel flies, sedge hatches throughout the day, lush foliage and flower highlights making Natureís backdrop unsurpassable. As I have yet to catch a salmon on the fly this season I will persevere for a further couple of weeks, its not that much of a hardship having to keep trying.
The intervening period since the last entry has seen the valley at what I consider to be its best. The warm nights have encouraged the plant life to surge into growth and the whole place seems reminiscent of a green patchwork quilt. The first fledglings are out of the nest and fox cubs are above ground, swifts, swallows, cuckoos and the rasping of the warblers make the valley buzz with activity; every creature seems to relish the month of May.
Thanks to Alan Bashford for this glimpse of valley life.
I wish I could report more news on the salmon front. There have been two or three in recent days but with the water we have enjoyed and the considerably increased rod effort this year I was expecting several more. Last week Stuart Lynch landed his second of the season an 18 pound fish. I believe its Stuartís first season after salmon so he can feel justifiably pleased with himself.
We are about to have the first spring tide of May which I have always considered the best tide of the year. We seem to be getting later and later each season with the second spring in a fortnightís time proving equally productive in recent years. Which ever tide they come in on, May will offer the best salmon fishing the Avon has to offer so donít miss the chance to get out on the bank.
I should check the returns book in the Lodge a little more regularly in that I only noticed today that Chris Pearson had landed a twenty pound hen fish down at Ashley a week ago; belated congratulations Chris super fish.
I had occasion to be down at the bottom end of the estate at Ashley today and found that our otter population is in good order. I have never see such worn slides, runs, flattened grass and spraint. I can only imagine we have a family from last year present as I would think it a little early for this years litter to be above ground. Otters have the ability to breed through out the year which makes identifying just what we have in residence a little difficult I only hope they continue to find plenty of eels and frogs to eat and avoid having to add our Ashley chub and barbel to their diet.
Otter slide and spraint and the bird cherries in flower making for a very pleasant evening walk
I've spent time this morning doing a tetrad count for the BTO bird atlas but one bird I didn't find today was the spoonbill that appeared in the valley on Thursday. I've often mentioned the changing face of our bird population in the valley; Egrets, Gadwall, Goosander but a Spoonbill was a bit of a shock.
Sand martin colony in todays bird count and some of the millions of Grannom
I enjoyed an hour or two this evening strimming beside a salmon pool whilst the Grannom hatched in their millions to enjoy an evening without gusting wind to blow them out into the fields away from the river. I always enjoy the grannom hatch it signals the real start of the summer and as I watched them swarm upstream to lay their eggs I tried to estimate the numbers involved. It is truly mind boggling if you take conservative estimates of the number in a cubic metre,(50) the width and depth of the stream (5m x 1m) and the length of river involved (40km) 10,000,000 (ten million) insects decided today was the day they should all hatch; clever little devils!
I forgot to mention that the survey boat did manage to find at least two salmon yesterday and that was before I left at lunchtime! As soon as they move a salmon the electro gear is switched off to avoid damage but it does prove they are there.
Note to salmon rods - must try harder!!
Today the EA coarse fish survey took place on our section of the Middle Avon. The survey is undertaken every three years I believe, (don't quote me on that as I haven't checked), to get an idea of what is happening to our main river coarse fish population. I always find it interesting, watching the process in action and hoping to expand my knowledge of the fishery.
The survey boat drifting downstream, measuring the catch and returning a large barbel
One of the draw backs of the method involved is that the equipment does not effectively fish the deeper water without risking damage to the larger inhabitants that get shocked. The method adopted gives a snapshot of the fishery and gives us plenty of food for thought regarding the missing species. Large numbers of large chub and barbel but the roach are missing! The reason for the absence of our roach is complicated but I believe the change of flow regime that has been encouraged for the benefit of salmon and the inability of spawning fish to migrate upstream to compensate for the downstream drift of juveniles play major roles. If we look at the areas that have a stable roach population we see they have several points in common. They are at the bottom end of river systems and have areas that afford protection when major flood event occur. Britford at the bottom end of the five rivers with the Nadder and Upper Avon providing excellent spawning habitat. The Royalty at the bottom of the entire Avon system with the addd bonus of the interchange of fish from the Stour. The few areas that do have a reasonable roach population such as Fordingbridge and Bickton Canal are either impounded or have access to significant backwaters.One further pointer is that the stretch upstream of the Old Ringwood Weir was renown for its huge catches of roach, since the New weir was constructed that lowered the water head and dramatically speeded flow the roach have disappeared, What's the Answer? more ox-bows and backwaters and a more cyprinid friendly hatch regime perhaps. The construction of shallow gradient, boulder fish passes to allow greater upstream migration would probably help but prove extremely costly.
One further aspect of the EA fish monitoring I would dearly like to see is an attempt to measure the upstream migration of spawning fish of all species and the downstream drift of their progeny. Work on the continent has shown that roach and barbel move tens of kilometres upstream to spawn and there is a considerable downstream movement of juveniles.
