The mist beginning to roll back across the valley this evening as Kevin put the final touches to wiring the bridge over the conveyor at Ellingham. A vote of thanks to Kevin as that should make crossing it a great deal more comfortable in wet conditions.
A cold start to a very long day in the valley with the land in the grip of a hard frost as I began to strim out two or three more pools in readiness for next months start of the salmon season. Above the Breakthrough, before and after strimming and Below the Breakthrough also looking considerably smarter. At least the fish continue to oblige with teh obne angler I met today having caught two chub and been forced to give up on the float as the Grayling were proving overly enthusiastic.
As the mist rolled in and Kevin was finishing the bridge at Ellingham I was a mile or so south just passing Blashford Island as the sun set over the Sunderton Heronry whose residents are starting to stake their claims for the coming spring.
Another aspect of my day strimming beside the river was allowing me time to ponder the future and the potential for the coming season. The obvious question is what will happen if we do not see a rise in river flows. It is probably as far back as the winter of 1975/76 that flows at this time of year were so low. It also has to be considered in light of the Solomons tracking report 1986-90 which concluded that at flows of less than 9 cumecs a third of the fish passing the Mudeford Run failed to enter the river. At less than 5 cumecs residual flow two thirds of the fish disappeared in the harbour and failed to enter the river! These fish disappeared completely and were not recorded entering the river at any point during the year, even at the return of higher autumn flows. It is well known that Avon fish move into the Lower Stour at times of low flow to await the autumn push to the redds. They have to move into the Stour as they can't gain access to the Lower Avon deeper, slower reaches in the Winkton andTyrell beats.
I'm sure the lessons of 75/76 have been learnt by the regulatory authorities and we wont see the destruction of the Avon MSW run as we suffered at that time. It has been suggested that in an effort to aid our salmon under such stressful conditions fishing ceases at flows below 9 cumecs. It has also been suggested that the Knappmill abstraction is halved and at flows below 5 cumecs, ceases. The regulators have the scientific information that shows the dramatically increased salmon mortality associated with low flows. As such is it beyond the realms of possibility they may get on and protect our designated species in the event they are exposed to such reduced flows?
Discussion of such conditions has as good as guaranteed a flood to write-off the beginning of the season. If that were a choice we had the power to make I think we would all sacrifice the early season for the well being of our salmon.
The main channel beside Harbridge Island where salmon would normally be cutting on the shallows during this week. Today there was no sign of salmon, other than the odd kelt, anywhere on the river as they appear to have completed their spawning at least a fortnight early. I did spot the visiting Great White Egret out beside the Ellingham Splash from where he departed north, probably to join the regular visiting bird that can usually be spotted around the lakes. Its been a better week for the birdlife with the GWE and over three hundred Shoveler over at Mockbeggar, last weeks Bearded Tits, this weeks Great Grey Shrike and over two hundred Snipe on the meadows, that's not too bad for a mild, dry valley.
Without doubt the worst photograph of 2016 but to me it is a record of a Great Grey Shrike that has appeared beside the Top Garden at Somerley, quite a distinctive silhouette.
Happy Christmas to all readers and our stars.
The pool between Sydney Pool and Penmeade.
I'll clip the willow back a little to make fly presentation easier.
We are starting to see the first of the cock fish drifting down stream their job done.
I don't quite know what to make of the behaviour of our salmon and their apparent haste to get the spawning over and done with. Whilst I have found the odd redd at the end of November in years gone-by the bulk of the spawning has nearly always been between Christmas and New year. At the moment the redd count between Ibsley Bridge and Ringwood weir stands at 70, which I believe to be far and away the most that have cut with us in recent years. Is this due to the low flows and their inability to reach the higher river? I'm told there are no barriers to passage upstream of us so I don't imagine that to be the case. I'm also informed that fish were still running just last week in the Salisbury area so that would point to the ability to travel. Do the fish know something we don't regarding what flows we will see in the next month or two and flows will continue to drop making further access to the shallows more difficult? I'm not sure what a continued period of low flow would mean for the river regarding ridding the system of accumulated rubbish etc but the fish may just be in the know. The greatest danger would be continued low flows right through to next spring and on into summer giving rise to flows such as we experienced in the summer of 76. I believe the low flows of the 70's were the first signal of problems to come with our stocks so fingers crossed we don't go down that route again. The greatest threat to this years eggs which are now buried in the gravel of the redds would probably be a huge flood that would scour out the egg mounds, scattering this years ova and alevins to the stream. A third possibility as to the number of fish with us may be they are exhibiting the trait of salmon to return to their natal gravel. Some would have us believe that they return to the exact spot they were spawned to within a few meters. If that is the case these fish are possibly the progeny of the redds cut with us in previous years. I don't know of any definitive papers that may shed light on that natal theory but if you compare the position of our redds year on year they do overlap almost perfectly. Is that due to the natal return theory or the physical attributes of the flow regime and the gravel? Whatever we get weather wise we will have to live with so fingers crossed for a favourable New Year.
My travels about the estate brought me down beside the reed beds as the light faded this evening where I was joined by a Barn owl out in the valley seeking voles for his supper. The dry valley has at least allowed the vole population to survive without being flooded out, thus sustaining the owls menu so far this winter. I was also keeping half an eye on the reed beds in the hope of catching a glimpse of a rare visitor to the estate in the shape of a trio of Bearded Tits that syndicate member and experienced ornithologist Mike Beauchamp spotted on Tuesday beside Park Pool. I was a little late in the day to realistically expect to see them but as I have never spotted them before on Somerley I was just keeping an eye open in the off chance. I will certainly be looking again in the coming days and would appreciate being informed of any sightings members may enjoy.
I was down at Lifelands today and despite the rain it was good to see John Mcgough out enjoying himself with the trotting gear. The low, clear water doesn't appear to have put the chub off the feed as they seem to be coming out through out the estate. A mobile approach may be called for with one or two fish from a swim being caught before they go shy.
Today's WeBS was noticeable for it lack of notability, if that's a permissible description. The still, misty, grey morning seemed to be a suitable accompaniment for a mild, dry valley. The low water in the river only adds to the lack of interest for the bird world. The wildfowl that arrive if we are flooded out, or the near continent is freezing, have stayed on the other side of the channel. The waders have stayed on the coastal mudflats and even our swans have stayed out on the river. It may not have been the most interesting day for the bird count but it did at least give me the opportunity to head down to Blashford to see if I could spot that massive cock fish.
Only a passing chub and a few grayling to see in the first hour.
I got down to Blashford about mid day and took up position beside the redd nearest the bank. The first hour only a solitary chub arrived and stayed for a few minutes before moving off upstream. A few grayling drifted in and out over the cleaned gravel and a pair of cock fish were throwing themselves out of the water fifty meters away on the other side of the island in the run. Just as I was losing the feeling in my legs and thinking of moving off, without me seeing her arrive, a 2SW hen fish appeared on the redd. That was the cue for the fun and games to begin as a cock fish of between twelve and fourteen pounds came bow waving across the shallows from Island Run. Just how he knew I don't know but know she was there he certainly did. He took up station beside her when a second bow wave came across from the run and a larger fish arrived to stake his claim. Both cock fish looked tired and tattered, the larger fish also being covered in saprolegnia. Despite their condition the urge to pair with the newly arrived hen and continue their line remained upper most in their priorities.
The arrival of the hen was the cue for action stations on the part of the couple of cock fish still in the area. I'm afraid they are pretty poor quality photos but there are three fish all together in the middle shot. Not the large cock fish I was hoping to see but still an impressive specimen when he was in his prime, when you consider he dwarfed his twelve pound rival.
Hardly December weather but as we have to take what is given we may as well enjoy it. No wind, sunshine with temperatures in the mid teens, a great day to be outdoors. Paul Shutler and Danny Taylor, from the salmon syndicate, had similar views and decided to pay us a visit in the hope of spotting one or two of the salmon if they were still cutting. I'm not sure how they got on in finding newly arrived fish still cutting but they did spot that huge ugly fish I spotted chasing the two cockfish about at Blashford the other day. Paul did send me a photo that unfortunately is a little too murky and doesn't provide any idea of scale, I have a WeBS count tomorrow and if I get down to the island I'll see if I can get a clearer shot. Oh, by the way, Paul and Dan agree with me this is a spectacularly large fish, 30+, big 30 or perhaps even a 40+ when he arrived back in the spring. His weight is actually irrelevant, what is so pleasing is that his genetic code is now safely deposited in the gravels of the Avon. Fingers crossed we see his offspring running back into the river in four, or just possibly five years time, as a similarly large and impressive Springer.
I have to say Dan did well today in finding the only bit of mud on Somerley Estate, we haven't seen any rain for a month yet it proved sticky enough to firmly grab and remove both wellies. As you might expect Paul immediately came to his aid. Well, in fact he took this pic and "Whatsapp't" it through for which I'm extremely grateful!
A large redd that has a pale cock fish tucked away in it.
Not one of the fish responsible for cutting.
A further walk to look at yet more areas of the river for redds produced further fish determined to complete their spawning. With the total now in excess of fifty completed redds there are more and more cock fish chasing and fighting over their territories. The two fish in the second photo are 2SW cock fish jockeying for position over a large redd. There was also a monstrously ugly 3SW fish that would occasionally rush in and clear the stage before drifting back into the depths to await his next victims to appear.
Interesting comparison between this years early cutting and the 2010/11 low flow spawning season. The 2010/11 spawned fish were those that would have returned as 3SW fish in 2015. If you remember the beginning of 2015 we caught some odd weight early fish that could have been small 3SW or large 2SW. My personal view was that many of those early fish were small 3SW fish. Just what to make of that I'm not sure but take heart from the fact that this years redd count is already twice that of 2010/11!
The drizzle had stopped and the sun made a welcome appearance encouragement enough to try to get an update on the salmon cutting. I always associate our fish cutting between Christmas and New Year making any fish cutting at present confusingly early. Early they may be but cutting they most certainly are. In the first photo a very large cockfish that has finished cutting is busy protecting his redd site from interloppers. "Behind You" That pair of cock seatrout would be well advised to look behind as they are about to get a very rude awakening. In probably less than half the Estate the redd count now stands at thirty two, with at least a dozen seatrout redds. The cock fish that have already cut are now being enormously protective of the redds with at least half a dozen twenty plus cock fish bow waving after each other on the shallows. If conditions permit I'll try and get a count each week for the next week or two and see how the season develops. There are other benefits about redd counting in that I have the opportunity to catch up with events on the river. The middle shot shows Mike Skittrall enjoying a day with the chub and grayling, which was proving extremely enjoyable with chub to almost six pounds. The final shot shows one of the other benfits of clear water in that the chance to spot the odd good pike often presents itself.
I mentioned in the first entry after my return at the weekend that Pete Wilson had found the barbel feeding and here's a shot of an eleven pounder to prove the point. Well done Pete and thanks again for the photo and the report.
In this topsy-turvy season I should have known better than to worry about seatrout spawning in the main channel being over-cut by the later spawning salmon. This of course would have been dependent on the timing of events following the normal seasonal pattern with the seatrout cutting before the salmon, which has been the way of things in the valley for aeons. The spate that saw the river rise a month ago was perfectly in keeping with the norm, timed to allow the seatrout access to their spawning grounds in the forest streams. I had expected the water levels to stay at their elevated levels from that point through the coming winter with the salmon spawning getting underway around the turn of the year. As we now know that didn't happen and we watched as the water levels have dropped back to their below summer levels as we have lost the benefit of the coffering weed banks. To add to the confusion we then found the salmon cutting down with us in the middle river before many of the seatrout had finished, instead of having run to the headwaters on the spate to await their own Christmas spawning date. That has given rise to the odd situation the above photo captures showing the exact opposite to the scenario I was worried about, a seatrout over-cutting a salmon redd. I somehow doubt this is the end of this tale as we will probably see more salmon cutting in the area over the next week or two reversing the role yet again. Hopefully if my information is correct the fish with us are only the remnants of the run as considerable numbers certainly made it to Salisbury and on to the headwaters where events will return to a more normal seasonal cycle.
I've been away for the weekend, which has left me a little out of touch with events in the valley. I can thank Adam Martin for letting me know the pike are still feeding in the river despite the low clear conditions. I also heard from Pete Wilson who let me know the barbel are on the feed again after the recent cold snap. My truck is in the menders meaning I will be without my mobile workshop for a day or two, which will make any planning a little difficult. The salmon, that didn't head for the higher river a fortnight ago, are busy cutting in the main channel and I'll be doing my best to keep an eye on them to ensure their no disturbed. All being well The seatrout will have finished their cutting and be slowly making their way back downstream and out to the rich feeding on the sprats in the bay.
The seatrout have been forced to cut on the clear shallows during these low water conditions. Any yet to have completed their task will have to cut in the deeper water of the main channel and risk being over-cut by the salmon.
As I mentioned the other day, with the low water the fish are well tucked up beside what ever cover they can find. One or two of the deep pools are also producing chub to fine gear and a cautious approach. Its a difficult balance to strike in that fine gear, close to snags, can give rise to the obvious problems of snap offs. Please take care if you are fining right down, ensure forgiving rods and a gentle approach to playing the fish. If its the big chub that join in it may involve a great deal of downstream running so don't forget to leave your landing net where you will be able to grab it as you set off.
Vic Beyer definitely got it right today with this 6.8 chub. Thanks for the photo Vic, cracking fish.
If the chub are proving elusive don't despair as the grayling are proving the saving grace in many swims. I can't remember when we had grayling in such numbers being caught on the estate. They are not massive, eight ounces to a pound and a quarter seems to be the mark but bags of forty fish have been taken. There are one or two larger specimens tucked away in some of the steadier runs. In the absence of the dace, which have done their annual disappearing act, the grayling are doing a good job of filling the gap.Interestingly back in the 50's and 60's the estate had a good population of large Grayling. I believe the local angling club record came from the estate back in those distant times with a fish of 2.13. It will be interested to see if these young year classes we are currently seeing will get to that stamp. Its also worth remembering that at that time the salmon run was also at its peak on the Avon with the MSW fish for which the river is famed. Hopefully the successive year classes of grayling are indicators of good water quality which has to be good for the river. Just why the river is cleaning up is open to debate, phosphate strippers on the STW's or a better algal platform filter provided by the uncut weed? We are just guessing again, why, oh why are we not seeing research work linked to Phd thesis or Master's dissertations on such basics as water quality, population dynamics and migration?
Every cloud has a silver lining and whilst we are desperate for a rise in water levels it does mean I have the opportunity to clean up one or two of the salmon pools that can be difficult when the water level is higher. The shots above are both looking downstream at the "Humps" the run is under the left bank. It must be over thirty years since this once popular pool has been cleaned up and the snags removed. The second of the two shots was taken at water level from the gravel shoals at the confluence of the Linbrook. The willows on the right bank will be retained for the time being to shade the pool, once we have seen how they perform their fate can be decided. Its a great looking pool with about 70 or 80 meters of holding water. I'll look forward to see it fish in the coming season and if the size of the redd at the tail of the pool is any indication its popular with very large fish!
The first shot is looking back upstream to "Below the Cut Through" before I had cleared the bank at the "Humps". Having cleared the snags out last season the pool is now looking settled and really inviting. I also took the opportunity to clean up "Dockens" and the bottom bend at Ashley. This low water may not be exactly what we would wish but it does give an opportunity to see the pools at an unusual time of year.
An interesting evening in that its 10:00pm and I've just got in after spending a couple of hours having a look in the carriers with my “Clulite”. I was coming back through Ellingham, where I had been working in a carrier earlier in the day and decided a look at the same area at night might be interesting. With the water at summer levels and the gin clear, a set of circumstances not too often experienced, it offered an opportunity not to be missed. I'd spent a couple of hours today clearing a blockage from what appeared to be a section of carrier devoid of fish. I had disturbed a couple of six inch chub that were tucked away under a meter of marginal reeds and water cress. Tucked away behind a tangle of vegetation that at first glance looked almost impenetrable.
I walked half a mile of carrier this evening and almost everywhere I shone the torch fish were present. Mostly dace and chub but there were salmon, pike, roach, perch, grayling and trout, all out in the open on clean shallows. It was quite an amazing conversion from apparent barren waste to thriving ecosystem. What was also noticeable was that the fish were spaced evenly across the favoured areas. No tight shoals, each fish occupied its own area of river bed, equidistant from its neighbours intercepting its uncontested supply of food brought by the stream. What I didn't see were any of the super chub and barbel that inhabit the main channel. It's a natural progression that the early year classes stay within the small, controlled environment of the carriers leaving the main channel for the later year classes. The importance of the carriers in supporting the fishery cannot be expressed strongly enough. For the nursery channels to be successful they require a mix of habitats to enable this day night inter-change to be successful. As we begin to develop the carriers we shall do our utmost to create this diversity of habitat, deep pools and tree cover. Clear laminar shallows and bright riffles, all will hopefully have their part to play in safeguarding the future of our fishery.
You never know when a basic grasp of botany and the wild flowers that we may encounter in the valley will come in handy. For instance the growing requirements and habitat most commonly associated with Watercress. I'm sure those of you keen on watercress as a green accompaniment for your baked salmon in lemon, or your pan fried trout and almonds can tell me it grows in water. As such its not advisable to try and cut it with the topper! Fortunately big brother was on hand to come to the rescue and made light work of getting everyone back on dry land.
Get to know your native plants.
All this thought directed toward the carriers naturally leads on to just what determines the fish population of the Avon. Flow – in all its ranges from slow safe pools to sparkling food rich shallows and riffles. PH – so critical for invertebrate food sources. Spawning medium – in locations safe from scouring, drying out and predators. Pollution – in all its multitude of forms. Predation potentially critical on a diminishing population. Adult and juvenile migration – the Avon acts as a one way system for coarse fish, cover – to avoid Cormorants and Otters, water temperature - temperature triggers, food. That all sounds pretty straight forward, sort the ten or so determinants and all will be hunky dory.
To that we have to add a couple of other factors, which unfortunately up the number of permutations. We have to accept that climate change is a reality and whilst it may not necessarily be detrimental to all species it certainly has to be taken into account. This complicates the seasonal factor that for aeons has determined flows and temperature. Perhaps most unpredictable of all is the direct influence of mankind. We suck out the water, depleting the flow. We pump our waste back in, with every chemical known and used by man dissolve within, legitimately and illegally. We cut the weed, lowering water levels, raising water temperatures and altering flow. The once considered hunky dory issue is becoming more nebulous by the minute! Add such hidden threats of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, endocrine disruptors, antibiotics, detergents and hydrocarbons, you can see why our rivers struggle at times.
Why such a downcast look at our river that from recent results is back on top form? Well I gave my views on the recovery we were enjoying a few weeks back when I attributed much of the recovery to the weed cutting moratorium. Whilst we are fortunate in having enjoyed incredible salmon and coarse river seasons hard to believe, other sections of the river do not appear to have shared our good fortune. Why are certain areas failing to recover at the same rate as we seem to have enjoyed? In roach we are also missing a species that should be present and for which the Hampshire Avon was justifiably famous. In the stillwaters alongside the river roach breed like rabbits to the extent populations become stunted. Until we understand the dynamics of that population crash in the river we need to keep our guard very firmly up.
The system is alive with juvenile and specimen fish, how many owe their existence either entirely or in part to the carriers?
A day of soul searching and weighing up the whys and wherefores of my lifestyle. I often find myself in one of these contemplative frames of mind when I am working alone with only my own thoughts to dwell on.
What you may think can someone who would appear to have the best job in the country, looking after its finest river, have to be considering with regard to the future. A little self indulgence perhaps? Guilt through stepping back from the political battle to safeguard the existence and future of that very river? Guilt of hiding in the depths of that finest river valley as increased pressure and demands circle like wolves in all directions? Reduced government funding of our regulatory agencies. The disappearing cover of Europe with its WFD and environment directives. The push for more housing with its water and flood alleviation demands. I'm not sure what brought about those doubts today as they are always present. I think perhaps one of the contributory factors was the final episode of that most enlightening of TV series “China – between dreams and clouds” It appears the efforts of the Chinese environmentalists and education system is making progress in getting to grips with the pollution that has accompanied China's meteoric growth in recent years. Certainly if the commitment of those in the film is a measure of progress the tide is turning toward a greener environment at long last. I believe however the jury is still out on whether the voice of those fighting for the environment will be heard above the rush toward materialism in the long run. Will the leaders of China have the political will to put the long term welfare of the environment above that of short term gain?
Our brief time in China a decade ago was more than sufficient to impress Anne and I with just what an astonishing country it was. From the soaring ultra modern cities frequently seen on the news these days to the wonders of its countryside; the rice terraces at Ping'an and the markets of Yangshuo. I'm not sure where we found the mobile fresh fish stale but it was remarkably effective.
We only have to look to our own efforts to protect our rivers from the chemical company and agricultural lobbyists that blight our environment. The water companies that endeavour to sate societies insatiable thirst. The demand for greater access, with its higher and higher levels of disturbance. All putting ever greater pressure on our countryside like some insidious, strangling ratchet strap. The political will, or should I more accurately say the political backbone, of our politicians can never be held up as an example for others. Unfortunately very few political systems do allow politicians the luxury of a courageous stand. How the government of Costa Rica has the confidence to do without an army and dedicate 25% of the country to nature conservation is perhaps worthy of a second look.
December has arrived and brought with it a proper taste of winter with the coldest nights we have seen for a considerable time. Out on the water meadows the frost got into the ground to a depth of several inches making life difficult for the waders. You may have guessed, with many of the lakes frozen we had a netting session arranged. We had to break the ice to allow it to melt a little quicker before we could make a start. As it transpired we had a reasonable if chilly day, ably assisted by students from Plumpton Agriculteral College. For which many thanks to all involved.
A cold exercise to remove some of our unwanted fish and the weight of mistletoe beginning to overpower the poor old lime trees.
A couple of seatrout redds in the carriers. Activity appears to have stopped on the spawning front with the river water levels having dropped back almost to summer levels and the water now alarmingly clear once again. The seatrout hopefully will have finished and the salmon now awaiting a further flush of water.
In the bird world we still have a new Great white egret out on the carriers. Its been about for the last fortnight and seems to be part of quite an influx of egrets into the south coast. The regular ringed bird remains over on the lakes and the newcomer occasionally heads off in that direction when disturbed. It would be good news if they were to get together and stay on to breed next spring. The middle shot is a Thrushes anvil where he enjoys the bounty to be found in the reed beds and under the now frost blackened Comfrey leaves. Every reed bed has the staccato crack of snails making up the bulk of the days diet. The final shot shows a Curlew that has been out looking for the ice free spots in the water meadows. The Snipe and the Green sandpiper are now feeding almost entirely in teh soft carriers margins. The thaw can't come a moment too soon for the birds.
The first couple of redds appeared this weekend so it would seem not all the fish headed upstream last week in the flood. Not exactly the best photo in the world but you can just make out the pair of fish if you study it!
Why do Shoveler do that? If they were rounding up fry or shrimp this group feeding might make a little more sense. They all get in tight little groups and swim in even tighter individual circles, most peculiar feeding pattern.
The first flood of the winter has seen the valley wildfowl spend longer in the valley before returning to the lakes to sit out the day. Numbers haven't risen dramatically with in the region of 150 Wigeon, 200 Teal, and a couple of dozen of each Gadwall, Shoveler and Pintail. There is also a Great White Egret out there somewhere in that photograph on which I couldn't see any rings. Possibly a mate for "La Rook" has arrived at last! The Starlings are slowly building in numbers although they arrive at the roost in small flocks and drop immediately into roost without providing the dramatic murmurations we so look forward to.
Recent events and dead salmon have given rise to a great deal of thought over injuries we see throughout the summer on our salmon. The tail was damaged as a result becoming ensnared in the line whilst being played. This was on a fish from the days when we used to kill the majority of the fish. I see instances of this line wrapped damage on fish in most years. Large coarse fish are also subject to exactly the same form of damage with barbel and carp often displaying such cuts. The second photo shows the worn snout of a fish landed this summer. I commented on the diary about the number of fish showing signs of such damage and whilst a brief discussion via email followed no definitive answer could be arrived at to explain the damage. I probably saw half a dozen fish, this year alone, that carried such injuries. Certainly these fish had encountered problems that gave rise to a great deal of wear and tear. Whatever the cause the exposure of such injuries to the pathogens that are all too present in the Avon water column these days has the potential to give rise to fatal secondary infections.
Shoveler numbers have reached three figures with a count of 117 today at Mockbeggar, many of which are just visible in the distance beyond the islands.
Rain, rain and more rain. It's certainly most welcome and timely, coming at a perfect time for the seatrout to reach the redds and complete their spawning. It does however put an immediate stop to our ground work which is frustrating. I shouldn't complain as we've had a good run for our money this autumn and completed many extremely satisfying projects.
The continued rain has seen the main river peak and drop back an inch or two giving ideal conditions for the salmon to reach the higher river for their spawning season shortly to start. On Sunday I did drop in to look at the weir where last week the fish had suffered in their attempts to pre-empt the floods and get a head start on the run to the redds. Unfortunately the troublesome flume was once more open and the gate that had been cracked to attract the fish toward the fish toward the pass was once more closed. Fish were still using the pass but whilst I watched the troublesome flume others watched the pass and I spotted three fish to their none! With the flows we are currently experiencing I imagine these fish will eventually locate a clear route but why they should be forced to endure such barriers before finding such a route is a mystery to me.
At this point I have to hold up my hands and admit too wrongly maligning the reputation of the EA, doesn't sound like me does it? More accurately I should say Flood Defence. It seems they did hold an inquiry as to why the message had not got passed on to fisheries and it transpires they did not receive a call at the weekend. The gentleman who had flagged up the problem with the weir had spotted the problem on Sunday but having been away for a day or two hadn't called the EA until Thursday. Very much a case of crossed wires, so I should say Flood Defence have not been in any way responsible for the lack of action over the last week.
I should finally add that I did call at the weir again today and the eel stage gate is now opened sufficiently to produce an attractant flow to the base of the fish pass. A system that should have been in operation during this entire escapade. If the reduction of this ridiculous head of water is not possible it would be good to see daily trimming of the hatches, which would go a long way to alleviating further problems.
On such a grey and dismal day what could be better than a reminder of the warm days of last summer. It was just such memories that arrived this evening with a most welcome email. In actual fact I remember a great deal of spring and early summer being extremely wet and windy but when compared to what has assailed us today halcyon doesn't seem too great an exaggeration. For those readers that look back at the warmth of summer with some longing and associate such days with our beautiful butterflies the link below is a report on our Mockbeggar transect. It's the basis for a long term monitoring programme, as such the initial year or two will not show much in the way of trends but the value of the information will grow as we complete more years.
A reminder of warmer times.
Just time for a brief report on the impact of last nights rain. Blashford looking full and out in the fields. The spillway at Ibsley in full flow and the Hucklesbrook, hopefully full of running seatrout.
I'll finish on a high in that I had quite a pleasant surprise when I turned out a tub of sweet potatoes that I had grown for the first time this year. I had almost written off my pestilence ridden veg plot this year, with even more bugs than usual, so the sight of a decent yield was a most welcome turn up for the books.
An opportunity to walk the river arose today when a delivery I was expecting at lunchtime was unavoidably delayed. I parked up at Fools Corner and headed out over the Harbridge Stream to have a chat with the angler fishing the Aquarium. As I crossed the footpath bridge over the Harbridge Stream I could see it was gin clear and looking depressingly empty of fish. I suspect the lack of flow in the main river has not given rise to the usual seasonal necessity to take cover in the side-streams. The mystery of the annual disappearance of the dace is yet to be solved and they certainly weren't in the Harbridge Stream.
With most of the stock now off the meadows they appear well grazed down and looking fine with the surrounding autumn colour of the oaks and willows. The fences we removed last autumn still show the remnants of a historic vegetation line but this mornings frost has knocked the nettles back, hopefully within a couple of years they will have completely disappeared. The density of nesting Lapwing that used these meadows back in the spring increased dramatically. Whether this was directly attributable to our efforts at habitat improvement or the weather remains to be established. I will look forward with great interest to reading the report on the Lapwing survey work of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust that takes place on these meadows. The one area of sedge and wet ground that was deliberately left for the waders surprisingly, considering the lack of rain, contained half a dozen Snipe.
Despite the distractions of the meadows I eventually made it across to the main river where I found Kevin Silcock trotting with his beloved pins down the far tree line of the Aquarium. Kevin provides a master class in pin fishing, casting the lightest of set-ups inch perfectly into the slacks of the far bank. Today the Grayling had obliged but after an hour of trying the chub had yet to show. The swim that Kevin had fished yesterday had taken an hour and a half for the chub to respond so he wasn't overly concerned. Yesterday had produced a hat trick of chub in the five pound class as well as the now obligatory Grayling. I spent ten minutes enjoying watching Kevin's float travel through the swim under perfect control, deserving of a bite every time, before I left making a detour away from the bank to avoid spooking the swim I headed downstream.
With the unseasonally low clear river now rapidly clearing of weed it provides new opportunities to discover new holes and glides. Fish alas were still noticeable by their absence, they were well aware of my presence long before I got into a position to be able to see them. I can't say I was that disappointed as the catches of recent weeks and the shoals of up and coming year classes that had been visible earlier in the summer were out there somewhere. The colour of the oaks and willows that form the backdrop to the meadows remains wonderfully bright. Many frost such as this mornings and this will all come to an end, so I was making the most of today's show.
