Thereís an awful lot going-on in the valley at present and much of it is extremely encouraging from the rivers perspective. We have been officially launching the new "Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust" with all the promise of a more cohesive management structure for the rivers of our area. The trust provides, for the first time, the opportunity for all groups and persons interested in the welfare of our rivers and catchments to sit around the table together and thrash out a joint policy for the protection and preservation of our rivers. Owners, tenants and conservation groups form the trustees group and from them will hopefully flow the policy to safeguard our rivers. It is our intention to have a full time staff to remove the unacceptable burden of work placed on volunteers to answer the reams of consultations and committees produced by the EU and our regulatory bodies. We very much look forward to the day when duplicated effort by the component groups is a thing of the past. The website for the group is currently under construction but an explanatory brochure can be found at;
Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust
Have a look and if you feel an irresistible urge to join us please get in touch.
Sir Max Hastings speaking at the official launch of the Wessex Chalk Streams and Rivers Trust at Somerley House yesterday.
Arlin Ricard, Director of the Association of Rivers Trusts speaking at the launch. In the foreground Brian Marshall chairman of the new trust, Sir Max, Tom Davis Director of the trust and the Earl of Normanton.
Other goings on include the ongoing efforts to control the invasive alien Himalayan balsam. With the necessary consents from Natural England and the EA in place I have been out attempting to control the increasing tide. The extent of the infestation beside the Dockens Water has long passed the hand pulling size. In conjunction with Natural England and the Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust we have contracted out the spraying of this area in the previous two years. For what ever reasons the volume of plants has refused to diminish, be it a seed bank dormant in the sol springing up to replace the cleared areas or the spraying has been ineffective I canít say. Suffice to say we are spraying earlier and using a different product, in part due to the fact there is now only one chemical that is deemed safe by the EA for aquatic use. Only time will tell but I believe we will have to spay several times to get the upper hand. The frightening prospect is that should we fail to make an impact this year I believe it will be too late to prevent the Avon following so many of the rivers in the west and the north of Britain in becoming completely swamped by balsam.
Dense beds of Himalayan balsam besides the Dockens Water SSSI. With up to two thousand plants per meter we have our work cut out to save the day!
Himalayan balsam growing in the bramble clumps making pulling impossible. Unfortunately the bramble beds will have to be sacrificed in an effort to get on top of the situation.
Strangely I have probably seen more eels landed by anglers and swimming in the river in the past fortnight than I have seen over the previous three years. I was speaking to Pete Reading, who spends hours peering into the depths and he confirmed the apparent increase in wrigglers. Iím aware one swallow doesnít make a summer but it is encouraging to see so many anglers struggling with a writhing slime ball at last knockings!
Mike Windows landing an eel at last knockings. I was pleased to see it, I'm not sure Mike was quite so happy with the prospect of unhooking and returning the beastie. Mike's short evening session had provided four good chub and a barbel so an eel to round off the evening seems quite like old times.
I must say modern air cushioned tractor seats are a great improvement on the more rigid springs and plastic of yesteryear. Its just as well because I have spent ten hours over the last couple of days cutting grass which is a pretty thankless task in the weather we had at the weekend.
I did manage to get away for a few hours when Damian and Steve arrived on the estate wishing to complete the new footbridge over the bottom end of the Harbridge Stream. I took the machine down and dropped the forty foot of split larch onto the supports Damian and Steve had built in readiness for my arrival. Suffice to say a couple of hours cursing and swearing at the horse flies and we had the walkway in place so those of you that had tried to cross the old one things are looking up.
Taken from the other side of the river but you can just see a section of the new Harbridge stream crossing.
I also managed to have a look in on the swarm I collected from the willow up at Ibsley a week or two ago. They have settled into their new home and have polished the old frames I put them on. The queen is laying beautiful slabs of brood so they will soon be building in numbers in readiness to gather the nectar flow. I haven't much news on the fishing front as I had very little time to speak to the anglers this weekend, I'll try and get an update as soon as possible in the week.
Please Note; As agreed with the EA and many fishery owners on the Avon, CAC has suspended salmon fishing as the water temperature at Knapp mill exceeded 19 degrees at 9.0 oclock this morning
More details and recent news asap
Thanks to Keith Cherry for sending me a photo of a well known local mirror which he landed at 38 pounds 2 ounces on opening day; congratulations Keith.
An update of the coarse season tells an interesting story on the still-waters and a difficult time on the rivers. The rivers looked as if they were going to be difficult as the chub and barbel had yet to spawn and the bright conditions foretold of hard times ahead. The river highlights of one or two large chub and I only know of one barbel seem to confirm our fears. These were compounded when the chub and barbel appeared on the shallows to get on with their spawning. Two chub I landed late on Friday evening whilst dace fishing were completely empty and still showing the inflamed vent and anal fin resulting from the days spawning. I packed up after the second getting absolutely no pleasure in landing fish in such stressed condition. I did throw in two pints of bait hopefully to help get their recuperation underway. Iím perhaps old fashioned in my views as I donít get any pleasure landing fish immediately prior to or immediate after spawning. I felt downright guilty about landing those two chub and I doubt I will fish the river again much before September unless of course I can find a perch shoal to pester. Not so many years ago summer fishing on the Avon was not available as the salmon season kept the coarse fishing off the water. When the coarse rods did get to the river it was trotting for dace and roach that made the Avon famous. Chub and pike in the winter when theroach and dace couldn't be found or persuaded to feed. The current trend of summer fishing for chub and barbel is a development of the last forty years and perhaps not one in the best interest of the fish or fishing.
I will fish the lakes now and then as the roach have been coming out with several fish over two pounds from one of the local pits and fish between 8 ounces and a pound one a cast if the conditions are right. Iím not sure what the state of play is regarding the spawning of the tench and carp some appear to be clean and well recovered others still appear well up in weight. Locally I have heard of carp to 41.10 with a least three other 30ís and a fair number of twenties which would point to some reasonable catches. The tench have started to show well with several bags of half a dozen or more up to seven pounds. I know the carp lads have landed at least two in excess of eight pounds one of my seasonís targets so perhaps a visit in that direction is called for.
Trotting for dace.
One other point I should mention is that the Stag beetles are currently hatching and doing their evening flying displays. I always enjoy seeing them rattling along doing their best to avoid inconsiderately positioned walls, trees, cars and pedestrians. Flight looks improbable for such a design but they do get airborne alas I think it was at the expense of manoeuvrability, accidents appear commonplace.
There's more to fishing than fish, luckily Phil and I were on hand to provide advice and assist Reg in landing this bream!!
This evening unexpectedly turned out to be a real Boys Own, battery charging much needed few hours of fishing therapy. After having spent a very hot and frustrating day splitting a very large larch trunk for the Harbridge Carrier footbridge I was prepared to forego this eveningís visit to the lakes as I was dog tired and extremely dusty. Had it not been my first trip of the new coarse season I doubt I would have ventured out. Having enjoyed an early dinner I dug up the energy, the tackle, a loaf of bread, sweet corn and the left over boiled rice from dinner and headed for the Lakes a little after six oíclock.
Splitting a 40 foot larch for the new footbridge over the Harbridge Stream.
I had walked around KingsVincent Lake yesterday evening and despite the north wind and clear skies it was fishing well. That would do for me, if I could manage a couple of bites and a fish that would suffice for the opening session.
As I made my way along the track to the area I was intending to fish I passed Mark Wintle fishing the margins in much the same fashion I was intending. Mark was getting plenty of action so I was keen to get underway, wished him well and headed for my chosen swim seventy meters or so along the bank. My swim choice had been based mainly on facing the ripple created by the north wind that has been blowing all week. The area also had the advantage of a shallow inside shelf often favoured by the Crucians which would be a real bonus especially as a big Crucian is one of my targets for the season. Before setting up the rod I quickly soaked four slices of bread and mixed it with the boiled rice and a handful of corn into a pint of slops. A good three or four handfuls were dolloped into the margins ten feet to the left of the swim where it could be working its magic whilst I sorted out the rod.
My old Diawa favourite with a Trudex pin loaded with five pound BS line was the basic out fit. Insert Peacock quill float and a two foot, three pound BS hook link to a Drennan barbless, size 14. Three BB up under the float, one No 4 at the trace knot with two number eight down the trace. Plumb the depth and set the float at four feet, three inches over depth with just one No 8 holding bottom. A flick into open water to check the shotting and we will be ready for the off. That first flick with a bare hook proved prophetic for the session in that a four inch rudd immediately hooked itself on the bare hook. That would mean bread being out of the question if the swim was full of small rudd, they would strip it in seconds. Luckily the back-up sweetcorn should get down through them a little quicker and reach the better fish below. So it proved as from that first cast roach to 14 ounces, three carp landed between six and fifteen pounds, a further three carp dropped, a fine tench and a brown thingy which best describes the last fish of the evening. I packed up at 09:30 three hours of non stop action, even more tired but having enjoyed every minute.
The first classic tench of the season.
As for the brown thingy, I had earlier discussed with Mark the Crucian carp that inhabit this water. He had mentioned seeing a dumpy brown fish top in his swim but went on to add that it didnít look like a true Crucian. Markís unparalleled knowledge of Crucians was spot on this occasion as the brown thingy I had landed was probably the same fish, whilst short and deep bodied, it didnít have much Crucian in it.
Other than a brief mention that KingsVincent was fishing well I haven't said much about the opening day. The cold, clear night of the 15th signalled catches were not going to set new records. In the view of many the cloudless skies, north wind and many fish yet to spawn made conditions extremely difficult. The rivers were particulalry difficult with a few chub and dace making up the bag for the lucky few who did manage to get a bite or two. The lakes fished better but not as well as we know they can. I have heard reports of carp to 38 pounds and one angler having landed sixteen double figure carp in a session so if you are lucky they are still there for the catching. Until we see some south westerly winds carrying a little rain and the fish get spawning out of their systems we are not going to get any consistency in the catches.
We are at the point of the year when the salmon season begins to draw to a close and the coarse season gets underway. There will be a period of overlap but I am of the school that believes the historic Hampshire Avon salmon anglers were correct in winding fishing up at this time of year. In the coming weeks there will be a number of fish that fall to the bait and these will bolster the numbers to allow statisticians within the EA to tell us under their Bayesian applied computations we are continuing to see an improved salmon run. In reality with the weed now getting into fast growth mode and the water temperature rocketing I am still of the opinion that salmon are best left to their own devices to try and survive in peace. The only other news on the salmon front this weekend was that I found a further dead fish; it was floating in the slack water above the Wessex Water intake basin where the Moorhens and Coots had enjoyed a rare feast cleaning off the bones. This is my fourth confirmed dead salmon of the past week or two which considering how little time I spend beside the river these days is very worrying.
A further dead salmon floating down stream.
The river temperature has remained down on what we would normally have expected at this time of year. This will prolong the salmon season a little but it will also have knock on implications for the coarse anglers. The chub and barbel have only just started to appear on the gravel shallows, it will be at least a week or two before they all get the spawning distraction out of their systems. It will be August time before they get back to full fighting weight in readiness for the proper river season that begins in the autumn. I would suggest the perch and dace might well be the species to begin the river season with. Both spawn early and have had time to get back in good condition with the perch showing well in most of the slacks and holes.
