Avon Diary 2009 January to September
(All photographs on this site will enlarge if left clicked)
An early start this morning as I headed down to the coast to see if I could catch a mackerel for my breakfast; not technically the Avon but its where the Avon meets the sea so thatís near enough. I arrived before dawn and spent the hour waiting for daybreak throwing a rubber shad at likely spots around the groynes and break waters in the hope of a bass. Not to be Iím afraid, several "checkers" but nothing of any size and with the light I changed to a Dexter Wedge as a better bet for my breakfast. The beauty of these wedges is that at 28g they cast like a bullet with my eight foot Shimano lure set-up. Light gearís not everyoneís choice; a set of feathers on a beachcaster seems the preferred option but not such fun with the checkers, gars and mackerel. The first hour only the garfish were visible as they hurtled up into the air scattering sandeels and whitebait in all directions, Several takes came to nothing or immediately shook themselves free, the wedge is a little bulky for the delicate bill of a gar I would have been better with a more streamlined lure but gars where only a distraction, mackerel were the target. After an hour the gars disappeared and a further forty minutes failed to produce a take of any form. I decided to call it a day, disappointing but it is a little late in the season and the weathers not been the kindest for bringing the mackerel in close, looks like toast again this morning. Three more casts, just one more and one for the road - youíve guessed it breakfast on the final fling.
The point of my salty ramblings is to highlight the quickening pace of autumns approach. Half an hour after first light this morning an unbroken flight line of swallows and martins heading east along the coast got underway. In the couple of hours I witnessed this flight in excess of ten thousand house martins and three thousand swallows passed by on their way to the warmer climes of Africa. This huge passage of hirundines has been going on for a fortnight now, thousands upon thousands every day. The departure of these and many other of our summer visitors leaves us with the unavoidable truth we are not going to enjoy the barbeque summer the Met Office promised us back in the Spring.
The chub came as a bonus
Cracking evening for a spot of chub fishing
"You can't be serious - that should be green"
As this is the Avon Diary I will refrain from further political comment for a day and relate a fishy tale.
My first trip with the river coarse rods is an example of being flexible in ones approach and adopting an opportunist approach. As we all know spending time looking for fish when we have clear water and good light has always been time well spent, to this end I spent yesterday lunchtime peering in the river. I found shoals of large chub and some lovely barbel in swims that are well known as "banker" swims. Feeling brave I also spent time with the bait dropper dumping hemp, wheat and pellets in some not so well known areas. I found a couple of swims that had fine chub and barbel in residence and decided to call it a day; with the intention of paying them a visit with the rods in the next day or two.
In my wanderings I had waded across the main river on the shallows several hundred metres upstream of where I now found myself. In an effort to save myself a bit of a hike I decided to wade back across at the head of the pool where I now found myself. Wading staff in hand, actually a rusty old road spike I had in the back of the truck, I slid down the bank, through the water cress and out into the flow. A disgruntled cob hissed his disapproval at my sudden arrival but realising I posed little threat to his family continued ripping up the ranunculas mid stream. I always enjoy wading in clear water and the gravel was covered in minnows enjoying the free dinner the swans were sending their way. As I peered down into the pool below me I realised there was also a shoal of perch, likewise preoccupied with the disturbed bugs plus any inattentive minnows. They were making their way up the gravel bar at the head of the pool towards me. These perch were coming within three or four feet of me despite my white shirt blazing away above the chest waders.
Avon perch are bold and brassy, rich colours with star burst fins always makes them a delight to see. I stood still to watch them feeding and simply enjoy their presence when I realised they were drifting away and taking up station immediately downstream of the cob. His rooting about and disturbed stream of weed and rubbish was the obvious attraction, dorsals erect, every bit of rubbish intercepted and examined. Nothing ventured etc, time to make like a swan, I began shuffling the feet and digging about in the weed. As the clouds of silt and broken weed began to stain the water the perch about turned and came back like dogs coming to heal. I could see at least seven from a pound and a half to over three pounds; barbel and chub were completely forgotten.
One of the few perks of looking after the river is that I can drive to areas forbidden others, I can make a trip out of a couple of hours as time getting to and packing up are minimal. I was intent on getting out today and was looking forward to my visit with rising anticipation; tackle dug out of hibernation, pick up some bait and I was ready.
Now the reality; the lack of recent perch trips, or perhaps just the lack of trips, would appear to have taken the edge of any angling expertise I may ever have possessed. Not so much the set-up, my old 13 foot Diawa, Trudex pin, loaded with 6 pound line; plus one of those super modern balsa stick floats with a great big florescent orange top which even I could see. Three AAA bulk shot, 18 inch 4 pound trace with a No6 shot, 8 inches above the No 10 hook. As the things were swimming about by my feet yesterday I didnít anticipate casting presenting too great a problem.
Chest waders on, bait apron, loaded with chopped Dendrobes, red maggot and a bag of lobs and I was ready for the off. I edged out to the side of the run into the pool, stuck in a couple of rests for the landing net, a couple of handfuls of maggot and chopped worm into the weed bed to slowly work their way into the flow. Depth set at five feet and a lob tail on the hook what could be easier.
An hour later and I still hadnít had a bite, worse still, I hadnít seen a perch, at least I could still Wallis cast! Where were they? What was different from yesterday? The missing link was our swan brood rooting about upstream and my stealthy approach today, as opposed to my stomping about in full view yesterday. Nothing for it but to start stamping about and disturbing the bed; within minutes the stripes materialised at my feet. They were so close, even with the rod held vertically, I couldnít drop the bait in front of them before it was swept past them and downstream. After ten minutes I realised they were swimming up the discoloured water immediately downstream of me, reaching me and swinging out into the flow and dropping back twenty feet out of sight to start the process again. I found that if I ignored them, where I could see them at my feet and let the bait drift down to the tail of the swim I would get a bold take.
Avon perch are something very special
I played them too hard, played them too gently, allowed them to weed themselves and even swim around the landing net rests. Having suffered all kind of disaster I did manage to eventually land two of the seven I made contact with. I didnít land the largest, or the smallest but those two made the first trip to the river a definite success.
Iíve actually got out on the river today, I didnít have the rods with me but I thoroughly enjoyed my walk in this afternoon sunshine. With the weed now dying back and the autumnal feel in the air I feel its time to think about getting the rods out and having a look at some of our fishy residents. Itís not until this time of year I feel the fish have fully recovered from the rigors of spawning and regained their condition in readiness for the coming winter. I managed to find one or two glorious looking swims that deserve a visit or two so fingers crossed I may actually get some fishing in.
I could do with a day or two of that!
I did visit the lakes earlier and found the junior carp fish-in in its closing stages, they had an hour or two to go but 160+ pounds looked favourite to win. By the look of things it had been a long night for one or two of the mums and dads who were on hand to assist with the running of the event.
Also suffering are the rabbits as the annual bout of mxyomatosis takes its hold. We are seeing the usual distress as this dreadful disease takes it toll. Each year sees the rabbit population knocked back but each new season sees a rebuilding of numbers so perhaps they will eventually become immune to the awful plague. A more pleasant discovery was that one of our nest boxes that usually has a Kestrel in residence this year has the intended residents, a Barn owl family. Good to see four well feathered young peering back at me when I glanced up at the box. It does beg the question regarding the imbalance our activities may have in the natural interaction of species. The protection of some species deemed in need of help at the expense of others is a very difficult question. At least as we now have barn owls in residence the kestrels will have to move on which will prevent their predation on the lapwing and redshank chicks that has been giving rise to mounting concern; Iím not so sure the field vole and rat population would be quite so keen on the change!
A long but enjoyable night - welldone "TJ". A poor shot of a barn owl brood in one of our boxes.
Now another political gripe, this time how the agencies go about their task of consenting issues in the valley and river. If at home I wish to see what the construction work going on down the road is I simply log on to my local authority website, follow the planning link and I can find the consents, plans, conditions and all relevant information. I can also have my say on the matter prior to it getting to the construction stage as the local authority ensure all planning and consents are displayed on site, advertised in the local papers and appear IN ADVANCE of decisions on the website. Environment Agency and Natural England PLEASE NOTE you need to get your act together and operate a similar system. I have been pressing for this at a local level for several years only to be given false assurances and the run around by those "decision makers" in the agencies. In this day and age of the web I donít think itís asking too much to have the multitude of consents the agencies permit available for inspection by interested parties. The days of the agencies knowing best have long been debunked now its time those directly involved on the ground had there say.
What an interesting place the Avon Valley is at the moment, we have the "Strategic Framework for Restoration of the River Avon" threatening to cure the ails of the river by means of a return to the natural state; brave move! We have the cessation of mechanical weed cutting for land drainage purposes in the Lower Avon and the new Chalk Stream trust is now an incorporated and registered entity.
I must start by explaining my continued absence in that I have been busy with my youngest sonís wedding arrangements. I suppose I have to take responsibility for both of my lads choosing to get married in watery surroundings some sort of indoctrination from an early age but both occasions gave me immeasurable pleasure. Having got over the excitement and shock of the day it is now back to reality and the daily routine of the valley.
Not super bivvies but setting up the tipis in readiness for the big day
Perhaps the restoration strategy is the place to start as it appears to be giving rise to lots of concern and heated debate. Whilst recognising the need for and applauding this initial strategy for the restoration of the entire Hampshire Avon it is a debateable point as to whether the primary objective of the document is to restore the river or bring the SSSI/SAC areas back into favourable condition, within the timeframe set by the PSA agreement. Just what penalty for the agencies failing to have the SSSIís in favourable or improving condition by 2011 will be I have yet to discover; I really must find out whose head is on the block if it fails to make it. The premise based on a return to a more natural environment may be to the advantage of many species, it is doubtful if these advantaged species would be those designated as desirable under the 1988 SSSI notification process.
The vision that a return to a geomorphically natural channel is in the best interest of the river itself and the Valley and Riverine SSSIs is unsound in that the 1988 notifications of both SSSIs were based on a heavily modified channel and valley. The fact that the Water Framework designation for the HA recognises this artificial change in classifying the Avon as "heavily modified" must be seen as the baseline for restoration if attaining favourable condition of the conservation areas is intended. A return to a more meandering tree lined channel or series of braided channels certainly would not benefit many desirable species, certainly the required habitat of breeding waders and over wintering wildfowl would be compromised.
Thanks to Ian May for this shot of the hatches in such beautiful light. Talk of the removal of such structures under the new restoration strategy may be a little premature.
To attempt to bring the River Avon back into favourable condition, independently of the valley floodplain is fundamentally flawed as they are intrinsically linked. Whilst this approach may be possibly in the upper river and tributaries the lower river does not recognise this separation. Changes to the river channel such as introducing meanders, tree planting and the removal of existing controls will alter the existing habitats permanently with implications for the associated agriculture and fishery assets.
A more logical strategy might be one that clearly defined the criteria for favourable condition of both SSSIs/SACs and incorporated a targeted approach to attaining this objective. The basis for favourable condition must be the elements of the notification that can be accurately assessed - breeding waders, wintering wildfowl, fish populations etc and a payment premium incorporated into the Agri/Env schemes to recognise compliance. If the measure of the notified biodiversity are as an example; breeding wetland waders, wintering wildfowl, salmon, bullheads, lamprey etc the density per given unit of area and the conditions under which these densities were achieved must be established for periods historically recognised as favourable. If for example the early to middle 20th century is deemed the period of optimum biodiversity the agricultural regime needs to be established and a return to these conditions to be the vision for the Agri/env schemes. It would also provide a real purpose to all the monitoring that at present appears to be done purely for monitoringís sake alone.
To establish this new criterion the grazing densities, enrichment processes, drainage methods and other associated land management practices at the time needs to be researched. Much of this information can be obtained through discussion with existing landowners and tenants. Other sources include the Wartime Agriculture Committee records 1942/43 and estate records determining tenanted stocking densities held at the HCC Archive in Winchester. The periods when artificial fertilizer and modern herbicides and pesticides came into use and the change from diary to beef need researching and recording. A very important aspect of the restoration of the historic agricultural regime would be the reduction of the silage monoculture that is a development of the later part of the 20th century.
The drainage networks and the means of their maintenance must be established and the crucial point of any significant changes must be determined. The role of the water meadows in annually removing from the river thousands of tons of silt and organic matter require evaluation. There is much discussion related to gravel compaction and silt burden but no remedial work capable of addressing this situation is undertaken. There is a continued reference to gravel cleaning or redd/gravel jetting - this does not remove silt, only redistribute it at the expense of other elements of the ecosystem. Until this pseudo scientific strategy is evaluated in the working environment it does nothing other than absolve consciences! Far better that the hydraulic functions that produced the cleansing flows of historic winters removing thousands of tons of silt from the river systems were reinstated.
The imbalances with regard to predation that have resulted from the change of game-keepering practices require countering. We now see a many fold increase in predators; Crows, Jackdaws, Jays, Magpies, Cormorants, Kestrel, fox, Goosander etc that would not have existed at the beginning to middle period of the last century as suggested as the optimum period for the designated species. Predation control is a major issue and one that requires the highest consideration for the benefit of the SSSI favourable condition.
In-river factors might include the history of weed cutting, dredging, flood defence schemes etc. Changes in seasonality that have been introduced since the advent of mechanical weed cutting were not apparent when inefficient hand cutting was the only available option. Dissipated flows through dredging and weed cutting change the entire macrophyte regime with the associated implications for the dependent food chains, hence designated species.
Meanders introduced under the auspices of this strategy and funded under short term agri/env schemes have the potential to seriously impact on asset values in the long-term. Whilst lost agricultural income may be compensated under the current generous schemes the eventual end of the contracted period may see future funding priorities change leaving the asset devalued without recourse to remedial drainage work. To increase the channel length through added meanders reduces gradient and thus changes regime. Whilst some argue that a more diverse habitat is created to lose existing cross valley traverses with established habitat value must be carefully assessed. The inside of meanders and subsequent oxbows are too small to permit efficient agricultural practices and quickly become dense areas of willow carr. Any such wooded areas diminish the open nature of the valley necessary to encourage waders and wildfowl; the preferred open habitat of both groups, permitting the location and identification of predators before they get within striking distance.
Meanders similarly disadvantages designated species within the riverine SSSI with the associated dissipation of energy and through reduced gradient removes the high velocity flows required for gravel cleansing to benefit Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). Similarly the reduction of riffle and high velocity habitat resulting from added meanders would reduce available juvenile salmonid habitat in a system already thought to be low in such habitat.