Perhaps an odd reminder to find here but the next fortnight has to see the cormorant licence returns sent to Natural England's licensing division if the impact of these birds is to be appreciated by those in authority. We often hear from anglers complaining about the impact of cormorants yet the number of license applications does not reflect a major issue when viewed on a national scale. Worse still is that individuals who have gone to the lengths of applying for licenses do not complete the returns and thus are risking refusal of future licenses. There is a slight complication this year in that some hacker has gained access to the NE site so returns have to be by snail mail so don't leave it to late!
Make sure you complete your licence returns this month
Perhaps it is time a new way of thinking is adopted toward conservation of certain species at the expense of others. I do not say this as a means to preserve fish but all aspects of the current green trend to protect a chosen few species at all costs, In many areas fish will definitely lose out to otters and perhaps avian predation but the implications and responsibilities involved in that must be reviewed and reassessed if we are to move forward. We are endeavouring to freeze frame in areas where natural influences and mans intervention are changing at a pace greater than at any other time in our history. To restore the Avon Valley SSSI to favourable condition by 2010 using breeding waders as an indicator of success is failing to recognise the march of time. The wader populations of the first half of the twentieth century were based on a valley with an entirely different agricultural regime, keepering intensity and public access pressure. Whilst those charged with the responsibilities of these chosen species - breeding waders, salmon, otters, bullheads etc struggle with the well intentioned legislative obligations the real issues of land-use and climate change are in many instances being ignored. If the intention is to turn the entire SSSI into an artificial nature reserve we are doing the rural community a considerable disservice. We may have to accept the loss of some old friends for the benefit of some new faces. Plenty of food for thought in there, I have been giving this topic some considerable thought of late perhaps an article for the next newsletter beckons?
I'm back. sorry for the disappearance, I will try and keep up to date in future. I'm a little pressed for time at present but I did take a couple of photos that may be of interest.
The carp are river carp looking for the warm water that is entering the channel from the water meadows. There are 18 of them in this shoal up to low twenties and I have known one or two of them for over twenty years, so we are almost on speaking terms. The second shot is the grannom hatch currently underway with drift lines of tens of thousands of flies being enjoyed by the chub.
A well deserved fish for Peter Bunce today in the shape of a 27 pounds salmon. Peter tends to concentrate his efforts on the less popular areas of the estate and this fish from Harbridge Bend is just reward; congratulations Peter
The weather may be determined to spoil the party with hail and diabolically heavy showers but the the river is in fine order and a further two salmon landed today would seem to vouch for that; congratulations to Stuart Lynch and Richard Vipond for getting on the score sheet.For the readers who like to keep an eye on the seasonal coming and going in the valley bird world the following list are the birds that I have recorded over that past fortnight on the meadow with the kingcups included in yesterday's photographs.
|Black Tailed Godwit||3|
|Little ring plover||2|
By no means the complete list of residents but the more noteworthy related to monitoring our efforts at habitat improvement. To be aware of the other creatures that are living in the valley makes for a more complete appreciation of this wonderful river.
The meadows are stuttering back into life after the recent frosts and chilly weather, hopefully to we will see a settled spell to allow Summer to get underway.
Kingcups looking well in the meadows lets hope the Lapwing and Redshank do as well. Olwen Tibbet presenting the Oliver Cutts memorial Rose Bowl to Pike Match winner Andre Sobczac at the recent AGM
I have yet to give an account of the AGM and how the meeting dealt with the advance of our local "Unity" with the neighbouring river groups in an order to establish a higher order of representative body for our rivers. I am happy to report that the meeting supported the executive in the vote on the proposals to continue the work in this direction. For those who follow such political escapades and are not familiar with our efforts below are the notes of my presentation to the meeting.
Unity of the geographically similar catchments into a new Professional trust.
What has been established beyond any doubt over the period of our existence and that of our neighbouring river groups is the expanding and ever increasing complexity of the workload confronting us. As we see the deluge of legislation appearing from Europe and Defra the role of practically applying those statutory obligations falls to the owners and users on the ground. The interpretation placed on any legislation by the regulators or competent authorities in the form of the EA, NE or local authorities has to be met by those attempting to make our rivers work at the sharp end. If scientific or academic interpretation of legislation does not have an equally practical balance we are heading for confusion and frustration. The regulators look to Defra/UKTAG/or the Home office for their instructions, who do we on the ground look to, to fight our corner?
We have SSSI and SACs that are currently failing which have to be in favourable condition within a couple of years. What will be involved to achieve this? What ever it takes will impact directly on our rivers and fisheries. We have to be represented at the highest level and the enormity of that task has taken it beyond what can be reasonably asked of volunteers, however committed and knowledgeable. We have to have our case argued by professionals, taking their instruction from those that intimately understand the realities of running a river.
What ever your chosen discipline the forces arrayed against the environment in which you practice your pursuit will only increase. As population and climate change increase their demands in the future it will be the riverine environment that has to meet many of those demands for water supply and waste disposal. The commercial and social lobbies are well organised and very vocal, those that have the task of actually protecting that environment on the ground in their day to day activities are by ther very nature often not vocal or demanding. Unfortunately if the ecology and condition of this environment are to be protected this voice will have to be raised more frequently.