I have had some further salmon news from Martin, down at the nets, to say their season was under way with the first week only producing a single salmon of 19 pounds. Seatrout numbers didnít reach double figures making lean pickings for the boats trying to make a living. Whilst estuarial nets are always a contentious issue with salmon anglers it has to be remembered that no salmon have been killed by the nets for more than ten years; all being returned. I find the nets a reassuring link to the river of by gone days and I would be very sad if they were to disappear. I dearly hope we see a return to a sustainable salmon population with sufficient numbers to make netting a worthwhile occupation once more. If the cost of the licence, nets, boat and time is added up it doesnít take an accountant to point out things are not as they should be.
Back to a happier note in that the lakes are looking wonderful as we approach the start of the traditional coarse season which we still recognise at Somerley. The roach, bream and some of the carp have spawned but like the rivers, with lower than normal water temperatures, we still have the bulk of the carp and the tench to get it out of their systems. Every year I promise myself more time on the lakes and year after year I fail but this year I will set myself one or two targets and see what can be achieved. I think a three pound Crucian would be a good place to start the season; Iíll put the eight pound tench on hold for a week or two!!
With the coarse season just around the corner I have yet to get out and make the most of the trout fishing. I have spoken to several of the trout rods as I have bumped into them on the bank and most are telling tales of a very enjoyable season with some excellent evening hatches bringing fish to the surface. Perhaps before I get carried away with anticipation of the coarse season I had better reset my clock and spend a week or two in pursuit of one or two brownies. This is moist definitely a problem we face in this part of the world where we have easy access to fishing of such high quality in most of the disciplines. I will add a calendar of my pastoral year to the website in an effort to better plan my seasons campaigns and to ensure the seasons highlights are not overlooked or forgotten.
The braided channels of the trout streams.
Talking of forgotten, I am keen to get some photographs of spawning lampreys, not only the large and highly visible sea lamprey but the less noticeable brook version as well. This time of year the sea lamprey will be cutting their redds on the shallow gravel shoals in much the same areas as the salmon, chub and barbel. The brook lamprey are more likely to be seen by the trout anglers on the riffles and shallows of the carriers with dozens in a writhing ball about the size of a small football. Should any readers spot them when out on the estate I would appreciate a call.
I have a further two salmon to report, which is very pleasing indeed. Paul Geenacre has landed a second in the form of a fine 14 pound cock fish, again from Ellingham. I have also had a report that Mr Dave Townsend landed a 32" salmon which would make it 13 or 14 pounds, from Dog Kennel yesterday. Taken on the fly with a "Pot bellied pig" being the successful fly in question, congratulations on sticking with the fly and getting the result.
Paul has been fishing most days recently and has not only been rewarded with his two fish but has lost two others, there are fish about if you put in the time so don't miss the opportunity. Last diary entry I was bemoaning the fact that the second spring tide in May usually produces our best fishing which didn't appear to be happening this year. I had a look at the Knappmill website and this shows a good upstream movement of fish apparently heading our way so perhaps lack of rod effort is our problem and not lack of fish!! Assuming the majority of those counts were salmon and not seatrout I imagine the fish landed this week are part of that run. I would just add that the fish Paul lost were very large, both in excess of twenty pounds one a particularly large fish, bad luck I suppose but having landed two I don't think he's doing too badly!
Whilst I have not managed to do much actual fishing I have been down in the valley catching up on one or two jobs. The pollards that had looked so stark throughout the winter following their autumn haircut are now busting back into life, requiring trimming-up to ensure the growth remains high on the trunk avoiding the grazing ponies and cows. I also had the opportunity to look at the state of the hay meadows and if the growth continues for a few more days there should be a reasonable weight of grass when July arrives and they can be mown. Meadows in the valley which are entered into the agri-environmental schemes are not permitted to be cut until July, to allow the nesting waders time to hatch and fledge their broods. This usually does not present a problem as water meadow hay stands well into the summer, on dry years such as this the risk is that the grass is short in the stem and runs to seed early and the flowers stems become woody and unpalatable to the stock by the time it is baled.
Paul Greenacre's second salmon of the week. The bill-hook I use for cutting the lower growth off the pollards can be seen at the base of the tree in the foreground.
This has been a longer break in entries than I had anticipated, unfortunately things have conspired against me when it has come to finding time to keep my diary up to date. On my return from my day or two away I was expecting to come back to hear the last spring tide in May had filled the river with summer fish. To my surprise and despite this tide in recent years being the most productive of the season, it would appear not to have been the case. Since the beginning of the spinning on May 15th we have only yesterday seen our first salmon landed; half a dozen lost but only the one on the bank. I have yet to hear from the Royalty or North- end hopefully they will have seen some action and our lack of fish is partly down to low rod effort.
A lovely shot of Paul Greenacre's 15 pound cock fish from Ellingham yesterday. Congratulations Paul, putting in the hours has been deservedly rewarded.
Paul with a fine example of an Avon brown trout taken on the fly.
Whilst the salmon fishing may have been slow the change of weather bringing rain and warmth seems to have triggered Nature into new and vigorous growth. The grass that has for so long refused to grow has leapt forward, too late for the first silage cuts but the second and the valley meadows should have time to benefit. The next generation of birds is now with us with broods of all the varied species shouting for food and steadfastly following attentive parents. The sunshine has lifted spirits and made the valley hum with every bug and fly imaginable with classic summer evenings and long may it remain just so.
The greylag broods down on the river, proud parents beside the trout stream and a brood of Grey wagtails in the eel net, left in the shed.
One insect the warmth has certainly galvanised into action are the honey bees, whilst walking the river the first swarm of the season drifted by before settling in the top of a willow beside the path. I currently have an empty hive so I decided to try and collect them and transport them home. I couldnít reach them so it entailed chopping the branch off and catching the resulting ball of bees before it hit the ground. It seems my new colony are a well mannered lot as despite their rather undignified decent of the football sized mass and my fumbling catch they sat tight and not a single sting did they direct my way. They duly hung-up in a skep, made by my father many years ago, before travelling the couple of miles to their new hive beside the lakes.
My father's skep set to collect the stragglers.
The fall of the willow down which this year seemed particularly dense with some tracks and banks looking as if an unseasonal snow storm had arrived. Perhaps the wind favoured it lying before being blown away but the lakes and surrounding banks had a coating thicker than I have ever seen before. Hopefully this will all have disappeared before we open the lakes for the coarse season in ten days or so as the down becomes sticky on contact with water completely blocking the rod rings making casting all but impossible.
A sadder note is that on our weekly evening beside the river Jim and I came across a very large salmon corpse. This had been some fish in its day as even in the state that can be seen in the photograph it was over forty inches and the thickness of the wrist of the tail was massive. I wouldnít like to say exactly what we where looking at but upper twenty would seem likely. Perhaps more disconcerting was that in the two or three hours Jim and I were out and about we spotted a second dead salmon more intact but floating down the middle of the river and out of our reach. It wasnít a recent casualty as the flesh was starting to decay. It would appear the warmer water must be floating gas filled corpses up to the surface; lets hope we see no others, further reducing the dismal number of salmon currently in the river.
The first swarm of the summer, willow down on the surface of a lake and the remains of a very large dead salmon.
There is regrettably one very definite downside to the sunshine and that is simply the number of people that feel they need to get out in the countryside to make the most of it. Respect for private property and ownersí rights seem to be a fast diminishing value. Not only the apparent lack of respect and the deliberate flouting of the laws of the land we have the added complication of ignorance and in some cases down right stupidity. This is a topic that I feel requires an article to spread the word about this increasingly difficult situation; Iíll see if I can add one in the next day or two.
"I'm doing no harm" "I didn't realise it was private" "I didn't see any signs" the gent in the third photograph had climbed over the gate and the sign and still came up with that one! "I thought this was a public footpath" all the above and dozens more, ignorance? stupidity? just who is responsible for signage and educating the general public?
Spinning arrived bright and early with rods waiting to get onto the pools by seven oclock this morning, all expecting great things. I certainly know of four rods out and about today, unfortunately I only know of one fish lost looking as if the fish have yet to arrive on the high tides we are currently experiencing.
The day wasn't a complete loss and after chatting with the rods at Ibsley this am I decided the Bridge Pool was in need of some TLC. The banks were in need of a run over with the strimmer and there was a new snag just downstream of the bridge that needed to be removed. Ten minutes rooting around in the shed produced a grapnel and sufficient length of rope to reach the offending article. My first shot to snag the snag resulted in the grapnel fixing fast in the old sandstone foundation of the bridge mid river. I was feeding rope over the parapet of the bridge to get a reversed angle in an attempt to free the thing when Tony Mason arrived on the scene to fish the pool in the hope of the first on the spinner. After successfully freeing my grapnel and spending five minutes discussing the unknown nature of the submerged obstacle Tony moved over the bridge to fish the left bank whilst I watched and waited for him to clear the pool before attempting a second shot at the snag. Tony moved through and I attempted my second shot with the hook which proved even more of a disaster than the first when the snap gate carabina managed to open and leave the hook mid river devoid of any retaining rope. Nowt for it but to don the chest waders and head out into the river, by which time Tony had rejoined me to offer assistance and join the gallery that had formed on the bridge to watch proceedings. The flow mid river required care to avoid putting on too great a show for the viewers and progress was painfully slow due to the uneven nature of the river bed. One of these river bed lumps proved to be a safe presumably dumped after a local robbery. Having managed to get that out on the bank I returned mid river to recover the grapnel and attempt to get a rope on the snag. As luck would have it on raking about and finding the hook I also fished up an electrical flex that was obviously attached to the mysterious snag. Tony threw out the rope which was duly attached to the flex which he managed to pull to within a couple of meters of the bank but was unable to drag it clear of the water. Coming ashore proved as hairy as getting out there but once safely on dry land Tony headed off in pursuit of a fish whilst I phone the police to let them know about the safe as it contained paperwork related to firearms. Whilst waiting for the police I managed to drag the snag ashore and finish the strimming, if the rods werenít doing too well I at least had a successful morning!
My mornings catch; one safe, a rusty roadwork sign and hoover.
You may have spotted the number plate in the photo, there is actually a large lump of what looks like the rest of the BMW it was probably attached to under the middle arch of the bridge, just how it got there I can't imagine as it is far and away to heavy for me to lift. Those of you that know Ibsley bridge will be aware the height of the parapet would prevent anyone physically lifting anything of any size over it. All I can think is that it was dumped by someone with a hiab on their truck, why you would go to those lengths when you could scrap the thing and get a few bob for it beats me?
Perhaps a little late in the season but I have resurrected the old "Somerley Salmon Pool" photos with the lies marked on them that were on one of the earlier editions of this diary. They can be found in any of the links so named as above and in "Articles". I will add text and further photos to the list as time permits.
Robert Stone with a bright fifteen pounder from Lake Run, thanks to Julian Mahoney for the photograph.
"Fish on" Jim into a fish in Provost's Hole just before he went into conservation mode and let the bugger go!! From the untrampled state of the vegetation on the banks I don't think anyone has fished Provost for at least a fortnight?
By this weekend, when the spinning begins, I had hoped that the number of salmon landed on the estate would be into double figures. To have achieved that target would give an air of respectability to the salmon season and a little confidence for the future. Despite a fish being landed today by Robert Stone we need a further three tomorrow, Friday, to reach that goal. There have been at least four other fish lost over the past two days but alas fish lost donít count. There is obviously a decent run of fish in the river at the moment so all hands to the pumps for one last effort to get those three fish would be appreciated.
Please ring me if you see canoes on the estate.
