Not the bright sunlight of yesterday with mist hanging over the river when I came in to work this morning. Almost complete ice cover at Mockbeggar when I arrived that continued to freeze the remaining gaps throughout the day. Fortunately the ponies have plenty of grass to keep the cold snap at bay.
I did take the opportunity at lunchtime to have a look for any cutting salmon. Still only the two in the Trout Stream and the main river remains just a fraction too high to see in. Fingers crossed the fish are all busy in the higher reaches of the river. Any feedback that readers might be able to provide would be appreciated.
Despite temperatures down to minus 7 the two nights fished by the owner of the rods and his friend did manage to catch and there are still one or two dedicated anglers willing to try their luck during the day.
Slow to get going in the frost.
Hot at last, drying the spare gloves.
Cold and bright hardly seemed adequate to describe this mornings weather. It may be my age or possibly the return to work after the Christmas break, what ever the reason my blood was reluctant to flow this morning. A very watery sun rose to chase the early morning mist out of the valley giving the soft winter light that was made for photography. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera and whilst the mobile is okay for the odd bonfire shot I think I would have struggled to do justice to the scene across the meadows at Ellingham as I trundled over the bridge at first light.
The real benefit of such hard frosts from our perspective its that it allows the machines back on the ground to get on with the preparation work for the syndicate car parks and new access roads. Darren and Kevin made the most of the solid tracks to get a new surface on the route across the park and to the car park at Mockbeggar. I left them to it as the work in front of us to get changes all in place as early as possible seems endless and there were several jobs that could effectively occupy my time. I decided that on such a day I would get back to my pollarding, coppicing and clearing which also gave me the opportunity to get a fire going to aid my sluggish blood flow.
The shortest day is behind us and we are about to enter 2015, a year that will no doubt be filled with challenges and trials but one I am looking forward to immensely as it will see me on the fishery on a regular basis. The prospect of the new syndicate looms ever closer as we will be on the banks within five weeks with all the excitement that the new era entails. Perhaps at this point a timely reminder for those in the first tranche of invitations that have yet to get back to us. The closing date for the first offers is January 15th I appreciate that Christmas and New Year is an expensive time of year but you must contact us by the 15th if you are intending to take up the invitation. At least let Nathalie know your intentions as it will make the second round of invites extremely difficult to organise if we do not know your thinking. I am putting together a job list that those who have kindly offered to help will be able to assist with. We have lots of green oak cut and hopefully several new gates will allow us to get tractor access to most parts of the fishery making transporting materials a great deal easier. We are having difficulty getting hold of old electricity or telegraph poles for bridge supports and gate posts if anyone has contacts in that world any assistance would be very much appreciated. If we are unable to get hold of old poles I will have to fell and split some oak or chestnut but that is an extremely time consuming job; time I could better spend elsewhere.
Thanks to diary reader Dominic Longley for the above photo. It's not taken at Somerley but five or six miles further upstream, it does however provide a further example of Avon otters taste for fresh salmon.
Thinking of our salmon just what will have settled on our cleaned gravel before our salmon fry work their way up through the substrate next March. I say March in actual fact timing of emergence is down to water temperature and whilst we in the south will have shorter period between deposition and emerging our fish tend to cut later than many in the north. Why that might be is probably down to availability of food when the yoke sacs finally become exhausted and our alevins are forced to find food for themselves. Whilst our northern fish will be in the gravel for longer periods the temperature triggers will time their emergence with the Spring and the blooms of invertebrate food that will keep them alive.
I suppose a review of water quality sampling by the EA and the water companies may give some pointers as to what is in the water column likely to settle out on our ova. Saprolegnia, Phosphates, Nitrates, organic detritus just what soup is it that make it impossible for a commercial fish farms to be able to use river water to hatch their eggs yet our wild fish with all the reams of protective legislation have to make do with it. It would make a further interesting field for a PhD student to put some fine filters in a redd and see just who is responsible for the crap that make it useless for commercial hatcheries.
Whilst on the salmon front, we do not have to worry that our salmon will be exposed to the acoustic barrage in Poole Bay resulting from the construction of the Navitus Bay Wind Park, the EA have had a chat amongst themselves and feel they will be okay. Oh bloody wonderful. They used David Solomon's radio tracking work to decide the fish did not wait in the bay. Information that was collected between 1986 and 1990 with the first tag recorders two or three miles INSIDE the harbour. Data that was collected at the time of Hurricane Charlie, the Great Storm and I believe three of the wettest years on record so they must provide ample evidence of salmon behaviour at low flows in the Bay. Also produced at a time when the NRA refused to even admit there was a problem with Hampshire Avon salmon, the very period when NRA incompetence brought about the need for independent representation of the fisheries across the land in the shape of the riverine trusts. Fear not they have also examined the data related to fish entering the Test and Itchen and have discovered similar evidence to work out that salmon run straight up Southampton water and on into the rivers; amazing. The EA need to patent this information retrieval system they use it will save millions in genuine scientific investigation. It also ensures they tick the boxes which allows Navitus to carry on regardless and in the worst case scenario, as usual, its only the fisheries that will pick up the tab!
Just what is going on in the fishery world defies description. We remain the only pastime in the country where you have to have a government licence to indulge in a recreation on your own land. The money raised from that licence fee can then be used to the detriment of your asset.
On the pages of this diary I have at various times in the past bemoaned the complete lack of government integrity when it comes to the protection of our rivers. Lots of hollow words about protecting our environment for future generations as industry and the demands of society are given carte blanche to treat the riverine environment as a bolt on free asset. Defra always positioning itself to reduce government responsibility through promoting the advancement of “partnerships” as the way ahead. Partnerships to whom they drip feed funding as the carrot to ensure control. The number of people I see these days professing to understand the river and its needs is mind boggling. People with their various riverine heads on to ensure eligibility for the riverine funding that has become available in recent years. This not only applies to funding coming out of the Defra cash cow but the various environmental trusts and corporate slush funds that do the circuits.
When will the government and its faceless, unaccountable fishery advisers develop the necessary balls to make those that pollute and damage our waterways pay? Will we ever see an abstraction and discharge conservation rate, or a conservation rate levied on agricultural chemicals that eventually end up in the rivers. Road users made to pay to clean up the filth that washes in off the roads and out of industrial estates? Don't hold your breath. I must admit given a choice I would see my fishing licence money go toward doing some good in fighting world wide poverty. At least I would feel it would be put to a proper use. A further round of government cuts at Defra wouldn't go amiss either!
Right on cue. I checked the redd this lunchtime and found a pair busy about their business. The pale hen was cutting with just one attendent cockfish as far as I could see. The hen looked fit and active, cutting a good size redd, which was a relief as I was concerned her diseased condition may have reduced her ability to cut. She actually looked better than when I first spotted her as the saprolegnia that had covered her tail had been scaped off during the cutting process. Judging by the size of the redd I imagine they are well into their spawning hopefully seeing four or five thousand ova safely buried in the gravel of the trout Stream.
The first shot shows the position of this historic redd. Clean gravel at the tail of a pool as the water speeds up over the shallows. Equally important the overhanging cover that acts as a flow deflector and area of sanctuary. These areas of cover are vitally important which is the reason we are so keen to leave them from the estate controlled bank of the Trout Stream, which we do not fish. I have marked the third photo with some of the points to look for when you see the salmon about their business.
I did spend ten minutes walking a favoured section of the main channel which unsurprisingly remains too deep and coloured to spot the fish. As always we are in the lap of the Gods when it comes to where and when the fish cut. It's always good to see them at this time of year producing the next generation and hopefully securing the future of our fishery. If you are lucky enough to find a pair of large Avon fish cutting they are a truly awesome sight, engaged in the process that has remained unchanged for millennia, if other cockfish are present causing the largest fish to fight for his bride the explosions of activity are staggering. The sight of a twenty five pound cockfish gripping a nine or ten pound cockfish mid-flank and smashing it off the shallows is nature at its most raw.
Poor photo of the year award! It does however tell quite a pertinent tale in that I took it when I dropped in on the "banker" redd again today. Pleasingly whilst no actual cutting had begun there were four fish present. I believe the odd looking pale fish with the diseased tail in the photo is a hen that had at least three small cock fish jockeying for position beside her. Given reasonable conditions and sufficient stamina on her part I imagine she will begin cutting tomorrow. A real chicken and egg story and what a tale any returning adults resulting from her efforts will have to tell should they be fortunate enough to make it back to their natal gravels in years to come.
Graham's lovely book "A Multitude of Fins".
I've had “Man Flu” in the shape of some bug that has laid me low for two or three days. Anne has similarly suffered the same malady which would seem to point to it being non gender specific in this case. What ever the diagnosis the symptoms are less than pleasant and I'll be glad to be rid of it. Thankfully my total immobility only lasted a day, the gradual return to normality gave opportunity to delve into the pages of one of our local authors in the form of Graham Mole's “A multitude of Fins”. I believe I have mentioned Graham's book on here before, he writes in a fashion I find especially appealing in that the pictures he paints have close association with my way of thinking and way of life. He brings a journalists eye to our pastime and as a keen angler he has a genuine feeling for the watery way of life. Its an anthology of Graham's previous articles, which are great for that ten minute refresher which is sometimes necessary when time to get more involved is in short supply. Its a good read for any trout men especially and well worth providing a hint or two on the looming Christmas front and no, my cynical friends, he didn't have to bribe me for that plug!
One other silver lining of this debilitating croup is the fact my lack of stamina has afforded me the time to answer some of my long list of “owing” emails and just simply to walk the fishery to catch up with the state of play. It's all too easy to get absorbed in the physical tasks demanding immediate attention and take ones eye off the larger picture, a day to take stock is a very necessary and enjoyable part of my role.
It would have been more enjoyable if I hadn't decided to start my walk at Ibsley and “just” clear the By-pass hatch as I got under way. After ten minutes I knew why I had decided on a relaxed walk. Even the simplest jobs on large rivers have an unpleasant ability to turn into a sod, for want of a better expression. That small branch poking out immediately in front of the gate does a good job of disguising the fact its attached to a tree. You reach a point where having heaved the wretched thing half way up the hatch wall it becomes so heavy with accumulated weed and trash you can move it no further. I've been here before, to the extent I have a square of chicken wire holding my intestines within my body cavity. Despite that uncomfortable fact I never seem to learn. You hold on and gasp in a few deep breaths and just see if a final heave can win the day. It in fact wins about an inch and a half. Sod it, I haven't got the necessary ropes with me so perhaps just one more heave will see it give up – a further inch and a half. Mind you that's three inches, three or four good pulls should see the pressure off and let it clear. Twenty minutes later I heave what's left of the bloody thing over the bank and head back to the truck for five minutes R&R.
Soon back to feeling as good as I'm going to and set off to make my way down the Trout Stream to check on one of my banker salmon redds to see if we have any early arrivals in position yet. I don't expect many salmon to be cutting down with us this this winter as we have such good running conditions that should have afforded the fish easy access to the traditional cutting sites in the higher catchment. I have thought that in previous high flow years only to be surprised at the numbers that remain to spawn with us so I always do my best to check at regular intervals if conditions permit. The first to arrive are usually the cock fish that take up residence on the shallows to await the hens and defend their patch. The sight of some of these huge Avon cock fish all coloured up, with massive kypes, fighting in shallow water is a sight that always inspires. Six and seven pound grilse and summer fish leaping clear to avoid the mauling a thirty pound three sea winter fish can inflict is usually the first sign of their presence. If the big fish aren't on show the bow waves of their smaller brethren jockeying for prime spots and hens is usually sign enough to spot them.
The very fresh remains of one of the first arrivals of the spawning season.
I made my way down stream and it seems I was not alone in checking this particular banker redd. There on the bank immediately alongside was the very fresh remains of a well coloured grilse. You didn't have to be Clouseau to identify the culprit. From past experience I know our local otters have a particular appreciation of fresh salmon, especially those nice fat ripe hens. That of course brings into being an extremely interesting question for our regulators. If the EU protected salmon of the Hampshire Avon are being threatened by the EU protected otter who is responsible for the mitigation or control? That's a question for our regulators in the shape of the EA and NE, I'll put it in formal format in the near future and send it off for their considered views and let you all know the outcome. Bearing in mind if I, as fishery manager, were to remove such a fish from the system I would very quickly face the wrath of the “Powers on High” To assist in their deliberations they may wish to read Brian P Martin's “More Tales of the Old Gamekeepers” if they turn to the chapter on George Cole he was keeper for several years on this very stretch of water at Somerley. The trout farm he was protecting was built by one of my predecessors, Gregor Mackenzie, in the 30's and sat where now Crow and Tomkins Pools exist, the By-pass channel is all that remains of the first stew after the farm was destroyed to construct the lakes. A further very interesting point arises here!
A carrier bag of otter poo, the sample envelopes provided were a little on the small size.
Many moons ago on here I was lamenting the lack of knowledge we had about the diet of our resident otters and how an analysis of their spraint might provide some very interesting results. Thankfully the Barbel Society in the form of Pete Reading and Prof Rob Britton of Bournemouth Uni picked up the batten and a sampling programme is under way. I believe the primary objective is too assess the impact otters may have on that most unwelcome of invasive aliens in the shape of the signal crayfish. With such a programme already in existence there is a great deal of further information that might be gleaned from the otter poo we so laboriously provide. Well we actually collect it, we don't provide it, we leave that to the otters. The most useful piece of info to me in my fishery management role would be to know just how many individuals are we dealing with. I can speculate on One old dog and two bitches with a pair of second year cubs at Ibsley but I don't know for certain. Judging by George Coles chapter mentioned earlier he used to kill as many as thirty a year on this self same stretch. Obviously that was before the farming community loaned a hand and poisoned the entire ecosystem with DDT. It would appear from the wailing currently being heard from that same quarter they are keen to emulate their previous glory with the continued use of neonicatinoids but not a way forward I would support. The first step along the way would be for those responsible for the legislation that brought about this situation and those charged with the statutory obligation of maintenance, improvement and development of our fisheries to bung Rob Britton several grand and get DNA signatures from the piles of poo we supply. In this day and age of forensic science, when the DNA signature of a criminal can be discovered from a sample invisible to the naked eye, a turd the size of a bagel should make for easy work! I'll nag Pete and see if I can get an answer.
No one in their right mind would ever wish to see the return of such horrendous traps.
My walk took me on around Mockbeggar and I have to say it was a delight, it is a complex that is coming to life as we watch. We have a few horses and the previously mentioned two donk's, doing their best to clip the rough grass back into shape for two or three months and their presence is welcome. They all appear to be a pretty laid back bunch allowing me to wander about in their midst without taking a jot of notice which has the apparent advantage of giving the wildfowl a sense of security. Wildfowl numbers are steady at the moment with a drop in Shoveler from a high of well over a hundred down to twenty or so at present, similar numbers of Mallard, Wigeon and Tufties would point to the majority being out on the flooded meadows. Goosander numbers have reached thirty one on their day time forays and the highlight today were fourteen Mandarin. They were probably birds that have been reared on the lakes but they have been away for several months and it was good to hear their grunts as they circle overhead before gliding onto the water. All in all a really pleasant walk and to see a working system at its best is extremely pleasing. It is the fishery income and the small amount from grazing that ensure we have such a proactive conservation strategy which since its return to our control is now rewarding us for the considerable investment. I look forward to the warm days of Spring when we will see the syndicate members back on the banks amid such scenes.
Mention of the syndicates about to become a reality I have to ensure my first priority is the welfare of the Estate fishery. To that end I am clearing my desk of several commitments, groups and various clubs that I no longer feel I will have the time to do them the justice they deserve. The step that for me will be the most significant is my intention to stand down from WCSRT board of directors. It has fortunately come at a time when the trust is well founded, has full time employees and has an experienced and dedicated board of directors with a very positive outlook. It has taken twenty years of riverine politics, a decade longer if I include my time on the committee of a local club, to reach this point where we have a professional, accountable body to look after the interests of the river. Whilst I would like to have seen it happen earlier it has finally made it and I look back with a satisfaction at what has become a reality. I will continue to support and lobby for them, and at times no doubt complain to them but that is my nature which I'm sure will come as no surprise to regular readers. It does mean that the trust will benefit by two hundred and fifty pounds as I will sign up as a life member once I have left my role as trustee in January, I most definitely retain my faith in professional, independent catchment representation. It also has the benefit for readers of this diary that I will not have the constraints of considering the possible association with the trust of some of my more radical views – it has the potential to be quite an interesting time ahead.
A brill with the Navitus Bay Wind Park about to rear its ugly head in the background.
Finally and it better be finally as its long gone midnight, above I have posted a pic of me grinning over the top of a Brill. You may think this Brill has little to do with the Avon Valley and is just my ego on the loose. In actual fact there is a link and quite a strong one. It is in fact my first Brill which resulted in a most enjoyable day out in Weymouth Bay on one of my occasional boat trips. As I have mentioned before on here I do enjoy my sea fishing trips, sunrise on any of our nearby beaches is well worth the effort of my early morning forays. The boats are just an easier way to find some reasonable fishing, that's the theory at least. One of the reasons I so enjoy my visits to the coast is that where ever I look I do not see any tasks that require my attention. Alas that has now I fear all changed. Now when miles from shore out in the middle of Poole or Weymouth Bays I have on the horizon the presence of a potential threat to our fishery, miles inland, in the shape of the Navitus Bay Wind Park development. See my diary entry below for the 8th August. Since I wrote that piece there have been several developments, alas none of which give much cause for comfort. The NIP's inspectorate did accept a submission from me before the deadline on the 11th of December related to our dissatisfaction with the level of protection afforded our EU designated salmon from our regulators. This submission is on behalf of the Somerley Fishery and whilst not in the format I would have wished did include the salient points regarding periods of exposure in the bays. It was necessary to make our concerns known to the inspectorate and Navitus prior to the deadline to ensure if we remain dissatisfied with the level of protection we will have met with the necessary criteria to ensure we are in a position to challenge any unfavourable outcome in Europe – I told you it has the makings of an interesting year ahead!
I'll do the spelling etc tomorrow, or later today in actual fact!
Juvenile toads and frogs from September.
Coppiced Alder and Willow the brash being used to provide eco-piles.
If you look back in the diary to September you will see the photo of the newt standing on the 50p piece that I took when we discovered dozens of both newts and toads under piles of decaying wood we were moving. In an effort to kill several birds with one stone I have been coppicing a lot of self set willow and alder, that had become windblown and dark. At the same time clearing and letting the light in on the ephemeral pools that appear beside the lakes in high water. It is in these shallow pools that our amphibians make use of before migrating into the deeper lakes as they dry in the summer. We will keep a percentage of the willow regrowth cut back to ensure the reeds and rushes can establish to provide cover and break down the years of deposited leaves that have become black and anaerobic. Hopefully if we get it right we will not only add to our already healthy frog, toad and newt population but provide valuable nest sites for the birds and mammals that can be found about the lakes. If our luck really holds we may see the return of the lichen heath that used to be found in just one spot on the complex. I'm not sure we will be successful in achieving the return of the lichens as they require nutrient poor ground and the years of shade and leaf litter have dramatically changed the nature of the soil. Time will no doubt tell.
As you can see I have that lovely photo of the 26 I was promised, for which I have to thank James Squire. Lovely winter fish, well done James. That's only half the story as James has fished three times in recent days and managed to land a total of fourteen carp. When I say fished the length of a session is about six hours from mid morning to late afternoon. That is winter carp fishing second to none. James also sent me a photo he stopped to capture over the Avon at Ringwood. I'm sure readers will agree that is a stunning shot.
If you have braved the cold of the last couple of days you may well have heard us about even if you haven't seen us. We have been strimming, fencing and chainsawing our way through the long list of jobs that await us on the fishery. Amazingly yesterday despite the freezing overnight temperatures the carp in both Meadow and Kings-Vincent came on the feed. I heard of at least six fish from Meadow and I spoke to one angler on Vincents who had landed seven carp to 26 pounds during the day. Remarkable fishing under any circumstances but with the plummeting temperatures quite amazing. I've been promised a photo of the larger fish that looked magnificent in all its burnished winter browns.
A few of the twenty seven Goosander feeding on Mockbeggar yesterday. The second photo shows the huge aphids that can be found on the willows that surround the lakes. I'm not sure at what temperatures they're killed off but whilst they exist I'm sure they provide a welcome food source the groups of long tailed tits seek as they visit the clumps of willow and alder we leave at intervals around the lakes.
A photo of the white buck, who surrounded by his does, spent the day watching the fencer thumping in stakes and me winding up the chainsaw from no more than 30 or 40 metres.
I should have included yesterday's photo of the geese coming into roost with this lovely account of the White fronts arriving in the valley sent to me by diary reader Angus Lamont from his home in Singapore.
Cold Weather Geese by Angus Lamont
It was a bitterly cold afternoon a few days after Christmas and, as my friends had already left for home, I decided to have one last fishing session before heading home myself. I sat on the west river bank of the Hampshire Avon at Fordingbridge long-trotting for roach. I was fishing a deep swim at the “third meadow”, reached by walking along Shearing’s Creek until it joined the main stream and proceeding downstream across two meadows. Sport was slow, or should I say non-existent. It was bitterly cold and the water on my line froze to ice on the rod-rings as I retrieved my tackle and I remembered my old angling friend Cecil’s ditty “I shall be damn glad when I get fed up with this”. The sky was a leaden grey promising the advent of snow while a weak, watery sun shone palely through the odd break in the clouds. I was alone and my red-topped float was conspicuous against the dark surface of the stream. It was the one bright thing in a scene of browns, greys and greens. On the far side of the river was a very large, deep slow-moving eddy, a refuge for fish in times of flood and home to a very large pike that had taken a dace I had hooked when I had been boat fishing a few years earlier. The afternoon was drawing to a close when I heard the sound of geese in flight calling to one another. Overhead a very large skein of them was in a descending spiral over a field on the far side of the river. This arrow-headed skein was led by only a few birds that rapidly widened into an uncountable mass of geese. I sat very still as they descended upon the large ploughed field directly opposite me. Although these were the first wild geese that I had ever seen, I recognized them as White-fronted Geese that arrive in the valley in hard weather. This spiral of geese seemed never ending as they followed the lead birds down to earth. Hundreds and hundreds of migrating birds descended making a cacophony of cackling noise as they landed. I watched amazed until the dark brown field was completely filled with geese and they were spilling over into the adjacent fields. They kept arriving in a never ending stream and the volume of their calling kept increasing until I couldn’t believe that the field could possibly hold any more. At a conservative estimate there must have been several thousand birds present by the time I had to pack up fishing in order to catch my train but they were still descending as I left and the sky was dark with them. I took this as an omen of approaching bad weather and so it proved with the winter of 1962/63 being the coldest since 1740.
Not White-fronts, which no longer visit, the Greylags that have usurped them.
Daybreak brought weak sunshine and early mist of a true autumnal day. The fact we are almost into December would point to this weather being a little on the late side but never let it be said I do not appreciate such days whenever they choose to turn up.
Luckily one of the silver linings to this protracted autumn is that I got away with leaving my chrysanthemum stools in the ground until today. First job this morning was to get them lifted and packed away in the green house to await the return of Spring when they will be nurtured back into life to provide cuttings for the next generation of blooms. Leaves from the Himalayan crab and Judas tree had to be raked off the gravel in front of the house and with a couple of hours of daylight left the opportunity for a walk in the valley seemed a sound idea.
A contented donkey helping maintain the grass sward.
Two jennies that are in their element.
As we now have a few head of livestock in Mockbeggar, to help keep the thistles and brambles at bay, I thought I would start by dropping in on the lakes to see all was well. Two of the best at this rough grazing, in the shape of a couple of jennies, had not moved a hundred meters from the spot they were dropped off. They had just had their offspring weaned away and after a long hot summer feeding their insatiable progeny the prospect of uninterrupted grazing seemed to meet with their approval. I was pleased to see that the waterfowl all seemed at ease, which usually indicates that no poachers or birders creeping about the place, as they enjoyed the late sunshine out of the wind on the southern side of all the islands. The great white egret watched from his usual perch out on the island as I locked the gate behind me and left them to their own devices as I headed for the river.
First port of call, the Eel weirpool where I was surprised to see at least half a dozen anglers cars in the car park. The fine weather and the change of the club lease looming ever nearer the anglers are making the most of the remaining time on the river. Catches were patchy with dace appearing in small numbers in the main channel and one or two perch feeding but alas the best of which was dropped at the net. Chub to 6.10 a good fish on any day, add several low double pike which had graced the bank and considering the still bright conditions all in all I think most had managed a half decent day.
Around to Ibsley Bridge where a litter pick was the first chore required as one of the local low lives had left the remnants of his last fast food meal. That's one of the problems of an attractive piece of water close to a public road, it seems to act as a magnet to an extremely diverse cross section of society. Once I had the place looking clean and tidy I could have a look up stream to see if all was looking well with the marsh and Hucklesbrook. I seems that the anglers had congregated at the Eel Pool as there was no one at Botney and only a couple on the opposite bank up at Gorley Bends. The splash out in the meadow, just north of the road, had nineteen Black tailed Godwits probing the soft mud at the margins for worms and other than that very little else to see.
A Jack from the tail of the weirpool.
The Greylags were the only birds coming in to roost over the reedbeds this evening; the Starlings appear to have moved on.
Across to Harbridge and back through the Estate to the lakes. The car parks here also seem to have more cars than usual for a Sunday, it would appear the good weather and a change in management is having a similar effect on the lakes. As I passed the bottom corner of Vincent's one extremely pleased angler, who had only come out for a couple of hours in the afternoon, managed a 19 plus carp in the margins. Along the tree bank a pike angler and a second looking for a pike in the Lagoon. I'm afraid one of our otters had beaten our angler to the fish as the head of an eight or nine pound pike lay on the bank a testimony to the last last meal. Otter taking the larger fish is happily quiet a rare on the lakes, lets hope its not going to become a regular occurrence.
A cautionary tale and cry for help.
I seem to have some unique abilities when it comes to computers, to the extent that my eldest, Jonathan, who is employed by IBM to write software, often expresses his amazement at my talents. My latest trick has been to, I wont say erase as they are not in the trash bin, perhaps disappear a block of emails best describes my latest feat. It involved my left little finger on the “Ctrl” or “shift” key and a combination of several right middle finger strikes to the lower tier of letters. I have to be honest I wasn't paying much attention to either keyboard or screen and when I next looked at the expected email I was writing, it was no more! More alarmingly the block of about half a dozen emails either side of the one I was responding to, had also “gone” I think the number corresponds to the number of middle finger strikes so somewhere in the order of half a dozen is probably a truer figure but equally annoying.
As for the cry for help it is simply that if you emailed me in the last twenty four hours and expected a response that has yet to arrive perhaps you would be kind enough to resend your email and hopefully I will be more successful in getting back to you.
Whilst I can't promise not to repeat this exercise, as I still don't know how I did it the first time, I will do my best to keep my talents under better control......
With the bulk of the syndicate invitations out and my daily work routine now involving a great deal more time beside the river and lakes I felt the need of actually wetting a line this weekend. I must admit to being spoilt for choice when it comes to fishing. Should I try for a barbel, which up until the end of October could still be seen on the shallows? The chub have been providing good sport, perhaps the recent rain will have put them down for a day or two. The swims at Ellingham I have been meaning to trot for roach and dace all summer remain unfished and those beautiful Avon perch have been showing in recent weeks. I haven't heard of anything huge but certainly fish to two and three quarters and if they're feeding their bigger brethren should be as well. That's before I think of an autumn carp or perhaps a bag of bream from the lakes. The choice is usually more difficult than the actual fishing. Despite all the options an itch to catch an early season pike seemed to be exerting the greatest pull. During my clearing work along the river in recent weeks I have found several good pike in the low clear river. Large pike always look impressive, almost menacing, suspended in the clear margins with fanning pectorals and pelvics acting as side thrusters inching them toward their next meal, or escape route. I had filed away their locations and decided this weekend I would drop in on them and see just how good I had been at estimating their size.
An hour in the garage Friday evening had rooted out my pike gear and a box of Bicktons finest out of the freezer in readiness for the morning. As luck would have it the weather decided to be a drudge. If nothing else my work has impregnated me against what ever the weather might produce and suitably clad in water proofs I headed for the river.
Of course those clear slacks where I had spotted my intended a week or two previously had now altered. The high water of recent days has seen the extra push turn the slacks into boilie, up-welling cauldrons. No pike is going to choose to lie there, especially the large old girls I had previously seen. My hoped for swims may not have been fish-able but they would not have gone far so twenty minutes in every likely looking slack should find them.