The coming year will be an extremely interesting and positive period for all of us involved with rivers in what ever capacity. I will attempt to answer any questions that you may have but you must bear in mind we are still at an early stage in establishing this new future. Please let me have any input you feel may be relevant, be that in the form of concerns or the means to safeguard or fund our team. The format will in all likelihood be similar to the WSRT in being a Charitable Trust but we will also be looking to become a company limited by guarantee. The legal and administrative birth may be time consuming but we will achieve that end. Ultimate success or failure will depend on grassroot support from owners, tenants, fishery managers, anglers and informed conservationists. It will be by listening to the concerns and aspirations of river users that we will arrive at our role and it is up to all of us to ensure we make that a real and relevant one.
Don't forget there is a little more in the last newsletter than can also be found in the "News" section of the site.
Back to the river and congratulations to Alan Bashford in manageing a lovely cock fish from Blashford. This is the first salmon of the year from this middle section which is a cross valley traverse and one of the most attractive areas of the river. Well done again Alan, hopefully I will manage an hour or two one evening beside that pool in the not too distant future.
I have just been out counting the Lapwings and Redshank in an effort to understand the critical population balance these birds, like some fish species, are currently undergoing. The calling of Lapwing and Redshank and the drumming of the snipe were the accompanyment of any evening in the Avon valley a couple of decades ago. The numbers have crashed and we don't know why. It is all to easy to look to the crows and cormorants to blame for increased predation and the change in keepering has certainly brought about a huge increase in their numbers but I fear there is a deeper cause we are yet to identify.
Trevor and Budgie placing the roach spawning boards
Thanks to Brian Marshall for the photos of the AGM and of Trevor and Budgie
Other news today is that Trevor, Budgie and Pete of the Roach Club have finished placing there spawning boards for the roach in readiness for the second year of the "Avon Roach Project" Hopefully the roach will oblige and a further helping hand can be proferred our struggling roach.
The day was rounded off with a trust committee meeting which after a very busy day or two does its best to stretch the old grey matter.
Any attempt to clear the willow branches blocking this hatch will have to wait, the grey wagtail has built her nest alongside the cog wheels.
Making the best of the available facilities
The Spring run is now officially over and we now enter the Summer fishing. We will still see multi sea winter fish making up the bulk of the catch until July so the chances of a portmanteau fish remain a possibility. If we see a return of the grilse run this year we will no doubt see a "numerical" recovery of the fishery; I will leave others to decide the relevance of such statistical manipulation. When you have a dozen "Spring" fish from thirty miles of salmon fishery being hailed as encouraging the desperate plight of Avon salmon needs no further explanation.
This mornings "Summer" shot of Ibsley Weir Pool
Sorry about the lack of entries the arrival of spring has brought a veritable cascade of activity at work. Added to this the trust AGM and the exciting developments associated with defining the future of riverine representation in Wessex and time seems to pick up speed along with the change of season. The valley has responded to the lightening or winters grip with creaturesí great and small changing their attention from just surviving to increasing their numbers. The seatrout and salmon smolt are now moving downstream hopefully with sufficient flow to protect them from the waiting predators on the first leg of their incredible journey. As each arrival, departure or change is taking place itís almost a physical release as the transformation washes over the valley; thank goodness spring is finally here.
A casualty of the recent storms in Park Oxbow.
Driving over the river on my way home from work a dusting of Grannom swirled by on the breeze which was signal enough for me to go home and after dinner dig out the salmon rod for the first time this year and head out for an hour beside the river. The Grannom were still hatching in small numbers, flying steadily upstream to land and gather in the slacks and eddies beside the banks. Every bird on the estate seemed in fine voice, our robins, wood pigeons and blackbirds that we often take for granted to the more strident shriek of the Cettiís. All staking claim to their patch and proclaiming their presence almost oblivious to me as I become part of the background. As bystanders we get to enjoy the show, listening to the clanking geese and rattling woodpeckers, trying to count the number of Chiff chaffs and the first willow warbler of the season. Fishing down the pool becomes almost secondary to absorbing the surroundings, automatic pilot is engaged and casting becomes a lazy extension of each step. Itís very often at moments of such distraction that the line snaps tight and a fish shatters the peace and quiet but it wasnít to be this evening. As I reached the end of the pool and exchanged observations of the day with a rod walking back along the opposite bank the branch drifting downstream a rod length out suddenly popped up its head and looked at me. A mixture of curiosity and exasperation seemed to be the expression before sliding lazily beneath the surface in an oily swirl; an hour to treasure.
Thanks to the EA for helping with this blocked hatch that was straining out the running seatrout and salmon smolt
I must finish by adding congratulations to Ian Blyth on managing a sixteen pound fish today which has the total for the river into the region of a dozen fish. There have been a couple of mid twenty Springers from the bottom end of the river, down at the Royalty, so which ever beat you are lucky enough to have access the next month or two are the cream of Avon fishing and offer the chance of the fish of a lifetime ensure you make the most of them.
When time permits I will put on an AGM report and give a brief udate of the developments related to the new trust that is being created, hopefully in the next day or two!
We didn't get the forecast rain today and the river has continued to fine down and clear giving us almost perfect conditions coinciding with big spring tides to encourage the fish to enter the river.