I had a run-in with a couple of canoeists the other evening which is always a frustrating situation as we chase about ejecting them from the estate. Canoeing is not permitted on the Avon and we will do all in our power to prevent it. We will use all legal means to achieve this and aggravated trespass arising from the disturbance of an SSSI is the legislative route we will be using to press this issue. I would ask that any anglers on Somerley phone me in the event they encounter canoes anywhere on the estate.
I haven't got a full report today but just had to encourage the salmon rods to keep trying as the fish are here; Rae Borras landed a brace of fish yesterday from his North End beat, one at twelve pounds and an absolute cracker of twenty four and a half. The Avon is at its very best at this time of year so don't miss the chance of a fish through putting off those visits. If you are getting out late and believe the pool may have been fished through earlier in the day don't be discouraged, try the deeper water and fish very slowly. If you are the first through the fish may be right up on the shallow tails ready to chase anything they set their eyes on so cover the last inch of those glides.
Many of you will be fed-up with me promoting the charms of Ashley Bends but those deep bends and long shallows will have fish in them. Take your time and fish them as carefully as you can, better to take your time and fish one pool well than try and cover the entire mile or so of water. Pay particular attention to "Below the Breakthrough" down to the power line on the first bend and the very last of the bends from just above the boulder tail down to the Dockens confluence on the opposite bank.
Before I go further I should add a well done and congrats to Rae on his two fish; one in a day is a result, two is proving the simple fact you need to have a fly in the water and the confidence a fish is close at hand.
Apple blossom time, a wonderful time of year.
A follow up on yesterdays news leaking out from the Frome is that there appears to have been a mix-up over the measurements and the fish, whilst still a good fish, was considerably less than the original measurements. One point worth mentioning was that the fish in question was fin clipped which should mean when the fish ascends the river through the GWCT facility at East Stoke, Bill Beaumont should be able to provide some interesting follow-up on the fishes background.
For all of you Avon salmon rods who are in need something to recharge the batteries and get you out on the bank, look no further, the photo below is the stuff of dreams. This is probably the finest fish and certainly the most inspiring photograph to come from the Avon for several years. Firstly I must pass on my congratulations to Stewart Allum on the capture and safe return of this super fish and thanks for allowing me to put up the details for readers to enjoy. As salmon anglers we all dream of achieving such a capture and itís great to know the river still has such portmanteau fish in its depths. The fish measured 44+ inches that could place it in the middle thirties but the weight Stewart has settled on is 32.12 but the weight is almost immaterial when it comes to such a fish.
Congratulations to Stewart Allum on the capture of the finest Avon salmon for several years.
The fish came off the middle reaches of the North End water, upstream of Ibsley, Rae Borras, owner up at North End, forwarded the pics from Stewart. Rae and Stewart are happy to release the news to give the river a much needed boost; we hear all too often tales of gloom and doom news such as this is a real tonic. It does show the Avon is still capable of producing these wonder fish; we desperately need to understand where she needs the helping hand to ensure they keep coming.
Just think, if you fished downstream of the North End fishery last week that fish may have looked at your fly! Just think the next one might have your name on it!!!!!!
Back to reality in that the North wind continues to blow and keep the air temperatures at rock bottom requiring the gloves and woolly hat to be dug out of the cupboard from whence they had been thrown a month ago. I have been out with the rod and fished down Island Run and Blashford Pool, the river fished very well with a good flow and perfect visibility and I felt confident of a fish but it wasn't to be this morning. Before I visited Blashford I cleared some of the right bank at Dog Kennel and it now screams fish. Hopefully I may get out again this evening as it only takes half an hour to go through that section and if there's a fish about I'm sure one will be on that corner. Whilst at Dog Kennel this morning I did spot one of the Goosander that now breed on the Avon, she arrived with her recently hatched brood of eight. Mixed emotions where she is concerned in that I always enjoy seeing this beautiful bird but her feeding habits do not lay well with the desire to increase salmon numbers in the Avon.
I have just recieved an email that tells me CAC member Paul Bullimore has landed a salmon of 49-50 inches from the Frome, goodness knows what that would weigh I haven't got a graph that goes that high! I believe there are photographs and if Paul is happy to allow me I'll put a pic on here for you to see. Whilst not strictly in the sphere of the "avondiary" salmon anglers across the globe will be interested so fingers crossed for details in the near future.
This must rate as one of the most dramatic entries in the existance of this diary and to add to the news I did get out for an hour this evening and I did manage to land my second salmon of the season. My intention was to catch a fish from Dog Kennel as it had looked so well this morning when I was cleaning up but apart from a Kamikaze brownie of about a pound nothing materialised. I decided that a walk across the bridge and down Park Pool left bank was the most likely place to find the missing fish and right on cue a fine twelve pound cock fish provided the excitement. The tail of Park is a comfortable spot in that you have a shallow gravel shoal to walk almost to the tail of the pool. Just as it ends and drops off into deep water, requiring exiting the river over a mucky pile of leaves and mud was the taking spot. The fish behaved beautifully, stayed in the deep water until ready to be coerced up onto the shallows for netting and unhooking without having to lift him out of the water.
Some day! I can only hope my luck continues in a like fashion for the remainder of the season, three hours fishing, two salmon landed. I think I might be asking just a little too much of the river to keep that pace up and I have already had a good season if I don't see a further fish.
A further fish to add to the slowly mounting tally with a twelve pounder being taken by Paul Simpson from Hoodies this afternoon; congratulations Paul on your first Avon salmon. Paulís fish is a classic example of the attraction of salmon fishing on a river such as the Avon. The area from which Paul landed his fish had certainly been fished by one rod earlier in the day but to no avail. When the earlier rod went through the fish simply wasnít there, it may have arrived five minutes or five hours after he left but arrive it did and Paul was on hand to enjoy the sport. Similarly the 30+ fish landed last weekend opposite our shared top beat has passed through four miles of the estate without any of our rods lucky enough to find it. It is this almost ephemeral quality of salmon fishing with perhaps just the briefest of opportunities to catch that passing fish that is the true magic of our sport. It is possible to occupy one lie for prolonged periods of time but that is not what salmon fishing is about and that is certainly not what we consider acceptable on the estate. We ask that rods continue to move through a pool in the one pace one cast traditional progression and not to return within for at least a couple of hours. With the salmon moving up and the rod moving down, neither occupying the same area of river bed for but the briefest of time, the magic of salmon fishing is encapsulated.
Trevor has sent me a further photo of Hugh filming the roach on the spawning boards to capture the wonder of the natural phenomenon as only Hugh can. For readers wishing to find out more about Trevor and Budgies efforts they can follow events at;
Avon Roach Project
Hugh filming the roach spawning on the project boards.
If you speak nicely to Budgie and Trevor they will come and do a power point presentation for any with a hankering to discover even more and have an entertaining evening to boot; along the lines of an informed Laurel and Hardy! Perhaps Flanders and Swan but Iím not sure if Trevor can play the piano or Budgie can sing!!
I do like May; new growth, new life, wonderful colours and the first hint of summer warmth. Well three out of four isnít bad but its still bloody freezing early and late in the day. Whilst the wind remains in the north early starts still require a scraper to clear the car windscreen and multiple layers of cloths to keep out the cold.
Despite the cold Nature is in full gallop with new life in all directions, orange tip butterflies, the damsel flies have appeared and the first fox cubs are above ground. The other day I mentioned Trevor, Budgie and the roach were busy with the spawning season and Trevor has sent me a pic or two of the fishy element getting on with creating the next generation. The roach project spawning boards are proving to be just what the doctor ordered with the roach preferring them to the natural sites surrounding them. Trevor and Budgie only remove what eggs they require for the tanks ensuring they donít create any imbalance through their work. Itís certainly a heartening site to see Avon roach doing their best to add to their depleted numbers. Given the helping hand, over the most vulnerable time for the eggs and juveniles, the Roach Project provides. Lets hope both the roach and the projectís efforts are well rewarded.
Trevor's photo of Avon roach making full use of the Roach Project spawning boards. The result of this evening efforts in the form of a super fit rainbow. Finally a shot of the burnished golden light that highlighted the troutstream yesterday evening.
More news on the salmon front in that I have reliably heard of a thirty plus fish from the middle river, if the captor wishes to release details I will update you of the event asap. My efforts with the rod have been further rewarded this evening, not with a further salmon but a very pleasant evening on a Christchurch Club trout lake we have on the estate. I havenít fished for rainbows in a stillwater for more than a decade and I found this evening a delightful walk down memory lane. I donít think anyone would claim rainbows are difficult but to see such a good rise and have numerous large fish to cast to is a rare experience for us poor river anglers. What does amaze me is that fishing of such high quality is so lightly exploited. Where are the fishing fanatics that used to haunt the lakes and reservoirs at all hour in pursuit of such fishing? In fact when I used to fish the reservoirs a little more it was only on very rare occasions that I enjoyed such a rise as greeted us this evening. Well done CAC your game section does you proud.
"Luck of the draw" about sums up the capture of my first salmon of the season. Having only bought my rod licence last Thursday, as I had received a request to take someone trout fishing, I had not even put the salmon rods together.
Last week I had spent an hour or two clearing the banks of the salmon pools and thought how well the river looked; deserving of my attention with the rod, so this morning time was on my side. Nine oíclock I arrived at the top of "Hoodies" with an uncomfortable, cold northerly wind blowing, it still looked good with a decent water level and viz. The twenty five yards of the pool down to the big willow on the left of the path fished well and being the first few casts of the season expectancy was sky high. Below the willow, at the top of "Ibsley Pool", the flow was making fly presentation difficult so I decided to roll cast my way down to the tail of Ibsley and try and fish the top of "Tizzardís" off the left bank. This little section only provides a dozen casts but well worth covering; Alan Bashford having had at least one if not two from here in recent years. Nine, ten, eleven and one for luck, which was now with the entire fly line out and holding the backing, wallop, I was in!!
Cracking summer fish ten or twelve pounds, as fresh as a daisy, great fun and went off without a hitch, all in under half an hour!
If it makes anyone feel any better I did later walk down the track and fish "Cabbage" and "Lake Run" without a knock. What I did see out in the water meadows below the lake were a pair of roe deer, both looking rather scruffy due to the moult of the winter coats. The dramatic rise in deer numbers across Britain is giving rise to some quite surprising implications. Recent research in the bird world is pointing to the grazing of the deer in the woodland removing the lower scrub cover and reducing the number of birds such as Nightingale. It would have taken a great deal of lateral thinking to have spotted that impact before the damage had been done!
Delicate interaction of species within the natural world.
Yesterday I did find time to drop in at Ringwood Weir and cut the bank to allow a fly to be cast to the couple of "lies" worth covering. Whilst there the Grannom were still hatching in dramatic numbers, which after three weeks of such hatches would indicate at least one invertebrate in the Avon managing to survive.
I must try and get down to the weir later to see if those lies have a fish or two in residence!!
I did pop down to the weir to see if I could do the double but unfortunately it wasn't to be but I have received news of a second fish off the Estate today. I must pass on my congratulations to Mr John Collyer, a new club member on his second visit to Somerley, who landed a fifteen pound fish from Ibsley Pool this afternoon. John's fish took a black and yellow tube; I forgot to mention my fish was on a yellow and red tube that looks a little worse for wear.
Our topsy-turvy season continues with the pike that usually spawn in March happily engaged in the procreative activities in the shallows beside the river today. The roach would appear to be a little more traditional with their spawning rituals getting underway earlier in the week. The roach project spawning boards are the centre of attention in some areas ensuring eggs will be available for the continued work of Trevor and Budgie.