Tree planting is similarly against the best interests of the valley designated species such as breeding waders and over wintering wildfowl for the reasons previously mentioned related to increased willow carr. The cooling value of marginal trees has yet to be proven and would appear to be at odds with the photographic evidence of the valley during the early part of the twentieth century. These early photographs show a valley with a considerably more open aspect with fewer areas of willow car and marginal alder. It would also appear that these conditions were prevalent at the time when the population of species deemed worthy of conservation designation under the 1988 notification were at their zenith; breeding waders, wintering wildfowl and salmon being prime examples.
The rationale behind many of the recommended restoration measures is not fully explained and in some instances appears to be contradictory to current best practice related to environmental management.
Finally and perhaps most importantly the document fails to recognise the fundamental fact that the Avon under discussion is privately owned and a commercial asset. Similarly the adjoining flood plain is one hundred percent privately owned and has a high agricultural value. The consultation process places the owner of these valley and riverine assets at a considerable disadvantage. The views of owners are considered equally with the views of persons or bodies with a casual or transient involvement. This strategy has the potential to create serious loss of asset value and reduced income giving rise to compensation claims against the agencies involved. To prevent this situation arising riparian representation should have been included on the steering committee of this group.
What I have written above might seem damning of the scheme but it is not intended as such and hopefully much of what I have said gives positive alternatives. Lets not forget this is a first consultative draft, the second and third will be different documents that will hopefully have considered many of the issues and concerns raised.
Welcome to my world of riverine politics; those of you that managed to get beyond the second paragraph are hopefully persons of a like nature who care passionately about our rivers and will endure even the most tedious spiel if it helps shed light on concerns we share. My views are just that, my views, as such they do not define the way ahead. If you agree or disagree with some of the sentiments expressed whilst I am always glad to hear from readers you would be better letting those involved with the strategy know how you feel. The first round of consultation is now closed but there will have to be a second round and those involved will Iím sure be pleased to hear your views even if technically outside the official time frame.
I almost feel I should stop at this point and give you all a further eight week break but what the heck, if youíve read this far the next bit is a mere snippet.
Weed Cutting or the finish of it, has been announced for the Lower Avon. By weed cutting we are referring to the mechanical cut for land drainage purposes, that for nearly fifty years has chomped its way up and down the main channels. It doesnít really have any implications for us on the estate as we have never permitted this practice but it will be interesting to watch the impact elsewhere. The research down on the Frome proved where weed cutting ceased the biomass of the river reduce by as much as 30% over the next five years will be the key to this. If we have wet summers in the next year or two there will be problems. If however we manage a period of reasonably normal or low flow years we might see light at the end of the tunnel. I confidently predict a hot summer next year and you may remind me of that should I have got it wrong. I wonít tell you the indicators I believe to be key to this for fear of being branded a lunatic and burnt at the stake; suffice to say I can feel it in my water.
Weed cutting to cease meaning fewer blocked hatches for me.
Others involved with neighbouring rivers have expressed concern at this being a precedent for EA policy across the entire chalkstream region. I would be surprised if this were the case as we are talking about land drainage cuts here on the Avon not fishery cuts as practiced elsewhere. Weed cutting will continue in its many guises with Environment Agency and Natural England support where appropriate. Whether that support extends beyond the consulting process into hard cash involvement will be watched with interest. I do have one slight concern and that is the fate of the funding currently expended on weed cutting services. I dearly hope that the Water Level Management teams retain this budget for investment in other directions to assist in the restoration of the river. It would be a tragedy if this was purely a cost cutting exercise and hiding behind a scientific faÁade of justification the funds were clawed back into central funding. What might be nice to see would be a swamp track 360 and the team currently out in their boats redirected into restoring the old drainage system of the Avon that gave refuge to so much wildlife. Working in partnership with Natural England HLS scheme and local NGOs there is a perfect opportunity to see a very positive result from the current mood for change.
Iíll finish today with brief update on the progress of the new trust the "Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust". We have a company limited by guarantee, incorporated with Companies House and a charitable trust registered with the Charity Commission. This means we have the vehicle now we have to get it underway. With the summer distractions behind us we will hopefully start to see the flesh start to appear on the bare bones and the body capable of representing the unique requirements and needs of our chalkstreams will get underway.
It will not happen overnight but we see an ever increasing need for a professional body to represent us and with the depth of support we already have it will only be a matter of time before we achieve our objectives. I will keep readers updated and involved as we plot our delicate way forward. Once we have the structure we will be looking to you, as anglers and conservationists, to keep us informed of your concerns and aspirations for the river, never forget or become disillusioned as it is only through people that care will we succeed.
Hello again, Iím back and not from some exotic far flung destination, apart from a short spell in Scotland!! Iíve been no further than the estate. Unfortunately itís been the summer workload that has distracted me which will hopefully begin to ease as we head into autumn.
The fact time has not allowed me to record the daily goings-on, life in the valley has continued apace. The rate at which the grass has grown has been one of my major distractions; hay making has struggled with the changeable weather and the show grounds and parks have required cutting once a week to keep them presentable.
A very popular and well supported Ellingham Show. Over twenty thousand people enjoyed this traditional country show but my vote for the star of the occasion goes to this Baudet du Poitou donkey; that just has to have escaped from Sesame Street!!
The river saw a warm low flow early part to the summer which provided excellent conditions for the barbel anglers to enjoy their sport. The last week or two has seen the return to wet changeable conditions that have seen the barbel go walk-about as in the last two seasons and become a little harder to locate. At least the good start allayed fears that the dreaded otters hadnít eaten them all! What is particularly pleasing are the juveniles that take up station in front of the main hatches each summer are there as usual. The other younger year classes that are looking good are our roach, its been several years since Iíve seen bags of summer roach, not huge bags but up to a dozen or so fish to 12 ounces is a heartening sight. It doesnít surprise me that the bags are not massive as roach are notoriously hard to hold in a swim. Even mid-winter when food is scarce they all too readily spook but if the River-fly monitoring is anything to judge by there is certainly no shortage of food.
I have managed to continue with the monthly recording of the eight sites we monitor at Somerley and they throw up far more questions than answers. To see the literally thousands of invertebrates that swim, crawl and stagger about on the bed of our river begs the question if the food is so abundant why do we see such fluctuations in the fish populations? Surely invertebrates are a more sensitive indicator of riverine health than thumping great fish? We havenít got a clue and with the funding cuts and dubious priorities there is less and less research going on to discover the whatís and whyís. More of that later, for now be thankful the river is looking well and the fish seem to be thriving.
Whilst the barbel have provided some good sport with some wonderful fish being landed it is still the chub that are the species at the very peak of their condition. If any angler wishes to catch a PB chub make the most of the current year class. In saying that, there are plenty of following year classes to ensure a healthy future population but the current monsters seem almost too good to be true. They have yet to reach their maximum weight which is usually close to the end of the season if we have a mild winter but we are seeing big sevens already. Any chub weighing in at over seven and a half pounds at this time of year has to have the potential to be an eight in the winter so make sure you give them your attention over the coming months. I should perhaps mention one catch that deserves recording, particularly as it was taken on the float using caster. It included six chub over six pounds with two of those going over seven, all in three feet of water, using a shirt button shot pattern to flair the bait up in the water. I wont say who or where but he is an extremely efficient float angler who gives me great pleasure just to watch exercising the art.
I should mention the salmon as the season is about to come to its official close in a few days. The numbers in the river appear very similar to last year with fish in most of the known holding pools. The clear water of recent days has allowed us a glimpse of some classic fish tucked up in the deep water awaiting the autumn floods to continue their journey to the redds. Any of you with nothing better to do might like to look over the bridge at Ibsley and try to estimate the size of the larger fish you will see just beside the buttress. Suffice to say he is coloured up, well over twenty and a best left undisturbed by rod and line. On that subject I must congratulate the salmon anglers of Christchurch Angling Club with regard to the responsible way they have heeded the advice to leave these delicate and endangered fish alone in this warm weather. I personally know of at least a dozen large fish that would probably take a shrimp if presented to them in a half decent fashion and all these fish have spent the last six weeks unmolested - well done you salmon rods - give yourselves a pat on the back.
The nets finished their season at the end of July with a total very similar to last year, if my memory serves me correctly. I believe they had sixty odd fish which of course were all returned as has been the practice on the Avon four years; the majority of those fish were multi-sea winter with very few grilse appearing. Just what that tells us I donít know, did the grilse slip by undetected? Did the grilse run not arrive until after the season ended? Have the grilse not arrived? At least the counter should be able to answer one or two of these questions when the figures are all in. The seatrout were disappointing with relatively few caught and those that were not the double figure fish we are used to seeing. There were still some fine fish and this all go back to year class with those huge fish of recent years probably coming from a few very productive years. I say probably because as I mentioned previously with so much of life in our river we are simply guessing. At least the juvenile salmonid surveys are still ongoing but monitoring alone will not safeguard the future of our rivers. In the event of a total collapse of the seatrout population, similar to that seen with the salmon, there is no contingency that will allow us to adopt measures to counter the decline. As with the salmon we run the risk of having the best recorded extinction in history!!
As you can imagine Iíve got lots more to write about what with the bird life and developments with the new trust but as its now 03:49 am Iím going to bed and will do my best to do better in the future.
The matter of canoes, or should I more correctly say unpowered craft, gaining access to the rivers of England and Wales is becoming an extremely thorny issue. In the case of the Hampshire Avon, with which this diary is concerned, it is not only the issue of trespass and loss of amenity, with the associated loss of income, also of the health and safety and serious ecological implications for the SSSI/SAC.
We now have the prospect of Mr Griff Rhys Jones. media star and "B" list celebrity, taking up the cudgel on the side of the canoeing fraternity, I am informed he is actually encouraging trespass at the expense of the anglers and natural environment. In light of this latest total disregard for the laws of the land and lack of respect for personal rights I make no apology for once more stating the case for the rights of the individual and the Avon's natural environment. We are well accustomed to poachers, travellers, the ill informed and ignorant with their lack of respect and arrogance as they stamp through environmentally sensitive habitats helping themselves to what ever they fancy. It is down to the riparian interests and tenants to maintain and police these areas, a job that most could well do without and the addition of boaters to the list is not one much relished.
The 1664 Navigation Bill, which has been previously used as a very tenuous means in an attempt to gain access, whilst still effectively on the statute books did not apply to the present course of the Avon and would be difficult to use as justification for current day access. The issue of trespass would appear clear in that the case brought by the riparian owners for trespass against a boatman at Christchurch in 1907 had the judgement in favour of the owners - Cross D A E (1970). I believe this precedent remains. Should this action ever be overturned the loss of income through the associated loss of exclusivity has serious implications for a river such as the Avon which has such high maintenance costs. If a fishery value of 10,000.00 GBP per mile of river is taken as an example, fishing tenants will not pay this rent if the pools and associated ambience is lost through disturbance. If the rental income is lost the means to maintain the artificial nature of the Avon will be gone and the river will fall into total dilapidation. Revetments and the repair of bunds and control is an enormously expensive operation running into many hundreds of thousands of pounds falling to the riparian interests who require all possible income streams.
Should canoeists wish to gain access and contribute on a similar scale as that contributed by the angling fraternity Iím sure many owners would be willing to listen. Unfortunately responsible canoeists will not be the only persons involved if the river is opened to navigation. Every local lad (or lass) will wish to travel the river in his inflatable, raft or bath tub, just who is expected to police this lot and be responsible for their H&S. Particularly if they are to shoot the rapids and stopper waves through the control structures and fish passes; as recently witnessed through the EA controlled weir at Ringwood. In the case of the Avon the speed of current and the extremely heavy weed growth makes swimming almost an impossibility thus making even the apparently most benign stretch potentially lethal.
Bird scarers and shear stupidity.
The ecological implications are probably greater at this time of year than at any other time. To illustrate my point, in the four miles immediately upstream of Ringwood weir there are twenty seven swansí nests. As can be seen from the attached photograph swans swim ahead of boats passing into other swan territories, this involves extremely violent territorial struggles and where cygnets are involved a very high percentage of deaths. Eleven Great Crested Grebe nests in the same area, with the birds similarly being driven from the nest, once abandoned the eggs will be immediately predated by the less easily frighten moorhens and coots. Some may say that swans destroy desirable weed and grebe eat fish so this is not such a loss, Iím afraid I do not follow that line of thinking. The risk of changes to the natural regime are deeply worrying, if we are to abandon the river to a free for all the impact on the environment, so dear to me, will be difficult to adjust to.
On the Avon we do have one advantage provided by the conservation designations that have been assigned the valley and river. To navigate the river in any form of craft is deemed a change of the natural regime and requires consenting by Natural England. The consent for any such change of use has to be applied for and attained by the riparian owner. Hopefully this will ensure those that historically created this environment deemed so worthy of environmental protection and have the current expence of maintaining it will retain this element of control.
I have been away for a few days that have taken me away from the valley and the daily goings-on. It will be a day or two before I catch-up with events so perhaps now would be a good time to answer a question recently asked of me.
The repeat capture of many specimen fish are confirmed by individual and unique scale, barbule and fin patterns, one of the easiest to recognise are the lumps and chunks cut out of fins. This fin damage particularly on the tail has been attributed to several causes of which otters and cormorants are favourite but I would suggest it is neither of these but anglers themselves.
We had several incidents of this damage back in the 70ís and 80ís on carp that were subject to considerable angling pressure. In an effort to discover the cause we watched the development of this form of damage and it soon became apparent where the root of the problem lay.
When you think about how a fish behaves when hooked and being played the answer becomes obvious; its first reaction is very often to about turn and bolt at high speed away from the anglers applied pressure and stick its head in a weed bed or snag. The strumming of the tail against the line, on route, is often felt and used as an indication of the size of the fish by experienced anglers. The problem comes when the fish rolls, often putting two or three turns of line around the body at the same time as attaining cover. In that situation we have a fish facing directly away from the angler with a couple of turns of line around the body. If we are lucky gentle pressure may find reverse and we eventually have our quarry. Ask any experienced angler and he will tell you of fish still with a loop or two of line around the body are a fairly common sight in the net. Also the tell-tale line burns and lifted scales where these coils have pinged back over the fishes flanks during the scrap. I have actually seen fish landed when the hook has fallen out and flicked back over the main line physically lassoing the fish.
Where then the tail cuts?