Ibsley Pool yesterday and to prove the point today, new Somerley Rod, Andrew Willatts with a superb 18 pound cock fish from Tizzard's
"Well done Andrew, that's a cracking way to open your account".
NEWSLETTER NO 36 IN NOW ONLINE - SPREAD THE WORD
River conditions for salmon rods are extreme, rising and colouring quickly, already out in the fields in many places.
09:00am today, taken out of the truck window; still rising and still raining!
I have been hearing several reports of medium sized seatrout being landed from the river and would like to show readers the photographs below in an effort to shed some light on the captures. The photos shows well mended seatrout kelts which have silvered in readiness for their return to the next phase of their marine life. Judging from their size these fish have probably made one or two previous visits to the Avon to spawn and if good feeding and sea conditions favour them lets hope they make many more. What determines when these fish return to the sea is not known. Many disappear from the river almost immediately after spawning in November and December, others such as those we are currently hearing about stay with us for several months, I have caught them as late as April.
An extremely well-mended seatrout kelt, thanks to Dr Phillip Vickers for the photo.
A second 3lbs example from Woodside today, sent by Paul Greenacre of barbel fame.
I'm sure you now see the problem with these fish, that being, unless you are familiar with Avon seatrout and salmon kelts they can appear brighter and in many instances in better condition than considered fresh run fish on many river systems. Whatever their biological and legal status they are classic examples of what splendid fish this unique river produces please ensure their safe return.
Congratulations to Peter Dexter on grassing a 23 pound springer today from Ibsley.
I will enter the details asap and I will sort out my disc space problems on the other diary site as soon as I get a minute.
UpdatePeter took his fish on a black and orange tube early Wednesday afternoon on a fining river. If the river continues to fine down at the current rate we are looking at ideal conditions over the next week or two, hopefully this height of water will continue to bring the fish into the river for the foreseeable future.
Great river conditions and after Tony Diment's success of last week we are all feeling confident of a fish or two in the near future. I have had a couple of photographs sent to me by Mike Bilson and Paul Greenacre showing the results of a couple of heart stopping takes. The kelts are still dropping back and appear in excellent condition possibly as a result of the high, cold water which allowed good access to the redds and limiting the spread of secondary fungal infections on spawning damage.
Bright kelts giving rise to false hope.
The valley is buzzing with life as everything feels the pull of Spring, despite the frosts of the last couple of nights the lengthening days continue to signal the change of seasons. The birds are getting extremely territorial and migrants are moving through every day now. We have the Sand martins and even House martins are being reported from Dorset. Perhaps not quite so noticeable are the number of Blackbirds moving through on their journey up country and across to Northern Europe. Mixed up with all the goings on with our native flora and fauna we are seeing quite a few anglers on the banks as the coarse rods try and get in one or two more session before the close in eight days time and the salmon rods showing a little more enthusiasm this season.
Excellent news on the salmon front in that new rod at Somerley Mr Tony Diment landed a fresh run twenty three and a half pound springer today. For those of you that like to know the details it fell to that old Avon favourite a black and yellow tube and came from Ashley Bends. Fortunately for Tony, Bob Kay was on hand to do the honours with the net; congratulation Tony, well done and may many more grace your net.
Retained wetland and splashes for the wildfowl and waders
February was a dry month with less than normal rainfall which has already started the recession in groundwater and river flow, an increasing soil moisture deficit is also underway which will require a summer similar to last year if we are to enjoy a continual run of salmon throughout the season. Strangely several areas of the estate are still under water as we are deliberately flooding areas to ensure suitable habitat for the last of our wintering wildfowl and the preferred wet meadows for our newly arrived summer breeding waders. We still have about 900 Black tailed godwits and several hundred widgeon and Teal yet to leave and the Curlew, Lapwing and Redshank have arrived. The Snipe which have almost dissappeared from the Avon Valley as a breeding wader are still here in good numbers. It would be pleasing if the efforts of the EA Water Level Management Team and the Natural England team involved with Farm Payments if their environmental work was rewarded with Snipe staying with us to nest; fingers crossed.
Taken a week or two ago it shows Kevin Clubb with a sample of the chub that are providing the bulk of the sport at present. The second shot is one of the silvered trout currently being caught in the middle river, this is one of several that barbel expert Paul Greenacre has landed
Some regular readers will remember previous springtime entries reporting small seatrout in their silver sea-going livery well I can confirm we are catching them again this year. They do not sit well with my experience of West Coast seatrout behaviour and I feel they are more likely to be our stocked Brown trout triploids heading to sea. How far they go and what triggers them to do this I am still undecided over.
For Anne and any Welsh readers the wild daffodils of the Avon Valley woods plus "Bracken".
I must congratulate Matt Day on breaking the Avon barbel record with a fish of 16.8 from the Middle Avon. Originally weighed at 16.4 the scales checked out light making the true weight four onces heavier, well done Matt.