Whilst on the subject of the next generation of fish I believe the salmon smolt run has almost finished in that I didnít see any sign of activity above the hatches this evening. The adults may be a little thin on the ground this season but if the duration of the smolt run is any indicator the numbers could well have been better than for several years. There has been a steady movement of smolt for at least the last three weeks with reasonable numbers visible most evenings.
As for the adult salmon, Nigel from Davisís emailed me again at the weekend to let me know a further summer fish was caught at the end of the week on the Royalty. That puts them on four at least and hopefully they will have had further fish this week. We are suffering up here at Somerley with one or two fish being seen but nothing to show for the effort as yet as our total remains on just the two February fish.
An interesting shot in that it shows a wheel chair friendly bridge on the trout stream, making 500m of trout fishing available to those anglers so confined. Whilst we have one or two lakes that are wheel chair friendly this piece of stream is a rare facility indeed, well done to the club and those of the weekend workparty that constructed the bridge. The second shot shows just a selection of the plants that are now making up for lost time due to the cold spring and growing almost visibly.
I have to admit to only this evening renewing my rod licence which will hopefully give me the incentive to get out and chase one or two of these fish about myself. I find the outlay of seventy two pounds to fish the few occasions I will get out somewhat steep. There remains no work what-so-ever that is capable of evaluation, being done to rectify the demise of the lowland salmon; our hopes of recovery remain a matter of luck and superstition. Fingers crossed a few more summer fish turn up in the near future.
Good news on the salmon front in that Nigel from down at Davis Tackle emailed to say they have had a couple of salmon down the bottom end in the form of a twelve and fifteen pound fish. Hopefully these two fish are the tip of the iceberg and the Summer fish are heading our way, there's only one way to be sure and that's to get out on the bank with the rod. I will be keeping my fingers firmly crossed in the hope of seeing a fish or two over the weekend to the rods that get out here and try.
Not much else to report at the moment the photos below record one or two events of the last few days.
This years heron juveniles have arrived at the lakes, one of several trips of duckling that have appeared this week and a fox adding to the problems of the dissappearing Lapwing.
A day after the event but better late than never, the glorious weather has brought the long delayed jobs list into sharp relief. The rivers fining down and well within the banks and with the first flush of yellow as the Kingcups come into life the water meadows are a wonderful place to be. The summer migrants are arriving in force making the first of the years breeding bird surveys high on the priority list. A couple of hours Saturday morning recording the Spring rituals of our resident bird population before a later visit to see how the Summer visitors are faring.
One aspect that becomes apparent when you study nesting birds for any period of years is just how loyal they remain to fixed locations. Year after year nests appear in the same reed beds, trees and scrub, I know of one Tawny owl site that has been in continous use for over fifty years. Generation after generation using the same location just as we are told our salmon return to the same area of gravel within our rivers if conditions permit. This site constancy must give rise to distinct populations that if lost or disturbed will not be replaced unless other neighbouring areas become over populated. What population of Snipe will have to be expanding to repopulate the Avon Valley with these once common breeding birds? Is it the New Forest birds that are themselves under risk from habitat loss and disturbance? Will it be the Yorkshire or Scottish populations that migrate through the valley to and from their milder wintering grounds? We donít know, just as we donít know what will provide the recovery we all so desperately seek in our salmon population. What I do know is that the bird world are considerably better organised when it comes to establishing the state of the species deemed at risk. The involvement of the amateur in providing the data to watch and monitor populations is a lesson that the angling world would do well to heed. The WeBs surveys "Wetland Birds" count, on a monthly basis, virtually every area of importance to water birds across the entire country. The record builds into the definitive work when the state of wader or wildfowl populations is considered. The BBS "Breeding Bird Survey" provides a data set that looks at the breeding populations of all the species and is closely scrutinised by the experts within the BTO when looking for trends or signs of decline or threat. The organisation of these surveys is controlled by experts yet the all important data is collected by the amateur. Why is it that fish populations can only be studied by experts? Is it that amateur anglers canít recognise what they catch or canít be believed? Possibly the angling community is too self engrossed and self serving to do something so altruistic. Or possibly the institutional protection of the pseudo scientific society within the regulators has nothing to gain from seeing the records pass into the public domain? Fishery records show absolutely nothing of any value when it comes to distilling trends within populations. Trends that were accurately foretold years before the authorities spent thousands of pounds of public money telling the anglers and owners what they already knew.
On a happier note I see that there has been a rash of spawning boards appearing in the roach hotspots as Trevor and Budgie get the Roach Project spawning boards into position to collect this years eggs. It still baffles me why lakes linked to the river, hence full of Avon water, are stuffed full of roach fry yet the roach population refuses to thrive in the river. Similarly the carp and bream shoals that live in well defined areas of the river never seem to successfully spawn despite having access to warm shallows. The carp mob at Ibsley is currently enjoying the warm water entering the system from the shallow water meadows. I have known several of these fish in excess of twenty years so it would seem the local otters that have shared this reach for a comparable period donít like river carp! Great gaps remain in our knowledge related to population dynamics as defined by habitat, temperature, food availability and predation. Whilst such basic questions remain unanswered and unresolved we will continue to grope about in the dark trying to manage our fisheries.
Whilst thinking of avian goings on one or two sightings of the last day or two worth noting have included two Ospreys, several Ravens, a Red kite and we still have our Great-white egret. I also watched a Buzzard catch a large grass snake that was almost too heavy to carry away, the bird flying off across the meadow just managing to keep the three feet long snake from dragging along the ground. Buzzards seem to have particular liking for snake as itís a regular sight to see them flying back to there nest clutching the poor asp. Sunshine and a river in good order what more could a salmon angler wish for, donít tell me let me guess, salmon; alas its remains slow on that front but never say die thereís plenty to watch out for whilst youíre out there trying.
Why are there no Lapwing nests in the field the other side of the river? Answers on a postcard to Natural England or the NFU please!!
One other issue that has been giving rise to some thought recently are the number of angling clubs that still feel it necessary to continue to programme work parties for this time of year. I would love to know how many of those clubs or the individuals managing those work parties carried out EIAís prior to getting stuck in. Not the hypothetical risk to genetic integrity and evaluation, used as blocks on progress by the EA but the down to earth inspection of the site a month prior and 48 hours before undertaking swim clearing and tree cutting etc. If angling is ever going to be taken seriously it needs to act in a responsible and semi professional fashion which provides plenty of food for thought.
As you may well have surmised from the lack of entries I have been away for a few days, as such I am completely out of touch with happenings in the valley. I have not heard of any further salmon and would appear to have missed the Grannom hatch but I will fill in the gaps when time permits.
The opportunity for a day in the mountains, Anne looking down from an outcrop the thousand or so feet to Llyn Cau in Mid Wales.
The few days of sunshine we enjoyed two weeks ago now seem a distant memory as we return to rain, cold winds and more rain. The river is back in the fields and we have mud in all directions. With the river remaining high the opportunities to get out with the fly rod have been severely restricted, just as well as I've been particularly busy on other estate activities lately. Having said that from a personal point of view it has been disappointing for the rods who have had time but found the river hard work and little to show for their efforts. April is here and with it comes my favourite time to be in the valley, a little warmth and the meadows will flush with yellow kingcups and a succession of other flowers will lead us into high summer, new life and warmth that sounds particularly attractive at the moment.
Last week the horse trials with over six hundred competitors thundering around the Lower Park, a large craft fayre is setting up on the Top Park and we have major forestry operations ongoing in between. Add to this fencing work, road repair, major ditch and pond maintenance work and we could well do with a dry spell. We are fortunate in that the gravel that underlies the majority of the estate allows the land to drain very quickly. Given a dry spell of 48 hours and we can get back on the land to make good any damage - all we need is that precious 48 hours, last week I was beginning to think the rain would never stop.
Mud resulting from hundreds of horse-boxes and "forwarding" the timber, the resulting mud doesn't look so bad now!
I did take the opportunity to walk the meadows on the north of the estate today and whilst wet and windy it was still an enjoyable hour or two. The Lapwing and Redshank have their territories staked out and pipe and call to announce their presence to ensure we are mindful of the nest sites. Unfortuantely others are also watching their activities with six pairs of Crows and two pairs of Magpies sat like sentinels searching the meadows for nests; I wouldn't hold out much chance for many chicks making it through to adulthood under such scrutiny. One other bird suffering of late are the resident Mute swans, don't all cheer, they do little damage down with us! The problem they suffer is that the electricity board have yet to add bird warning wires to the power lines in one area where swans fly to and from feeding meadows. We keep and eye on the estate lines but the section in question is not on estate land unfortunately, I did notify Natural England of the problem several months ago, as they were responsible for exposing the lines, but nothing has come of letting them know of the matter, perhaps they have a secret dislike of swans as do many in the higher river where they do so much damage. The toll on that particular line in recent weeks is in the region of nine adults, three in one day which came floating down river like upturned galleons. I had Ken Merriman over at the swan rescue on the phone inquiring if we were having a problem? not guilty, that one is down to the electricity board.
I parked beside a forest stream to get onto the meadows and it was frothing through in a high state of colour. The water was still well in the banks but the Kingfishers who have selected their nest sites in the steep sections were piping their displeasure at having the flood approaching their doorstep. Luckily the forest streams drop a quickly as they rise and an hour or two without rain this afternoon has seen the worst over. The flood had also deposited a margin of cut grass and sedge that the ducks had cut and pulled but being too tough to eat, left to float in on the rising water. It would be nice to think it was Nature's mechanism to rid the meadows of the encroaching sedge and return them to a sweeter richer sward, nice thought but I'm not sure of the facts on that one. One other lot of flotsam that is not so welcome are the hundreds of plastic bottles and drink cans that come downstream with the rising flood. Who is it that throws this lot in the river? Unfortunately litter is a very real problem in many forms for the rural community at the moment, fly-tipping, general rubbish just tossed in the river and as can be seen in the photo below the results of theft in the area. Its no good lamenting the lack of understanding and ignorance of the people involved in such activities, they are too stupid to reason with, knuckle dragging incomprehension being the usual response when challenged. I would dearly like to catch one particular fly-tipper in our area but alas our paths do not seem to cross. I would ask that should any readers spot our Neanderthal and his flat bed they take a registration number and if possible a pic on the mobile. Do not and I stress, do not get involved in a confrontation, stupidity is all too often associated with aggression and its not worth the hassle on your part; get a registration and ring the police, environment agency, or if its on Somerley, me.
A flooded forest stream, a powerline strike, tough grazing and water born rubbish clearly showing the result of a crime thrown from an upstream bridge.
I almost forgot one of today' highlights that I spotted in the form of a pair of Yellow wagtails. Yellow wagtails used to be a common sight in the valley but I haven't seen a nest in over a decade so the appearance of the pair gave a real lift to the dampened spirits. In reality they are almost certainly migrating through to breeding areas further north as are the numbers of Snipe that are currently with us. Our Grey wags, with their yellow breasts, nesting in the hatches and bridges, try to fill the space left by their close relations. For me they do not have the same magic as the Yellows that used to be synonymous with the meadows. It is noticeable that bird numbers on the meadows that are grazed heavily are increasing; one meadow has eleven pairs of Lapwing establishing nest sites at present. Breeding waders in such high numbers will hopefully be able to drive off the Carrion Crows and Magpies that seek to raid their nests. The appearance of a Crow certainly sets the male Lapwings into a display of aerobatics and alarm calls that bring the meadows into noisy life.