It seems they might have moved further than I thought! After three hours with only a six pound Jack to show for my efforts, I began to feel uneasy with my set-up. I was using a 40g slider which was about twice as heavy as I needed. It was more akin the to gear I use when trotting soft crab and sandeel 200m down the tide for Bass. I had left the majority of my gear in the garage making a change impossible. Dissatisfaction with my set-up was soon seen as the reason for my failure to find one of the big fish. The fact I'd only been looking for a few hours didn't seem to have any baring. Convinced such large fish would be savvy enough to feel the drag of my float I decided to call it a day and return at a later date to continue my piking campaign. As with the availability of fishing in my life the proximity of my home allows me the luxury of short sessions without feeling overly disappointed. I have long believed if I'm not enjoying my fishing, for whatever reason, I would be better off calling it a day and finding other distractions.
As it transpired I would not have long to wait before I was out again with the pike rods. Sunday was intended as a bird count day and I was to be out before first light to be on station as the birds came off the roosts to feed. As I shut up shop for bed just after midnight Saturday evening a glance outside showed it was raining steadily. Fingers crossed that will have stopped by the morning as using scopes and binoculars with the need to write down all the sighting is impossible if its raining. The birds are also reluctant to forage freely and stay in the roosts and tucked up out of the weather making the counts atypical and of little use.
The alarm brought me to at six and a glance out of the window showed the reflected shine and sparkle of the rain soaked garden. Down for a quick gulp of tea and toast before sticking my head out the door to sample the morning. Total no hoper, four hours of recording just wouldn't happen in that muck. Back inside for more tea and toast and check the local forecast on the computer to see what the next few hours were meant to bring the valley. Heavy rain until mid afternoon, just what I don't need.
Every cloud etc. If I can't count the birds the pike gear was still stacked in the garage awaiting cleaning making a further attempt to scratch that itch a real option. With last nights rain about to enter the system if I wanted to fish a stable river I had better make the most of this unexpected opportunity. My pencil wagglers were soon attached and clad once more in my water proofs I headed for the river to arrive at 07:30. I had decided to fish a banker swim, I was in need of a little reassurance regarding my fish catching abilities. Ten minutes across the water logged meadows and I was beside one of my favourite swims, a real Mr Crabtree bay just dripping with pike; or at least it should be!
I placed the seat and tackle bag ten feet back from the waters edge and keeping low, to avoid sky-lining, crept forward to place the rests in the reeds. As I glanced over the margins at the swim I came face to face with a young bitch otter ten feet out in the river. She studied me briefly before diving in an effort to escape my gaze and hide from the rude intruder who had disturbed her breakfast. Or at least that's what I thought. She had obviously decided I wasn't much of a threat as she resurfaced twenty seconds later ten feet further out in the river. She was eating something too small for me to see but obviously very tasty as she immediately dived again repeating the process. Amazing, not a care in the world but not exactly what I needed in my swim if I were to enjoy any success this morning. I watched her for five minutes as she continued to dive about the swim and rummage in the margins just below my rests but however attractive I could do without her presence so hissed at her as she next surfaced. This brought about a hiss in reply as she leisurely dived and a trail of bubbles betrayed her passage into the nearby reed bed.
A further five minutes and at 08:00 with two very soggy looking dead trout, which had not fared very well having been out of the freezer for thirty six hours, I was ready for action. Up to the margin again and, bloody hell that sodding otters back! With lots of hissing, arm waving and clapping I persuaded her to push off downstream.
One bait not cast but simply dropped in the margin at my feet and the second twenty feet out, I was set. I must be honest, I wasn't expecting much action after the disturbance of the last few minutes so settled back to enjoy the rain soaked valley. Despite the rain and gloom Cettis warblers were still singing in the nearby brambles, as they will throughout the winter as unlike most of the other valley warblers they do not migrate but stay through what ever the winter may bring. The very nature of a wet, rain soaked valley is one of foreboding, difficulty and change. If it continues to rain, as it has overnight, for any length of time the risk of a repeat of last years disastrous floods will loom over the horizon. Very few things benefit from such a prolonged and severe flood, food sources are hidden or washed away, safe havens and their residents flushed down to the estuary and the simplest jobs or getting about nigh on impossible.
Mulling over the winter ahead I had paid scant attention to the river, the red tops of the floats blurrs in my peripheral vision. After twenty minutes I realised there were six inch ripples coming out from under the bank below me. It was almost a slow motion realisation that that bloody otter was back and just a few feet from my inside bait. Jesus, what if the thing takes a trout? How do you unhook an otter? Panic, up on my feet, clapping, hissing and cursing. The creature slide under just three feet from the inside float heading directly at the second bait fifteen feet away. Three, four, five seconds and the bubbles were over it and the float slide under. Bloody hell, now we're in the shit. Net it, chuck my coat over it and sit on it? Pull it up between the rod rests and try unhooking it in the water with the long-nosed pliers? Cut the line – not my way – one way or the other we will get the hooks out. By now I had the rod raised applying a steady pressure as in a flash it turned and ran downstream twenty feet. A slow turn and back upstream past the original spot and on a further twenty feet without giving an inch. Christ these things are strong. Hang on, that's not right? I haven't played a lot of otters but I'm sure fifteen pounds of wet cat can't exert that sort of pull and can an otter hold its breath for such a length of time? A further turn and as it came downstream a long green flank and rounded dorsal broke surface. Difficult to explain the feelings and emotions that I experienced at that moment; relief, exultation, celebration, amazement, oddly good fish wasn't high up on the list!
A lovely fish. I have caught her before but perhaps never has she been so welcome.
By way of an update. Once more I must say a huge thank you to Nathalie, who at some point very late this evening, managed to get the syndicate emails out to most of you. Hopefully you will have received an invitation in line with your expression of interest. Unfortunately due to the level of interest it has meant some of you will not have been so lucky. You will have received an email explaining that we have formed a waiting list and if we do not hear to the contrary, your name will be placed on it. Don't give up hope I'm sure we will have need of a further round as I don't imagine we will receive a 100% take up. I have also held back half a dozen tickets to rectify fishing partnerships that have been separated by the random selection method used to pick the places. If these places are not required they will become available for the waiting list. Those of you that will get your invitations by snail mail will be getting your invitations next week. It seems a little pointless putting that last piece of news on here as it probably means no computer is available!!
The lakes continue to produce some fine looking carp as proved once more today with a cracking mirror that weighed in at twenty nine pounds. Whilst I've been dropping in for the odd hour clearing the banks at least two thirty plus fish and several other twenties have been reported in recent days. Almost into December and the fish are feeding as if its mid-summer; strange times we live in.
Alan looking justifiably pleased with a good looking linear.
The rain spattered surface can't dull the autumn colour of Canada Point.
Grey, damp and miserable putting an end to any ground work for a day or two. The strimming and clearing had to be put on hold on the slippery, sodden banks, making for an all round grey, damp, miserable mood. I had dropped in at the lakes after lunch in the hope the weather would clear as I'm sure the forecast had said it would. I thought I might get an hour or two just to get some of the plans finalised in my mind. The drizzle may have stopped the work but it gave me the opportunity to walk around the lakes at a slower pace, remembering past triumphs and looking to recreate the pictures they had indelibly imprinted on my mind. That brace of three pound perch on caster, five crucians over two including two threes, Anne's twenty six mirror, every swim has memories for me that stretch back over thirty years.
I wonder if any of those fabulous perch are still down there?
Crucian hide-away hardly fished these days as it doesn't require long range rods.
Views and memories I have experienced for decades, part of my life and with the new era of the syndicates just around the corner are set to play a greater part once more. With such a long association there is the risk of complacency or even boredom. Thankfully the reverse seems to be the case as the challenges line up before us. Starting my walk in the drizzle I was not expecting my mood to lighten, merely an opportunity to catalogue my workload for the coming weeks. As I made my way along the bank between the lakes the pictures of what was possible and what was achievable began to overlap. The autumn colour of the bankside trees reflected in the lakes dulled surface began to lift my spirits. Looking across meadow from the tree bank was a view that when combined with my memories raised my mood to heights unimaginable an hour earlier. By the time I got back to the truck I had added weeks to my workload yet I am even more determined to produce a fishery that will permit others to experience fishing that would have memories as long lasting and as clear as my own. Exciting times ahead.
Every swim has a memory, The Day ropes, The Back Lagoon and even the shallow corner of Kings.
Whilst the admin for the syndicates has been a somewhat slow process the work to get the fishery in order for the beginning of February is now well under way. One of the tasks that has ben keeping me occupied is that of clearing the regrowth around Kings and Vincents. It will undoubtedly take more than a season to get the banks back into the condition we would wish but any opprotunity I can manage I am now out with the strimmer and the chainsaw cutting and clearing. Initially some of the work may look a little severe but "we have a plan" and an end in mind that will hopefully meet most of our needs. I have to say I love the hands on involvement of the work. To look back after several hours of hard work and see a tangible result is extremely gratifying. It also has the advantage of requiring ear defenders completely drowning out my mobile!
Add stock to remove and rebalance, lilies to plant, swims to redesign, roads and car parks to repair, trees to clear and prune, plus a plethora of other tasks and it shuld keep me occupied for some time to come.
Trimmed, cleared and looking neat and tidy in today's sunshine.
I'm back, at least I think I am. More correctly Jonathan is back from the States and has sorted out my computer problems. Hopefully things will get back on a more even footing from now on. Its now well past midnight and I'm not going to try and update the diary tonight. I will say that the syndicate lists are now very nearly complete and I will get them back to Nathalie hopefully next week. I have one or two bits and pieces on the maps and regs to clarify and hopefully we should be getting the first invitations out before the end of the month.
A word on the river in that it is high and coloured, looking for all the world a different river from when I last wrote an entry on here. Thankfully its well within the banks now requiring a change into autumn mode for those out braving the elements.
A couple of shots to set the autumn scene.
The roost is growing with twenty or thirty thousand now in the flock with more arriving daily. The reedbed does not appear as robust as in previous years and the birds seem a little unsettled. If the state of the reeds is the reason for their unease I wouldn't be surprised if they move location in the next week or two.
I must start by thanking Stephen Hutchinson and Roger Hill for their catch reports. Cracking fish for Stephen in the shape of a fourteen pound barbel whilst Roger managed his first Somerley barbel on the float. This summer with the reduced weed growth has offered unparalleled opprotunity to have a go for some of the specimen barbel and chub on the float. If you don't manage a monster you will usually find some great fishing on lighter gear providing some marvellous bags of dace and smaller chub. Don't forget those Avon perch that are also well worth a visit or two searching out the steady runs and pools with the float can be great fun.
Stephen with his stunning fourteen and Roger's float caught prize.
The timber extraction got underway at long last and is progressing well.
Cormorants cooperating to drive shoals of rudd and roach before them, providing feeding not only for themselves but opportunist Gulls, Herons and Egrets, including the regular Great white that spends much of his time in attendence.
Plenty of food for thought in those photos. If you start from the premise that the lake in question has far and away too many fish in it, to the extent the roach and rudd are stunting. Far too many snags to net and electro fishing is ineffective in the shallow, turbid water they are doing us quite a favour. All I have to do now is find a home for several hundred double figure commons!
A meeting of minds as WCSRT trustee Pete Reading introduced the trust's new full time director, Dr Paul Jose, to the Hampshire Avon. Trust treasurer, John Slader, took the opportunity of introducing the Avon chub and perch to a spot of drop-shotting. The Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust is a pretty vibrant place to be at the moment as it gets to grips with the CaBA partnership which it leads on the Avon and in partnership with H&IoW Wildlife Trust heads up the Test and Itchen catchment group. Add to this such initiatives as the invertabrate fingerprinting project and there's a lot going on. If your interested in the fate of our rivers have a look at the trust website and if you feel so inclined you can always join us as a supporter!
Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust.
With the shoot season about to get underway we are busy ensuring the forestry work is finished and final preparations for the first day sorted out. I will be a little pressed for time in the coming days but I promise I am also busy going through the syndicate lists and we are making good progress. I continue to hear of good fish coming out from both the river and the lakes so the fishing is keeping those braving the change of seasons on their toes. I always appreciate the reports so keep them coming in and I will do my best to keep the news flowing.
A couple of screen savers that illustrate the power of Nature to recycle those that would impose their will on her. Taken on the Pacific coast in the Parque Nacional Corcovado on the Osa Peninsula. When the park was created the gold miners and developers were given their marching orders and they departed leaving the tractor behind as removing it was deemed too difficult. In the middle distance of the second shot the dark lump is the engine block of a wrecked coaster, more clearly seen in the third shot. Salt and humidity have done the rest. Its never too late to put right our wrongs, give our river a chance and she will similarly show us her powers of recovery. I believe we are now beginning to see the recovery of the river from decades of mechanical weed cutting, one or two features I have looked at recently appear in very promising condition.
Many of you will be looking in hoping for news of the syndicates. I'm afraid we still have yet to make any hard and fast decisions and we will contact you all when we sort out the lists. I can inform you that we are very much over subscribed which will make for some very difficult decisions and inevitably disappointment for some. Don't despair of us if you are not I the first tranche, members come and go as circumstances change keeping the waiting lists ticking over.
In my recent absence the fishing on the Estate certainly seems to have continued its fantastic summer form. Since my return I know of two different 15+ barbel, one by Sam Trimmer in his first season after barbel from an area of the estate not regularly fished. The other by Paul Burgess, as can be seen from his pic is a stunning looking fish. Also a red letter day for Bob Edwards involving two 14's and a 13 in the same session. Pete Reading landed four doubles one afternoon best at 14.11 and yet another good double for Darrel Hughes, looking justifiably pleased with himself despite the pouring rain - amazing fishing by any standards.
Sam Trimmer and Paul Burgess with fifteen plus barbel.
Darrel enjoying the pouring rain.
The first shows Bob Edwards with one of his red letter day catch, two fourteens and a thirteen. Finally on the barbel gallery Pete Reading looking over the top of one of his four doubles in an afternoon.
A big thank you to all the above anglers for their photos and reports and apologies to those I haven't included. Its not a reflection on anyones fish but the ones above were the latest in my "in" tray giving a taste of events in my absence.
This is a good one, a six and a half pound eel from Vincents by dayticket angler Paul Todman. Luckily Julian Ward was on hand to witness and photograph the beast which was lip hooked and returned little the worse for its experience. Eels have a strange fascination for me and I would dearly liked to have landed that beauty, I think I can feel a session coming on! Well done Paul, magnificent fish and thanks for the pic Julian.
I've also had a double figure bream reported this week and I'm looking forward to the perch fishing improving as we get a flush of fresh water in the system.That's the trouble with fishing in this area there are so many cracking fish to pursue deciding just what to concentrate on becomes a problem in itself.
I must say a big thank you to the Mockbeggar syndicate for making it such a pleasant and enjoyable season. The start was a little chaotic, due to the short notice, yet I'm delighted to say everyone rapidly settled into the wonderfully natural, very special atmosphere of Mockbeggar. Peace and quite with an open, friendly respect for fellow anglers was our aim and I believe members succeeded admirably in achieving just this. It was certainly a pleasure for me to walk around the lakes in the evening, enjoying the tranquillity and stopping for a chat making it a very special place for me. The fishing was variable with some super catches and specimens but not the consistency we expect these days. Certainly no shortage of showing fish, over the baits with their heads down but all too often refusing to play ball and pick up the hook baits. The Ibsley Water fish removal got under way slowly as the habits of these wild fish had to be established. Once patterns were recognised the catches started to climb, only to be stopped in our tracks as the place under went the most dramatic weed growth in its history. Fishing became impossible with only one or two stalwarts sticking it out to the bitter end.
We still have a considerable way to go in sorting out the complex and reaching a point where we can sit back is very far off in the future. The clearing under the auspices of the conservation plan is progressing well. Hopefully we may get further opportunities in the coming months to complete one or two further phases. We have started to deepen the connecting channels to permit safer passage for the fish under the low flow conditions we have experienced over the past couple of summers. Pleasingly this has also afforded us a supply of clean gravel to reinforce the access in one or two areas without importing material to the site.
We have a huge number of fish to remove to allow the better specimens to reach their peak. Just how we go about this will be a major part of the planning in the coming year. If you know anyone looking for commons to mid double or roach and rudd to a pound let me know. Whilst on that subject we will also have a surplus of bream to get rid of, same applies if you know of a means to pass them on give them my number.
I am delighted to say I did not have a single major issue to deal with related to behaviour which is a mark of the respect and appreciation the members brought to the bank for which I thank you all. We will be under way once more in less than six months and I will look forward to seeing many of you in that new season.
I'm afraid my reappearances doesn't mean I have sorted my computer problems, or do I have any updates for those awaiting news of the syndicates. My new computer is due to arrive tomorrow and we will begin to sort out the syndicates in the coming week.
My computer problems have coincided with my holidays and we have just returned from three weeks in Costa Rica where we met up with our youngest, Richard and his wife Jade, who have been travelling in South America for the past ten months. I have long dreamt of visiting one of the most biologically diverse countries on the planet but in reality never thought we would have the opportunity. When it was suggested we meet up somewhere during their years travels it seemed just too good a chance to miss.
Oliver Ridley turtles laying on the beach at Ostional where the previous night our guide had walked us through tens of thousads of laying animals. Our visit coincided with the three days of the season when the local village people are permitted to collect 42,000 eggs for sale. The number amounts to less than one nights eggs layed on that beach where over digging exposes thousand of eggs to predation by the hundreds of vultures, storks, racoons and other opportunists.
One of the reasons I so dearly wished to visit was to look at the way in which this small country dealt with protecting the amazing wildlife to be found within the twelve climatic regions to be found within its borders. They have done so by taking the bull by the horns and protecting twenty five percent of the country with environmental legislation. Out with the industry and farming, designated areas are returned to nature as quickly as possible. They have taken environmental tourism to heart and have created an astonishing network of National Parks. These are not National Parks as we know them, the Costa Ricans put the ecology first and fit that protection around the local people. Areas the size of the New Forest you can only entered with a guide. A guide trained by the environmental services from the local people. No bikes, dogs, horses, cars or camping, the animals come first. I can just see the headlines if the closed signs went up around the New Forest or the Lake District. Did we feel we had been deprived of the right to roam free as we would wish? Not in the slightest. It was our tourist money that is vital to make the system work, we felt we were contributing to the very survival of the environment. Ten miles outside one park, where we had rented a house on the beach, we could swing in our hammocks on the veranda and watch whales in the bay, four monkey species, Scarlet Macaws, Toucans and countless other birds in the garden. A garden which at night was visited by the entire ecology from Bullet ants to Cougars. Interesting comparison with our own environmental protection as on my first visit back on the river I was met with the putrid stench and oily film eminating from a trout farm on the Avon!
Roseate Spoonbill, one of the countless amazing birds to be found in Costa rica.
Scarlet Macaws flying along the beach over-looked by our lodge.
Hump-backs out in Drake's Bay.
Whilst I'm sorting out my computer I'll leave you with a pic of a valley resident in the shape of a Migrant Hawker dragonfly. It may not be a fish it is however one of many of our valley residents well worth seeing. On the fish front I should just add congratulations to Terry Shergold who landed a magnificent 14.10 barbel yesterday evening, lovely fish well done Terry.
I'm a long way from getting my computer problems solved but I have struggled to work out how to write the html on my laptop which is a time consuming and tiresome bind. I have put together a few pix that cover the last day or two and they will be the last for some time whilst I set up my new compter.
Gareth please note! Today we received our consent from Natural England to construct an Osprey platform in an 80 foot poplar that overlooks the lakes at Mockbeggar. It's a tree that has been a favoured perch of migrating birds in previous years so we know the birds do like this particular tree. Amazingly as if to prove the point, as Kevin and I discussed the tree and the days work around the lakes an Osprey appeared and duly circled the tree a couple of times before drifting off high southeast. The red circles show the position of the platform and the circling bird. I wonder if we had had the platform in position whether we would have had our visit? A second bird was over on the river later this afternoon but after we watched it fishing on the river for twenty miutes this one left high to the west without visiting the lakes.
Topping the meadows in strips, in alternate years, to allow undisturbed grassland affording protection for the micro communities that live in the dry grass. Not only the grassland but the wood eco-piles had to be left undisturbed as they now provide over-wintering habitat for dozens of newts and toads.
East over North Mockbeggar from the permissive footpath that closes at the end of the month, up to the New Forest plateau in the distance. The opposite view from the top of the plateau looking down over North Mockbeggar with Ibsley Water in the far distance.
Thanks to Brian Bonell for this cracking pic of his recent 14.2. Wonderful fish, congratulations Brian.
Please bear with me for the next week or two, I've not done a runner to avoid sorting out the syndicate replies or hiding from Nathalie who has been inundated with your applications. I'm in the process of completely renewing my computer system and this entry is being written on the laptop. I struggle with html as it is, add the complications of new programmes and new systems and I'm entering that well known computer state of melt down. Fortunatey I have Jonathan to sort out the problems but it will all take time I fear so please be patient.
Just to prove me wrong about last week, in that I said the river was slowing up, Dave Taylor sent me a report of how he and fishing buddy Webby got on during their five day visit.
This is Dave glowering over the top of a 7.02 chub, He doesn't usually look that mean, Especially after ten barbel to 12.08 and chub to 7.09 and I'm told Webby had a few too. Thanks for the report and pix Dave great fishing.
Webby with a another double. Obviously the background has been mixed up to hide the exact location. I suppose I can take some consulation from being proven wrong about the river in that both Dave and Webby are experienced Avon anglers with above average skills when it comes to catching fish.
By now most of you should have received your Somerley syndicate information update. If you expressed an interest and have yet to get the information pack ensure the email hasn't ended up in your trash can. It was amazing how many of Nathalie's original acknowledgements got swallowed up by over enthusiastic spam filters. If you find this is the case ensure you put the estate email address in your address book, that way the machine will recognise us. Those not online will be getting their packs either today or early next week, they have been posted. Have a good look through and let us know what group/groups you wish to be included in and we will do our best to accommodate you.
This process is to allow a reaffirmation of interest, with you now having access to the conditions and prices etc. We will not accept payment at this time, so DO NOT send anything other than the further expression of interest as requested. As I'm sure most of you know we are about the whole angling experience, in undisturbed natural surroundings. We are most definitely not about the biggest fish at all costs. Respect for your environment and your fellow anglers has to be our way ahead.
The prize for the fastest response, had there been one, would have gone to the time of 3 minutes 52 seconds. I wont say who it was but that has to be some sort of form filling record!
As for life back on the ground in the valley, I'm delighted to say that the 360 slew that has been with us for a couple of months has cleared off. I say that as I have spent far too much of my time attempting to feed the thing trees of a suitable size to handle. My aching limbs being fed up with heaving chainsaws into the tangle of wind blown timber confronting us, I'm very glad of the break. To top it all, with the majority of the events behind us, my ever reliable work colleagues took holidays!
The 360 taking the strain on the last tree of the current work programme, some doubt as to just which one is winning and the final result as we win the day. The nest time anyone sees those logs will be as tables at next years beer festival.
I've also started the clean up or perhaps a better description is maintenance of the Mockbeggar complex. The problem of clearing areas of self set willow and alder is that it has to be strimmed in subsequent years to prevent the recolonisation from root stools and water born seed. It follows the more bank we get back under control the more maintenance we have in years ahead. So before we can get on with further improvements I have a months strimming to finish - I'll probably be quite glad to see the chainsaw again after that little lot!
The fishing itself is becoming more difficult, particularly on the river as the water remains clear and levels drop. Combined with changeable Autumn temperatures things are not so easy. Good fish are still coming out and they are beginning to get into their winter condition. I have heard of a second fourteen pound barbel from a different area to the one mentioned in the last entry. Also some superb chub the best going 7.7 from an angler whose tally of 6+ fish this season is mind boggling. The lakes have been ticking over with some good looking carp gracing the bank and John Slader has found the bream in Meadow on one of his retro sessions. Carp look in their element in the autumn with all the turning russet and ochre foliage, slate grey skies and watery sunshine, commons in particular look magnificent. Perhaps the mirrors are more suited to winter as they add that extra splash of colour to an otherwise drab backdrop, hopefully I'll put that to the test in a month or two.
Simon has been down beside the Lodge with his moth trap again and we certainly needed no encouragement to leave the Poplar beside Dog kennel to watch him unload it. The photo to his left is of a Feathered Gothic (Tholera decimalis) with a smaller sedge fly beside it. On his right, a September Thorn (Ennomos erosaria) along side another one of the many sedge flies which I didn't have time to identify.
An aptly named Burnish Brass (Diachrysia chrysitis) on the left and a Mayfly (Ephemera danica) one of the many species other than moths that enter the trap as by-catch; at least a dozen hornets - that feed on the moth catch, half a dozen Mayfly and hundreds of small sedge and upwings. Several of the hornets can be seen in the photo with Simon, including one reading the species list which it thought was a menu.
Time remains at a premium making all but a simple snapshot or two about the estate to keep the diary ticking over. Fortunately diary reader Angus Lamont, who contacted me after the entry about Capt Parker's Log, has written again enclosing a further couple of accounts of his adventures on the Avon. Both pieces cover aspects of our river no longer seen today making them an extremely valuable record of our rivers past. I will include one today and the second at a point in the future.
At last! Now you see it, now you don't. Today we had the time and a suitably large machine available to get a job that has been nagging at me for months finally dealt with. I'm sure many of you will be as delighted as me to see those two oaks out of the way. Where the larger of the two had been laying across the entire width of the river it has excavated a deep hole alongside the concrete groin, the most fishy looking hole imaginable! As an added bonus we also removed the old stump that lay in the pool immediately downstream of the concrete. If anyone has a go in the swim in the next week or two please let me know how you get on. I did see a fourteen pound barbel landed today so they are still coming out. I've got a lovely shot of it being landed but it unfortunately gives the location away. At the end of the year I will put it up as part of the season review.
A FORDINGBRIDGE PIKE remembered by Angus Lamont
One serene windless evening in the summer of 1961, just before dusk, I was fishing the Fordingbridge stretch of the Hampshire Avon from a boat some distance above the very large deep eddy near to the lower end of the Greyhound stretch. As usual, I was long-trotting with bread crust and the swim was about 14ft deep over a gravel bottom. I knew that it was gravel as from time to time I caught gudgeon there and one of my pals had told me that, on the Avon, gudgeon were only ever found over gravel bottoms. The swim was also very long and, given suitable weather conditions, it was possible to trot for at least 50yds or until the float became too small to see. At the very end of the swim I had a bite, struck and connected with a fish. Reeling it in up to the side of the boat and, because the depth of the swim was 14 feet and the length of my rod was only 10 feet, I was compelled to hold the rod vertical at arm’s length just to bring the fish to the surface. Even then, I was unable to lift the fish into the boat and just as I put my hand out to grasp the line above the hook and hoist the dace aboard it was seized by a monstrous pike that surged up from the depths, snatched the fish, and dived deep. From its vertical position my rod was plunged under water right up to the first rod ring and it was a miracle that it wasn’t torn from my grasp. The boat rocked violently as I was almost dragged overboard. I put the check on the reel and gave the pike all the line that it wanted while keeping on as much strain as my tackle would allow. Try as I might to turn this monster I was powerless and all my efforts were in vain. Apart from the first original plunge there were no jerks or tugs on the line only a steady unstoppable pull. All that could be heard was the steady click as line was stripped from the reel and it felt as if I had connected with a submarine. My friends were fishing upstream of me and I can remember Cecil saying to Alfred that "Angus is really into something this time". Of course, it couldn’t last and eventually the pike’s teeth severed the line. I never saw the fish although my hand must have been only inches from its gaping maw. After that I rowed back to "The Greyhound" for a few consoling beers before heading to bed. That was not quite the end of the story as a few years later an exceptionally large dead pike was found at Bickton Mill, which is the adjacent downstream stretch, and I am sure that this was the fish that I came up against as it is very doubtful whether two fish of this size could inhabit the same stretch of water.
Long trotting from a boat on the Avon, possibly even an Avon Punt, a once quite common occurance now no longer available to us above the tidal waters. Thanks again Angus, such memories are the goal of the true angler.
A lovely scene showing Rob Smyth looking for one of the seatrout that can be seen here and there about the shallows.
Just a quick entry to put up the salmon return for the season. There are one or two exceptional feats of angling contained in the record, particularly Mike Tolley's six fish that included three in a day from the same pool. Rob Smyth also grassed six fish making the slow start to the season seem a very distant memory come the close yesterday. More news and discussion to follow in a day or two, hopefully.