A fish known as the "Canary" that lost and re-grew the top of her tail
If our fish cannot be persuaded to leave the weed and back into open water increasing pressure is applied either to drag our fish out or pull for a break. Anglers who enter the water at this stage are not really to be encouraged but the results of such expeditions gave us our answer. One such occasion I happened onto such a tug of war and suggested the alternative as I knew the water extremely well - down to the scivís and armed with a net the entire weed-bed, fish and all was recovered. On inspection our fish was found to have a coil of line deeply embedded just above the root of the tail, cutting top and bottom an inch into the tail itself. Just as when you tail a salmon, by hand or using a cable tailer, the widening of the tail gives purchase and prevents your wet hand or cable slipping off. In those distant days Mercurochrome was our only treatment and after duly painting the damage off she went with the top and bottom rays flapping freely. Throughout the seasons I saw that fish on the bank on several further occasions and the progress of the cut could be observed. The trailing rays died off and over the course of the next three seasons various stages of gore, frills and lumps two new lobes grew, the only difference being slight disfigurement of the lower sections.
Summer is now doing its very best to cook us all, temperatures are into the 30's which probably means the best place to be is beside a lake or the river. Not that you'll catch a great deal through the heat of the day but as the evening arrives so will the fish, certainly that would appear to be the pattern of recent days. Spawning seems to be at last behind us and the fish are now settling down on the feed in an effort to get their condition back as quickly as possible. Barbel are now appearing in the traditional swims from which they were absent during the last couple of seasons during the high summer flows. With fish in excess of thirteen pounds with big twelve's appearing in several different areas. The chub continue to provide the most consistent sport, for those who do not wish to miss their tea and stay for the evening activity, fish to six and a half immediately after spawning will be considerably larger come the autumn.
A pic for the lads who are currently targeting river carp, this one was taking floaters below Ibsley Bridge this week. There were also two salmon and two double figure barbel, along with the usual dace and chub showing yesterday. I really must write a book about river bridges one day, every one has its own story to tell. Ibsley has seen the Avon roach and barbel records swimming beneath it along with massive 40+ salmon and such epic tales as that contained in BB's, "Fisherman's Bedside Book" with the extract from the Badminton Library about the seat of Tizzard's trousers. Superb stuff and there are dozens of other great tales to tell that have taken place on or insight of that bridge.
The middle shot is of John Slader, our River Fly co-ordinator for the Lower Avon, doing one of his sites on Somerley also illustrating the lack of weed on the shallows this season. The ranunculas has finished flowering and as the flow drops becomes coated in algal growth and dies back. The result of the sample also highlighted the importance of weed to our invertebrates with some species totally dependent on it for food and cover.
The right hand photo captures the activity of the valley now that July the first has arrived the meadows that are in the agri-environment schemes can be cut. A different picture to that of the last couple of seasons with a return to dry meadows more akin to the norm of the last few years.
The hot weather has seen the salmon fishing suspended once again, as the temperature soars above 19 degrees "C" but not before Peter Dexter added a fine 15 pound hen to his tally for the season. With the forecast heat wave I don't see an immediate resumption as it has to be below 19 degrees for three consecutive days which seems highly unlikely.
The coarse fishing has provided some excellent sport to make up for the lack of salmon fishing. The lakes have been providing sport at a consistency I have not witnessed for several years, it seems the heat agrees with the stillwaters. Down in the river the chub and barbel were still on the shallows involved in their spawning activity that has made their behaviour a little erratic. Ther have been some good bags of chub and one or two big sixes that are good fish in anybodies book but they still well down on their winter potential. Barbel are very patchy as is always the case early in the seasons as they are not bait dependent and it takes them a week or two to get their heads down to mop up the anglers offerings. I have heard of the odd double and a scattering of other fish but they would be far better left to get their spawning over and done with.
Nigel and son Adam spending a couple of hours after work competitive floater fishing, Nigel was leading two one when I left!! The Comma illustrates the benefit of the hot weather for the butterfly population, its been a long time since I have seen such numbers particularly working the bramble flowers.
With the tragic news of the death of a walker on the Penine Way when she was trampled by cattle and David Blunkett having a lucky escape it might be a good time to remind anglers that common sense needs to be exercised around cattle. Young steers and heifers are curious and often playful, rushing up to see whats new in their field, the greatest threat from them is if they should slip on wet ground and flatten you as a consequence, so try and stay uphill of the silly beggars. They will also spend hours watching your every move just inches behind your back, bit of a problem if your trying to stalk that elusive monster; the warm tongue in the ear can also be quite a distraction when you are absorbed in the minute vibrations of your rod top. In actual fact you are probably a greater threat to them if you don't keep the lid on your bait bucket, they are particularly partial to hemp, or let them get hold of your hat to choke on. A firm stamp of the foot will usually send them on their way, probably along with the fishy content of your swim so you are best advised in putting up with them as company, the fish are used to them so it wont worry them and you can have a good conversation as they don't answer back. Don't believe any angler who spends an hour surrounded by these curious beasts should he tell you he didn't spend most of the time talking to them.
Bulls and suckler cows
The dams and sires of these miscreants are something of a different matter and it is these that require a degree of respect and attention. Bulls should always be considered potentially dangerous but when out in the fields with his herd of ladies he is usually too preoccupied to bother with the likes of us. It makes sense not to get between him and his cows as he may think it deliberate and you are attempting to separate him from his enjoyment, take an extra minute or two to bypass him and give him a little space it might save you trying to get through a barbed wire fence on the run with your tackle box and rod bag flying behind. The most likely problem you will come across where cattle are involved are with the cows of the suckler herd, particularly if you are fishing a water that allows you to have your dog with you. Cows with calves and dogs don't mix, its a natural instinct of any mother to protect her offspring and if she weighs in at half a ton and has horns like crowbars she can make a pretty good fist of looking after her youngster. One irate mother would be bad enough but suckler herds tend to stick together so you generally end up with a hundred of them bellowing their disapproval and adding up to a serious amount of high speed beef. Bellowing is usually the sign of discontent so take heed, a cow will leave her new born calf hidden in tall vegetation for a day or two and go off to feed with the herd coming back every few hours to suckle her offspring, if on her return you have set up your rods in the reed-bed unknowingly along side her calf she's not to know you are the innocent party. If approached by a anxious mother with an obvious problem, stand aside and let her retrieve her calf and she'll usually leave you in peace and if your crossing an open field, don't get between mother and calf, use your common sense and ninety nine times out of a hundred all will be peace and harmony. On that one in a hundred occasion when matters get out of hand you have two options, stand your ground, shout, yell and fling clods of earth, rocks and branches until you have faced down the problem or secondly run like hell for the nearest gate or tree. Jumping in the river is only recommended as a last resort and only if you know the water well and can swim with a rod bag around your neck.
The problem with this time of year, it tends to become extremely busy hence less time for diary entries, bear with me and I will try and keep pace with events as best I can.
A very traditional start to the course season in that the sun shone and the fish spawned. Whilst there have been some good and even remarkable catches the chub and barbel were still spawning on the 17th and would probably benefit from a further month without disturbance to get their condition back. I've seen several good bags of large chub that would look considerably better in six weeks time and the same applies to the barbel. The river perch spawned early and are back in fine condition and its good to see Avon perch looking so well, if you want a challenge now would be a good time to get a three pound one of these beauties.The tench, bream and crucians on the lakes have for the most part finished their procreative activities and are providing the best sport at the moment with huge bags feeding throughout the day if you're lucky. Those who have enjoyed the best sport have probably been those who have arrived after work and fished the evening as the light fades.
Plenty of bream, tench and crucians on the pole and the hay making in full swing.
As can be seen from the photograph the hay and silage is being cut by those not in the agr-environment schemes or those who are but have a derogation to allow an early start. What can also be seen quite clearly in the photo is the freeboard we have despite the fact we do not cut weed on the estate. It is becoming allarming the extent to which the flow has dropped and the water levels are struggling if such conditions continue into the autumn we will have a river in a very sorry state.
A clear, moonlit night was the precursor to a misty dawn; it was in fact a classic 16th June, when the mist lifted a flat calm sunny day making fishing secondary to being out on the bank again. Having said that the day produced some remarkable catches with the lakes leading the way with some fabulous carp and tench being landed.
A misty start followed by clear bright conditions
The story of a 40 pound 6 ounce mirror
Congratulations to the captor, Marcus Howarth, on his achievement in landing this super mirror. I should add similar congratulations to Sam Pryor on his 33 pound mirror from another of the stillwaters opening today. Both these fish are well known and their current weight is well down on their maximum indicating they have spawned well. Its always good to see the fish have completed their spawning during the closed season making concerns over spawn bound fish less likely.
The final opening day photos are of a gentleman who travels from Suffolk to enjoy opening day on the Avon fishing the traditional fashion of trotting the runs a good mixed bag of chub and dace with a seatrout for good measure. With the barbel and chub out of sorts I can think of no better way to enjoy the river.
A traditional start and with plenty of dace and chub.
As I write this at 11:30pm the new coarse season is about to get underway, the night anglers will be going over their rigs and bait for the umpteenth time and the clock appears to stop as that last half hour drags itself out. The anglers intending to fish tomorrow are queuing outside the gate waiting for the 07:00am start with the same anticipation of tomorrows sport. As you will be aware we still follow the traditional close season on both rivers and lakes and it's good to see many anglers still feel the same about the magic of the 16th.
Form an orderly queue please; the river looking ready for the new season
The rivers are looking in good form and the low water levels such as we are seeing this summer normally give rise to good catches of barbel. It usually takes the barbel a fortnight to get over spawning and get their heads down but once they have the lack of weed and the increased freeboard should see them back in their old haunts. Whilst a low flow summer is not what we would wish on the salmon population it does the cyprinids very little harm. With low clear water we get to see the fish in their chosen lies which the last two high flow summers have prevented. It will be interesting to see if the fish show up as I expect, it should at least stop those that can't catch blaming the otters for the lack of fish rather than their own lack of ability.
All change best describes this weekend, as we prepare for the coarse season and scale down the salmon interest. I have also been out deciding which sites I will be monitoring for the River Fly Partnership, anglers monitoring initiative. The latter activity has seen me spending more time than usual wading about on the gravel shallows which I always enjoy as the clear shallow water gives a close insight to the going on beneath the surface. Large barbel and chub are still spawning in one or two spots and the trout and grayling become more active as the evening hatch begins I really must spend an evening or two out with the fly rod to make the most of some fine hatches.
I must get out after the trout but they wont be short of food if the samples are anything to go by
The preparations for the start of the coarse season continue at pace with last minute bridge repairs and paths and tracks being cut and cleared. With the barbel and chub still spawning it will be a few weeks before they will be back in condition. If I manage to get the trout out of my system I will probably have a go for a big perch from the river which having spawned back in March are now well mended, I've also been tipped off by a couple of salmon rods where they have had biggies follow their spinners so I have a head start.
Damian has been doing a first class job with the styles, bridges and seats, if there's any justice he deserves a good season with the rod as reward for all his efforts.
With a week to go before we arrive at what I personally see as the end of the Hampshire Avon salmon season the list to date has struggled up to sixteen. There are still fish to be had and there will undoubtedly be more fish caught but with low, warm, weedy water I believe we might be well advised to leave the few fish we have in peace and leave the river to the coarse anglers. Historically the Avon was not fished much beyond mid-June and I have always argued that to compare catch rates that include summer and autumn fish corrupt the stats, an argument that falls on deaf ears I fear.
Somerley Salmon Return 2009
|1.8th March||Ibsley Pool||15:40||Black & Yellow tube||21+||Kevin Styles||First off the Avon.|
|2.||3rd April||Ibsley Pool||09:30||Self tied SV||16||Paul Bullimore||Clean hen, fifth cast!|
|3||10th April||Hoodies||12:00||Blk & Orange conehead||25+||Kevin O'Farrell||Fresh cock fish, 39.5"|
|4||27th April||Cabbage Garden||11:30||Blk & Orange conehead||20+||Kevin O'Farrell||Fresh hen fish 38"|
|5||25th April||Harbridge Bend||10:45||Cascade||16||Peter Dexter||Fresh hen fish|
|6||25th April||Lake Run||11:45||Cascade||15||Peter Dexter||Fresh cock fish|
|7||30th April||Blashford||19:30||Blk & Yellow||16||Kevin Styles||Strong hen|
|8||8th May||Island Run||17:15||Peter Dexter Special||12||JEL||Poor recovery|
|9||21st May||Broadmeade||13:45||No4 Mepp||14||Christopher Jarman||Fresh cock fish, Swam away strongly|
|10||24th May||Ibsley Br Pool||07:50||No2 Mepp||15||Keith Shearing||Fresh cock fish|
|11||26th May||Hucklesbrook||14:00||No4 Mepp||12||Steve Hutchinson||Fresh hen|
|12||27th May||Blashford||20:00||No3 Mepp||12||Kevin Styles||Fresh hen|
|13||8th June||Dog Kennel||20:45||No3 Mepp||16||Kevin Styles||Not so fresh hen|
|14||10thJune||Ashley Pool||15:00||???||14||Nick Assirati/Mike Bilson||Fresh hen|
|15||10thJune||Dog Kennel||??||No4 Mepp||15||Paul Greenacre||Fresh cockfish|
|16||11thJune||Hucklesbrook||11:34||No4 Mepp||16||Steve Hutchinson||Fresh hen|
Lunchtime I decided to have a look at the Dockens Water in an effort to find a suitable site for the invertebrate monitoring scheme. I wanted a site downstream of the confluence of the Woodside Carrier, I was particularly keen to look at the species in this area as the acid water from the New Forest has had time to mix with the alkaline water of the Woodside. Having found just what I was looking for at the Lifelands Ford I did the mandatory three minute shuffle and added a further site to our growing catalogue. As I drove back through the lakes I met Mike Bilson and his guest Nick Assirati who had been down on Island Run and Blashford hoping to open their salmon accounts for the year. They had been up at Ibsley earlier and had a fish come short to a Mepp but nothing had shown down here at Blashford. Interestingly they had not seen any other rods out on the bank other than Paul Greenacre who had just arrived to have an afternoon. I am a little surprised at just how few anglers are making the best of the present conditions, light weed growth, overcast conditions and a few fish coming through the counter.
I found all eight indicator species at the new site which is my first full house, intriguing just what is down to water chemistry and what is attributable to habitat. It's also interesting to see the bycatch at these sites, the ones above have been placed in a dish for safe keeping whilst the rest of the sample is examined they include dragonfly, damsel fly, lamprey and bullheads.
Mike emailed me the photo this evening, no he didn't catch it, Nick did! His first days salmon fishing for some seventeen years and his first ever on the Avon; well done Nick. I wont tell you how long its been since Mike caught a salmon, it'll only upset him. I also had a call from Paul Greenacre to tell me he had also managed a fish this afternoon, well deserved.
Its one oclock in the morning and I've just uploaded today's entry, switch off Clapton and check the emails before turning in and the two pics below were there from Paul.