A Sparrow Hawk observing events from the far bank.
A km further downstream and I came across Tom Fowler landing a fine chub in the five pounds bracket and despite reservations claiming shyness agreed to permit me a photo for the diary. The backdrop captures a taste of the wonderful colours of the oaks and to find fish in such surroundings is a bonus. Mind you Tom had already managed to enjoy one of those bonus 6+ chub before my arrival, things were definitely looking good.
After a couple of hundred meters as I passed the shallows at the tail of Woodside Pool the corpse of a dead cock salmon was being picked over by a pair of Moorhens. No obvious cause of death but whatever the cause a sad loss to the system. Around the bend and in the slack water alongside the bank a dead hen. A further five thousand eggs lost to the system. The more seasonally usual rains easing their passage a month ago would probably have helped. Lets hope the rain promised over the next day or two comes to the aid of those that remain stuck in the system.
A pair of dead salmon showing signs of saprolegnia and wear and tear from a long summer. A final added bonus to my day was the arrival of a couple of canoes, you can't win 'em all.
Despite a slow start events on the salmon front took a definite turn for the better today. I'm not exactly sure what time I called at the weir this morning, 09:30ish I would imagine. On arrival little had changed with the salmon still desperately trying to jump into the impossible flume to nowhere.
As I took further photos the EA arrived on the scene and assured me they would do their best to help the fish that we could clearly see in the pool below. They were to speak to the occupiers/owners and arranged for the dead end attractant flume to be reduced and the gate next to the fish pass to be cracked to create a flume with greater appeal to the running fish. That all seemed sensible enabling me to make my way back to the estate. Some light was also shone on just why it had taken the EA five days to arrive on the scene and sort this mess out. It seems the call from the member of public on Sunday was misdirected to flood defence, who decided it wasn't their problem and failed to action it. It would appear the latest EFRA recommendations are already implemented with Flood Defence acting in isolation from the rest of the EA. I'm sure there will be an internal inquiry, not, to discover the reason for the cock-up!
As it transpired I called again at lunchtime and in the space of 40 minutes watched at least ten fish successfully use the salmon pass. I was joined by the EA officer who had earlier had the gates reset who informed me he had seen three fish use the pass within minutes of the change to the attractant flow. If that rate had been constant throughout the morning there was a major run taking place. There were a couple of very large cock fish that kept nosing up to the bottom of the pass which didn't appear to have the energy, or the desire, to try their luck. Hopefully when the light goes a little they will have rested in the pool for the day and meet with greater success.
I would personally like to thank that public spirited member of the public who at least tried to get the EA involved and eventually contacted me to relay his frustrations. Obviously I know the gentleman involved but I do not have his okay to mention his name so he will have to accept my thanks in anonymity.
Just why it should be left to a passing member of the public to sound the alarm bells is a far more pertinent question. Surely the EA fisheries division know the risk to migration at such structures at times of low flow? I'm sure they do and I have to admit to some sympathy with their stock response re staffing levels with only two enforcement officers for the whole of Wessex. I also know the two officers in question go above and beyond when it comes to fulfilling the role asked of them. The problem arises when you have ever increasing levels of legislation and a government that cynically pulls the rug out from under the feet of the agency tasked with implementing and regulating it. There is a second question here, why the EA do not enforce the S&FWF Act 75 that clearly states, it is the owner or occupier who is responsible for ensuring fish passage and passes are available and clear. If one compares our hatch settings downstream with several that can be found from the tide line to the headwaters it appears there is one set of legislation for some and another set for others! In the past we have had numerous ill informed complaints related to the setting of our gates. To the extent we had independent reviews carried out and kept a record of the exact settings on the gates for several years.
One of the many fish that made use of the pass today entering the first chamber. Who is responsible for ensuring the pass has sufficient flow and is salmon friendly? Finally over the top into the next reach. Not the best shots in the world but hopefuly they capture the mood.
I took setting records for six years and during that time the maximum head of water was under a meter and at least 50% of the entire flow of the river was available through a salmon route of passage. Fish were never seen jumping at the weir as they were afforded clear access to swim directly through the gates. We never caught a single fish in the weir pool for over twenty years. Only catching fish from the pool during 2015 when the gates were open 100% This year we were back to the old regime with no fish from the weir pool and only four from Ibsley Pool the next RB pool downstream. What was irrefutably proven was that our gates did not represent an obstacle to salmonid migration at any state of flow or season. The time and effort the EA spent trying to prove they were would perhaps have been better spent looking at their own fish counter or several of the other obstacles that I could name on the Avon. Is it acceptable that once a fish can be seen to use a fish pass the route is deemed fish friendly? What percentage of the available flow should be assured for the migration of salmonids 25, 50, 75%? What head of water is acceptable for fish to have to overcome? Who should be held responsible for the failure of the system and at what cost as the current system is blatantly seen to be failing.
An element of this that really does concern me is that very few of the known barriers to passage are accessible to the public via such means as public footpaths. Just what is going on at these locations is directly down to the EA to police. Bearing in mind if a member of the public hadn't demanded some action, this weeks fish would undoubtedly still be knocking themselves senseless on the concrete surrounds of that hatch.
The current run of fish in gin clear water, at flow rates that in the past have been considered too low for fish to move in throws up many more questions. What it clearly demonstrates is that the nearer to spawning these fish are the more desperate they are to reach the redds. In February and March those big Springers are in no particular hurry and are happy to take up station in the Lower and Middle River and await the autumn rains. Come December, if we haven't seen a substantial rise in water levels, these fish will be prepared to risk all to reach the redds and leave their seed before they die, as die they do, having been successful or not. They get one shot at this and that's their lot.
I ask again is it acceptable to say that as a grilse was seen using the fish pass at optimum flow it is a satisfactory fish passage. No, its not. It should be that at the lowest water flow rates likely to be experienced by these fish they are able to move upstream without expending the last of their vital stored energy. All these wizkids that can tell us what fish will run and where, need to take that fact very much on board. Someone needs to answer the question why our MSW fish retreat to the Lower Stour at times of low flow. Why are they not in the deeper sections throughout Winkton and Avon Tyrell where one would expect to find them and where they would be considerably safer than in the Stour or the harbour. They may have to put up with a little more fishing effort but once these big fish become sedentary and take up residence in a pool they are devilishly difficult to fool. This season I watched two fish in the thirty pound bracket accompanied by a couple of large doubles sit with total disdain of all fishing effort for months.
Has the lot of our salmon improved in the last couple of decades? One would be hard pressed to point out where. We have seen a dramatic improvement of our run but no one can tell us why. Where are the bodies that purport to look after our designated species and the NGO's that also claim to act in the best interest of our riverine environment? If nothing else they could be banging on the door of The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP on a weekly basis demanding this government meets its statutory obligation to Maintain, Improve and Develop our fisheries. I bet if there is a few bob put up to help in this direction you'd be trampled to death in the rush of NGO's claiming to represent our rivers.
I wont ask the questions raised by the WFD and the River Basin Management Plans, things are pretty depressing as they are. As per usual there are far more questions than answers in the fishery world and I thought I'd retired to hide on the Estate these days. All I can say about this débâcle is that at the end of the day, most of those frustrated fish were on their way to the headwaters and the redds once more.
This evenings light reading.
I have spent a couple of hours this evening doing some light reading going through my dog-eared copies of the S&FWF Act 75, Water Resources Act 91 and Water Act 89 in an effort to clarify what I thought was a pretty cut and dried case. I was always of the opinion it was against the law to prevent the passage of a migratory salmonid? In light of which I thought I would look for the definition of migratory salmonid, passage and migration. I also thought I would look up the relevant chapters that permitted the setting of gates to override this legislation when it suited. Also the clauses that said, as long as these fish can theoretically reach the redds in the event of a flood or high water it was okay to keep them penned in the lower river until the Good Lord, or the Met Office, provided for them.
Events today actually began in their current form last Sunday when I was out and about on the WeBS count. My counts usually begin on the northern edge of my area up at Fordingbridge and Bickton. On Sunday, as I followed the public footpath over the valley towards Midgham, I crossed the old sleeper bridge at the head of the Bickton main weir pool. As usual the gates on the pool are slammed shut holding back a head of water that I estimate is close to six feet. Just at the start of the bridge there is a hatch, partially open, allowing a flume of flow through into the weir pool. This flume is obviously the main attractant flow in the pool as far as salmon are concerned as there is a continual line of them attempting to make their way upstream via this route. Unfortunately for reasons that are not immediately apparent they are unable to do so being washed back into the pool where they rest and try again after a few minutes have passed. Some are simply mistiming their jump striking the concrete surround and ending up flapping about on the dry apron of the adjoining main gate.
A shot or two showing the struggle.
I am aware that the EA were made aware of the situation as I know I was not the only person to have witnessed this scene and one other concerned passer-by contacted them to inform them of the obviously distressed fish. In light of the EA being notified I was somewhat surprised today at lunchtime when I called to check on events to see salmon still trying and failing to gain upstream access to the redds. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised as a few years ago I and two other anglers countered 26 salmon in the pool and informed the EA of their apparent inability to progress upstream. The EA didn't take any action that time either, I was told that when they visited they couldn't see any salmon. I would be amazed if during their visit in response to that call this week they didn't manage to see any fish. I witnessed fifty or so attempts today in less than an hour many made by the same fish I saw on Sunday. Still stuck and desperate to get upstream in answer to their primal urges. I can only base they were the same fish on recognising one or two of the individuals. One in particular was a huge cock fish well over thirty possibly considerably bigger. This massive fish was unable to get any height into his jumps and simply rushed headlong into the flume or the surrounding concrete. If the poor bugger has been doing that since Sunday it would probably be kinder to shoot it than let it beat itself to death on the surrounds of that gate. (Joke - for any dimwit that may think I'm inciting a crime)
Not the best shots but I can assure you the first fish was a approaching thirty and the tip of that tail, just visible in the second, belonged to a simply massive fish.
If you're a six pound grilse you can no doubt run in a piss-pot and jump the highest of obstructions from a standing start in a foot of water. If you're a forty plus Springer, that hasn't eaten for ten months, getting your bulk over obstacles takes considerably more effort and requires a great deal more water to manoeuvre and gain sufficient speed to get airborne. Those vital fat reserves that have supported you throughout the summer and were also designed for the battles to come on the redds, not the effort to bypass man’s obstructions. I suppose if you base the passage of salmonids on the six pound grilse you will meet the statutory obligation as he will no doubt be successful. Unfortunately the Avon's reputation is based on his larger MSW brethren and his genetic legacy.
We have thousands of seatrout stuck in the lower river and harbour stuck below weirs and retreating into the Lower Stour to find protection. They are currently desperate to run as their spawning urges are in full flow particularly the seatrout. Unfortunately because its a low flow year if they are to stand any chance of making the redds they have to jump over man made obstructions to achieve their desire and ease their pain. Settings that create an artificial head of water that can only be over come by jumping and expending and depleting vital energy reserves must have a clause in the legislation somewhere because we see water companies, fish counters, trout farms, mills and water meadows all providing barriers to fish desperate to run. The only problem is I can't seem to find the clauses. From the measures the EA have taken at the various weirs along the Avon, it would appear they have as the scene at Bickton will, I imagine, have been repeated up and down the entire length of the river. I hope the two diseased and battered fish I spotted this week drifting downstream are not a result of this policy.
It may actually be a little early for the witching hour but you just know something magical is going to happen in the next minute or two!
Testing, probably describes last weekend as I spent the Saturday doing my best to rest my tweaked back and Sunday walking miles of the river valley with a WeBS count. I did have occasion to call at the Lodge early afternoon to meet with a couple of the salmon members that also gave me the opportunity to say hello to the beaters who were out with Kevin familiarising themselves with the drives. As luck would have it another of our salmon rods, Ronnie Moore, who visits us throughout the week to dog-in our wayward pheasants, arrived at the Lodge. I've mentioned on here before that Ronnie brings his young Goshawk “Chance” with him as its quite a long day and she requires feeding at midday. Ronnie allowed me to don the glove and release her at a lure he expertly swung for her. A Goshawk at close quarters is a dramatically impressive bird with her unwavering stare and imposing armoury of talons and beak. I felt very privileged to have been given the opportunity to meet her.
Ronnie, Chance and spaniel Vera who we met beside the Lodge at lunchtime. Ronnie is a vastly experienced falconer having flown a Golden Eagle for 28 years, a quite amazing commitment and relationship.
Thankfully my back is on the mend and Sunday started with a thick mist across the valley, which soon lifted to provide the opportunity to complete the count. Nothing of much significance to report, the low water and mild autumn have failed to produce the wintering wildfowl. It was the local bird population that were the stars with 4 Water rail, 45 Heron, 8 Cettis and 5 Kingfishers.
I've added the two shots above just to be able to mention the fabulous autumn colour about the valley and the forest at the moment. Unfortunately the sun refused to shine for me at lunchtime, failing to do justice to the blaze of colour. I do know that Mark and Andy, of the river coarse syndicate, were part of that scene tucked away down there beside the river. I must try and find time and a suitable angler, to get some closer more atmospheric shots of the river during this strange atypical season.
Perfect timing on my part as I arrived at the river this morning I had a call from Stephen Hutchinson letting me know he had a cracking barbel of 14.9. The best part was that I was less than 100m away. After a cold night, with frost still on the grass, it wasn't exactly what one would describe as perfect barbel conditions. It took just a couple of minutes to be alongside Stephen ready to take the pix. Absolutely stunning fish in the perfect setting, well done Stephen and thanks for the call.
I have put this photo up a as reminder to me to give the carriers a little more consideration when it comes to habitat improvement. We have miles of them and they have been ignored for far too long, making it time for a change of emphasis perhaps?
Still the river remains low and the rain refuses to arrive. Whilst it means the chub and barbel remain tucked up in what weed can still be found in the main channel. The pike are spread throughout the river, not needing the shelter of the slacks. Seatrout are unable to gain access to the river and remain stuck in the harbour. Hopefully we will see rain in the next week or two allowing them to gain access to the forest streams. We are still able to get on the land to complete the aerating of the compacted parkland, clear the old fencing lines and complete several other groundwork tasks that will be halted once the rains arrive.
Whilst thinking about groundwork I must say well done to the Barbel Society, Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust and the adjoining land owners on the completion of the oxbow fry sanctuary at Up Mead to the west of the river at Lifelands. The river up and downstream stream of the weir at Ringwood suffered enormous damage as a result of the A31 by-pass. What was the prime stretch of the Avon, producing record roach catches upstream of the old Avon Hotel through Lifelands, is now a high flow, higher gradient section that hasn't seen a roach for years. The oxbow will hopefully allow a percentage of the vulnerable first year fry to find shelter before they are flushed through the system as they are at present.
The Wessex Chalk Streams and Rivers Trust and the Barbel Society have been busy providing a high water fry sanctuary. We have been down the bottom end of the estate as well as we clear out the old fence line to anable us safer access.
We are currently awaiting a meeting with the EA to discuss the future management of the weir at Ringwood. At present it's managed by the EA or more accurately as I have mentioned on here before, it's has been abandoned by the EA. Since the construction of the weir, back at the time of the demolition of the hotel and by-pass works, it has failed to control the water levels of the river upstream of Ringwood or prevent the Forest streams from unimpeded access to the lower river. The fish counter that was included in the design has never worked and the central passage, having been badly designed, has prevented control of the channel free-board at times of low flow or flood control. The main river channel at Ringwood is in fact a perched channel the historical main channel being the line of the Kings Stream from the Old weir at Ashley. If the two were managed sympathetically considerable benefit might be gained through one or other channel always affording shelter for fry whilst permitting the control of flood water. Personally I would like to see the restoration of the old marl pond that covered four or five acres just north of Ringwood. Managing this without impacting on the surrounding farmland would have to be the determining factor. It would also allow the Kings Stream south of Ringwood to be cleaned out and receive sufficient flows at determined times to keep it clear. A return to the clear Kings Stream channel and the roach and dace bags of the 80's would be a wonderful achievement.
A very nonchalant Goosander that couldn't be bothered to stop feeding as I walked past yesterday. It was also a good raptor day with Peregrines, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrow hawk and a bonus Marsh Harrier about in the valley. Not the best shot you'll ever see of a Marsh Harrier but you can just make out the yellow crown.
My dislike of grey squirrels will be well known to regular readers of this blog. They destroy dozens of our young trees every year with their bark stripping antics in the Spring. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this problem is that they wait until the trees are ten to twenty years old before doing the damage. They lull you into a false sense of security thinking the trees are established and beyond the critical early years and then overnight ring-bark dozens of them. We try and keep on top of them but their numbers fluctuate, dependent on the previous summer breeding season and its all too easy to be caught out if you drop your guard.
I am also currently trying to remove the squirrel population from an area of Mockbeggar where they have taken over all the nestboxes intended for the Mandarins. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised as Grey Squirrels occupy the majority of the hollow trees in most areas of woodland where their numbers aren't controlled. I was surprised how many I caught from an area I had assumed only supported a couple. I have removed seven from that spot in the last week and still catching. Hopefully when I finish my work will ensure the Mandarins, Kestrels and owls will find suitable sites next Spring.
Very often a reward for my rounds at the end of the day is a beautiful sunset. This one is looking west across Ibsley Water as the gulls file in from the north to roost.
Here's a bonus photo in the shape of Darrel Hughes looking over a fabulous seven pound chub that made up part of a catch of chub and grayling at the weekend. Despite the low, clear, cold river the chub appear to still be feeding if you go about it carefully enough. Thanks for the photos Darrel, fabulous fish.
I've spent the day being buffeted about in Poole Bay with not a lot to show for it other than half a dozen Dog fish. After the cold, early start and the efforts of the day the warmth of home and a good dinner reaches new heights in the list of comforts. After my warming dinner the perfect opportunity to settle down to read through my recently arrived copy of the 2015 Hampshire Bird Report. Whilst I always know it is due, the actual arrival of this beautifully produced report always comes as a welcome surprise. Much of the surprise being how they can produce such a comprehensive report to such a high standard year on year. Congratulations to Editor Mike Chalmers and his production team on another superb publication. If you're not an HOS member I can recommend it if for nothing else than to get a copy of this report which alone justifies the subs.
The 2015 Hampshire Bird Report holds pride of place in the debris that covers my desk.
Whilst talking Hampshire birders I hope you all spotted “Between Clouds and Dreams” on Channel 4 this evening. I'm not sure if its the fact I have been fortunate enough to have spent a little time in China. Or the fact Phil Agland, who produced this wonderful documentary is a Hampshire birder giving it a local attachment. I found it totally absorbing on so many levels, environmentally, educationally, socially and politically, all through the eyes of the next generation. I believe its a six part series so definitely something to look forward to and make a note of watching.
As I left the lakes this evening the light breeze was from the north and the skies were clear. If the wind continues to drop and the skies remain as clear the temperature will tumble and we will be greeted by a frosty start to the day tomorrow.
We're still busy building bridges and felling trees, which hasn't left a great deal of time to bring much news of the valley. I must add congratulations to Rob Sly on his brace of barbel yesterday evening, weighing in at 13.03 and 15.05. that's got to be a "Red Letter Day" in anyones book. It would seem that despite the low, clear river the fish are still feeding if you adopt a very careful approach and fine gear. We did have one other visitor on the estate in the shape of another Osprey drifting south over the lakes yesterday. I assume this Indian summer has allowed them time to dally on their migration south to warmer climes.
More autumn colour with the trees laden with vivid red fruit awaiting the arrival of the winter thrushes.
Autumn colour around the lakes as the sun begins to break through the early mist on Saturday morning. I had a walk around the lakes to check on a wasps nest that I had treated Friday and was keen to see that I had been successful in getting rid of it before I finish the strimming next week. I'm still suffering the consequences of sticking a strimmer blade in the nest on Thursday as the resulting stings are at that unbearably itchy stage and driving me up the wall.
The colour flows to the woodland floor.
I feel like some form of vegetable vet as I seem to have had my hand up the backend of a pumpkin for hours over the weekend!
An extremely productive week, its amazing what good weather and a good team can achieve. Ditches, roads, strimming, pheasants and fish, dealing with them all is a great deal easier when conditions are on your side. I took a break from clearing brash and Turkey oaks to prepare the new steel for the first phase of our hatch rebuilds. Its pretty unforgiving stuff, large steel and concrete but when it goes well it is an enormously satifying project. One other factor in our favour is the current low flow we are experiencing with the river. Normally at this time of year we would expect to see the high, green flows of winter setting in. This year the Avon is taking on the appearance of a canal. The weed has all but gone and the water remains frighteningly clear. The fish have all but disappeared into the deep holes and underneath what little weed remains. Dace, visible in their thousands a week or two ago, have disappeared completely. The juvenile year classes are still visible on the shallows but the "Avon Herrings" have done their annual disappearing act six weeks early. What chub and barbel that remain visible look at single maggots and caster with distain. I think its time we sent summer on its way and we welcomed in the winter fishing.
Strangely the pools still seem to contain all the salmon that took up residence earlier in the season. I had expected them to have taken advantage of the two summer flash floods we experienced a week or two ago and run for the head waters. One pool in particular has four good three sea-winter fish in residence, one an impressive beast well in excess of thirty pounds. This fish is showing signs of fungus and a good flood of cold, fresh water would not go amiss in helping it reach the redds in a couple of months time. It would also do the river no harm whats so ever, flushing out the remnants of the summers weed growth, societies detritus and polishing up the gravels again in readiness for our cutting salmon. I think I would be prepared to see our other tasks on the rest of the estate a deal more complicated if the river were to get the water it is currently looking so in need of.
The steel work underway, the low flows above the weirs and John returned for another shot at the bream today. Whilst it may have been a little slow he did add a further five to the stock pond. One of the five was an interesting specimen, well defined scales, orange downcast eye, slimmer body line and shorter ray count on the fins. It is of course a roach/bream hybrid. I was considering giving it a photoshop blue wash and orange fins but thought the sight of a five pound roach may have proved too great a shock for one or two of our roach lads!
John Slader enjoying a glorious day and adding a further thirty pounds of bream to the holding pond.
Certainly an Indian Summer, not a breath of wind and sunshine for most of the day. I'm not sure whether it was the warm weather or the massed Ladybird flight today was just a seasonal event, whatever the cause there were literally millions of Harlequin Ladybirds swarming in the valley today. The Ladybirds weren't the only creatures that were out and about today there were also hundreds of hornets on the move. In reality the number of hornets along the High Bank at Meadow Lake has been alarmingly high for a week or two. When I say "alarmingly" I don't mean they will do you any harm, unless you wind them up of course, they are however rather intimidating is such large numbers. Today also brought out some late butterflies in the shape of a feshly imerged pair of Brimstones and a Red admiral to add even more colour to the day. The sight of five Kingfishers all criss-crossing the bay at the same time was also some kind of a record making for a good finale for a glorious day. The righthand shot is of the Back Lagoon which is currently weeded out, providing me with plenty of food for thought. We are told by the powers-that-be that fish and weed do not mix yet this bay in Meadow Lake tells a very different story, as does most of Meadow Lake at present, which seems full of elodea. No one can dispute the head of fish in Meadow is probably twice that of any lake in the valley yet weed thrives. Answers on a postcard please.
My day has orientated around bridges and the removal of Turkey oak trees. We have replaced the dangerous old bridge that had prevented access to one of the islands on Mockbeggar, an island that supported the last major concentration of non-indigenous Turk oaks. With the bridge in place I spent a productive couple of hours with the strimmer and chainsaw clearing the majority of the island. My visit did allow a chance to see where the old swinm at the point of the island. Mostly grown-in but it didn't take long to clear enough brash to see it will afford an interesting alternative to the other couple of swims that cover the western edge of the North-eastern bay.
I've been erecting a braid fence around the stockpond in an effort to persuade a young Heron that the carp in the pond are way too large for it to eat. The stupid thing stands on the bank and spears double figure fish as they swim past. The Osprey learnt its lesson after a couple of failed encounters but this heron is obviously a great deal more dense. Hopefully the invisible threads of braid will deter its activities. Last weeks Osprey would seem to have left on his travels as he wasn't anywhere to be seen today. He was still here yesterday, Sunday, but not a sign today so it looks as if he's gone on his way.
No photos of note but I did drive past the white buck today and he's worth a second look.
Sorry, I should have put this up yesterday. Hopefully all "Gold", "River and Stillwater" and "River" syndicate members (Not STILLWATER the padlocks on the lakes remain unchanged) will have received an email from the Estate Office informing you of the new code for the Estate gates. Any problems give me or the office a call and we will sort things out.
I've been busy, hence the lack of entries, there's also been lots going on in the valley as the change of seasons gets into top gear. The first real frosts and downpours that have once again seen the forest streams burst their banks. The leaves on the maples are changing colour and the fallow bucks are roaring out their challenges to all comers that might threaten their harem. Mornings and evenings are drawing in as the winter migrants arrive with the last of the summer visitors heading south.
The Hucklesbrook in flood where the first of the years spawning seatrout may have found conditions to their liking.
That's some splash out in Ray and Fraser's swim, jumping carp? Groundbait? Huge method feeder? No wait, something is rising from the water! Its an Osprey that's caught a fish and seems to be heading over to deliver it to Frazer and Ray, bit like those Chinese chaps with their cormorants. No, its heading over to the trees with its catch to eat it away from the marauding gulls. I got a little carried away there for a moment, probably as a result of seeing Ronnie Moore's young Goshawk yesterday, which was a magnificent sight.
This bird has been with us for a couple of days fishing on King-Vincent's and the Lagoon. It also had a couple of dips in the stock pond but seemed to learn that ten pound carp were a little beyond it. Its at least the third bird that has joined us this autumn enjoying the good feeding in the calm water. Today's bird has been about all day from first light until the light started to go this evening. I was strimming and it took absolutely no notice of my racket, feeding as if I didn't exist. It would occasionally disappear for half an hour when the attention of the local Gulls, Rooks and Magpies became too much but when they had lost interest back he came. He was ringed but I couldn't read it or get a sufficiently clear pic to make it out. Irrespective of where he came from lets hope we see him again in a year or two when he returns to rear young of his own.
Whilst on the bird front the Cormorants are enjoying the second year roach and rudd shoals over at Mockbeggar. Its a pity the fry are so mixed making it impossible to seperate true roach from the rudd and hybrids. As we don't want the millions of mouths to feed the Cormorants are doing us a favour. It takes quite an effort on my part to leave them to their activities but whilst they stay there they are not over on the river or eating our stock fish.
Colourful fungi, turning leaves and evenings drawing in as the fallow rut gets into full swing.
I think I have cleared the scrub and regrowth from around North Lake, just Middle, South Lake, Meadow and Kings-Vincents to go. The scrub you see on the lake shoreline is part of the habitat that we deem desirable for the wildlife, as is the rough grassland in the foreground. After the winter grazing has come to an end in March we will decide if we need to clear any of the remaining scrub the stock may have failed to remove.
Why eat grass when there are brambles and nettles available? Good man! We're still clearing scrub over at Mockbeggar.
I'll start with the pleasing news that the owner of the watch has been found, well spotted Tom. On the lost and found subject, Ron Webb has picked up a couple of rod rests and a bite alarm, should the owner read this give me a call and I will reunite you.
As for my day it was an early start that took me down the river at first light where the first real frost of the year was still brittle on the grass. As the sun hove over the horizon the frost and heavy dew made way for a drifting mist that brought concealment allowing me to approach much closer to the normally flighty wildfowl. Whilst I watched two otters came drifting downstream scattering all before them as they made their way out onto the island where they presumeably have a holt in which to sleep away the day.
As they retired for the day I headed back to the yard to get our day underway and as soon as the main tasks were determined I headed off once more to the lakes to continue with the autumn clean-up. I've been over at Mockbeggar on and off for the last fortnight and have watched the wildfowl numbers slowly increase as the Teal now manage three figures and the Shovelor are well into double digits. The Snipe are moving through and the "La rook" has taken umbridge and departed for a quieter location whilst I'm about my business. The first of the donks are back as I spotted the jack contentedly munching a bramble patch as I left this evening and with a pony or two they form the vanguard set to get the winter grazing underway.
Swans, Dabchicks, Little egret, Goosander and Mallard all busy seeking breakfast on the shallows.
Tim making a good start on the bream removal, despite the cold easterly wind.
After dropping in to see how Tim and Tom were getting on with the bream chase I headed for the Forest to see if I could spot one or two of the Ring Ouzel that are currently heading south to warmer climes. This week has seen exceptionally high numbers moving through with 20 at Leaden hall this morning. I did manage a rather grainy distant shot of a smart cock bird and there were other birds feeding close by. The second photo is looking across the Black Gutter up toward Leaden Hall and the old bombing range on the far hill. The Gutter runs on to join the Ditchend Brook that eventually spills into the Avon at Redbridge, just north of Bickton.
Just a reminder for the butterfly buffs, 09:00pm Monday 10th on BBC 4 looks interesting.
It's not only the fish that are looking good in readiness for the fast approaching winter. This fox was looking sleek and in peak condition as it searched the water meadows for a meal to keep up its condition. The fallow sore was looking equally fit having enjoyed the rich grazing of the summer meadows. Not all is well in the fallow world with the buck on the right in the third photo, badly injured with the loss of the lower right hind leg and a severely broken left. Such injuries are not uncommon as they get entangled in fence wire, rope and twine that they fall foul of in their travels. This animal is attempting to move on the shattered end of its protruding tibia and it would be only a matter of time before it became infected bringing about a slow and painful death. We will cull this poor creature from the herd in the next day or two minimising any further suffering.