I haven't got a pic yet so here's one of Matt from the 80's - he could catch them back then as well
The past day or two have been the mildest February days I can remember for a long time. If this weather was to continue we will have a very early breeding season for the valley birds. What this translates into on the fishery terms is that the maintenance of the fisheries has to be finished correspondingly earlier, so as to ensure we donít disturb the nests. Trees and shrubs should have been finished by now and the dead heading of last yearís marginal growth is the task most in need of completion. The dead growth has provided its shelter and protection against erosion over the winter and now needs to be cleared. Access and health and safety require areas to be kept clear throughout the season and this must be achieved before the birds select this brash as nest sites. Mallard, Coots, Rails and the Cettiís are all furiously seeking territories so the margins need to be dealt with as soon as possible.
When clearing margins there are one or two points worthy of consideration to ensure minimum disturbance of wildlife. Health and safety, bridges, styles and dangerous banks need to be cleared thus flexibility is limited. Elsewhere try and leave a variety of the emerging plants to provide food and cover for our insects; comfrey for Scarlet tigers, nettles for the Tortoiseshells etc. At this time of year these plants are only an inch or two above ground and are left by simply lifting the strimmer of scythe and inch or two. In four or five weeks once the new growth is at a height to determine exactly what is there a further round of selective clearing can be undertaken.
Wherever possible try and clear and fish only one bank or allow areas of uncut bank to provide a natural regime to establish. Each discipline of angling requires differing management of the margins, access, flow, cover etc but what ever the end result required care should be taken to ensure basic measures to protect wildlife are second nature on the fisheries.
Whether trout fishery or salmon pool last years dead material is cleared to prevent attracting nesting birds into exposed positions. New growth can be selectively retained to provide vital food and cover without altering "seasonality"
The photos below record some extremely long odds being played out. If you look back to the 11th of this month the entry included Paul Greenacre's incredible feat of landing two barbel on the fly. I came across Paul this afternoon when I was checking the carriers and as I approached he started to fish the run and was immediately into a very solid fish. We both felt sure this was a large salmon as for twenty minutes it refused to move from its lie, just giving the odd shake of its head. Paul's patience was rewarded when the fish eventually allowed itself to be walked upstream away from some very severe snags and as it came into the shallows at our feet we could see it was yet again a barbel!! Disappointed it wasn't a salmon but staggered to have landed three barbel on the fly in the last month with water temperatures at rock bottom.
Every picture tells a story; you barbel lads you are missing a trick here. The shallows must be wall to wall barbel for them to be chasing about 3" tube flies. I don't want you barbel lads getting depressed so I will include a photo Paul took as he walked back to his car after fishing!!
Jim Haskell with a conventionally caught 12.6
The Trust Pike match fished for the "Oliver Cutts Memorial Trophy" took place on the river today with anglers out on the banks from Britford down to Bisterne. The success of this event is due in no small part to the riparian owners and their tenants allowing us access to the beats for which we extend our sincere thanks.
Andre Sobczac returning one of his five pike
Provisional results can be found on the "Annual Charity Pike Match" page in the "News" section of this site.
The dry cold spell has allowed the river to drop back and encouraged more anglers out onto the banks. The dace, roach and chub are providing good sport once they can be located but the barbel are not so keen on the clear conditions. The lakes are really starting to fish with some huge carp, bream and tench being caught. Letís hope we have a reasonably mild close to the coarse season to allow the anglers to enjoy the last three weeks.
The meadows are finally draining and we are now attempting to flood them again to provide the vital spring habitat for our waterfowl and waders. Finding the balance between farming needs and those of the birds is extremely difficult. Our breeding wader populations have plummeted in recent years and the scales definitely need to be tipped in their direction whilst we try and understand their needs.
(Left)Steve Peckham is still catching some superb carp as last night provided commons of 21 and 28 plus this 35 pound beauty. (Middle)Flooding the meadows for the waders. (Right)The frogs have taken up where they left off before the frosts.
Pete Dibden showing the way with a fresh Avon "Springer" more details of the capture to follow.
(Update)The reason for my delay in writing up an account of Pete's fish is that when we went to the Lodge to record the fish in the book there was already an entry from "Pile Pool" which no one had reported to me. This first fish is an exceptionally small fish for the Avon so I must have a word with the rod to discover its details. As for Pete's it was at least 17 pounds and a classic "Springer" deep, solid and that wonderful silver blue so characteristic of Avon fish. Fortunately I was on hand to do the honours with the net and take a couple of quick snaps as Pete got her unhooked and safely back. The photo's don't do the fish justice but that is a small price to pay when ensuring a safe and rapid return.
Congratulations Pete, fabulous fish.
A couple of hours later I had a call from Fred Whitlock to let me know he was into a fish, I arrived on the scene to watch the final 10 minutes, details to follow.
(Update)Well as for Fred's fish that is a different story, those of you that know of Fred's escapades at Somerley will not be surprised to hear things didn't go as smoothly as with Pete's! The first twenty five minutes followed a fairly predictable pattern as the fish held station with the occasional foray into the pool. Pete Dibden was passing and spotted Fred playing the fish so abandoned his car and headed out across the field to assist with the net. Unfortunately the fish decided on a different course of action at this point and dropped out of the bottom of Ibsley Pool and down into Tizzard's, not overly concerning we hoped? Alas having spent five minutes giving the audience on the far bank a show the fish decided it didn't like Tizzard's and headed out of the tail on a downstream rush for Provosts Hole. This is the point the tale of Fred's Blashford experience of last year returned to haunt us. The Tail of Tizzard's is quickly followed by a large slack on the inside which prevented Fred from following and in the fast water alongside the slack, the tail broke surface and the fly came back.................bad Luck Fred.......you took it very well.