The beer festival has come and gone and we were blessed with good weather that helped to create a lovely atmosphere, fine food, good beer, relaxing music all spent lazing in the warm sunshine. I was particularly pleased to see several anglers enjoying the day. Certainly proving there's more to experience in the valley at Somerley than our fishing!
The weather may have been dry for the festival but it has certainly made up for that in the last twelve hours, its tipped down. We will certainly have had sufficient water to make tidying up after the weekend events and continuing the clear up of the wind blown trees a muddy task. Whether we have had sufficient to move the river will have to wait until I get out to look at the streams in the morning. Thankfully one or two other anglers have been out making the most of the earlier conditions and managing to enjoy some excellent sport. Rather than me rattling on about the various catches I have heard of in recent days, I will include part of Tony Harris' recent informative report.
"I fished on 3 evenings in the last week on that stretch of the Avon and was smashed by a substantial fish on the first occasion so decided to return as I suspected that sea trout might be involved.
Last Friday evening I had 4 browns up to 40cm plus a 35cm grayling before I hooked the smaller of the two fish in the pictures, a sea trout of about 4lb (55cm) close to dusk. I had seen a big rise and noticing a single mayfly about to pass over where the rise had occurred I cast my weighted spider pattern close to the mayfly.
There was a huge commotion and the fish broke the surface, whether to take the mayfly or intent on my spider I can't be certain but the result was a hook up with the fish running upstream and leaping a few times. It eventually went downstream into the faster water and I managed to play it out and net it. I then noticed that it was hooked in the underside of the body about two thirds of the distance from head to tail. It maybe took the mayfly and landed on my fly as it turned down or maybe I hooked it and the hook came out whilst I was playing it. Who knows!!
On Saturday I returned and was upstream nymphing for grayling with a size 14 weighted spider pattern when I had a take which after a tense battle resulted in the larger fish ending up in the net. I weighed it in the net at 3kg which after adjusting for the net weight and conversion into lbs gave a result of about 6.5 lbs ( 65 -67cm). Both fish were returned safely with the larger fish pictured after release returning to the pool.
I was fishing a 10ft 6wt rod with a 5 wt floating line and a 4lb point leader and this fish was caught at 6.10pm in bright sunshine.
I didn't catch a lot more on Saturday, one small chub plus a nice brownie but there were sustained hatches with masses of fly including mayfly, 3 or 4 different types of sedge, bwo, small dark olives and pale wateries. It was difficult to know which patterns to use and the small rusty spinner patterns that I tried didn't work on this occasion. I suspect that I should have added a finer tippet to my leader but given previous experience and with larger fish present I stuck to the 4lb point.
It just goes to show that sometimes you get more than you bargain for, the joy of fishing!!
I also enjoyed some of the music from the festival during the evening"
Thanks Tony, cracking report.
What could be better, all the secrets of some really wonderful fly fishing on the main channel at Somerley. I certainly know of one or two people who would dearly love to have enjoyed Tony's experiences myself included!
The larger of Tony's two sea trout that took the size 14 weighted spider. Fishing guide, Kenny Parson's taking a busman's holiday down with us on the Avon enjoying some great chub fishing, topped by this magnificent looking fish of 6lbs 7ozs. Thanks for the photo Kenny and keep up the good work. Finally a bank holiday wouldn't be the same without a boater or two. I must say these two lads were almost a pleasure to deal with. They were both polite and pleasant to chat with as they hove to and took to the highway. Its just a pity to meet such characters under such fraught circumstances.
The focus of this weeks work.
Its all going on these days. Ellingham Show is behind us as the set-up for the beer festival gets underway. The machine remains in the woodlands clearing windblow and the National Airsoft gathering is on down at the the south end of the Park. The river continues to produce some great fishing for the chub and barbel and the cooler weather has seen the salmon fishing come back with a bang. Not only did Mike Tolley get things underway with his early brace last week he's gone one better this week with three in a day. Amazing result, congratulations Mike. One other rod certainly deserving of a well done is Rob Smyth who has landed three in the last day or two. Most of the fish about are fresh grilse but one or two colured summer fish are still to be found in the pools. less than ten days to go you'd better get out here soon if you want a fish this season.
The first shows Rob Smyth carefully returning a summer fish in full tartan. Rob also managed two fresh grilse last week making his total to date five, which is pretty good going in a difficult year.The second shows a good looking double by Jamie Dawson, who found a couple a good fish a week or two back when the sun was high.
One other fishy report worthy of note were four roach over three pounds to one of the carp anglers. Whilst not the targetted species the angler involved did take the time to weigh them properly as they were such stunning fish. News of the capture saw me out on the bank for a night to see if I could make contact with the shoal with all too predictable a result I fear, dozens of roach to a pound and a quarter but the monsters remained ellusive.
One a cast. I never would have believed I could get fed-up with one pound roach!
I think I'm too old for this all night stuff, especially when it turns out to be the coldest August night for four years. Whilst I didn't get my three pounder, every cloud and all that, heading for work this morning I did get to drop in on moth experts Simon and Drew emptying Simon's trap that had been set by the Lodge last night. I put in an earlier entry that I find moths to be an area of our countryside of which I am unfortunately ignorant, given time I would dearly love to expand my knowledge of these beautiful little creatures.
One that I can recognise the Poplar Hawk Moth.
Simon and Drew examining the grass surrounding the trap for specimens. Simon has confirmed the names so I'm not just guessing these; the first is a Canary-shouldered Thorn (Ennomos quercinaria) and the one on the right the Spectacled Moth (Abrostola tripartita)
A Pale Prominent (Pterostoma palpina) and finally a Swallow Prominent (Pheosia tremula) what amazing creatures they all are when seen close up. The moths, not Simon and Drew, though I'm sure both have their charms!
Avon roach have cropped up in conversation on two occasions in recent days, which in itself is quite a note worthy event. The first occasion was a text today from Somerley regular Darren Slavin who is down for a week or twos fishing on the Avon with son Ronnie. Ronnie needs no further introduction being featured a couple of times in recent weeks showing us all how to catch large barbel. I should perhaps add that dad Darren has already managed a couple of eleven pounders from Bisterne this week so he's no slouch and it would also seem a good teacher! Back to the roach and the text I received mid morning today. It seems Darren and Ronnie had been out fish spotting and during their wandering on the north of the estate came across a large dead roach trapped in the leaves of a cabbage bed. Not having a landing net or rod they were unable to get the fish to the bank hence a text to me to let me know it was there. As I'm sure regular readers are aware I have a long standing fascination with Avon roach and the opportunity to have a look at a large Avon fish at a time when they are so scarce was not to be missed. At lunchtime I headed for the spot described by Darren and sure enough still trapped in the lily leaves was a good sized fish. Five minutes with the rake and a good roach was hauled out on the bank. It was a classic, one that would have made the heart skip a beat as it surfaced twenty meters down the swim on an overcast Avon day. It was an old fish with evidence of fin erosion and scale regeneration and a large area of damage possibly inflicted by the Moorhen that was pecking away at the carcass when I arrived. It hadn't been dead long as the eye was still bright and the mucus layer remained intact. Difficult to say where the fish had spent its days as it may have drifted with the current unable to withstand the flow from miles upstream, alternatively it may have spent its entire life twenty meters upstream of the large lily bed that was now its final resting place. What this fish does show us is that at fourteen and a half inches there are still two pound roach to be found in the Avon.
The passing of another Avon gem.
The second occasion roach were mentioned was in an email that I was delighted to receive from a diary reader on the far side of the globe in China. Angus Lamont is an ex pat who left our shores in 1967 but prior to his move he had fished the Avon in the late fifties and early sixties, the very times I was recently discussing in Capt L A Parkers fishing record. Having read the entry about Parker's log Angus took the time to write with his experiences of the river. Below I have included a paragraph from Angus's email to allow readers a taste of his personal experiences at that historic time. Angus's account confirms much of the detail from Parkers Log, certainly regarding the frequency of two pounder roach and the size of the chub. I have subsequently exchanged emails with Angus who has promised a more detailed account of his Avon exploits for inclusion on the diary. I will eagerly await hearing form Angus again, fingers crossed in the not too distant future.
"I fished the Avon from the late fifties to the mid-sixties. I stayed at Fordingbridge at the Waverly Guest House along the Salisbury Road, then the Greyhound Hotel and fished their beat until it stopped taking guests and finally at the St. Ives Guest House (which had a garden bordering the river where we could tie up our boats). Because I didn’t know how to fish the Avon I struggled until I met a couple of older anglers who used to fish with Capt. Parker at the Bull, Downton. Following their advice and knowledge I got the hang of Avon fishing (what a difference from the Rive Lea). At the Greyhound there was a “snug” called the Angler’s Rest, which had plenty of stuffed fish on the walls, many of which had been caught by a Mr. Newman, a retired stock broker. My older friends knew him and he sometimes invited them to fish at the East Mills. There was a roach over 3lbs on that wall caught by him. When I first started angling the Greyhound stretch there were plenty of chub around, mostly between 3¼-3½ lbs. I never saw or heard of a 4lbs fish being caught. A few years later they virtually vanished due to some parasite infection but they were making a comeback by the late sixties. I never heard of a 2lbs roach being caught either; my own best was an August fish of 1lb 14oz (over 2lbs in March!). Grayling were rare but occasionally caught while trout were commoner (best 3lbs 9oz one Christmas). There were no barbel in the Fordingbridge stretch so I took the bus to Ibsley where my pal and I got day tickets from Colonel Crow to fish the weir pool. Before giving us the tickets he inspected us as though we were on parade and his enormous Alsatian dog also gave us the once over. We were directed to return and give an account of our catch before departing. We didn’t catch much but I did get a large eel that Colonel Crow initially thought might be a kelt. The crafty old boy had been watching us through binoculars!"
Living history, brilliant stuff, it is so important to record as many personal accounts as possible in an effort to establish the history of our river. Added to which in the last text I exchanged with Darren this afternoon Ronnie had managed to up his personal best chub with one of 5.14 on the float, dad will certainly have to look to his laurels today.
Thankfully the first photo shows us getting to grips with the final swathes of last winter's windblown conifers; fingers crossed for fewer storms this time around. The second also shows a site prior to it being cleared on the Avon Valley Path. During the couple of days I was working on the river I had the frustrating task of throwing off seven individuals that either through stupidity, ignorance or shear brass neck decided to have a days fishing on the Avon. Everyone of those peopled claimed the footpath gave them right of access, an excuse difficult to challenge. In that same period I did not see one genuine user of the path. Thank you Hampshire County Council for providing every lowlife wishing to poach the river an excuse for being on the banks - you really haven't got a clue.
I would like to think this was Balsam's last stand but fear that is a little over optimistic. I did manage to get to those few up at Ibsley and we have to thank Joanne Gore from the wildlife trust with her band of volunteers who have been busy once more lower down on the estate, hopefully seeing the fruits of their hard labour as the density of the wretched plant dropped quite dramatically this year. Last winters floods probably sent a great deal of the seed bank on its way down the valley, lets hope the reduced number of seeds allow us to keep on top of it in the future. The middle shot is of the mint flowers that currently abound in the water meadows. The entire marsh at Hucklesbrook has the fragrance of the flowering mint hanging in the air. The Snipe have arrived for the winter as the Kingfishers spend their time chasing each other about the river in an effort to establish their territories for the changing season. The piping calls of the Kingfishers easily confused with the three or four Green sandpipers feeding on the exposed mud caused by the dropping water levels. Stonechat families busy about the sedge beds with the cock bird chipping his warning of my presence. A warning ignored by the daft duck in the last shot that decided if it hid behind the tuft of leaves I wouldn't spot it. I see trouble ahead for this duck if it continues with that as its defence strategy!
Once more its the early hours and I'm heading for bed with thanks to Ruby Turner for keeping me company for the last hour.
A quick update on the salmon from in that the water temperature has now dropped back to fishable levels so make the most of the last fortnight. Mike Tolley was quickly into his stride taking fish of 7 and 11 pounds in the first day or two. With the lack of weed fishing by any means is still quite feasible. The lack of weed also makes fish spotting relatively easy, the counter side of which of course is that the fish can also see you, so it pays to keep a low profile.
You have to see it to believe it
I recently heard rumours of a wonderful catch of barbel that was supposed to have been made from the Avon this season. Such rumours often circulate in the fishing world and one tends to take a great many of them with a pinch of salt. The difference with this catch was the angler who was purportedly involved in making it. One of the countries top barbel anglers and an Avon specialist, one guy capable of such a feat if ever it were to have happened so my curiosity was raised. I had hoped to have bumped into him in my travels about the estate but our paths had failed to cross. The info had been filed away and almost forgotten when an email out of the blue, with the name I was hoping for to confirm matters, arrived in the "In" box.
That catch included seven barbel, three of which were over twelve pounds with a further double of 10.10, added to which were seven chub including fish of 6.2 and 6.12. This catch was made in a single session on the river, which unlike the stillwaters is one daytime visit. What can you say about such a catch, other than congratulations and extremely well done to the chap involved. I suppose I need to include his name on here but I'm sure most Avon anglers will know to whom I refer but for those that don't it was of course John McGough. Superb and thanks for the email and the pix John.
One of the catch of a lifetime, John did send more pix but whilst the fish undoubtedly will have moved by now some of the other shots gave away the swim which may lead to undue pressure.
On reading through yesterday's entry I now realise I missed a very important factor related to the problem of the potential acoustic barrier. The potential risk becomes critical due to the length of the construction period being over four years. It is the very nature of our salmon for a years smolt run to spread the risk of extinction by means of returning from sea over a three or possibly four year period. Again if we consider the worse case scenario and salmon are blocked from returning over the period of construction it has effectively brought about the extinction of our chalk stream salmon. Not a very pleasant thought is it.
The sheltered waters at the entrance of Portland Harbour that may well become the construction harbour for the Navitus project, taken as we bounced our way back in from the waters off the Bill this afternoon.
The other day I had a most welcome boost to my flagging moral which was beginning to suffer after a week preparing the park for the Ellingham Show. An angler with many years of experience fishing for species in far flung climes proclaimed his investment in joining the Mockbeggar syndicate was the best £150 he had spent in his angling career. That's just what I needed to hear as we have a great deal of work ahead of us to get the fishery up together for the syndicates in the coming year. A very welcome and much appreciated comment, hopefully reflecting we are at least on the right track. Whilst on the subject of the Mockbeggar syndicate perhaps I could ask members to take a look at the Mockbeggar page on the diary.
This one is going to dull the eyes of many of the diary regulars but read on as it does throw up one or two questions you may find of interest. It may also provide food for thought and ideas you may wish to pass on to me for further airing.
The Navitus Bay developers proudly tell us of the 18000 comprehensive pages of the planning application, currently submitted for the National Infrastructure Planning process to grind on its way, is a complete and comprehensive document that has met the concerns of the community. For those who have not heard of it the Navitus Bay development is a large off shore wind farm proposed for some fourteen Km out at sea from Poole Bay. Unfortunately there is an inherent risk attached to such a vast application of bulldozing over the rights and concerns of the individual. I should perhaps say that I am not adverse to the idea and position of the wind farm. An environmentally sustainable array capable of generating power that equates to that of a more traditional oil or coal powered station seems a good idea. I have no particular concerns about seeing wind turbines on the horizon, I've been to Amsterdam the home of windmills and Heineken and the later certainly had a more distressing effect on me! I also fish in the area concerned and do not fear the impact of the work or the foundations on the sea fish community. Quite the reverse I hope to see a far more diverse sea bed with new sand bars and food sources for the fish colonising the towers. There are one or two caveats to that perhaps flippant remark in that environmentally sustainable has a definition that includes no adverse impact on the birds, mammals and fish of the area and there's the rub.
It all stems from the scale of the construction operation involved in erecting the one hundred and ninety four wind turbine towers. To say that it is mind boggling about covers it from the perspective of a layman such as myself. One thousand ton, eight meter diameter mono-piles that are driven into the bed of the sea with a pile driver of gargantuan proportions. The noise that is generated from this operation will travel underwater for enormous distances at a decibel level that may potentially interfere with the migration of our salmon to and fro from their natal chalkstream rivers. The developers tell us that they recognise this potential problem and are working with the regulators to mitigate the problem. Here's another one of those rubs! I'm sorry but the history of the regulators adhering to their legal obligation of maintaining, improving and developing our fisheries is debatable to say the least. Our local history over the previous two or three decades is hardly a recommendation to leave the fate of multi-million pound privately owned fisheries solely in their hands. I do not decry the efforts of our fishery officers but unfortunately they are not sufficiently well funded to enable them to independently check and confirm the claims made by the developers consultants. Claims I might add, once more as a layman, I found to be based on the flimsiest of evidence. How do I possibly refute the carefully prepared presentation of the paid professional consultant? After a full days work do I have to sit down and burn the midnight oil and as well as reading through the application read all the referenced papers the claims are based on? References that potentially run into several thousand further pages of reading. Fortunately it was this very scenario that brought about the existence of the Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust. When previously confronted by the reams of evidence proffered in support of various water resources plans, abstraction models etc we realised this was no longer a job for the enthusiastic amateur volunteer. The protection of our valleys ecology and fisheries had to have the support of an independent professional approach. Fortunately within the embryonic structure of the WCSRT we now have just such a professional scientist in the form of trust Projects Officer Dr Nick Giles. Thankfully Nick has picked up the batten and is preparing to take a look at the evidence that supports the claims of the developers. Given his current trust workload I fear it may also involve many hours of late night reading but at least with Nick's background in fishery ecology he will understand the implications and relevance of the papers; unlike my ponderous attempts to bring light into the darkness.
This is the point that the rights and concerns of the individual, I referred to earlier, come into play. What concerns can I possibly have related to a wind farm ten miles out at sea you might wonder, being my that my realm is ten miles from the coast as the Cormorant flies.
As I am sure you are aware the plight of the chalk stream salmon fisheries in recent years has been a troubled one. Many have closed through lack of support by the rods and many have struggled on as our salmon returns for two and a half decades have bumped along the bottom of the graph. Elements within the run have altered such as the MSW component and the seasonal appearance of the run. Probably down to climate change but we don't know this for certain. Now we are told we may face a further barrier in the form of an audio/acoustic barrage placed across the entrance to Poole Bay stretching from Old Harry Rocks in the west to the Needles in the east. There has been much discussion about the decibel level of this barrier and its potential impact but at the end of the day the developers admit it exists and are prepared to implement mitigation measures to minimise the impact. They have agreed to a moratorium on piling during a period in the Spring as our smolts leave our rivers. They also agree that the returning adults could possibly be effected. This brings us to the stage mentioned earlier where they have yet to reach an agreement with the regulators as to the BMP.
Lets look at the potential to impact on our fisheries and by fisheries I mean the privately owned assets not the species. Whilst I agree that the salmon is the key ingredient, from our perspective there is considerable more to a fishery than the fish. A fishery is the means by which we maintain the river with such projects as bank strengthening and control structure renewal. Projects such as that in the immediate area of Ibsey weir where a half million pound investment is required to reinforce the banks and rebuild both main channel control structures. The only way we have of raising that investment is through rods on the bank being prepared to pay their fees for access to our river. Even the perception that there will be a further adverse element impacting on the fishery will be sufficient to deter rods. How do we allay these fears and keep our rods is the critical question. Exclusivity and facilities such as good access, car parking and clean pools. The entire experience of a day on the river mustn't be dependent on a salmon being caught but a feeling of being involved with nature at its primary level, sating the subconscious appetite of man the hunter provider. Don't get me wrong a fish is the key element and a realistic chance is a must but as we practice total catch and release it is not the be all and end all. If you take away that realistic chance however attractive the fishery the anglers will not pay there fees solely to commune with nature.
What can we say with any certainty is that we have a massive development that may potentially impact on our salmon. Those same salmon are an EU designated species and as such are provided with protection under European and National legislation. "You just ain't allowed to mess um about" What our mandarins in Whitehall did in transcribing this European Habitats Directive into English Law provide an easy means to assess it effectiveness in that it should comply with the precautionary principle as determined by the best scientific advice available at the time. Now the reason the examination of the developers claims has to be so closely scrutinised is made clear. Should, god forbid, they be spinning us a yarn, we need to know. Not only do we need to know we are not being fed a line but we need to know that the developers have done all they can to establish just what impact the worse case scenario might have on our stocks. To that end we might expect to see the historical run of the effected rivers established to give us a baseline from which to work. We might expect to see a very close monitoring programme in place to ensure that should the worse case materialise they will be immediately on the case and set in action a programme of agreed mitigation to counter such crashes in numbers. Whilst on the monitoring front we might expect several years of continued monitoring to allay fears related to such changes in the ecology of the bay that even through ignorance may be attributed to the monster on the skyline. Do such schemes exist? If they do I'm not aware of them and certainly no one has approached us seeking records or permission to monitor. What else might we like to see? Perhaps some one could tell me how long it takes for one of the fish destined for Somerley to swim through the area of the disturbance? In the event of a dramatically low flow in the river which we seem to see with increasing frequency these days, will our fish be safe if they decide to return to sea? Or will they be trapped between the outer edge of the sound barrage and the shoreline? That coastal strip festoon with countless miles of gill nets aimed at sole etc. As with the smolt run will there be a regular window of opportunity for our returning adults to cross through the impacted area without undue stress? Perhaps a three days moritorium on piling each week? Or perhaps a five day window when barometric pressure, coinciding with a spring tide, warns of a rain event likely to induce a movement of salmon? This of course is dependent on us knowing when, how long and by which route our fish travel through the bay. A project to attach geolocators or transponder tags to some of the fish might give us the answers. Given a worse case scenario what of the genetic protection of the chalkstream salmon that we are told by the regulators must be protected at all cost. Have the genomes of the salmon from the rivers potentially at risk been safeguarded? Have they been stored under cryopreservation or have sufficient numbers of brood fish been taken to hatcheries where they can be safeguarded for the three or four year duration of the construction? Not that I am aware of. Perhaps we best press the NIPs (National Infrastructure Planning) and Secretary of State for the environment advisor’s to recommend a little more application of that precautionary principle.
Its now some ungodly hour in the morning and I am getting up at four to take a boat out very close to the area involved in the Navitus Project. In light of which please excuse the spelling etc I'll proof read it and do the necessary corrections in a day or two - good night.
The first shows just what goes into keeping your lights on. The photo shows the dozen or so cutters felling very large Douglas fir that were at risk of falling across the electricity supply lines. The lines had been lowered cutting off the supply to users which required the trees were felled as quickly as possible. I must say I was pleased not to be cutting in the sunshine yesterday morning, it must have been an extremely warm exercise. The middle shot shows a far more appealing exercise, sat in the shade at the tail of one of the Ibsley weirpools. Two good perch and the bream, being landed as I passed on my way to the hatches, provided an excellent start for a contented angler. Third shot is taken from Ibsley Bridge looking upstream. It shows one of at least two barbel flashing and rolling in the heavy weed. Just what they're eating or looking for is difficult to say, possibly snails but I have no proof of that. Whatever it is they are looking for it is a regular feeding pattern as they show up every year and behave in exactly the same manner.
Thanks to Darren Slavin for sending through the latest capture of young Ronnie who is certainly getting amongst the fish. Well done Ronnie, showing us all the way yet again. Middle shot shows the brace of 20's that Dave Lester had on at the same time. Luckily Chris Morgan was on hand to help with landing which is more than could be said when I found Dave in a similar position an hour or two later. I managed to get the net containing a twenty caught up in the brambles on one side of the swim and the rod, I'd taken from Dave whilst he played the second fish, in the brambles on the other. Fortunately the second fish behaved itself, allowing Dave to unhook it in the water saving the day. The final shot shows a juvenile Cuckoo that was sat beside the track as I made my way around the lake today.
The river still has a tinge of colour but not sufficient to prevent further fish spotting. Possibly due to the lack of weed this year I am seeing quite a few seatrout and salmon, interestingly several in lies from which we seldom catch. The run out of Sydney Pool there are two summer fish which can be seen behind the clay boulders on the gravel runs just a rod length from the bank. Is it because salmon do not use this pool earlier in the season or due to its distance from the car park? What ever the reason I would certainly recommend giving the deep tail of the pool, all the way to the head of Penmeade, more attention when next the opportunity to fish it arrives. If you get the opportunity in the next week or so, on a sunny morning between 10:30 and 13:00 you could do worse than just popping down to have a look just where those fish are lying.
How superb is that? As Darrel put it when he sent the email "Its good when a plan comes together". He landed this old girl of 12.14 from the swim we removed the snag from on Friday! To add to this one he also had an 11.09 elsewhere on the estate yesterday. Thanks for allowing me the use of the photo Darrel very much appreciated.
Recognise it? Click on the thumbnail and I'm sure it will cheer up several of you.
There certainly hasn't been a salmon, or for that matter many barbel, out of what was one of the best runs on the estate since the bloody thing arrived. Hopefully things will settle back over the winter and we will see a return to the flow regime and catch returns of past years.
If you're going to venture out during the heat of the day might I recommend a spot of shade. It might limit your catch rate but what the heck, where could be better! It will also provide a refuge from the attention of the local horse-flies but that will probably only be temporary. The one in the pic changed shape shortly after the photo was taken - that's my leg!
Time only permits the briefest of captions to accompany Dave Lester returning a near thirty from Mockbeggar where a twenty four hour visit saw four 20's and a further seven or eight doubles. Included in that were a 23 and a 26 on at the same time and that little lot follows a 24 hour session last week that produced sixteen doubles. The second shot is of John Slader doing his best to forget the trials and tribulations of keeping the Wessex Chalkstream and Rivers Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association accounts on the straight and narrow. On this occasion John is enjoying a total change from the game scene on a real nostalgia trip bagging up on the bream in Kings-Vincents. I think the one currently being landed is about the twentieth of the day.
The first two photos illustrate the amount of erosion that is a natural process of the alluvial lowland rivers such as the Avon as they meander down the shallow gradient valleys. The faster flow on the outside of the bends undermines the bank moving the resulting clay and gravel downstream to create the gravel shoals on the inside of the bends. At a very conservative estimate I believe on the Estate alone we see in the region of a thousand tons of silt and gravel mobilised in the channel on a high flow winter such as we have just experienced. Times that by the proportional distance between Salisbury and the sea and you can understand why I don't feel overly concerned about a dozen cows stamping about in the river. On a completely different subject the third shot shows last years brood of Swifts looking for next years nesting sites. his years broods have now flown, the adults having left a week earlier. Just a few days prior to that last years broods were causing chaos in the House Sparrow and Starling community examining their boxes a potential nest sites. At one point we had fifteen Swifts screaming around the house with every cock sparrow and Starling valiantly trying to stand guard over their boxes. Next May threatens to be full scale war if I don't get more boxes up in time.
Just a few shots in appreciation of our dace, in that the Avon population must now number millions, providing trotting second to none. As well as the dace we are now seeing better numbers of good quality roach and chub fishing simply beyond belief; particularly for someone such as myself who grew up on the Avon through the sixties and seventies when a big chub was four pounds. I am currently just grateful for the sport on offer but it does give rise to many questions that are in need of answers if we are to avoid future population crashes.
Removing the dangerous cliff in the first bay at Mockbeggar. Meadow Browns coupled creating the next generation whilst the worn and tired one below is more interested in the nectar. Yesterday I had the opportunity to walk some of the carriers with four knowledgable and very experienced anglers. As you are aware it doesn't take much of an excuse for me to do some fish spotting and in such pleasant company it was a very enjoyable and well spent couple of hours. Today I took the chainsaw for a walk to clear one or two of the long blocked paths down on the river. Whilst out and about I spotted some fabulous fish and in the rather poor photo there were over fifteen chub at one point, plus two double figure pike and two good barbel. Add a fine seatrout fifty meters upstream, which would have made a fine brace with one we spotted yesterday, confirming that now is the time to get out and find those monsters you intend to catch this autumn when they get their heads down to feed up for the winter.