Brilliant; the curse of the lone angler, lots of photographs of fish on nets, overcome!!
Odd week with the water temperatures passing the 19ļ cut-off level which has seen salmon fishing cease. Luckily it coincided with the EA pre-emptive weed cut so there has been no disruption due to floating weed.
Ibsley weed boom working well collecting the cut weed and a shot of the nets at Mudeford.
The 1st also saw the start of the netting season down at the Mudeford Run and week one has seen nine salmon caught and released. Under the current conditions nine fish in a week must be considered a reasonable return. With today being the fourth with a water temperature under 19 degrees the salmon fishing is underway again so get out there if you are in need of a fish no better opportunity will arise this year.
Kevin Styles has just text to say he has landed a 15 pounder this evening; right on cue well done Kevin.
I have been out doing my first river Fly Partnership monitoring site and extremely enjoyable it was too. To get a glimpse of life beneath the surface just adds to my appreciation of this river. Just how all those creatures live and die within feet of us yet we know so little of their needs and requirements.
Lower Avon River fly monitoring underway
I didn't find any stone flies but all the others are in there and I don't want to hear from anyone who enlarges this pic and tells me he can see one!!
I would ask salmon rods to keep an eye on the water temperature as measured at Knappmill as it fast approaches 19 degrees the agreed point when salmon fishing ceases on the river.
The Knappmill website can be found at:
Today the EA's 50% pre-emptive weed cut got underway which will undoubtedly be hailed as the reason a return to reasonable conditions to cut the hay and silage will be achieved this year; the fact we have not endured the rain of the two previous summers will be immediately forgotten!!
Kevin Styles has just text me to say he landed a 12 pounder from Blashford this evening that puts both Kevins on three fish each, as far as I know the only rods to have achieved that so far this season.
Long distance traveller, hence if you look closely her tattered wings.
A further photo of one of those amazing Painted Ladies, they have created quite a stir with millions having made landfall from Norfolk right across the country to West Dorset. I find it quite staggering that these tiny creatures deliberately embark on such a migration to fly from the Atlas Mountains in Northern Africa across the Med and up through Europe to arrive on our shores in such profusion. What ever it is that makes them undertake such an epic journey long may they continue to do so - terrible statement - to express ignorance of their motives and live in hope they continue to feel the desire to come here. What I should have said was that we urgently need to establish just what makes them want to undertake their journey and ensure those conditions and habitats are protected for future generations to enjoy.
He's done it again, Steve Hutchinson has landed a salmon at Somerley during this last week in May every year in the last decade bar one; congratulations Steve that's some achievement. The fish weighed in at 12 pounds which is a typical 2SW fish we would expect off the spring tide we have just enjoyed, it goes to prove that even during this period of low flow fish are still entering the river. Whilst Steve probably puts the capture down to his extraordinary skill and his track record would go a long way to support that view, I am going to attribute this fish to the EA. Just how do I come to that conclusion you may well ask, especially with my views related to EA fisheries? Well it's not EA fisheries I attribute the success but EA flood defence, or what ever title the weed cutting team now go under. It was the fact they were clearing the weed removal site at Ibsley that had coloured up the water downstream of Ibsley right throughout the estate. Had it not been for that coloured water Steve may not have moved upstream of the weed boom and fished Hucklesbrook from were his fish was captured - makes a good story anyway!
Fallen giant, the sad sight of yet another huge oak that has succumbed to age and the changeable climate of recent years.
A busy bank holiday weekend, unfortunately if the sun shines that generally mean the river becomes the centre of attention for the Great British public. Alas the majority seem to believe the river exists purely for their benefit and are genuinely and blissfully unaware of what goes on behind the scenes. I can almost guarantee that the mobile will ring two or three times a day and I will have to deal with some issue that has arisen in the valley.
We must ensure the management of such idyllic environments is fully understood. Nice seat Damian or was that down to Steve's supervision
Having been doing this for nearly twenty years it has given me time to consider the various types of people I encounter. The genuinely misguided, the ignorant, the arrogant and the downright objectionable cover the majority. The dependent livelihoods and the economics of riverine maintenance never enter the heads of most. The fact grass is a crop and conservation designations apply to everyone including "Fido" who is out in the field hoovering up Lapwing and Redshank chicks is equally distant to their mind set. The belief that a public footpath gives them carte blanche to do as they wish and the "Right to Roam" now means they can go anywhere they want is so often quoted at me I feel like making a tape to save my voice when I have to explain the reality of the situation. Who is to blame for this sad state of affairs? The general public in their blissful ignorance might seem the obvious choice;
"Whatís a definitive map????????"
"Whatís a Lapwing and you say they nest on the ground? Gosh, no wonder theyíre struggling to survive"
"What do you mean the owner has to pay for the repair of the banks, donít the government do that??????"
"You miserable bugger you let them on to fish but you wonít let us canoe"
"What do you mean they pay the money that goes to repair the banks?????"
"You bloody jobs worth; you just get off on making people miserable"
"How perceptive sir; I canít imagine anything I would prefer to be doing on my day off"
All in a days work, or a day off, as is more often the case.
I donít think we can lay all the blame at the door of ignorance; itís the cause of that ignorance that has to be considered. Who should be sending out the message that these wonderful environments do not happen by accident and there is an enormous amount of work ongoing, everyday behind the scenes. The agencies in the form of the Environment Agency and Natural England have to shoulder much of the blame as do the local authorities. Itís all very well increasing public access to the valley but access without responsibility is the kiss of death for everything that makes up this fragile network of interrelated habitats. To provide a public footpath without ensuring the users are aware of their responsibility and adhere to them is destined to cause problems. The percentage that use them properly are fine but those that wish to impose statutory powers permitting greater access have to bear some responsibility for the fifty percent who misuse them. Just as those that impose statutory higher levels of conservation should be prepared to compensate those whose income and livelihood is threatened by their actions. The drunks, poachers, picnickers, dog-walkers, swimmers, photographers, artist, Uncle Tom Cobbly and all, whose use can and does adversely impact on the existing regime, must be the responsibility of someone? Loss of amenity with associated loss of income and thus reduced maintenance.
"Iím only stood on the bank," in my bright yellow shirt, leaning over the salmon pool that someone has paid a considerable amount of money to fish and travelled a considerable distance to enjoy.
I donít think we can expect the agencies and local authorities to deal with such complex issues, they simply are not capable of understanding the issues involved. They do not have staff with the necessary experience in farming, working conservation and running fisheries so how can they be expected to solve the problems? The EA annually spend over six million pounds of rod licence income promoting angling, something they have no statutory obligation to be involved with. If they are not to spend this money to maintain, improve and develop fisheries, as is their statutory obligation, far better this money was spent educating the general public as to the reasons behind the restrictions they face when they desire access to the rivers. All that is required to put anglers on the banks is to create productive fisheries, the old field of dreams strategy, you build them - they will come.
When SSSI notifications, footpath issues and the like are published and consulted on in most cases the strategy that brought about the consultation, by its very nature, is promoting a chosen route. Decisions have been made by steering groups and working groups and it takes a considerable and concerted effort to bring about any changes in those policies and strategies seeding the issues. Those working in the field and in this instance it means "fields" not the now established terminology for a foray out of the office for an hour or two, do not have the time to expend fighting their corner. They are familiar with the barrage of "experts" and "consultants" that will be rolled out to argue every point and do not have the time to refute and educate in what is all too often viewed as purely adding to the hot air that will be generated.
The other group that must be apportioned some of the blame are the river owners, managers and users. We own, work and enjoy one of the finest environments in the land, it is understandable that others looking in from outside wish to enjoy what they perceive as this idyllic world. If we wish to retain what we value so dearly it must fall to us to inform those looking in of our objectives and the trials and tribulations we encounter along the way in trying to achieve them. The all too often seen film of the angler grinning over the super catch, or the monster fish, is the tip of the iceberg. Whilst anglers are a vital part of the jigsaw they are just that, a piece, and the complete picture is far more involved. There is perhaps a glimmer of light on the horizon in the shape of the new Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust, this embryonic body is now underway and perhaps one of its many rolls might be the education of the non-angling general public in the ways of the river valleys. Not just the fish but the birds, invertebrates and mammals and fundamentally, the people. Many of the new trusts supporters will be people who have a long history of these wonderful valleys and we must ensure their knowledge and expertise is passed on for others to understand. Least ways I will keep my fingers crossed; as you can see from the rant above Iíve not had a good weekend.
No fish but a pleasant way to spend an hour and the chub about their spawning
On a happier note we have had a couple of salmon, well done Christopher Jarman and Keith Shearing. The sunshine has not only cheered the general public but the creatures of the valley have also been out and about enjoying themselves. The barbel and chub are spawning in the rivers and the carp in the lakes. The shallows in the river are being polished in the same areas the salmon used back in December and hopefully once the chub and barbel have hatched we might have the sea lamprey appear to make use of them. Should any of the rods reading this spot the Lamprey on the shallows please give me a ring.
Hundreds of Painted Ladies flying north and an old shot of a stag beetle which were emerging this weekend.
This weekendís highlight for me must be the number of Painted Ladies I have enjoyed seeing; butterflies for those who minds are racing ahead. Butterfly numbers have been higher than I have seen for years, orange tips, tortoiseshells and I am hearing of huge numbers of Painted Ladies, counts of hundreds in just a few hours. The Mayfly have continued to hatch bringing the trout and chub up to the surface to enjoy the few the gulls have left. We have also seen the first Stag Beetles of the year; strangely these wonderful creatures are most frequently seen in and around the streets of Ringwood during the warm evenings. Why they should be so numerous in the town is a mystery as the food source for the grubs is decaying wood. Add in the fox cubs above ground enjoying the sun and the Kingfishers splash of blue as both parents dart up and down the streams seeking food for their ravenous brood, all things considered perhaps it wasnít such a bad weekend.
The weed cutting season is just about to start and that's not a reference to the swans in the foreground of the first photo below but the 360 in the distance. The EA have been in preparing the weed removal sites and setting the extraction booms in readiness for the 50% pre-emptive weed cut the Avon SSSI/SAC is about to experience. Done purely on agricultural grounds the continued devastation of the EU designated ranunculas community is hard to comprehend and certainly hard to justify. There have been vague attempts to justify the cut on the grounds it protects the young of the waders nesting in the meadows? The only research I have seen related to the lapwing population in the recent wet breeding seasons points to them having done better than in recent dry years which would seem to contradict that school of thought. Certainly our Lapwing had a good season last year enjoying better than average fledged young. I have listen to the farming community blaming the river and the weed for the high water levels of the previous two years totally ignoring the fact rainfall happened to have been well above average.
In just this Lower Avon section of the valley south of Salisbury annual agri-environment payments in excess of quarter of a million of public funds have been paid out. What are these payments for? To compensate the farming community for losses incurred in signing up to farm in the interest of the environment and in particular the breeding waders. I have yet to discover just what this means other than not being allowed to mow silage or hay prior to July 1st. It certainly hasnít lessened the demands from the farming community to maximise the yield. Add to this the further 120K of public money to fund the weed cutting, someone is taking the proverbial when claims of agri-environmental protection are being used to justify this destruction. Just how this is squared with the designation of the ranunculas community is a complete mystery to me. Collateral damage is the term applied to casualties of such a blitz in other quarters. Iím sure the spawning and juvenile cyprinids will see the logic, along with the invertebrates and the salmonid juveniles when the riffles are reduced to a dissipated canal.
I will be extremely interested to see how the 50% cut progresses as at the current time the boats will be hard pressed to find any weed if our section of the valley is any guide. Perhaps the fact we have never felt the need for the EA weed boats to cut weed through the estate may have some bearing. Certainly the freeboard is at an all time high at some points down the valley. Fingers crossed the weed gets a spurt on in the next week or two to prevent the EA looking stupid with their boats chugging about in search of something to cut. I should point out here that it is not the fault or at the behest of the guys driving the boats, its no good moaning at them they are doing as instructed, observe and have a word if you're so inclined but please keep it friendly.
The second photo is just rubbing salt in the wound as far as Iím concerned when dealing with the agencies. As many readers will be aware I submitted a denotification against the SSSI conservation designation placed on the recently worked out gravel pits adjoining the Avon Valley and the New Forest SSSIís. My argument was that the totally artificial environments, far from providing added conservation value actually adversely impacted on the adjoining SSSIís. The new pits acted as sanctuaries for numerous non-indigenous species of both plants and birds, crassula, nyphoides and sanctuaries for cormorants, goosander etc. Long story but suffice to say that when Natural England considered the submission related to their policy they found in favour of themselves. I know, it defies all logic how they can sit in judgement of themselves but thatís how the system works. Iíve got a file titled "Bullshit and Hypocrisy" it makes excellent reading and I must find a slot for some of these bizarre decisions in there somewhere. Iíll get around to publishing it one day and give every one a good laugh. Back to the second photo which is of a Black-headed gull colony that now breeds on the reserve in question. If you look closely at the first photo of the swans in the background you will see half a dozen of these gulls hawking the river. What are they looking for? Mayfly. The hatch has been struggling on throughout the rotten weather of the previous fortnight only to be greeted by two hundred shite hawks. They spend the entire day on the river when the Mayfly are hatching dipping them out as quick as they hatch. When this foul wind of recent days has blown the flies into the meadows the gulls have followed and spend the day picking them off the grass. I enjoy the sight of the Hobbies delicately taking Mayfly in the evenings in the lee of the islands and sheltered sections of river. The sight of two hundred newly arrived gulls doesn't have the same effect. Iím not sure of the impact on the Mayfly but it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth along with the two hundred cormorants a day that now visit the valley.
The third photo of the fenced carrier is hopefully only an isolated case in our part of the valley. I appreciate that if you are on the headwaters and cattle have been overstocked close to the river fencing may possibly be seen as a solution. In the lower valley where cattle drinks and collapsed banks that offer fry sanctuaries and shallow warm bays are rarities I personally welcome any cows that wish to stand in the river and munch water cress and rushes with open arms. Nothing destroys the pastoral scene and buggers up your casting more effectively than a grotesque barbed wire fence. Oddly in the thirty years I have known that partcular carrier I have never seen a cow in it?
Weed cutting season soon to be underway
The middle photos are to cheer me up; the black sedge appeared yesterday, not a large hatch but sufficient to cover the margins with a good few thousand flyís intent on reproducing. For a brief spell the wind dropped and the sun came out, almost summer like and the valley immediately became alive with the buzz of insects intent on making up for lost time. The middle shot of the club work party as they rebuild swims on the lakes is always good to see as the fishery takes on the cared for look in readiness for the new season in just three weeks. The pheasant chick because it deserves to be seen which strangely has a double meaning. Not only is it a delightful little bird cheering all but the most jaded soul but they are becoming increasingly rare at this age due to the shoots buying in six week old poults.