In readiness for the end of the month the pumpkins were brought in to ripen in the dry with a bunch of chrysanths to add to the autumn colour. Middle shot is a watch found on the river bank. Give me a call if you've lost your fishing time-piece. Finally I'm pleased to see that someone in the Ringwood area has a new bathroom. Sadly they saw fit to leave their old one on the verge down by the weir at Ringwood. Almost fitting that such individuals should be dumping a WC as they are obviously akin to what one might normally expect to flush down it!
This is one of those photographs that makes you take a second look, just to confirm its that good. This shows captor Mark Woodage with a 14.4 barbel that is just perfect. Just like Ollie's chub of the other day this is an immaculate fish of a lifetime and a great new PB for Mark. Congratulations Mark and many thanks for the pics.
Brian Bonell, the Brian of Brian and Vic, playing a nice carp at last knockings. Taken on the pin, float fishing twelve inches from the bank, lovely stuff!
Perfect way to finish the Mockbeggar season for Andy Jackson in the shape of the cracking 33+ common on the left of the pix below. Only Andy and Julian Ward saw out the season on Mockbeggar, which I find a little odd considering the quality of fishing available. I don't suppose Julian or Andy objected to having fifty acres to themselves, I find the unknown element of Mockbeggar totally absorbing. There were several members who did enjoy the complex through the season and I should mention Geoff Wishart with his catch average for carp coming in at over twenty pounds and I know that included at least three 30+ fish to 37. Nice one Geoff, great angling.
I had to turn out this afternoon to persuade a trespassing couple of canoeist that they needed to leave the river. They had earlier refused to take the advice of a member of the estate staff that had informed them that as well as trespassing they were in breach of the environmental legislation that protects this section of the valley but they had simply pushed on to launch their canoe. Legally our member of staff would have been within his rights, as an authorised agent of the riparian owner, to have used the minimum of required force to make them leave estate land. Unfortunately we have learnt the hard way that such confrontations usually lead to threats, abuse and violence and as such staff have been instructed not to put themselves at risk. Ideally we would prefer a police presence at such incidents but experience has taught us that such assistance is unlikely to be forthcoming; over-stretched staff and resources we are told.
Wait a minute what's that on the horizon? (Arrowed in middle shot) Looks as if I have someone flying kites over the valley next to the “Soundclash” event, I hope Natural England have sanctioned that as I'm sure such an exercise would require consent as a potential OLD list conflict on the SSSI/SAC/Ramsar, site just as canoeing does. Oh no its the police, they seem to have found sufficient funds to fly a couple of cameras about over the event. I'm sure they will have consulted Natural England. I suppose it frees up all the police officers to get on with policing the community and leave the policing of the event up to the dozens of private security staff employed by the event? Perhaps we should have put in a call for attendance at the earlier potential breach of the peace there might have been an officer available to save me having to turn out to deal with the situation.
I suppose the other reason they were floating balloons about over the river was to keep and eye on Darren, who was fishing down at Dog Kennel. A braver man than I, to fish that close to the event today. I suppose he did have his hat jammed down over his ears and his hood up, at least making an attempt at keeping the sound levels within bounds!
Andy with his great looking 33 pounder and our miscreant canoers with the balloons arrowed in the background. The eye in the sky spying on Darren!
This is undeniably a superb fin perfect chub and at 7.1 it makes it a fish of a lifetime. This magnificent fish was caught by Ollie Johnson on a recent visit to the estate. Congratulations Ollie and thanks for the photo, its a real treat for me to see such a fish as I'm sure the readers of this blog will agree.
Nearly there. The set-up for our final event of the summer is almost complete as the four big tops are up and waiting and the surrounding stages and marquees are rising as if by magic. We have the roads up together and just a final rolling of the arena and we are done. The end of the summer event season is met by the arrival of the season of die-back and decay as the fungi that are appearing everywhere in every shape and colour continue the task of breaking down the dying summer growth. I've called the one above "The Blusher" which if cooked is said to be edible. Unfortunately it bears a close resemblance to Aminita pantherina which may well kill you. So there's the rub, if you're going to try the fungi foraging lark, make sure you know just what you have found, mistakes can be costly!
Its been a good year for the Darter dragonflies and it looks as if they're working on securing the future! The middle shot catches Vic Beyer stirred into action by a carp that picked his bait up a foot from the bank. I always enjoy finding Vic and Brian are fishing when I'm out and about around the lakes as I can usually rely on finding a float to watch for ten minutes whilst we put the world to rights. The transects may be over for the year but it won't top me putting up the odd butterfly when I find them. This is a slightly unusual shot of a Small Copper as I don't associate them with the brambles where the Commas and the Red Admirals are the norm.
A photo of a happy man. Dave Chambers joined syndicate member John Mcgough as a guest at the weekend and managed this beauty of 14.12. If you're going to have a brief visit to fish with us you couldn't choose a better guide that John as he knows the river at Somerley inside out. Having said that, you still have to convince such a fish to pick up your bait without spooking and then extract it from the fast flowing, weedy runs it inhabits. Well done Dave congratulations on a fabulous fish and thanks for the great photo.
Some one else who has been amongst the fish today was John Slader with a huge catch of carp and bream in the region of 150 pounds. We didn't actually weigh the three nets of fish but with eighteen carp and thirteen bream I think 150 is probably a conservative estimate. John's efforts served a dual purpose as the catch was transferred to the holding area at the top of Kings Lake as part of our stock management programme. If you fish at the Somerley complex you will see several keepnets dotted about at various places, plus a wheelbarrow full of bubble-wrap in the Vincents river car park. These are for anyone who wishes to fish and transfer bream and carp under 20 to the holding area. The more the merrier as the sooner we can reduce the weight of fish in the lakes the sooner we will see our new stock of crucians and tench introduced.
I dropped in at the lakes yesterday lunchtime and the only angler on the place was Jack Harvey who was setting up to take a photo of a 26+ common he'd just landed. I offered to do the honours and as we sorted out the camera Jack's other rod screamed off. After ten minutes another common also at 26+ graced the net, making for a great brace shot.
The blooms may not be up to much but the colours remain as good as ever, further proof of autumn's arrival in the colour of the chysanths. I believe the right hand shot is a dogs vomit slime mould! I'm sure there's someone out there that will put me right if I have misidentified it. I should mention to the butterfly buffs amongst you and I know there are one or two that the Small coppers I included yesterday were the blue-spotted aberrant, colour variant caeruleo-punctata and thanks to our in-house butterfly expert Mark Tutton for spotting it. No pun intended! Spotting that is.
The autumn equinox and a true autumn sunrise over the park.
The Greylags flighting out to feed at first light at the start of their day as the otter heads for home at the end of a long night amid the sparkling webs.
Before the meadows become too wet with the autumn rain we spent a couple of hours removing that willow I had been forced to leave in the river the other day.
The chance to spend a couple of hours fish spotting was too good to pass up and there were plenty of fish to be seen on the shallows. The first photo is a shoal that contained; perch, barbel, grayling, chub, dace, roach, parr and particularly pleasing to see several dozen gudgeon. We weren't the only ones that had spotted the fish in the clear water! In the rubbish that had accumulated around the fallen willow it was good to see several smalll eels, less pleasing was the appearance of signal crayfish. That reminds me I must ask the EA how their assessment of the Avon cray population is coming along! Once the river had flushed the rubbish off the shallows it wasn't many minutes before we had several trout and grayling investigating the site. They were soon joined by dace, parr, barbel and more gudgeon, we may not see many caught but there are obviously plenty in the river.
I should finish with the last of the summer butterfly transects, which has gone out on a high note as the numbers of Small coppers, Commas and Red admirals is pleasingly high.
Commas, Small copper and Red admiral numbers all present in good numbers today.
I've been out walking the first WeBS and the penultimate butterfly transect of the season so I thought I would put up this great photo of James Channell with a good looking 33.8 that has the frame to become a considerably larger fish. Thanks for the photo James and congratulations of the capture.
The river and the lakes continue to fish well with some wonderful catches of barbel and carp being accounted for. I know of at least four different 14+ barbel and four 30+ carp being landed making for several happy anglers. My recent angling exploits as well as some great carp have managed to give me a crick in my back that has made life somewhat tiring this week. Thankfully things feel as if they are getting better, meaning I can get back in harness in the next day or two. I have a great deal of clearing and brashing-up to do before the winter so my recovery can't come a minute too soon as far as I'm concerned.
When I think of the cleaning up that lays ahead I have to consider the extent of the work in light of the softer more natural surrounding we are endeavouring to create around the fisheries. If I were to describe our policy as “re-wilding” it may conjure up pictures of beavers, bears and boar but that's not were we're heading. Our sights are set a little lower, although I can think of several people I would like to introduce to a bear, it is the everyday plants and species we are attempting to attract. Thistles, docks, teasels, ragwort and brambles, add a multitude of wild flowers and grasses, all have a vital role to play in supporting the threatened species that are right on our doorstep. The standing grasslands that support our butterflies and small mammals. Those same small mammals that provide the food for our Kestrels and owls rely on. Rabbits that keep the grass surrounding the anthills grazed tight, providing rich pickings for the Green woodpeckers. Those same rabbits providing food for our Buzzards and foxes avoiding the need for them to prey on the reared gamebirds. Its all interlinked and inter-dependent, it may not look clipped and mown but it supports countless species threatened by our over tidy countryside.
Natural un-enriched grassland that is winter grazed and cleaned. The wild flower and herb rich sward is the habitat that we are creating and today's count of thirty three Small Coppers and twenty five Commas would point to progress on the butterfly front at least.
An interesting week, in that I have done more nights beside the water in the last week than I have probably done in the last ten years. These were “all” night do's, not my usual couple of hour sessions at dusk or first light. Why the sudden rush of blood? As I said in the last entry I needed to find some answers about missing fish.
For my efforts I did manage to find a fish or two and answer the question as to whether they still existed. Whilst laying contemplating my bite alarms and my naval I also had time to consider my review of the past salmon season that I added a day or two ago. I decided that whilst my enthusiasm for the return of such quality fish and fishing was truly justified I had failed to sufficiently credit our salmon syndicate members with the praise they deserve in making the season so memorable. When I think back to the 90's when many of the restrictions we faced as salmon anglers on the Avon were first introduced we have come on in leaps and bounds.
Method restrictions, catch and release, season and bait restrictions all presented a pretty daunting prospect for an Avon salmon rod. Fly only has brought about a revolution in tackle and the ability of the rods to master the techniques required to make it a realistic means to put fish on the bank of a very difficult river such as the Avon. Not the ease of standing on a Scottish gravel bar with neither bullock or bush within clutching distance of your fly. To cover Avon lies perched on a high bank with weed and vegetation grasping at every loose cast made it a fairly steep learning curve but learn our rods have. Learn to the extent it is a pleasure to watch many of them tackle the pools in such a studied and professional manner. Well done and thank you again to all involved.
Also a process that has undergone considerable change has been fish handling, a vital part of the obligatory catch and release practised on the entire river. The Avon was never going to be an easy river to achieve a satisfactory result for the process. As with fly fishing, rods, who from here on in will be called anglers to avoid confusion, were standing on the bank and not in the water or gravel bars enabling ease of landing and unhooking. In recent correspondence with one of our anglers I mulled over several of the points that have changed in the Avon. The fragile nature of salmon is to do with osmosis and shock as a fish recently having undergone such dramatic changes in its body fluid structure is exposed to severe stress and exhaustion. The finer points of the aerobic and anaerobic supply of oxygen to the muscles and subsequent production of build up of lactic acid during the stressful experienced of capture, is beyond me I'm afraid. The delicate nature of a fresh run fish over that of a red old bugger that has been in the river for months, is proof of their bodies ability to adapt and cope with its new world. The availability of oxygen at higher water temperatures is the key to our cessation of fishing at 19 degrees. It is our Spring, MSW fish which are the lifeblood of the Avon that are at most risk and it is the care with which they are now treated that has been so pleasing.
It has become second nature to most not to remove fish from the water upon netting but let the fish rest submerged in the net to regain its breath and stabilise itself. Wherever possible unhooking in the water and here the use of waders is most definitely a plus in there favour, despite my reservations about their over use. To recover a large fish that may have taken in excess of twenty or even thirty minutes to land it is now recognised a rest period of equal duration may be required. Too release an unrested fish early and see it swim of into the depths all too often results in its death as it sinks to the river bed and simply drowns. If unhooking is not possible in the water then the clock begins ticking in real earnest. Advice from the powers that be suggest that after 30 seconds exposure the survival chances of your fish plummet. Exposure of fresh run salmon to air has a catastrophic impact on their ability to survive. The added stress potentially bringing about death through shock. I'm sure most salmon anglers of many years have experienced the changing colour of a fresh fish as it goes into shock. The increasingly pale skin and the fixed eye are not pleasant sights to see developing in the net.
If you require a photograph and don't get me wrong I begrudge no one a memory of their success, only when the fish is comfortable please and over the water where ever possible.
This brings me on nicely to our coarse fish and perhaps a timely reminder that they also need the utmost consideration when they are being handled. Rested and unhooked in the water wherever possible and photographs with great care particularly in periods of high water temperatures and low oxygen content. We all love to reminisce over our trophy shots but not at the expense of the fish we value so highly. If your self shot fails no repeatedly dragging fish up and down the bank until your happy please. Everyone in the barbel world can tell tales of famous fish with their lifeless forms stuck in the silt after release. Sometimes you just have to be content with the memory of your success and the knowledge your adversary continues to rest happily in her watery home.
I, like most, like to record my successes. In this case with a reasonable selfie of the smallest conquest of this week a nice double common. The second is not so good showing my wellies and the best of the week in the margins in the precise moment the camera took it to itself to try and join us in the water. Hint taken my fish of the week was simply allowed to sink back into her watery world. Fate would not have allowed that camera to slip had I meant to have that photo!
The time for our summer butterflies is fast running out. Within a few weeks they will be gone but this weeks transect produced some delightful surprises with the second generation of Small coppers in reasonable numbers. Also two Clouded yellows that I almost managed to fluke the elusive wings open shot, only missing it through being too closely focused in when it took off. Finally the season of the Comma butterflies on the fermenting blackberries, as in the header shot of this seasons diary, fast approaches.
In keeping with my autumn resolution to get the rods in action more this winter I decided a night on one of our ultra hard waters was in order. The questions posed by a water that isn't producing as it should are like a red rag to a bull to me as I need to find some answers. Also in keeping with many of my fishing sessions it began raining as I opened the gate and ceased when I left the following morning. What enforced inactivity under a brolly does is give me is time to think through some of the issues that are in need of my attention, meaning my fishing trips have a dual advantages. The end result was the lovely looking 20+ common above. The tackle set up was my old favourite a size 8 Kamazan and two pieces of sweetcorn, cast as far as my 2lbs test curve, 35 year old Sportex can manage.
As we do not fish the September "Trial" our salmon season at Somerley has once more drawn to a conclusion and what a season it was. After the amazing first year of the syndicate in 2015 it was with some trepidation I viewed the start of the 2016 season, wondering how we were ever going to live in the shadow of such a year. I didn't have to wait long for the first clue as to the type of year we were to enjoy for the season that lay ahead when Colin Morgan opened our account on the first day of the season with a stunning 26 pound classic Avon Springer. It was almost with shock I heard the news, a fish on the 1st of February absolutely brilliant result. I had hoped we might see a February fish but such a start allowed me to draw breath and relax a little. I still didn't anticipate we would enjoy a year such as 2015 and it was a three week wait before Paul Greenacre found our second in the shape of a 23 pound hen. Two February fish and both classic Springers, that'll do nicely.
Colin with his Opening Day Springer.
The next two months brought a further twenty nine MSW fish bringing our total for the “Spring Season” to thirty one, ten of which exceeded twenty pounds. Two, landed by Mick Stead and Danny Taylor, even went past the thirty plus mark. Staggering, this was akin to the Avon in its hey day, when the chance of a Twenty plus Springer was a genuine reality. No longer a case of going through the motions, the rods were out on the banks fishing expectantly for a fish of a lifetime. May and June brought a sustained run of 2SW summer fish, comfortably passing the 2015 total in mid-June.
The flow remained sufficiently high to bring the fish into the river and the rods continued to enjoy their sport. There were some amazing achievements of numbers caught in a day with seven fish being landed on the fishery on the 16th June and the 14th July. Paul Greenacre had four of the fish on the 16th and Peter Littleworth four on the 14th July. Paul Greenacre went on to catch thirty fish from the water this season. If for no other reason than endurance and commitment that is an amazing statistic. With the good flow and sustained effort by the rods we sailed on into new territory with the hundred fish mark being passed in mid July to make it Somerley's finest season for many decades.
Where do we go from here? I don't believe we can expect to continue to enjoy sport at such a level although I have no evidence to base such a statement on. If the number of parr that are visible on some of the shallows are any indication we can look forward to reasonable returns but how reasonable I have no idea. We are still in the business of keeping our fingers crossed when it comes to determining what the future holds for our salmon.
Whatever lays ahead we at least have the comfort of looking back at the 2016 season and knowing what the river is capable of producing. Wonderful fishing, wonderful fish in a wonderful environment, well done and congratulations to all of you that made the season the success it was.
To round off the report another great shot of Danny with his 30 plus from Sydney Pool. Thanks to everyone for the photos and the effort, making the year such a pleasure.
September and autumn has arrived and my thoughts actually turn to digging out the rods once more. After the urgency of the spring salmon run and the hectic days of summer on the estate the attraction of autumn is the return of the coloured water to the river and the rusts and ochres that surround us in the valley until the onset of the first frosts. I a not a sight angler and the attraction of reading a coloured river is the essence of Avon angling for me. I do suffer more blanks than most but I enjoy my small victories when they occasionally arrive. Lets hope I manage a few more visits than in recent years, which in reality wont be difficult so watch this space.
To get events underway Jonathan with a decent chub after he came over after work this evening, which permitted us a couple of hours to chew the fat and blow the cobwebs from our techniques. I feel there's some way to go before I remember all the necessary bits and bobs even a couple of hours requires. Its most definitely a case of practice makes perfect, which I will be doing my utmost to ensure happens.
The last day of August and for me it means that summer is over. Our salmon fishing has finished and the barbel and chub fishing is approaching its zenith. Already the Swifts have left us with the eight or ten new additions to the population that were raised on the side of our house now heading for Africa on their first ever flight. The Osprey are moving south to join them in Africa, stopping briefly to ensure their fuel tanks are full for the journey ahead with a last snatched meal from Mockbeggar and Vincents. Blackberries are ripe on the brambles and the plums are ready for their pastry pie crust. With the amber and gold of autumn shortly to be with us in just a matter of weeks my thoughts are turning to preparing the fisheries for winter. I suppose it was the start of the tree work yesterday that triggered the thoughts of winter and today I enjoyed a full day with the strimmer that further added to the turning of the seasons clock. Ahead of me the margins of the lakes have to be strimmed to remove the summer regrowth of willow and alder. The river paths have to be cut back to make sure in the event we have high water next spring the salmon pools remain accessible. All the while ensuring sufficient cover is left in the margins for the creatures of the valley to find food and protection to see them through the winter. If I can find an hour spare I will cut a little grass with the strimmer close to my favourite badger set to give them a change of bedding for the winter. A busy time ahead but I look forward to it immensely.
I didn't find time to get any pix today so a couple from the weekend in the form of a Holly Blue nectaring on the marginal mint and another shot of a Painted Lady, always photogenic as they pose on the tall agrimony. The spots on the wings of the Holly Blue seem to be a continuation of the anthers of the mint further illustrating the pure genious of Nature.
Many of you will be pleased to hear I took the chainsaw up to Ibsley today to clear the path at Hoodies, blocked by a massive willow limb that had decided to come down recently. Whilst I did manage to clear the path the removal of the tree itself will have to wait until I can get the tractors and steel cables attached to it to pull it from the water. Whilst there there seemed to be some dodgy sort of coves about the place and it didn't take long to find the winner of the "Moron of the Day" trophy. The chap in the pic may look a bit dodgy but he's actually okay, he's a syndicate member but just around the bend in Tizard's were this pair. They win the trophy in a hard run competition between themselves and a couple with a retriever that they decided needed a swim in the weir pool. What gave them the edge was the response when I asked why they had ignored two of our private signs, “Strictly Private, No Unauthorised Access” walking within a meter of each. The response,
“We didn't think that applied to swimming”
superb, straight into pole position!
The reason I had to get on with the clearing today was in actual fact another of those cankerous old poplars beside the first weir pool had fallen over the weekend blocking the access path completely. What makes these ancient old trees give up the ghost is beyond me but fall it did, leaving me to clear the path. I will have to fell the entire row at some point in the near future as they all look likely to follow the leaders that have already fallen. Whilst there with a saw I decided to bite the bullet and have a look at the nightmare of the six or seven massive hangers that came down over a year ago between the two weirs. These poplars and chestnuts were close to eighty of ninety feet and clattered into each other like a giants game of “Pick-up-sticks” The quotes to clear them had run into many thousands due to their dangerous state of dead and shattered tops all set at crazy angles and pressures. Despite jammed bars and split sticks I did manage to get three of the most worrying laying on the ground by the end of the day. Desperately hard work but enormously satisfying to see the triangle and the first hatches beginning to receive the attention that has been long over due.
Finally one to cheer me up as despite being sadly neglected this summer my first chrysanths have done me proud.
Back to more mundane matters as we see the back of the war games down at Ashley and the beer festival at Ellingham. Both events were very well attended and hopefully the many thousands that spent the weekend with us enjoyed their stay. As for the mundane, for me it appears to be a continual parade of people that disregard the law of the land related to trespass and feel we provide the river for their personal use. I can assure you the prospect of turning out evenings and weekends to remove these individuals is fast losing its appeal. This weekend alone at four sets of canoeists, people at Mockbeggar on the old control tower, people at Mockbeggar on the locked and chained west path. Add trespassers at Ringwood and Ibsley and my free time was best spoken for. “I'm doing no harm” the mantra of the Great British Public, if only I had a pound for every time I heard that!
The EA, despite historically having Navigation as part of their remit and title are totally useless and as with poaching a complete waste of public funds. Natural England with the power to prosecute in the event of disturbance or damage to the SSSI/SAC are only likely to persecute, and that is not a spelling mistake, the riparian owner as they are an easier target.
The AT stance is correct until the trespasser is challenged. Just how we are to get a name and address to take a private prosecution forward I have yet to discover. Having, as reliably informed when asked for their names, had Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny of Disneyland Paris canoeing down our river. Even if the police are present they will not give us the name and addresses of the individuals involved.
If at the point they are gaining access or portage around weirs etc they are challenged and instructed to leave via the nearest public highway the fun really begins. Failure to do so permits us, as in the case of normal trespass to use the minimum of required force to achieve that objective. Unfortunately we are advised by the CLA this is not a safe route for us to adopt in this litigious society. This is why we are keen to have the police present at such confrontations. Alas due to police cutbacks or institutional protection they are as about as much use as the EA and NE.
The other key element of course is the lack of staff to deal with a removal" with the minimum of required force" on a 24/7 basis. The rural economy and rivers in particular are struggling by on a very reduced labour force. The history of river keeper cuts coincides with the establishment of the NRA/EA which was the body many mistakenly believed would manage and police the river in their stead. Whether this is the fault of the government through lack of funding. Inadequate legislation, written and designed by office bound people who have never had to deal with the Great British Public on the ground. Week management within the EA or opportunistic cost cutting by riparian owners, you take your pick. Who or what ever might be responsible the failure to Maintain, Improve and Develop fisheries it is more evident now a days than at any time in the history of our rivers.
Where this leaves us I have no idea, other than being sold down the river or more relevant perhaps, "up the creek without a paddle" The control of the rivers is yet again removed from the riparian owners as a further instance of the nationalisation by stealth, the process I highlighted many moons ago. From a personal perspective it is very worrying as I increasingly become a bitter and twisted product of my environment and look on the GBP as an ignorant mass that is a result of a failed education system. Its all very well teaching how many legs or gills some bug has but failing to inform who owns and manages the vast majority of its habitat seems to be missing the point somewhat.
The text above is basically the nuts and bolts of a conversation I recently had with a river friendly journalist who seems about as perplexed as me as to what the future holds for the rivers. As for my future? I currently continue with my quest to make Victor Meldrew look like Charlie Chaplin. Time for a few changes perhaps?
The saving grace of an otherwise frustrating weekend. An Osprey that has been at Mockbeggar for a day or two feeding over the North Bay. The margins remain a rich source of nectar with Hemp Agrimony, Fleabane and Mint attracting a mass of insects to enjoy the bounty. A lovely fresh Comma enjoying the last of the Hemp Agrimony and a "badgered" wasps nest busily rebuilding as the brock must have missed the queen. "He'll be back"
An extremely busy day one way and another, more of which another day perhaps but for the time being some thoughts regarding this amazing river.
Recent entries in the diary have highlighted the apparently miraculous recovery of the Avon, which is once more showing just why it was considered to be one of the finest angling and most biologically diverse rivers in the country. What has brought about this sudden surge in fish populations with chub, barbel, salmon, dace and even grayling once more present in large numbers and specimen sizes.
Has the river water quality suddenly improved?
Not that I am aware.
Is climate change making conditions more suitable for cyprinid recruitment?
That doesn't explain the salmon and grayling recovery.
Negligible, mainly lip service?
Improved water quality?
Not if one believes the environmental indicators.
There could be a myriad of contributing factors but the one that I feel has had more impact on our local river than any other was the cessation of weed cutting in 2011.
Early days perhaps to make such claims, it does however look ever more suspiciously likely that destroying the natural regime of the river for the last fifty years may have had a more significant impact than those doing the cutting would have had us believe. Last years exceptional salmon run was the product of the 2011 spawning. The first parr to enjoy a naturally coffered channel in the Lower Avon for almost half a century. I have written on here on numerous occasions the impact of cutting out the weed to lower the water and exposes the gravel bars, that would if left submerged by natural coffering, offer such perfect habitat for juvenile salmonids. This years run which EA papers looking at salmon abundance told us would be significantly reduced due to the low water in what was deemed the critical month of August 2012, surpassed last years run and our wildest expectations.
Those other species listed above also have a spawning tie in with the Avon gravels which might point a finger. All the species included are dependent on a healthy gravel environment for ova and juveniles.
As I said before, early days, perhaps we should wait for the conclusive evidence?
Unfortunately there is no ongoing research or studies directed at looking at the consequences of the moratorium on weed cutting!
I've been away for a day or two checking that the Cotswold's and the Brecon Beacons still exist and pleasingly I can report that both are looking well. I have returned to find a couple of most welcome emails in the bulging inbox that add to the last diary entry about our baby barbel. First came from John McGough who told me of a large number of baby barbs between 6 and 15 inches that could be seen on the weed beds below one of the known spawning areas on the estate. The second contained what must rate as a contender for the photo of the year. It came from Mark Woodage and as can be seen below he is holding an absolute stunner in the shape of a 3.14 baby barbel. Thanks to both John and Mark for taking the time to get in touch. I just love such positive news and I shall certainly be out looking to see what else I can spot in the currently gin clear river.
Mark with his stunning baby barb.
Whilst out and about I came across this chap mid river as he decided to cool off with a paddle. Oddly with one or two spots where these cattle cross the shallows, disturbing and cleaning the gravel as they go, attract the salmon later in the year when they cut their redds. The group of non-breeders are doing their best to keep the weed in check. Despite their best efforts there is still plenty of weed in the main channel which is looking wonderful with summer flows and clean gravel in virtually every section throughout the etstate. We are currently repairing the hatches behind the Pink Cottage at Ibsley, which has given me the opportunity to spend time fish spotting in the cystal clear water we're currently experiencing. Its not difficult to find them, finding them without spooking them is the tricky bit. You have to remember if you can see them they can probably see you. If they can't actually see you the minnows and fry shoals that spook from the margins as you approach act as the eyes and ears of the larger fish as they pass like a shock wave. Not the easiest conditions to fish under but fish spotting and getting to know the river is currently at its best. Chub, barbel, bream, perch, huge pike and vast dace shoals. I've been amazed at the number of salmon that can be found tucked up under the banks or in the deep holes. Finally a shot of a salmon parr adopting the colours of his back ground. There are pleasingly high numbers of parr on some shallow bars, fingers crossed they all survive
The shots above show the importance of looking closely. What at first glance appeared to be a dace shoal was certainly worthy of closer inspection. As well as the dace there were several roach and at least eighteen juvenile barbel, a most welcome sight. Dace shoals, huge pike, barbel, chub, salmon, perch and shoals of large bream, yet it was the sight of all those juveniles that was most pleasing for me. The third shot shows the hatch gates we are replacing and central to the shot is a oblong hole in the bed of the gate apron. If you look closely you will see there is a fish in the hole, almost as if in an aquarium. It turned out to be a barbel and after that one finished feeding and disappeared into a nearby weedbed a smaller one magically materialised and took its place in the hole.
Thanks to Paul Fuller for sending this photo of a wonderful 6.9 summer chub. Its a real jem, not only the size and shape of the fish, the photo as well with the gold of the scales contrasted against the inky sky, capturing the end of a perfect summers day.