Since the end of the course season and the last entry I have been busy standing down from the Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust executive committee and becoming too involved with the new Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust. I do not have the hours in the day to enable me to undertake a role in both organisations and struggle to do one justice. This is the crux of the problem, our rivers are in need of representation yet we are not in a position to achieve this due to the money intended to undertake this work being vested with a government regulatory quango. Obviously regulators are required to ensure the existing legislation is adhered to, what we do not need is those same regulators taking on the role of managing our rivers. Let regulators regulate and owners and users manage. I feel the future of riverine conservation lies with the larger river trusts. For anglers reading this, riverine conservation is where the future of angling is best served; if you have a healthy vibrant river you have a healthy vibrant fishery. In order to fight for that healthy river we need professionals with access to the rivers and surrounding land and that is where the trust comes in. To enable a trust to employ staff it has to have a sufficiently large support base to enable funding to be raised, the combined weight of the finest chalkstreams and lowland river in Britain gives us that appeal and perhaps more importantly the clout to go with it. "Nuff" said on that subject for the moment but watch this space as momentum builds and we get underway.
The dafs have arrived a last albeit a fortnight late.
The return of high flows has seen the hatches blocked and jammed and I am still unable to get at them to clear out the debris. I have opened by-pass channels and diverted flow where ever possible and anxiously await the overdue arrival of Spring, to allow the water to drop. One unexpected benefit of the high flows has been that the wildfowl have stayed with us to continue to enjoy the flooded meadows. Along with the ducks we still have one of the Great-white egrets that arrived this winter. The ringed individual that has visited for the last few years left at the usual time at the end of January it will be interesting to see how long our new comer hang around for. I said earlier we still await the arrival of spring, I should have said the arrival of Spring weather. Many of the signs are with us as the Brimstones have been about for a week or two, as are the Little ringed plovers and Redshank. Add the Sand Martins and Swallows that arrived a week back and everything is poised and waiting for the warmth to lift the spirits.
Both the photographs above are extremely contentious from the fishery perspective. The welcome return of the otter is giving rise to all sorts of rants and raves in the angling press and on the forums. It doesn't take a genious to realise that a predator at the top of the foodchain is going to have an impact on any eco-system it inhabits. Defra understand this, or at least if they don't there is a case for some vacancies to be created in the government department charged with protecting our environment. A look at the protection and introduction of top end predators by the Wildlife and Fisheries dept in the States is an example Defra would do well take on board. The wildlife people recognise the conflict that will arrive when wolves and puma meet cows and a compensation scheme exists to soften the blow. Money is not always a solution to having prized and valued stock taken but it at least recognises the problem, saves people going out of business and goes some way to stop people taking the law into their own hands. In this day and age of digital photography and genetic signatures identification of stock and avoidence of fraud is simple the reason Defra will not take this route is purely down to cost. They will quite happily spend five million shelling Ruddy ducks and the sums involved with compensating farmers for bovine TB culled cattle is mind boggling yet they will not compensate fishery owners who see their livelihood dissappear along with their stock. I should add this stance by Defra doesn't surprise me, I would expect no other attitude form a desk bound whitehall mandarin; what does surprise me is that no-one and particularly those purporting to represent fisheries and fishery owners, has lodged a barrage of complaints under the human rights legislation in the Hague. I would have thought the establishement of a simple tribuneral to over see claims is a small price to pay to ensure harmony in the river valleys?
The reference to the rainbow migration is obviously tongue in cheek, we do not have a steelhead run in our rivers, yet! This is the annual escape from upstream fishfarms that at least provides us with some amusing fishing if they hang about until the trout season is underway. Having witnessed these escapes and associated bluster from the regulators about stopping them for years. I have to admit I quite look forward to them these days, they offer new challenges to the beleaguered angler; how many can you catch on a gold head nymph without moving your feet? how many facing away from the river casting blind over your shoulder? how many on a bare hook? The problem is what to do with them, you can only eat so many trout and my freezer is still full of the lot I froze for deadbaits last time they arrived.
I would offer a cautionary word to those intent on embarking on a foray to catch a sample for analysis to prove the EU species fry munching capabilities of the little monsters.
Having caught a couple of dozen one morning on the spinner I proceded to clean them and found assorted fry; minnow, loach and Bullhead, the latter being EU designated with us. I duly reported the presence of the swarm to the EA who requested I catch a similar number for them to provide evidence of the unpleasant habits of these chaps. Not a problem, the river was still full of them and that evening was warm with a zephyr lightly ripling the surface as the sedge hatched in their thousands. Out with the fly rod and twenty or so were quickly despatched for the required purpose and I awaited the outcome with baited breath. The outcome was that not a single fry or any fish like content of the gut could be discovered - the moral; catch your sample on the spinner when its blowing and chucking it down, don't wait until they're preoccupied on surface feeding.
Still. I'll dig out the fly rod just in case they hang around for a couple of weeks!
A strange few days in that I have just spent six days learning to use a chainsaw having spent the last twenty five years felling trees with one. It doesnít do to ponder on the lunacy of that situation other than to carry on in the belief the insurance driven society we live in will be the better for it. Thatís not to say I didnít learn from it and I actually enjoyed the course. Itís not very often that cutting down two or three, six inch diameter pines can be classed as a days work!! It went some way to iron out one or two of the bad habits that Iíve accrued during the past decade or two; associated with chainsaws that is, my other bad habits are far too well entrenched.
During my enforced absence I would not appear to have missed very much on the angling front. The weather went from full flood to hard frost without any period of fining down allowing reasonable fishing. Unfortunately that has been the pattern throughout this winter which on the angling front has certainly been one of the most dire and miserable I can remember. The final fortnight of the season can, if conditions are good, provide some of the best angling of the year; unfortunately conditions were not in our favour. There have been some good catches from the still-waters and the chub have once again been the saviour of the season. I have only heard of one eight this season but sevens have been seen on a regular basis and incredibly big fives and sixes seem almost run of the mill. Barbel have been difficult, obviously due to the cold water but I have recently heard of a 15.10 from the estate, if the captor reads this I would very much appreciate an account of the capture.
The final week-end of the coarse season coincided with the final WeBS count of the winter. As it transpires not such a planning disaster, I did not feel any desire to sit it out in the hope of a final chub with the freezing north wind that has blown all weekend. On the bird front our flooded meadows are still proving attractive to good numbers of wildfowl and waders. I had hoped to see the numbers of Black-tailed godwits increase during early March, the eight consecutive nights of frost put pay to that. Godwit bills are designed to probe for their food in soft mud not through ice and frozen ground. We have a few dozen braving the slow daily thaw along with some five hundred duck , perhaps the arrival of the Curlew on their return trip to the breeding grounds in the forest will herald milder weather. One of the Great white egrets is still with us as is one Bewick but I imagine they will depart in the near future.
Dave Minvalla playing a bream as the sun sets on a difficult coarse season. Dave did have an eight pound tench last week from Meadow Lake, one of the few from a normally productive end of season tench venue.
The salmon season will hopefully look up in the next week or two as the best of the salmon season on the Avon is in April and May. Having said that I did get a call from Colin Morgan this weekend to say he had lost a good fish after playing it for ten minutes.
A good weekend, one way and another, Saturday saw the trout men get the last weekend of the work-parties underway and I actually got to put a coarse rod together. I also managed to fit in a visit to the Swanage blues festival that provided some good music to round off the day.
The trout team cutting back last seasons growth and cleaning out a further side-channel.
The salmon pools are looking clipped and cleaned as Kevin and Sean have been doing a stalwart job in getting rid of last years dead reeds and rushes as the flood water subsides and before the marginal breeding birds begin to stake their territories. The water is looking as well as we could hope for so now we need the salmon to arrive to provide the the fishing we all long for.
With a week to go of the coarse season and the weather shaping for a reasonable finish; the salmon pools looking great and the trout streams almost ready for their first fish to be stocked the fishery is looking as well as I could hope for.
Whilst the trout lads were hard at it I decided someone should put up the spinning rod to see what the pike population was in the streams. Half a dozen pike to just under ten pounds points to a problem if some are not moved to an area alongside where the trout are not to be stocked. If you do hold a pike in the way shown ensure you do not push your finger between the gill rakes as you will injure the fish. You must also ensure you hold the fish firmly as they are likely to flap about and if you a not confident your fingers will get shredded.
Make the most of it you coarse anglers, the river's looking great and the weather is forecast as reasonable for the next few days. The next few nights are likely to be cold but with fine days and a rising temperatures next week fingers crossed we see a good end to the season.
The river has been fishing well for chub with several good bags of half a dozen fish and more, with at least three different seven's, making for some great fishing. I believe several anglers are looking for one of the huge chub that inhabit the middle Avon which was landed at over eight pounds in September so there's a lot of speculation what she might be at this time when they are normally at their maximum weight. Pike have been showing when the cloud cover is keeping the light down or in the last couple of hours of daylight and don't forget the perch as they are shoaled up in radiness for spawning.
Nic Price with a nice Middle Avon double before she is carefully returned to the river.
St David's Day and hopefully an omen of things to come on the weather front. After the torrential rain and floods of the weekend today dawned cold and clear heralding a lovely spring day. As anyone in the valley on Saturday will have heard the weather with its attendant floods and blocked hatches was not alone in making life interesting. The Sunseeker rally came through the estate with the attendant circus severely restricting getting about. The sight of a green twin cab looming out of the woods doesn't go down well with the rally driving fraternity - a sense of humour seems to be sadly lacking in some quarters!! "Nuff said" on the rally front other than we will be tied up for some time sorting out the roads so my visits to the valley may be briefer than normal for a day or two - bad timing with the coarse season about to close and I have yet to get my promised day in.
One other event that I found extremely interesting today was the arrival of the contractors with the timber processor. I have seen these incredible machines chewing their way through various woods on my travels around the forestry world but I have not had the opportunity to watch one at close quarters. Bearing in mind the timber this machine is cutting was planted to be harvested and this is not a piece of ancient woodland being devastated this thing is designed to cut and process trees and that is what it most definately does. The current block of timber being thinned is not the largest trees we will be felling but at sixty or seventy feet they are of a sufficient size to require respect if you were felling by chainsaw. This processor fells, strips of branches and chops to the required length at the rate of a tree every couple of minutes. As someone who has felled more than his fair share of conifers I can assure you this machine is a vast improvement on one man and his chainsaw.
A timber processor making light work thinning conifers.
Things are definately not easy as we run toward the coarse close season, high water and more to come is certainly testing the resolve. I can give the odd pointer and whilst swim selection is important time on the bank is the main factor that will give results. I have been informed of chub, pike and barbel in the last day or two but not in any numbers or specific locations. I did meet an angler on the river who complained of catching nothing but roach! now that is a rare occurance. To give him his due they weren't of any size but roach in sufficient quantity to be a nuisance must be worth sticking at, in the hope of finding the better fish moving in underneath; not our man, he'd packed up on the float and had chucked out the plastic pig - each to his own.
Meadow Lake is still producing carp and bream and if the weather stays as it is for a day or two the tench will come on the feed for their traditional winter spree. If the wind has any southerly quarter waggler fished maggot on the tree line, over loose fed maggot or out on the feeder with single maggot on an eighteen should find fish. The tree line or the bottom bank would be favourite, perhaps more importantly a two or three inch ripple to give the fish some confidence and get them on the move.
Matt Townsend with a good common, taken during the little sunshine we had at lunchtime today. This fish was covered in leeches indicating it had just emerged from laying up in the silt; hopefully indicative of the entire fish population of the lake making for some better sport.