Black sedge, stillwater work party, pheasant chick.
The bottom pic is one of those jaded souls mentioned above gaining inspiration and encouragement from The Atlantic Salmon Atlas by Roy Arris and Malcolm Greenhalgh. As can be seen from the photo I am a book person and I have just received a copy of the Atlas through the good auspices of Roy who is a long time supporter of the WSRT and regular reader of this blog. Thanks again Roy, it puts our political and environmental struggles down here in the south in perspective and reminds us just what we are fighting for.
Despite the rotten weather rods did turn out but the fish didn't,
If when you are next out on the water meadows the Lapwing are calling and swooping close overhead, keep your eyes on the ground, to avoid crushing their offspring. The three on the left are from a year or two ago but the second was taken today at Blashford where there is a brood close to the pool, so please take care to avoid an accident.
Somewhat disappointing first day of the spinning with at least half a dozen rods out and only a couple of bumped fish to show for all the effort. I decided on a different tack and put on the floating line for a visit to Island Run. Same result as the spinning fraternity Iím afraid but it was enjoyable to see the floating line in action. I must admit it would have been made even more enjoyable if I hadnít lost the feeling in my fingers as it was so bloody cold.
Despite the rain and foul west wind the Mayfly put in the first real appearance of the year with a scattered hatch. The trout and chub came up to the surface to enjoy what must be a real delicacy judging by the enthusiasm they show in taking them. There can be literally thousands of Grannom and not a single rise yet a couple of dozen Mayfly and the fish are doing back-flips. If we get anything that looks like a summer evening in the next week or two I really must dig out the trout rod.
A Yellow May Dun hiding from the rain, several of which could be seen amidst today's E. danica.
Iím having a particularly difficult time with my photography at present, the shots of my epic salmon battle the other day being a prime example. To add to that I have attached a pic of an otter that spent five minutes splashing about not 10m from me when I was out the other evening. The first I knew she was there was when the swan on her nest on the island hissed with particular venom and the moorhens departed for the far bank, both in a fashion only an otter can inspire. It was interesting to see the little bitch collecting small fish from the roots of a fallen willow opposite and then laying back in the water to crunch them up. Along with the Lapwing and Redshank piping and trilling, our Goosander brood, now down to six and the other residents of the meadows it was a magical evening. A photo would have been a nice memento but in reality if I continue to fish the evening the fading light is always going to give rise to this problem.
How annoying is that? but it still captures the magic of the evening in a bizarre abstract form. The other pic is of a ewe and two unrelated lambs, just what makes the silly sods jump in there? They have a field full of grass yet feel impelled to commit "Seppuka" When I arrived the swan that was on the nest didn't look overly impressed either.
I should perhaps add that I safely extracted all three and they departed down the field without so much as a nod of thanks, leaving me with a further coating of gloop in the process.
Today saw the capture of a truly fabulous salmon; what you might say was so fabulous about this fish? It was the fact that I captured it! On the way home this evening I stopped at the Lakes to walk Bracken and as it was blowing a Nor-westerly hoolie I decided to fish for ten minutes in the lee of Blashford Island. Suffice to say that within ten minutes I had managed to capture the beauty in question and the pics below give a true impression of the epic struggle.
I should have given the camera to Bracken, she would have made a better job of it!
I haven't quite got the hang of self portraits yet and I find this shooting from the hip a particularly difficult technique to master. One of the pleaasures this fish gave me was the fact it was caught on a Peter Dexter special, otherwise known as a cascade which can be clearly seen caught up in the net, having fallen out as I landed the fish. Good looking fresh cock fish but it showed one or two signs of having had a hard time in the not too distant past. The end of its snout was rubbed bare and it had a large bruise or abrasion on its side, not immediately obvious how it came by the marks but certainly a stressful exercise.
"The fabulous fish"
With the sun not managing to chase off the mist until 08:00 oclock on some of these chilly mornings the early rods have the chance to experience the change that comes over the valley on such occasions. Andrew Willatts sent me the photo below taken from Ibsley Pool looking upstream to Hoodies that captures the atmosphere perfectly.
The early risers may also hear the dawn chorus which is at its height at the moment and well worth the effort of an early start for a quiet walk in a favourite spot to hear the feathered residents in full voice. It is just getting light at about 05:00 at the moment so if you are about at that hour preparing for the day turn off the radio and open the windows and enjoy their efforts.
Kevin's second of the season a 16 pounder
I can't claim today's news is a good start to the month on the grounds it actually happened yesterday and that was Kevin Styles landed his second fish of the season from Somerley. A cracking 16 pound cock fish by the look of the photo, kindly sent by Ian May who was on hand with the digital. I especially like the second shot of the lucky captor emptying his boots which only seems fair to me. Using the Bayesian calculations favoured by the EA to evaluate our Avon salmon run if you are called Kevin you are likely to account for 44.4% of the entire Avon salmon catch this season!!
Hopefully the person I'm attempting to reach is a reader of this diary, if so please note: The gate just before the fishermens carpark at Ashley Farm has *2* *two* *deux* *zwei* padlocks attached to the chain, please ensure you do not lock the second padlock out of the loop. I will take the gate latch off tomorrow to ensure that doesn't add to the confusion and if you are an angler only lock the smaller CAC padlock even if the larger estate padlock is open on the chain.
Good news and bad news today. The good news, in fact quite extraordinary news, was that Peter Dexter landed a brace of salmon today at 15 and 16 pounds from the top end of the estate. At this rate Iíll need a new page for the salmon returns this week! The bad news, he caught them on the same pattern Cascade as he recently presented to me to double my choice due to my errant fly box. Whatís bad about that you may say? Unfortunately I can no longer blame the fly for failing to catch on my last three outings!
Just a nice pic of the proud parents with today's new arrivals
Stop Press - Kevin's done it again - 38" hen fish.
That's Kevin O'Farrell by the way and what with Kevin Styles landing the first, I'm changing my name by deed poll to Kevin! I had been talking to Kevin just an hour before his catch as Darren and I were attempting to free the boat that had become lodged in the hatch. When we eventually dislodged the thing it shot out into the stream and escaped down river, Kevin later telling me it came passed him and within half a dozen casts he contacted the fish. What I want to know is if this is a possible advantage of trespassing boaters, in that they may stir the fish up !!!!
Dave Stone "The Swan Man" is in the valley counting the nests to add to his comprehensive knowledge of their habits. I passed Dave a copy of my estate map with the 2009 record that shows some 35 territories with 23 nests now established, if you add to this the 120 non-breeders on the estate I think we have our fair share.
2009 Swan Record
Baby boom would be a fitting description of the valley at the moment, the young heron and rabbits have been joined by the first Canada goose goslings, Lapwing chicks and the Great crested grebe are riding high on mum's back. Having also counted seven trips of Mallard and our Goosander brood the river is a buzz with new life at present.
As the river is so low at the moment I decided a walk beside the lower section of the estate water which is better holding water seemed a good idea. The water looked inviting but from the signs on the bank it looks as if even these recognise holding pools are being fished very lightly.
Historically good holding pools and our Goosander brood adding to the baby boom.
I've been constructing roads for the last couple of days which has meant I have missed out on the sunshine that has brought the valley up into full summer mode. I did get the chance of a walk beside the river this evening with Bracken and the change in two days is remarkable. The plants seem to have grown six inches and the migrants have arrived in force from their warmer wintering grounds, added to the Reed and Sedge Warblers the Blackcaps and Garden Warblers are tuning up for the weeks ahead. The river looked even lower than at the weekend which is disappointing but the needs of others for some warmth and sunshine requires a pragmatic tolerance of this dry spell.
Avon Valley meadows wonderful at this time of year for the flora and fauna, perhaps not so good for the hay and silage to come
Our efforts back in January scraping together enough broodfish for ova to fill the eggboxes are, after the careful attentions of Jon Bass, Adrian Simmons and Ted Roberts who have tended their needs, producing the fry for introduction into the selected release sites. This years results show that approximately 4800 fry have been produced from the 6200 eggs giving a hatch rate of over 75% when compared to the hatch rate achieved by fish in the wild of between 15 and 35% a very encouraging two or three times improvement.
Jon setting up the egg boxes back in January and this years Himalayan balsam seedlings.
The eggbox project closely mimics natural processes, but bypasses silt in the redds, the fry are released daily as they move out of the eggbox gravel into a collecting sump. Fry are counted before release, have fully absorbed yolk sacs and are ready to start feeding. Later survival would be higher if they were reared by us for six months, but the project is designed to look at 'bottlenecks' that are depressing the Avon salmon population (which is less than a third the numbers pre-1990).
The fate of the c.4,800 fry released will be monitored at their release site in September, when survivors will be c.9cm long. The numbers of parr and their density will be matched to habitat quality and the area available. This will allow assessment of survival rate and a comparison with national stats on what they should be achieving. In this way we can separate losses in the egg-to-fry stage and the fry-to-parr stage. It gives a clearer picture of where in-river problems should be addressed.
We have used a single release reach for fry on an upper Avon tributary. The habitat looks good, there are no salmon redds producing extra fry (which would confuse the results). Our first year (2007-08) results indicated one tenth of predicted parr numbers were present. This year we have released twice as many fry. If parr numbers in September are again below predictions there is a problem within the river additional to redd siltation (or a fault in the national parr assessment method when applied to chalk rivers).
The second photo shows this years Himalayan balsam seedlings coming up in an area we sprayed last year. Looking at the density of this crop it appears spraying is not going to be a very effective method to control the advance of this invasive alien.
A good weekend that started with the invertebrate monitoring course at the excellent facilities afforded by the Blashford Lakes study centre, organised by the WSRT in the hope of establishing a local scheme for the rivers of Wessex. Dr Cyril Bennett from the River Fly Partnership headed the day with much appreciated attendance from the EA monitoring team to provide the local expertise. The scheme is called the "Anglers Monitoring Initiative" and acts as a laymanís early warning system to alert the EA to any concerns that require their professional investigation. It is a more accountable and dedicated approach to what we have always claimed, that the anglers are the eyes and ears of the river, being on hand to spot any early signs of problems.
Taking and sorting the invertebrate samples, whilst Darren and Damian did some timed weed cutting
What was particularly pleasing were the number of groups represented with Ringwood Anglers, Christchurch Anglers, Hants & I of W Wildlife Trust, Frome and Piddle Association, The Roach Club and of course ourselves in the WSRT. If between us we canít get a few sites set up to join the national network it would be a pretty poor show.
Plenty of freeboard and the bones starting to show.
Despite the river being so low it was still an enjoyable place to walk in this afternoons sunshine. The Kingcups are in bloom giving the marsh at Hucklesbrook a butter yellow flush of colour which always gladdens the heart after the mud and greys of what I felt to be a very long winter. What was noticeably amongst the Kingcups were the number of Lapwing and Redshank that have established their breeding territories. Less desirable were the numbers of crows out on the marsh looking for the nests of these waders. Since the advent of the six week old pheasant poult has done away with the need for keepers to cull the Carrion Crow population there has been a dramatic increase in their numbers. This population imbalance is inevitably going to adversely impact on the waders, how this can be resolved is difficult to see. I donít foresee a time when the estates will have the manpower to swing the pendulum back in favour of the waders so we may have to face the fact breeding waders in these lowland valleys will soon be a thing of the past.
The roach were spawning on the fontinalis in Tizzards Pool which will hopefully see the millions upon millions of eggs get the chance to hatch into a new generation of Avon "2ís" There was also activity at the top of the Trout Stream where Budgie and Trevor have their spawning boards. The Roach Club project in rearing roach in a protected environment to by-pass the risks of this first critical stage will hopefully get the required eggs. Looking at the oak and ash trees if the old proverb is anything to go by we are only in for a splash this summer, whilst not so good for the salmon fishing it will at hopefully allow the roach fry to develop in a benign flood free environment. It may also let the farmers cut some hay this year which will be a change on the last two summers.
The river is dropping like the proverbial stone, with limited weed growth and a channel swept clear of many gravel shoals by last winters floods there is little coffering to hold the freeboard. If we do not see rain in the near future the river will be down to its bones with little chance of salmon getting above the lower river. We do not usually see the channel so empty until mid May so we are in new territory yet again. If anyone out there believes they have an effective rain dance now would be a good time to put it to the test.
There has been much debate in recent years regarding the impact piscivorous birds are having on our rivers and fisheries. To add a little flavour to the proceedings I have attached a picture taken today of our goosander duck with this years brood. The only confirmed breeding that has occurred in Hampshire is down to this bird which has been with us since 2000 but Iím sure, if not already, there will soon be many more pairs breeding successfully in the valley. As with the much reviled Cormorant our EA fisheries division, with its legal obligation to maintain, improve and develop our fisheries, passes the buck very swiftly to Defra and avoids any direct action or lobbying. Natural England charged with the duty of protecting our EU designated salmon, bullheads etc within the SAC, along with the wildlife trusts adopts a totally hypocritical stance in that it directly encourages the construction and maintenance of sanctuaries alongside and even within SSSI/SAC to encourage the increase of these avian predators. I suppose this shouldnít come as any surprise as to bury ones head in the sand is a natural defence system developed by our planets largest bird.
A poor record shot of this years Goosander brood. Kevin landing the wrong fish at Island Run and a photo for Bob Windsor taken out of my conservatory window.
To further muddy the water I have attached three photos taken at Mei Po in the Hong Kong New Territories one of the most crowded areas on our planet. How is it that cormorant numbers as high as those illustrated can live and thrive alongside highly productive commercial fisheries. Whilst the warmer water may give rise to higher productivity it doesnít answer the staggering difference in numbers of both fish and birds.
Probably not a quarter of the birds visible from the point I took these photos
Alan Bashford sent me his latest catch and release photos today, it may not have been the intended salmon, none the less I am most grateful as our tenants sheep seem to have a definate death wish when it comes to leaping in the Avon.
Catch and Release
A couple of interesting emails today with attached photos showing recent events in the valley. The first from Richard Vipond, who was the angler on the opposite bank when Kevin landed his fish at the weekend. Those of you that know Kevin, know he is a well built chap and will realise the size of the fish in the net; I'm told he was still grinning two hours later.
The second email, from Tony Harris, showing the river carp as they gather at the mouth of one of the carriers seeking the warmer water that has been heated by the recent sunny days out on the shallow drain system. If in a months time sufficient water remains in the system they will move into the ditches to spawn, whether a successful carp spawning in the river would be a good thing I'll let others decide. Tony did also spot a tench with the carp shoal so the lads who are trying to catch those river carp have another target once they've achieved the carp goal!!