The first shot is the archetypal summer river as the cows resort to the water to cool their over heated hooves and deter the stouts. I do not believe cattle add to the erosion or the silt load of the river so don't email telling me they should be fenced out; I also hate fences, there's nothing so intrusive or unattractive as a pig and barbed wire stock fence, particularly when your back cast is hanging from it!. Middle shot shows some of the fallow that do not even bother hiding these days, they simply treat us a bothersome intrusion on their grazing. They might look lovely but having just removed the fourth tick of the week from my nether regions my feelings for them are very mixed. A tip for removing them should you be unfortunate enought to find one attached is to get a cotton bud and coat them in liquid soap. Once coated leave them for a few minutes and then with the cotton bud dab and rotate the tip until the b'**"r gets caught up in it fine fibres and is removed intact. It works well, with no bits left to go septic. The righthand photo is as much of the teasel as the Brimstone but I feel they compliment each other perfectly.The thorned permanency and the ephemeral beauty.
Rushed off my feet and loving every minute of it. We are desperately catching up with jobs lost to wet last winter, prep for the various events and keeping the place looking tidy. Not a seconds respite and absolutely whacked when I get home in the evenings. My day is now often starting at first light and not finishing until dark, plus of course the ever present paperwork that still insists on being sorted. I just love the summer heat making even the most menial task a pleasure, even three or four hours in the protective gear sorting out various dodgy trees or clipping the fishery into some sort of order has a silver lining saving on the need for any gym fees in my life.
As for the valley and matters making up my current pre-occupations I have multiple distractions but not least amongst these is a literary one. Odd possibly with all that is active on the ground and the ongoing preparations for next years syndicates but a once in a lifetime chance to experience the true feeling and history of our pastime through the eyes of one of its all time greats is an opportunity to savour. I must first recognise an enormous debt of gratitude I owe to Chris Blood who has allowed me a very much extended loan of what I consider to be one of the most important documents related to the Avon and for that matter coarse angling. Chris is what I term a low profile angler who probably will not thank me for mentioning him on here but I feel I should say how much I appreciate his kindness in allowing me access to this treasure. He is also an extremely successful angler with a string of captures that would have made even the grand master of whom I write sit up and take notice.
Just who is it to whom I refer? And just what is it that affords me the insight into his world? The angler in question is Captain L A Parker. The document in question is the hand written fishing log of Capt Parker between the years 1935 and the early 60's. For those readers not familiar with that name Captain Parker, or "The Skipper" as he was affectionately known, was for a period in the 1930's and 40's Landlord at the Bull Hotel at Downton. His claim to fame, related to the Avon, was that he published several books based on his vast angling experience on what was his local river. The most famous of which "This Fishing" which brought innovation and science to the world of the coarse angler a decade before Dick Walker appeared on the scene repeating such thinking.
The log not only records Parker's personal catches but those of visiting anglers and various angling societies such as the Red Spinners and the Piscatorial's that visited his waters. His waters or patch, for want of a better description, included the famous Bull Water controlled by the hotel at Downton, Bickton where he lived and the Burgate water that lies in between. At the time of his writing the coarse angler was in the main a different person than the many semi-professionals we see these days on the bank. For them the pastime was not only for the pleasure derived from being on the bank but also the provision of food for the table. In Parker's log there is mention of fish being returned as a point worthy of comment. I imagine the knocking on the head of half a dozen two pound roach would give rise to quite a stir on today's forums, that is if you could find half a dozen two pound roach. Capt Parker's approach to angling introduced what we take as the norm today in that water temperature, air temperature, wind direction and barometric pressure were first considered as influencing factors on fish activity. The appendixes in This Fishing contain three months of daily recordings, with the resultant catch, illustrating the detail that gave rise to Parker's undoubted expertise.
The longer period covered by the fishing log takes us back in time to a Hampshire Avon we would struggle to recognise today. A river where roach and dace made up the bulk of the catch and barbel were not even mentioned. Chub, whilst present, never attained anything close to the weight of the chub we now see in the river, or the numbers, with only 8 chub over four pounds being recorded for the entire 42/43 season. There are aspects that remain unchanged in that the best roach fishing would usually come at the end of the season when fish were shoaled up in readiness for spawning. Even today when roach numbers are so dramatically low, where they still exist, the beginning of March is the most likely time for a red letter day. We look back on the time of Parkers exploits as the hey day of Avon fishing but strangely this is not supported by the evidence in Parker's record. The romantic belief that two pound roach were caught on every Avon trip appears not to have been the case. In the earlier years of the log between 1935 and 40 the number of two pound roach recorded for each year was not that many. In 1936 for example 16 at Downton and 9 at Burgate being the total. The difference was the number of lower weight fish that made up the bulk of the catches, fish between a pound and a pound and three quarters. It was this much higher population that probably gave rise to Parker never landing or recording a roach over three pounds. I suppose we must temper any conclusions with the fact we do not know just what Parker was recording. Did he record all catches or just the notable ones? Did he record only large fish and similarly ignore the bulk of the catch. Personally I believe he recorded everything. Judging by the detail and thoroughness of his records related to temperature I imaging such attention to detail would be mirrored in his catch records.
Whilst higher in the catchment the number of Grayling recorded points to a significantly different river than the one we see today. Grayling still occur on the fast shallows throughout most of the river, the population however is minute compared to that which existed at the time of Parker's writing. Similarly a sustainable trout populations providing consistent sport on the fly certainly as far downstream as Burgate. What has changed? The population within the catchment has certainly increased with all the associated demands for water and perhaps more critical the disposal of their waste. Farming has expanded the cultivation of the downlands that border the valley to an extent that could not have been imagined in the 30's and 40's. Farming has changed, away from livestock to the chemical hungry arable plains.
I have been reading and re-reading the log finding something new on each occasion. I really must arrange the long overdue return of the masterpiece to its owner, its pride of place on my desk must regrettably come to an end. It will long provide me with enormous food for thought and ideas that I will float on the diary from time to time. To have had the opportunity to have read such a document will remain one of the highlights of my long association with angling.
Andrew and his tree menders saving one of the large park oaks. The only other option would have been to fell the tree as it stands in the middle of the showground where on show day the general public come into close contact. This particular oak has been dropping huge limbs for some time and it was deemed time to resolve the situation. It might look a little severe but with the weight taken out of the top it will be safe for many more decades and the two wild bee colonies and the Little Owl that used the tree earlier in the year to raise its family will still have their home.
Text to follow.
Just to let you know the fallen trees have been cleared and the nettles strimmed from the path over the Slepe Brook and the bottom of the Harbridge Stream. A bonus shot of an Avon roach from one of the Ellingham pools and another of those huge perch by Paul Shutler. Its good to see these beautiful fish cropping up throughout the Estate.
Thanks to Julian Ward for this lovely "selfie" of a 22 from Mockbeggar. I had to put it up if for no other reason than the size of its paddle, I bet it went like a train.
Terrible picture time I'm afraid. I only had one of my old cameras in the truck in recent days so things are a little fuzzy. Fuzzy they might be but they do tell a story and in the first it captures the meaning of the description Wood Duck that applies to Mandarins, Carolina's etc. This is one of the Mockbeggar broods enjoying the late evening sunshine in the company of a young Coot, a perfect duck pic. The second shows a swan I had to catch up at Ibsley today to remove a bait dropper from its leg. Quite how a bait dropper managed to get caught up around his leg I can't imagine but he was none too impressed and a very disgruntled cob had to be wrestled out of a nettle bed with a great deal of hissing, flapping, grunting and swearing. I would ask all anglers on Somerley, be it river or lakes, that in the event you do lose tackle and any wildlife gets caught up you call me 07836688908. Whilst it might be a little embarrassing to admit to catching a swan your dented pride is a small price to pay to ensure creatures are not left tethered or suffering. The third pic is the second brood of one of the Egyptian pairs in the Lower Park. Egyptian geese regularly have second broods which means the rate the population will expand will most likely exceed that of the already burgeoning numbers of Canadas and Greylags.
The meadows are a Summer wonderland of butterfies as Meadow Brown numbers exceed any effort to count, complimented by Skippers, Coppers, Marbled Whites, Ringlets and many others I can't remember.
A great photo of Ronnie Slavin with a 12.01 barbel, which dad Darren kindly sent me. There first trip of the season to the Estate on Sunday resulted in a 5.2 chub first cast and the wonderful fish in the photo on the second. Brilliant fish Ronnie and thanks to Darren for sending me the details.
Just to let you know we have removed the fallen ash from the pool below Gypsy shallows. I'd be prepared to bet a salmon will be out of the pool within days and should you wish to try for a barbel on the float it looks spot on.
Jonathan came over again this evening so we headed for the river for a couple of hours, resulting in chub, dace and more of those dreaded rainbows on maggot. Danny has found another one of those fabulous Avon perch. This one was 3.5 was completely spawned out and hollow bellied. That would make it a big fish come the autumn.
Even more of them; there are fourteen juveniles in that lot!
Further signs of the passing seasons as spring has only just struggled into summer when the first ripe fruits of autumn appear on the cherry trees. In reality I think the ripening of the Bird Cherries might legitimately be labelled a summer happening, which is just as well with the summer solstice just days past. The problem with the bitter Bird Cherries ripening so early is that it seems to set the thrushes and jays on a search mode for any cherry they can find. Cultivated trees are stripped bare within twenty four hours of them first becoming cherry red ripe. One of the trees I keep an eye on each year was looking good for a pie or two next day only to have been cleared of tens of kilos of fruit within hours of day break.
Yet a further example of the march of the seasons witnessed today was the arrival of the grilse on the Estate with two being landed today. Paul Greenacre landed the first, marking another first in that it was the first salmon under ten pounds he has ever landed from the Estate. The second came to Paul Shutler fishing Dog Kennel with a fish as bright as a button straight in from the sea. With the lack of weed in the river the opportunity to have a go at the grilse with whatever means takes your fancy is a rare occurrence so make the most of it you salmon rods.
The ripening cherries so popular with the thrushes and corvids. Paul Shutler with the second grilse of the day and the year at Somerley.
Jonathan may have landed more carp but I think I had the largest along with a couple of five pound bream.
My fishing has been on a more traditional level in that my eldest, Jonathan, came over for the opening of the coarse season on the main Somerley Lakes. In best bent pin fashion we decided on an evening session on Kings-Vincents fishing bread in the margins. Sharing a swim , a more relaxing and pleasant way to spend an evening and catch a few fish is hard to imagine. A little bread slops and a few pellets of bread in the margins and we were ready. Anything that eats bread was our target and I decided on the float with a four pound mainline and a size twelve below a 3BB waggler. Jonathan on the other hand was happy with a ledger flicked underhand ten feet out, which would prove the successful approach would soon be discovered.
That cute brood of Goosander I included a week or so ago are now looking less attractive by the day. Some one needs to explain to me why a river that five or six years ago was repeatedly said to be devoid of roach, dace and chub, all eaten by the dreaded Cormorants is now bursting at the seams with dace and chublets, of all year classes with back-up juvenile barbel and grayling also appearing in the bags. Perch are once more a realistic target and the site of three pike in the twenty five pound class, visible in one pool, would point to plenty of food being available. Lets hope the pike eat the escaped rainbows that are still to be found throughout the river in vast numbers. We have not seen a return of the roach but lets similarly hope the remnant shoals to be found in the Bickerley and at Ellingham, along with the roach project, can re-establish their numbers. You never know the salmon may even find the river to their liking. The start of the season has been extremely encouraging fingers crossed we see a year when the elements allow us to make the most of it. The middle shot shows Darren and Kevin sorting out the Penmeade bridge and the almost finished product just the wire netting and rope rail to go. Thanks for the reminder James, In recent months I have tip-toed over the thing half a dozen times amidst the floods yet it had slipped off the radar as an outstanding task.
Not one that will be recorded in the salmon return but I have just received a lovely mixed catch report that included a fresh 5lbs grilse on a single maggot, which would point to quite a considerable run of fish up with us. You salmon rods can't say you haven't been warned and you'll probably only have a further week or two to make the most of them before we are weeded out. For the salmon anglers unfamiliar with the estate, who may think the river is over run with coarse anglers, nothing could be further from the truth. On some days, with nearly five miles of river bank, you will be hard pressed to find anyone. Add the fact that a meeting of kindred spirits enjoying the river is something to savour the river is currently a lovely place to be.
Just a quick thank you to all those that have sent details of their catches as our new season gets underway. From the few days entries that I have now added to the spread sheet I can see this will build into a extremely usuful management tool. Each season I will email a breakdown of the catches and one or two highlights to each of the contributors. Please keep the reports coming in I'm sure you will all find it extremely interesting.
Two of the reports I have received in the form of a three pound perch by Danny Taylor and a photo of a dead Sea Lamprey, the fate of most having spawned, sent in by Paul Greenacre.
Ah, at last those hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer are well and truly with us. The coarse season has arrived with a bang in both the fishery and the weather sense. Hot sunny days and the fish seem to have thrown caution to the winds and remain determined to feed. The lakes have been producing carp, tench and bream to most that have forced themselves to spend time on the sun drenched banks. Lay back and enjoy the warmth and sunshine and the fish will hopefully oblige without too great an effort on your part. Catches of eleven carp to 25 pound in an eight hour daytime visit are almost beyond comprehension. Evening sessions of just a few hours producing seven or eight carp to over twenty. Bags of tench and bream that are beyond estimation when it comes to trying to work out what weight of fish has been landed. The larger known carp seem to be down in weight indicating a successful spawning season which is always good to see. Whilst talking of spawning I should mention the lamprey that both Richard Mawson and Paul Greenacre reported seeing this week. These are the large sea lamprey that have entered the river, just like the salmon, in an effort to spawn on the gravels of the middle river. They are going through their spawning rituals at this time not waiting until the winter like the salmon. I must thank Richard and Paul for letting me know they had seen them as I had missed them to date. It is pleasing to have had several anglers report their catches to me as I requested recently. I can see this will build into a comprehensive and ongoing stock assessment tool not dissimilar to that used by the WeBS bird records.
Zac with thirty acres to himself, lazing on a sunny afternoon. The lads catching plenty of carp on Kings-Vincents Lake and a Great Crested Grebe sitting her second attempt.
Lots going on other than on the angling front, especially in the bird world. My early morning start with the stalkers gave me the opportunity to visit areas of the estate I seldom see. As we passed from the half light of dawn into the full morning sunrise the first sight to greet us was a conspiracy of Ravens. In fact it was the largest gathering of Ravens I have personally seen as eleven came drifting away from their roost heading out to feed amongst the sheep on the Lower Park. I have a huge admiration for the Raven as perhaps the cleverest member of the bird world. To have seen the population on the estate expand over the past fifteen years has been extremely satisfying. With the Ravens on their way around the corner and a Turtle Dove rose from beside a puddle in the track. This beautiful, once common dove has become a very rare sighting on the Estate. They are hunted mercilessly on their migration through the Mediterranean and Northern African legs of journey. Ending the North African element of this slaughter is a task difficult to resolve. That this still occurs in EU countries is nothing short of a disgrace. I repeatedly hear that the politicians and avian support groups are lobbying the EU commissioners yet I am unable to find a copy of a formally submitted complaint that would oblige the EU Commission for the Environment to act. Hopefully this is a lapse on my part in being unable to find the specific complaint rather than inactivity on the part of our politicians.
Those flower meadows behind Zac contain a host of wildlife going about its daily business. Literally hundreds of Meadow Browns where ever they could find a sheltered corner. Dragonflies such as the Scarce Chaser and the Keeled Skimmer joined by Broad bodied chaser and Emporers hawking flies above the flowers.
A further surprising bird world happening has been the arrival of the Starling roost in the reedbeds. I didn't expect the roost to gather so early in the year as I believed them to be European birds that arrived with us for the winter. As it turns out the roost came into being about the same time as the first broods of young fledged and left the boxes on the side of our house. Once fledged the young disappeared almost immediately whilst the adults remained and got their second broods underway. At the same time groups of young appeared in the meadows feeding amongst the livestock. It was at this time the roost began to establish. A week ago the second broods fledged and both young and adults disappeared from the garden. Again the roost grew dramatically to the extent that four or five thousand birds are now making use of the site. Of note is the fact that an increased component of the gathering now consists of adults which might almost certainly contains our three pairs and the twenty or so off-spring.
The first shows the birds gathering prior to dropping down into the reeds. The second clearly showing the much darker adults that have now joined the young birds at the roost site.
Add several Yellowhammers, several more Spotted flycatchers, a Redstart and two Hobbies, taking the dragonflies in the meadows before the warmth of the sun had brought them to full speed, it's been a good week.
Just a record shot of one of the thousands of juvenile toads that are currently swarming across the watermeadows..
A fine early morning stalk, with a positive outcome, provided a good start to the very busy day ahead. Successful meetings, catching up with the Estate maintenance, conference calls that ran smoothly, a very welcome working lunch and further good news on the salmon front, all added to a very satisfying day. The good news on the salmon front was the capture of two salmon today! Fingers crossed we see a few more grassed before the temperature brings it all to an abrupt end.
Two pictures each telling very different stories in that the first shows Russel Murphy who landed this eleven pound salmon after just three hours total salmon fishing. He did have the advantage of being the guest of Paul Shutler who does know the Estate extremely well but that said it is a remarkable start to a salmon fishing career. The second shot shows Paul greenacre with his third of the season which needs little further comment other than to say I'm sure a further epic is in the pipeline. Congratulations to both Russel and Paul on their success.
Downstream wind, upstream swans, maggots that have turned, a river full of rainbows and a stubborn headache that refuses to shift. Has all the hallmarks of a disaster if ever I saw them. In actual fact the day was a rare delight, if somewhat exhausting, from start to finish.
I arrived at the Bridge Pool at seven o’clock and spent a leisurely twenty minutes watching Peter Dexter fish the shrimp down through the Bridge Pool as I tackled up the trotting rod. The first day of the bait for salmon that coincides with the start of the coarse season makes for an interesting mix on the banks these days. This is especially true in that we still have virtually no weed in the river, a situation almost unheard of for mid-June. What this means is that the salmon rods are able to practice which ever discipline they should chose, even the Devon minnow. The sight of Mepp, fly, bait and minnow all being practised on the same day is a rare sight. Peter fished through the pool but failed to find his fish, graciously making way for me to open my river coarse season with a couple of hours with the pin. I have little doubt that I will see Peter's name in the book before too long as he is our shrimp expert managing to consistently find fish at the tail of the season. Despite the downstream wind I was keen to get to grips with the huge shoal of dace that had gathered below the bridge for the last week or two and couldn't wait to get started. Opening the maggot bucket I discovered the warmth of the weekend had turned my maggot so it looked as if I would be fishing caster. Not the disaster it might have been as caster will very often pick up the better dace and you never know it might find a roach or two.
Yours truly into one of many dace with which I opened my season. The escapee rainbows at least are the perfect pike bait for next winter. Finally Gwyn Davies also enjoyng the dace fishing.
As it turned out the dace were so thick in the swim that it didn't matter what bait you put on the hook it was stripped almost instantly. Add in the massed gathering of escaped rainbows and fishing was proving a little more frantic that I had envisaged. A bite a cast doesn't do it justice in that in most instances the float disappeared within feet of starting the thirty yard trot. The continuous action didn't allow the awkward downstream wind or the swan loosened weed to become a nuisance, adding up to a couple of hours of very pleasant trotting with the centre pin as I could have wished for. With my season under-way I happily packed away the tackle and walked down to the recently cleared weirpool to see how the one angler I could see was faring. As it transpired he was a kindred spirit and was simply out for a couple of hours just to open his season. He too was packing away his gear having landed six chub like peas in a pod at a pound and a half each before he was driven off by the attention of the massed dace that seem to be everywhere throughout the river. Its certainly very pleasing to know we have a further healthy generation of chub to come through when the current year class of monsters finally succumbs to old age.
So many dace it was difficult to get down to the larger specimens laying deeper in the pool.
On the subject of catches I am about to begin assessing stocks through out the estate. In an effort to do this I will be collecting catch information and recording it on a spread sheet for our records. To this end I would very much appreciate catch reports in whatever form and of what ever species. Sightings with location, approximate size and numbers would be equally valuable, including such species as lamprey, both sea and river, gudgeon, bullheads and eels. My email address can be found in the contacts page and all information will be strictly non personal and not released in the current year. All help will be very much appreciated.
As I left Ibsley, Gwyn Davies had just arrived and was also setting up to open his season on the pin chasing those dace. Its very pleasing to know that when such huge numbers of fish are present anglers will come and enjoy the sport they provide. The sight of three people trotting the river on opening morning is extremely heartening as a return to traditional Avon techniques.
I decided to find one or two more anglers to see how the season was starting and decided to walk down to Harbridge Bend following the Trout stream track down to its confluence with the main channel. A route that allowed me to visit the stream shallows where the chub and barbel where busy getting their spawning under way. If spawning is about to get in full swing the fishing will undoubtedly become erratic for the next week or two. As it was I only found two other anglers down the bottom on the river, one of whom was Robin Simpson, a chance meeting that added enormously to the pleasure of my day. Robin is an angler in the purest and truest sense, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for what must be approaching thirty years. I have not seen him for several years and mutual friends had kept me abreast of Robins trials with ill health and so to see him on the bank in such good form, enjoying his opening day, topped off my day famously. In best Robin fashion he had also found the fish having managed a good barbel, a grayling and I believe he said a chub. Well done Robin, it was extremely good to see you still showing the way to go.
Not the fullest report I might have written up but it is now past midnight, USA are leading Ghana 1 - 0 and I have to be up in three hours as I'm taking out the deer stalkers tomorrow morning. I'll try and fill in some of the gaps in the coming days.
I'm afarid entries over the next few of days will be difficult as the coarse season on the river and the main lakes gets underway meaning all disciplines will be in full swing. Having said that I hope to get a few hours on the river tomorrow to have a go for the dace; this despite not having landed a salmon this season. The salmon will have to wait a little longer, I'm sure there will be plenty of time remaining this salmon season to open my account as everything is running late this year to the extent we still have no weed in the river allowing Devon fishing in the middle of June, unheard of! I also have to admit having transgressed and opened my coarse season a day or two early on the lakes that are open. Being a traditionalist I usually wait for the sixteenth before going into bat but this year I needed to confirm to myself some particularly difficult fish remain catchable; that's my excuse anyway and I'm sticking to it! That is one of the disadvantages of my job in that I am involved with fish, fishermen and fisheries on a twenty four, seven basis for the three hundred and sixty five days of the year which can take the shine of our pastime if you're not careful. Thankfully I still get the buzz from picking up the rod and heading out at first light or as the sunsets and shake like the proverbial leaf when a good fish is on.
A couple of hours before work accounted for this "29" and a further couple after brought me a similar beautiful common approaching twenty.
A brief update on the salmon front with Rob Smyth having landed his second of the season on the same set-up as his first in the shape of his single handed fly rod and Jim Foster opening his account today with a well proportioned twelve pound hen.
Jim hanging on to ensure she has fully regained her strength after the fight and isn't released too soon.
The first genuine feel of summer this week as the sun shone and the winds dropped each evening making life seem almost normal. With the ground drying, allowing machines access once again, we are still playing catch-up with ground work and tree removal. All things being equal I imagine we will have caught up with the backlog just before we head into next winter. However slow, progress in any form is most welcome after six months of the most frustrating conditions I have ever experienced.
The sight and warmth of the sun puts all things right with the world and a walk around the lakes, alive with the coming and going of the natural world, is a true delight. The cleared meadows surrounding Mockbeggar are filling with the flowers of summer and the hum of the insect world is akin to a sigh of relief as they now actually believe summer is going to arrive. The fish are topping as they clear their gills of silt accumulated as they feed on the layers of invertebrates on the lake bed. To digest their meals an hour or two sunbathing in the sheltered lagoons seems to be the order of the day with several hundred fish anchored up in a flat calm corner of Kings-Vincents. Back at Mockbeggar dimpling fry cover the surface of entire bays in the evenings making it look for all the world as if its pouring down.
Mockbeggar with the sun shining looking good. Peacock butterfly caterpillars on the stinging nettles and the ox-eye daisies and foxgloves on one of the islands.
Still on the fishing front I'm pleased to hear that Mike Tolley has added to our tally with a fine cock fish of nineteen pounds. On the salmon front, the down side of this return of summer is that the water temperature is creeping toward the critical cut-off point of 19 degrees Centigrade where we stop salmon fishing. Please keep an eye on the Knappmill website for the arrival of that fateful figure. I should add that's about the only use for that site. As usual the counter figures for running fish are not available whether due to technical problems or the patronising attitude of the EA in believing they do not have any obligation to encourage the fishermen onto the banks to exploit fish. They seem to forget that the hundreds of thousands that pay for that useless piece of kit is public money and they also have a statutory obligation to maintain, improve and develop the fisheries; the most important part of which are the anglers on the bank. I've long maintained that a river bank to bank with salmon is not a fishery unless it has anglers on the bank fishing for them and paying for the maintenance of the river; not just the EA rod licence. Over twenty years of season reductions, method restrictions, catch and release and net buy outs, to the extent the Hampshire Avon is the most heavily regulated salmon fishery in the country and we have not seen one jot of improvement, maintenance and development from the fisheries division of the EA during that period. The entire sacrifice has come from the fisheries and the fishermen, perhaps its time for a rethink on the direction we are heading? Fear not there is a bright side, with the coarse season about to get under way the first angler to trot maggot in the Ibsley area will be inundated with bites. Further downside, it will be from six inch rainbow trout, the river is still packed with the verminous things! Bright side; they make excellent pike bait, cat food, garden fertilizer or flattened and dried as book marks, so bring a potato sack to take the wretched things home to freeze or bung on the compost heap.
Now, where'd I put those Valium. Perhaps another walk around the lake will restore my naturally sunny disposition!
Little grebe sitting on its weed built nest. One of the Mandarin ducks at Mockbeggar, surely one of the loveliest ducks even when compared to her gaudy partner. We have had three broods of Mandarins hatch over at Mockbeggar. The first brood were eaten by the gulls, the duck being rather dense and swimming in open water. The second, which the duck above produced, has two surviving and we have a third brood that currently has six ducklings tucked away in the reed beds. The final shot is pleasing in that it shows one of the spotted flycatchers that are about the Estate which appear to be re-establishing their numbers this year.
There just has to be a fish in there somewhere!
An interesting photo-scan that shows the late Barbara Herring with a true Avon Springer of 23 pounds from the weirpool at Ibsley. Barbara and husband Dennis fished together at Somerley for almost thirty years and I recall our meetings with great fondness, they were always a delight to meet on the bank. The reason I added the photo is that it shows one of the last salmon to be caught from the Ibsley weirpool, well over thirty years ago. Today whilst clipping up the banks I gave the reason for the prolonged dearth of fish from the pool some concentrated thought arriving at the conclusion we need to call the changes and see what happens.
The first phase of the change will be to remove the dangerous fence that doesn't allow fishing from the north bank. with that fence out of the way we at least should be able to access the pool without risking life and limb. Probably the next phase will be to keep Natural England happy and remove the willow carr that my predecessor planted to cover the spoil he dredged from the pool in the eighties. With more light and greater access hopefully we at least will see a little more rod effort from which we can judge what else might improve the situation.
The first phase of the change underway as the dangerous old fence is removed allowing access to the north side of the pool. A less than friendly greeting from one of the locals at Ibsley; not that uncommon an occurrance that one or two readers might well be able to vouch for! The last I saw the cob he was pursuing a less than happy walker along the Avon Valley Path; the lady in question was looking less than impressed. Having said recently that I hadn't seen any Goosander broods this year I have now seen two scotching any thoughts of a declining population.
It was Paul Greenacre who pointed out this second brood as he continues his adventures with rod and line. His video of the Island run fish can be found at;
and I imagine he will have added more to his growing catalogue as he text this evening to say he has lost yet another salmon, been landing large chub, pike and seatrout all on the fly, providing plenty of further material for his video blog.
Paul grinning over the top of a fine looking seatrout from Park pool.
This is more encouraging, Paul with his second of the season. Well done Paul keep up the good work.
Carrying on from where we left off yesterday I have continued to give the salmon pools their second cut of the season. The Hoodies triangle is now clear with the bank clipped up and the fallen willows cut up. The tree in the tail of Cabbage Garden has been removed and more importantly so has the very large willow stuck across the lie in Woodside. The branch above water in the photo is just a side limb, the main trunk remains submerged, as a result I had to call for help from Darren and Kevin. The three of us had a very successful morning and the pools are now looking perfect so make the best of them in the next week or two.