Fred playing to the gallery
Cold and bright but a net of dace and roach make up for it
The lakes continue to fish well with the regulars catching carp, tench and bream but they are shoaled up only feeding in short spells so don't expect instant results. The bright sunshine and cold water in the river is having its effect on the catches and the anglers prepared to face the last hour of light are in with the best chance of a fish or two.
Cracking common and returning a 27 pound mirror
Steve had a 27 pound common to go with that mirror to add to the incredible catches he has enjoyed during last few visits. The change in the feeding patterns and expectations regarding winter carp fishing is a constant source of amazement to me. I have mentioned previously that a decade or two ago winter carping was considered a waste of time now there would appear to be little seasonal difference. I do think however that these winter fish are in wonderful condition making there capture doubly pleasing.
I'm afraid I am very much of the old school when it comes to carp fishing, I don't have the dedication to face the freezing temperatures a night beside the lakes involves. Bright weather and frosts means that there is one area of rural winter activity that only benefits from such conditions and that is ferreting the rabbits from the surrounding banks before they start breeding.
The ferrets keen to be about their business, soon resulting in one of the draw-backs of ferreting "I think you should have dug over there"!! Bolting the rabbits without nets is an exellent way to introduce a new gun to shooting.
Not enough lead, the second barrel met with a similar result
Remaining cold and clear which has seen the floods rapidly drying out across the valley. Whilst this may suit us in our desire to get to the river and wet a line not everything is so happy with the result. This morning on one of the last of the flooded meadows 1500 Black tailed godwits looked less than impressed with the frost and ice. Hopefully with a minimum of engineering work we may be able to retain the flood water over a longer period and provide vital habitat for the waders and wildfowl of the valley.
Spot the Godwit, believe it or not there are 1500 in there somewhere.
The photo below is of a salmon kelt, unintentionally landed on her way downstream to the sea, hopefully to recover and return again to spawn in the Avon. About 6% of the hen fish make it back to the river a second time, unfortunately none of the cock fish make it, too much time fighting and procreating wears them out! I should point out that salmon should not be removed from the water and definately not weighed and retained for photos. A salmon that is out of the water for more than 30 seconds has a significantly increased risk of dying. Whether that applies to fish in the cold waters that we are currently experiencing I'm not sure but please unhook them in the landing net, give them a few minutes to recover and let them slip back into the river. Having said that I must thank the anglers who have sent me this photo as it provides me with a good photo of a bright, well mended, Avon kelt to use as an example on the diary. Kelt are very often bright by this time of year as they make ready for the sea but the thin wasted body indicates the nature of the beast. As you see the often quoted split fins, damaged gills and areas of lost scales are not always an accurate description so please treat all salmon with the utmost care; the next time we see that fish she may have been to Greenland and back again.
A bright well conditioned kelt
The high presure with its sunny days and cold nights has provided an opportunity for the water meadows to dry a little and a chance to expose some of the last weed beds to the frosts in a bid to clear them out of the channels. A more pleasant way to spend a couple of hours on a sunny afternoon is hard to imagine.
The water meadow carriers looking well in today's sunshine
When the barbel anglers read what follows I expect there to be a rush on the tackle shops to snap up any available fly rods.
I have just received an email from Paul Greenacre who enjoyed an afternoon at Somerley trying for an early salmon. Paul unfortunately hooked and lost a very large salmon which is extremely frustrating as we would very much like to see a February "Springer" grace the bank. Having lost a salmon he then proceeded to hook and land TWO double figure barbel on the same fly; the odds of getting one barbel are extremely long, two is remarkable, thanks to Paul for the photo. With the counter showing a trickle of fish into the river I would think the chances of a salmon are better than anyone else taking two barbel on the fly, what more incentive do you need?
One of two barbel on the fly
The river has at long last retreated back within its banks so hopefully we will see the anglers back in better numbers to see out the last of the coarse season and greet the new salmon season. I must add the caveat that whilst the freeboard has appeared we still have a fine selection of puddles, ditches and mud so please take care if you venture out. The water temperature has dropped dramatically with the frosts of the last couple of days so don't expect success with every visit but there again if you don't have a line in the water you certainly will not catch.
(L)Off the bank but a new snag or two has arrived during the flood. (M)The Coomber Oxbow provided the habitat lets hope the fry found it. (R)A shepherds sky bodes well for a further sunny day tomorrow but a frost again tonight.
The Stillwaterís are fishing extraordinarily well with catches of carp, bream and even the odd tench providing excellent sport for the few anglers prepared to brave the high water.
One or two salmon rods have ventured out but I have yet to hear of any fish. Several rods have commented on how good it was to be out on the banks again so letís hope its not too long before someone is rewarded with the appearance of a "Springer".
Vic and Ian with bream and Brian enjoying a bonus tench
Despite the high water and very strong south easterly blowing up the valley the CAC Salmon Open Day was very well attended. I hope to see the names of one or two of the new rods on the return sheet later this season.