The Show is now behind us for a further year after a thankfully weather friendly event, neither too hot or raining. From my one or two brief forays I made across the Park it would appear to have been very well supported, certainly everyone looked remarkably happy with their lot and enjoying the day. We now have a break of a week before we begin setting up for the Beer Festival.
Looking out over the Pony judging rings to the showground.
I may have been distracted with various events but thankfully others have ensured the fish have still been getting caught. Thanks to John McGough for the report and photo of his latest capture. A real Somerley beauty and one that had managed to escape John's attentions in previous years. At an ounce under fifteen pounds that is going to be an even more mightily impressive fish when it gets its autumn condition back. The second photo is Jack Harvey peering over the top of one of the Meadow 30+ Old Girls. Jack's on the water as I write, he's just sent a text to say he's had a brace of twenty plus commons within a couple of hours of setting up. Thanks for the photo Jack, keep up the good work.
A brace of Somerley magic.
Do any of you listen to classic FM? if so have you heard the “Sky Media” advert? It centres around a pooch explaining the social benefits of signing up to the Sky media bundle! As some of you may know I am not a great devotee of attributing anthropomorphic abilities to the animal world. Jonny Morris “suck it up” that's one for the older readers. The dog in question is in full flow relating the huge advantages of signing up to Sky when he is distracted by a butterfly, to the extent he demands the attention of his owner, Katie, to pursue the creature. In the instance of this dog however I do have some affinity with his views. Its not just that my oldest granddaughter is a Katie, its the fact he is obviously a butterfly fan. His response to spotting the butterfly in question one might consider to being a little extreme. There again with butterflies its always that one you just catch a glimpse of as it disappears over the hedge or around the corner that brings out this extreme behaviour. Attempts to vault five barred gates and clear ditches, which in all other circumstances wouldn't be even considered, its amazing what a glimpse of an elusive Hairstreak or scarce Fritillary can achieve.
Two to enjoy.
Even if I say so myself the Park looks great, which is quite amazing after the short change over period we had between events. The Ellingham show is all set up and ready for tomorrow's off, giving us the opportunity to get one of the long outstanding jobs on the river sorted out. After all their hard work getting the Park cleared it wasn't much of a break for Phil, Darren and Kevin as the snag in the “Humps” proved a right sod to clear. Our massive treble wasn't up to the job as three of the four tines are now a great deal straighter than when we started. There were several large chub making the most of our efforts in stirring up the bottom plus one dramatically large barbel. Any member fancying trying to find a fish or two on the float could do worse than having a look at that section of the Estate, there were one or two great looking runs down the bottom end. Trotting off the shallows below, “The Cut Through” alongside the willow on the right bank and holding back through the centre of the tail. An Avon trot out of the very top drawer. Please let me know how you got on if you give it a go.
With the river looking in such great order, with some wonderful fish to be seen if you take your time and stay well hidden. One of the members that found one or two of these fish was Mike Skittrall, a great looking double barbel and one of three 5+ chub he found on his last visit. Thanks for the report Mike, very much appreciated.
Finally a couple of the obligatory butterfly shots with a Painted Lady and a Brimstone. The nectar flow is now centred on the Hemp agrimony, mint, Purple loosestrife and Fleabane giving the opportunity for some great photos.
This entry is by way of a pictorial update to confirm I still exist. With the massive event of the last four weeks cleared and gone it gave us a day to prepare the park for the arrival of the Ellingham Show which is now setting up in readiness for next weekend. Kevin and Phil can be seen harrowing and mowing the Lower Park to ensure it looks smart on show day. The change-over day afforded me the time to look at the river where I found Pete Reading enjoying the sunshine out in the water meadows. As I reached Pete I found he seemed to have acquired a pet duck, which was happily drinking his tea and scrabbling around in his bait bucket. It turns out the duck has recently arrived at this stretch of the river as I received an emailed catch report from Garry Somers, beaming over the nice river common above, which also contained a photo of the bait eating miscreant. One thing is for certain, if he is to survive the attention of the local fox population he had better brush up on his survival skills.
The Grayling photo is one that Dominic longley sent along with several others that included chub, dace and wild trout. Members who are fishing maggot or caster are finding good mixed bags of fish throughout the fishery. The middle shot is also a Grayling, one of over a dozen I photographed a couple of miles up the Dockens catchment on the valley sides above Holly Hatch. Its good to see that both species of Grayling seem to be enjoying something of a resurgence. The rut is yet to get underway yet this roe buck is already looking a battered with a gash on his flank and a split ear, I imagine the next few weeks will be pretty testing for this chap.
The current event in the park has run its course and we will hopefully be getting back to some form of normality in the coming days. That is until the weekend when we start the set up for the Ellingham Show! I'll do my best to get a little more fishy news in the next day or two so don't despair, there is light on the horizon.
The river water temperature has dropped back to below the 19 degrees barrier and the salmon are coming out again, adding to our already wonderful season. If you do fish for these late season fish please be even more careful than I know you already are under normal circumstances. Do your best not to remove the fish from the water and if you have to bring it onto the bank you have 30 (THIRTY) seconds. After that it is all downhill I'm afraid and you will have a dead fish on your hands.
The cover crop is looking dramatic as the phacelia and flax turn the entire hillside startling blue. The crop is obviously planted for the benefit of the game birds but it also has hugh benefits for several other valley residents as it is designed as a wildlife crop with flowers such as Phacelia for the bees and various seed bearing plants that the finches will enjoy later in the year. The bee element is certainly working as the field is alive with bumble bees and the local honey bee population.
The second day of summer and it has had quite a dramatic effect. The first is that the water temperature in the river has shot past 19 degrees and is now over 20. All salmon fishing has ceased until such time as the temperature drops back below the 19 degree threshold. The sun also brought out the idiot factor and added to our poachers of yesterday we had an "I'm doing no harm" canoist on the river this afternoon. Anne tells me I shouldn't be so rude about such people in light of which I have decided that another pic of such an individual serves little purpose. I will simply take heart from the fact that claiming ignorance of the law now seems to be looked upon as a legal defence; remember that when you next get done for speeding!
Today at lunchtime also saw me set a new personal best whilst over at Mockbeggar looking for another White letter Hairstreak. This record doesn't involve any of the lakes inhabitants but some of the bankside residents in the form of the ticks! I have warned readers of the blog in previous entries about the risk involved in sitting on the banks at Mockbeggar because of the number of deer we have on site. As the sun was shining and in the true spirit of summer I decided to wear my shorts to air the legs, as it were. This was the first mistake, the second was the walking through the grass as opposed to sticking to the paths. It would seem that most of the tick population of the lakes lay in wait for a passing deer or smilar blood supply. By the time I got back to the car I had ELEVEN of the little darling buried in my legs, fortunately below the line of the elasticated legs of my M&S finest. The next hour was spent at home with the germolene and the tweezers and the very thought of them still makes my flesh crawl. Be warned, stay out of the grass and sit on your bedchairs and fishing seats or they will find you!
On a more pleasing note I stopped at Ibsley on my rounds this morning and looked over the bridge into the now clear water beneath. Salmon, chub, roach and dace were all down below in a vibrant scene that captured the very essence of the Avon and for that matter angling.
Just odds and ends today as I've been somewhat tied up away from the valley for most of the day. Firstly we have had a group of poachers about the Estate today and whilst they have gone on their way I don't think we have seen the last of them. There are nine or ten of them in two, new, white twin cabs and a white Transit, all with “Motorway Maintenance” across the back. Should you see such vehicles about the estate, or parked up where they look odd, please give me or the office a call. Thanks to Jon Shoreman for turning them off from Ibsley today and giving me a call, it really is very much appreciated.
On the salmon front Paul has landed his thirtieth fish of the year, which is certainly an epic angling achievement. Well done Paul, congratulations on your perseverance, you'll have your work cut out to beat that next season! I imagine we will be over 19 degrees tomorrow so today's fish came just in the nick of time.
Finally I see that the escapee rainbows are causing a stink in the media, which makes a change from the river! The dailies are up in arms and the TV are keen to get in on the act. I must follow the story a little more closely in the hope of spotting an explanation of the situation from the regulators in the guise of Cefas and Natural England.
Gary has been down again for another visit and found what must be one of the finest old girls on the Estate in the shape of this 14.6, magnificent looking fish. Congratulations Gary they don't come much better than her. The Six-spot Burnets have been hatching in large numbers in the meadows as the Green-veined Whites get on with ensuring a further generation.
Any of you who have visited the estate via the Ellingham entrance this week will have seen the size of the set-up operation that is currently going on in the Park. Whilst this event is extremely large it hopefully will not impact on the angling or anglers. The event will not start until a weeks time but there is already security on the gates and areas are being fenced off. Fingers crossed we have thought of most of the snags that might arise but in the event you run into a problem let us know as soon as possible please.
On the fishery front well done to Paul Shutler who today took our salmon count into three figures with a sparkling little grilse landed for fish one hundred. Congratulations are also due to Peter Littleworth, one of our regular Thursday rods, who landed four salmon yesterday. Our other regular Thursday rod Mike Tolley managed a brace and Paul G added a further grilse to his amazing tally. It just goes to show what a decent flow in the river can achieve, allowing the fish to enter the system and not get stuck down in the bottom of the river.
In the absence of a suitable salmon photo you'll have to make do with odds and ends from around the estate and preparation for next week's event in the Bottom Park. The first is something I have never seen before as it shows Kevin making Swedish logs for conversion into path markers. Surprisingly efficient means to light the way and cook your supper at the same time! Middle is a shot of a Roesel's bush cricket that are now to be found, along with thousands of Grasshoppers, in large numbers in the lakeside meadows. Finally one of our Swifts that are involved in the screaming party phase of their summer as they hurtle around the house as many as a dozen at a time. Just why they do this I'm not sure but this years young watch, peeping out from the entrances of their nestboxes as they scream by within inches.
The Small Coppers have arrived, an unusual shot of an Essex Skipper and what for me must rate as the perfect swim.
Some newsy bits in the shape of Andy Jackson with one of the old girls from Meadow at 30+. Andy is one of the recorders on the Mockbeggar butterfly transect that brings me nicely on to the second shot in the form of the White-letter Hairstreak that I spotted today. Finally a shot of the asperitas cloud formation that we enjoyed Saturday afternoon and evening. I photographed it from my front garden but thanks to John Slader, who was out on the estate and took this shot looking down the valley from Ellingham. John has also been catching chub and barbel that along with Paul Greenacre, still out and about catching salmon, all appears well in the valley.
Below is a guide for the elderly in indentifying the Essex Skipper! Most of you will be familiar with the Small Skipper as the blur that whizzes about in the long grass, changing direction in less than the blink of an eye. Apparently bad tempered as chance encounters with others of its kind usually involves spiralling chases until one takes its leave of the disputed area. In yesterday's diary entry I mentioned the existence of the Essex Skipper and the identifying black ends of its antenna that when combined with the bullet like speed of the Skippers flight make identifying next to impossible with the naked eye. Below are a series of pix that illustrate the problem.
Ignore the wing positions they are purely captured at random but the first photo shows the Essex Skipper and its black antenna. Whats the middle shot? A Small, as shown in the third from another angle.
Another look at yesterday's Small Skipper directly compared with an Essex and that's all there is to it. The next time you see one whizzing about stand directly in front of it and if possible slightly lower and decide the colour of those little pads on the ends of its antenna as it passes!
I've missed a day or two so this entry is going to be a bit of an amalgamation! Yesterday I had occasion to walk the marsh at Hucklesbrook on the northern boundary of the estate. I have been avoiding the area for some time as the GWCT are involved in a comprehensive study of the breeding waders on the site and I didn't wish to disturb the birds. With the waders now past the most critical period, when disturbance would have a detrimental impact, I felt a visit to walk the marsh and the river bank was justified. I was keen to see the effect of the river restoration work of last autumn and the state of the marsh after our cleaning out of the channels. Without going into too much detail both marsh and river are looking well. The grazing regime has reduced the sedge grass that had been invading the lower sections and the carriers and ditches looked good with plenty of juvenile ducks, moorhens and coots dotted about the channels.
There were five Green Sandpiper also enjoying the rich feeding provided by the shallow ditches and perhaps star of the morning was a juvenile Goshawk. My attention was first drawn to her when all hell let lose among the crows and gulls out by the river. Along with a dozen Grey heron they were creating a cacophony of screeching and squawking and wheeling around over the main river. I had assumed they had found an otter to shout at as one was active in the Bridge pool the previous evening or perhaps a fox was trying its best to hide from me in the margin of Creeping thistle that bounded the river channel. From my spot on the marsh, some one hundred meters away, I was casually watching the rumpus hoping to perhaps get a glimpse of the victim of their attention when almost in apparent slow motion the Gos suddenly appeared from the direction of the fuss not ten feet off the field just twenty meters from me. Apparently oblivious of my presence she flew on passing within feet, allowing me a view of her fixed gaze and obvious keen intent. Past me in a flash, not at any time higher than ten feet off the ground, on across the valley to the opposite hedgerow two hundred meters on across the fields. The reason for her unwavering attention made itself clear as a family of magpies exploded from a small oak in black and white confusion. They dived into a nearby thorn bush just as our winged aggressor arrived on the scene. Not deterred, into the bush went the hawk, out came the two or three of the Magpies. Five or six had gone in so there was trouble ahead for someone if they didn't get a shift on. Through the binoculars I could see the Gos actually walking about in the bush like some old hen. A further flurry of wings and a screech cut short in mid flow. Dinner was apparently served. Its seems there is some justice if we take into account the number of nests our Black and White friends had destroyed this spring.
It's been a bit of a birdie day or two as I visited Mockbeggar in the afternoon and spotted this delightful couple of Mandarin ducks enjoying the all too rare sunshine. Back to the river and over thirty Mute swans alongside the top island with several Little egrets also in attendance. Over to Kings-Vincents and a family of Common Sandpiper lounging on the new gravel of one of the recently renovated swims.
On the butterfly front we are in a state of change as the white clover and ox-eye daisies die out and the birds-foot trefoil is coming into its own to compliment the blackberry that is now in full bloom. One butterfly that is currently increasing in numbers is the Small Skipper. Several dozen can be seen buzzing over the trefoil and long grass and that's the rub. There is a separate species of this tiny butterfly that is almost identical apart from the very ends of its antenna. Just the very ends of the Essex Skippers are black, as opposed to brown in the case of the Small Skipper. Take a look at the Ewok above and you will see that if you're trying to record species, separating them is a nightmare, especially if you require two sets of glasses for distance and close up. Note to self; I must buy a pair of bifocals. Whilst on the butterfly front I did count over fifty Small tortoiseshells nectaring on the creeping thistle that border the river whilst up on the marsh earlier. A good count and after the butterfly dearth of the cold wet spring along with Painted Lady, Red Admiral and Meadow Browns very welcome, all in all the valley is looking good.
After an extremely busy week I was looking forward to a relaxing weekend. Nothing organised, just the time and space to pick and choose just what I had to get sorted out, the allotment, kitchen ceiling, bathroom tiles, front garden, butterfly transect and the apparently endless list of other jobs I've managed to live with for all too many years now. If getting old has taught me one thing, its no good worrying about jobs that will be there at the end of the day, no one else is going to do them and they will still be there tomorrow.
I sometimes think the time spent growing plants that fall victim to every rot, mould and pest to be time I might better spend elsewhere. Today I can vouch for the fact there is a reward at the end of such apparently thankless toil in the shape of new potatoes, fresh carrots, spinach and roast baby beet with an unequalled flavour that makes it all worthwhile. The accompanying roast chicken was only playing a bit part.
In between the showers, perhaps more correctly decribed as storms, I did manage to fit in a butterfly transect around Mockbeggar Saturday morning. It did involve a twenty minute delay as I hid under the maples beside the southern lake as one of the squalls did its best to blow me in the water. Despite the best efforts of the weather to force me to quit after a couple of hours I finished the route and had a count in excess of 200 for the first time this year, reward for the hours of grass cutting and tree maintenance at last showing dividends.
Despite the strong breeze the butterflies were out in force.
I have to admit to barrowing the heading above these photos from the email Gary Taylor sent when he dropped me a line to report his first day on the river this season, which resulted in the beautiful barbel above. It just seems to perfectly capture the mood of the moment as we enjoy the fishery in all its glory. I did have a couple of calls that required visits to the valley but I doubt I spent more than an hour on fishery business all weekend, which rates as some kind of record in recent months. Being a little out of touch I am always pleased to hear how members are getting along as it allows me to build a picture of our seasons progress. As well as Gary's email I heard from Paul G reporting his smallest salmon of the year in the shape of this bright little grilse. I think that was Paul's twenty fifth salmon of the season, further proving that persistence pays off. Adam Martin also let me know of a chub session he had enjoyed with six fish over five pounds topped by a new personal best at 7.1 well done on the PB Adam, lovely bag of fish to go with it.
With the rare sight of the sun in its full glory, after lunch today Anne and I decided to walk the Forest escarpment overlooking Mockbeggar and out across the valley to the hills of Cranborne Chase. Its a favourite walk of ours, which after a filling lunch has the added advantage of only being a couple of miles.
Across the escarpment above Mockbeggar with the velvet clad fallow bucks similarly enjoying the all too rare sunshine, including the white buck that had his stand at Mockbeggar last year.
One other advantage of a walk along the edge of the heath are the delightful little Silver-studded Blues that can be found there.
Please forgive me if you feel I blather on about butterflies, birds, bugs etc to the detriment of angling but in my world one does not exist without the other.
I see fish of all species, of specimen weight and of every discipline on an almost daily basis. Wonderful as they are without the supporting environment they mean nothing. You may as well catch a forty pound carp, a ten pound brownie, or even a thirty pound salmon from a bucket if the surrounds you find that fish are an artificial environment, unable to naturally support that fish. To me it is essential that all aspects of our environment are symbiotic. It is essential that they are interdependent and any species be it mammal, fish, bird or bug, can survive in a sustainable manner. Its at this point there is a glitch. With the demands of society and financial efficiency demanded of our rivers and land these days the areas left for nature to do its own thing are becoming smaller and smaller. This is where the vital importance of angling comes into its own. It is the income we receive from you as angling readers that enables us to set aside the surrounding meadows and woodland for the benefit of the natural world. Our philosophy at Somerley is based on this balanced, sustainable natural world. The exclusivity the estate affords anglers affords the valley's indigenous species the stable undisturbed environment they similarly require. Without the income we derive from angling we would have to seek other sources of income from the many hundreds of acres of land and water our fisheries occupy. Grazing would have to be increased, access would multiply with many other diverse demands making up for the loss of angling revenue. We do not rely on government, corporate of EU funding – not that EU funding will be an issue any more – we are self sufficient and our environment speaks for itself. The reality of the natural world, post Europe, needs to be taken on-board not only in the farming world but that of the conservation charities and the angling community. If the farming world and environmental charities hope to continue receiving the billions of pounds of public handouts the public need to wake up and inform Defra that they expect real returns on their investment. The platitudes, lip service and hollow nod to the environment we currently receive just doesn't cut it.
Thanks to Darrel for photos of two Avon specimens taken in wonderfully natural surroundings.
Acres of wild flower meadows surround our fisheries.
An hours walk around the butterfly transect, which is a 5m wide route around Mockbeggar, despite the rubbish weather recorded close to two hundred butterflies. Those butterflies were present because of the income derived from the anglers affording a management policy aimed at producing the butterfly friendly meadows.
A cold, cold morning. Cold in respect of the news of the referendum vote, which I feared would leave me cold if it turned out to be negative. I have to say I was surprised, as I had hoped for a more encompassing vote that looked beyond our own narrow horizons. In reality I shouldn't have been surprised at the negativity as I am always ranting about the GB public and their total lack of respect of the river and countryside. Having said that I now have to keep my fingers crossed that when Europe give us our marching orders we don't throw out the EU legislation that currently protects our rivers and countryside. The WFD and the Habs Directive are almost the sole protector of our environment since the UK Government reneged on its responsibilities under the C&W Act and the S&FWF Act. What's the chance of the Treasury funding the protection of the environment properly with all this new found wealth we will have after our weekly hospital!
I did hear from one of our anglers, who was equally as disappointed as I with the result, he was of the view that anyone over 60 should not have been permitted a vote on the future of the next generations. I have to say that I find that idea has considerable merit, although it would have included both of us. The baby boomer generation has a great deal to answer for in its headlong hedonistic pursuit of self interest for which I doubt our grandchildren will thank us!
“I am therefore leaving immediately for Nepal, where I intend to live as a goat” - Edmund Blackadder - Ink & Capability 87.
On a brighter note, this is where we are coming from. It may be a repeat show but it makes me feel better.
These are the meadows that surround the lakes and now spread out onto the islands, swathes of flowers just crying out for some sunshine. The bramble banks are at last coming into bloom which bring a further source of nectar for our butterflies and bees.
One of those flower dependent insects, the psychedelic monochrome wonder that is the Marbled White, the acres of clover, trefoil and silver weed in a lower layer and the flower spider I have come to know quite well over the last ten days.
There seems to be an awful lot of procreating going on in the insect world at the moment. I'm amazed the world isn't over run with Long-horned Beetles, every time I see one its humping! I suppose its something to pass the time with all this wet weather!
Having just walked over and cast my referendum vote, in the damp miserable weather, I thought I'd put these two that I took a couple of days ago as a reminder of brighter times.
Peter Littleworth with a sparkling example of the grilse that are currently with us. These grilse are a good size for the early 1SW fish in that they are in the 7 to 8 pound class, which hopefully indicates they have found some good high seas feeding during their year away from their natal home.
Rob Sly admiring another one of those magnificent Avon chub; in this case a couple of ounces under six. The river is looking spot on after yesterday's rain with the colour fining down nicely. The coloured water also seems to have moved the salmon as we continue to catch at a steady rate. "Its that man again" Paul managed a further two fish today taking him to over twenty for the season. I stopped at Ibsley to have a look at the river at three this afternoon. and as I peered over the parapet Paul had just arrived and was trotting a shrimp down the pool. As he was calling up to me he had seen nothing in the ten minutes he had been there, a fish moved in the pool. Obviously a fish disturbed by a previous cast so a quick change of depth on the float and next trot he was in. I enjoyed doing the honours with the net especially as the hooks dropped out as I engulfed the fish in the mesh. Ten minutes rest and these coloured fish are keen to be on their way. Despite the appearance of the fish in the photo there would appear to be a lot of fresh fish in the system with the first bright grilse being caught at the weekend. We are now past eighty for the fishery, a number I could never have even hoped for when we set out on the syndicate adventure. A further amazing salmon season in the bag!
The rain stopped and the sun did its best to break through for a couple of hours after lunch. The butterflies were quick out of the blocks to catch up on lost time and the flower meadows were soon alive with them. Along with a Flower Spider that was also making the most of the dry conditions and newly opened flowers to attract her dinner.
The changeable, often humid conditions seem to be to the liking of one other valley inhabitant when the Scarlet Tigers appeared on the wing. In one small area of margins at Ibsley I counted 37 Scarlet Tigers emerge from the Comfrey and nettles.
You will have seen this man grinning over the top of a huge chub on here before. Thanks again to syndicate member Kenny Parsons for sending the pix and report of this amazing 6.15 spawned out chub. Absolutely stupendous fish, well done Kenny. The middle shot is another orchid. I know I said it would be the last shot of the Common spotted and the Souther marsh orchids, that didn't include the pyramidal though! The final shot is of a Fallow deer fawn doing its best to remain unseen. If you come across any such fawns please give them as wide a berth as possible to avoid them being abandoned by the nervous does.
I took this from Ibsley Bridge yesterday as I watched Paul playing his fish, as Graham Barker waited patiently with the net. Its an odd photo in that it shows a cottage on the banks of the Avon, one of only two that are close to the eleven miles of the Somerley fishery. Its odd as it doesn't capture the proximity of the A338 with all its attendent traffic that runs immediately in front of the cottage and to those of us who are aware, spoils the otherwise rural idyll. Even given that intrusion of the modern world into our valley sanctuary it does have a definite appeal in that it captures perhaps the true essence of the Hampshire lowland rivers and their close association with the rural comunities that are dotted along their length.
Thanks to Oliver Johnson for getting in touch, he turned out to be the angler who photographed Stephen's salmon yesterday. As for Oliver's rumoured brace of barbel they were very definitely a reality and along with a smaller brethren a great way to open ones account for the new season. It would seem the barbel have spawned out completely, which from everyone perspective is good news. Having got the spawning out of the way without disturbance they can now settle down to feed and recuperate throughout the rest of the summer.
Thanks to Oliver for the photos of his brace from yesterday. They were a matching pair at 11.10 which is a great way to start the season.
The only other news of the river coarse season I have to date is from syndicate member Dominic Longley who opened his new river season yesterday evening with some traditional Avon trotting. Great fun by the sound of it with plenty of Dace and Chub in numbers that proved impossible to count and pleasingly the Grayling still seem to be present in good numbers. With the weed yet to get going there are plenty of swims to enjoy some great trotting, which I really must take advantage of as I always enjoy my Avon trotting. The other very real benefit of trotting reports are that they allow a glimpse of the year classes of the up and coming stock. With reports such as Dominic's it would point to the Avon being in great shape.
The salmon continue to oblige for Paul with a fine fish in the 20 pound class falling for his third cast of the day at Ibsley this lunchtime. I arrived on the scene after the fish had been on for ten minutes and a pretty dance had been the battle to that point with runs almost down to the hatches and up through the arches of the road bridge. Paul eventually gained the upper hand and a great looking cock fish came to the net. Well done Paul, further proof of your commitment if any more were needed.
Looks like trouble ahead! All ended well in the end as Paul poses with his reward.
I'll leave you with a thought about the imminent EU referendum vote. Those of you that have followed the perilous path of Avon salmon over the last decade or two will remember the WSRT action that brought about the removal of the Irish west coast driftnet fishery. An industry that intercepted Avon salmon on their return from the high seas feeding grounds to spawn. When we first decided to investigate the use of the European Habitats Directive to prevent the exploitation of Avon salmon we approached several prominent UK political and environmental people for their views and support. Without exception EA board members, politicians and ministers, Defra officials, all came back with totally negative and dismissive responses. Despite the negativity and lack of any support from the very UK bodies that we might have been on our side we pressed on with a formal complaint to the EU Commission for the Environment. Fortunately for the WSRT and lowland chalkstream salmon we had Brian Marshall with time, commitment and the tenacity to take that complaint forward.
The outcome is well known, in the salmon world at least, our complaint being accepted by the Environment Commission who in turn took it to the full EU Commission who similarly supported our argument and instructed Ireland to cease its activities. Half a dozen guys sat in a Wiltshire pub had taken on a national government and closed an unsustainable multimillion pound industry. It didn't cost the millions that UK justice requires these days, we did it despite the UK Government and its regulators dismissive views.
There are numerous examples of EU environmental legislation underpinning the very existence of our remaining wildlife and wilderness. Be it through the conservation SAC designations, bathing water requirements or the Habitats Directive, which our current government is doing its best to undermine, without it the future of our environment and rivers is extremely bleak.
I will not bore you, or depress you, with my personal views of the future suffice to say in common with such men as Einstein and Churchill I agree with proponents of a more global community. I admit there are problems of bureaucracy and efficiency in the EU, best dealt with from within, the consequences of throwing the baby out with the bath water leaves me cold.
I find June the 16th quite a stressful experience these days. With the start of the coarse river season, Meadow and Kings-Vincents opening its gates and the first day of the salmon bait fishing there are a lot of people about and plenty of scope for hic cups and cock ups. The salmon anglers had the pick of the fishing from what news I have heard so far. The photo above shows Stephen Hutchinson with his second of the day a 13 pound fresh cock fish. He was pipped to the post for the honours today by Paul Greenacre who had managed to land his eighteenth fish of the season as he was netting his fourth fish of the day. The photo of Stephen was taken by a nearby coarse angler who I believe had landed two double figure barbel. If you were that angler and read this I'd love to know your total for the day and whether the barbel had spawned out completely. The middle shot is of a newly emerged Meadow Brown of which there were more than thirty on the transect this morning before the heavy down pours that began at lunchtime. The orchids, which are Common spotted and Southern Marsh, are almost over and this shot will probably be the last we will see of them in the coming weeks. What today's salmon have achieved is in passing last years total of 72 fish, making this another exceptional year. It would seem the theory, according the the EA salmon abundance report, that August was the critical month in salmon production might need a little rethink. I think the member who started the day in tradional fashion, seeking a tench, had the right idea and if my info is correct his efforts were rewarded with a fine brace of fish. Well done that man, perfect opening day.
All set? I have just returned from a round of the lakes and a look at the river to see that all is well for the start tomorrow. I did have a couple of swimmers earlier, which I can put under the ignorant category so no real damage done, apart from that all is looking well. There are half a dozen members awaiting midnight to start their campaign on Meadow, reminiscent of the magic days of a June 16th opening, before the close season was done away with. The carp had a go at spawning last week, whether they have finished I can't say. What I can say is that the lakes have taken on that dark brooding look which often makes for a difficult start. Lets hope the weather plays ball and the fish come on the feed in confident fashion.