Pleased to hear that Paul Shutler has opened his account on the salmon front with a fish from Ashley; well done Paul richly deserved. Whilst on the salmon front this week I actually managed the first trip of the season with Jim Foster. Whilst not sounding particularly note worthy other than for the fact it is our first trip four months into the season! Conditions have conspired to keep us off the bank as our regular evening visits tend to be relaxed events that usually involve little more than two or three hours fishing, rarely covering more than a pool or two. One reason I was keen to get out was that Jim, on reading of my troubles with the modern fast taper rods in my reacent diary entry, very generously presented me with a more traditional Hardy rod. Traditional being the key words here in that the action is compound and the weight probably twice that of a modern rod but exactly the forgiving nature with which I am most comfortable. It took just minutes to find the relaxed timing of the rod and settle back into my lazy casting. My technique involves minimal input with casting becoming almost a subcontious action allowing me to drift off into the disperate natural world surrounding me. As for our fishing, we failed to find a salmon, despite this we enjoyed fishing Middle Cabbage, Lower Cabbage and Harbridge Bend off the right bank. It did remind me that the banks would benefit from a further trim which I duly managed the following day.
I included this first shot of the path down to Pile Pool simply because its such a magical walk to the river. Looking downstream from Middle to Lower Cabbage where Jim can just be seen at the head of the run into the pool. The third shot shows a clipped out Provosts Hole that looks perfect for the devon under the near bank. Fifty meters above the tail of the pool there is a clear path that takes you through to Middle Cabbage.
Our evening included Middle and Lower Cabbage finishing off with Harbridge Bend. For an excellent day beside the river at this time of year why not park at Hay Ricks walk back up the drive past the Lodge and follow the footpath across the meadows to Ibsley Bridge to fish back down to the car. This walk would allow you to fish from the Bridge Pool down through Ibsley Pool to Tizzard's and on around the bend to Provosts hole. take the Path through the reeds to the Top of Middle Cabbage and fish on downstream ensuring you have a look at Lower Cabbage that is tucked away behind the reed bed. Back-track through the reeds and around the corner to Harbridge Bend and across the meadow to Woodside, where I will try and get that tree out in the next day or two. Finally finish with the run out of Harbridge Corner, deep water that whilst difficult usually holds fish. that little lot will provide you with over 1000m of fishing which should be sufficient to sait any appetite for a day beside the river.
The weather for a Bank Holiday weekend was just about par for the course. I suppose I shouldn't complain as such a wet and windblown weekend means the world and his dog doesn't arrive on the riverbank seeking access under the right to roam. Also on the trespass front I see that Defra have finally clarified their position re access to privately owned rivers in that they do not recognise a Public Right of Navigation on non-tidal rivers and other inland waters. All I can say is that its about time too and well done to the Fish Legal for sticking to their guns and demanding Defra get their act together. Mr Caffyn’s arguments related to access are considered unconvincing. Mr Caffyn’s work can only be regarded as an expression of a personal view. I will await the canoe world's comments on Defra's stance with interest.
All three pix are weather related if in different ways. The first shows the last fledgling of four about to leave its nest in a traffice cone. I have shown Great tit nests in various odd sites previously, including traffic cones. In this instance its not only the site but what can be seen in the nest below the fledgling that is of interest. If you look carefully you will see the juvenile is standing on the corpses of its dead siblings. Tit broods are dependent on a continual supply of caterpillers and grubs the parents relentlessly seek in the surrounding trees. In the event of cold wet weather, such as we have been experiencing, the supply of food shrinks and the brood starves until numbers reduce to allow the food supply to match those left. Nature's survival of the fittest being demonstrated right on our doorstep. The other two photos show Blashford Pool looking upstream and downstream to the tail. Why is that related to the weather? Simply because the weather made my other intended jobs over the weekend impossible so in desperation I took the strimmer and caught up with the over-grown bank.
Probably the best chance of an Avon salmon is upon us with the river in good order and the weed not yet giving rise to difficulties. The second Spring tides are about to peak hopefully bringing us the largest run of the season. Whether on the fly and I can recommend Harbridge, Hucklesbrook, Dockens, Island run or Blashford, or on the spinner from almost anywhere, just put in the hours and hopefully you will be rewarded.
As a Post Script, I heard of a 37 pound Common being landed at Mockbegger over the weekend,if the captor is looking in I would appreciate a pic of the fish for the record.
The weird and wonderful landscape of the sandpit. Creating an alien eco-system that makes up a large part of the nature conservation habitat we see in the valley today. Along with the hundred or so Sand martins the Little ringed plovers and the Lapwing using the decks, whilst the Shelduck, Little grebe and Tufted ducks rear their broods on the pools.
Today's entry has grown from a mish-mash of bits and pieces that have been sitting in the computer for the last ten days hoping to be finished. As time is slipping by such scraps need to be added to the diary or discarded as they lose their relevance. Some of the accompanying photos just record odd events I felt worthy of inclusion, time not permitting a fuller account.
A Sparrow hawk doing what comes naturally as it plucks a Sand martin. I have an diary entry on predation in the valley taking shape, which is taking longer than I anticipated as it gets more complicated the deeper I look. Masses of Blue tailed damselflies in the reed beds and a very large Common carp readying herself for the spawning about to begin.
The conventional account of most fishing adventures catalogues the venue and the tackle, providing a detailed list of surroundings and equipment. Alas a description of my tackle is not going to enlighten many. The rod I currently use for salmon is fifteen feet with a very fast action. Nice you may think but not so, I actually prefer a slow through action rod. I am over-lined with a wet-cel 2 permitting shorter control, requiring I do a lot of improvising when it comes to Spey casting on the Avon! I tend to tie on a fly when I first get out on the bank, usually a large hairy yellow thing on the Avon and it stays there until I cast it up a tree or it flies apart through abuse, hopefully inflicted by fish. My rod used to be made up from the beginning of the season to the end when I eventually broke it down for return to its bag. I have to say I am getting better and usually change to a floating line with a sink tip about the beginning of May and if the water is clear change to a blue hairy thing. To go to any length to describe and recommend my set-up would definitely be a dubious use of time.
A diary such as this is limited in its portrayal of the valley by the single dimension of sight. I am an inadequate word-smith, incapable of bringing you the smells and sounds of the river, or the passing of time when it comes to allowing you to share the experiences I am privileged to enjoy.
The very essence of fishing is the control of time, which can become malleable and mould to your state of mind when you become part of the valley scene. Your casting slows down, as does your heart beat, when your progress becomes a subconscious act allowing attention to wander and your jumbled everyday thoughts to drift. Your fishing tackle is of little consequence as your surroundings come to the fore as bird song and the rivers progress brings an ever changing scene. Small ripples in the valley backdrop become magnified as you start to loose yourself in the scene. Throughout our angling trip reality strives to break through and bring us back to the world away from the bank. The key to a good fishing trip for me is not whether I catch but whether I enjoy and become absorbed in the experiences the valley permits me to glimpse.
"Did that Wren miss a note? Or was that a Willow warbler struggling to rise to the occasion?"
"That was a rubbish cast, slow down, ease off with that rod."
"What's the matter with those Terns? Why the racket?"
"I must get the car booked in for a service, it must be due about now."
"I should also try and sort the lights out on the truck. Better than they were, still useless."
"I may need the car next Wednesday if I go to Westbay."
"I need to replace that utility room window."
"I must go through the bees, or they'll be out the door"
"Looks good just on the inside glide, I'm sure there's one in there."
"Better cast, almost under those overhanging branches on the island, deserves a fish."
"Looks a little boilie down the inside, perhaps let it hang on the dangle for a second or two mid stream.
"The shallows sound almost inviting, surging toward me over the gravel riffles at the head of the island.
"What strange light in the shade of the island, water-colourists dream."
"Must post that box and letter, Post Office closes at twelve.
"I wonder if those chrysanths will bloom at the same time if I pinch them next week?
"I must sort the pond filter in the coming weeks.
"Who put that bunch of reeds there? Must have a word with the keeper. I almost lost my fly I'd have to go back to the truck for another one."
"Can't get the staff!" Note to self strim Island run.
"Better go overhead for a cast or two around the bend!
"Hello girl, where have you hidden that calf then. I'm not a threat so stand down.
"Gosh that suns warm, how lovely does that feel. May even have to shed a coat and collect it on the way back up.
"I best finish digging that front flower bed this weekend."
"I need to go through the bees or they'll all be out the door.
"Just has to be a fish there looks perfect."
"Lovely cast, perhaps a second there."
"At least the Demoiselles are looking fabulous as they greet the warm day. Those colours are astonishing."
"Here comes the lie, looks spot on."
"Perfect cast, just right,
"Jag, Jag, Jag, I'm in."
"Across the tail of the run, must get down along side him. Mind that loose bank. Lovely, that's better."
"Hello that's not right, all the fight has vanished?"
"It has to be a chub, close to six, lovely fish, wasted on a fifteen foot salmon rod."
"Hey ho, lets get her back as gently as possible she's probably up on the shallows in readiness for spawning."
"Must book flights or I wont be flavour of the month."
"Those Sedge Warblers are grating away in the reeds this morning, enjoying the sunshine no doubt."
"What's the matter with that Canada goose? Shut up you honking clown, I've been here an hour without doing you any harm why start now."
"Flick that weed off with a short cast."
"Odd, a lone Goosander duck at this time of day? Not seen a brood this year to date, I wonder what has caused their absence?"
"Beauty, surely this time just on that crease?"
"Why do those wretched swans home in on the run I'm fishing to have their battles?"
"Fish on; this has to be another chub, turned at the first sign of pressure, at least they keep me on my toes."
"There's one of the Egyptian pairs from the Park, I wonder what happened to their brood?"
"This is just about where the Estate record salmon came from, perhaps today."
"River bed has probably altered in the intervening years, perhaps they now lay a little further downstream?"
"Has to be one there."
"Oh no, more swans around the bend. The tail of the pool is covered in twenty or so non breeders, looks like a zoo."
"This wind is getting up and the bank needs a little more strimming here, perhaps I'll call it a day, Perfect couple of hours, Lets not spoil it. No salmon but the heart did skip a beat with those chub."
"One more cast."
"Just one more."
"That line seemed to defy gravity, lovely."
"One for the road."
"One for his Knob"
"Was that a fish move, just one more."
"Not today," :-(
"Never mind there's always tomorrow" :-)
A continuous jumble of disconnected thoughts that merge together producing a clarity often invisible before airing the rod. For an hour or two you have become part of the scenery. The wildlife accept these strange beings waving sticks mean them no harm and ignore them. The step away has given a new perspective on prioritising that seemingly endless work schedule. The walk back to the car and the drive home where thoughts of family, work and other realities leak back into being and the valley disappears behind you.
Giving me the once over to decide my intent toward her hidden calf. Swans on the gravel shoals and one of the chub that couldn't resist my fly.
A Swift story to finish in that I spend too much time in the back garden watching the goings-on in our expanding colony. The middle shot shows my intervention after an hours dispute over a vacant box. The bird in the box had gripped the outer bird from the rear and after an hour showed no sign of releasing her. The hanging bird had stopped struggling and appeared totally exhausted when I reached them. From the hold one took on my thumb I have a suspicion they cannot easily release their grip. The young birds involved in the dispute may not have landed or used their legs for two years making the strength of their grip and the sharpness of their claws, more akin to talons, remarkable.
This is more like it, since Barrie's fish last Friday I am pleased to say we have had two more. The first, yesterday lunchtime, to Rob Smyth a fresh eighteen pound hen fish from the tail of Pile pool on the fly. By all accounts it put up a good show and judging by a still trembling Rob when we met him half an hour later it must have been some battle. The second and our fifth off the Estate, came today from Ashley Bends. There are no prizes for guessing who landed a fish in the third week of May from Ashley. Quite correct, his second this season Mr consistent Steve Hutchinson has done it again. This is becoming quite spooky, I believe this is the fourteenth year that Steve has landed a fish in the end of May from Ashley; I find that quite amazing.
Steve's May fish, a fresh ten pounder.
As its good news I felt a quick update on the salmon front is called for in that Barrie Williams landed our first fish on the spinner when he managed a 13 pound fish from the right bank of Dog Kennel. Taken on a traditionally fished paternosterd Devon Minnow Barrie found his fish exactly where we removed the trees from the Pool below the Lodge. Barrie was fishing with Paul Greenacre who had only yesterday returned from the Tay where he had struggled to find the fish. A leisurely and enjoyable lunch at the Lodge followed by a fresh Hampshire Avon salmon on such a wonderful spring day in the valley is what Somerley is all about. Not only is that good news for Barrie that is extremely good news for me as it is reward for our efforts in removing those four large poplars. Congratulations. well done Barrie, may many more grace your rod.
Barrie with a quick record of his capture before safely back in the river. Thanks to Paul for being on hand to do the honours with the camera; I dare say there will be a video under the Paul Greenacre director/producer banner on Youtube before too long.
It seems somewhat ironic that the last evening of the fly only restrictions on the Avon should see the wind drop and the sun shine for almost the first time this season. It was such a perfect evening I put up the rod and spent a perfect Avon hour fishing Lake Run. The water remains high and coloured, so on with my battered old Hardy wetcel 2 with a two inch black and yellow tube tied by Somerley rod Paul Shutler. Paul certainly has a talent when it comes to tying flies and as I'm a great fan of hair wing flies his patterns provide me with the confidence every salmon angler needs if they are to believe that very next cast will see that thirty take! Fifteen minutes to overcome the rusty casting and get in time with the rod and its amazing just how good for the soul an hour or two beside the Avon can be. Tomorrow the spinning starts and we will see if the fish were here all the time, or the run just hasn't materalised yet this season. The second Spring tide of May has seen the best of the salmon on the Avon in recent years lets hope this year's no exception. If we have more perfect evenings such as tonight's, I will continue with the fly. If we suffer a return to wind and rain I will have to dig out the Mepp rod to chase my first salmon of the year. What ever the choice the next month will see me putting in the hours to find that salmon, hopefully that elusive thirty.
Danny Taylor just visible fishing out the tail of Harbridge Bend as I look upstream from Lake Run. A selection of early season flies Paul tied up for me that I wouldn't normally expect to still be using in the middle of May but at least the high water gave me the opportunity to give the black and yellow a work out this evening.
The seasons clock keeps ticking, despite the best efforts of the weather to make a sluggard of summer. The Willow warblers appear to have moved through and the Sedge have established their territories, the Reed warblers continue to arrive, adding to the typing pool rattling of the reed-beds. I've spent a considerable time in the valley in recent days, unfortunately not with the rod, the strimmer remains in demand on several sections of bank. I look on any time in the valley as time well spent and even the din of the strimmer becomes a background noise to much of the wildlife who continue with their lives ignoring my racket.
Two more pools cleaned up as a result of my foray with the strimmer. Firstly Pile pool so the lie mid river out from the gate can be reached and secondly Middle Cabbage. I noticed that some hardy sole had struggled through the brash to fish cabbage in recent days. I hope who ever made that effort is a diary reader and they will now be aware its worth a second attempt as the going is considerably easier now.
Refuelling and tea breaks allow me to take five and record their territorial disputes and harassed search for food to sate the appetites of their ever demanding broods back in the cover of the reeds and undergrowth. Today, even with the constant wind that has accompanied us for what seems months, a trickle of Mayfly were hatching. With such small numbers the watchful Chaffinches and Reed buntings, perched on the side of the marginal sallow, plucked them from the air with an audible snap of the beaks within seconds of emerging from the surface of the river. The one or two that were whisked away on the breeze met a similar fate in the beaks of the ever attendant Black-headed gulls.
Added colours each day as more colourful species such as the Large Red Damselfly hatch in the margins. Mayflies struggle to dry their wings and get airborne avoiding the waiting hordes looking for an easy meal. Finally a shot of one of our birdboxes in teh back garden now occupied by a colony of early Bumblebees.
Pleasingly we seem to have two pairs of Mandarins in the new nest boxes around Mockbeggar. It would at least seem we are doing our bit for the odd status of Mandarins and their apparent global scarcity. On similar lines three pairs of little ringed plovers have returned to the gravel decks hopefully to add to the world numbers. Finally on the bird front a tale of the trials and tribulations faced by cock Starlings in their attempts to answer the call of Spring. The first point that has to be taken into account is that male Starlings all look the same. At least they do to me, although I'm sure they all have their own individual traits and unique characteristics that give them individual appeal to hen birds. From my perspective the problem is that I'm not sure whether we are looking at a the entire male population of the species or just one individual from the flock that live on the side of our house. There have in recent days been two events that have contributed to the state of affairs that now exists about our humble abode. The first is that Anne has visited the local purveyor of bedding plants and festoon the front garden with various floral wonders. The second happening is that the first three broods of Starlings have flown the proverbial and literal nest. This latter event has the effect of the three boxes becoming vacant, creating great confusion and turmoil in the Starling world as garrulous disputes arise as to the next occupants. This is were the two described events converge giving rise to unexpected behaviour defying rational explanation. One of our hero cock Starlings, or possibly all three of them due to reasons previously explained, flies down from the ridge tiles to the newly adorned flower bed and neatly clips off a flower head. In possession of his prize, flies back the roof and attempts to present his future mate with the flowery token. His efforts often receive scant attention or even harsh rejection, giving rise to the sharp use of her beak and the loss of a feather or two on the part of our hero. Never daunted, the token is deposited in the chosen nest box and back to the flower border to chose a different hue or bud. Persistence usually wins the day and half a dozen flowers, petals and buds later a warmer reception usually ensues and all ends happily ever after. Not quite. This is where the second illustration of unexpected behaviour occurs as Anne spots the effect of our hero has had on the flower bed. It now becomes apparent that I am responsible for the behaviour of our flower bearing hero in so much as I attracted them into the garden in the first place. We do not marvel at the lengths are hero goes to in wooing his mate, his sensitive presentation of flowers and gifts, I must be honest to a far greater extent than I ever managed, or his persistence when apparently failing to measure up to her standards. No, his efforts cast him in the light of a flower murdering idiot that needs to shape up or move out. Fickle creatures the female of the species!
Just like buses; Paul landed our first salmon of the season yesterday and whilst I was down beside the Lodge this afternoon Steve Hutchinson arrived to record the second of the season in the log book. Steve long ago perfected the mepp but had struggled to get a fish on the fly so he was delighted with a fresh 14 pound cockfish from "Hoodies" at lunchtime. Fingers crossed that we now see a return to a more productive run of fish that will keep the rods out on the bank in search of them. I certainly have promised myself a day off in the near future to see if Lady Luck wishes to smile on me.
The work that had taken me down beside the Lodge at Lunchtime was some strimming of the path over the Harbridge Stream and Darren and Kevin joined me with the JCB and tractor in an effort to get the poplars out of the Dog kennel pool. After much slipping and sliding about in the mud, jammed chainsaws, extremely taught steel hawsers, creaking pulley blocks, much sweating, cursing and a close call with getting the JCB stuck-in, I can happily announce the wretched trees are out and the pool is now fishable and looks great. A far cry from the scene that greeted us back in February, a look at the entry for the 15th will remind you of the carnage the storms had wreaked the week before.
Well done Paul Greenacre, a salmon at long last. how pleased I was to get Paul's call to let me know he had just landed our first fish of the season. It is most definately is a 2SW Summer fish so difficult to claim it as a sign of Spring, what ever we class it as is of little importance I am just delighted to see it. The middle pic shows the first swarm of the year that spent its first night away from the hive hung under the eve of a garden shed. Perhaps yet a further sign of summer is the Demoiselle hatch getting under way with dozens of these gems hatching beside the streams today.
You can never hold back Spring, according to Tom Waits. Our Swifts also arrived back in their boxes at teatime today supporting the theory. I was in the back garden enjoying a cup of tea when I heard them arrive high over the house. Three initially, soon joined by a fourth and after half an hour circling the neighbourhood, screamed in at head height and two shot straight into the boxes that were used last year. No preliminary fly pasts as last year when it took two or three days of circling the house and a near disaster, as recorded last May, to pluck up the courage to enter the boxes. Its good to see them safely back after their nine months absence that has seen them spend the winter in the warmth of Africa - wise birds.
Other signs that the cold nights are unable to stand in the way of the seasons progression were the carp gathering in the shallows. Groups of males appeared to be following large hen fish into the shallow reed beds and half hearted splashing and chasing breaking out at odd intervals. If we were to enjoy a few days of sunshine and warm nights I'm sure the carp spawning would quickly gather pace. Spawning aside it would just be nice to enjoy a little seasonal warmth, my bones are beginning to object to frosty nights in May.
Despite the recent cold nights carp were gathering in the shallows at Mockbeggar today.
One sign that is most definitely missing is that of the Spring salmon, we've hardly had a whiff of one. A sad day indeed with the start of spinning just over a week away the river remains coloured and out of sorts for the fly. It would be unprecedented if we do not see a fish before the spinning gets under way, I'll see if I can get out a couple of times this week in an effort to at least prevent that undesirable record!
Just a photo of a lovely fish.
The rotten weather continues to make life in the valley a complete misery when it comes to getting any work completed. We have machine work that has been on hold for the best part of six months and we still can't see an end to this wretched rain. Waterlogged ground has stopped us in our tracks, quite literally, our machines have had to pull out to avoid turning the ground to pulp. It has also done absolutely nothing for the salmon fishing with a return to water out in the fields and the colour of cocoa. We still await our first salmon to be landed and we are now within a fortnight of spinning being allowed so hopefully we will start to see one or two fish.
Whilst strimming the caravan field today I took the opportunity to have a walk down through the reed-beds to see how our habitat restoration was progressing. I was delighted with the way it has established and just how quickly the birds have taken up residence. A twenty minute walk of a little under 1000m the count of warblers was highly gratifying; 17 singing Sedge, 4 Reed, 2 Cettis, 3 Blackcap, 2 Garden warbler, 2 Chiff chaff, add 7 reed buntings and 2 calling cuckoo plus a higher count of our residents such as Dunnock, Blackbird, Song thrush, Wren, Great tit than I have seen in years, things are certainly looking up in the bird world. It is enormously pleasing to see the result of our efforts having such a positive impact.
The bird world looking good. The Tawny owl was causing quite a commotion with the local Blackbirds who were frantically mobbing it from each of its daytime roosts. The fenland marsh is alive with singing warblers such as this Sedge announcing his presence to his neighbours and several pairs of reed bunting busy feeding broods tucked safely away in the reeds and sedge beds.
I'm delighted to say that the Mockbeggar syndicate is now full.
Lee Molyneux with a PB common from yesterday, cracking fish. Paul powell also managed this mint 30+ mirror which was an absolute pleasure to witness. Well done both, great result.
Any future places on Mockbeggar will be decided when we establish the Somerley Stillwater Syndicate at the end of the year. Please email the office at the email address above to express an interest and Nathalie will place your details on the stillwater list.
With the Mockbeggar syndicate now up and running I can turn my attention back to the salmon season where the pools remain in need of a spring clean. Today I headed down to Ashley whilst not the easiest beats to access I have always rated them as perhaps the most consistent on the estate. There is a huge length of bank at Ashley, more than can be efficiently fished in a day but offering some superb pools.
Starting at the upstream end a quick look at the pools available for a days fishing down at Ashley. The first is Penmeade, perhaps the most underfished pool on the estate, which ever way you approach Penmeade, either from Ellingham upstream or from the Ashley car park, you are in for a walk. I'm not recommending starting at Penmeade if you only have an hour or two but if times not an issue make the most of it and enjoy the walk across the water meadows. I have strimmed the bank from the style at the head of Penmeade down the pool to the Head of Swan Island Run and on down to the head of Blashford Island. Lovely steady water which historically produced a lot of fish, it does weed up in mid June so nows the time to give it a try. Once you have fished out Swan Island, which on a point of detail is now no longer an island, give the right bank of Blashford Run a miss and start again around Blashford Corner at the top of the Breakthrough Run.
Fish out the run and at the head of the pool, skirt around the willow stand and start again beside the old ruined fishing shelter Below the Breakthrough. The pool is looking spot on and I will watch with interest to see if Steve Hutchinson can keep up his May record from this spot. I've cleaned up the bank through the run and all the way around the bend to the Electricity pole at the top of Ashley Pool. One of our rods who fished at the height of the Avon salmon fishing rated this water higher than any other on the estate for spring fish. Like Swan Island it is another run that loses its pace and weeds up fairly early in the year so nows the time to make the most of the pool.
Around Ashley Pool to the tail which leads directly into Ashley Straight. I've never personally met with any success in this section but others have done well here in the past. It's a very quick run requiring a heavy fly or quick sink set-up under current conditions. Fish hooked will undoubtedly make the most of the flow so try and walk them upstream as the tail of the run is blocked by a stand of alders which will make life extremely difficult should they get downstream of them. Below the alders is the first of the Ashley Bends that is a great looking pool but another I have failed to catch in. The middle bend I always associate with shrimp fishing as the deep under cut bank is a favourite with later running fish. Be warned today I noticed we have a tree mid river in the tail of the middle bend. Its a pity as it is almost exactly over the lie but I would give it a wide berth as any fished hooked close to it will almost certainly be lost. The head of the bottom bend also has a tree mid river that needs to be avoided. Again its a pity as it produced a twelve pound plus seatrout for me many moons ago and I always expect one of its offspring to be in residence when I fish through. Once the water drops and the fields dry out I'll get down there with a machine and winch them out. Ignore the head of the pool but make sure you fish the tail very carefully as it has always proved a favourite with the fish. Again play fish carefully try and keep them in the pool, if they get downstream of the pool the willow on the corner prevents you following. I'll sort that willow as soon as I can find time and the energy to carry a chainsaw that distance. Out of the bottom bend and into the long run down to Dockens Water. Good water but unpredictable never knowing where fish might chose to lie. All well worth careful fishing certainly from the bush to the tail of the pool below the confluence with the Dockens on the opposite bank. Make a day of it and take your time enjoying each pool and run as you come to them certainly plenty of challenges to get to grips with in the water meadows at their most attractive. Fingers crossed our long overdue run of fish coincides with your visit!
Things are in need of a boost. A good run of salmon and some warm weather to get the carp in Mockbeggar to put their heads down would be very much appreciated. I am very disappointed not to have seen more salmon in the system with the good flows we have experienced I just hope they have run through us and are now higher in the catchment. I have heard of one from down the bottom end and a second at Bisterne but by now I would have hoped for a dozen or so fish to have graced the bank. With the best couple of months for the Avon ahead fingers crossed we get to see some action.
As for Mockbeggar I am delighted to say that despite the extremely short notice to get the syndicate up and running we are now within four or five members of a full-house. I must say I am thoroughly enjoying being more hands on with the fisheries day to day running. Meeting the anglers on a daily basis and hearing their ideas on the way ahead is refreshingly positive. With the members taking a personal interest in the future I look forward to the next few years as we get the fishery up together and see our plans come to fruition. At least we are now beginning to see a few fish being landed with several twenties in bags of half a dozen fish. We have yet to see the large catches of last year with over twenty fish in a session but a spell of settled warm weather will hopefully sort that out.
As the weather warms we are going to see the re-appearance of one of the less desirable creatures in the countryside. With so many deer around the lakes unfortunately we have a high numbers of ticks that are associated with them. Please be aware that ticks will attach themselves to you if you brush against them in the grass and undergrowth. When you get home check yourself over thoroughly when in the shower, a pin head sized black creature that injects an anticoagulant that itches like the devil. If you take care and remove the creature with a tweezers you will have a day or two of irritating discomfort in the area of the bite and nothing more. If you leave the mouth parts you may have a septic spot develop that will respond to antiseptic cream. In the event the redness around the bite takes on a doughnut like hollow circle that continues to itch after a day or two take yourself off to the doctors to get a check up for Lymes disease. Thankfully we have not had any incidents yet around the lakes but the New Forest is a Lymes area and our deer mix freely with the forest herds. Lymes responds well to antibiotics if diagnosed early enough, so if in doubt play safe and get checked out.
A perfect evening looking across the NW bay at Mockbeggar toward the Forest. As the sun set and I walked further around the bay the surface became alive with topping fish. Hopefully a sign things are looking up; the first time I have witnessed such movement this season. I'm not sure how it fished as there were only three of the syndicate on the entire complex, each with his own lake!
To let you know the Trout Stream track is open again. We have felled the two dangerous hangers, one being taken down to the car park by Edwards for burning later. There is plenty of room to park just after and just before the car park. The other willow we made safe beside the track for removal when time permits. Hopefully tomorrow or over the weekend I will clear the fallen willow currently making getting to Lake Run difficult, time permiting I'll also give the bank a clip.