Kevin O'Farrell landing his 26 pound fish at the week end and river carp seeking warm water in the carriers.
Middle Cabbage, well worth a visit just to sit on that seat.
The barbel lads probably know this pool as "The bench" due to the fact there used to be an old seat here, well you can continue to call it that now thanks to Damian's latest effort.
Before I go any further let me congratulate Kevin O'Farrell on his fish from "Hoodies" yesterday, at 39Ĺinches it was in the region of 26 pounds. Nice one Kevin, thatís the dream fish we all hope to hook.
I believe there is a photograph taken from the opposite bank in existance, when it reaches me I will add it to the site.Whilst Kevin was up at the top of the estate landing his fish I was right down the bottom fishing some of the pools that rarely get a visit from one season to the next. This is one of the disadvantages of an open system in that the more popular pools are obviously favoured and many good pools that perhaps involve a walk, or do not have such a catch record get ignored. The beat system meant that these less favoured areas did get reasonable attention and when pools and lies change, as is often the case on the Avon, the preferred resting areas of the fish soon get re-discovered. I suppose it has the advantage of large tracts of water that provide undisturbed sanctuaries for these wonderful spring fish. I must admit I would personally like to see them fished to a greater extent but I can see and understand the attraction of the better known pools. Perhaps a reminder these areas offer a great days fishing to the more adventurous might encourage a few more visits. I'll also dig out the photo I have somewhere of Bruce Penny with a 33 pound fish from "Below the Cut Through" as further incentive. I should just say the "Cut through" and the "Break through" are some mile or so apart so don't mix the two up.
Above the Cut Through, Below the Cut Through and the run into Lifelands Pool.
I did take Peter Dexters fly out for another walk this morning and fished down Blashford Pool. Nothing to show for my efforts or Peter's fly but it was a good morning to be in the valley, the photo below shows the backdrop provided by what I believe is a Mackerel sky.
Mackerel sky over Blashford
I did have the opportunity for a further walk through the middle river at lunch time when I came across Damian Kimmins constructing yet another of his works of arts, cleverly disguised as a style. Damian spends as much of his time as possible on the Avon and his efforts are very much appreciated on the estate.
The bird world is also providing plenty of interest at present with the summer migrants arriving arriving on mass giving a new feel to the valley. The reeds beds begin to rattle with the sound of Reed and Sedge Warblers as the Lapwing and Redshank call continuously from the meadows as they guard their territories from the marauding Carrion crows. Martins and Swallows skimming the river as the fly hatchs increase, with the Cuckoo calling from the thickets and the constant honking of the geese as they argue amongst themselves the valley is buzzing with life.We also see one or two residents that give rise to very mixed emotions, our resident Goosander is sitting again, along with Egyptian Geese and Mandarins that nest with us on occasions, our valley is becoming quite cosmopolitan. The rights and wrongs of their presence is difficult to establish but whatever your views and the official standpoint of Natural England they are a very beautiful addition. We also have the unusual sight of swan slides, where our flocks of non-breeders get in and out of the river. Whether this is a historic element of life beside the river is difficult to say, viewed in light of the dramatic, many fold increase in swan numbers I very much doubt it. I not sure if I should fence them in the river or fence them out in the meadows?? I did also discover the resting place of an "unpowered craft" when I called at the hatches, it'll have to wait until Tuesday before I get to clear it out. I only hope the occupants made it to dry land and didn't suffer the same fate as the boat; there was no sign of anyone downstream!
Damian at work, a scan of when I used to keep Mandarins, a new swan impact and the last resting place of an unpowered craft.
The overcast conditions didn't come to much, unless you were up and about before seven oclock, as such I haven't heard of any further fish. I did get out for an hour this morning but was forced to go and get the strimmer as the pools were in dire need of attention. Apart from the dirth of fish one other problem faced by the salmon rods on the Hampshire Avon is that the river is difficult to flyfish and we have a mandatory fly only rule until the 16th May.
The lack of shallows that afford places to wade make Spey casting difficult and the luxuriant growth on the banks making for difficult overhead in many areas. Avon Spey casting is a hybrid affair, in an effort to avoid the bank the rod is very often offset 5ļ or 10ļ greater than would be the norm if you were able to wade. To make this tiresome process a little easier on the rod, where ever possible, the banks need to be trimmed for the short distances that hold the salmon we seek.
Below the Breakthrough, where the next fish may well come from
To stand on any river bank and to loose oneself in the pursuit of your quarry itís easy to miss much of what is occurring naturally close by. To have missed the young herons in the oak trees at Ashley this morning you would have to have been very preoccupied indeed. The racket these scrawny juveniles kick up demanding food from their parents is amazing creating a continuous line of adults moving between the river and the tree tops to satisfy the ravenous appetites.
Busy at the heronry
Good news to start the week-end in that I have just heard from Paul Bullimore that he grassed a 16 pound springer from Ibsley this morning. Congratulations Paul that makes up for the one you lost at Blashford last week-end. With overcast conditions forecast tomorrow fingers crossed we may see other fish on the bank.
I definately intend to get out myself although I have yet to find my fly-box but I now do have two flies - I ran into Peter Dexter today, a regular diary reader, who presented me with a Cascade to act as a back-up. Watch this space, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to catch on that fly!!
Interesting day, in that I had the rare opportunity to spend a great deal of it doing what I most enjoy, working on the fishery. We had six hundred horses charging about the Lower Park enjoying the annual horse trial, my involvement in which is minimal these days, giving rise to my bonus day.
An early morning visit to Ibsley, to keep the Cormorants on the move and check the hatches, showed a problem that would be in need of attention after breakfast. Yesterdayís entry of the picture of the trout, going in the Ellingham Carrier, illustrates the problem in that the requirements of sheep and trout conflict. In order to prevent the lambs getting stuck in the mud the carriers need to be kept brim full. Unfortunately the recently stocked trout require faster flowing water if they are not to migrate to the main channel. More water in at the top with extra boards drawn at the downstream end was a reasonable compromise a small drop but sufficient pace to hopefully keep the fish in the carrier. I then have to drive right down to the bottom of the carrier to ensure the extra water hasn't flooded the lower meadows making them unfarmable. I did get back to speak to a couple of the trout rods who had fished the afternoon, one having landed three and the other a single fish which suggests they are at least happy to stay in the carrier for the moment at least.
As the water clears and drops, today also provided me with the first real opportunity to assess the impact of the winter floods. The erosion on one or two of the main channel pools has been quite significant with major repairs required at Ibsley and Ashley with several other areas showing scouring from the winter floods. I will first of all have to get the necessary consents from the EA and NE which will probably take significantly more time than adding the couple of hundred tons of reinforcing to the banks; still it keeps somebody in employment. The channels look as clear as I have seen them for several years which should ease some of the summer flooding problems we suffered last year. All in all the river looks very well, a little low perhaps but the forecast rain and burgeoning weed growth should hopefully solve that before too long. I also managed a couple of hours clearing some recently felled limbs that had been restricting one of the lake access roads. This plus the additions of fifty tons of gravel to the worn out areas of the road was a satisfying way to end the day.
First sign of the Grannom with the Midge smoke over the A338 also putting in its first appearance of the year.
Despite the rather odd appearance of a half naked rubber clad man standing behind a sheep there is a innocent reason for such an image. It is the result of the tenant shepherd being out of contact when a report of a ewe in trouble reaches me half an hour after I got home this evening. Stuck up to her ears in the gloop a soggy ewe weighs in at about one and a half hundredweight proving quite a gut busting operation to lever back onto the bank. Luckily Mike Myers was fishing the Woodside and provided support along with Anne, my other half. Whilst digging out the mud from around the old girl I found several brook lamprey proving even the most inhospitable looking piece of bank provides habitat for an EU designated species. Iím actually on the mobile in the pic, hence the waders down to get at the pocket, as the shepherd chose that moment to ring about a totally unrelated issue. I can be seen explaining what I think of the situation and where he might find his ewe should he turn up and look for her. I can also confirm the Avon still feels cold and I didnít need a temperature logger to tell me that!!
I must thank Paul Greenacre who took the trouble to make contact with the Estate when he came across the poor beast, his efforts are very much appreciated.
I hope you've all bought your new rod licences in readiness for the new season. In an effort to say my £67 pounds spent last season wasn't a complete waste of money I put the rod together and made a last desperate foray to the river in a last gasp effort to grass a fish. It would have been nice to say I had actually caught a salmon on that licence but alas it wasnít to be but I did spend two very pleasant hours this evening trying. I almost had one, well, I foul hooked a barbel which wandered about like a water filled carrier bag for four or five minutes before the scale came loose but for a second I thought I was in with a chance.
I came across yesterdays dinner for one of our otters which whilst a nice pike of about fifteen or sixteen pounds not of particular note, what did surprise me was she was still full of spawn. I associate pike with being one of our earliest fish to spawn but in recent year they seem to be getting later and later; global warming in reverse?
The offending, offended barbels scale, don't look at the fly its one I found in the ashtray of the truck, goodness only knows where my fly box is? A pike clearly yet to spawn, not that this one ever will, after the recent warm weather I would have expected them to have spawned earlier than this. Stocking the carriers with the first batch of the seasons trout and the trip of ducklings seen on Sunday still surviving and looking well.
I also came across Chalkie the Game Secretary for the club and the man from Barford Trout Farm stocking the carriers with the first batch of triploid brown trout to comply with the Trout and Grayling strategy. Itís odd that during all the period of this rivers greatest fishing achievements the 30ís 40ís and 50ís they were releasing thousands of diploid browns into those self same carriers. Just prior to and immediately after the second world war the trout farm on the estate, where Crowe and Thompkins Pools now sit, was rearing 8000 two pound browns a year. They were stocked in fisheries on both the Avon and the Test without any apparent harm; I find this strategy totally baffling.
Bit of a busman's holiday today, I spent the best part of it strimming the banks of the salmon pools and trout streams in the hope of getting the work finished before the end of the month. Unfortunately due to the state of the pools it looks as if we may still be clearing banks into April. I always like to see tree work and first selective margin cuts finished by the end of February, with only trimming of bankside vegetation after that to prevent regrowth.
Lake Run looking good.
Apart from the obvious avoidance of nesting birds it helps to avoid giving credence to the commonly held belief in the conservation world that anglers are incapable of considering anything other than their own objectives. The days of the traditional close season being the time for major fishery maintenance programmes are long dead; if it hasnít been finished by now it needs to be left until the autumn.
Nesting Coot, a clutch of Mallards eggs and a Moorhen on the nest.
The first trip of ducklings appeared on the river today a mallard with ten little ones line astern came sailing by. I also spoke to a rod who lost a salmon today which has to be encouragement if nothing else; it's comes to a sad state of affairs when we are glad to hear of a fish being lost. One way and another despite no fish it was still a good weekend.
Today I had the pleasure of watching a true master in action; it came about due to our need to reseed a very uneven area of ground within a walled garden on the estate. We had asked one of our farming neighbours, Gordon Philpott, if he would take on this tricky job, with its tight corners, buried pipes and old gravel paths it had the potential to be, in rural parlance, "A right cock-up" but as is the way in the countryside Gordon new a man who would be perfect to tackle the first job of turning over the ground and burying the old turf. Who should appear on the scene but onetime British Champion ploughman Stuart Rose who was trying out a new plough and wished to get some hours in to get the feel of his new set-up. When ever you watch an expert in any field the thing they have in common is the ease at which they achieve their objective. Stuarts Davy Brown tractor hardly broke into a sweat and the way in which he turned the soil was hypnotic, it actually appeared to flow from the back of the mouldboard as water through a hatch. Odd thing to get excited about you may think but there is something fundamental about ploughing which connects man very firmly with the land and his dim and distant roots.
A master craftsman in action
Friday saw us all at the AGM which once more proved an interesting and thought provoking evening. Whilst the dry, formal business of running the WSRT had a little extra spice this year as we move steadily toward the formation of the new trust it was the talk by Prof Martin Palmer of the Southampton Uni Geo-chemistry department that provided the stimulus. Martin came to update us on the progress of the work into the chemical composition of salmon scales and how this reflects the food sources and migration patterns. The work would appear to be pointing toward an increase in migration distances as the salmon have to travel further and further north in pursuit of their food. The food is retreating north as the Atlantic warms as a result of climate change. If what we hear is correct the extra distance travelled and the extra energy required to achieve this does not bode well for salmon in southern latitudes such as our rivers of Wessex.
The rather depressing prospects of further problems ahead for our salmon didn't dampen the enthusiasm when it came to the support of the rest of the evening with the auction and raffle providing the usual light hearted entertainment to round of the night. I should add our thanks to all those who continue to support and work for the trust and our rivers without whom our tacsk would be considerably more difficult.
Orri Vigfusson addressing the meeting, Prof Martin Palmer giving his talk on scale analysis, Janet and Keith Elson who ran the raffle and finally John Slader and Brian Marshall in their roles as auctioneers in the auction once more so successful on the night.
The coarse season finished and the sun came out, not that it provided conditions likely to have improved the fishing but it has been a lovely week to be working in the valley. All our waters close for the traditional close season, both rivers and still waters. The first day of the close season always feels like the day after a good party, the peace quiet is almost tangible. My early morning walks take on a completely different atmosphere as the waters have to be visited to ensure the Cormorants and Goosander donít get to feel too comfortable. The 15th usually brings an angler who has failed to remember the season ended yesterday and this year was no exception. I must admit a sadistic satisfaction in inquiring as to his luck on such a glorious morning, and how amazing on such a lovely day he has the fishery to himself. The realisation slowly dawns as the prompts get more direct. It seemed a shame to uproot our forgetful angler this year, I almost suggested he bite the hook off and just sat there to enjoy the sunshine - it was only a fleeting sympathy!
Forgetful angler, Spring has sprung and suffering roach anglers.
My visit to the hatches on Tuesday was interesting in that as I walked back to the truck gazing over the bridge parapet were Dave Swallow and Colin Gilson. The season has only been over for three days and they were already getting withdrawal symptoms. Itís going to be a long close season at that rate, perhaps a fly rod and a salmon ticket might lessen the pangs? I found others suffering from the same symptoms when I called with Trevor and Budgie to look at the progress of the roach project. There sat on the side of a tank full of roach fry was Chris, local roach angler, looking as if he were trying to incubate them; thatís as close as heís going to get to an Avon roach for a month or two.
Woodside Carrier looking well and a long-tailed tits nest under construction.