The river is looking in fine condition, good flow and reduced weed growth, hopefully allowing plenty of options for tomorrows start. As with the carp in the lakes the barbel and chub have spawned and moved back to their normal summer haunts. If they have completed their spawning weights will be down but the fish will be less susceptible to stress and handling damage. Having said that please bear in mind they have had a stressful few weeks so gently, gently please.
I've been out with the strimmer and strimmed for miles and miles. With the river opening and Somerley Lakes also about to open its gate I've been hard at it. As many of you know I thoroughly enjoy strimming as it produces a finished article at the end of the day, which in my job is an all too rare experience. Many of my tasks take months to come to fruition taking a great deal of satisfaction out of the prolonged projects. I always look back with pleasure to see the finished paths and swims looking neat and tidy after six or seven hours of sweat and horse flies.
Over the years my approach to clearing paths has changed considerably. Thirty years ago we cleared as wide an area as we could to afford unfettered access to the water. Consideration for the dependent wildlife of the cut areas was not high on the agenda. Over the intervening years as our agricultural practices have destroyed 90% of our countryside every last natural sanctuary has dramatically increased in ecological value. To that end paths have become narrower and are not surfaced. You may have to get wet legs as bordering vegetation sags into the paths when water logged and even a little muddy if that wet spell continues. I also leave the length of the grass and scrub stubble, which I still cut, a little longer as the bottom two or three inches of the grassland is alive with a multitude of creatures. Three inch stubble avoids decapitating the dozens of toads and frogs out and about in the recent wet days. Slow worms and snakes on the sunny days, Bank and Water voles plus a myriad of invertebrates a real “Honey I've shrunk the Kids” world, worthy of a natural history programme all of its own.
Narrow paths through the meadows widening only at the swims.
One of those myriad invertebrates are the damselflies which along with the dragonflies are now out in force when the weather permits. The tall grass and lake margins are bejewelled with their magnificence, clouds of Blue, Blue tailed, Large Red, Azure and my favourite the Red-eyed. They always remind me of some of the night fishermen that emerge from their bivvy cocoons early in the morning, after a sleepless night unhooking bream.
A Red-eyed or Carpy Damselfly.
There is another side to all this strimming in that apart from the horse flies there are other dangers awaiting the unwary! Tendinitis, cricked necks, worn out hip joints and strimmers dick! The latter condition is similar to joggers nipple only in this case brought about through the diagonal webbing of the harness rubbing on ones nether regions. Be warned there are hidden risks in this countryside idyll. I was considering putting up a pic to illustrate the severity of the latter condition but thought better of it as my mother sometimes looks in on the diary.
Whilst I was waiting to see the brilliant Sea lamprey spawning sequence on Spring Watch I was interested to see the impact on Avocets of the Black-headed gulls at Minsmere. You never know perhaps NE will get its act together and stamp on the gull colonies encouraged by the Wildlife Groups within the Avon Valley SAC/SSSI. I wont hold my breath but the gulls eating Lapwing and Little ringed plover will have more chance of getting rid of this deliberate change or regime than our continually ignored fishery concerns.
Odds and ends today in that I am busy continuing to get the river ready for the start of the coarse season and the opening of Meadow Lake on the 16th.
I must just add a word of caution to the salmon rods in that the river water temperature is within a degree of the cut-off point for fishing. As you will all be aware at 19 degrees c we stop salmon fishing for the welfare of the fish. Keep an eye on the Knappmill fish counter website where the temperature all the fisheries keep to is displayed on the home page. If that temperature record is over 19 degrees we stop.
Catches have slowed dramatically over the last week with only a couple of fish being landed. I fear we may have seen the best of the fishing but keep your fingers crossed we get a rainy weekend that will drop the temperature back into the comfort zone.
The doe has a fawn tucked away in the scrub behind her and she was making the most of a quiet moment to enjoy the warm sunshine in the meadow. I've put up another shot of a Painted Lady in that I need to explain my previous comment about them being European. Those that we see at this time of year are all migrants and may well have flown in from as far away as North Africa. Such a flight, against the northerly winds that we have endured in recent weeks, on those delicate almost transparent wings I find simply staggering. The Small Pearl Bordered fritillary I put up because I like them! This one is not I'm afarid from the sites we are monitoring in the Forest but a site close to Salisbury on the Hants/Wilts border. Thankfully that doesn't make it any less of a delight to see. The last pic is a juvenile Greater-spotted Woodpecker peeping from its hole. Their clammer for food can be heard in almost every wood on the estate at the moment, which would seem to indicate a good year for the woodpeckers at least.
A couple of photos for the stillwater anglers in the form of Paul Powell with a 30+ and Julian Ward with a middle 20 female mirror. This fish is one of the original stock put into Mockbegger more than twenty five years ago and is showing her age as she's looking tired after her recent spawning activities.
The beauty of our wild flowers wellillustrated in this Southern Marsh Orchid.
The European ladies arrived today.
I spent the day giving the salmon pools the final clip of the season, which didn't allow for any time to provide photos for the diary. As a result I have put up a couple more shots from the weekend that show the meadows looking glorious. The Green veined white was one of very few butterflies that have arrived to make use of the fields in these early weeks. The bee orchid was one of half a dozen that are now beginning to flower on the southern meadows, please watch where you are putting your feet as the geese and the deer are giving them a hard enough time without us treading on them.
Despite the cold north wind that refuses to move the meadow flowers are slowly making progress with the small roped off area at Mockbeggar having over fifty common spotted and southern Marsh orchids adding their splash of purple to the ox-eye backdrop.
Well all I can think is that it must have been something I said! Where is everybody? I know we are pretty busy on the Park at the moment and the place looks a little like a bomb site but that doesn't effect access to the river. Since the beginning of spinning rod effort has dropped off dramatically, which is a great pity as today's results would point to there being quite a few fresh fish in the system. On Saturday I didn't see anyone at all on the fishery and even Paul G has missed three or four days.
For those of you that are not finding a visit sufficiently exciting we have positioned an adrenalin junkie type ride just behind the Fishing Lodge to pep up your day.
Whilst spinning is now permissible its not mandatory and Largue Morrison proved that point this evening when he landed a sparkling fresh hen of about 14 on a “Posh Tosh”. Also enjoying this evening was Dave Dicker after only finding time to try his hand at salmon fishing in the last month managed his first salmon in the form of a 12 pound fish from Lifelands. Here in lies a further tale in that there had been an accident up the A338 and the police had shut the road causing the usual chaos, forcing Dave to stop at the bottom end of the fishery and have a go in Lifelands. It just goes to show that if the bottom couple of miles of the fishery received a little more rod effort it might throw up a few surprises. More importantly I must add my congratulations for managing to open your account Dave. Unfortunately no one was on hand to get a photo of the occasion other than a "Fish on a Net" shot, not to worry I'm sure it will be the first of many.
I almost forgot to add Paul G's angling achievements today. I imagine the day or two away must have recharged Paul's batteries as he promptly proceeded to land a fine brace of fresh fish weighing in at 12 and 15 pounds. Well fished Paul, I think that puts you on eleven for the season to date, which is pretty good going by any standards.
Nice one Largue, that one stuck. This making us wait for the fish is not a good habit, you feel free to catch one as early as you wish next season! Paul with his second of the day for which I was on hand to do the honours with the camera.
Back to my earlier comment about access to the river, which this Friday and Saturday will be a little different. As we have the rave blocking the road just past Ellingham Bridge to get to Ashley instead of driving right up the drive and following the road around below the house, turn immediately left once over the bridge and follow the gravel track. It will take you down beside Park Pool and join the previous route just past the rifle table.
I'm sure she was finding the goings on in the Park as confusing as I was.
This blog has many regular readers and I imagine the vast majority of you would claim to feel an affinity with the natural world. The very existence of the diary was to highlight the natural wonders to be found in and about the Hampshire Avon. In doing so I often find myself looking closely at the factors that enhance and detract from the natural state of the valley. I find that getting my thoughts down in the form of this blog helps me evaluate my thinking over several years and has proven an effective means to distil many of the problems our river faces. The river that we see in all its splendour as it flows serenely through our meadows is the result of events that took place many days, weeks, months and even years in the past. The rain that fell on the forest for the most part reaches us within a couple of days. Rain that has fallen on Salisbury Plain and percolated down through the four hundred feet of natural chalk takes months to reach us. What ever the source of our water the important factor is what it brings with it in the form of nutrients and pollutants. Where it falls on a pristine unspoilt landscape we have the first step in creating a pristine unspoilt river. In that respect we have an advantage in the Avon valley as a great deal of our water arrives with us from Salisbury Plain, that has retained a considerable area of ancient downland thanks to the activities of the army. We also benefit from the acidic waters of the New Forest with is ancient grazing regime that reach us from the east. I'm not sure either area would be considered pristine but they are a great deal closer to the classification than many other rivers in the south enjoy. Most of our problems begin when the water has left the Plain or the Forest and meets the demands put on it by society. Be those demands on our river result from agriculture with its pesticides, fertilizers and destruction of the countryside, industry and society that demand its water and its use as a means to dispose of its waste. Combined they present a potentially toxic mix that should not be in the river, if we are serious about its long-term sustainability society has to have a long look at the value we place on water and the way we currently mistreat our rivers. It doesn't take a genious to realise the link between the survival of the Marsh Fritillary high on the chalk downlands and the well being of our river in the lower Avon Valley.
Martin Down a small island time-capsule in a sea of artificially enriched arable land. Tens of thousands of hectares of downland have been lost to agriculture in its rush to claim arable subsidies. The thin soils now dependent on artificial fertilizers to remain productive, fertilizers that eventually arrive in our rivers.
Adonis blue, Common and Small Blue, along with the Marsh Fritillary above, all found in good numbers at Martin Down.
Same lie different rod. This just goes to prove that Tide, Time and salmon wait for no man. When I pressed the shutter Stephen was holding a fresh 12 pound hen, just how it managed its escape act I have no idea but the end result is that Stephen does not have a record of his capture being returned. I don't think he will be too disappointed as todays fish came on the heels of a good brace yesterday, making seven so far this season, which will no doubt soften the blow of the lost photo opportunity.
A good day on the river with Simon Delaney finding a 12 pound fish to celebrate his birthday and Mike Tolley landing our fiftieth salmon of the season in the form of a fresh 18 pounder from Woodside. The only photos I have of either of these fish are "fish in a net" photos so I have put up a shot of Paul with a grilse he landed from below Ellingham Bridge yesterday lunchtime as I was passing.
Just a few of the insects that I came across over the last day or two in the valley. The hornet was sheltering from the rain under the nettle leaf and having a quick wash and brush-up whilst she waited for the weather to improve. The Common Blue was the first of the season over at Mockbeggar and the Cardinal Beetle is always an eye catching bug.
Three of the broods from the boxes on the side of the house, they've had a good Spring judging by the size of the broods. The odd reflections are due to the photo being taken from my desk through the double glazing.
The cygnets in the first photo hatched yesterday and they belong to the Mockbeggar pair. At least two other clutches hatched in recent days, just how many of the 18 pairs that have territories on Somerley will be succesful we will find out soon. The poor photo of the roe and her twin fawns I have put up because we were worried about this pair not having seen them for a week or two. The older doe that shares the meadows with this one has been present with her single fawn but the twins have been missing so it was pleasing to see them today. I know one of the syndicate will be particularly pleased they are both well as he has quite an attachment with this pair!
Paul with his second of the week, keeping up his high strike rate. A shot of the new growth now springing up around the lake margins dispelling the last remnants of winter. The new growth also provided cover for our second brood of Mandarins, there were fifteen newly hatched ducklings with the duck and drake that disappeared into the reeds seconds before I dug out the camera. Finally Russ with a 29.10 Common which was reward for a short visit mid week he managed to fit into his busy schedule. One of the old original brood fish was landed last week by Frank Lamb, a mirror that weighed in at 26.8. A little lower in weight than I had expected they might be, which I put down to having to compete with the hoards in Mockbeggar. Frank has promised to send me a shot of his capture which is well worth seeing as she's a good looking fish.
If the activity of the valley bird-life is any measure I think I must collect a few Mayfly and try them. The fresh breeze at lunchtime was blowing the flies from the river where Wagtails, Chaffinch, Swifts, Swallows and Martins swoop on the hapless flies as soon as they emerge and attempt their first flight away from the river. If they failed to reach the shelter of the marginal vegetation within seconds they became part of the diet of one of the valley birds. The efforts they will go to in attempting to catch the fleeing flies suggests a delicacy second to none. The one bird that is constantly present and I find difficult to accept is the Black-headed Gull. They should not be in the valley as they are a recent introduction of the wildlife trust across the road and their constant attention must have an adverse impact on our hatch. There are now three or four hundred of the wretched shite-hawks that combined with the rainbow hoards leave very few to dance in the lee of the trees in the evening.
Images of the last day or two starting with the Tree pipits I mentioned recently currently nesting in the forestry areas of the Estate. The Gulls that predate the threatened up-wing flies in enormous numbers and a shot of a Little Ringed Plover that was trying to protect its mate from the attention of a pair of gulls. Its odd that if we so much as disturb a LRP we would have Natural England on our necks within hours yet these massive artificially introduced populations of gulls are allowed to threaten and predate indigenous populations of invertebrates and birds with impunity; such interpretation and regulation make an ass of the entire environmental protection legislation.
The start of the spinning season coincided with teh arrival of the temperature triggered algal bloom. The water visibility remains okay but there is certainly a grubby tinge creping into the equation. I'm afraid I have no fishy photo's having been away from the river for most of the weekend, other than chasing canoes and trespassers about of course. I have spent a great deal of my time in teh allotment and counting Woodcock, which involves getting eaten by the midges that have certainly enjoyed and flourished in the warmth of the last week. I do have a couple of fish in net photos from Stephen Hutchinson who added to his tally, as did Paul Shutler but the majority of rods seem to be in conservation mode! If we'd hung on to half the fish lost this season we would be well over one hundred fish in the book. I don't know what to suggest other than losses are part and parcel of salmon angling. If we were to land every fish hooked we would loose that nerve jangling, stomach seizing excitment of the fight so perhaps its just as well.
One or two shots from my travels in the valley and the forest in the form of a Broad-bodied chaser, one of the many Terns that are feeding on the river and the first Goosander brood of the year. The benefit of the Woodcock and Nightjar counts is that it takes me to parts of the estate I rarely visit. The forestry sections have an entirely different flora and fauna making a stark contrast to the lushness of the river valley. Different birds with Woodlark and Tree pipit nesting alongside the Stonechats. Plentiful hares, roe and fallow deer plus nowadays munjac are becoming quite a common sight.
A good butterfly weekend in the Forest with the Pearl bordered fritillary flying in good numbers.
Proud dad joined by his new family, didn't she do well.
Never let it be said I don't know how to show a girl a good night out! Dusk drawing in as we headed out across the forest to the site where we were to count roding Woodcock. The site is located in the shelter of a wooded valley where the midge population beggars belief, hence Anne's peculiar choice in glad rags!
Today's rain wasn't sufficient to bring the river up but with the Spring tide at the weekend and overcast conditions forecast for the week ahead we will hopefully see the salmon continue to run. Whether it was the bright conditions or the run has slowed down I wouldn't like to say but the catch rate has fallen quite dramatically. Having said that I have three to report in recent days with Guy Edwards landing his second salmon and our fortieth of the season and regulars Colin Morgan and Stephen Hutchinson adding to their already enviable successes this year. We certainly can't complain about the season to date but it is at this time of year I become a little nervous in anticipation of the weather we might receive in the next week or two. Fishermen are a fickle lot, I spend all Spring moaning about the wet ground and as soon as we get a spell of decent weather I'm praying for rain. There's no pleasing some!
Four general shots about the estate, in the first case the bluebells that are worth one more photo to record their beauty. A young Tawny out and about on walk about, a habit young Tawny Owls adopt as they prepare to leave the nest. The meadows coming into life with the Meadow Saxifrage covering the bank north of Ibsley Bridge and one more butterfly shot in the shape of a female Orange Tip, note it doesn't have orange wing tips.
As the photo below clearly shows the wretched things are back again in their thousands. I'm not even sure how long ago the last lot escaped. My previous entry was on the 19th April but they had been in the river for some time when I did that piece. Irrespective of the exact dates what it has managed is to span the period when we might expect our smolt to be making their way down the river. It was the hope of seeing smolt that made me stop and look this morning as I could see lots of rises about the hatches, which is a common practice of salmon smolt as they gather before moving off downstream. Alas today's rises were created by this hoard of escapees, which set me to thinking about the possible consequences of the interaction between the two.
The history of rainbow escapes on the Avon goes back decades and we have become somewhat cynical about the action on the part of the fish farms and the ability of the EA to do anything about them. Is it easier and cheaper to lift a screen and flush lost orders and sub standard fish into the river than pay a couple of people to net and process fifty quids worth of fertilizer? If I were to stock a rainbow or even a diploid brown in the Avon at Somerley I would be dragged through the courts the day after I put them in. I have to admit the EA are operating with one arm tied behind their backs as they are not responsible for the regulation of fish farms, they are only involved when the things get into the wild. Its Cefas that are supposed to regulate these aquaculture industries and they are simply not interested or incompetent, I've not worked out which yet.
It must have been fifteen years or more ago I caught dozens of the things on a number 3 long blade Mepp and opened them up to find several species of fish there in contained, loach, bullhead, cyprinid fry and salmonid parr. Immediately a call to the EA to express my alarm was met with the hopeful optimism of the fisheries officers who told me to get hold of about fifty and they would send them off for gut sample analysis. If, as I had found, they contained fry and particularly salmon or bullhead, both of which I have found, they would have a strong argument to take on the trout farms. I duly took a fly rod and headed for the slack water above the hatches to remove fifty on the Sawyer bug. A task achieved in double quick time as the bug is a real killer for escapees, I think it has something of the trout pellet about it! Anyhow, fifty landed and delivered to Blandford for the next stage of the process we went back to our everyday business. Several weeks later, in accordance with EA reaction times back came the report from the lab, they were empty apart from a mush of fly life! What? I was staggered, I just couldn't believe it, not twenty four hours earlier I had caught dozens that contained fish? Then the penny dropped, the earlier fish had been caught throughout the fishery on a Mepp, a fish imitation. The sample had come from above the hatches in the quieter water where the trout were feeding on flies. No wonder they didn't have any fry in them. Back to the EA to confess my stupidity and ask for a further sample to be analysed only to find the available funding was exhausted. C'est la vie, pike bait it is then.
Where does all this leave us today as the escapes continue and the risk to the designated species of the Avon SSSI/SAC remains undiminished. The risk is not restricted to the actual designated species being consumed for lunch but also the competition for food, the loss of territory on the limited suitable salmonid habitat available in the Avon, plus of course disease and pathogens from the scabby brutes. There is an obvious risk and under Defra's own interpretation of the EU Habitats Directive the precautionary principle should be adopted. Which it obviously ain't!
What about identifying the guilty farms from DNA signatures and dealing with their illegal activities via that route? Not that easy I fear, most trout farms use ova from similar sources without significant DNA variation allowing identification.
What about food signatures being used to uniquely mark each farms stock? The representative body of the trout farms the BTA was soon squealing about that one, human food chain yada yada. I don't think “strontium 90” is used any more but Defra/Cefas have no desire to rock their cosy boat either.
The interesting scenario arises when you consider that despite their different responsibilities both the EA and Cefas are the same “Government officials” as seen from the perspective of English common law. I suppose the likelihood of the EA taking Cefas to court for bungling incompetence is pretty remote. Although I would find it highly amusing. What if a complaint were raised with the EU Commission for the Environment on the grounds the UK government was failing to protect the designated species of the conservation areas? The EU telling Defra to get its arse in gear and get its act together would be more than simply amusing it might even prove effective?
I better stop this before I get my soap box out and start ranting about bloody trout farms and water companies doing their utmost to destroy our rivers. And I'll read this again later to correct any fliers that may have slipped in there as I bashed this out before dinner!
"They're Back" (Text to Follow)
In the first photo you can see about nine or ten escapees, in actual fact I could count over thirty when viewed with the poloroids whilst stood on the bank. The second shot is in way of an apology to the moth fraternity as I have described them in the past on here as totally confusing creatures that choose to come out at night, that's the moths not those that study the creatures, mind you they do that at night as well! Now I'm not sure to whom or what I'm apologising! Anyway a sad generalisation on my part as this little gem was flying about with the sun on its back up on Butser yesterday.
A day off and I decided on a day away. I dread sunny days as it seems to bring the worst of the problems into the valley. Where did I decide to retreat and hide? I headed for Butser Hill on the other side of the county. You may wonder just how I can justify including that in my blog re the Avon Valley? Well its easy. The Avon, in my long association with it, I have always considered to be the “Hampshire Avon” and Butser's in Hampshire. Pretty flimsy ground that one. I could I suppose just widen my remit and as its my blog I can put what I like on it. Not quite the ethos I seek to promote but I do have an ace up my sleeve in the form of Mark Tutton, my guide for the day. Mark is my undeniable link to the Avon in being a Somerley syndicate member and that's good enough for me. Mark also happens to know Butser like the back of his hand so accompanied by Floss, Mark's spaniel, we set of in search of The Duke of Burgundy.
Mark and Floss in the wonderful backdrop of Butser Hill.
A Grizzled Skipper and two shots of the same Green Hairstreak with antenna up and antenna down, I couldn't decide which I preferred.
Finally a couple of shots of the Duke of Burgundy that appeared right on cue. A fabulous day and thanks again to Mark whose detailed knowledge of Butser made it all appear so easy.
The carp in the North Bay at Mockbeggar were busy with their spawning, whilst those in the Lagoon at Meadow were more concerned with basking.
Long May it reign, May that is, its simply wonderful. Warmth, every pastel green in the palette and a valley buzzing with life of every shape imaginable. Out at first light counting warblers, a morning strimming pathways through the now rapidly growing nettles and a butterfly transect at lunchtime. Call in at the Lodge to catch up with the salmon rods and an afternoon sorting out the work schedules for next week. An evening walk down through Lifelands from the lakes and a Woodcock recce at sunset rounds off the day perfectly. I have been involved in these tasks in one form or another for the best part of twenty five years yet I never fail to find pleasure and wonders that would keep me coming back for another twenty five, it that were possible!
Don't forget the wonderful looking salmon pools down at the southern end of the estate. The tail of Lifelands Pool running directly into "Above The Cut-Through" on the left bank look magnificent. A little further downstream and "The Humps" look as if they might be hiding any number of salmon! From the look of the grass its only the odd badger that has been walking the banks down that end. Whilst I appreciate there is traffic noise and the unsightly sub station a couple of hours before heading into the estate has rto be worth a shot.
The sunshine has brought the fish into the shallow lagoon on Meadow Lake to enjoy the warmth; unfortunately most of them were bream!
Good numbers of tadpoles massing in the shallow margins, fox cubs appearing above ground in many of the woods and Azure damselflies hatching in good numbers all seemingly enjoying today's sunshine .
You can see where the designers got the idea of the swing-wing fighter from as they come and go from the boxes apparently non the worse for yesterday's traumatic events.
Mike Robson with a 15 pounder and a 10 pound fish for Julian Mahoney. From a fishery management perspective, contented fishermen, perfect well done both.
May is beginning to feel more like it should every day and the bird world is appreciating the change. The Manadarins are a little odd in that the duck is not sitting. Two if not three ducks elsewhere on the estate have disappeared on to the nests leaving their drakes to sit about kicking their heals whilst they await their return. The Great Crested Grebe are going through the courtship rituals again as they look to sit a second brood, the first disappearing a day or two ago. Finally the geese are hatching on all the lakes with at least six broods of Canada's about, plus two broods of Greylags. I recognise they are not particularly favoured in the conservation world but they are attractive at this stage and they provide us with some good wildfowling come the winter.
Deja vu. If you look back a couple of years you will see the first occasion one of our returning Swifts missed the entrance to her box and hit the woodwork dropping back into our pond. As with the first occasion all ended happily as a quick sesssion under the hair dryer soon had our bird dried out and back in the air.
I met with the EA, NE plus a conservation trust member yesterday to discuss clearing further oxbows to create fry sanctuaries. Today I thought I would call in on one we had created several years ago to see how it was faring. It certainly looked the part and was full of fry, mostly minnows I imagine but proof of the effectiveness of the sanctuary. The area extends back into the reed bed for about 100m and provides homes for numerous Sedge warblers as an added bonus.
The left bank of Sydney Pool is probably as far from a car park as any pool on the estate. Despite the hike it has produced some good fish and good fishing for those that are prepared to walk the extra mile. This year has seen the number of fish it has produced jump considerably which necessitated me getting down there to clear the banks of as much accumulated debris as I could manage. For the time being we have decided to leave the tree that arrived in last winter's floods. It has restricted the flow through the first bend beautifully, providing a smooth even glide that is proving popular with this years fish. I have taken out the trees that had fallen into the water at the tail of the pool making it fishable right through to the old tail below the fish hut. If you have the time it looks perfect and I'm sure its holding fish right through to the tail so get on down there and search those the hidden depths for that elusive Avon monster.
I love Bank Holidays! Only three sets of poachers if you count the same lot I caught once at Ibsley and once at Ringwood. The forest roads are festoon with cans, bottles and dog shit in plastic bags and the kids have been clambering about on the control tower at Mockbeggar again. Add the various walkers and spotty “youff's” trying to outwit the event security teams via the river it was about what I've come to expect on a holiday weekend!
I should add thanks to those that phoned to let me know of our various visitors it is very much appreciated.
One other effect of this bank holiday is that it is often the busiest of the year for fishermen being out and about on the estate. There were fourteen anglers on Mockbeggar at one time which is crowded by our usual standards. Not quite so dire when you consider there are fifty acres and forty swims to chose from but the place looks crowded when you can actually see another angler. The river had ten or a dozen anglers out today which is also more than we usually see but with over eleven miles of bank, fifty plus pools and over one hundred lies that again doesn't exactly make for a crowded fishery. When things are busy take a little extra care and if in doubt the rules are available on the diary syndicate web-pages. I did notice that Mark Gledhill took a fish down at Lifelands today, which would seem to prove a point. Well done Mark, good fish. Well done also to Jamie Hallahan and George Hudson for their results today. George's fish appears to have been fin clipped, which is surprising as I'm not aware of any stocking of the local rivers. I'm not sure if they're still chopping up smolt down on the Frome I'll have to contact some one down south to see what I can discover.
It made for a good if somewhat busy weekend especially when I add the time spent getting to grips with the garden. The cabbage plants are looking well now safely ensconced in their new home, many thanks Tony hope to see you in a day or two if the weather warms as promised.
At last we have made it to May and between the showers this evening the valley was as near perfect as one could wish. Grannom still pouring upstream after a fortnight of fits and starts. The Kingcups staining the meadows yellow and the songs and calls of countless birds filling the air with sound. The wind almost dropped and I didn't even feel cold, most definitely my favourite month.
Two of today's fish with Jamie Hallahan's first Somerley salmon and George Hudson with what looks like a finned clipped example.
There you go Adam, I told you the poor buggers were starving to death.
Here's a nice sequence showing Guy Edwards landing his first salmon ably assisted by Danny, yesterday's hero, on the net and Largue's doing the video whilst the fish is rested before unhooking. I'm pleased to say I was onhand to take a pic or two with the accompaniment of our rave as backing "sound" music doesn't quite cut it! It was a grand scene to be party to with Guy over the moon with opening his account. Congratulations Guy and may there be many more. I must also add my congratulations to Richard Murawski for opening his Somerley account with a fine 14 pounder, nice one Richard richly deserved.
A good day from start to finish with a completed butterfly transect, some good birds showing off with a Black Kite being the star of the day and a fine walk in the Forest this afternoon.
I almost forgot, I knew there was something else I should mention! Danny Taylor landed an absolutely cracking 30+ salmon this afternoon. Brilliant fish Danny, most definitely that one had your name on it, many congratulations a fish of lifetime. From what I hear it was also a fine peace of planned and determined angling, the Banana Fly did the damage and anyone with the confidence to fish such a contraption deserves all he catches. No doubt a tale for future anglers to aspire to and dream of.
We continued with the dropped fish syndrome in other quarters with one rod dropping two good fish and eventually getting one to stick that turned out to be a barbel that weighed over sixteen pounds. I very nearly broke with my recent rule of not publishing photos of out of season fish as the pics of the fish are beautiful. Thats one I'll keep an eye out for when she's back in season. Please be careful with these big coarse fish as they are heavy with spawn at the moment, back in as soon as possible with minimum stress please.
Danny with his stunning fish, I need say no more.
I have trimmed up the brambles at the head of Coomer Pool, which now make the neck into the pool fishable, WITH CARE. Don't try and take the bank at a run as the gravel is a little loose, liable to slip. I notice in the book that Colin Morgan landed another fish today, his third fish of the season, well done Colin keep up the good work. Just a nice shot of the primrose and cowslip currently defying the cold to put on a brave show over at Mockbeggar.
Looking in at the Lodge this morning I found that Colin Goh had landed his second fish of the season yesterday in the shape of a 17 pounder, well done Colin nice fish. Whilst at the Lodge Peter Littleworth and Paul Shutler arrived from further upstream where Pete had managed an eleven pounder to open his account. Excellent news, well done Peter, just reward for your efforts.