A sad day for one of the largest trees on the Estate. The photograph doesn't give a scale to the dimensions of this giant, the trunk is almost eight feet across and the top of the fresh scar is ten feet above ground level. The middle photo shows this years crop of Himalayan balsam sprouting from the heap of flotsam next to a hatch. After such a prolonged flood the floating seed of the balsam will have been spread far and wide calling for a heighten vigilance this summer if we are to keep on top of this pernicious weed. The twisted branches that had blocked the hatch causing the flooding of the surrounding meadows. The ground was too wet to get machinery close enough to haul the blockage clear. It was a case of blood, sweat and tears taking hours of cutting away small sections before the offending rubbish could be levered clear.
Ringwood church beyond the Kingcups that now cover areas of the water meadows. Two photo's that whilst out of focus capture the activity that now fills the draining fields. The first shows a large brood of at least 16 Mallard ducklings, one of five or six trips on the carriers today. The last pic shows fourteen of the twenty two Little egret that along with numerous Grey herons were enjoying the stranded invertebrates and fry in the drying pools. The phragmites beds were also rattling to the sound of the newly arrived Sedge warblers with at least five calling in one small area of the valley.
Day after day, millions of Grannom continue their upstream migration over Ibsley Bridge.
A morning cleaning up one or two of the salmon pools now the water has dropped sufficiently to get near them. Hoodies down to the top of Ibsley Pool on the left bank is clipped-up, if only just accessible with wellies. The wind blown willow limb is pulled back out of the way making good fishing right into the head of the pool. Left bank Tizzards and Cabbage Garden are also clean, I would advise caution on the banks as the water drops back as large sections have been scoured away. The lies will have altered and there will undoubtedly be large clay boulders under many sections of bank. Take your time and take care.
If you reckon you had a crap weekend, due to the wind and rain, read on. I've been talked into bagging up the otter spraint to assist Bournemouth University in their work to determine the volume of signal crayfish eaten by our otters. This weekend I walked miles collecting crap in an effort to get as wide a cross section as possible from our mob. We have long known that they eat the crays, having found the remains of numerous crayfish dinners enjoyed by our otters. Some nights at the lakes the sound of otters splashing in the margins, seeking crays in the roots and stones, sounds like a herd of hippo such is their enthusiasm for them. There is little doubt they like crays, wouldn't it be ironic if the expanding population of Signals in the Avon actually proved beneficial in distracting the otters from our fish. I will await the outcome of this research with considerable interest. I doubt this early sample will contain much in the way of crays as they tend to become less active and hide away in their burrows during the winter. As the water warms and they become more active hopefully we will see the otters concentrate on finding them.
This week we have seen one of the true harbingers of Spring as the Grannom hatch got underway with thousands drifting upstream over a period of several days. Saturday required a visit to Christchurch with thousands of flies drifting across the road at Avon Tyrell and Sopley smearing themselves liberally across the windscreen. I'm not sure the constant wind will have done the hatch many favours but at least they are one species that continues to thrive in the millions on the Avon.
Grannom hatch. Even if the native browns don't like them the rainbows in the intake basin at Ibsley aren't so choosy and provided plenty of fishing. If you fish for rainbows please don't put them back in the river, particularly at this time when the smolt are running.
The brave few who have faced slippery, flooded banks have yet to reap their just rewards with no Springer yet to grace our banks. The lost fish last weekend gave encouragement to the few who are now deserving of a fish as pay-off. I have some beautifully flies tied for me by one of our rods, Paul Shutler. With the recent big tides and the weekends fresh rain the coming days will see a fish or two in the river for sure. It would almost seem impolite of me to put up the rod and find our first fish of the season, none the less should it happen I'm sure I'll get over it. I have heard that a fish has been landed upstream of us at North-end, I'll try and get some confirmation of that in the next day or two. I have also heard that the Wye is having a good start to the season. A river the Avon catch used to reflect in that both were famed for their large multi-sea winter salmon. This year to date the Wye has seen sixty plus fish landed, with fish up to 35 pounds. They are of course allowed to use the spinner which under the current high flows gives a realistic chance of a fish and keeps the fishery alive. We of course are restricted to the fly as our historic wooden Devon Minnow is banned. I have long held the view that if we are serious about keeping our fishery alive, during the first couple of months of the season that often see the high water, we need to have the minnow in our armoury to deal with the high water of Spring.
The rest of the entry is a bit of a mish-mash of odd bits and pieces I have started and never finished, all rolled in together in an effort to catch up with the headlong rush of Spring. A few days away from the valley to sort out some of the overdue work list waiting me at home. Add a few days below par because of some obnoxious bug plus a considerable period of catch-up when I returned to the valley, goes part way to explain my lack of entries in recent days. One of those catch-up tasks was to continue to get the Mockbeggar syndicate up and running which thankfully has gone smoothly. Fortunately we are blessed with Nathalie who has brought organisation to my chaos and we are well on our way.
The Kingcups, the first valley flower of Spring, bring a flush of yellow to the silt coated meadows. The Redshank and the Lapwing have arrived back in the valley adding to the rising swell of bird song to be heard in every direction, Snipe, Green sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit remain but in rapidly reducing numbers as they head back north to their own breeding grounds. The stay at home Cetti's and the newly arrived Chiffchaff are constant company in the bramble patches and woodland edges. Their strident calls making themselves heard above the local backing singers as the Wren, Dunnock, Robin and Blackbird announce their equal delight in the new season. Whilst on the bird front, there is a new initiative being led by the GWCT to encourage the farming community to take a proactive role in ensuring the survival and population expansion of the Lapwing. The initiative is based on the years of study undertaken by the trust in the valley. The research has arrived at the conclusion that predation is the major cause of the Lapwing decline in the valley. I believe a figure of 80% nest predation makes the future of the Lapwing extremely precarious without our intervention, which will require considerable commitment on the part of the farming community if we are to be successful. Their arrival back on the estate has seen seventeen pairs setting up territories last week, I'll be keen to see how many raise broods this year if we are successful in providing a little added help.
Given a little sunshine and a lull in the wind, as opposed to this work preventing rain and drizzle, the valley will once more becoming a benign, leisurely backdrop to our angling efforts and my work.
The continuing drop in water levels, before this weekend's rain, adds to the attraction where any long over due, welcome sunshine will soon have the silt hidden beneath a flush of green and not a moment too soon. The falling water has given rise to strange activity in the bird world with literally thousands of screeching Black-headed Gulls covering every draining water meadow and marsh. What is causing the excitement I can only speculate, invertebrates in one form or another would seem favourite but identifying just what is beyond me. Whatever they seek must be there in vast number to support such a prolonged feeding frenzy. I do have a concern in that on the rare occasions the sun has shone and resulted in a reasonable hatch of fly the gulls quickly turn their attention to the river. On such occasions the view upstream from Ibsley Bridge to the Bickton boundary, 2000m north, the entire length of the channel is a mass of gulls. I only hope its not having a detrimental impact on the local wildlife as the arrival of these gulls is a recent development. They are the result of the large roost and the breeding colonies over on the gravel pits where several hundred now nest on islands in Ibsley Water. It still amazes me that a species alien to the middle reaches of the Avon Valley can be encouraged, with Natural England support, to impact on the neighbouring SSSI's. Its a pity they are not eating rainbow trout or signal crayfish as there is plenty of evidence they are in limitless supply at the moment. We so much as add a gudgeon without health certificates, section 30's and NE consent and we get threatened with goodness only knows what legal action and pilloried in the conservation world. That reminds me I had better find my £72 to let me fish our own river, we as anglers remain the only daft buggers that pay through the nose for the right to be treated so abysmally. Not to worry now the floods are receding I expect the farming lobby to be demanding the river is dredged from source to sea at the earliest possible instance - on reflection probably a bit of grumpy old git in there somewhere, its not been a good weekend.
Thanks to Paul Greenacre for a record of his latest exploits in the shape of yet another fly caught barbel. I have featured Paul in the past on the diary, catching barbel on the fly whilst after salmon. Interestingly the majority of these catches and I should say at this point Paul is not alone in this feat, come from the shallows close to the spawning grounds. Whilst water temperatures are currently too low to promote barbel spawning it is at this time of year that the salmon fry are emerging from the gravel to begin their life in the river. Is it just coincidence or are the barbel close to the salmon redds at this time of year to exploit a food source? Their readiness to take a salmon fly might be considered evidence for the prosecution if there were to be a trial. Unfortunately because we have no hard evidence with regard to population dynamics we are just guessing. The second photo is of one of the Black swans that have lived on the northern boundary of the estate for several years. It came a quite a surprise for Paul today as he was unaware of their presence.
Another diary reader and Somerley regular, Simon Delaney, contacted me this evening with tales of his adventures on the estate at the beginning of the new trout season. Simon has fly fished for trout on the estate for many years yet today he came across something he had not ever seen before on the river in the form of the Red-eared turtle in the photo. Just another alien making the most of his taste of freedom. Many thanks to Paul and Simon for the photo's of their adventures.
Hopefully back to normal. With the sun setting on the first warm, sunny day of the new season at Mockbeggar we are up and running. On my way to Mockbeggar from home I pass over the Dockens Water where the dace can be seen in the pool above the ford at Moylescourt. What they are still doing this high up in the forest I have no idea. Judging by the scale damage and streamlined bodies they have spawned some time ago. Why the lack of haste in returning to the valley we can only speculate that the high water has allowed them time to explore. Whatever the reason it was good to see the shoals bringing the clear streams to life in today's gorgeous sunshine.
I have put up several sets of pix below, each of them has a story to tell. As I get the time I will expand on the tale each contains.
The marsh remains flooded much to the appreciation of the wildfowl and waders. One problem the breeding waders face is increased avian predation since the demise of the beat gamekeepers.
Thousands of tons of silt scoured from the river channel and deposited on the water meadows. Contained within these silt deposites are tens of thousands of snails which go unnoticed within the normal flow of the river.
The damage is now all too evident now the floods have gone as the scour hole at Ibsley clearly demonstrates. Stranded in these scour holes and isolated channels are thousands of caddis and nymphs.
Local hero, the humble Dunnock, I have a pair nesting in the garden and pairs all over the estate, all singing their hearts out in celebration of Spring.
Our Blackbirds outside of the Living room window are now a family, ugly little suckers!
The drive is almost finished, hopefully I'll be back in action in the near future. I did get a call today to say our first Springer came very close to being grassed. After ten minutes of solid fight with a "long" fish the hook pulled, bad luck Danny, next time. An update on the 8+ chub info I was after, I've not heard any confirmation of the fish I was seeking info on but I must thank Phil Nixon for giving me details of one from Northend that I was unaware of. This along with some of the other chub catches that were achieved in the final day or two of the season show the chub population to be in good heart.
I've taken a few days off to see if I can dig under the house. That's what it feels like anyway, I'm actually re-edging the driveway and digging a new soak-away. I will get back to the diary asap.
Two days left of the coarse season on the rivers and I was determined to get out on the banks once more before the finish. During my visit to the Woodside hatches yesterday I had seen several anglers out on the river with similar thoughts and two I had spoken to had both found the chub willing to oblige. I was keen to try the inside of the bend at Harbridge Corner where I know good numbers of chub can usually be found and there is always the chance of a good barbel or even a perch or two.
Nine o’clock this morning I parked in the Ellingham car park that now has an island of algal coated gravel just above water. Loaded down with rucksack, quiver, seats, nets and cameras I staggered through the gate heading north toward Harbridge. After quarter of an hour I could definitely see the attraction of lakeside car parks as the half mile through ankle deep water and slippery mud was beginning to take its toll. What was more disappointing was that the swim that looked dry from the hatches yesterday had almost a foot of water still on the banks. From a distance the soft rush poking up through the water had given a false impression of dry ground. Having made it to the pool I was not to be daunted by a drop of water. First move was to extend the legs on the seat and dumped it down in the chosen spot I now had an island on which to stack my gear, avoiding getting it soaked. A couple of rod rests next, allowing me to put up the rods in relative comfort. Double maggot on a sixteen below a black top feeder, which yesterday in the tackle shop Rich and Ashley had kindly taught me how to get the top off. I'll allow you to imagine the form of the helpful advice provided! At least I was underway and within minutes the first chub was in the net. The next two hours brought just one more good chub and eight bloody rainbows. There must be thousands of the things still in the river. I thought after almost three months of floods they would have been flushed out to sea but that unfortunately, was a forlorn hope. Three hours standing in the floods, my seat being used as the tackle island, my legs were beginning to go numb and I was losing the will to catch any more rainbows. I had at least managed a couple of good chub between four and five pounds to finish the river season so I can't complain.
Difficult set-up but worth it with a brace of good chub. After my exertions of the morning I thought I'd take an easier option this afternoon and decided to flick a lobworm close to the submerged trees beside Vincents Lake in the hope of a perch. Good plan, the sun shone and the fishing was easy. I should explain fishing doesn't necessarily mean catching as the perch didn't show-up but I was forced to take to the shade of the trees beside the swim to escape the heat of the sun. Where I had great difficulty just staying awake, an experience I haven't enjoyed for what seems years. I did bump into Steve Hutchinson and Alan Burtenshaw again as they had returned to have a further sunny session beside the lakes. Very similar results with Alan getting seven bream to six pounds and a carp, Steve also landing seven bream to which he added two tench and three carp. What could be better, lots of fish and glorious sunshine, seems perfect.
I have heard more stories of some great chub catches and there are rumbles on the grapevine of an eight plus chub off the Estate, confirmation of which I would very much appreciate. I would be equally happy to hear of any catches from the Estate in recent weeks from those that braved the conditions.
Sun out, water draining off the meadows and anglers out and about making the most of the last days of the coarse season. I didn't need any further excuse to walk the Ellingham Carrier to examine the header hatches for the first time in weeks. Whilst the greater expanse of the field was now passable with wellies, just inches deep, several of the ditches lay in wait to catch the unwary. Luckily the gin clear water reduced the risk of each tentative step into the deposited silt and algal growth. Silt that has been scoured from the now sparkling gravels of the river channel and clinging algal growth fizzing into oxygenating life under today's bright sun. The meadow grass looks well under the glutinous mess and within days of drying out will be flushed with the rich new growth of Spring. Being submerged for eight weeks doesn't seem to have harmed the worm population as they are visible in the shallow water, still providing rich pickings for the three hundred Black-headed gulls clamouring to get their easy meals.
Meadows draining down just too late for the end of the coarse season.
Other birds finding plenty to feed on on the new shallows in the form of a pair of oyster catchers and several pairs of Grey wagtails.
The lake margins are also showing signs of the new season with the common toads busy in the throws of their spawning.
Their activities have attracted the attention of a predator that leaves an inside out skin with the stumps of each limp picked clean of every vestige of meat. Just what creature enjoys such delicate dining I'm not sure. I think it must be a mammal possibly mink, fox or badger, all of which are about the lakes each evening. I personally believe it is probably our otter population, five of which were swimming about in the same bay as the toads the other evening. If any reader can provide me with a definitive answer or scientific references I would very much appreciate hearing from you.
One other task that has arrived on our laps at short notice has been the need to get a temporary syndicate on Mockbeggar set up within the next fortnight. This has arisen since I learnt on Monday morning the club were not to lease Mockbeggar for the coming season. Luckily we had the expressions of interest related to the still water syndicate we intend to set up next February to give us a start. To that end those of you that had expressed said expression of interest will shortly receive an email putting you in the picture. Basically it will be a six month syndicate from 1st April to 30th September for ninety anglers paying £150 inc VAT. That works out before the dreaded VAT at about £20 a month, including nights on all three lakes. Largest carp last season 35 pounds roach 2.11 and rudd 2.7 with stacks of mid range fish. We will be working hard to get the stock levels sorted out and remove the fish from Ibsley Water which we will appreciate help if you are available. If you had expressed an interest in the Somerley stillwater syndicate and haven't heard from us please email the office or myself and we will sort matters out. I should point out this will be a syndicate for the 2014 season only and we will be emailing all those who have expressed an interest in fishing at Somerley later this year when we look to create our Stillwater Fishing Syndicate from 1st February 2015 onwards. Therefore, anyone who does not join this temporary syndicate will still be given the opportunity to join the main Stillwater Fishing Syndicate later in the year.
"Simmo" strikes again in the form of this 37 pound mirror that complimented a 25 pound common last night.
It would seem in my absence others have braved the elements and been duly rewarded as John McGough kindly sent me a pic of his latest fourteen, six capture. John is widely recognised as the consummate Avon barbel angler with a tally of big barbel second to none. I think the photo below goes a long way in answering just why he is so successful. It takes a very dedicated mindset to fish in such flood conditions but perhaps more importantly it takes a vast archive of local knowledge to have the confidence to fish difficult areas of water under our current extreme conditions. Great fish John, well deserved.
John McGough with a great looking barbel, high shoulder, flat belly; like an enlarged juvenile. At 14.6 a very historic weight for by-gone Avon records.
Others anglers have been in touch letting me know how they have fared, one such being Alan Burtenshaw who similarly to Steve Hutchinson enjoyed a good bag of bream from Kings – Vincents. Alan landed eight good bream in the four pound category he also enjoyed a good day watching the local wildlife. Four Buzzards wheeling and soaring over the lake plus a Red Kite being escorted down the valley by a couple of seagulls. Add one of our local Kestrels with perhaps the pinnacle being a Hen Harrier quartering beside the road as Alan made his way home across the forest in the evening. Super day, its great when a plan comes together. The carp in Meadow have also provided a memorable catch for one young man with eight fish in his stint. Four of which were over twenty pounds, topped off with a brace of commons weighing in at over twenty seven and twenty six plus.
Certainly a day or two away from the valley emphasises what I've been missing and the rate of change at this time of year. The recent welcome appearance of the sun has added to Springs rapid wakening. Brimstones, Red admirals, Peacock butterflies and bumblebees by the handful, its just so good to feel that early warmth. Fingers crossed we don't now suffer a set back in the form of a severe blackthorn winter this year.
Yesterday I mentioned the reducing numbers of the wildfowl and to confirm this Teal numbers have dropped from a high of over three hundred earlier in the year to just over seventy today on Mockbeggar. Shovelor similarly down from over two hundred to just over fifty today.
Mandarin Ducks, one of four pairs looking at nesting sites today at Mockbeggar. Early pollen providing essential food for the bees.
One creature that determinedly remains with us is one of our otters, a photo showing the result of his activities being sent to me by Paul Greenacre who was out looking for the first Springer of the year up at Hucklesbrook. It looks as if one of the old Ibsley river carp has fallen prey to this particular beast. Not the end of the world from the fishery perspective but sad in that I have known this shoal of fish for over twenty five years. Not massive with the majority being low doubles with the largest I have landed around twenty four pounds. If they are in the swim you can always depend on them to liven up a quiet session being perhaps the most obliging fish in the stretch. During that time numbers have dwindled from a high of about twenty odd fish to about a dozen today. Some may have died of old age but certainly two or three have been as a result of the attention of otters. I suppose a pragmatic approach tells me that its just nature doing its thing which we must all accept as fencing ten miles of Avon main channel and twenty miles of carrier might prove somewhat of a problem!
At least my run in with the fallow herd today didn't give rise to such conflicts of emotions. The twenty or so sleeping in the warm meadow obviously resented my presence, forcing them to abandon their sunny spot and monitor my progress from the cover of the pine plantation. At that size al I can say its a good job they don't eat fish. I did hear tell of our white buck today and it would appear he's developing some strange habits. Late one evening, actually just before midnight, a tenant on the estate heard strange knocking on the window of the living room. Not deterred from investigating at such a late hour our intrepid tenant drew back the curtains to be confronted, just inches from the glass, by the face and massive antlers of our lad. Just what effect a nose to nose confrontation with such a white apparition would have had on me I'm not sure but a change of underwear might well have been involved. Rational consideration of his presence tells me he was probably after the constant supply of peanuts to be found on the windowsill under the bird feeders that have hung beside that window for years. I'm not sure knowing that would make me any happier about meeting two hundred pounds of on the hoof venison on the doorstep.
Swanage Blues for the weekend has meant I'm a little out of date with events in the valley. The sunshine and drying wind down at the coast over the last couple of days had lulled me into a false sense of security, convincing me the floods were over. Arriving back on the estate this morning the reality of the situation quickly dispelled any such thoughts as we remain flooded the full width of the valley south of Ellingham. River anglers remained a rare sight with only the odd salmon rod and barbel chaser putting in the hard hours.
The sunshine has seen many of the wildfowl abandon the lakes and return to their summer nesting grounds. It has also woken up the carp that are digging and jumping all around the lake relieved that the sunshine has provided a welcome break. The bream are feeding well in KingsVincent with Steve Hutchinson bagging a dozen in the four pound stamp with a carp bonus in teh form of a low double carp. Finally thanks to Fred Rowell for sending me through a photo of a 31.02 mirror he landed from Meadow in my absence. It seems that despite very little angling pressure, good carp are continuing to come out.
Getting better, the first Brimstone in the garden today and a sitting Blackbird in the ivy covered fence outside the lounge window.
Lots of bits and pieces going on with the river and in the bird world but tonight I'm going to tell a story for the barbel lads who look in on the diary. I can tell you this tale because the angler involved has unselfishly allowed me to record his exploits knowing just how much pleasure his efforts will give others not able to enjoy such experiences. The following tale is not a chance story of arrival on the bank coinciding with a red letter fish coming on the feed. This tale is the result of years of experience and effort, targeting areas where such fish might be found and setting out on the long haul to be there when they put their heads down to feed. The endless blanks and the trial and error involved in achieving the confidence to sit behind a rod knowing your bait and rig are up to it; all you need is that break and the fish to join in.
Last Sunday morning the mobile chimed into life at about 09:00am as I sat enjoying my toast and marmalade watching the rain spattering on the surface of the pond outside the sun lounge window. It was Matt Day on the other end, asking if I would mind coming out to do some photos for him as he had a good fish worthy of recording. I love these calls, they have all the excitement of actually holding the rod without that commitment and long hours involved in getting out there to find your chosen quarry. You just never quite know what you will find when you arrive on the bank.
It took just minutes to pile on the water proofs and throw the camera and the waders behind the seat before I was in the truck and off up river to find Matt. Ten minutes later on arrival a very wet but obviously well chuffed angler greeted me to say he had a good fish in the landing net resting in the margins. He'd not weighed it yet so I was keen to see what awaited me. I have known Matt for over thirty years and he isn't prone to exaggeration, I knew if he thought it was a good fish I was in a for a treat.
Unhooking mat sorted and the cameras ready, lets have a look at this beauty. I began lifting the net off the rests as Matt went to wind in his rod. Just as Matt bent to lift the rod, in what seemed slow motion, the runner ratcheted into life and the rod arched down stream. It took me a second to realise just what was happening, thinking Matt had reached the rod and picked it up before closing the runner; but he was still two feet from it? The next phase was on auto as Matt now reached the rod and lifted into an obviously heavy fish that made off down the swim. There I was, stood with what I now realised was an exceptional barbel in the landing net and Matt playing a good fish that may require the use of this self same bit of gear. I stood in the foot of flood water that covered the bank at this point watching Matt play an obviously serious fish. My only thought was could this be one of our river carp that we could beach in the flooded margins and not a fish requiring netting if so we might just get away with this. Two or three minutes and I knew that was a false hope as a massive olive flank flashed six feet down in the gin clear ground water that now feeds the Avon. Jesus what now? I still had the net in a foot of water with a barbel the like of which I personally have never witnessed and another one, most barbel anglers would give there right arm for, charging about in the swim in front of us. I took a look into the net and decided trying to net the pair in the one net and risk the mega fish I was looking at escaping during the attempt wasn't an option. Trying to tell an angler, even of Matt's experience, I had just let the fish of a lifetime escape when dipping out the second fish didn't appeal. Fortunately the unhooking mat and the weigh sling were a couple of yards behind me. If I could slide the fish I now held in the landing net into the perforated weigh sling I could support her in that, like the weeks shopping, whilst I pass the net back to Matt to deal with this second fish. Good plan, it all got a little hairy trying to persuade the now rested mega fish to change nets in a foot of water and not clear off downstream via the flooded field. That said the desired result was achieved in time to get the landing net to Matt who dealt with the second fish, allowing an organised retreat to the unhooking mat to sort out the weighing and recording of both fish. It was now that the flooded banks actually came in useful in that fish could be rested where ever you chose. No worries about suitable margins with steady flows, just stick the nets in the water at your feet and watch to ensure the second fish got her breath back whilst ensuring the first didn't roll out into the flood and disappear. Lovely, everything and everybody now calm and collected we could get on with weighing.
The big girl first, we slid her onto the unhooking mat whilst the sling was rung out and scales zeroed. Back in the sling and up on the net handle to steady those magic numbers. A quick photo and Matt made to put her back, reluctant to try and get a double shot in the midst of all the flood water that risked the second escaping before we were sure she was well rested. One glance in the net head beside me made it obvious she was already fine, sitting in the flow with no uneven breathing I persuaded Matt to do just one shot with the second fish on the mat at his knees. Job done, second fish weighed and both back in the river none the worse for their experience. Congratulations Matt, certainly the largest barbel and finest brace I am ever likely to see on the bank. That was the very pinnacle of barbel fishing. Despite the rain and wind that surrounded us the world took on a golden glow that I'm sure will live with Matt for many years to come, truly the stuff of angling dreams.
A wonderful brace of barbel.
Colin Morgan fishing down Ibsley Pool in search of the first Springer.
Excuse the quality of the pix they are taken through the double glazing whilst I'm sat at my desk. Several of the Siskins and this Redpoll have been ringed, whether recently up at Blashford or further afield during their travels we may never know. Spring is definately on its way as the Cock Brambling are looking magnificent and beginning to gather for their migration back to the North. Finally the mob from the nestboxes on the side of our house. I'm not sure they're all ours we had sixty three in the garden a day or two ago!
The Bourne up on the edge of the Plain, just south of Collingbourne Ducis, showing there is plenty more water yet to come down to us in the lower river.
The normally dry weir at Ashley which has offered an alternative route for salmonid migration for centurys, it even has a central salmon pass that is currently underwater mid way across the spillway. The Kings Stream inception hatches by-passed under flood conditions such as we are currently experiencing.
"What is your name boy?"
"Don't tell him Pike"
"Ah Pike. Your name will go on a list with the other flood experts who tell us they could have saved the day!"
It would seem an ever increasing number of "experts" appear to be clambering out of the woodwork at the sound of the approaching government funded gravy train. Many stating the blatantly bloody obvious and suggesting the much vaunted public money that we will soon be awash with, almost to the same extent as the current floods, should be paid to them for their considered views. The abundance of water seems only to be surpassed by these promises of unlimited funding and calls for committees to consider the reasons for all these floods.
IT RAINED, more than that, IT RAINED AT RECORD LEVELS. If you live in a flood plain under such circumstances, unless your house is on stilts with a boat on the garage roof, you're going to get flooded. We have a well qualified flood defence team in the EA that had already informed most of us of that, by means of their flood mapping. The relevant bit in all this is the funding those who have been doing the job for decades receive and who heeds their advice. The other very important issue might be who backs them up when the shitty water hits the fan. Unpopular decisions, as to who does and who doesn't get flooded, will inevitably have to be made. It is making sure those that will be effected are aware of the situation and where applicable compensation paid. Other than extremely deep government pockets the defence of these considered arguments will require strong political leadership. Hands up up all ministers and MPs wishing to be bearers of such sad tidings to their electorate.
If we are in the blame game just where do we point the finger? The owner? The tenant? Abstraction, fish farms, STW discharge, Natural England and the Environment Agency, Joe public for demanding the cheapest possible food and water, just who and where does the blame lay for the devastating decline of multiple elements of the environment? I believe a good look at Defra, as overseers of the CAP which has seen the impact of the current agricultural policy has failed to remove its thumb from its derrière and get to grips with the problems, is long overdue. Hopefully this has not been as a result of kowtowing and prostrating themselves before the agricultural lobby as they protect their empires. Gone are the days when Defra's conscience can be salved by feeding the conservation world a sprinkling of grants to maintain a fragment of the land mass. If we are serious about protecting, salmon, farmland birds, Lapwing, Snipe and a host of other failing species a very serious rethink is called for. Apart from issues such as arable in the flood plains, perhaps winter sown cereal might in future fail to attract subsidies? Land that is protected in law and when the price of wheat outweighs the subsidies is not put to the plough? What is the minimum size for an economic agricultural holding if it is to be sustainable? Do we encourage hobby farmers and part time farming, so common in Europe? What of hill farming? Should the threat of a return to unkempt wilderness so frequently bandied about be one that should be of concern to us? Without full and more importantly active riparian support most flood defence and conservation legislation is purely window dressing. This is where the oft cited guardians of the countryside must step up to the plate if we are to mend our well and truly busted countryside. Plenty to consider, I applaud the cross party political will that is currently supporting a complete review of the contributory factors.