Salmon Rods at Somerley benefiting from AAPGAI instructor Brett Oconnor's experience
Before dropping in to see the salmon rods I did the BTO WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) count for this section of the valley. The high water has seen a gradual build up in wildfowl numbers with several thousand duck now enjoying the conditions. I have also been informed that 2000 Black-tailed Godwits have re-appeared lower down the valley and as the water drops back hopefully they will move up to join us. Our rarities are still with us in the form of six Bewick Swans and a Cattle Egret, perhaps not so welcome 145 mute Swans and even a pair of Australian Black Swan escapees.
My phone hasn't been ringing all day telling me of fresh run salmon grassed on the opening day so we will have to keep our fingers crossed for the future. I decided a walk around the lake was a better and probably safer bet this evening and arrived with Steve Peckham as he was just sorting out his rods after landing three twenty pound plus carp in the last hour. I should add three of six 20+ carp in the past twenty four hours so he is having a remarkable session considering the temperature dropped to -3 C last night.
The salmon season is underway and the river is looking great; high flows, good temperatures and great visibility what more could you wish for. We have not seen February fish for over a decade but with such ideal conditions, if we get the rods on the bank, it would be nice to think this could be the year!
Jim Foster enjoying the opening day
Don't forget the CAC salmon open day at Somerley on Sunday
Another Pike Shot
I'm not sure if Phil caught that; or if its his bait?
I have just received a copy of the Christchurch Anglers Club salmon fishing booklet for 2008 and I must say it's a good little publication packed with extremely interesting information; well done to the club. I should mention the club have their Salmon Open Day on the Somerley Estate this Sunday the 3rd of February, if you have an inkling to try your hand at salmon fishing why not come along Sunday morning. Give Kevin Styles a ring on 07739 976346 if you want any more details.
Here's a good photo, trust committee member Dr Michael Twitchen with an Avon 20 from the Severals. I think he was practicing for the WSRT Pike Match that will be taking place at the end of February which is always an enjoyable day come rain or shine. Nice fish Mike, congratulations.
Please allow me the indulgence of the first photo "Yin and Yang" it seemed to perfectly capture the extremes of the valley today, the turmoil of the weirpool countered by the snowdrops briefly spotlighted in todays sunshine. The second is a little more artisan in that Reg is still enjoying some excellent sport float fishing the margins. I'll not say what he was playing, I'll let you guess what put that curve in the rod and imagine what you are missing from not venturing out.
Little change on the water front, the river is still out in the fields. The unseasonally mild conditions has the birds singing and staking claim to their nesting sites with the first bumble bees and the red admirals of the year being reported. It will be an amazing event if we get through to the warmth of spring without suffering further hard weather, these early starters may yet regret their haste.
We will be lucky if the soft engineering in the form of the pollards will hold the river from breaking through and creating a new ox-bow lake. The rods that I would normally expect to see on the rivers have given up waiting for the water to fine down and headed for the lakes.
With the river doing its own thing today was a good day to attend the Avon Salmon Group meeting at Blandford in the morning and a Wessex Water Low Flow meeting at Dinton in the afternoon. There's an awful lot going on in the fishery world at the moment and whilst it is sometimes fashionable to bemoan the state of our rivers there are some very positive initiatives around that give a very good feel toward the future. It is always going to be a struggle to please everyone and claw adequate funding from an indifferent government, irrespective of its political shade. That said, some of the issues confronting the river have given rise to a refreshing determination from all involved to look for innovative new ways to tackle them, fingers crossed 2008 will see one or two of these ideas come to fruition.
A river runs through it!
If ever my daily contact with the river were to give rise to complacency, standing beside the main hatches as the present flood roars through soon re-establishes my respect. As the branches and rubbish are crushed through the gates crossed fingers are about all we have to prevent a blocked hatch. Along with that rubbish, gravel and probably cyprinid juveniles are being blasted through but just how you would monitor such an effect I have no idea. We do not understand many of the factors impacting on our benign summer river flows the torrent that now passes for the Avon is just reminding us we have a long way to go before we can claim to control nature.
I am becoming paranoid about wooden pallets and bakers plastic bread trays, those that the delivery man at the supermarket takes the bread into the store in. Those that have accusingly branded into the plastic "Property of Joe Blogg's Bakery - please report inappropriate use Tel No yada yada yada". Well just how they get into the river is a mystery to me but get in they most certainly do and if I see one go swirling by, usually accompanied by a pallet and a shoe, the next time I see them they will be blocking a hatch. I believe they have been specifically designed to jam diagonally under my hatch gates and strain out all the following junk and weed. It is impossible to close the gate because of the amount stuck through and the pressure of water above prevents upstream removal. The next one I find in situ I feel inclined to phone Joe Bloggs, on his so conveniently provided telephone number and ask him if he would like to come and collect it!!
The rain continued and we have a full flood across the width of the valley in many areas, apart from the barbel anglers most will have to sit this one out and wait for fairer weather before getting the rods out again. With the rain we have enjoyed mild nights which have meant the lakes are producing once more and we have seen some super carp, tench and bream this weekend.