Peter with the rewards for his efforts with an eleven pounder that stuck! What have I been doing after work for a couple of hours this evening? Out for a walk in the Forest with Anne counting flowers. They're easier than birds, as they don't fly off and they come out in all but the foulest of weather. They are also easier than the butterflies that are the reason behind our efforts which are very much weather dependent. The photo actually makes them look quite gawdy but in reality they are an unassuming little plant that is usually overlooked below the showy Primroses and Bluebells. Common Dog Violets are the larval food plant for one of the rarer butterflies in our area the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, its also the preferred food of the larger, Pearl Bordered Fritillary but its the smaller of the species that concerns us and which we will be looking for in a months time.
Bits and bobs as we continue with preparation for the caravans and "music" scene and planning the work for the coming weeks now the ground has started to dry out.
I must also add a well done to Stephen Hutchinson for his second salmon of the season and apart from the routine threat of violence from the local long dog runners not a great deal of the fishing front today.
A good day. Whilst we may have retained the north wind and a scattering of hail the sun came out sufficiently for me to take the opportunity to introduce a new member to Somerley. As many of you know I don't need a second invitation to show-off Somerley. The scale of the fishery is pretty daunting for a new rod and where ever possible I take an hour or two just to point new members in the right direction. I don't promise to dramatically increase the catch rate but hopefully finding the way about will be a little more relaxing and angler friendly. We also had the pleasure of being joined for our walk by two old friends of the estate, which made for a delightful hour or two; the very essence of what must make my job one of the best jobs in the world.
To add to the joys of the day we had three salmon landed with Lewis Clark opening his account and regular rod Harry Stollard taking a brace, the smaller of the two in the shape of a bright 13 pounder shown above.
A quick update as I'm pressed for time and we are busy getting the sites for the caravans and "music event" we have on site this weekend. The first photo shows the caravan meadow down at the lakes doing its best to green-up despite the cold start to the year. The second shows Paul returning a very lively cock fish which was the second of two he had yesterday.
I've been out and about counting various flora and fauna which has taken me away from the fishery for much of the day. An early start for the early BBS (Breeding Bird Survey)transect. I was on the ground before six and with the northerly wind whipping down the valley it was extremely cold but thankfully dry. I haven't uploaded the data yet but I would think it was about the norm for the early season walk with most of the residents on station and the first round of summer visitors here but regretting it on such a cold morning I would imagine. This afternoon I spent an hour out in the Forest inclosures looking for the food plant of one of our rarer butterflies. I assume its the Forestry Commission who are managing the particular area I was visiting and initial impressions are very favourable. The work to ensure the continued existence of forest clearings on which these butterflies depend has been very sensitively undertaken which deserves a pat on the back for all those involved.
Not all the birds were as easy to spot as our Mute swans.
Thanks to Wes Boyd for the photo of his guest for the day, Adam Stafford, with a 13lbs bright salmon. Lovely fish, congratulations Adam. A second thankyou for cheering me up as I was beginning to think I was never going to hear of a salmon landed ever again. Its been about ten days since we had a fish and our lost fish rate has been seriously depressing, lets hope this weekends Spring tide gets us back on track and the fish stay attached. I have cropped the photo down a little to enlarge the fish in order to show just how bright a fresh salmon is. Look at Adam's finger tips and they are perfectly reflected in the polished flank of the fish absolutely perfect mirror finish!
Thanks to Peter Littleworth for the first photo of the Hucklesbrook grass carp on the bank, which also resolved the question of just how big it was. A topic that has been discussed on here before as we speculated over its weight. It took Peter's salmon fly fairly and squarely in the mouth and put up a dramatic fight which looking at the shape of the creature doesn't surprise me. Obviously the thing shouldn't be in the Avon, hopefully its a one off and the chances of it finding a mate and a sufficiently warm spring for it to breed rate between nought and zero! The second photo is another of the harbingers of Spring in the form of the orchids beginning to struggle through the cold soil, something very frog-like about those spotted leaves. Having said that if you look back at last years diary for the same date the orchids were in about the same period of growth. One of the uses I often put the diary to is referring back to previous years to see where we are in relation to what our selective memories would have us believe. With over a decade of observations it is building into quite a handy seasonal reference. I suppose I should add the weight of the carp which pulled the scales around to nineteen and a half pounds, great fish, whatever you might make of its presence! and no, its definitely not eligible for the Avon chub record!
This give a better idea of the number of fry that have survived the winter in Mockbeggar. The shoal is somewhere in the region of thirty meters long, two meters wide and a meter deep, the numbers involved are mind bogling. The rub is we don't want them in the lake so now they have survived the winter I must look to rehouse them.
Lots more strimming today including a section of the Avon Valley Path in an effort to keep the Great British Public on the straight and narrow; what's that you said? You saw a flying pig! The second shot is the result of less than half an hour with a gold head nymph. The annual plague of piranha are still pretty thick on the ground, I wonder why we haven't got any roach fry in the Avon?
Good grief Spring is making hard work of getting here this year. Frosts and north winds just make staying warm indoors the most attractive idea. Despite her reluctance to put in an appearance those travellers that time their arrival on our shores to coincide with her fresh sprung bounty are arriving in force. Today the valley was buzzing with the sights and sounds of the new arrivals. Swallows and Martins by the dozen now seeking the hatching Alder flies and Grannom that are hiding in the lee of the willow clumps. The first Cuckoo and the first Swifts appeared at the weekend. Warbler of every hue, Reed, Sedge, Chiff chaff, willow warbler, Blackcap, all singing their hearts out, accompanying the resident Cettis, Wrens and Robins. Probably all in an effort to keep warm!
The Cuckoopint or Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) are in full bloom their lush green foliage now giving rise to the triffid like bloom. The river margins are alive with song, making the breaks in today's strimming a delight.
Today I walked the lakes as I had a butterfly transect to attempt. As it was, despite the frosty start and cold north wind, the temperatures rose sufficiently to convince the butterflies to put in an appearance. The walk also allowed me to have a look at the lakes and chat to the anglers braving the cold nights. It would seem the carp are slowly beginning to wake up and thankfully there have been one or two good catches. As for the river I haven't heard of a salmon for almost a week, which is slightly disconcerting given the wonderful condition the river is in at the present moment. I have to console myself with the fact there were several fish lost!
This morning I splashed my way out across the meadows from the lakes to see if I could reach Blashford Pool in order to give it a trim. I have to say it wasn't the most pleasant of trips but despite the mud and flooded ditches wellies were sufficient to reach the river enabling me to clean the banks for the first time this season. The first photo is looking back up Blashford Pool towards Island Run. The middle shot is the middle of the pool and the third is round the bend at the tail, looking across to "Above the Break through." They all looked magnificent this morning, all that was required would have been a salmon rod to bring the shots to life.
Recent discussion of roach with a couple of syndicate members persuaded me to visit the fish fence where last autumn hundreds of thousands of roach fry were using the netting as a shield. It would seem they all made it throughteh winter as there were still hundreds of thousands crammed behid every available run of fencing. The photo doesn't constitute a fraction of the total shoal. Just what will become of them remains to be decided.
Another good looking 30+ Common from Mockbeggar for Jack. Well done Jack, great looking fish.
On the salmon front another fish for Patrick Banks in the shape of a fourteen pounder, which came on his fourth visit to add to the fish on his second and the fish lost on this third! Congratulation Patrick, nice one or should I say two! I know that will seem a cruel trick of fate for some of the regulars who have yet to have Lady Luck smile on them but never fear, your day will come and you will truly savour the moment and enjoy the capture even more for all your efforts. That's what I tell myself at least!
Whilst on the subject of salmon I have put up a comprehensive length to weight chart on the salmon syndicate members page. Its the Atlantic Salmon Federation chart which gives a brief explanation of how they arrived at the figures and how they might apply to you specific river. This chart reflects the Somerley fish fairly well and is the chart that we apply, all ways bearing in mind there might be a variance of a pound or two in exceptional circumstances.
Playing God is an odd sort of task but our current antics would have us believe that is the role we are asked to play. It is the sight of the predated Blackbirds egg that gave rise to these sacrilegious thoughts as I considered just what might have been responsible. I would hazard a guess it was the Magpie that sat in the top of the alder 100m away watching my progress but that's not a given. There are a host of other local birds that would make short work of any nests they might come across. Whether those nests contained eggs or juveniles their fate would have been the same as they became part of the guilty parties diet. We are currently involved in controlling the Crows as they are impacting on the breeding waders in the water meadows. The waders enjoy a designated status under the SSSI protection and we are out there tipping the scales in their favour. It befalls the lot of Natural England to determine who will and who will not be the chosen ones. Those that fall outside this protective shield become the bad guys. Its not so simple when its a Greater -spotted Woodpecker destroying numerous broods of Blue and Great Tits. Or the Buzzards as they also take the Lapwing juveniles, or the Moorhen that take the Great-crested Grebes clutch. They are all doing what comes naturally, it is only when we humans take sides does one party become deemed good and the other bad! As for the Blackbird egg and the Thrush it just provides an illustration of Nature being red in tooth and claw. I'm not sure whether we are representative of the country but our Blackbird, Song and Mistle thrush population is burgeoning. Does any swing in a population not impacted by man require our taking sides. I'm not saying who is right and who is wrong, I put up that piece simply as food for thought as to the human role in the valley. There's quite a bit more I can add on that subject, perhaps now is not the best time to go off on some philosophical sole searching of our role. The everyday hands on tasks require my more immediate attention.
I've moved the predated Blackbirds egg and the Mistle thrush up from yesterday as I didn't find time to complete the entry.
Rising water spilling over the Ibsley spillway with the first of the year's Grannom desperately attempting to migrate upstream avoiding today's gusting wind. The Hucklesbrook high and coloured after last nights heavy rain.
Colin with a fish off the rising river from Island Run. A difficult release in deep water.
Sat like Smaug on his treasure hoard this Mute swan on her nest seems a lot higher this spring, as do all the swan nests on the estate, did they know something we didn't about the wet weather we are getting.
This about sums it up for Avon Springers, simply perfection. Paul with his third in the shape of a 25+ which is also his average to date.
Sorry got that wrong, its Paul's fourth fish of the current campaign, I forgot his 12 pounder the other evening. That one messed the average up as it has now dropped to 21.25 pounds!
I'll add some action shots later.
Thanks to Anthony Philpott for the action shots showing Paul into his fish at the top of Ibsley Pool, looking back up towards Hoodies and later down the pool with Danny and Largues, who arrived on the scene after lunch, doing the honours. The middle shot shows my predecessor, Lt Col Crow after whom Hoodies is named Stan(Hoody)Crow, stood almost exactly in the spot fifty years earlier.
It remains cold, overcast and miserable, making the progress of Spring painfully slow. In many differing areas of the natural world we seem to be doing a lot of waiting. The sea water is slow to warm making the movement of fish into the channel later than we would hope. The freshwater species are in a similar mood awaiting the arrival of the warmer weather before they get their heads down. Even the salmon fishing has slowed in recent days as the clearing water and high pressure has applied the brakes on our catches. The ground has failed to warm and dry out after the winter floods, stalling the growth of the spring flowers. Without the warmth and Spring growth the butterflies are failing to appear at levels we have seen in recent years. The Spring sunshine can't come soon enough for me, I await dry ground and warm weather with bated breath.
The willow is at last producing the first real pollen load of Spring.
I seem to have spent the day shovelling gravel and digging holes in various places about the estate. Whilst I have been travelling between the different jobs I have made time to visit some of the areas of the estate that have been off limits for what seems weeks due to the high water levels. The water may have returned to the channel but it has left the mud and societies detritus spread across the entire marsh. The mud is for most part a natural process of the Avon flood plain as it scours the channel clean and deposits the silt on the surrounding water meadows and marshes. The human detritus in the shape of plastic bottles, drinks cans, shoes and handbags just further indicates what a dreadful species humans are. I trust the karma of those responsible is duly unsettled.
The floods have deposited plenty of silt and rubbish out on the flood plain. The rubbish was the result of just twenty minutes clearing an area about the size of a soccer pitch.
The cold blustery showers have sent the butterflies back into hiding and who could blame them. If you look closely around the base of the dry grass and brambles you may spot the odd one or two just waiting for the sun to return. The wild daffodils have almost finished blooming and the woods will soon fill with the green under-story of nettles and bracken. Nest building and territorial disputes are the norm and late migrants are still leaving as our summer visitors arrive to struggle with the current chilly weather. The Snipe are still with us with over fifty flushed as I walked the marsh this morning. Wisps of seven or eight were breaking cover every fifty meters or so. Curlew were feeding alongside the livestock in the northern meadows and a the Lapwing and Redshank are calling and displaying as the fields dry sufficiently to get on with their nesting. An unkindness of eight Raven, four Red Kites, Green sandpipers piping as they take flight and Cettis shouting from every suitable thicket, so its not all bad down here in the valley.
Sites to take my mind of the litter.
Whilst I was walking Hucklesbrook North I came back down the river to see if I could make any sense of the changes that might have occurred since last autumns river restoration work. I couldn't see anything conclusive but with salmon in mind a great deal of it did look very fishy. Apart from the obvious such as Hucklesbrook there are several pools that look extremely inviting. Any syndicate members feeling particularly brave or adventurous might like a morning looking at one or two of the other spots and letting us know how they fished.
Above Gorley Corner, almost as far as the pollard willow. The fish lay right under the near bank, almost beneath your feet. The middle shot is the topboundary where we join Bickton. From the boundary, all the way down to the bend some 300+ meters holds fish. I will try and get up there and pollard that willow and clear some of the brash to make it a little more fishable. In the autumn when the water is clear you will see fish in both those pools in good numbers. The final pool is beside the North Island, which is looking particularly interesting with the restriction created by the willow the pool is looking far more alive. As with above Gorley the fish lay from mid stream to the near bank. In the 70's and early 80's all these pools produced fish, lets hope the recent work has recreated their attraction to the fish once more.
Finally just a note to say that the GCWT wader predation study is ongoing in that area and you may well see several tunnels and rafts, which form part of this work. They simply record the presence of the animals on clay or ink pads and I would ask that you do not interfer with them in any way.
Interestingly that the number of nests in the heronry has doubled since last year.
The Brook Lamprey in the photos was busy redd building in readiness for spawning in the coming days. Earlier than I would normally expect to see them cutting but this individual was moving gravel with a urgent energy. The third photo is a "where's Wally" shot, the Lamprey is in there can you spot it?
On the salmon front I must add my congratulations to Steven Hutchinson on the capture of a fresh run 14 pound fish today. With the Spring tide now building I would expect to see more fish about over the next week, making it a very exciting river to be fishing at the moment, enjoy it!
Still on the fishing front I am looking for some help. One of our rods has had the misfortune of finding himself unable to drive for a month or two. I was wondering if any members travel from the West Country, down the A36 or the A350 in the Westbury/Edington area, might consider car sharing. I know it would be enormously appreciated as it otherwise means the loss of the finest couple of months of the season. Give me a call on the mobile if you might be in a position to help and I'll put you in touch.
I must apologise to the syndicate members that tried to contact me today with good news about their salmon captures and other various fishery related issues. On the subject other than salmon will you lot and you know who you are, please stop winding Lee up. My apologies relate to the rather garbled, disjointed responses you may have received. It was all down to me being battered senseless by an unforgiving sea as tide and SW wind met the Shambles Bank. I am definitely getting too old for eight hours of that pummelling.
As for the good news on the salmon front, two syndicate members opened their Somerley accounts today. Congratulations to Luke James with a 13 pound fish and Patrick Banks with a 14, both I think from Park Pool one in the morning one in the afternoon. I wouldn't swear to me having the details one hundred percent correct due to the jellified state of my brain on receipt of the calls. I believe Patrick has spent two hours on Somerley in which time he has seen a 30 landed and grassed a fourteen pounder. I'm not sure Luke has spent a great deal more time with us, which ever way you look at, it it's a great introduction to the Hampshire Avon.
I managed to successfully completed the week one butterfly transect at Mockbeggar today, after the trials and tribulations of strong winds and cloud cover stopping play yesterday. Its good to get it under our belts, that now allows us to relax for a day or two and not worry about the none too favourable forecast for the coming week. If you are a stillwater syndicate member you may see myself or three of the syndicate members wondering about on a weekly basis in our efforts to count our butterflies. I'll try not to bore you all with my fascination with the things but I'm making no promises! I'm sure you'll be delighted to know I found three species out and about today in the shape of Brimstone, Peacock and Tortoiseshell. Numbers are never high at this time of year so lets hope the good numbers about today bode well for a warm summer.
Other news on the fishery front is that Paul Greenacre has landed his third salmon of the season this evening with a fish weighing in at ten pounds. I think that's what Paul said but if you need more detail I feel sure a video wont be too long in appearing. Well done Paul, keep up the good work.
Two nice shots of Colin Morgan playing a fish in Pile Pool at 09:00 oclock this morning.
The result of that battle in the shape of a 27 pound cock fish, Colin's second fish of the season, superb stuff. Congratulation Colin great fish. The landing and return couldn't have gone smoother with a shallow spot in a back eddy immediately at our feet. I love it when a plan comes together:-)
The arrival of April did see the sun out for some time this morning, unfortunately also accompanied by a stiff breeze and it didn't shine whilst I was trying to do the first visit on the butterfly transect. There was plenty going on so I made the most of an hour around the lakes and the marsh.
There are Swans now nesting on most of the lakes, it should go without saying do not put a bed of bait out on bars less than four feet in depth. You will not persuade them to leave your bait alone and we would do not wish to see anyone trying to discourage them.
The marsh is looking good after the recent flash flooding with plenty of wildfowl and waders enjoying the new look channels after our work last autumn.
The river has dropped back dramatically today and is now in good order. Strong flow and improving visibility, I imagine there are fish about so make the most of the next week or two.
A nice surprise in the garden this evening when a Stockdove joined the regular mob for a late feed.
Blashford Pool this evening at 05:11pm its still way out in the fields and miserable!
Its just as well we left Somerley Lakes open an extra fortnight, to avoid a overly busy bank holiday weekend, as it enabled me to actually get a days fishing on Meadow this season. I always promise myself more time on the lakes and each year I fail miserably, usually getting a day in during the last week if the weather is kind. Well I didn't get a day in the traditional season so the extension has come to the rescue, with one day to go to the close it was now or never. I was also keen to discover whether the pike had spawned so I had an ulterior motive to persude me to make the effort. Attempts to catch a few roach and skimmer livebait proved harder than I had imagined. Yesterday evening the bay I set up in was alive with roach but this morning not a touch. I decided a spinning outfit might answer the pike question and with that in mind I started by throwing a jack pike shaped plug about. The Lagoon was favourite as the pike usually gather in the shallows to spawn and I hoped to answer my question fairly quickly. It had been a bright start yet as I set up the spinning rod the showers arrived. I'm not sure showers is a sufficiently descriptive or dramatic enough word to describe the deluge that followed me about under my personal cloud. It simply bucketed down, with hail as an added bonus. Despite the wind and rain I was aware that there were one or two carp moving in the margins. In light of my original intention to discover the state of the pike I did my best to ignore them. I did manage a Jack of about five pounds that looked well bashed about which would seem to indicate spawning is over. Well my question was as good as answered and the chance of one of those carp beckoned. I had a couple of handfuls of bait in the bag and it wasn't long before I had the carp interested. That'll do, lets see if I can still manage these old stagers.
Thats the problem with fishing alone, 20+ in a net, 25+ in a net and luckily Frank Lamb was about so a shot of a 30+ with yours truly. Real old stager, but the carp looks good!
I have decided, after much deliberation and soul searching to let you readers into the rig that I used today with such effect. It has been developed over my fishing career and is the result of considerable research and experimentation. I'm not sure when I caught my first carp. It was probably in the early 60's either from the Thames at Pangbourne, where quite unexpectedly we started to catch pasty mirrors of about a pound whilst we were bream fishing. It may have been from the Kennet and Avon Canal, before it was restored and became navigable once more. Whilst tench fishing near Saversnake I found myself attached to a two pound common. Fish of dreams in those early days. Discovered after a forbidden cycle ride to explore that deep and mysterious water where the locals fished stewed wheat for the plentiful roach. Roach that hung in clear water just beyond the lilies that spread from the margins, leaving just a ribbon of water down the centre of the reach. The heat of those summer days seemed much more intense, requiring the need of a shady hedge, or a swim in the by-pass streams that created hatch pools alongside the canal, to avoid the scorching sun. That two pound carp was the best fish I managed that season by quite some measure. Events and fate have conspired to enable me to practice the pursuit of these mysterious monsters at regular intervals ever since those balmy days of my childhood. In that time I have perfected my techniques, allowing me to delight in these wonderful creatures in some of the most beautiful locations imaginable. Its not hard to see why we fish is it?
The BB is in the event I need to pop it up off the bottom. I did have a fourth today around the twenty mark but you can only enjoy so many carp in a net photos.
Any rig that can manage four such fish in a couple of hours must have something going for it. My distance is governed by how far I can cast a soggy mixer on my pound and a half rod.
It can be fished equally effectively with corn, mixers, pellets, worms, sultanas or cockles and for that matter anything else you can stick a hook in and with thought can be adapted to fish with a quill float.
Blashford Pool this evening remains well out in the meadows.
Just a quick update for the salmon rods in that last nights rain has brought the river up and filled it with coloured forest water. The pix are up and downstream the Harbridge from Fools Corner and across to Blashford from the lakes. The fish will undoubtedly be running but conditions will best be described as challenging, so come prepared!
I'll flesh out the details of that shot later.
The shots above are the fore runners of Colin in the hail. They show Colin's 20+ taken this morning being eased from the net, weighed and measured with the help of Guy Edwards and Danny Taylor, where it had been resting for ten minutes. Steadied to prevent a premature departure and finally resting safely between Colin's feet in a good, clean, shaded flow. The hail arrived before the fish was considered fit to leave and Colin stoically stood his ground - great stuff. I hid behind the nearest willow and took the pix!
The steep banks and deep water where a helping hand is very much appreciated. Colin into his fish with Danny preparing to do the honours, thanks for the pix Guy.
The two photos alongside illustrate the problem we face on the Avon in landing our fish and getting them back into the river unharmed. If we start from the expert opinion that we have about 30 seconds to get a fish back in the water before we start doing damage, the clock starts ticking the second the fish is secure in the net and lifted from the water. The nature of the Avon makes beaching on soft ground or netting in shallow water a very rare occurrence. We usually have to lean over a steep bank and dip the fish from the water. If we are lucky there may be a smooth section of flow immediately available to enable the fish to rest before it is unhooked. If our luck holds we may be able to reach down and unhook the fish without the need to lift it from the water. If the fish has to be grassed speed is of the essence. Select the softest piece of grass you can quickly reach and remove the hook as gently as possible. If you are happy with the result get the fish back into a steady flow as quickly as possible to rest. This is where you have to be patient to ensure the fish has recovered sufficiently to be released. If you have a built in scales in your net you can try and get a quick weight but these large nets require someone a great deal taller than me to work properly. To lift the fish clear of the water, keep the net shaft straight and vertical takes some doing. If you are sufficiently tall make the lift quickly and smoothly ensuring fins are not doubled up or being split by the mesh. Failing a handy scales and a need for a weight the tape measure is your only option and doing this in the water is not going to give you a definitive answer but it will give you a ball park figure, 20+, 25+ 30+ etcetera. You have to keep hold of the fish to ensure it doesn't depart and it rarely lies doggo and obliges with a straight body. Its amazing how many bends a fish can add between nose and tail fork! To weighing and measuring can be added photographs, quick and in the water wherever possible minimises stress, all that is difficult enough with a couple of experienced rods to lend a helping hand - best of British if you're on your own!
The stress levels for the angler rise dramatically throughout this process, almost to the extent of eclipsing the pleasure of the capture but never let it do that. We all feel the obligation to get the fish back safely but please do not let it spoil your achievement. If you have landed one of these Avon Springers you have done extremely well, enjoy it.
Well done to Colin Goh on his twenty plus this morning. I must also add my congratulations to Mr Peter Fines on his magnificent brace of fish from the Royalty yesterday, the largest fish from the Avon for years in the shape of a forty plus, closely followed by a twenty.
I also had a match being fished in an effort to reduce the bream numbers to keep an eye on today. It blew and it hailed and the sun shone and yet again the bream refused to play ball. We did manage to find about a hundred pounds of them, which young Dan was helping to weigh but not the numbers we were hoping for. We will be at it again in Meadow Lake tomorrow, fingers crossed they prove a little more obliging.
One for the stillwater lads in the shape of Jack Harvey with a Mockbeggar common of 34. Nice fish Jack, thanks for the pic.
Congratulations Mike Tolley. Mike landed his second fish of the season this morning and most definitely saved the day for me after the rods had lost five fish over the last three days. A good fish, from a good pool, most definitely a good piece of angling.
I actually spent a couple of hours with the rod myself this evening fishing through Dog Kennel and Park Pool. I had nothing to show for my efforts other than a more balanced outlook after time spent by the river. I'm not sure if the intention was to catch a salmon or avoid the latest perk Anne has brought home from work. In her many years working with those deemed to have challenging behaviour she has brought home; broken ribs, scabies, broken hands and fingers, black eyes and last night, Norovirus. There's not a lot you can say or do when someone is being so violently ill every twenty minutes, other than to offer sympathy and stay out of the way, which is where my couple of hours with the rod came in.
I suppose the fact I cleaned up two or three pools down at Ringwood this morning and they looked superb might have influenced my decision to have a cast. It may also have been the sight of that huge fish that came adrift yesterday that tipped the balance in favour of an hour on the bank. Don't forget the left bank of the weir pool down at Ringwood or the right bank Below The Cut Through.
For various reasons today has been what can probably best be described as a pretty rubbish day and to cap it all I am about to do something I do not often do, in that I am about to recount a tale of the one that got away!
I'm not exactly sure when it all started as I wasn't there. My involvement began at about half past five with a call on the mobile from one of our members telling me he was attached to a very large salmon. I wont name names to save any blushes, not that any blushes are called for. I quickly hopped in the truck and headed for the pool in question, which fortunately I could drive to within a few feet of the action, I was beside the rod inside ten minutes. From the curve of the rod and the sulky nature of the progress it was immediately clear that what ever was on the other end of that line was dictating events. This was one of those fishy tales where those on the bank were most definitely the bit players.
The fish had been hooked in an area of a pool I had never seen a fish hooked before and it was between an upstream reed bed and a downstream bed of brambles. It was a spot I had never actually cast a fly. I suppose the clear bank was no more than twenty meters in length and not particularly stable. Certainly not the ideal place to hook a fish of this obvious size. Deep water immediately in front of us and a fast sweeping current made it impossible to reach a more suitable section of bank. The fish simply sat mid river with the occasional downstream run, one or two of which were at a blistering speed emptying the reel down to the backing at a phenomenal rate. Fifty or sixty meters downstream was a deeper section of the pool that upon reaching it the fish would stop, turn and immediately swim steadily upstream under our bank until alongside us once more. Allowing the fish to tire itself in the slightly quieter water at our feet would work for a minute of two before a repeat downstream run would set off once more. I had been watching events for some ten minutes and had yet to see the fish but its antics left no doubt as to its size, this was a very large fish indeed.
Events continued in a like fashion for what seemed an age when at last on reaching us, on its return upstream, the fish began to rise in the water immediately in front of us. My first sight was of an enormous tail that seemed too far downstream from where the leader entered the water. It looked like a snagged fish but that didn't add up either as I could see the leader knot well out of the water and I had asked the length of the leader earlier, this was just an enormous fish. It rose steadily higher and higher before rolling away from us, a cock fish, showing a massive silver flank and extraordinary width across the shoulders. This was as big as any fish I had ever seen, it was simply massive. All this time I had been holding the net that looked like a 30” diameter example and it was pretty obvious I wasn't going to get that fish in this net. Never daunted I said nothing and thought we'd cross that bridge when we came to it, if needs be and the opportunity arises I would simply grab the beast and hang on!
Away downstream he went again but not quite so far. Back in front, again it rolled high in the water and showed the scale of the beast once more. Salmon of this size are certainly dramatic and most definitely impressive but not pretty. The downstream run was shorter and the roll actually very briefly brought the fish to the surface laying on its flank. It was beginning to look as if we might gain the upper hand in one or two more circuits. We were certainly still some way from making any attempt to get the fish near the net. We were in no hurry and it looked if we were actually starting to make progress.
Back upstream he came, up in the water, rolled and with a massive surge he was gone, the leader parting six inches above the fly. Words failed us – it just wasn't meant to be - I told you it was a rubbish day!
I think a couple of hours of "Playing For Change, Songs Around The World" and a decent malt are required to help balance the day.
The first Egyptian Goose brood of the year appeared in the park today. As can be seen from the size of the ewe in the background lambing is also in full swing, which is attracting regular visits from the local Ravens and Red Kites as they scan the Park for any afterbirth the foxes and badgers have missed. The second pic is of Dockens Pool down at the bottome of Ashley. I know its a bit of a hike but its a lovely pool and has produced some classic fish in its past. Today's fishing has been in conservation mode as I have heard of two being lost today! Bad luck on those involved but I'm sure one will stick before too long.
I believe today was "World Sparrow Day" this lot are my contribution to the cause, as they try and eat me out of house and home. The second shows the Asiatic Tree Sparrows in the Peace Park, Hiroshima. If you are ever fortunate enough to be in that part of the world ensure you visit.
"Keep Your Eyes On The Sparrow".