The lengthening evening have at least given the opportunity to get the strimmer out and clean up the over wintered margins of the trout streams. The dry rush, reed and sedge beds have provided vital cover for the small creatures of the valley throughout the winter and now must be trimmed back before the birds start to think of them as nest sites. This winter gave rise to a couple of cold snaps that we feared may have reduced the numbers of small birds such as Gold crests and Wrens but if the number of Long-tailed tits is anything to go by we neednít have worried. Initial counts of Cettis and Kingfishers also look reassuring as most of the territories seem occupied.
The final day proved as patchy as the season has been with some anglers finding the odd chub or two whilst many have struggled for a bite. My walk around the fishery was enjoyable despite the poor catch rate, the Sand martins were arriving in good numbers and the bees were making the most of the first pollen available from the Pussy Willow. I did find Trevor and Budgie out for a final session but they made me wait before a chub was produced for me to photograph. The only problem being I had left the camera at home and had to use the mobile for which I owe them an apology as the shot of them both grinning over the catch disappeared from the memory never to be seen again. I did get the dreaded photo in the net which hardly does justice to the six and a half pound fish. The photo misery continued after going home to collect the camera I went down the river for the last couple of hours in the hope of a fish to finish the season off. Suffice to say I did get a good chub but couldnít remember how to do the timer shot to do a self portrait. The one bright spot is that I now know where I left my glasses; I will have to walk down and collect them in the morning!
Budgie's 6.8 chub, the bees enjoying the first pollen and my final fish of the season.
The regulars up on the lakes have continued to land good tench and carp with several thirty plus carp and tench to eight and a half pounds. The largest tench was landed by Steve Hutchinson who regular readers will know of from his amazing catches of salmon in the third week of May. I will follow his exploits with interest this year to see if he can continue this remarkable catch rate.
I make no apology for posting yet another photo of Brett, this time with a 30+, fabulous fish
I had a phone call this afternoon from Ian May, chairman of Christchurch Angling Club who was out on the river with Kevin Styles, to say that Kevin had just landed the first Avon salmon of the season in the shape of a cracking fish of between 20 and 22 pounds. Brilliant, if ever a rod deserved to have the first fish of the season it has to be Kevin, his efforts on behalf of Avon salmon have been tireless.
Kevin Styles with the first of the season off the Avon
Thanks to Ian May for the photograph, being there to see such a fish has to be the next best thing to landing it yourself.
During my late round of the lakes this afternoon I did meet an angler who had landed ten tench, so it would appear they have not been too upset by the changeable conditions. I must try and get a day or two off to have a go before the close of the season and have to restrict myself to salmon fishing; its a hard life.
Dissappointing penultimate Saturday, both river and lakes very patchy with fish few and far between. The tench of last weekend failed to show in the same numbers with ones and twos instead of the nets of a dozen last weekend. at least the river is dropping back so we may see the salmon rods out with the chance of a fish and the barbel and chub anglers have the chance of a decent last week to the season.
This is becoming the Brett and Luke Hirst show as Brett landed this nicely coloured mirror as I walked round the lake.
Before I do anything else I must congratulate Mick Webb on his stunning barbel of 16.7 from the middle river last week. If you add Mickís huge roach of 3.15 from a year or two back his specimen list from the middle river is taking on dramatic proportions - well done Mick richly deserved.
As I am sure regular readers of the site are aware we have a healthy otter population on the Avon and their presence is a very welcome return from devastation the Agri-chemical inflicted on them. Their presence is contentious with some feeling the potential to impact on fisheries should be recognised by Defra and a scheme, such as in the states where compensation schemes exist when protected species impact on livelihoods, should be implimented. Irrespective of what would and should be, we do have otters and they are a welcome sight on our rivers so it is paticularly sad to see a further victim beside the main road this morning. This young dog otter had decided to leave the Linford Brook and cross the road rather than swim under the road, through the bridge, and paid the highest price for his decision. Why otters do this is a mystery, unfortunately the end result is all too often as in the photo below. This specimen will be collected for DNA analysis and genetic coding in an ongoing effort to establish the history of our otters.
A sad sight beside the road this morning
The presence of a dead otter concentrates the mind re the ongoing carnage that occurs on our roads. In the three mile section of the A338 I travel daily, otters are part of a death toll few see. Morning tends to see the result of the night time collisions where the nocturnal foraging of badgers, foxes, deer and rabbits can be seen lifeless on the verges. Car drivers are mostly unaware of the other night time users of the roads and are taken completely by surprise when a deer, badger or otter appears dazzled in the headlights. On two occasions in broad daylight I have watched as drivers have driven past deer on the verge without so much as slowing down. In one incident the result was the deer dashed into the road with the inevitable end result. The driver involved didn't even lift off the accelerator in the 150 meters the animal was visible to the time it hit the windscreen. The shocked driver, who looked to me for sympathy as I collected the injured animal, had a further shock to the system when I gave my impression of their driving abilities - not something I could publish here. It really should come as as no surprise to me as living beside the New Forest I see the number of Ponies killed each year, despite numerous warning signs and speed limits.
As you were re the state of the river, last night's rain has sent it out into the fields again; very dissappointing as it was just becoming fishable in the sense of being able to get onto the banks without wading through fields of mud. Back to crossing our fingers and hoping that we at least get a spell of dry weather now to see out the river coarse season in style.
The river back out in the fields at Gorley making access difficult. The lads down the lakes are still catching well as this shot of Brett Hirst returnng a middle twenty proves. Some of the recent catches of carp have been superb with Sam King manageing four twenties to 29 in a short session Monday evening. Brett had two other twenties and two good doubles to go with the middle twenty in the photo in five hours today. The shot on the right shows the geese, paired off and keen to get on with their nesting equally fed-up with the latest flood.
I trust any Welsh readers celebrate their Saintís day in a suitable fashion, not that I imagine there is much "hwyl" about in the principality after Friday nightís events in Paris. At least you can take solace in the fact your team understand the rules and the spirit in which the game should be played. As a relatively unbiased onlooker I can also say it was a shockingly hard game, especially to be playing at bedtime!!
The last of this winter's WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) counts today which I always enjoy as it gives me a further excuse to walk the river, if any excuse were ever needed. The problem with the last count of the winter is that it usually coincides with the last fortnight of the coarse season and the anglers tend to be out and about early in an effort to get a session in before the close. This means the birds tend to be a little more disturbed and likely to move up and down the valley, avoiding duplication, by counting the same birds more than once becomes a problem. Despite the problems a good count resulted and the valley remains popular with the bird world, especially those that specialise in eating fish!
A clear sunny day, such as yesterday, often gives rise to a clear night and true to form the night anglers struggled. Walking around the lakes I met several disappointed guys who had their expectations dashed as the night chill settled on the bivvies. Luckily I had finished counting birds and was on the way home when a call on the mobile necessitated a visit to one of the sanctuary areas to fix a snapped rope. We have had roped off areas between the islands and odd corners around the complex to provide the fish with areas where they can always find "sanctuary" from the constant barrage of two and three ounces leads for over twenty five years. Many resent the areas of safety afforded their intended quarry but when it comes to balancing the odds most anglers have the scales very firmly weighted in their favour so they shouldnít begrudge the fish a day off now and then. I do very much appreciate the phone calls from the anglers telling us when we have a problem, such as a snapped rope, it makes managing a large fishery much easier when the regular anglers take an interest in the running of the place. Iím sure one of the reasons the lakes in question are so prolific is that the fish can retreat to these areas to recover more quickly from stresses and strains. Once recovered they move out and begin to feed more freely throughout the lake and they seem to have followed this routine for over twenty years. The more competent and thinking anglers do not have a problem with such a balance and if to prove a point Brett and Luke Hirst gave me a photo opportunity once the rope was reattached.
Lovely sunny pictures of Luke Hirst with a 26+ common
Luke's brother Brett had landed four commons in the three hours of their day session prior to my arrival on the scene, it would appear that once the sun was up the fish soon become active again.
The river is back within its banks and on such a glorious day a walk beside a section the floods have prevented me from visiting for several weeks. I parked between the lakes and headed south toward Ringwood, passing a couple of carp anglers along the way who had found the carp in an obliging mood having had several fish to seventeen pounds. A positive note to start on and on clearing the lakes I almost walked into a fine six point buck, looking grand in his spring velvet, also enjoying the warm sunshine. I crossed the Dockens water and followed the stream for a half a mile until it joins the Avon a mile upstream of the town. I continued south hoping to bump into an angler or two, to find out how the river was fishing. Unfortunately despite the ideal conditions and such a lovely day the anglers seem to have decided to stay away which wasnít helping my cause.
I about faced and walked back over the Lifelandís boundary and crossed the Dockens to walk back along the left bank of Ashley. Half a mile and I found my first angler of the day who was in a real "Mr Crabtree" swim, a slack on a bend with a tree creating a lovely debris cover mat at the tail. I stopped for a natter and discover if he was catching and within seconds of stopping the tip jagged round and a large fish shot into the main flow and managed to snap him up. He was philosophical about the loss explaining that heíd already landed three good chub and been joined in the swim by a fine looking otter. It seems the otter had appeared in the debris, caught in the branches of the tree, had a good look at our angler and slipped back into the water. Far from disappearing it promptly appeared upstream of the debris with a dace in its mouth, clambered out on the bank within twenty feet of our angler, ate its meal and casually dropped back into the river. What a show and the chub continued to feed, so none the worse for the visit, a very contented angler.
Lifelands, with Ringwood Church over the reedbed
I followed the main river back upstream for over a mile, taking care when crossing the field drains as they are still very full. I reached the confluence of the Penmeade Stream and followed it for half a mile before crossing the water meadows back to the lakes where I had left the truck. No further anglers until I got back to the lakes where I found a tench angler who had landed eight good fish to six pounds. Winter tench are super fit and this particular lake has always provided great sport throughout the last couple of months of the coarse season. It looked as if he may have trouble adding many more as the bream had arrived over his feed which probably means they will beat the tench to the bait. Still not a bad mornings fishing and a very enjoyable walk, letís hope the season ends on a similar high.
Another two centimeteres off the water level today, at this rate by the end of February we should have the perfect river; always dependent on there being a fish or two to chase about in it. The decent weather has at least brought the anglers out, two being club treasurer Sean Hodgson and local salmon aficianado Kevin Styles. It would certainly be good to see a February fish and the rods who are braving these high water conditions deserve to be rewarded with one.
Looking for a February salmon
I did hear from Michael Twitchen again this evening, who has been out on his Severals beat and yet again he has landed a kelt from the same pool on the same fly as last week. I said last week I hoped the next time would be a fresh fish, well lets hope it is next week.
What a fabulous day, bright sunshine, warm and still, it cetainly makes you feel better to be out and about on such a day. The river remains high but has started to fish as some good chub are showing and even the odd barbel has started to feed so we may get a reasonable end to the season yet.
Spring flowers and spring urges as the frogs invade the pond
I bumped into someone today who told me where our white buck was lying dead beside one of the woods. Sad in that this fine animal had not long taken up residence in this section of the valley and I always enjoyed seeing him as we went about our varying business. He looks as if he had been dead a fortnight which would coincide with the severe weather we have recently experienced. It may have just been the cold that did for him or the covering of snow and ice had forced him to forage in the nearby gardens and churchyard where he may have eaten something that didn't agree with him. Its always worth remembering if you live close to deer that when short of food they will forage in gardens so make sure you don't leave hedge cutting containing Yew on the compost heap; once dried the toxins are more concentrated making them lethal to livestock.
A happier picture of the Black-tailed godwits as they enjoyed their evening flight around the water meadows
Whilst the weather has certainly looked-up the high water remains with us making it necessary to cancel this weekend's eagerly anticpated "Pike Match". Unfortunately the fields are still under water and finding where the field stops and the river begins is a risk we cannot ask anglers to take. A real dissappointment, as contestants travel from all over the country to fish and Jon Bass had put in many hours finalising arrangements, fingers crossed we get better luck next year. The Photo showing the height of the river north of Ibsley gives some idea of the extent of the flooding, it also shows over 1000 Black-tailed godwits enjoying the extra water.
I did walk Bracken beside one of the Lakes today and found just two anglers on the lake but they were enjoying some great sport. Brothers Ryan and Jake Chapman making the most of their half-term holiday with a days fishing providing carp over twenty with tench and bream also joining in, well done both of you.
Making the most of the high water, Black-tailed godwits, Ryan Chapman with a twenty pound carp and landing a good bream for brother Jake.
Thanks to Ryan for emailing me the photo of his twenty
For those wondering about the river, Ibsley Pool at 09:00am this morning
Ranunculus in the Trout Stream, taken today. The water level guage on Ibsley Bridge.
At last Friday's Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust meeting I was speaking with Tom Davis, from up on the Wylye, who was commenting on the advanced state of the ranunculus this season, with new growth already reaching the surface. I was walking the Trout Stream today and it was very noticable that growth rates are equally advanced down here. The high flows we have experienced last autumn and throughout the winter combined with clear water, allowing light to penetrate, it looks as if we may see a further bumper year. If this is the case and we have a third wet summer it does not bode well for the water meadow hay once more.
Something I noticed today I have never seen before and that was a cormorant flying south, at about 200 feet, with a large twig in its bill. I find I watch cormorants as they fly up and down the river in an effort to determine whether they are actually stopping with us or passing through and in the last twenty years I have never seen such behaviour. I presume that bird was going to carry that not inconsiderable load back down to the coast and over to the Isle of Wight cliffs where they breed, if so that is quite some dedication to nest building as that has to be a good 15 or 20 miles. The other thought that crossed my mind was that it may be the local birds expanding on their nest building of last year, not such a welcome idea!
The photo of the water level gauge is one of six I read on a regular basis and they have dropped just two centimetres in the last eight days. Such a sustained flow suggests the groundwater springs are in full flow, this natural phenomenon is the signature of our chalk streams and vital for the clear water that makes these streams unique.
Hopefully a much needed change appears to be on the way with the weather. A bright sunny day followed by a mild night, certainly a welcome change as far as Iím concerned. I had a relatively free day today, with the exception of having to type up the minutes from last nights Wessex Salmon and Wessex Chalk Stream meetings. My only other appointment today was the rugby this evening which in reality involved the Welsh element of the family giving me a hard time. So I felt a visit to the flooded section of the valley, preferred by the Godwits, was due and sure enough they were out there on the flood looking remarkably relaxed in the warm sunshine. As they departed south, mid morning, it provided me with the opportunity for a couple of photos with the digital for a later count in "Photo Shop"
Whilst travelling home, through the Copse beside one of the lakes, I took the photo below of a young roebuck whose progress I have watched as he has grown-up over the last four years. As someone who has the problem of coppicing Hazel and planting areas of woodland I have a strange love hate relationship with roe deer. They can be an absolute bloody menace when they decide that hazel regrowth is the preferred diet and newly planted saplings are ideal for knocking the velvet off the antlers. Yet I would most definitely miss their presence in the woods and would definitely hate to see them totally removed. Roe are very much a success story when it comes to population expansion, from being a rare sight thirty or forty years ago they have spread across the entire country.