It goes without saying that before any such radical measures can be undertaken the first and foremost requirement is a value put on susceptible property along with each and every acre of land and the true value of the crops produced. Not just an agricultural value that includes the billions in subsides, the environmental and social worth to determine if such thinking is realistic. I appreciate that the land is in most instances privately owned. If however that land is impacting beyond those private boundaries there are considerably wider implications that have to be evaluated.
To do otherwise is to condemn the countryside to total destruction by agrarian intensification, leisure disturbance and social demands for housing, water, waste disposal etc. The fine rhetoric of the past claiming stewardship and trust has been shown to have been hollow when viewed from today's failing rural environment. If we are not to add to that devastation, serious decisions will have to be made in the near future. We have a surplus of experts, do we have the politicians with the will and capability to see it to a conclusion?
I have to admit that George Monbiot has in the past given me cause for considerable concern with some of his writings. However having linked to him just the other day I must say he is now asking similar very serious questions that are in need of some very serious answers from the powers that be.
Storm damage to areas of woodland where the wind has uprooted and snapped large pines like twigs. The third shot shows the Herald moths currently overwintering in the cool damp conditions found in Jim Fosters old wartime air-raid shelter.
I meant to put this shot up ages ago just to reassure anglers who might see several police cars at the Fishing Lodge that they haven't stumbled across some major crime scene, its just the dog handling units that use the Estate for training. They use the Lodge facilities and get in out of the rain when its throwing it down. They don't bite and if you time it right they may even have the kettle on. Personally it would just make my day should one of the local villains turn up on site when we had a dozen dogs to use him for practice, especially if it were the delightful individual that nicked the chainsaw out of the back of my truck last year!
Spot the angler, out braving the floods today.
You don't have to be a genius to guess what we have been up to all day. It's been trees and yet more trees, to clear up, clear out, chop up and make safe. Its very much been a case of all hands to the pumps, as we have had so many down. With the ground remaining saturated it has been simply a matter clearing the roads and leaving the tops to be cleared away at some later date and once we have the roads cleared we have the hundreds of wind-blown sticks in the woodland and forestry. I must admit to getting an odd satisfaction from clearing large timber and today's timber certainly came under that category. Its the simple pleasure of achieving an end result, the gratification in looking back and seeing a tangible result for a days hard work. Its the same satisfaction I get from strimming in that the mobile can't be heard over the noise of the engine and the efficiency of the earphones. I'm not sure I'll feel the same after several weeks of chainsawing and clearing margins and regrowth. Even project planning, work schedules, risk assessments and the ever present Health and Safety requirements might take on an attraction all of their own. All have their place but its the river and the woodlands that provide me with the greatest satisfaction. I think it's probably escapism and I'm working on the old adage that every day spent fishing adds an extra day to your allotted span, hopefully that applies equally to strimming and chainsaws.
The tangled top and huge stick of the largest scots pine we have ever had blown over. The machine is a necessity in clearing the roads of such a tangled mess. Thanks to Kevin for the pix
Ground hog day photographs
A spillway that never seems to alter and the pleasingly constant lily rhizomes scoured from the channel
The flood plain refusing to retreat. Ellingham Bridge, The House and Ashley Farm, all with well over a KM of water in the foregound, foreshortened by the telephoto lens.
Anne looking at the latest collection of wind blown trees. Dog Kennel, for readers familiar with the estate, with two of the poplars right across the river
Only birds with long necks or legs can make the most of this flood. We now have two West of England domestics with the regular flock. The Great White Egret and the Egyptian Geese are enjoying the new found water world.
The serious side of the weather also refuses to let up with four hundred properties on the estate and close-by still without electricity, nearly 48 hours after the storm. Sunday afternoon I was still double checking poles and lines looking for the source of the problem without success. I only hope the electricity company people had better luck than I did.
Despite the fact that in the region of five square KM's of the estate remain under water there are moments of rare beauty that come as welcome relief.
The hard reality of our current flooding would now appear to be sinking in to many of those charged with governing us. What this will mean in the Avon Valley, when the great review of events has been finished, is hard to tell. Whilst the flood plain has been inundated for a considerable period the impact on property and livelihoods has been minimal compared with some other areas of the country. If you are one of the unfortunate residents of Christchurch or Salisbury that has seen the water reach your property you may disagree with my assessment of the degree of flooding we have experienced. None the less we still have several more inches to go before we reach levels of the floods of 2000 and whilst these have certainly been prolonged I think 2000 was longer. Having said that we are some way from seeing the end to the current misery and may well exceed the depths of 2000 and I would be very surprised if we do not exceed them time wise.
What has brought about this current flooding? The same thing that has brought about flooding in the valley and everywhere else from time immemorial, rainfall and in this case record levels of rainfall. Putting aside for one moment the immediate effects of all this current rainfall in the valley we should perhaps consider this event in relation to the weather we have experienced in recent years. Two summers ago we were all convinced that the chalkstreams were all about to dry up and the last drops of water were being sucked out of the aquifers by the water companies for use in our dishwashers. Standpipes and tankers were on standby to bring this staple to the gasping residents of this wealthy western economy. Last winter we experienced major flooding that came in the nick of time to save the day and allowed us all to go back to the way we were and carry on as normal. This last decade has seen horrendous flooding at Boscastle in 2004 and Carlisle was inundated in 2005. In 2007 major flooding across the country and 2009 when Cumbria bore the brunt once more. The drought busting flood of 2012 brought the wettest April in over one hundred years. We certainly seem to be developing more extreme weather patterns in recent years. To establish whether this is a result of personal memory or there is substance to back up these hypothesis we have to turn to the likes of the EA and the Met Office records. That would make a good starting place if we are to take measures to safeguard our future. When we listen to those experts we find they have been pointing out the changes for many years with flood predictions and confirming future weather pattern changes. Why apparently has there been no action taken? Simply because no one believed it could happen to them and as such there was no political will. Will a warm Spring and reasonable warm and sunny Summer make us all forget or will the messages of recent weeks be taken on board and potential impacts of climate change be planned for at long last.
What is likely to happen after this latest flood depends on just what political pressure can be applied to those decision makers in London. If you have a powerful lobby you stand to do well in the future, as a result the register of lobbyists in the Commons should make interesting reading in the year to come. Similarly the influence through the media stands to give a stronger position as politicians react to perceived public opinion. As a valley that has not been overly effected I would imagine the promise of unlimited funding to sort out the mess will have minimal impact other than perhaps down at Christchurch. It is the subsequent planning and large scale funding that will be required which will have impact locally.
What would a future Avon Valley look like if it were to have built in safeguards against flooding and drought? I would wish to see a system that retained rainfall within the catchment for as long a period as possible. This would enable more efficient recharge of the aquifer and prevent water rushing down through the system creating major flooding in the lower system. We are fortunate on the Avon in having the army up on Salisbury Plain safeguarding a turf sward out on the ranges that allows water to be trapped giving time to reach the underlying chalk and the aquifer hundreds of feet below. To increase the margin of buffer zones, restrict arable farming in the flood plain and sensitive areas of the catchment might add to this water holding capability. It would have other advantages going some way to lowering silt and agricultural run-off by further intercepting them at the increased buffer zones but at what cost? The economic value of the land will have to be considered against the environmental and social value of continuing to destroy the flood plains natural ability to absorb the shock of floods. It will not be simple and Defra will have to be on board to establish policy within the farming community and find the funding routes through Europe and the treasury.
Where else can we look to slow the downstream progression of our water? The obvious answer is the control system that we are also blessed with on the Avon. If hatches are set to restrict flow and allow the upstream flood plain to do its work it will assist in slowing the flood. Unfortunately this would be at odds with the current thinking related to re-naturalising the river which I have mentioned on here before. Under the RARP the desire to knock out all the hatches would add considerably to the speed at which water would reach the estuary. Time for a rethink perhaps? We might reintroduce the large expanse of water that once occupied the valley north of Ringwood. Known locally as the marl pit, it provided a rich source of nutrient for the surrounding meadows when the local farmers collected the accumulated winter silt each spring for spreading on the adjoining meadows. This again would require a further evaluation of the economic worth of the land and appropriate compensation. From a flood relief and ecological standpoint it would have some very interesting potential.
Interesting times ahead and judging by the sudden appearance of a plethora of experts on the TV I'm sure there will be no shortage of suggestions as to the direction the future policy should take. Its a process that must see river owners, managers and users play their part, if we stand back and allow others to make the decisions related to the future for us we will only have our selves to blame if we do not like what we see adopted as future policy.
This is certainly going to be an on-going topic, watch this space for a continuing look at the options.
On a different tack, I have had to close the track down from Crowe down to Edwards pool due to the unstable willows in the area. I have emailed the club who will hopefully put it out on the website to warn the wider membership but in the interim I've put this warning on the diary. Just when the danger will be removed I can't say as the surrounding land is underwater making access for heavy machinery extremely difficult. Please take care if you are about in the Ibsley area during the high winds and floods. Its not just the danger of one of these beauties landing on you but the prospect of parking at Edwards and being cut off when you come to leave.
I'm going to start a new thread on the diary today in an effort to educate our urban neighbours in the ways of us country yokels, I will title the section "Rural Definitions" today's words are;
Pickled onion; a small onion or shallot preserved in vinegar. Best served with crisps whilst relaxing in the bath.
Pickle tooth; a remaining single prominent incisor on which a pickled onion can be impaled to be enjoyed throughout the day. Usually associated with elderly grand mothers with a mistrust of dentists.
Pickling; to make insincere expressions of concern, vacuous promises and false accusations to deflect criticism from ones self and associates.
Pickled; to be the target of pickling.
I bet the EA are chuffed to bits with the latest support they have received from the minister. It was all down to the bad advice that the government received from you Machiavellian lot in flood defence. Of course I knew all along it has had nothing to do with record rainfall, perched river channels, low lying ground and tidal range. I missed the bit of the interview that mentioned the successive years of government cuts to the Agency but I'm sure that has had no effect on the flooding. I also missed the piece where the increase in flood defence funding by 1.3 billion to come in line with the Dutch will be implemented with immediate effect but I'm sure it was included! The East Coast erosion, Wash and Norfolk Fens along with South Coast erosion and river valleys are all safe now. You just have to see it to believe it.
You can tell by the lack of home news on here the valley is still totally depressing. I've not seen or heard of any angling news all week, those of you who have ventured out I admire your stoicism and please ensure you let me know if you manage to find any fish. That goes for all disciplines, salmon, chub, carp I'd be glad to hear of anything to cheer up the fishing front.
On the bird front I did come across a Bittern mid week that looked almost as fed up as I was. This particular bird was in the middle of the track and when I came around the corner it adopted the classic Bittern stance of standing bolt upright and pointing its beak skyward. Now that might save a Bittern from attack or harm if he's stood in a reed bed but mid track, with an approaching twin cab, his camouflage had serious failings. As I got closer I could see his beady eyes examining me from the base of his dagger like bill: a most peculiar looking bird, yet he refused to move. Was this an effort to end it all? Was he even more fed up with the shite weather than I am? No, that wasn't it, he had a plan! At about the speed of a Slow Loris, maintaining his vertical stance, he inched across the track to take up position on the verge. It was as plain as the nose on your face, obviously a bird that has joined us for the winter from an urban home territory on the continent. He was pretending to be a traffic cone!!
Further distraction from the weather came in the form of a link from a friend with a similar riverine outlook as myself. I must admit to having missed this programme when it was originally aired so very much appreciate the heads up. If you are avoiding the rubbish weather I can strongly recommend taking a look. In fact what ever you're doing I can recommend you make time to watch this programme, it's a good news look at humanity which is all too rare these days.
Well worth a watch
New Forest ponies looking less than impressed with the floods on the road outside Mockbeggar.
The reason for this entry is really to let the readers from the game fishing fraternity know of the showing of a film in Bournemouth that might be of interest. From the brief preview, that is available on the links below, the showing would appear to have a wider appeal than just the game fishermen being an artistic production that will be of interest to anglers and non-anglers alike. I must thank Simon Tomkinson for making me aware of the event and hopefully one or two readers will enjoy one of the two showings on Monday.
With my truck in the garage for its MOT and rain forecast all day it seemed an ideal time to take the day off and try and clear the backlog of paperwork that has swamped my desk in recent weeks. That's not quite true, my desk is in a continual state of paperwork overload, its not a legacy of any recent change. I feel its good for the soul that every once in a while I collect the various piles into a large heap on the floor and set about clearing the decks to provide me with a fresh start. With such admirable intentions I duly started to go through the accumulated stack sorting into fresh piles headed; to be actioned, pending, filing, recycled, dumped or URGENT. If you are awaiting a response from me that you may feel a little overdue, fear not, I'm sure you'll be on the last pile. The problem arises when I come across paperwork related to one of those interesting subjects that arrived on its original "pending" pile through being a total time sink. A file that at first glance seemed a simple matter of a few hours work takes on a sinister look as it starts to fill with references and cross references in need of reading and evaluating. Just a minute or two to refresh my memory can't do any harm. It's odd, perhaps fate, that I should have come across that one particular file as it might have bearing on the RARP proposals that are very topical at the moment.
Two hours later I just needed to check a few dates and that shouldn't take too long; should it? It would also be good to have photographic evidence to support some of my arguments, which involved a fruitless hour on the net. I just needed a photo or two of the valley from the earlier part of the twentieth century showing the Avon Valley as it was at the height of its famed biodiversity. A time when those breeding waders and huge Atlantic salmon were common. A time that was deemed worthy of the conservation designations so liberally applied to the valley south of Bickton; SSSI, SAC, Ramsar, SPA. I had seen such photos several years ago when Mark Vincent had shown me some aerial photos taken in the 30's; they clearly showed the valley character at the time they were taken. I emailed Mark who got straight back saying he thought they were from the collection of a local historian and they had been bequeathed to the Meeting House archive in Ringwood at the time of his death. Oh well, it shouldn't take a minute to pop in to The Meeting House and see if any such archive exists. I found the Meeting House online and it looks as if they opened from 10:00 and with it now being five to I decided to get this out of my system and nip into town to see what could be found.
That was my second mistake, the first being opening this file. I have to admit not having been in the Meeting House for about ten years and had no idea what a marvellous source of local information it had become. It has been done up superbly and the local history archive is vast; immediately providing a problem in finding out just where to start. Fortune was on my side, the volunteers who run this super facility and the regular visitors came to my rescue, digging out the archive I was looking for within minutes. Unfortunately the photos I sought were not within. Never daunted my earlier rescuers were on hand again, producing several likely looking collections that might contain the photos I needed. Almost two hours later, over a cup of coffee that was included in the 70p entrance fee, I had failed to find the exact photos I was seeking. I had however found several that showed the lower section of the estate in all its glory at the time of its angling fame and ecological wonder. The well spent couple of hours had also wetted my appetite to discover more of the information hidden within those indexes and catalogues. I will definitely be spending a great deal more time in the Meeting House; time permitting!
Just what did my delving into the archive manage to produce? I was seeking evidence of just how the valley looked in the early twentieth century and I did indeed find some interesting material to meet my needs? An aerial photograph which wasn't dated but I believe to have been in the 1930's. A second aerial shot from the mid 60's showing the developing by-pass that I remember as a bottle neck second to none at the time. Finally a photo looking downstream from above the Turbine House in the mid 50's. Clearly illustrating the impounded nature of the upstream reach, which prior to the removal and replacement of the weir, at the time of the later by-pass, had produced record Avon roach bags. I also discovered many records of the floods that have effected Ringwood in times gone by. A photo of West street flooded half-way to the square in 1915, an almost identical photo of the Ringwood flood of 1925. Such photo's would suggest that the floods we are currently experiencing are far from the worst that the valley has suffered in the past. One other interesting map was that which showed the old marl pit that once formed a lake to the north of the town where what we now know as the main river, which is in fact the Ringwood Millstream, joined the Kings Stream, the original course of the main channel. It would be an interesting modelling exercise to calculate just what volume of water could be stored in such an area relieving flooding downstream. Especially if that storage was combined with a weir at the height of the original which was incorporated into the turbine House after the old mill was demolished in the 30's. The current weir with its open flumes was I'm led to believe constructed eight inches lower than the original being totally ineffective for water control. It also changed the character of the upstream fishery, totally destroying one of the most iconic stretches of the Hampshire Avon fishery along with the fishery asset value. I'll have to look back in the records to see what compensation was paid to the estate at the time as recompense for such a disastrous loss to the fishery.
With many thanks to the Meeting House at Ringwood for permission to reproduce the photographs
The early photograph showing an open flood plan in the 1930's. In 1966 the oxbows can be seen where the meanders have broken through which are now dense areas of reeds and willow. Finally the view from above the Turbine House showing the impounded reach that produced such wonderful roach bags.
The character of the valley during the 1930's appears to have been of an open flood plain with very few trees. It was this open grazed grassland that was so attractive to the Lapwing, Redshank and Snipe. In the 1960's photo the stock can be seen grazing in the areas that are now heavily overgrown and have little value as wader nest sites. The clear riverbanks and tributaries are now overgrown jungles, in many instance impenetrable to man and beast. Not only the waders have forsaken the valley, species such as the once common Yellow Wagtail no longer nest with us. Perhaps more importantly to the fishery nor are the salmon and roach. The loss of fish species can hardly be due to the loss of this open grassland habitat or is there a finer balance where the reduction in grazing has seen a corresponding reduction in the invertebrate population that juvenile waders, wagtails and fish are dependent. Nothings simple is it! Take a look at Google Earth, the meandering bends are now thickets of willow car and dense reed. Marvellous warbler habitat but of little value to our designated species.
What of the future shape of the valley and river? Where do we wish to see the effort and investment in the rivers directed in the next decade? Is it possible to turn back the clock, to return the valley to the 50's and 60's? More questions than answers I fear. It will be a very interesting to hear from the RARP just where the picture of the past fits with their view of the future. That explains why that file was sitting in the pending pile on my desk, which reminds, I have a very large heap of papers still waiting for me in the middle of my living room floor.
On Sunday we actually managed an hour or two of sunshine and I was pleased to see all my colonies actively flying. Finding water shouldn't prove a problem if they require liquid, hopefully sufficient time for cleansing, fingers crossed all will be in good shape for the remaining winter months ahead. Today two of the resident roe had found the sheltered apiary to their liking where I left them in peace, hiding from yet more wind and rain, on condition they don't shove any hives over.
I've spent time this week looking at potential changes to the various river channels that criss-cross the estate in light of the River Avon Restoration Project declared wish list. With most of the valley currently underwater it might well seem an odd time to be considering such issues. Luckily the majority of the ideas are still at the planning stage and the reality on the ground has yet to be considered. It will make for an extremely interesting time ahead, be it naturalised channels, tree planting or weir removal, I will keep readers up to date with the way matters develop.
We have been away for a day or two in an effort to recharge the batteries; an escape from the assault Mother Nature has waged during the last month or two. Where did we go to find peace of mind? The Somerset Levels!! No not the West Country side of the family, the low lying reedy bits of Somerset around Glastonbury.
If you've been listening to the media over the last week or two you might be forgiven for thinking that the entire county of Somerset is submerged; the only way in being by boat. Whilst for the residents of the Parrett flood plain, much of which lies below sea level, things are somewhat soggy, however the old peat workings to the NW of Glastonbury remain high and dry. I'm not sure that's quite the correct description as they are in many instances flooded but that is by design. Anne and I obviously stayed well away from the media circus down the road with all its Canute impersonators demanding the sea retreat and the water runs uphill. Having listened to and read several news articles related to the flooding I actually feel sorry for the poor old EA. The brickbats are certainly in full flight.
We head out into the reserves in search of the Starlings as we always do on our regular visits down west. Thankfully we found things on the ground in much the same order as during all of our travels of the past decade. The Brue flood plain was under water in places but that is to be expected after such prolonged rain. We did find the landlady of our hotel a little more outspoken about the media. It would seem many of the guests have been cancelling in the belief only the Tor marks the position where the town once stood! One or two of the locals, particularly in the bar in the evenings, seemed to be taking a far more pragmatic approach. Its seems its been raining at record levels, as it has at home, and "shit happens, as it has for yonks down here" There seemed to be a resignation to the fact if the water got too deep they'd stay in the bar and sit on the tables! I seem to recall a festival down here somewhere that does a good line in mud!!
What of our Starlings, the purpose of our visit, they were simply astonishing. Wave upon wave of birds, the sound of their wings like motor bikes overhead; pouring into the reeds in the evenings and away to their feeding grounds with the dawn. Many hundreds of thousands, probably millions, making any assessment of numbers simply impossible. For periods of several minutes the sky was covered from horizon to horizon and just as you think there can't be any more left in the reeds further clouds rise and head off into the distance. We never cease to be amazed, hence our continued visits. The Levels even without the Starlings are a wonderful place, a mysterious past and an industrial heritage that has seen the creation of the stunning reserves. The home of breeding; Great white egret, Bittern, Little bittern, Harriers and countless wildfowl, they're a real gem well worth a day or two of anyone’s time.
Arriving at dusk and departing at dawn. I imagine our 50,000 from Ellingham now make up a very, very tiny part of the Avalon flock.
I arrived back today to find our valley a great deal wetter than the one I had just left behind in the west. I suppose we are used to the impact of a wet winter and ensure the animals are not dependent on the water meadows and in most cases we do not try and grow cereal in the flood plain. Whilst we suffer in relative silence it does become tiresome after such a long period of time. January has been an absolute disaster from the point of the river fishermen. Whilst one or two brave soles have ventured out and been well rewarded for their commitment, such expeditions are definitely not for the faint hearted.
On Saturday the new salmon season got under way and the salmon rods will now face the flooded meadows. I did wonder if any rods had braved the elements on opening day. On Sunday during my drive around the estate on my return I met two such rods who had not been daunted by the state of the river. To their credit they had also fished yesterday, testimony to a positive spirit that will hopefully be rewarded in the near future. What are the prospects for the season? It is a brave or foolish man that makes hard and fast statements about what we might expect this year. The current high water has cleared with ground water now making up a high percentage of the flow. The temperature is probably 5 or 6 degrees C and we have today enjoyed a very high Spring tide. If the fish have been reading the text books we might expect the signal put out by the high flows to be attracting fish well out into the bay. Those fish will find running conditions as good as they are likely to see all year at a temperature that will encourage them to move. It might not be floating line water but certainly fly water as good as you are likely to find if you can safely get to the pools. Historically such conditions have seen the early fish run right through to the higher river with fish being caught at Longford and even as far upstream as Wilton. The fly in the ointment with the fast running theory is why the fish did not run through to the higher river to spawn, with so many fish cutting down with us in the Trout Stream? That might not be such a problem if fish run through to us and stop in the pools, unfortunately unless we get to see one or two on the bank we are unlikely to ever find out. The other incentive to get out and look for a fish was the number of large fish we saw in the river last season. Several thirties landed and lost and a scattering of good twenties it might be reasoned they were 3SW fish. If that were the case it might also be reasoned if we are to see a return to the famed 4SW fish of the Avon this year might be the year we see such a fish turn up. What ever the prospects the thought of the river back within its banks, the new growth of Spring and mild days in April and May is incentive enough for me to look forward to the months ahead.
Sunrise over the Tor.
P.S. I've just been listening to the news and it appears the Severn has flooded farmland for the fourth time in recent years, not having done so previously in living memory. I hope the EA buy a big dredger, it sounds as if they may need it!!
Rain, rain and yet more rain and the river refuses to budge. I'm going to stop reporting on the state of the river until such time as there is a significant change that allows us a reasonable chance of getting back on the banks without risking life and limb. Other goings on in the valley and fishing restricted in main to the stillwaters, will have to make the angling news in the coming week or two.
Taking the theme of other news making the running, tonight I have been out lamping. I should explain this has not been the red spot-lamp seeking out the beady eyes of Charlie in an effort to knock lumps off him with the .243. Charlie has sufficient problems with his valley home now under two feet of water without my attentions. Tonight was a new experience for me and I must admit extremely informative one. As the light faded I met with half a dozen experts from various conservation groups in an effort to find the larvae of the Lunar Yellow Underwing. What you may ask is a Lunar yellow Underwing? Its a moth, and just what does its larvae look like? To you and me, a small brown caterpillar with a stripe or two and several lines of chequered blotches. I have to admit I had no idea that such caterpillars were active in the depths of winter and to add to my steep learning curve, they were not alone. Several look-a-likes were out there trying to cloud my new found knowledge; Square-spot rustics and possibly even the Yellow Underwing itself. It was worth the evening just to seek out creatures with such wonderful names. That however was not the reason for my presence, I was primarily there to have a look at the habitat that our intended quarry preferred and hopefully encourage such tussocky grass in areas of the estate that might safeguard and expand the range of this rare creature. Any new found understanding of the requirements of one further valley resident was without a doubt an hour or two very well spent.
In search of the Lunar Yellow Underwing.
I'm not sure we managed to find the beast itself, although at the time I left the group to it there were a couple of possibles that one member was intending to rear to emergence in June or July to confirm or otherwise our success. I wish him every success in his efforts and I will be keen to hear just what results in six months time. That's the problem with the Avon valley, there is always some completely new sphere of learning to illustrate just how little we actually know. I fear dipping my toe into the world of moths is going to prove a considerable distraction in months to come. Probably a distraction I could well do without as my time is already well spoken for. As if to illustrate just how absorbing and addictive moths can be, as I looked back from the car park at the spots of light emanating from the distant group of seasoned experts, they looked for all the world like a gathering of demented glow worms crawling over the grassy mound, seeking just one more specimen.
....and now you do. Take a look at 17th April 2013 and you'll see what I mean. Saturday, forecast as the best day of the weekend, saw storm force squalls felling dozens more trees across the estate. I now have a growing list of large willows that will need to be felled as they are now serious health and safety problems. The Sparrows are the good news, my flock at home reached a new high of 63 today, which is testimony to what half a dozen nestboxes and a bag of millet can achieve.
Makes for interesting reading.
There's an angler who deserves every success! Now I know how Noah must have felt as the first small islands of land appeared above the flood. He also had the benefit of not having the Met Office sending him further bad news!
An Avon cock fish in full tartan.
This was taken before Christmas but I just had to put it on the diary as it's a cracking looking Avon cock salmon ready for the battles ahead in defending his hen fish on the redds. Huge kype, teeth like a crocodile and the colour of a Coke tin; just an incredible transformation from the silver bar that entered the river six months earlier. The depth of this fish is what marks it as an Avon fish, a truly amazing sight to see these warriors their great flanks flashing as they battle it out on the redds. Nigel also witnessed the fish cutting on the redds in the by-pass channel where he tells me several fish of this size were busy about their business. The fish in the pic is over twenty pounds and it took a bait intended for perch in one of the deep pools downstream of the shallows, if more fish of that stamp have managed to spawn successfully fingers crossed we will see their progeny in future years. Thanks to Nigel Bennett for the photograph and Lesley for emailing it through to me. I know we shouldn't take pix but I don't suppose for one minute any coarse angler would allow any harm to befall such a fish and I don't begrudge anyone a record of such a capture and I was also pleased to see a record of a stunning Avon fish. This fish went back without any problem, which is usually the way with these out of season red fish, that have acclimatised to the river and are usually as tough as old boots.
One other point worthy of note is the enlarged adipose fin, which would seem to signify a role in the spawning rituals about to get under way. Could it be that in defending his hen from the amorous attention of rivals he needs the manoeuvrability that this fin would afford in smoothing the water flow across his tail? Could it be that when the hen deposits her eggs and he has but a few seconds to release his milt and fertilize them he needs every last inch of manoeuvrability? It might be that its neither and it has no vital role in the recruitment process our fish are engaged in. Just why Mother Nature has developed such an appendage over the hundreds of thousands of years of the salmons evolution might simply be an over sight! I don't somehow believe that and unfortunately we don't know, sadly neither do the scientific community that has cut them off with impunity for decades as they seek to further our knowledge!!
Where visible, the conjectures
and tinkerings of scholars
seem obtrusive, unhelpful.
I hope Christopher Reid will forgive my crass use of his wonderful poem "The Flowers of Crete" from "A Scattering" it just seemed to fit so neatly.
The Avon Valley Path remains damp!
Friday's showers had Nic Price wondering whether there was a pot of gold at the end of either of the rainbows at Park pool.