Not a lot to report on the fishing front other than its extremely cold and unpleasant in the NE wind. Mid week holds the promise of a return to the prevailing south westerly blow, hopefully to coincide with the Spring tide that, fingers crossed, is already attracting fish into the system. I'm sure they are already moving slowly upriver but the lower pressure and overcast skies should speed their arrival with us. This week might be a good week for an Avon Springer.
So the battle begins, the water has returned to the channel and I have to catch up with the Spring cleaning of the salmon pools. In actual fact in many places the banks remain too muddy to strim but I can at least make a start where things have dried a little more. The photos above show Dog Kennel looking superb and if the wind would get out of the north I'm sure we would see a few more fish. Please don't forget some of the less fashionable pools as they look equally inviting. The middle shot is looking down over the tail of Broadwater toward the head of Ellingham Bridge Pool and the third is the reverse image, looking up from below the bridge. Dennis and Barbara Herring who fished this water for more than thirty years, that's Dennis holding that 37 pound fish on the Lodge photo board, always said that Broadwater was their favourite and most productive pool. I have cleared the path back to Ellingham car park to allow a circular route from Gypsy back to the car. At present it requires wellies as a minimum to cross the muddy sections just short of the willow pollard but I'll get those sorted in the near future hopefully. I'll also knock over those overhanging willows by the conveyor transfer point to ensure distracted members don't stick their rods up in them! I have also extended Lake Run and Middle cabbage on the left bank as I believe the recent floods have moved gravel further down the runs making the tails look more inviting.
Island Run looking good. I'd like to tell you that its full of fish but in reality I have no idea. Unfortunately the EA are doing their annual chocolate fire-guard impersonation when it comes to the counter data – I would imagine the future of the counter and the EA fisheries division itself must look pretty bleak in light of the budget savings required from the public sector! I'll leave it to you to decide the impact if that scenario should play out. Perhaps our fisheries representatives might look to a judicial review to decide if the government is meeting its requirements to Maintain, Improve and Develop our fisheries?
Bob Williams returning a ten pound hen fish with the help of his friend Paul Greenacre, the fish came on virtually his first cast of the season. Nice one Bob, good way to open the account. The middle shot shows Farnk Lamb playing a good common as I watch from the boat off "Duck 2" Finally the last pollard of the year as I needed some willow stakes to establish a line of pollards elsewhere. It did also give me the opportunity to refurbish the Kestrel box.
Last month we sent out the renewal emails for the STILLWATER members. (Not the Coarse River members) If you haven't received an email get in touch with Nathalie at the Estate Office. Renewals are due by the end of March after which you will go on the waiting list unless you have contacted the office.
After a cold night the sun broke through by early morning, producing a passable Spring day which was a pleasure to be out and about in. I needed to check the state of the parkland as we have lots of harrowing and rolling to catch up with. Even if it were dry enough its already too late to take machinery out onto some of the meadows as the waders have arrived to establish their territories. The first Reshank of the season was on the marsh this morning, joining the dozens of Lapwings and the passing migrants in the form of the Curlew and even a pair of Black-tailed Godwit. Over a hundred and fifty Snipe and plenty of Teal and wigeon have delayed their departure until the north winds drop off. The other shot shows one of at least five pairs of Kestrel that breed with us and are now able to get back out onto the flood plain to seek their food in the small islands of higher ground where the voles have been marooned during the spell of high water. Along with the Barn owls I imagine the Spring can't come soon enough for them, lets hope we have now seen the last of the floods this season.
At this time of year our thoughts usually revolve around the end of the coarse season on the river. If conditions have been on our side we often enjoy some of the finest fishing of the year. This year the rain and the frost have conspired to take the edge of the final day or two but having said that I have heard of one or two good fish coming out. One that gave me particular pleasure to hear of was a 6 lbs 9 ozs chub landed by Dave King, on that most classic of Avon methods at the tail end, trotted bread. Well done Dave, nice way to wrap up the season.
I will give a brief account of the season on here in a day or two and try and give a flavour of just what an amazing season we have enjoyed. Whilst the catches have been reported through the year I have tended to keep a lid on most to avoid undue pressure on specific fish and swims. Having said that, based on the comments from most of the anglers I've bumped into during my rounds the sight of a fellow angler is a rare thing. I'm sure you're all out there somewhere but with over eleven miles of bank actually spotting you takes some doing. Despite the lack of pressure the chub and barbel catches have been simply staggering, how this river has managed to produce such fish in such numbers for yet a further year remains a mystery to me. Lets not knock it and accept the bounty with good grace, if the fishing remains as it is and we remain ignorant of the exact reasons I can live with that!
The high water at the end of the season may have made life difficult for our coarse members but the salmon guys have gone crazy and seem to be pulling fish out at an unprecedented rate. last week we had Paul's 23 and Anthony's 26 which was staggering. I hardly dared breath in case the bubble burst but the weekend has seen events gain even greater impetus. I had a get together with three of the syndicate members who are to help with the butterfly transect we are to instigate at Mockbegger. A most enjoyable walk along the intended route was tempered by the fact I had to drive to Cornwall after lunch on family matters. Luckily Anne was doing the first stint behind the wheel that allowed me to take the texts, emails and calls that started to come in as we travelled west. First was Mike Stead with news of a fish he had landed below Blashford. A fish that measured 44" and judging by the unfortunately poor shot taken of Mick returning the fish from the far bank had the appearance of a seal, it looked enormous. Alas with no scales available all that could be done was to take the measurement and let us speculate on the actual weight. Depending on which scale you read it could be as high as 36 on the Sturdy scale, based on Norwegian fish, or at the lower end 31, if the EA scale is used. Bearing in mind the EA scale is based on the entire profile of English and Welsh rivers. As Hampshire Avon fish are renown for being extremely deep, more akin to Norwegian fish, I would favour the top end. We will never know for sure and Irrespective of the actual weight Mick has included the fish in the Lodge return book as 30+ The fish returned well and as it was Mick's birthday I don't suppose the fine detail will concern him in the least. Congratulation Mick the stuff of salmon fishing dreams.
That wasn't the end of the salmon news during our travels, I then had a call to say that member George Hudson had put a 25 pounds cock fish on the bank just a couple of hours later. Simply incredible. George subsequently emailed some great shots of the event which together with Mick's fish add up to a wonderful record.
George playing his 25 pounder. Mick holding his massive fish as he heads for the tail of Blashford and last but far from least, George with his 25 pound cock fish.
We've not finished yet. This morning the mobile buzzed into life again, this time Mike Tulley was on the other end to inform me of a fresh 10 pounder from Ellingham and a second fish lost. Well done Mike, congratulation; what a start, if that is the first of our 2SW fish the season has the potential to really get going!**?!!**??
A very quick and well deserved congratulations to new Somerley rod, Anthony Philpott, on the capture of a sparkling 26 pound cock fish.
That's a great way to open your account, well done Anthony,
I've just added the two pix on the left which are in reality out of sequence. What the first shows is Paul still standing on the path, from where we had to release the fish, as gaining access to the shallows was impossible in the current height of the river. The middle shot is looking upstream to Hoodies, where the fish was hooked, as we rest the fish having removed the hooks whilst she was still in the water. It was after this we floated her down to the "Point" in an effort to find a safe release site. Luckily Paul was equiped in waders and able to reach a spot with good flow where she wouldn't be swept away with the stream. As it turned out our concerns were unnecessary as she recovered well and after an enforced ten minute rest went away beautifully.
Paul Greenacre about to return his second of the season in the form of this fabulous 25 pound sea-liced hen. I was delighted to be on hand to do the honours with the net and see such a great fish, congratulations Paul. Somewhat fittingly, considering the height and colour of the Avon at present, the fly that did the damage was an "Eternal Optimist" tied by Harry Stollard. I'll put up a little more detail and further pix later.
Harry's "Eternal Optimist" Well tied that man. Especially considering the rivers full of Nadder water, the colour of milky tea and going like a train!
The early excitment of Paul's fish was an excellent start to the day. A day that once the sun broke through, mid morning, was good for the sole. As can be seen from the photos of Paul's fish the river remains out over the banks in many places with the marsh at Hucklesbrook completely submerged once more. This new water has convinced many of the migrants to drop in for a refueling stop and the residents to postpone establishing their territories. We have a flock of about 80 Black-tailed godwit, 8 Curlew, dozens of Grey Wagtails, Goldeneye, Stonechats, lots of Snipe, including several Jack Snipe, Geese all over the place and the regular ducks, swans and gulls by the hundreds and perhaps most encouraging over a hundred Lapwing. Plus of course our single Bewicks Swan who continues to look completely relaxed about being the only one in the flock. The lakes are looking equally spring like as the Little Grebe chatter continually about their reedbeds and we have two pairs of Oyster Catchers that have selected their island nest sites and shout at each other on full volume each time they pass within earshot. Its a good time to be out in the valley.
I'll start with a depressing update for the end of the coarse season on the river following last night and today's continuous rain. Basically unless you are after barbel, with large smelly baits, I fear you are going to struggle. Looking for those barbel isn't going to be a given either, they will be in the slacks and feeding but finding which slack and getting there and back safely isn't for the faint hearted. The view is looking across the Harbridge Stream to the main river, over at Cabbage Garden, taken from Harbridge Drive just below the new car park.
Looking upstream in the opposite direction from the previous shot and the other end of the Avon Valley Path at Ibsley. Not a pretty sight, you'll definitely need wellies, preferably waders plus a great deal of care.
What's on there then Frank? Actually Frank Lamb playing his seventh of the session with fish to nearly 30 from Meadow. Result.
Its always disappointing at the end of the river coarse season when the river floods or the temperature plummets and the fortnight or three weeks that has the ptential to be the high point of the year passes in the form of a half mile wide, brown broth of ice sheet. Such is our luck this year and it looks as if we are to go out with a whimper. After the astonishing season we have just enjoyed perhaps it would have been asking a lot to have topped it during the closing weeks. As it is we will have to just survive on the memories of those earlier catches and look forward to getting back on the river when it is in a friendlier mood next season. All is not lost and it may drop back sufficiently to have a go over the weekend but as I sadi previously it will not be easy and will require care to avoid a ducking. I wish any members good luck if they do venture out and please let me know how you fared. I will do a round up of the past season once it is behind us to help relive some of those magical catches.
If you do venture out and after and hour or two are in need a break you could do worse than call in at the Lodge to have a look through Pam's old magazines. They date from 1954 and capture the very essence of the true rural landscape. A photographic record of the Speyside Ospreys of the late 50's, our salmon and trout rivers bbefore the advent of sporting agents, Peter Scott before he founded Slimbridge, Stalking in the Highlands and Mau Mau defences in Africa in the 50's - not a lot's changed when you come to think of it!
I now know who the syndicate member fishing the “Gate” was in the photo I put up the other day after my aborted perch trip. Kenny Parsons sent me a photo of a chub he had that day after changing from the “Gate” to a swim he had never previously fished, which produced this lunker at 6.12. By Kenny's standards it had been quite a slow day with only five other fish to five pounds but this certainly made sticking it out through all the hail and cold worthwhile. Nice one Kenny, thanks for the photo and the report.
Adam's recent brace, the common was 39.09 the mirror 39.14 wonderful brace, congratulations Adam and thanks for the great photos.
After yesterday's disappointment on the fishing front, due to my getting stuck in, I thought today I would attempt my annual perch foray. With high hopes I arrived at Ibsley at lunchtime heading for my favourite “Mr Crabtree” swim. A big, deep slack that at various times and under different water conditions acts as a safe haven for most species. It has always produced good perch and in recent years several fish to well in excess of three pounds and multiple catches of two plus fish. That would do me, just one of those two pounders would be sufficient to tick that particular box.
Looking out across my swim towards "The Gate" were a member is looking for chub under the far tree cover. My spot is a classic high water swim taken straight out of "Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing" lovely reedy margins and dropping away to a steady ten feet of water, unfortunately it wasn't going to be my "Red Letter Day"
I put up the my favourite 13 foot trotter and a waggler set up to drop a lob against the reeds on one side of the slack. A pouch full of maggots as an attractor and sit back to wait events. Events that began to play out almost immediately with the float dipping and darting and dipping and darting and dipping and darting. That's not what I was expecting but it didn't take long to discover the culprit, a chublet of about six inches. That is exactly what followed on a continuous basis. The float would land, cock and begin its wandering and bobbing about the swim. If it wasn't a chub it was a micro dace and judging by the activity on the surface, minnows were probably joining in as well. The entire slack was bursting with fry and juveniles. I'm sure the perch were there but even a lob more akin to an anaconda was whittled away within five minutes. Trotting maggot down the crease brought the same result making perch fishing extremely frustrating. The perch would come on the feed at some point but how long I would have to wait was anyone’s guess. As I pondered my problem a very large hen pike appeared out of the reed bed, swirled on the surface, turned and headed back into the reeds. She reappeared two or three further times accompanied by a smaller fish on one occasion. It seems spawning was the order of the day in the pike world. Further re-baiting and feeding the massed bits resulted in the rod clipping the trees above several times when I failed to concentrate on the parrots cage I was fishing. With the frustration of the bits, the annoyance of the overhead branches and now it had started to absolutely chuck it down with hail. Some one is definitely trying to tell me something!
Hint taken, an hour of that was plenty. I packed the gear away in the car and dragged out the chainsaw to deal with at least one of the frustrations. A couple of hours and the swim was a great deal more angler friendly, which I happily left to the pike and the hailstones.
An interesting day to say the least. I was busy off the estate in the morning but after ensuring everything was as it should be after lunch I decided I would get an hour or two with the coarse rods on the river in the afternoon. I always end up at this time of year trying to cram my seasons fishing into the last fortnight. Unfortunately events are becoming tediously familiar as on arriving at the river at about 03:30 I decided to check out one or two swims by driving as close as possible to save time. As I reversed along the track towards my first choice I was too busy watching the river and not my mirrors resulting in the truck sliding off the track and into the wet ground alongside, becoming firmly stuck. An hours digging, wheezing, coughing and swearing ended in defeat and the need to call Kevin to bring out the truck to get me out. Five o’clock and no nearer the river; I gave into the fateful signs and called it a day. I eased my guilt in being so easily deterred as I had a meeting this evening that would have meant an early finish. By then I'd also remembered I had failed to pick up the head-torch, scales and camera that were on the “side” in the kitchen. Had I fished it would have undoubtedly resulted in some monster PB that would have to have gone unrecorded.
As luck would have it, today wasn't a total loss on the fishery front. Quite the opposite in fact, despite my efforts, I did get a call from Paul Shutler to tell me of our third salmon of the season in the shape of a bright 15 pound hen. As luck would have it Peter Littleworth was on the opposite bank and managed a photo across the river. An hour later from the same pool Peter also photographed a 15 pound barbel caught by Mark Gledhill on a 2” tube, fairly hooked in the mouth. We see one or two most seasons that take the fly which certainly makes the heart miss a beat or two as they hold station out in the current.
The first month of the salmon season has been most encouraging with three 3SW fish on the bank and a further three large fish lost. Its been a long time since we enjoyed such a start, despite the extreme conditions that have made fishing so difficult. Fingers crossed it may continue.
An odd couple, Paul with his 15 pound springer and Mark with his 15 pound Barbel, both on the fly from opposite banks of the same pool, well done on both counts. Thanks for the photos Pete, you helped salvage my day from the brink of total disaster!
The stillwater guys weren't to be outdone as I received a text from Adam Keats to tell me he managed a wonderful brace of carp last night. He had a common that went 39.09 and a mirror of 39.14, brilliant, well done Adam stupendous brace. I have been promised some pix, when Adam gets to a computer, which I will put up for all to see.
It would all seem to point to today being the red letter day to have landed that special fish, which makes my earlier adventure even more frustrating!
Today was the first time this year I had been able to walk the Hucklesbrook meadows without the need of chest waders. As well as the opportunity to assess the state of the sward and what we might expect in the way of summer growth it also afforded an opportunity to take a look at last autumns river restoration work. After having faced the full force of a couple of months of high water it was interesting to see some of the changes that are already apparent. The first photo shows the confluence of the Hucklesbrook with the main channel, a point that in recent years ran out over a shallow gravel bar. From the photo it can be seen that the bar is now downstream of the actual confluence by several meters. The re-alignment of the flow around the outside of the bend immediately upstream has seen the gravel swept down the Hucklesbrook scoured away downstream. This is a return to the flow regime of several decades ago that historically provided some fabulous chub and dace fishing on the nearside bank. If my luck holds over the next day or two I will try and get out and give the trotting rod an airing to see if the fish have returned to the old haunts. The second shot is of the Old Man of Gorley, very much in need of a hair cut. Time is of the essence and whilst it will be several weeks before we can get a vehicle out on to the meadows I may walk a ladder and saw out there to avoid him becoming top heavy and being lost to a storm. The righthand view is looking south down the marsh over the area we cleaned last autumn. Already its recovering well with the first green leaves showing through the previously bare ground.
Yesterday some areas of the marsh were frozen by the hard overnight frost. With not such a depth of frost last night the soft ground was exposed once more attracting some of the summer visitors and migrants heading back to their northern breeding territories. As well as the Oyster catchers, which breed on the local lakes, we still have half a dozen Curlew as well as five or six Green sandpiper, perhaps stars of the piece were well over one hundred Snipe, forty of which rose in one wisp making a delightful site across the marsh. The second shot is testimony to the stupidity of frogs, its no wonder they are becoming rarer, I imagine you could fill a forty gallon drum with the volume of spawn that has now been stranded high and dry as the floods recede.
Finally a couple of more seasonal shots firstly showing Julian Ward with a twenty plus from the lakes and a near twenty for Sasa Kesic, who was out on the Severals fishery with Avon regular Mike Twitchen enjoying a last minute pike session.
With the last few dry days there is a great deal going on as we rush to catchup with the tree work and the end of February hedge cutting deadline. It has been extremely hard work but enormously enjoyable after the enforced lay off the weather has inflicted on us in recent months. I'm not going to write up my day, as I went about my varoius tasks, I am simply going to put up the report of the second true "springer" off the Avon this year.
What a fish! I must start by congratulating Richard Abson on his catch and saying many thanks for allowing me to put the photo on the diary. As is obvious, its a stunning cock fish of 26.8 and it came from the Bisterne fishery that is famous for its historic catches of such portmanteau fish. Richard landed the fish earlier in the week, before Paul had his fish, making it the second off the Avon this year. The battle lasted half an hour and looking at that shoulder you don't have to wonder why, simply perfection and a delight to see. Thanks again Richard and also many thanks to Hallam Mills, owner of Bisterne, for allowing me to put up this report for readers to enjoy.
A cold start for the second day running is giving rise to hopes of a more rapidly dropping river as water is locked up on the land in the shape of ice and frost. Giving way to a bright sunny days has seen many of the meadows appear from the water for the first time in weeks. In light of the rapidly dropping levels I headed north to check the marsh to see if the water had fallen sufficiently to get across to the river and let the waders get back onto the marsh. On arrival a flock of fifty or so Lapwing took flight from the first meadow where they had been resting, apparently visiting the marsh on the hope of finding levels more suited to their needs. The majority of the meadows remain too deep for most waders, apart from six Curlews only ducks, geese and well over a hundred Coots splashed noisily about the flood. A pair of Raven fed on a carcass left high and dry by the receding water and several dozen Reed Bunting and wagtails flew from branches stranded on the mud. Whilst the majority of the fishery is now accessible the northern section of Hucklesbrook remains under water and difficult to reach.
Having established the water levels I headed for the lakes to clear invasive alien oaks and layer sallow to provide much needed cover for brambles and scrub from grazing donkeys and the growing number of deer. This is necessary to provide vital habitat and food for the many native species of birds, mammals and insects that are dependent on cover and scrub. Its necessary to layer the willow to act as a shield from the grazing animals. Whilst we will take the donkeys off the complex in a week or two the deer remain and with as many as fifty fallow and half a dozen roe their grazing for twelve months of the year will have a detrimental impact on the cover we seek to provide.
Numbers of Reed Bunting moving around the edge of the marsh. Donkeys and the fallow herd grazing the paddocks at Mockbeggar where short flower rich sward is the objective.
Mid day and a text from Paul Greenacre to tell me of his capture of our second salmon of the year and his first February fish. A cracking hen fish of 23 pounds is our second and the third off the river as far as I am aware, well done Paul, great result. Paul was fishing with Harry Stollard on their weekly excursion, proving regular effort pays in the end. I believe the other fish has been taken at Bisterne and with all three being twenty pounds plus is a great start for the season, especially considering the difficult river at present.
Paul with his cracking 23 pound hen and Harry fishing through Blashford later in the day.
Further layering and clearing after lunch before a visit to Meadow Lake to see if I could spot our barns owls that have been patrolling the rough grass most evenings this winter. I was told they are moving between the paddocks along the banks of the lake where I was hoping for a photo. That's the trouble with owls, they don't come out until the light is fading and making photographs impossible.
Rough grass and brambles left standing over winter, providing vital vole rich habitat and food for the owls and Kestrels. Many creatures are dependent on this seed rich cover, which has become all too rare in today's fashion for strimmed and topped grassland.
I may not have managed to photograph our owls but I did catch up on the news from the lake. The last couple of cold nights have made life difficult with bream being the only activity. I believe Frank Lamb did manage a fine 30+ common this morning making braving the cold snap very worthwhile. Well done Frank, nice one; did Chutney take the pix?
More signs of Spring in the form of the tadpoles hatching on mass in the ruts and puddles. The forst sign of early buds that may well regret their haste if the forecast is correct this week. Finally a pair of Goldeneye, not only are they worthy of another pic but it also shows the water at Hucklesbrook today remains over the bank. The majority of the estate is now back within the channel but remaining challenging to fish.
I spotted them on the wing in December and January but didn't have the camera, thankfully today it was to hand ready to capture the February flight. Looking a little worn after its winter hibernation but a very welcome sight in today's sunshine.
We've been down in deepest Devon for a couple of days to enjoy a change of scenery. Dartmoor was bracing and extremely enjoyable, which after a very long and tiresome winter I felt very much in need of such a break.
On my return I can confirm the river is very much where I left it with a great deal of it still out in the fields. Meadow and Kings-Vincents have continued to produce some fine carp, the photo showing Neil Hurren in the act of landing his first carp of the day to add to a dozen bream.
Wonderful, a dry day and a chance to get on with the tree work around the lakes. I had to remove one or two non native trees that didn't fit in with the SSSI and today was the perfect opportunity. The donks joined in keen to sample the buds from the top of the trees and enjoy the warmth of the welcome sunshine. A fabulous day with the regular wildfowl also enjoying the warmth in the shelter of the islands, two dozen Mandarins, six Goldeneye, dozens of Mallard, Shovelor, Teal, swans and geese, all as pleased as I was to see the sun.
An update on conditions, Blashford still remains flooded but Dog Kennel and Gypsy are fishable but pushing through.
The weather remains determined to make life as difficult as possible where work and fishing are concerned. Continued rain has topped up the already high river and added to the very soft ground, making access are about as awkward as it can be. Leaving work aside for a moment and looking at the implications for the fishing it presents problems for whichever discipline is your chosen path. The stillwater guys are being pushed further and further back up the swims and banks risk becoming a quagmire as gear is barrowed to and fro from the car-park. Salmon rods are finding it problematic not only to get to the pools but to get a fly to fish efficiently when they struggle to get there. The river coarse anglers have the combined effect of difficulty reaching the river and the dramatically reduced number of fishable swims. To add to the dilemma of the river coarse members we are entering the last month of the season. If the gods smile on us the last four weeks can provide the best fishing of the year, the real chance of a red letter day. Unfortunately in my experience the odds are not in favour of smiling gods. We need the river to drop back, the water temperatures to get up to around ten degrees and the fish to have shoaled up and be in tip top condition in readiness for spawning. I'm sure that's not too much to ask but just to be on the safe side I shall keep everything crossed and not kick any black cats that cross my path.
Looking on the bright side I suppose I should be grateful we are not frozen solid, that really does bring out the grumpy old man in me!
Keeping a positive outlook, the view out of the Estate office window showed all the signs of Spring with the welcome sunshine and the cheering sight of the snowdrops and wild daffodils under the park trees. On the subject of trees "Treemenders" were on site and despite not being able to get their vehicles off the hard roads made a good job of making safe some particularly dangerous, dead trees that have been giving rise to concern. Swinging through the tops of such unfriendly trees is definitely a job for well trained, young men,it made my bones ache just watching them for five minutes. Finally a photo showing the problem with evolution. After millions of years of development our frogs fail to recognise a track rut and deposit masses of spawn in the ruts that will be dry in a matter of days when the river eventually drops back. I guess I will have to take a bucket and rescue some before it is stranded and lost, which would be a sad loss to the valley.
10th February 2016
That was most definitely hard and frustrating work. We heaved, pulled and tugged and but for a handful of carp, two tench, a few small perch and a brace of roach, we met with remarkably little success. Just how you can pull a net around a lake with so many fish in it and fail to find them is a source of mystery to me! In reality its not that great a surprise, netting is always a lottery with snags and submerged channels always conspiring to let the catch escape. Hard work it might be but I dare say we will do it all again in the not too distant future.
We are going to try and fish some of the bream out of Vincents on Sunday, please give the lake a miss if you can, it will make it easier to get the pegs in with the water height as it is at the moment.
9th February 2016
Dropping slowly but still a long way to go. I was up on the plain last week and was surprised to see the springs on the Bourne have yet to break. There was water in the channel at Allington, which I believe is very close to the perennial head but the meadows immediately upstream were bone dry. If the ground water is yet to add to our lower river flow we will hopefully get back into the channel a little sooner. The other photo is one of several Treecreepers that were in a flock of Long-tailed tits, Blue tits and Goldcrest busy seeking micro-insects on the willow and alder around the lakes.
8th February 2016
Just an update for the syndicate members showing the view up and downstream from Ellingham Bridge mid-morning today. Add the near hurricane roaring up the valley and it's certainly not a place for the feint hearted at the moment.
7th February 2016
My day began with the early start of a WeBS count and a visit to the northern edge of my area at Fordingbridge. The usual culprits were on show with the Cormorant and Heron busy arriving at the trout farm for breakfast at first light. Nothing of any great interest but at least the weather wasn't wet or freezing. Further south and the flood plain had once more filled from one side to the other after yesterday's rain. Far too deep for the waders, even the Gadwall and Wigeon that were present mid week had left in search of shallower grazing. Only the geese and swans could deal with the depth adding little to the interest of the count. Unfortunately my progress came to an abrupt end as I reached Ibsley. The battery on the truck decided the weeks inaction from being in the garage for its MOT was too much for it and it refused to start when I went to move on. Many thanks to Darrel for coming to my rescue with a jump from his battery. At least I have found time to get the diary sorted!
The river is the thin strip in the middle distance with the swans on, the rest apart from the immediate carrier in front is a very full floodplain. Too deep for waders and most of the duck had left looking for shallower grazing, at least a pair of Goldeneye have remained to brighten the morning. The final shot shows a couple of live rainbow trout that fell from the sky as I put the fifty or so Cormorants off the trout stews this morning. A further two or three fell to the south of the footpath, in the river, as the birds regurgitated them to enable them to take off. I don't suppose that along with the tons of concentrated trout shit and food detritus they will cause much of a problem!
Despite the further rain that has once more pushed the river well out into the flood plain the water temperature has remained high and the anglers have been catching one or two good fish. Certainly good barbel, pike and chub have graced the bank this week, which is encouraging for those that brave these trying elements. I have seen one or two salmon rods also out doing their best to cope with the flooded banks and powerful flows. No further fish I fear but if you're not out there with a fly in the water you definitely wont find one.
Even prior to Colin landing the first salmon of the season there has been a great deal of speculation related to the nature of the season we might expect to enjoy in 2016, particularly after the extraordinary return to form of the Avon last season. We can only use past history in our attempts to predict the future and with only partial understanding of the needs of our salmon the determinants we use are subject to further debate. Bearing the margin of error our determinants leave us, one or two conclusions can be tentatively be drawn. Last years returns, 2015, for us at Somerley consisted predominantly of 2SW fish. I would suggest 90 percent of the catch was 2SW, which has to be put down to the fact all our fish came before the end of June in a period that one would expect to see MSW fish. If the season is extended the arrival of the grilse indicates the success of the following year class. Records from other fisheries on the river show that it would appear a similarly healthy run of grilse arrived throughout the late summer.
This is where it gets a little more subjective in that we don't know what proportion of any particular year class returned to the river and how many stayed at sea. Were the 2SW fish that arrived in the Avon last spring and summer, fish spawned in December 2011/January 2012, the remainder of the year class that previously ran as grilse in 2014? Or are there a significant number of these fish that remained on the feeding grounds for a further year? If such fish are out there they will be heading back as 3SW fish as we read this. The same applies to the remainder of the following years spawning, the siblings of the grilse that arrived late last summer. Did they all return as grilse? If so what made them do so? If not what proportion are heading back as 2SW fish? Will others stay out there and return as 3SW or perhaps even the 4SW, for which the Avon was once famous. To the chronological year classes we also have one other small number of fish to add, in the shape of return spawners. From the comprehensive scale readings that have been undertaken in past years on the Avon it is well established that between one and two percent of the hens might make it back to us for a second time. With a run of less than 500 hens it might only be five or ten fish but they will hopefully be of a good size. Not perhaps the monsters one might expect as the one or two examples we have in our scale readings are less than twenty pounds. I would imagine that's due to the stress of the first spawning taking an incredible amount out of such a survivor.