Good looking young fellow
Population dynamics of some of our valley inhabitants are extremely complicated, man provides the perfect habitat and nature finds the species to utilise it. The complications arise when natures idea of the perfect species and mans differ. We have roe deer eating our forestry, otters eating our stocked carp and trout - as the eel population they prefer collapses, as Goosanders, Egrets and Cormorants enjoying our river fisheries. Having the only nesting pair of Goosander in Hampshire for the past five years is somewhat of a paradox in fishery terms. The problem is that they are all very special creatures that add considerably to the beauty and diversity of the valley, it seems we will have to get used to added protection on the trees and a few more fish in the fisheries to meet demand.
This evening Trust executive Michael Twitchen emailed me the result of his day off from his surgery in the form of the first bright kelt of the season. Michael braved the high water to visit his beat on the "Severals" and Iím sure he experienced a missed heart beat as she took his fly. Fresh "Springer" next visit perhaps!
First kelt of the 2009 season
A footnote to the Godwit visit is that the count was over 1000 birds for the first time this winter. Again we see a species utilising a habitat provided by man, the difference on this occasion however is that we provided the flooded meadows especially for the waders and wildfowl. I get a great deal of satisfaction from knowing that the section of valley we flood is one of less than 150 sites in Britain deemed of international importance for waterbirds. Ten years ago waders had become a rarity on this section of meadows and Black tailed godwits were unheard of lets hope we see a recovery in our breeding waders of a similar scale.
Yesterday's storm, combined with the snow melt, has done its worst and we have the river at the highest level this winter; just how long it stays there will determine the chances of a February salmon and a reasonable end to the coarse season. The high water is filling the flood plain making the width of the river several hundred meters in many palces, certainly drivers using the Harbridge to Ibsley road found it underwater for the first time this year.
Flooded roads and hatches wide open
Despite the high water, life and death goes on in the valley, the first photo below illustrates the vital importance of these flood events to the vitality of our lowland rivers. As the rivers and streams rise and flow out onto the flood plains they take with them the accumulated silt and detritus of the summer. Sparkling clear water and clean gravel are historically associated with lowland chalk streams it is these flood events that clear the gravels and flush out the nutrients that give rise to the algal blooms we all too frequently see these days. The problems arise when mans intervention subsequently dissipate the flows and add further unnatural levels of nutrient but at least this year we start on a good footing. Concerns expressed as to the impact on the redds of our lowland streams hopefully are unfounded, certainly I know of no research highlighting such concerns. Our lowland streams and rivers have very shallow gradients compared to the west coast and Scottish spate rivers and salmon redds have been designed to deal with high flows, the top of the gravel pile may be flattened but hopefully nature will see the eggs secure beneath.
The river cleaning itself of silt and a very expensive £500 breakfast
I'm not sure the second photo is a result of the floods, it may be the high water made fishing in the streams difficult but the photo shows the remains of this mornings breakfast of one of our otters. Certainly last week they had been crunching dace in the sidestreams with scattered scales in several different places, perhaps just a change of diet was called for! Talking of otters have a look at Jeff Coultas's brilliant site at http://www.jeffish.co.uk/ it shows Jeff's latest handiwork.
Talk of otters always raises my hackles as we are faced with destruction of fishery reputation and even fisheries, with all the implications for peoples livelihoods, what do the authorities suggest, "put a fence around your fishery" words fail me. I have said before that if Defra quite correctly introduce legislation to protect an endangered species the implications of that act have to be taken into consideration. Alas in common with most fishery and conservation representation and Defra in particular, we are light years behind what is happening elsewhere, particularly the States and Canada.
Blashford unfishable but looking well with Bracken enjoying the flood.
Flooded and Frozen
Completely frozen over making life very difficult for the waders and wildfowl, in fact it makes life difficult for everyone. A couple more frosts like last night and we will all be out buying ice skates. I'm told that in the earlier part of the last century most farmhouses had ice skates as an everyday part of winter life on the water meadows.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.
Many thanks to Adrian Simmons for this cracking photo taken on the "Wilton Fly Fishers Club" water on the Wylye.Adrian also tells me that my earlier concerns related to the number of salmon redds in the Wylye this year may be overly pessimistic as numbers on their waters are about as they would expect. By the way, those splendid teeth belong to a cock salmon, having successfully reached the spawning grounds on the Wylye, his role completed; he dies along with all other cock fish. Makes you thankful youíre not a salmon!
Adrian helps maintain the trust egg-boxes up on the Wilton waters for which we in the WSRT are very grateful. The close working relationship between the forward thinking guardians of the headwaters are vital for the future of the lower river salmon fisheries. As the new Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust becomes established we will hopefully see more news from the headwaters and also the other lowland rivers we all enjoy.
One unexpected bonus of the fresh overnight snow was that I could work out the number of otters currently on the estate. Its easy to find the prints and the spraint, the difficult bit is deciding how many otter are involved in making them. I found signs of three, possibly four, different animals certainly one very large dog and a second big animal, deciding between the smaller sets was a little trickier. Certainly one smaller set looking like a female and the possibility of a second close behind, large offspring or later print from the same animal in different snow conditions. Whatever the number its interesting they have stayed up here and not headed for the coast in these harsh conditions.
Signs of our otters
A dace or two from the side stream, as good a way as any to spend a couple of hours on a cold, snowy afternoon.
Ever dependable Dace
Some love it, some hate it and I must admit I fall in the second category, snow has very little appeal for me Iím afraid. It makes outside work difficult and hides the already scarce food supply our widlife depends on. Hopefully this scattering will be short lived and we will see a steady warming to accompany the lengthening days.
Someone's out there, whoever it is who braved the elements today deserves a fish. The middle photo is a mystery to me in that two days ago you couldn't have got nearer than 1000m to those geese yet today 10m, how do they know? It can't be the weather is getting warmer as today has been as cold as anytime this winter yet every year come February the 1st the geese arrive and honk at me when I walk around the lake? I did find one salmon rod out looking for a February fish, Michael Heaton not actually fishing when I reached him but cracking the ice from his rod rings. If it stays like this Glycerine will be a vital part of the kit.
The shooting season has closed and the salmon season opened so we will look forward to the salmon rods braving the elements to discover if a Springer or two has managed to make it this season. In reality a February fish would be quite an achievement for the Avon, if the last couple of decades are anything to go by but if you're not out there we'll never know!
A well supported salmon open day
Deceptively cold SE wind which I see on the television is forecast to be with us for the next week at least. despite the cold feel to the day the lakes have continued to produce good fish with carp to 29 pounds and still good bags of bream to fine tactics.
Eddie landing one of his eight bream to 6lbs and a bonus roach just under 2
The floods are receding which has seen the deliberately flooded meadows becoming increasingly popular with the duck and waders. Today Lapwing numbers topped the 1000 and over 600 Black tailed godwits, add in a thousand duck, 400 Lesser black backed and Black headed gulls plus a couple of hundred geese and numbers are building nicely.
Lapwing in the air over Black tailed godwit with a few Canada geese. Three Black tailed godwits testing the water and a peregrine has put the duck in the air.
Dropping and Clearing
The river is fining down and we have had a couple of mild afternoons which have made life in the valley seem a little more pleasant. It would be nice to think we will continue to see the river get back in shape to allow the anglers to get out in greater numbers. The salmon season starts in four days and if any fish are our about the high water will have at least brought them into the river.
Plenty of dace and roach in the sidestreams if you can locate them. The lakes continue to produce, Steve Couter with a 13 pound carp the second of his first hour of the session.
Not quite what I had in mind when I put the seat at Blashford. Roe deer crossing KingsVincent Lake.
This morning's walk found the further overnight rain had only added to the floods in the valley. One result was that the Roe Deer have been forced up onto the lakes where they have to swim to get out of the way of the arriving anglers. They cross the lakes on a regular basis and I have watched them do so out of choice rather than walk the mile round the edge so no harm from their morning dip.
Good to see a fish or two
The walk this afternoon was more in keeping with what is expected of the lakes at this time of year as the tench and bream provided reasonable sport on light gear, with maggot on the hook. As I walked the length of the lake two good tench were landed and the anglers told of bream to five pounds and tench to over four; a result under today's chilly conditions.
I took the day off today and what did I do? I went for a walk beside the Avon! Not my usual stomping grounds, I travelled a few miles up the valley to have a look at some other stretches of the Middle Avon. I enjoy a membership of one of the local clubs and thought it would be nice to have a look at a section of the river I donít have to worry about professionally. As a frustrated roach angler I decided I would have a look at some of the hallowed waters upstream of Fordingbridge, to stand beside that stunning water with no angler within two miles of you is a very strange feeling indeed.
As any true roach angler looks on such water his heart skips a beat, believe me if you don't feel that fibrillation you are missing a trick. The likes of Captain L A (Skipper) Parker fished these waters and to dream of the fish that still swim here is what angling is all about for me. In reality these waters have suffered along with the entire length of the river, what has given rise to these problems remains a mystery and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future as no work to unravel the problems is going on. The one beauty of such reaches is just that, they are too deep for the EA monitoring boats to fish effectively and as such retain their mystery. It is this mystery, that given time, would draw me to such waters; to get to know them through experiencing their moods through my poor efforts with a rod and be content with rare victories.
I'm sorry about the concentration on birds at present but they are easier than fish under the current weather conditions and things will balance out in the end. Apart from that they further illustrate the importance of the Avon valley as a vital habitat for the diverse fauna that gave rise to its conservation designation that gives us such considerable power when fighting her corner.
The first photo is a grainy shot of some of the duck on the flooded meadows taken this morning during the wetland bird survey. Within 500m of that shot there were approaching 1000 duck and geese plus a further 1000 waders, a grand site. I'm not sure what I should title the second photo? Where's Wally? The Black sheep? or the Pro counter? I was pondering how I was going to get a photo to do a digital count when a professional bird counter in the shape of a Peregrine appeared overhead sending the waders skyward and the duck for the cover of the reeds. After half a dozen failed passes through the flocks she departed south leaving the birds to settle back onto the flood.
To save you counting the flock of Black tailed godwits there are 353, the black crescent in the middle of the flock is the Peregine.
The river remains very difficult with banker swims in the side channels producing dace but very little else is showing. Having said that the anglers have yet to appear in any numbers since the thaw arrived last weekend, of those that have the pike fishermen have probably fared the best. The weather has turned mild which has now been reflected in a rise in the water temperature, judging by the mist drifting across the park this morning.
One of my favourite trees, a sprawling Acacia, looking ghostly in this mornings mist
The thaw has enabled the meadows to be flooded again in an effort to attract the wildfowl and waders, today the Widgeon and Teal numbers had risen to over five hundred. One other bird visiting us today was one of the Great bustards from the reintroduction scheme up on Salisbury Plain. Amazing looking bird they must have been a wonderful sight when the great flocks inhabitited the Plain, I certainly wish those involved in the scheme every success.
A visiting Great bustard, certainly the highlight of the day
No excuse now, if you want a good day out on the Avon contact Jon
From a frozen Hucklesbrook Stream to anglers out actually catching a fish or two, well done Martin
With the ground frozen solid it will take a day or two for the thaw to finally get rid of the ice and lift the water temperatures a degree or two. The forecast rain will help the process and also help to dilute and flush away the hundreds of tons of salt that has been spread on our roads in recent days. Just what impact the salt has when it reaches the river remains a mystery, I must have a word with the EA and see if they have any information related to the salinity of the Avon. I know one of the hatcheries in the SW was advised the EA wished them to tanker away the water in which they had use salt, as a substitute for the banned Malachite to protect the broodfish, as it was deemed harmful, I must also find out what eventually happened there?
Frosty postcards from Somerley
An interesting day despite the chill; I decided to drown a section of the water meadows in an effort to give the wildfowl and waders a respite from the frozen lakes and rock hard meadows. For the last fifteen years I have been flooding the meadows in question in a rather haphazard method, making use of any odd bits of wood and planking I could lay my hands on. This had to be jammed into the hatch gaps by donning waders and generally getting soaked and frozen as a result, at times stretching the pleasure I derived from the flooded meadows to the limit. Thanks to the EA and the Water Level Management Plans that are being developed for the valley, in an effort to get the SSSI's into favourable condition, I have new, efficient, safe hatch gates. It made the time spent balancing the flow into the meadows a real pleasure.
Within hours of flooding, Black tailed godwits arrived to feed in the softened meadows
So it continues; the grip of this artic spell seems to be tightening, we are now in the seventh day without the ground showing any sign of thawing. I would like to show a fishy shot or two but anglers are few and far between, two very able regulars were out but they were struggling when I left them to it.
There must be benefits to such a cold spell in that it should control the aphids and numerous other pests that have benefitted from the recent mild winters. It should also bring one or two exotic winter visitors such as Smew into the valley as they move south in search of warmer climes but whether the sacrifice made by our smaller residents justifies such optimism is very debatable and on balance I think a break in the weather would be welcomed.
Zorro the Masked Avenger - perhaps not!! The Grey Wagtail looks less than impressed and who can blame him. The rail on the eel stage showing the effect of the freeze-up.
Frozen lakes and river temperatures at rock bottom are making for extremely difficult conditions for those hardy individuals still out on the banks trying their luck. They do have advantages these days that were not available a few years ago, first and foremost amongst these must be base layer, micro fleece and thinsulate hats and gloves. Out and about yesterday morning after the -6 of the previous night didn't even give rise to cold toes, not that I was fishing. I have been out keeping an eye on the meadows with a view to flooding them when the shoot season ends at the end of the month to encourage the breeding waders back in the Spring. The current cold spell has seen the sections of meadows already flooded frozen solid, making life for the wildfowl and winter visiting waders difficult, its not only the anglers out for their pleasure that are suffering so spare a thought for the valley bird population.
Spare a thought for Britains smallest bird which many of you on the rivers will see searching in the margins for the aphids and spiders that form their microscopic food; desperation making them loose any fear of anglers.
Hopefully I will have sorted out the text for this page before too long but to keep you in the picture, no pun intended, a couple of shots of todays icing!
Cat ice this morning and a further cold night to come.