I did manage a drive through the fishery today and the atrocious weather seemed only to be matched by the results of the anglers hiding under their brollies. The bream seem to be active in the large lakes and the odd pike but I heard of little else. I didnít disturb many of the anglers as they looked as if coming out from under cover wasnít high on the choices open to them! I did spot a couple of salmon rods trudging back through the flood and by their soaked and sagging manner I donít think they had found much to sing about.
On the wildlife front the valley is still full of birds as the return of rotten weather seems to have put pay to any thoughts of an early departure. Pleasingly the Black-tailed godwits are still with us as the photo below shows, as is the ringless Great-white egret so lots to keep the observant occupied.
As can be seen from the digital count number on the photo, 1394, within six of the count that can be seen on the entry for the 4th January which would indicate the same flock.
I'm sure I've mentioned before the travel of these birds is amazing. A flock the size of our current visitors probably consists of several smaller flocks and they have been recorded in Iceland, where they breed, France, Poland, Holland, Belgium, Ireland, Brittany and all around our coast. Thanks to the efforts of the Farlington ringing group their travels have been closely monitored and their preferred feeding and roosting sites can in this way be protected. The numbers using our marshes are considered significant at an international level and long may they continue to visit us, we will certainly do our utmost to encourage them.
Details of the second salmon from the estate have been sent through; captor Paul Tibbins found a 36" fish which would make it approximately eighteen or nineteen pounds. Tizzards was the pool and the fly a black and yellow tube about round off the points of interest. The river remains in fine condition for the salmon rods, with a good height and visibility, make the best of it.
Desperately busy with work and leisure time that are contriving to keep me away from the rods and the valley. The changeable weather is making the coarse fishing difficult with temperatures below zero followed by rain and floods with no settled period allowing man or beast to establish any patterns in feeding or fishing. With barely a fortnight remaining of the coarse season Iím beginning to panic about getting a day or two in before the close.
The meadows were dropping back nicely last week but have subsequently frozen solid and now we are about to face a further deluge; the novelty of our temperate climate is starting to wear off. The White-fronts have gone on their way back to Siberia from whence they came leaving their neighbours the Bewicks but I imagine they wonít be long in following. One of the Great-white egrets has gone in the opposite direction presumably heading south back to the wetlands of Northern France, the other is still with us so keep your eyes peeled.
A little news from outside the valley worthy of including as a unique experience not to be missed if you get the opportunity. I was down in Somerset at the weekend and caught up with the Starlings coming into roost in the reed-beds on the old peat workings. Visiting from Eastern Europe for our "temperate climate" literally millions gather in one or two spots across the country; they are a truly amazing sight. Like our other winter visitors they will shortly be leaving us but they will be back next year and I will certainly be trying to catch-up with them again.
Millions of Starling coming in to roost, just part of the Ham wall roost.
Not the best photo but a taste of the event, the sound of their wings is dramatic in itself. A Peregrine or Harrier chasing them as they circle the beds adds the swirling shapes often caught by lucky photographers but not to be Saturday but still a sight to remember.
I have just had an email from Sean Hodgson letting me know a second Springer has been landed from the estate today. Unfortunately Sean didnít have the details but as soon as I get them Iíll let you know. Judging by the car door I removed from the hatches yesterday I think the fish may well have travelled upstream in a Landrover Discovery. How such a door came to be in the hatches I canít imagine but if you are in need of a Discovery spare wheel with a good tyre I have one youíre welcome to. With three February fish to-date we are entering scenarios that havenít been seen on the Avon for decades, fingers crossed it continues.
Just how this got in the river I hate to think.
Yesterday was sent to lull us into a false sense of security and today was sent to remind us winter has a week or two yet to run. We are rushing to get the tree work finished before the onset of Spring and days such as yesterday add to the urgency. Many of the birds have already paired off and are selecting their territories, the Canada geese are clonking and clanking about the lakes and the Great crested grebe have returned from their seaside sojourn, seeking the sprats, to start their nests. The Mute swans have returned to their traditional sites and the non-breeders and last years cygnets are being sent on their way to form large groups away from aggressive cobs. I try to keep a close watch on the comings and goings of the valley as many of our winter visitors leave us and the summer crowds arrive. We are currently home to significant numbers of winter flocks feeding furiously to stoke up the energy for the flight and the rigors of Spring that lay ahead of them. Just a glimpse at some of those flocks tells the story of how vital the Avon valley is too many of our bird population. Recent weeks have seen over 650 Widgeon, 400+ Teal, 100+ Shoveler, 14 Bewicks, 190 Mute swan, 2 Great white egrets, Goosander, Hen harrier, Peregrine, 100+ Crossbill, 150+ Siskin and we still have the 11 White-fronted geese that have returned after an absence of a decade.
I seem to have spent the greater part of the weekend sat behind this computer banging away at the keyboard like some demented pianist. Meetings that require minutes to be distributed, other committees that need the sub group information to be assimilated and work schedules, risk assessments and management strategies all in need of attention. After thirty years I have also been forced into trying to catalogue the fishery and scientific publications that I have acquired over that period, its either that or move house. The cataloguing will be work in progress for several weeks to come; the committee work is equally endless but hopefully worthwhile.
It may have been a weekend at home but I always have the compensation of the feeders hung outside the window to keep up the spirits. There is a regular industry in feeding the birds these days and if the amount I spend on seed is any indication itís a very lucrative one. The days when the household scraps were thrown to the hens and the Starlings, Sparrows and rats had to make the most of it are long gone. I now have more specially designed feeders and exotic seeds than you can shake a stick at and as for a rat turning up under the feeders the District Council and the newspapers would be onsite to condemn the place. A generation ago when hens were the norm and rats an accepted consequence, the sight of one crossing the yard was cause to grab the Jack Russell and kick the cat, as he was obviously slipping. Now-a-days it seems tantamount to a national disaster when one turns up, as they surely will if birds are fed near cover - makes one almost think of getting another terrier as the bloody cat spends its time catching the birds on the feeders. I wasnít serious about another terrier, the last one drove me to distraction chasing the neighboursí cats, biting the postman and refusing to let me get into my own car; I do miss him though.
I did get out to have a look about the valley and chat to the anglers which can always be relied upon to recharge the batteries. Good numbers of salmon rods have been out, looking for the next Springer, I have yet to hear of any news of further success but with the river in such good order Iím sure it wonít be long before the third fish of the year graces the bank.
I bumped into Brett Hirst having trouble getting a mirror to come out of a snag. Ten minutes in the boat enabled me to clear the tangle of broken line it had become enmeshed in and allow Brett to land a twenty nine pound mirror. Snap-offsí and the resulting lost line are always a problem on popular fisheries, regular clearing is essential but some tangles will always happen. Bailiffs will always be glad to get a call from an angler with a snagged fish rather than risk leaving a fish tethered were ripping itself free is the only option.
I didn't manage to get back to enter the rest of my news but I must mention Dave Minvalla catching a 25.4 mirror and a 18 common during the snow on Wednesday's day session. He also had several bream which he wasn't so entralled with on the carp gear but it does show they have remained active despite the cold snap.
Dave returning his 25 pounder, I hope I spelt your name correctly Dave, the memory's not what it was!.
I also want to mention that we have eleven White-fronted geese with us at present, it is almost a decade since they have been with us. I will give a brief account of their history on the estate when I get the time, its interesting to see how closely their decline has mirrored that of the salmon; from flocks in excess of one thousand birds in the 60's to the disappearance in the 90's.
I now have the pleasure of congratulating Colin Morgan on the capture of a sparkling 18 pound springer from the estate. The photo, taken on Colin's mobile is magical, capturing the wonderful fish and the desperate struggle to ensure the safe return. As good as it gets on the avon brilliant.
Colin's cracking fish, how good is that two February fish this week for the Avon.
A very quick update on the first Avon salmon of the season. Nigel, down at Davis Tackle, has kindly sent me a photo of the first fish landed by Federico De-Palma of London who had booked the Great Weir for the day. The full details can be found on the Davis Tackle site and if such a fish doesn't inspire all you salmon rods to get out there and have a go then nothing will.
I will give a full update of events later today but I just wanted to get this photo up as quickly as possible to work its magic
There's not a lot to add to this photo, other than congratulations to Frederico on his fabulous fish.
A busy Sunday but enjoyable all the same. A six thirty start, to literally be up before the lark, followed by a visit to the fishing lodge at Ellingham to meet the salmon anglers who I will hopefully be seeing a lot more of as the season progresses. I am reliably informed the first fish of the season was landed down at the Royalty yesterday I have no details but who ever the rod was congratulations are in order. I will hopefully find out some more information soon and let you know the details.
I see that the Observer has been looking in on the diary, they carried a piece about the beleaguered Ruddy duck in the paper today. I think our local reporter for the Trout and Salmon, Graham Mole, may well have been behind it all. I must say the piece was well balanced and gave both sides but my original reason behind the diary entry was to highlight the apparent discrepancy between the spend on GIA for fisheries and that on a single duck. I have subsequently come down firmly on the side of the duck as having now looked into the arguments from both sides he seems to have the most justifiable case so more power to his elbow.
I did get the opportunity to look in at the lakes to see what was happening and whilst things are slow there have been some good fish. The night lads have had carp to thirty pounds again this weekend and the day anglers have landed the odd tench and bream. Most seemed reasonably happy as it was such a lovely day to be out beside the water but a tad milder and a few more bites would go a long way to making the day perfect.
Vic about to net the second tench of a slow but enjoyable session.
Trevor Harrop has been keeping us up to date with Budgies progress with his recent bout of ill health and I'm pleased to inform you that he is on the mend. Trevor assures us he can't wait to get out of hospital and back on the bank where we will all be glad to see him, keep up the good work Budgie see you soon.
It was a day for good news on the medical front as I bumped into James, the angler I last saw being carted off to hospital in the air ambulance with a broken leg. If you remember, back in November, Budgie and Trevor had done their best to decoy the helicopter to land on the wrong side of the river when it was looking for James. Well, I can now tell you James is back on the river, all be it with a few extra bits bolted on and enjoying getting to know the estate.
What with the six nations kicking off and England doing a reasonable job of trampling a fourteen man Welsh squad - not a bad weekend - I think Anne has a different take on the Twickenham news!!
The photo below is of a dead seatrout of a couple of pounds, found today in one of the forest streams. A seatrout at this time of year should be a kelt as spawning should have been completed at least a month ago and I would expect it to have been two months since they finished this winters spawning as water conditions were perfect back in November. Why then was this fish still full of eggs?
A dead hen seatrout that had retained her eggs?
Geoff Smith came out to wet a line yesterday on the first day of the salmon season.
I'm a day late with this entry as the first of February is the start of the salmon season and I was delighted to see several rods ventured out to try their luck. With the water still out over the banks in many areas, conditions weren't the easiest and required deal of caution if an unwelcome dip isn't to result. The conditions under foot were difficult but the river looks in good order with the high water likely to draw any fish that are about straight into the river and the water colour was ideal with excellent vis. I have yet to get my coarse fishing gear out this season with any serious intent so I don't imagine I'll be chasing salmon about for at least six weeks but when I do it will be with a yellow or black and yellow fly as this has always been the most productive early season colour. The favourite early pools will be the tail of Ibsley and the head of Tizzards, Dog Kennel and Park Pool and the Breakthrough down at Ashley. If you are brave enough to venture out early season these are the pools I would advise you to concentrate on. I'll happily be proven wrong in my advice if you should choose to look at other water but the pools mentioned have a track record that is hard to ignore. The other draw on my time that will prevent an early start to my salmon season will be clearing last years growth from the salmon pools, as soon as the water drops back and allows access.