With all of those variables just what do I think we might expect of the coming season? Of course the main determinant will be just what flow the summer deems to provide us with. Given sufficient water to get the fish into the river I would like to think we will see higher numbers of 3SW fish in April and May. I don't think I will predict numbers as the capture of just one such fish would certainly make my year and hopefully for any other rod lucky enough to hook one. As for our 2SW run, like last years grilse, it is based on the parr that grew in the low flow summer of 2013, which according to the thinking of the EA Solomon/Lightfoot report in 2009, points to it being a disaster! This is where it will be interesting to see the outcome. If they do appear we need to go back to the drawing board with regard to determining that impacts on the final adult run. In the event they are correct and they fail to show I predict a further examination of the abstraction that sucks the life essence out of our rivers like some old Skeksis!
2nd February 2016
Not quite the excitement of yesterday's start to the salmon season as things quickly settled back into the more normal winter valley mode. I did meet three salmon rods and I spotted a couple of chub men across the river so we are still enjoying the company of members to hopefully add a little further spice and excitement to our days.
This time of year I begin to worry about next years butterflies and bees, hoping we can provide sufficient mixed flora to keep them in their chosen diet. We have taken off the cattle as the grass had become too sparce to keep them happy but the donks remain. As I've said on here before donks are different in that they are the ultimate scavenger when it comes to clearing rough grass and as the jack in the first shot suggests they are currently quite happy with their lot. My problem arises when the pickings become too thin even for them and they start to do more harm than good. We are attempting to get a well grazed down sward with areas of longer grass protected by scattered brambles in the hope of a varied wild flower summer meadow. Given time I would give more direction to the task of deciding when we had reached the optimum state of play by counting the plant species in random meter squares. Unfortunately time is not on my side so a walk over the grazed paddocks has to suffice.
I have to admit that an hour on a sunny day, strolling around one of the lakes is as good a way to spend my lunchtime as I know. The ducks and geese obviously have checked their calendars and are well aware that the shooting season is over, they no longer fly off at the first glimpse of my vehicle but simple paddle their way into the middle of the lake. Well over three hundred Teal and a mixed lot of Mallard, Wigeon, Shovelor, Tufted, Gadwall and even the odd Golden eye added to the scene, as did well over one hundred Cormorants busy mopping up the small roach, rudd and carp. I always have to take a deep breath and keep my head down as accepting they are acting in our best interests seems a pretty alien philosophy at times. On to look at the next area of clearing was sufficient distraction to take their antics from my mind but the willow that was to be removed would have to wait a week or two as it now stood in a foot of water since the recent rain. Its an area where we will leave a wide margin of alder for the Siskin and Goldfinches to enjoy during the winter. The centre will be added to the shallow margins and fen habitat, rich in reeds, flag irises and nectar rich hemp agrimony and mint beds. It was good to see the odd rabbit out in the sunshine the recent crash in their population has serious knock on effects for the Buzzards and foxes that rely on them for their staple diet. The one or two that were out today looked in fine fettle so lets hope they manage to over come the ravages of the annual round of disease that knocks them back so severely.
An odd sort of photograph to finish in the form of an out of focus shot of the colour and movement of some of the 150 or so Gadwall that are currently enjoying the floods.
1st February 2016
I have lots of catching up to do but this just couldn't wait.
Congratulations to Colin Morgan, the first of the season 26 pounds of Avon perfection.
All being well more news from the valley later.
I'm actually adding this out of sequence as I believe Colin's fish should remain as the highlight at the top of the day. My other news is more a preamble as an intro to the new year as I begin to get back into the general goings-on of the valley. My distractions have reduced considerable with the close of the shooting season and we will hopefully get the next week or two out of the way and begin to see the arrival of a little warmer, drier weather. The list of jobs seems just as endless but the thought we are over the hump of the New Year and on the run in to Spring lightens the days. Colin's fish was just about the ultimate when it comes to further chasing off those leadened skies so I am currently looking forward to exciting times ahead.
Today didn't have the best of starts with a call before seven to extricate a stranded stillwater guy who had managed to park astride a tree stump. It wasn't the fact I was called out to sort out the problem but that I wasn't in my old truck that is currently in the garage being glued back together in readiness for its MOT, along with all my chains and ropes. Never daunted, my new steed that I have temporarily purloined from Darren and Kevin was more than capable of tipping the balance in favour of the stricken vehicles own grip thus simply resolving my early call. I will refrain from naming names suffice to say our man was feeling a great deal worse about the situation than I was. To get into one of those sticky spots is all to easy and hopefully not too frequent a situation. If however you times that by the number of syndicate members and estate tenants to me it's all part and parcel of the days work so no harm done.
Peter Littleworth fishing down to the hatches. Good to see the Lodge in use for meeting and lunch as the rods catchup on the news. Peter Littleworth and Paul Shutler covering above and below Ellingham Bridge.
Home for a quick cuppa before back onto the estate for the opening of the salmon season. As I headed for the Top Garden to get the estate work under way I was suprised and delighted to see we had half a dozen brave souls along at the Lodge, champing at the bit to get to grips with the swirling depths that still brimmed the banks. Once I had got my first tasks out of the way I headed back to the Lodge to meet, greet and wish our rods well in their days endeavours. It was good to see the rods once more back on the banks and the Lodge full of warm tea and chatter, the anticipation was palpable and this was before we knew of Colin's success!
I have also had the coloured water in Mockbeggar on my mind today as I attempted to get to grips with the underlying causes of the turbidity. We are continually told by NE its all because of our fish and whilst they almost certainly play a part, like most things in nature its not quite as simple as that. The history of the north lake includes a period when silt from the gravel washings was deliberately pumped into the shallow northern bays. the important fact to note is the inclusion of the word shallow. Being shallow when the wind blows the silt will rock, or more accurately be agitated back into suspension. Add to this the arrival of coloured flood water every time the forest experiences heavy rain and the reasons and the water become more cloudy by the minute. The designated ducks themselves actually add to the problem in that they prefer the shallow islands and gravel bars to sit out on and dabble away their days. The more one looks the less clear it all becomes so perhaps I'll give that further thought another day!
Finally just a snap shot of approaching Spring. You might be forgiven for thinking this is a passionate tryst in the life of one of our pairs of Mute swans. Alas, nothing could be further from the truth. Both are cobs and the dominate guy had just spent forty five minutes doing his best to drown the interloper daring to enter his territory - as in life the Pens simply ignored their partners as they determined the nesting rights ahead.
21st January 2016
Planning, fishery and conservation meetings, combined with the ongoing work of the estate that is always waiting, making for a full day. Whatever the latest thinking of the regulators and local authorities, the day to day management of the fishery has to continue. Nathalie has been finalising the salmon syndicate membership and I am delighted to say that with the latest round of invitations we are some dotted “I”s and crossed “t”s from a full salmon membership.
The river remains bank high so we are keeping everything crossed for a dry spell to allow the river to get back into its channel to enable fishing to get under way at the start of the season on the 1st of February. It is also essential to let us get on the banks to clear the paths and pools so the forecast of rain to come tomorrow isn't quite what I was hoping for.
Whilst remaining bank high the water is slowly dropping and clearing and today we enjoyed a rise in air temperature that lured one or two brave soles out onto the banks. It wasn't an easy river to deal with but by lunchtime I had heard of several good chub, a brace of large bream from the river and grayling in continually pleasing numbers. Not for the faint hearted but the fish are active if you can find them.
20th January 2016
An icy start and an icy finish over the lakes today.
19th January 2016
The Coomer Oxbow fry sanctuary, created by the then Wessex Salmon Association, in full working order.
A couple of new snags to decide the fate of when the banks eventually dry out. They may be left in as cover if they do not detract from the pools or we may need the boat and the machine to get them out. The righthand shot shows the perched main channel doing its best to revert to the old course of the river in the Ashley Stream just below the Breakthrough.
The water-level is slowly falling, illustrated by over two hundred Lapwing, a couple of Green sandpiper and half a dozen Snipe finding a newly exposed island on which to lounge away the day.
18th January 2016
72 House sparrows, 55 Starlings, 26 Goldfinches, 1 Woodpigeon, 12 Collared doves, 1 Sparrow hawk - correction, 11 Collared doves!
15th January 2016
The photos above are really just an update for syndicate members wondering about the state of the river, they were taken yesterday but the river hasn't dropped a great deal in the mean time. If you are intending to fish the river be warned it will not be easy and you will need to take great care.
This photo is also by way of a warning for those members that may be thinking of fishing Vincents on Sunday. Despite it being the coldest weekend of the winter so far and the water at its highest, on Sunday we are to have a trial bream match with a group of local matchmen in an effort to see if we can lower the numbers in Vincents. I'm not expecting much in the way of weights but it will give the anglers a look at the mechanics of the place and what the future may hold. I just hope it doesn't put them off for good!
12th January 2016
On with the chest waders and a walk through the floods at Hucklesbrook today in an effort to see the impact of the recent river restoration work upstream of Gorley Corner. The volume of water gave very few clues as to what was happening down below. In the shot of the "Old Man" the breaking wave above the woody debris can just be made out on the far bank, certainly a great deal of water being deflected. Above North End island a beautifully smooth flow across the shallows and into the pool beside the island. I look forward to seeing the results of this good scouring next summer when the water clears once again.
As well as the layer of silt that will be deposited on the flood meadows by the high water we also gather a fine crop of bottles and other floating rubbish. I would like to think it was flotsam but I fear a great deal of it is jetsam and indicative of our societies care for the environment. Finally a shot of the single Bewicks Swan that has visited the valley in recent winters. Why this bird stays with the Mutes I have no idea but he seemed quite content today when I splashed past him as he grazed on the flood.
10th January 2016
After several hours of torrential rain last night the river is at its highest level of the winter to date. Water pouring under the Harbridge road bridge also flooding across Harbridge Drove for the first time this winter.
10th January 2016
Sunday morning dawned clear and bright, well dry at least and that's good enough for me. I thought I would take the opportunity to park at Mockbeggar and walk back up on to the New Forest escarpment to look back over our efforts at the lakes. Always an enjoyable walk with rewarding views to add to the Forest wildlife. I also had a second nagging reason for having a look at this section of the forest inthe shape of our regular white buck. More correctly the lack of the shape of our white buck in that I haven't seen him for over a month. His absence may be down to the end of the rut and he has simply moved back onto the Forest for a rest from his activities of the previous few weeks. Or it maybe a little more sinster in that he has left the sanctuary of the estate and has been culled or fallen foul of the poachers. What ever the reason, if he has survived, I thought I may find him in his Spring quarters.
I parked up and walked back across the road into Newlands Plantation, which has changed out of all recognition in recent years in that the majority has been cleared. What is left is returning to the natural state of lowland heath and valley mire. I have to say it looks very well and was just scanning the valley below with the binoculars when out of nowhere a large black and white Springer came hurtling into view and proceeded to make its way up and down the valley side clearing every vestige of life from the entire area. I now remembered why I like the sanctuary of the estate. I never did see the owner, only the occasional squauk as whose ever he was half heartedly cast his name into the void in the hope he might respond favourably. Perhaps his presence might work in my favour if our buck were laying-up down in the valley mire, cooling his appendages after their recent hectic duties. From my vantage on the ridge I could follow "Fido's" progress in the valley quite easily but after half a mile his activity was proving more frustrating than helpful so I turned my back on him and headed off over the ridge in the direction of Whitefield Plantation.
As I cleared the ridge I took a diversion to the west to the edge of the scarp to take look down over the lakes and take in the wonderful view right across the valley to Somerley House in the distance. I turned back to my path and headed out across the heather in direction of Whitefield Plantation. Away to my right, on the scarp over to the east overlooking the recently vacated valley and Digden Bottom were the first group of fallow of the day in the shape of a mixed group of prickets, sorrels and sores. They were all preoccupied watching the activity of our wayward Spaniel in the valley below them, giving me ample time to check our buck wasn't in their number before they decided on discretion being the better part of valour and departing over the brow behind me, heading for the remaining fir cover the top of Newlands afforded them.
Some of the fallow deer spotted today, to which should be added over forty does but not our white buck.
I pushed on up to Whitefield where the brilliant white of the trig pillar stood out against the heath and surrounding scrub. Many mixed emotions every time I pass this trig in that my previous occupation I had spent many, many hours leaning on such lumps staring through various theodolites, tellurometers and geodimeters. Many are located in far flung and dramatic places that were wonderful places to visit. By the very exposed nature of the sites they also had the propensity to be bloody freezing and after thirty two rounds of pointings taking six or seven hours in temperatures below freezing they could lose their appeal fairly quickly. On past the plantation out toward the old aerial blocks that once towered above the centre of Ibsley Commmon when the war time aerodrome, which the lakes now occupy, was in being. A lone Peregrine out to the east, sat on the side of a gaunt birch, watching a small flock of Fieldfares and scanning back to the west four sets of headgear from obviously larger bucks poking out above the surrounding heather. A good mile from my position and I couldn't make out the colour of their coats. I doubled back to head west, a km further north than the headgear, toward Robin Hoods Clump. From the vantage of the clump I could see our buck wasn't among their number. What looking back south west towards their position has also shown was the dark and threatening grey cloads heading upfrom the coast, time to head home me thinks. Perhaps our buck will turn up once he's had a little rest and recuperation out on the heath.
8th January 2016
A couple of shots taken up at Ibsley with the water exiting the perched main channel at the "Aquarium" and heading out across the meadows towards the Harbridge Stream. As it flows toward the Harbridge Stream, which is the natural lowest channel in the valley, it passes the lodge set on the scarp above the flood plain.
One or two of the local syndicate members have asked the reason behind the redesigned gate at Mockbeggar. You'll be pleased to hear its to get the new "super" carp we are stocking on site as the old gate was too narrow. In reality its nothing to do with the lakes, its a need on the part of the Forestry Commission contractors to get the large timber harvester and forwarder into the neighbouring woodland. Its the only safe access the site has and we have a legal obligation to permit access. Not only the coming and going of the larger machinery but many hundreds of tons of timber has to be taken out on similarly large lorries. before our season gets underway all the timber wil have gone and the site restored to normality.
7th January 2016
Its long after midnight and after several hours strimming the entire long island regrowth at Mockbeggar today just the briefest of entries as an update on the state of the river. As can be seen the overnight rain brought the forest streams back up with the associated colour and raised water level on the main river. I expect the barbel would have fed if you could have dropped a large smelly bait on their heads but not a lot else if it had any sense. It will need a day or two to fine down and drop before its worth travelling any distance to fish.
6th January 2016
Every cloud etc. La rook our regular French Great white egret is looking well, I assume its as a result of the mild winter and the recent floods which have seen him out and about in the valley most days.
A rather blurry set of photos as I only had the mobile with me today. The first shows Darren and Kevin travelling between the islands sorting out the nestboxes for the coming spring. I was strimming last years willow and alder growth on another of the islands. Surprisingly considering the area of wetlands available to them there were over a dozen Snipe on that one small island, why they were there I have no idea. The middle shot shows the Lichen Heath that has recovered remarkably since we cleared the trees that were shading it last winter. Hopefully now re-established it will manage to go from strength to strength. Finally a shot for Geoff who'll be delighted to see this swim cleaned out.
4th January 2016
I've stuck the donk up as a filler whilst I explain the process of writing this blog that involves several differing stages. I usually start by sitting down and choosing the photos that will form the basis of the entry. I reduce them in "Photo Shop" to avoid file overload and produce a thumbnail for the index page. This is the stage that usually takes the longest so I get it out of the way first. I then add the text sections accompanied by the HTML tags. If you select a page and right click you can then select the "view selection source" and you will see the hieroglyphics that create this lot. I know its not the state of the art but neither am I so it suits me. It is the HTML that takes the concentration, often at the expense of the writing and this is the point of this section. I immediately upload them onto the web in this raw state with all the duff spelling, grammatical cock ups and tag glitches. Anyone looking in on the blog when I load it will see the finished product at the same time as I do. The next stage is to read through it and sort out the mistakes. As I usually write this lot around midnight its a a process that I usually do the next day before I select the days photos. The point of this is that you will usually see the raw piece for about a day, which hopefully will go some way in explaining the sometimes strange fliers that it will undoubtedly contain.
I should also just add in praise of the donks that they are the most amazing animals at clearing the rough paddocks we are trying to create for the butterflies and other various invertebrates. We have fifteen of assorted colours chewing their way around Mockbeggar. You can stand them in a field up to their knees in fresh grass and they will ignore it and eat the soft rush, nettles and brambles, marvellous creatures. They are also a lot easier to handle and catch than cows and bloody horses!
The weekends weather has certainly brought a change to the valley. Out with a whisper, in with a roar, best describes the turn of the year. From a seasonally low river at the end of the year we now have the flood plain in full use. I have been out and about at various times over the weekend watching the waters slowly rising and the wind uprooting trees and snapping branches as the storms rolled through. Today I arrived at Ibsley to check the gates and was surprised to find the bund between the bridge and the hatches was still dry. With the volume of water spreading out across the flood plain and the height of the Forest fords it was a pleasant surprise not to have to wade to the gates. With nothing major in the main hatches, to add to the great lump of tree jammed in the southern gates, I thought a trip up to Hucklesbrook was called for to see the state of the marshes. I had been up over the weekend and removed the hatch boards as the flood now made them obsolete so I was keen to see the depth of the water as it will determine whether or not the waders arrive to feed. It didn't take many seconds to see that both the North and South marshes were too deep for the waders and it was mainly populated with ducks, geese and sea gulls. What my visit also enabled me to see was the effect of the recent River Restoration Project that was partly aimed at re-connecting the river with its flood plain on the western side of the valley. I was delighted to see the double bend mid way down the cross valley traverse at Gorley was spilling water into the flood plain beautifully, which explained the reason the bund at Ibsley was dry. I don't expect the bund will remain dry under more severe floods but it was good to see that one element of the project at least appeared to be working as anticipated.
I don't usually stick annotations and arrows on my photographs but on this occasion its worth it. The first pic is looking west out across the southern marsh with the north marsh just visible to the right of the large oak. The interesting section of the photo is the section between the arrows which shows water accessing the flood plain on the west side of the river. Flooding there has not been the norm in recent years at this height of river. The middle shot shows the section of bank that was lowered at Gorley, the course of the southern side of the channel I have indicated in red, clearly seen to be working as designed by those Dutch engineers in the early 18th century and restored by the recent works. It will make a difference for us lower down the valley as the extra water had to go somewhere and the Harbridge Stream is taking the strain. This stream is an important juvenile sanctuary in high water which will mean we will have to ensure it is helped to continue in this vital role.
3rd January 2016
Two days of rain have brought the forest fords up, which were quickly followed by the river spilling into the valley. Not the most inspiring weekend to be out and about making for the perfect occasion to review the year past.
2015 Year Review
Perhaps an odd opening photo but it is the Ellingham Drive which I travel down every day of the year and it is the entrance to the estate many of you will be familiar with. I am very fond of this hedge in that it harbours numerous nesting birds and whilst we have tractor flails to keep it under control in the winter I always enjoy the distraction of topping and tailing the summer growth and brambles without disturbing the residents. A sanctuary for the midges on those breezy summer evenings with the bats arriving at dusk to enjoy the bounty, if you're really lucky the the sight of the Hobbies as they pluck the dancing Mayfly from the shelter of the hedges.
What a wonderful year! I think those four words just about encapsulate 2015 from my personal perspective. Perhaps I need to say little more and reminisce a little, if for no other reason than to forget the wind and rain that is currently lashing down outside. I also have several nagging concerns that unfortunately have the potential to have severe, adverse impact on the valley which I also feel formed part of my year and should be aired.
Darren and Kevin on the ground with Andrew's "Tree Mender" team on the stick. I'd like to see them mend that one!
At the beginning of 2015 I looked forward with some trepidation as we were about to embark on a complete change of direction for the fishery. Adding the management and day to day running of what is one of the largest and most diverse fisheries in the country to my already stretched schedule gave rise to more than just a few doubts. With over ten miles of main Hampshire Avon bank offering salmon and coarse fishing, serious commitment would be required. Particularly when a further one hundred acres of lakes also had to be considered in the equation. That without a further ten miles of carrier and drains that hold the key to the long term future of the river fishery. Luckily for me we have Darren and Kevin on the estate and when ever we had a spare hour or two, roads and car parks were resurfaced, bridges repaired and gates renewed. As with many aspects of the countryside fishery management is a long term process, trees and margins do not respond overnight, it will take us some time but we will most definitely get there.
If you are a member of the salmon syndicate you will have received an end of season review and update on the state of play. As I said in that salmon review, if someone had said to me that the first year of the new Somerley syndicate would be off the scale when it came to the success of our salmon season I would have simply laughed. To dream that we would see a return to salmon fishing the like of which we hadn't experienced for decades would have been delusional. Yet it actually came to pass that is just what we enjoyed, an extraordinary season that saw fish in numbers that haven't been seen on the Avon for decades.
The quality of the fishing was not purely reflected in the number of fish but the size of the fish and the wonderful condition of the river, good flows, clean gravel and clear of weed. Add what I must say is a particularly pleasing aspect for me and that was the quality of the angling. It was very satisfying to see the fishery buzzing with rods keen to get out on the bank looking for that Avon Springer. It was far from a fish a cast from the off but when the run did get to us there was MSW fishing that meant you fished with real anticipation rather than simply going through the motions in the distant hope of bumping into a fish. Several rods new to salmon fishing managed their first Avon salmon. Paul Greenacre showed us all a clean pair of heels with a personal tally in excess of twenty fish. A feat that will be hard, bordering impossible, to equal at Somerley. I appreciate several other anglers had over twenty plus fish elsewhere on the river but under dramatically different conditions. Well done to all who achieved their personal goals for the season be they their first fish, most fish, or simple the delight in just being there.
Lovely shot of a true Avon Springer and a delighted Julian Mahoney defining our Somerley salmon season.
Low water throughout the late summer and autumn brought the fishing to an early end, by July the river was all but unfishable. We didn't participate in the EA September fishing experiment as we felt it neither in the best interests of the fish or the traditional Avon spring fishery ethos that we aspire to at Somerley. There is no secret about what would be caught in September, the records of coloured fish and low flows has a century long history that is well documented. Donking prawns and leaded flies on the nose of stale fish, to be played out in a warm river full of weed, holds little appeal. Somerley traditionally reduced angling pressure in June and this season was an example of why, with all of the Somerley fish being grassed before the end of June. In line with the exceptional earlier season less than ten of the fish grassed were single figures grilse. I suppose its a case of whatever floats your boat but we believe the Hampshire Avon is a Spring river and as such MSW Spring salmon fishing is what we aspire to. Manipulating figures and catch returns is best left to the EA to justify its stance with regard to the maintenance, development and improvement of our fisheries. It certainly holds little of value toward the long term survival of the fishery.
We are currently sorting out the salmon syndicate for the new season, which will probably see a very limited offer of membership invitations. Any readers wishing to experience the chance of an Avon Springer you have under a month to get your details into Nathalie at the office.
The river coarse and stillwater seasons had a strange delayed start due to the fishery coming back in house on the 1st of February. We had decided to stagger our administrative years to ease the burden of membership renewal, Salmon 16th January, River Coarse 15th May and Stillwater 15th March. This gave those on the stillwater and river coarse syndicates a bonus period as a run in to the kick off to the full season. I was apprehensive about both seasons continuing in a similar fashion to that which had been enjoyed in the previous year. I felt it would be almost impossible to match the quality of fishing that had previously been enjoyed and might be viewed as somewhat of an anticlimax.
Only the Hampshire Avon can improve on perfection and that's exactly what it did yet again. That previous statement might give a clue to my bias toward our river to which I have to hold my hands up. I simply believe if you get into sync which the Avon no river can hold a candle to it. Being beside this river on a summer evening when the Hobbies take their last feed of the day over the water meadows. Nightjars and Woodcock flight through to feed on the parkland, accompanied by bats feasting on the evening hatch that fills the still air. Or searching the miles of blue-green water of the early year, waiting for that solid resistance as that silvered traveller intercepts your fly. At the other extreme the crispness of a winter morning seeking huge chub and pike beside the stark, submerged willows and rustling, straw coloured phragmites beds. To be part of the many faces our river can present makes for the very best angling has to offer. Trying to explain to a non-participant the magic of being alone with your thoughts and imagination in such an environment is a lost cause, perhaps that's just as well.
What of those fish? To quantify how many, or how large, is perhaps not the aspect of Somerley that we wish to portray as its greatest appeal. The carp, chub and barbel have been magnificent with superb catches of wonderful fish. Dace and even the grayling have put in a welcome appearance. Pike, perch and even bream for those brave few. Several members, after many years fishing, have enjoyed personal best seasons with numbers and size of fish that are simply staggering. Here on the diary is perhaps not the place to list such captures. I will compile a more comprehensive review for each of the syndicates that the membership will receive at the end of the relevant seasons. We often hear of nostalgia for the past when certain aspects of our sport were deemed to have been at their zenith. I believe that at no time in the history of the Avon valley has the chub, barbel, dace and carp fishing ever been the equal of today's, let alone surpassed it.
Dan, Lee and Julian show off some of the rewards for their efforts.
There in lies the rub. This has been achieved without a great deal of direction from humans and in reality has been achieved despite our involvement. Under the guise and direction of our regulators we have dredged, straightened, polluted, abstracted, predated, scoured, denuded and obstructed. Just imagine what would be possible if we actually placed the riverine environment above or on an equal footing to that of society, business and farming! After all said and done the long term impact of failing to get our priorities correct now will certainly rebound on the next generation.
In the short term we will endeavour to do our bit in providing a stable and protected habitat for the section of valley under our control. Fish are our bread and butter but they are only part of the fabric that makes up the ecology of the valley. Birds, mammals and invertebrates all live alongside and interact with our fish. All seek much the same from the space afforded them, expressed at its most basic form of food and shelter. The fish enable us to fund the management of this environment through the income derived from the fishery. If our environment is healthy our fishery is likewise healthy, providing a further incentive to fight our corner. If outside influences threaten our stability it is in our interest to point these out to the regulators and expect action to be taken to resolve our problems. Alas this is where we come up against the dogma and inflexibility of Defra that looks on fisheries as a simple pastime to be marginalised and dismissed. Lets allow our farmers to plough out the heart of the land in the autumn to grow subsidised crops. To pour their pesticides on the land under the guise of keeping the masses fed. Lets provide full compensation for farmers for the loss of their cattle under the TB regime. TB that is purported to be spread by a wild protected animal in the form of the badger. It as always rankled with me that the farming community is compensated for the loss of their stock yet the loss, to a similarly protected wild animal, of a considerably more expensive asset in the shape of our large carp is not considered worthy of compensation. I must ask Defra about the logic behind that policy at some point and ask if they understand the total dissatisfaction with their role within the fishery world. Whilst ignoring our plight they have chosen to allow the private water companies to abstract the heart of our rivers from beneath our very feet to avoid expensive filtering, enabling higher share dividends to be paid to their corporate masters. All under the guise of keeping the taps flowing for the masses. Similarly allow the highways to pour their filth into our rivers poisoning the very life blood of those systems, all under the guise of keeping the transport system flowing. Is this because we are as a society totally corrupt, or is it through lack of ability on the part of the engineers and decision makers. I'm not sure which of the two options I prefer but which ever it is we had better get on and take a long hard look at ourselves if we are to leave a legacy worth a bean for future generations. Jeez' that's pretty depressing and that’s only a start! I am old, grey and weather beaten and it wont make a figs difference to me if we continue down the road we are on at present. I just hope the up and coming generations have the insight and gumption, to see the complexity of the problems that surround them. Lets hope they grasp the challenges that confront our environment and are not be fobbed off by government imposed austerity cuts and commercial half truths.
Bee orchid, Ox eye daisy and a Pyramid Orch beside Mockbeggar. Below, a Small Copper, Humming-bird Hawkmoths and a White Letter Hairstreak, providing just a glimpse of the wonders that surround us.
That was not quite the review I was intending, with so many plusses in our valley it is hard to take such a critical position. In reality the many plusses we enjoy at Somerley are the result of our isolation and size. It has enabled us to refuse to allow our river to be scoured and denuded of weed by the EA for generations and have sufficient juvenile habitat in-house to sustain our fishery. Yet as I look around I see miles of the river still without sustainable populations of fish. Blocked by barriers, impacted by discharges and entrapped by trout farms. I see forty percent of our song birds sacrificed to politics, greed or ignorance. Even the rose tinted glasses I wear, as I hide from the outside world within the sanctuary of Somerley, I see the problems surrounding us. It would be a false review if I were to ignore my frustrations and pretend all is well with our world.
As for my personal objectives for the coming year. I will continue to be busy with life on the estate, where I will look to do my best for our salmon and carp, our ducks and sparrows, our otters and rabbits and our butterflies and beetles. What could be more idyllic, pottering about in the valley insulated from the surrounding chaos. Having said that I feel I should not let my concerns be forgotten, perhaps I will raise my doubts in the relevant quarters. Always assuming of course that the bodies purporting to represent fisheries and the catchment environment haven't already grasped the nettle. From the perspective of syndicate members and readers, not so intimately involved in the world of fisheries and valley politics, you perhaps rightly look to persons in my role to identify and deal with these issues. It looks as if 2016 might be an equally interesting year!