I was up on the Plain yesterday and what were dry river beds a few weeks ago, at the time of my last visit, are now full to the brim. I don't think I can call them torrents as that's a description that seems out of place when applied to chalk streams but they are certainly pushing through at a considerable pace. North of Tidworth, out towards Collingbourne, the water has spilled out into the meadows giving rise to miles of swampy grassland further filtering the already crystal clear chalk water from the springs. For those of us in the middle and lower valley the chalk groundwater springs having broken means we are not going to see a quick return to the channel of our wayward river. The aquifer up under the Plain is full and we are now seeing the true nature of the Avon valley in all its wild glory. The only snag to this wonder of the natural world is that I have a refurbished reel and a new rod that I'm just itching to try out! Jim had brought back my swallow pin looking superb, resplendent with new handles and shining like a new pin, literally!
Keen to try the new set up so regardless of the state of the river, on my way back from my early morning walk, I called at Richard's and picked up a pint of whites and a pint of reds. No stopping me now, home for a cuppa and a piece of toast, stack the gear in the truck and out again; back on the river before ten thirty. Where to go? Was the sixty four thousand dollar question. Were the dace still in the main channel or have they abandoned us and headed for the side channels in readiness for spawning? Perhaps the deeper water might hold a roach or two? I decided on the section between the two weirs at Ibsley might meet a couple of the criteria to the liking of our silvers. The high water has added three or four feet to the depth making the new fifteen foot rod perfect to deal with the twelve feet of water that now confronted me. It was a lovely pace on the far bank, protected from the main flow by the marginal willows left for this very situation. Drop the gear and find the maggots and the catapult to get a couple of pouches out to get the feed under way before making up the rod. Ten minutes saw the wire stemmed stick supporting a single maggot on a barbless 18 going through absolutely spot-on, perfection, who needs fish. Standing in the early sunshine that had chased away the mornings frost was as good as it gets with the pin. Dropping the float across to the slacker water on the far bank deserved a bite every cast. The routine of three casts and a half a dozen maggots fired as far as possible upstream was now established, hopefully getting down on the bottom half way down the trot. Twenty minutes in and the yellow tip skips sideways and dives. An instinctive sweep of the rod upstream, being careful not to hit the tree above me, answered by a solid resistance that lifted in the water and headed upstream towards me. I was enjoying the action of the rod and convincing myself the dace were still with us when with a head shaking rattle a mini rainbow trout launched itself skyward and fell off. Bugger. I'd forgotten those bloody things were loose. Ah well, I'm sure if the dace see them feeding they might join in, who'm I kidding, I don't even believe that. The first half dozen puts the rod through its paces and then the novelty begins to wear off. After a dozen and a half in a little over an hour I'd had enough. Nothing was going to beat those bloody piranha to the bait. I packed away the gear and presented the nearest pike angler with a landing net full of bait before heading for home.
My Dave Swallow pin mounted on my new rod ready for action. I should have known better than think I was going to find the dace and roach at Ibsley at the moment.
Why is it that should we so much as put a native brown trout diploid in our trout streams we would be deemed in breach of that holiest of holies the trout and grayling strategy and pilloried for our actions yet the trout farms continue to fill our river with disease and pestilence without so much as a twitch from the regulators. We'll get the same old rubbish wheeled out by the EA telling us they have spoken to the farms and have received assurances about making the stews flood proof and ensuring it wont happen again, yada, yada, yada. Until the next time that is! What really gets my goat is that both trout farms and freshwater fisheries are over-seen by Defra. Different regulators in the shape of the EA and the disease labs but at the end of the day all comes under the same hat. I'm not in a position or have any desire to speak for the EA but I get the impression many on the fishery staff are none too happy about the situation but are powerless to do anything about it. Which is a very odd situation indeed but at least it does show the light in which our rivers are held in Whitehall in relation to agriculture and aquaculture - great defenders of fisheries - as long as they don't stand in the way of intensive food production, flood defence or potable water supply.
On reaching home I didn't unload the gear straight away as I normally do. I still hadn't quite scratched that itch in that whilst I'd christened the new set-up it wasn't in the fashion I would have wished. I wanted a proper fish not some gaudy tourist from over the pond. A leisurely lunch and one or two odd jobs sorted out and I was ready for a second shot at finding a fish or two. I hopped back in the truck and headed for the lakes with the intention of fishing King's - Vincent's as I can usually find a fish as the light fades. On arrival many of the fishable swims that had remained above water were occupied. Not a lot happening, the lad in the swim I had felt would suit my purposes had landed a couple of bream and a carp, in reality neither species was what I was seeking. I walked back along the bank and chatted with one or two of the anglers until I reached Mark Wylie who was fishing where views across both King's - Vincents and Meadow were possible. As we chatted I decided I didn't want to latch into a carp on my new ultralight rod as a mishap on the first day would have been hard to bear. I was discussing roach with Mark and he mentioned he had recently landed one or two over the far side of Meadow halfway along Greenbank. I hadn't fished that area for well over a decade, usually pleasant fishing, off a gently sloping grass bank that had provided me with good roach in the past. Nothing ventured nothing gained, lets go for it. I bid Mark farewell and moved back to the main car park providing easy access to the swim I was heading for. I also had a totally irrational reason to fish the deep hole half way along the bank. Many moons ago the swim had produced a fabulous brace of roach for Thelma Swallow who so sadly passed away last year. Thelma was the wife of the designer and manufacturer of the reel I was using today, Dave Swallow. It somehow seemed appropriate to fish the swim and it would make a good tale to tell Dave when I next bumped into him about town if I managed to catch.
Thelma with roach of 2.11 and 2.13 from Greenbank way back in the mid seventies.
As is my fashion a pouch full of maggots over the inside edge of the deep hole, just half a rods length out to get matters under way and back to setting up a waggler to deal with steep drop into twelve feet of water. Once more single maggot on a barbless eighteen but this time all the shot up under the float bar one number four at the top of the hook trace two feet from the hook and a number eight, six inches from the hook. A simple Wallis cast sent the float out to be drawn back to settle on the drop-off. A few more maggots and sit back to await events. Encouragingly roach were topping well out in the lake, nothing large but at least activity which bodes well, hopefully. Half a dozen casts in the next forty five minutes with the introduction of the half a dozen maggots had produced only one bite and I wasn't sure about that thinking I might have imagined it! A further half an hour without even a knock when the float shot under, a firm strike and nothing. Odd? Unlike the first bite at least I was sure that was a bite, I just managed to miss the culprit. Flicked back into position with a pinch of maggots and settle back once more. A prompt response this time with the float dipping and sliding under. The hour left before dark produced a bite a cast with roach like peas in a pod between six and eight ounces. As the light faded larger fish were topping out in the lake, carp and bream were obvious but every now and then a back that looked for all the world like large roach. The night arrived all too early as despite the now freezing conditions I was thoroughly enjoying the sport. It wasn't to be that any of those larger roach came in but my hand full of eight ounce beauties where exactly what I needed and that itch was now well and truly scratched.
Finally a roach!
I must start by stating the obvious and hoping the river gets back to fishable levels in the very near future so the rods can once more be put to good use. The news that the estate are to take the fishery back in house obviously came as a surprise to many and only to be expected in other quarters. The volume of email traffic it generated came as quite a surprise to me. And I should add my apologies to Nathalie in our office who has been the recipient of the traffic and my thanks for so efficiently dealing with it in her inimitable way. If you are one off those who have expressed an interest in the syndicates at this stage you will simply receive an acknowledgement and your name and contact details will be placed on file. There is a year before the change over so it will be several months before you hear any more detailed information. Those that have copied me in and for the kind comments please accept my sincere thanks. Should you have contacted me with separate emails or comments I will get around to answering you all, hopefully by the weekend.
Out on the ground further rain today seems to make the prospect of a falling river even more remote. A visit to the hatches proved equally frustrating as an unpleasantly large and awkward branch is now firmly jammed across both the southern hatches. Fortunately at present its not blocking the main flume and the debris load of the river is fairly light at the moment, with luck it will remain as it is until safer conditions prevail. Giving added reason for my desire for the water levels to drop asap. Whilst at Ibsley I came across a large, extremely diseased rainbow trout laying close to the edge of the Trout stream. With perhaps between fifty thousand and one hundred thousand salmon eggs buried in the gravel just downstream this is not a sight I would wish to see. Salmon eggs are dependent on an oxygen rich flow of water over them at all times. Reduced oxygen and organic detritus can have devastating impact on an entire batch of eggs particularly if fungal infection such as Saprolegnia sets in. It does make a mockery of the trout and grayling strategy that insists on triploids only being stocked into the river when we are over run with rainbows at regular intervals.
A Saprolegnia smothered rainbow trout in the margins of the Trout stream. Women and children first, I have included this pic of the fallow does and their kids simply because they looked such a picture grazing at Mockbeggar one cold morning this week.
I attended the CAC EGM last week, or I should say I attended half the CAC EGM. I had gone along as I was expecting the committee to update the membership as to the state of play regarding CAC's continued fishing at Somerley. I was somewhat surprised that not a word was forthcoming regarding Somerley during the updates from club officials as I would have considered this the most significant news for some considerable time to effect the club. I had an inkling that this might be the case as I had broached the subject with a committee member a day or two before hand and at that time was informed no decision about releasing the news had been taken. I had attended the early part of the meeting to answer any questions that the committee felt unable to clarify. I didn't remain for the open floor section, not wishing to compromise the committee should a question be directed to me that required I made the current, then unannounced, situation clear. I can understand the thinking that little was to be gained in opening up the debate about the future of Somerley other than to let members vent there frustrations. I'm sure the committee and I can assure you that I am fully aware of most of the negative views that were likely to be aired at such a time. I do appreciate that the membership has not been involved during the previous three years of negotiations and what appears a sudden decision must come as a shock to many of you. This unfortunately is the nature of confidentiality that obviously surrounds club leases to avoid competition for prime waters. I similarly appreciate that the club has had a pretty miserable time over the last few years, in many instances through no fault of its own has lost eight major waters. Through this period, despite offers from other organisations, we had remained with the club and offered rent freezes and real term reductions in the hope of seeing them through a sticky patch. What I should stress at this point is that I am not employed to look after CAC's interests, the estate is not a charity and is part of the very real world. Part of my role at the estate is to advise on the development and improvement of the fishery asset and for several years, for various reasons, this has not been an easy task. To see the income that is generated from carp syndicates it is often difficult to equate this to the reality of nine and a half miles of main Hampshire Avon river bank, plus a further eight and a half of carrier. Plus of course at least six large lakes, several smaller ponds and more fish than I can shake a stick at. When in the mid 90's, at my recommendation, the club under Colin Bungay became our sole tenant, encompassing all the angling disciplines the estate contains, we had a clear understanding of our roles. The club was to maintain the fishery asset of the landlord and to look after all aspects of fishery pertinent to the members; paths, litter, stock levels, signs, angling car parks yada, yada, yada. The estate was to be responsible for the areas outside of this that interact with the river; agricultural liaison, shooting, hatch operation, large timber, conservation, major river bank repairs etc. The club was to operate under a mutually agreed fishery management plan, all pretty clear and simple it would seem.
Unfortunately it hasn't been the case and as committees come and go this has only become more difficult. Bar on one or two occasions it has remained the estate that has cut the salmon pool banks, cleared the paths, erected styles and bridges, picked up all too much litter and through embarrassment cut the weed for fishery purposes in the Trout stream. We have also cleared the annual regrowth of vegetation from the stillwaters that permits swims to be accessed and remain fishable; preventing banks reverting into an unfishable jungle of willow and alder car. I personally drew up fishery management plans, marked areas to be cleared and gave demonstrations of what was needed, alongside cutting miles of bank. Barring the efforts of one or two dedicated individuals and despite repeated requests for this work to be undertaken it continually failed to be dealt with, falling back on the estate year after year. It has become blatantly obvious that the maintenance of such a large fishery has been beyond the capabilities of voluntarily arranged means. This had become apparent several years ago when I suggested full time professionals were taken on along the lines of neighbouring clubs or professional contractors were used. Neither course of action has been followed and we have seen the sad decline of the fishery to the extent we feel a change is required.
I can confirm that despite three years of negotiations we have failed to reach a satisfactory agreement with the club; resulting in the estate serving notice for the club to quit the waters in a years time. This will apply to all elements of the fishery with the exception of the three small pools at Ibsley; Crowe, Tomkins and Edwards plus the west bank of the Trout Stream, which are fished by the club under a separate agreement. The east bank of the main river behind the Ibsley Pools is not part of this lease and will revert to the estate in a years time. The future of the Somerley fishery will probably involve establishing four syndicates to cover the main disciplines that Somerley supports. Each syndicate will have a restricted number of members, who will have direct contact with the estate, ensuring a close working relationship.
The salmon syndicate will numerically be along the lines of the old rod list that previously enjoyed the Somerley water. The season will be exclusive for the duration of the coarse close season March 15 to June 15, shared access outside of this period for the remainder of the season along the current lines. For the salmon rods it will probably mean an actual reduction on the current amount they are paying. Having said that we have yet to finalise the exact nature of the future groups, prices, conditions etc. Issues such as beat restrictions, starting times etc will be driven by the views of syndicate members. Should the syndicate feel that two or three sections of river might operate under a beat system perhaps until 12 noon each day such simple conditions can be taken on board, or not as the case may be. The opportunity of a 30 pound salmon in the hallowed Hampshire Avon does remain a very real option, as so admirably and ably demonstrated by Mr consistent, Steve Hutchinson last season. We don't see as many but we still see great fish each season so we hope and envisage such a syndicate, so assessable from the Home counties, will retain a considerable appeal.
The river coarse syndicate will numerically be similar to that of the salmon syndicate. We will be looking for rods that wish to participate in the unique angling experience offered by Somerley Estate. Not a romantic regression but a step forward to be part of the new environment of our rivers today. Our rods will be part of that environment, enjoying their sport within one of the most diverse and unique habitats to be found anywhere in the world. The lowland chalk streams of Southern England have been likened to tropical rainforests in their level of unique ecology and biodiversity. Somerley can offer huge specimens of most species found in Britain's lowland rivers. In recent years barbel over sixteen pounds, chub eight plus, perch to nearly four pounds, double figure bream, twenty plus carp, huge bags of dace and legendary roach. The roach are struggling at the moment for reasons we do not understand, the catches of two pound and even three pound fish are not seen today. This year has seen an encouraging upsurge in the number of small roach caught and we hope to increase the population by stocking with fish from Avon stock that now abound in our stillwaters. As for the other species, I have fished the Avon since 1963 and I can honestly say that the opportunity for a huge specimen has never been so good. If I had said I was going to fish for fifteen pound barbel or seven pound chub when I first fished the Avon in 1963 people would have said I'd gone mad. That option is a reality today to the extent that many take it for granted. Going forward we wish to see angling fit naturally into the ecology of the valley, not be at odds with the surrounding environment. A day in wonderful surroundings shared with the natural inhabitants of the valley yet offering the chance of a fish of a lifetime. For want of a better description, we intend to pull up the drawbridge, to become a self contained microcosm of the best that angling has to offer.
In the case of the river syndicates the fishery will be centred on the Lodge as a focal point for the exchange of information. The reduced number of members will permit us to enable vehicular access through Dog Kennel Wood, north of the Lodge, to Hayricks and Fools Corner. Also south via East Terrace through the Park to re-open the car park at Penmeade and on through Sunderton wood to Ashley. This will allow access to roughly five miles of riverbank from behind the locked gates of the estate.
As for the trout I'm not sure what we are going to do there yet and judging by recent activity perhaps I should emphasise at this point that the club have a years grace and there is no unseemly rush to get ahead of the field.
The stillwater syndicate will include all the current Somerley Lakes; Meadow, Kings-Vincents and all three Mockbeggar lakes. We have an enormous workload to sort out the banks and stock levels so nothing is as yet written in stone. Most have far too many fish in them and added to that we have the ongoing fish removal from Ibsley water to complicate matters. Hopefully syndicate members will be able to help remove the Ibsley Water fish which I can't see will be too great an ask!!. This will all take some time to get organised but in the mean time there remains some superb fishing that will be on offer.
Obviously at this stage we are not allocating syndicate positions. However if you wish to express a totally unconditional and without prejudice "Expression of Interest" you can email the estate office whom I'm sure will keep a file of contacts for future use. email@example.com
Damian's seats beside Sydney Pool with the flood out in the fields towards Penmeade. The Coomber Oxbowfry sanctuary, created by the WSRT, providing a superb safe haven, protected by the reeds. The third is a shot of Jim Foster looking at the large redds in the by-pass channel where a hen was still cutting at the tail of the pool.
I hope that clears up any doubts and misunderstandings now back to the river which continues to run high, well out in the fields but has cleared. The new visibility has given the opportunity for a first glimpse of the salmon spawning sites, so what did I do on my day off Friday? Spent the day walking about on the estate looking for redds!!
With the aid of a very stout wading stick I walked miles of the flooded meadows with an average depth of about two feet with the ditches and hollows remaining quite a challenge. The vast majority of the main river sites remain out of reach or at least remain too deep to get sufficiently close to see down to the gravel. The carriers were a different matter and the Trout Stream was visible throughout its length. Amazingly salmon were still on the redds with at least two pairs cutting earlier in the week. Perhaps even more of a surprise were the number of redds in the stream a minimum of eleven and possibly as many as fifteen pairs could have used the 500m of the Trout stream. With cutting taking place for well over four weeks there may have been an element of over cutting. To counter this possible under counting hens may have cut more than one redd, making the science of redd counting somewhat prone to inaccuracy. Whatever the true figure the reason so many fish should have remained down with us, under what should have been perfect conditions to reach the traditional spawning grounds in the headwaters, is a mystery. Hopefully the headwaters have seen a similarly high density of redds which bodes extremely well for the future. One could similarly speculate that the high flows may have washed out many redds in the higher catchment reducing the recruitment efficiency. This would not apply to the Trout stream as I control the flow down the stream allowing ideal conditions to exist throughout the year. I'm sure the salmon aren't aware of my role in all of this but perhaps evolution has developed them to recognise suitable flows hence the streams popularity. There is one other possibility and that is the fish spawning in the stream are progeny of fish that were from redds cut in the controlled channel in previous low flow years when the run was unable to reach the headwaters. It is claimed in the scientific community that salmon return to their natal gravels if that is the case the last hypothesis adds up. One other point of interest is that one historic spawning site that had been "gravel cleaned" about a decade ago and not seen a redd since, had three redds on it. Just what brought about the return I can't say but we're certainly very glad to see them back.
Looking south from Lake Run with the wildfowl and waders beginning to find the shallows and islands. A holt where a large dog with romantic intention was pursuing a bitch along the bank below; just seconds before I missed the shot!! The last shot shows the backing up effect of the raised water level on the drains and carriers with controlled flow. Hopefully the juveniles cyprinids make use of these slacks and reed beds as with the Coomber sanctuary above.
I see the Defra Cow-persons (PC non gender specific) appeared in the valley again today to plan their next phase of the Ruddy Duck fiasco.
The extension of Defra's hit squad funding at public expense is beginning to wear on me. Particularly at a time when cuts are being made to EA services in all directions. Especially annoying as funding refusals to answer the multitude of long standing questions we have in the name of fishery interests are second nature to those same Defra mandarins behind the current cunning plan to eliminate the dopey duck. Defra remain committed to spending millions on eradicating the Ruddy Duck in the name of Spanish conservation whilst local conservation issues are flushed out with the floods. Is this because the mandarins at the head of Defra are an urbanised elite that are cocooned and insulated from the real rural world; totally out of touch with feelings on the ground. Or are they just sufficiently arrogant as to continue with their predetermined plans regardless of the views of dispirited rural folk. Ah, I'm forgetting the current Defra mantra that the voluntary sector can be signed up in partnership to run the countryside. All those retired baby boomers of Middle England will deal with those nasty muddy rivers, fields and woods. Leaving our mandarins to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of their centralised ivory towers. Ruddy ducks down, next the Egyptians!!
If they want to eradicate the Ruddy Duck why don't they just stick it on the quarry list and donate the price of a box of bismuth four shot, about twenty five quid, to anyone turning up at the local EA Office with a Deceased Duck; as was the case with the lower mandible of the Cormorant before the powers that be awarded it statutory protection. I think there were about eight hundred of those dear old ducks at one point that have cost the tax payer about six million quid, give or take a nought. My scheme would have cost 20K max always assuming the guns bothered to claim their ill gotten swag. Alternatively bung the Spanish a few grand and when our rakish ducks turn up over there they can do their own dirty work!! Both options save the exchequer millions, which could be redirected to answer our questions.
The main spillway remains in full flow showing little inclination to drop at present. The second small by-pass hatch pool has been the scene of a great deal of salmon spawning activity in recent weeks.
Some of the flotsam the flood brings us trapped in front of one of the gates. I notice that one of our one legged Salisbury tribe have lost a further shoe amidst the trash of humanity. The second shot would point to a further escape of rainbow trout from the upstream trout farm.
The lack of a tractor driver with the necessary insurance cover meant I had to drive the beaters trailer on Saturday when I had intended to be out counting for the WeBS; changed from Sunday due to an unfavourable weather forecast. As it turned out Saturday's weather was foul and Sunday morning dawned icy and clear allowing me a count even if not coordinated with the other counters. As a further consequence of Saturday's foul weather the valley has even more water in it making my count a very marginal affair. I could reach the edge of the flood from half dozen sites affording me views across the valley with the scope, the river bank remains well beyond reach. The river was continuing to rise as I made my way down through the estate from Bickton to Ringwood avoiding the Harbridge road, closed by the council due to the depth of water. The increasing depth made our water meadows too deep for the dabbling ducks and waders which presumably have moved south of Ringwood where the valley widens and the water shallows permitting ideal conditions. We retained our resident such as the Mute swans, Moorhens etc unfortunately other than the single Bewicks Swan that arrived a week ago, very little else of note. Unless you consider the storm driven inland increase of Cormorants as noteworthy. I can see I will be busy scaring them from vulnerable sites for the foreseeable future. Perhaps as the flood subsides we will see the wildfowl move back north to the estate and bring the valley back to life. Just over what time span the flood recedes will be interesting as on a recent trip up to the headwaters the Bourne at Collingbourne remains dry the springs up on the edge of the chalk not having broken as yet. If that remains the situation this flood may get back within the banks very quickly. If they break in the near future it might take weeks. In the later case goodness knows when I'll get to try out that new rod!
Greeted by an icy, clear morning with the rain arriving mid-day. Home to enjoy the birds in the garden, some rather cloudy shots taken through the rain spattered front room window of our visiting Goldfinch, Siskin and Redpoll on the feeders. Not forgetting my favourite residents, our House Sparrows.
The wind and rain of the previous day or two has seen the floods spread out across the valley again and with a further bout to come at the weekend I predict fishing will remain difficult on the river for the next week! I also got up to Ibsley to check the hatches and can confirm that there is an awful lot of water going through the gates at present. Who needs a crystal ball!!
This mornings view south from the Park over the Blashford water meadows. I just knew I was in for a day of blocked culverts and fallen trees.
Whilst at Ibsley I checked the outlets from Crowe and Tomkins Pools which looked well within limits requiring no resetting or adjusting. Considering the length of time I have been up to my armpits in water and and considerably worse in recent days I was delighted to find it so. The reeds now standing in two feet of water and looking more as reed beds should at this time of year. A Bittern flapped up from the bank at the side of the path and dropped back onto one of the small islets that the odd high spot has created out in the reeds. I expect he's looking for the pike-lets that seek sanctuary from the high flows in the reeds if its the same bird as used this section last year. A little further along the bank and I came across one of the mannequin scarecrows looking decidedly worse for ware. The three mannequins around the pools are supposed to keep the Cormorants off, unfortunately they ceased to be effective about six months ago. We used to have similar mannequins around the main lakes down at Somerley about twenty five years ago where we tried them in every possible array. Whilst they are effective for a week or two if they are not moved at least once a week they are worse than useless, scaring away desirable EU designated species such as the wintering wildfowl rather than deterring the now habituated couple of Cormorants that visit the ponds these days. I think its time the club either moved the mannequins on a regular basis or took them away.
Mid afternoon I drove around Meadow Lake to check there were no further trees down that required my attention, which again proved pleasingly clear. To add to my new found state of ease, resulting from the lack of fallen trees and clear hatches, I came across Mark Wylie playing a good fish on his roach gear. It turned out that what ever was on the end of his line had hoovered up his double maggot and set sail for the middle of the lake. I enjoyed the spectacle of the fight, which Mark won, producing a good looking fifteen and a half pound common. He had previously landed a bream which considering we are in the first week of January points to the lakes once more being the saving grace should anyone wish to have a day out with the rods.
One of the mannequins at Crowe which would appear to have had their day. Mark Wylie playing a fifteen and a half pound carp which he hooked whilst roach fishing in Vincents.
Rodent proof, rot proof, rust proof, wonderful things these aluminium feed sheds!!
Please indulge me whilst I re-jig the diary for 2014. With the river remaining out in the fields and the weather forecast best described as crap for the coming days I don't think you'll be missing much. In anticipation of the river returning to the channel and the weather turning mild from the south west I have invested in Drennan 15'Ultralight. I have also asked Jim Foster to put the handles back on one of my old "Swallows" not perhaps the outfit for the Avon but for fun with the dace, chub and you never know peraps a roach or two it is just a delight to handle. I must admit to trying a couple of my closed faced reels on it and the balance with my Daiwa 125M feels spot on, if that's not sufficient incentive to get me out to face the elements I don't know what it will take. It will also test my belief that even the thought of me picking up a rod is sufficient reason for the weather to turn foul. or in this case remain foul but you never know so watch this space.
Several thousand Starlings pretending to be a swarm of bees. They are still with us but numbers have reduced considerably and the birds have started to move back to the old roosts at Ibsley North. The state of the reeds has forced the roost into the surrounding willow and the Peregrines continue to harrass them every evening.
Out trying to reduce the number of geese in the valley. These had luck on their side being too high for a shot.
This young dog mink chose a bad time to come wandering up the middle of the track towards Jonathan our headkeeper.
The opportunity for a quiet day, Christmas with the family now over and the New Year yet to get under way an unscripted walk seemed like a good idea. The valley remains gloriously underwater with the river only fishable in the slacks and bays and then only if you are prepared for a long wade out across the fields with the water well over knee depth. Ditches and hollows are now too deep to safely cross in thigh waders so pick your swims carefully if you wish to avoid a ducking. I spent several hours yesterday afternoon wading the fields in an effort to reduce the number of geese that are currently in the valley and found the going very difficult so be warned, especially as more rain is forecast. Just what you might expect to catch if you do make the effort adds to the mystery. I have met anglers claiming one or two chub and one pike but the barbel you might hope to be active in such a flood seem to have avoided the anglers, at least to ones I have spoken to. On the barbel front I did learn the swim from which a recent 15.7 had been landed. It's probably the last swim on the estate I would have fished in the hope of such a fish. Eddying and boiling in such chaotic fashion its hard to believe any fish should live in such a pool. It does go to prove that almost any swim is worth investigating if you have the time. Whilst on the fishy front, the water has cleared sufficiently to allow me a peek into the carrier where I was told the salmon were cutting the other day. I could kick myself for missing that event, the size of a couple of the redds in the small pool are enormous. It was either a pair of extremely large hens or numerous hens over cutting each other, which considering the area of clean gravel available to them after the floods I think the latter is unlikely.
Alan Mannering with a nice double.
I spent an hour or two today cutting up three windblown trees that were preventing anglers reaching several areas of bank, without a protracted hike. It did give me the chance to chat to some of the anglers on Meadow and it would seem the lakes are being far more angler friendly with some good carp showing up. Rob Channing had landed a 30+ and a good 20 both in the daytime and young Ash had six carp when I spoke to them briefly at lunchtime. Complaints of bream where also very vocal so if you are of a bream frame of mind they might be worth a serious look on fine gear with worm or perhaps single maggot over reasonable feed.
"Out of the road dopey" Valley residents are still all out and about, some on the move to dryer quarters and others continuing to enjoy the floods. Kingfishers, Marsh harriers plus hundreds of Teal, Wigeon and Gadwall. The otter in question swam up the Trout stream and trundled along the middle of the track for several hundred metres as I walked just thirty metres behind him. The second is illustrating the layer of water that smooths the otters passage through the water which I referred to in previous entries, completely in harmony with its environment.The last pic is just a record shot of the first Bewick of the winter that arrived alone on the marsh yesterday.