Gulls feeding on the flood and Park Oxbow providing a sheltered harbour
One sight we regularly see as the water spills onto the meadows are flocks of Black Headed Gulls paddling in the shallows and hawking the flooded fields. I have often heard it said that they are catching fry but I believe they are making the best of the bounty the flood has provided in the shape of earth worms with assorted snails and bugs. When the very first areas become water logged we see the Greater Black Backed Gulls vying with the herons to snap up the voles and mice but I have never seen any fish suffer due to their presence.
Yesterday's rain has made its way into the system and we are seeing the floodplain meadows beginning to flood. Its 10:00 o'clock and I have just got in from taking the dogs for an evening walk around the lakes and it's raining and is forecast to continue throughout tomorrow. If that is the case the flow rates will rise and we enter the unknown area of risk related to cyprinid juveniles being flushed through the system and the recently cut salmon and seatrout redds subjected to prolonged scouring. Now the ox bow lakes the Trust created eighteen months ago will hopefully come into play and preserve at least some of the cyprinids, as for the salmonids we will have to keep our fingers crossed.
The floods creeping out onto the meadows making today's Webs (Wetland Bird Survey) counts trickier than usual. The highlights of today's count for me being the Cattle Egret that has now settled in the valley and the 5 Bewick Swans with the 100 plus Mutes we have between Ringwood and Ibsley. We will be keeping an eye on our swans for a while as the avian flu scare has heighten awareness; just how we watch the several thousand ducks and other assorted wildfowl I'm not sure!
The other photo is the winter aftermath of the stands of Himalayan Balsam that are insidiously taking over our river banks. Devoid of any root mass to bind the sol it leaves the banks exposed to serious erosion during periods of high water such as that we are currently enjoying. Later this year we will be highlighting the potential risk to our rivers this invasive alien and it's like pose, once we have details and a date I will post them here on the Diary.
I had a pleasent surprise today whilst checking the gates at Ibsley I happened along just as one of the anglers was emptying his net which contained over twenty roach. Not large fish but its a long time since I've seen twenty roach in a net which hopefully bodes well for the future.
A lovely net of Avon roach
One other rare sight seen in the valley today was the appearance of a new species of woodpecker which seems to be colonising the pine woods.
There are five climbers in there somewhere
As you may have surmised from my rather negative comments related to our efforts of the two previous days we didnít fare any better yesterday. Unfortunately this means the second year of the egg box project will not proceed due to the lack of eggs. Whilst frustrations are fresh in our minds is perhaps not the time to comment on the reasons, suffice to say we will closely review the methods adopted and learn from the disappointments.
On a happier note I did have a walk around the fishery this afternoon and bumped into Mark Callaway out in search of a perch. Iím not sure what it is about perch but it always gives me great pleasure to see them once more being seriously targeted on the Avon. Perhaps itís their absence in recent years that has made their presence especially welcome. More likely itís that it was the humble perch that was responsible for igniting the spark that set so many of us on our paths as anglers, I count myself in this group.
Mark with a lovely perch on the worm.
Well, we're still at it! If we fail to get the eggs for the eggbox project no-one will be able to say we didn't try. We had the electro team from the Game Conservancy, the netting team from the Mudeford Netsmen and a further ten anglers all doing their thing with almost the same result as yesterday; except this time we ended the day with one hen!
We have one more day to achieve our objective of three pairs of fish but I fear we are not feeling very optimistic. On a brighter note we are forecast a warmer day tomorrow which will be very welcome after todayís chill.
(L)We did find a pair of fish cutting and managed to catch the hen, although almost empty she may have provided a couple of thousand eggs, unfortunately the cock fish escaped. (M)The electro team almost at the stop net and no sign of a fish.(R)Martin and Steve from the Mudeford Netsmen who volunteered their time to man the stop nets for us.
Ten of us spent an extremely frustrating day attempting to catch the broodstock for the WSRT eggbox scheme. We have to endure the conditions as imposed on us by the powers-that-be which make the viability of the scheme little more than a lottery; the when, where and how is decided in an inflexible regime making fine adjustment to meet Natures timetable impossible. This year, as in 2007, we are endeavouring to collect the fish from the Wylye by rod and line and if flows permit netting, unfortunately the salmon seem to have spawned in the Wylye at the same time as in the lower river - a fortnight ago!!
We did manage a couple of kelts and to rub salt into the wound we had a suitable cock fish with milt remaining but no hen; we are not allowed to hold fish overnight in the off chance of a hen appearing tomorrow so back he went. In reality even if we are lucky enough to secure a pair of fish in our allotted three day window we will be in a similar position as last season when only one pair was obtained leaving the scheme operating at a fraction of its capacity and making statistical analysis equally difficult for Jon Bass our project leader. We really must all sit down and decide the best way forward if we are to minimise the elements of chance that determine the fate of valid research. At least today was saved by the good company of knowledgeable, like minded individuals all with the best interest of the river very firmly at heart so all was not lost.
Pete Reading landing a cock fish for Ian Ashby
1st January 2008
The New Year has arrived in the same fashion as the Old Year left us, mild and overcast with the river in excellent condition for some winter sport for those lucky enough to find the fish.