Thanks to the Water Level Management Plan I no longer have to adjust the water through gates such as these.
The other event of yesterday that distracted me for an hour or two was that on the 1st I also adjust the hatches that control the flow in to the carriers to allow the ducks wetted meadows as the river drops back. The duck season finished on the 31st of January, which is why the salmon season opened, they certainly had things worked out in by-gone days. Whilst the duck season has closed the wildfowlers on the estate continue to feed to ensure the duck go into the breeding season in the peak of condition. I always enjoy this month as the ducks and geese very quickly realise they are no longer on the quarry list and become far more trusting; to the extent that the Canada and Greylag geese will all be on the nesting islands, honking their disapproval at my arrival but not bothering to move out of the way. To return to the historic seasons; as salmon takes over from duck and pheasant, trout will take over from salmon and grouse from trout, before the duck and pheasant season comes around again - a calendar designed to maximise leisure time! I also stopped to have a look through the finch flocks that are enjoying the benefit of the game crops during this cold weather. Several hundred Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Reed bunting, Brambling and Yellow hammer have found the acres of seed very much to their liking. Weather permitting I will try and get a closer look at them next weekend and try to get a more accurate count of what the flocks contain. It's been a good winter for watching the birds what with the Crossbills, Siskins, Fieldfares and all the duck, waders and egret in the valley and record numbers of Redwing roosting in the forest, those who have kept their eyes open will have enjoyed the visiting flocks. I hope the hard winter hasn't taken too high a toll of our birds as some do suffer under conditions such as we are currently experiencing, fingers remain firmly crossed for milder weather in the near future.
Mark Lane, eventual winner with a nineteen pounder that he followed up with a twenty three pounder from Hale Park
Today was the annual Oliver Cutts Memorial Pike Match which is now a joint venture between the Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust and the Christchurch Anglers Club. The match is run over a considerable length of the Avon from Salisbury to Bisterne which gives the competitors an opportunity to fish some of the exclusive beats of the river. All week had been a debate if we might have to move the event to the lakes due to the height of the water but on Thursday the decision was taken to go with the river and its just as well as today dawned and we drove out to the meeting place we passed the lakes frozen solid after last nights hard frost.
I was on the estate and we met the competitors at the Old Beams and they all moved off to their chosen sections to do their worst. We have become used to the routine at Somerley with most of the rods preferring a static approach, concentrating on one or two favoured slacks. Strangely this seems to produce plenty of jacks but for reasons I don't understand the big hens remain elusive. After the frosty start the day turned into a perfect winter day, designed for pike fishing.I don't think the pike felt quite so enthralled by the day as numbers were down on recent years but eighteen fish were still persuaded to join in. Mark Lane had a fine brace of fish for fourty two pounds for which he deserves hearty congratulations. Ian Ashby would have chased him close had he not been in conservation mode, letting three fish slip the hooks but Ian has won the event previously so a new name on the trophy is always welcome. Ian's son George chased him for third place also letting three fish slip the hook providing a photo finish for the places.
Ian Ashby can always be relied on to produce the goods landing three fish from Somerley Weir Pools
After a most enjoyable day those who weren't heading for distant points of the compass adjourned to the Royal Oak at Gorley to enjoy a bowl of warm soup and a well earned pint. Its always a good way to finish the day with the results trickling in and the competitors able to compare notes on how the various beats fished. This years organisor, Jon Bass, did all the sums and the results announced, trophies presented and cheques duly handed out before heading for home after a classic Avon event, well done to all involved.
I will just add my best wishes to Budgie, who had hoped to fish today but has been taken ill, wishing you a speedy recovery and will look forward to seeing you back on the bank asap.
Organisor Jon Bass presenting Mark Lane with the winners Trophy.
These days we hear all too often of tackle theft and vehicles being broken into whilst anglers are on the bank; well, thanks again to James Hutchinson, I can show you a thief caught red handed.
Oddly enough a thief no one minds being visited by, it looks like a bank vole to me. James took these pics whilst waiting for bites from other "fishy" characters.
In response to yesterday's entry related to the barbel with fin rot, Ray Walton (Mr Barbel) got in touch to say he has seen many such cases of fin rot and if itís a young fish that treating such infections with Friars balsam knocks out the bacteria giving the fish time to recuperate and regain its strength. We certainly used to use Friars balsam and Mercurochrome on wounds and damage to carp; it was the fore runner to the clinic and various other proprietary brands now available. Most carp anglers carry "Clinic" or one of the brands available and as many carp anglers have turned their attention to the rivers we are seeing it appearing more frequently on the river bank. Ray actually swears by Friars balsam and carries it with him at all times, he actually gives it away to any anglers keen to follow his lead. So if you feel inclined a small bottle of Friars balsam in the bottom of the bag might afford a fish some much needed comfort.
On a lighter and brighter note, Nick Simmonds contacted me to let me know heíd had a day to remember last Sunday. Nick not only managed a six pounds plus chub but an eleven pound plus barbel as well and just to top off the day he also spotted one of the Great white egrets that are currently with us. Given the conditions we have sufferd in recent weeks I think anyone out on the bank deserved to be rewarded but that is what I call a great days fishing, two great fish and the opportunity to enjoy the wonders of the surrounding valley. Well done Nick, angling at its very best and thanks for letting me know.
I have a favour to ask of any readers who regularly fish the river and that is to keep an eye out for any signs of disease in the form of fin rot or saprolegnia on any of their captures. Since my comments related to the state of a salmon that hadn't spawned but looked decidedly poorly I have been contacted by a keeper on a neighbouring river who tells me that they have suffered in years gone by with similar incidents well prior to spawning. Fortunately this year the salmon of river in question seem not have suffered the fate of the hen I photographed which in the view of some may possibly lay in the fact the local sewage treatment works had undergone a multi-million pound update. I have also been contacted by diary reader James Hutchinson who sent me some photographs of a barbel he captured on the estate last weekend, the fish looked dreadful and I would be surprised if it survived. It may possibly have been just an old fish that was no longer able to ingest the necessary nutrients and minerals to fight infection and was on the way out. Hopefully that was the natural case and nothing more sinister but I like to keep an eye open for such incidents hence my request to report any thing you feel out of the norm.
I am always pleased to hear from readers and please don't restrict yourself to letting me know about bad news, to hear of the successes and red letter days is one of the real delights of this diary; so please feel free to send me the odd pic or story that I can add to the pages. Don't restrict yourself to fishy tales, anything you see that you feel others may be interested in, or enjoy hearing about, send it on over. See contacts for email address etc, I'm afraid it doesn't link automatically to prevent me getting bombarded by spam.
A day at the lakes to get the willows pollarded before the sap starts to rise in readiness for the new leaves of summer. With the seasons doing their best to confuse the natural world tree work now has to be finished by the end of February at the latest. If time and floods permit, in an ideal world, all tree work would be finished by the end of January. We already have Collared doves, Stock doves, Blackbirds and Robins paired off and establishing territories. With the Canada geese and Mallard similarly engaged in their procreative activities the sooner we finish in the margins and Islands the better. The importance of practicing measures to minimise disturbance as opposed to the hollow rhetoric related to conservation so often heard in the angling world cannot be recommended too strongly. The days of work parties in the spring when the birds and small mammals are so prone to disturbance are hopefully becoming a thing of the past. Anglers have to be seen to appreciate their surroundings and appreciate the creatures that share that environment. Refusing to recognise these simple facts brands all angling as Luddite in its outlook, the good work undertaken by many risks being devalued by the intransigence of a few.
With the rivers very much out of condition the lakes have provided the best chance of a little action with carp and pike being the choice of most. There were some good fish with two mirrors of 31.6 coming from adjoining swims. One would have been a result to remember but a second at exactly the same weight is remarkable. The angler who had one of the thirties, which was a lovely looking linear, followed it with a twenty five common, some session.
The weekend was also very busy on the bird front with news of the two Great white egrets, the Bewicks and a Smew having "birders" going in all directions. I counted over thirty whilst stood on Ibsley Bridge at one point Sunday morning. Unfortunately the birds of choice had decided to hide deeper in the estate for the greater part of the day. I believe they did put in an appearance as they moved off to roost, so all wasnít lost. Itís interesting that the valley is the food source for the majority of the birds in the area at the current time, the dabblers perhaps preferring the elodea of the lakes, it is only after feeding through the early hours they spend the day sat out on the lakes in full view. It presents us with a management dilemma in trying to provide undisturbed grazing for the birds and allow access for those who wish to see them. The lakes do an admirably job in allowing this access but I still have major reservations as to the environment and the impact on the riverine SAC of these artificial water bodies. Just what we are attempting to achieve with the SSSI/SAC designations in relation to these artificial changes is in need of clarification from the agencies involved. The introduction of Ruddy ducks is deemed undesirable yet the artificial change of habitats involved with these lakes goes unchallenged. As for the "Ruddy" shooting fiasco it seems the bird world is very much divided on the issue, the forums have been buzzing with complaints and condemnations of the agencies and the ngoís involved. It makes me wonder at the timing when Defra were asking for restraint re wildfowl shooting, to avoid unnecessary disturbance of wildfowl stressed by the severe weather, they go out and scare the living daylights out of the largest concentration of wildfowl in the valley. I must say I am relieved the estate cancelled the shoot that had been scheduled for the previous Saturday; Iím sure we would have come in for a great deal of criticism had we not.
A word of caution here me thinks!! It may appear to some looking in that all you have to do to get one of these beauties is sit it out for a night or two and "voila", a twenty; not so I fear. Obviously you have to get out there and get a bait in the water but you have to ensure you understand what you are attempting to achieve and just what conditions you may possibly have to endure. Big carp are never easy and big winter carp are notoriously difficult, so don't expect miracles, the majority of the anglers that you see grinning over the top of some of the fish on these pages have done the hard work, suffered the blanks and have occasionally reaped the rewards.
Winter nights are cold, that I can assure you is a fact you will not be able to alter, they also rain a lot and on occasions blow like the very devil. If you are to spend the night at temperatures below freezing you need to be properly equipped and have experience of using that equipment before you put it to the test of a long winter night. At least a few summer nights would be a good idea before thinking of winter carping. That equipment will include suitable clothing which in these days of modern thermal base layers, mid layers and high tech outer clothing makes life a great deal easier, they are not cheap but they are essential. Other basics include a suitable heavy duty bivvie, bed chair and sleeping bag, they will make the difference between enjoying your sport or enduring it. Remember you cannot use your cooker as a source of warmth, fire risk and fumes make this a no, no; hot drinks and food keep the spirits up and help pass time in those long winter nights so you do need a reliable one. If you fish alone you need to take a few basic precautions, have transport to hand for when the bivvie gets blown in the lake and a mobile for emergencies. I remember arriving at the lakes one morning after a particularly strong blow and finding the car park deserted when it should have contained three night anglers cars. I walked out to the point where they had been bivvied up to find guy ropes with strips of canvas attached to them where there had been three bivvies the previous evening. Hopefully today's bivvies are of a little better construction but the anglers involved were very experienced but had been glad of their cars when all else failed; so don't get dropped off unless you have an understanding driver who doesn't mind a call at three in the morning.
It looks as if Fred also brings a spare hat, I must say I preferred today's but it doesn't look quite so warm!!
Just to cheer all you anglers up during this crappy weather a pic of a "super" fish. That's Mr Ringwood Tackle, Rich Middleton peering over the top of what can only be described as a fish of a lifetime. It certainly proves if you are willing to get out there and get a bait in the water the fish will still join in, a lesson in practicing what you preach, brilliant result Rich, congratulations. You really don't need to know that fish was comfortably over seven pounds that only adds to the withdrawal symptoms. Thatís also not the first chub over seven that Rich has landed which convinces me I really must get those rods dusted off.
Rich Middleton showing us fair weather anglers how it should be done, that white stuff is snow!!
If further encouragement for us "faint hearts" were needed I bumped into an angler down at the lakes today who had travelled down from Alton on Tuesday as all his club lakes were still frozen solid. Our ice having broken up over the weekend gave him the opportunity to land five carp to 14 pounds and a good tench; quite some result under such conditions. I should temper that with the fact that when I spoke to him today he hadn't had a bite but as he said without a bait in the water you never know.
Thankfully the threatened snow has gone to the north of us, deciding to give the headwaters up on Salisbury Plain a further covering. We will eventually get the result in that the thaw will send us a cold flood to chill the river once again. The water from the previous thaw of last week and the rain of Saturday has gone on its way with the river now safely back within its banks,lets hope it stays there. I still have the top marsh under water for the wildfowl but its not impacting on the river.
The Defra gunships turned up on Ibsley Water today in their attempt to obliterate the poor old Ruddy Duck. I imagine that's a European funded initiative as the cost of eight gunboats chasing half a dozen Ruddy's about must run well into the tens of thousands of pounds and I can't imagine this government has money to burn in such a fashion. Its all due to the drake Ruddy's being randy little sods looking on the Spanish White-headed duck as fair game when it comes to having his evil way. Unfortunately the Ruddy's of the UK, in common with many randy young Brits, may just possibly take their summer hols on the Costa de Sol. You know the mindset, a few lagers and if its got feathers and floats its fair game!! The rights and wrongs of eradicating the species in the UK I wont enter into but I must inquire of Defra as to the cost and the official justification. They have been remarkably effective in reducing the UK population from over six thousand down to the region of a thousand, how they determine "Contained" will be interesting when the original population stemmed from four escapee individuals? The thinking is probably along the lines of "Yes Minister" when our Defra mandarin (big wig civil servant, not a cullable species) bemoaning the impact of "Those RUDDY DUCKS" got the disinterested response, "Well can't you shoot the Ruddy things? Delia does a lovely duck in cherry sauce"!! From the estates point of view this has more serious implications in that we control the sporting rights on that water and it may look as if we arranged this bun fight, I can say that it was the Blashford Lakes Wildlife Reserve that organised this under the guise of a tree felling operation so we are not guilty.I must also ask Defra how they view the dramatic increase of cormorants in the Avon Valley, partly as a result of nature reserves protected by Defra designation, that directly impact on EU designated species within the Avon SSSI/SAC such as salmon, bullhead and lamprey? "Oh,I forgot - they're fish they don't count"!
I added the poor pic of the Great white egret and the Little gret just to give a comparison in size. The orange/yellow bill is also an easily spotted difference when you can't find a Little egret to stand beside your Great white. Both were still on the estate today, Great whites not the Great white and the Little egret we have lots of them, Little egrets that is. Our ducks, who usually spend the day roosting on Ibsley Water after feeding in the valley, came back for the day, when the bombardment started over the road, its a pity the Ruddy's didn't join them!!
The floods of yesterday, resulting from Friday nightís torrential rain and the fast thawing land, seemed distant as the dawn broke cold and clear. Not a breath of wind, clear skies and just a hint of mist hanging in the valley to hide the flooded fields. My early start was due to it being the first WeBS count of the year requiring me to be out on the ground before dawn. My first call was on the road overlooking the trout farm on the northern boundary of my count area. Waiting for the birds to arrive gave me the opportunity to ponder the role of aquaculture in our valley and I must say whilst the place looks far from natural I find it a wonderful environment. I know that there are many concerns about the impact of these farms from escapees, pheromones and nutrients but whilst we may have concerns we must ensure we do not throw the baby out with the bath water in campaigning against them. As the birds arrive to thread their way through the supposedly protective netting their value as superb avian habitat should not be overlooked.
To give an idea of the attraction of these places an hour counting gave rise to the following highlights; one hundred and twenty Grey heron, seventy one Cormorants, twenty four Little egret and a Bittern. That little lot are dependent to a great extent on the fish from the farm, not all welcome by the operators but a wonderful addition to the valley. The other advantage of them enjoying the fast food service of the farms is that they are not out in the valley eating our struggling wild fish populations.
My route down the valley brought me to the sidestreams and lakes at Ibsley where many of the anglers who were out enjoying the winter sunshine could be found. With much of the still water yet to thaw results were predictably thin; one or two pike, the best I heard of going fifteen pounds and one or two swims producing dace, roach and the odd chub. Not the most inspiring fishing but if you chose your swim well, to catch the sun, it was a pleasure to be out on the banks.
Wilf, with the right idea, a spot of trotting in the sunshine.
I went on my way, counting the wetland birds as I headed downstream, south, towards Ringwood. I found good numbers of birds making the most of the floods highlights being; two Great white egrets, of perhaps ten in the country. Two hundred and eighty Black tailed godwits, five hundred widgeon being the most plentiful ducks on show and we still have ten Bewicks. News of the two Great white egrets was released on the bird report pager system and those in the Ibsley area might have noticed the number of "twitchers" rose dramatically mid morning. One guaranteed method to scare every bird in the district into the next county is to be subject to a twitcher invasion. Ninety nine percent stick to the rules and are no bother, alas the other one percent that have no respect for private property and through ignorance or stupidity are unaware of the disturbance and problems they create spoil it for all.
One other number that was of interest was the number of swans in the five miles of valley involved in my count. If I include the ten Bewicks we have over two hundred which despite the high density have no measurable impact on the state of the river. I have mentioned before that this illustrates the difference between the upper nad lower river quite clearly. Above Salisbury Swans do immense damage to the river ecosystem through their over grazing of the ranunculus beds, down with us in the lower valley the rive ris too deep to result in this impact. If it is clearly impossible to manage individual rivers under one management prescription how is it the EA believe they can manage all rivers on a national basis in this manner?
The cold snap has been sending out conflicting messages with regard to the impact it has been having on our wildlife. We have heard many reports of struggling wildlife suffering through the cold and snow cover making feeding difficult. Having said that we have escaped remarkably lightly in the Lower Valley and the extent of the snow cover in the higher catchment up on Salisbury Plain has not been as catastrophic as might well have been the case.
There have been without doubt many casualties, with enforced migrations for species such as Skylark and Pippit dramatically increasing the risk they face through predation and exposure. There are justifiable concerns for one of our more delicate species in the forest in that the Dartford warbler is more closely allied to a Mediterranean climate than the sudden shock of cold weather. There have however been many contradictory signals and we have the Stock doves building in the rambling old limes trees in the park and Dunnocks, Blue tits and Raven all looking to start their own nest building. Lets hope the impact hasn't been overly harmful and we see our bird populations get through without major losses. My aging bones are certainly fed-up with the cold, snow and ice, I think I must be more allied to a Med climate, I hope we see a return to milder conditions asap.
I was delighted to see that the main channels through the floated meadows at Hucklesbrook stayed free of ice through out the recent freeze-up and provided excellent habitat for many wildfowl. I was concerned that the extent of our work on the drains last autumn may have disturbed the delicate balance these birds require but it would appear we managed to achieve the objective in enhancing the meadows as our ducks have shown up on mass. As I write the freeze has all but disappeared and the results of last nights deluge are making themselves felt in the meadows. From cold back too floods, it would be a treat to manage a week or two of stable conditions that suit our meadows. Certainly we are currently too deep for the waders, as the floods recede again up and down the length of the valley our controlled system comes into its own and we should see the waders arrive in increasing numbers. What we provide is protected feeding; the roosts associated with neighbouring gravel pits are new phenomena in the valley, creating multiple unknowns. We will never know how close we are to the bird populations of the past when the conservation designations were deemed desirable to protect the dwindling valley bird populations. The increase in new species and the changes in habit the pits have introduced remain a contentious issue in the view of many.
Finally the photo of the salmon, not a kelt as one might expect at this time of year but a hen grilse of about six pounds in perfect shape showing no sign of having spawned. Unfortunately by the time I managed to take the photo she was aware of my presence and had sunk a foot below the surface from where she had previously been laying. Why a fish in apparently good shape should be plastered in saprolegnia and been unable to spawn is somewhat unsettling; especially when to date I have not found a redd this winter.
Perhaps I should mention the rather dubious quality of the photos in that; the Bullfinch was taken through my lounge window, the roe deer through my windscreen and the salmon in a foot of water. I feel that its the message they contain rather than the quality that determines the photos I include on the diary, I hope you agree in this particular instance.
A doe with last years kids and a dying salmon.
From the left; rabbit, fox, otter and a cock pheasant, I wonder who was following who??
I think the best thing I can do for today's entry is a photo line up.
Harbridge Church across a very cold river, an icy and dangerous hatch, sunrise at Crowe Pool and Colin deserving of a bite.
A display of aerial acrobatics by the Black tailed godwits over Ibsley Water today was as a result of a Peregrine looking for a meal; the Peregrine is arrowed in the photo below. Whilst I watched a successful kill was made but subsequetly dropped onto the ice, only to be stolen by Black-backed gulls.
A digital count of today's Godwit flock.
It may have been bitterly cold but at least the sun shone and made an hour or two on the bank bearable. I've been told the long range forecast is for a cold month, whilst perhaps desirable to reset natures clocks begins to wear on my aging bones. I must say modern base layers and micro fleece are a real blessing, add thermal boots and gloves and things look a little brighter.
The Swans thought the eddy was a peaceful enough resting place I hope the pike felt similarly. As for Damian and his chub, I'm not sure who was the most surprised, twenty minutes in, three casts and a fish on the bank. He would probably have had one sooner if I hadn't been distracting him as he lost the bait on the first two casts; I hope bites came as frequently after I went on my way.
1st January 2010
The year has turned and so has the weather; 2009 went out with a splash and 2010 has come in frozen solid. I will just add a word or two to get the diary underway and ready for the highlights when the conditions become more angler friendly. The fishing is best described as desperate, the lakes have frozen over and the river temperatures have hit rock bottom. The few anglers out are for the main part going through the motions with very little hope of finding many fish. If we get a settled spell of weather we will hopefully see the chub and pike begin to feed again.
The only bright spot on the fishy front is that today beside Harbridge Island I did see a pair of cock salmon fighting over the shallows. These two warriors are the first sign of any cutting I have seen this winter. Whilst the lack of sightings may be attributed to high water areas such as the Trout Stream usually show fish whatever the conditions and they have yet to show even there. The high water has hopefully enabled the fish to run through us and they are safely cutting higher in the river. Should any readers see salmon on the redds in the next day or two I would appreciate a call on the mobile (See contacts).
Its not only the fish that are having a tough time, the birds are suffering similarly with the lakes and water meadows freezing they are struggling to find food and resting areas. I have started my 2010 bird counts and have already added one or two of the more unusual species to the list. The Great white egret is still with us, as are the Crossbills and the Bewick swans, perhaps not so welcome, record numbers of Goosander with over 100 being recorded in the valley this weekend.