31 August 2007

August seems all set to go out just as it came in.  It's wet and windy here this morning with a very damp low level murk blown along by a stiff westerly breeze.  Much more of a nuisance than a benefit to water levels in the river.

I ruminated yesterday about the role and duties of the keeper and purely by chance had a brief conversation with a member about the state of the Tarn.  Now, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the Tarn, it's fishing pretty well, the water quality this summer has been very good, there is no algae problem.  But, the amount of weed is increasing exponentially year on year with a marked step increase following last summers heatwave.  My predecessor tried to control it with a herbicide which perhaps was not the wisest course of action.  Weed does have significant benefits in keeping the water well oxygenated, but virtually the whole bed is now populated with a pretty luxuriant growth and fishing is getting more than tedious.  Cutting it seems to encourage vigorous regrowth so I think I will need to do some research and find a solution that has the minimum impact on the ecology of the Tarn, especially its crayfish colony, yet opens up the water a bit before the whole 5 acres becomes one large weed infested swamp. 

Ideas and suggestions would be welcome.

Ian

30 August 2007

I see from the IFM magazine that Scotland has been chosen to host the 2009 World Fly Fishing Championships.  This prestigious event will see more than 25 countries compete over 7 days and will be broadcast through cable TV, showcasing the fishing sites and surrounding landscapes of Stirling and Perthshire to an international audience.  This will be the first time, surprisingly that these championships have been held in Scotland  and will be the biggest such event ever held in the country.  Look out for more details in the angling press over the coming year.

My reflections on Whitbeck yesterday prompted a very interesting comment from one of my regular correspondents.  David M emailed the following which reminded me that this beck has a relatively short history as a polluted watercourse and its clean up is well overdue.

 Ian
I think I have told you before that when I was a kid Whitbeck or the Monkey Beck,
as it was called then, was a crystal clear stream. As you say it always ran and
was full of minnows. When I used to stay at “Billy Garth” Walter Pollard, the
keeper, used to pay me to trap minnows in this Beck using wine bottles. He would
then pickle them in formaldehyde and sell them  on to visiting anglers. As a
child it very exciting to cross the plank as it bridged the beck just before  it
entered Broken Bridge Pool. Later the quarry sent down saturated lime solution
which killed all minnows and the weed. One year the pollution was so bad the
deposit  could be seen on the river bed until at least Crag Hill. There was no
bottom life, or fish, at Horton Beck outfall nor in Parsons Pool and it was
still wrong where the Tay Bridge was. A big claim was made and more importantly
the Quarry put in more settling pits etc. before releasing the effluent. As you
know it has never been that satisfactory and the last time I walked along the
Beck–some years ago now — there was not a minnow in sight.
David M

David is right.  The beck is completely devoid of any life now whether it be minnows or invertebrates so it will be a real test for the EA to rescue this feeder and restore it to the condition that David so vividly remembers.  We wish them well.

As for pickling minnows, it just goes to show the range of duties that the MAA keepers provided in the past.  My own duties apart from the conservation work we try to do seem less practical and more information based.  Perhaps it's time we had a discussion about the keepers role and what the priorities should be?

It's pretty dull here at present with a light to moderate north westerly breeze which is keeping the temperature very much on the cool side.  The forecast is for the cloud to lift a bit later on so Tarn fishing may be more rewarding as we approach lunch time.

Ian

29 August 2007

It's not a bad morning, a bit on the chill side, but we have plenty of sun and a fair bit of high fluffy cloud.  There is no discernible breeze so fishing conditions on the Tarn later should be perfect.

One of the papers in the bundle sent to me for last nights RFC meeting summarised the EA's work schedule for the the Ribble and it is good to see that they are in detailed discussion with Hansons who run Horton quarry about the condition of Whit Beck.  Most members will know this feeder well, it's one of the few becks that enter from the west bank and run all year.  It gets its name from its visual appearance, since time forgotten it has run milky white with lime waste from the quarry.  In fact it's one of the only sites I know of where you can see well formed gour pools above ground.  These calcareous dams are a common feature underground where lime precipitates out of solution to form cascades and pools in flowing water but are rare on the surface.  It would seem that the EA have agreed with Hansons that they will undertake work to prevent lime waste entering the beck.  Once the source of pollution has been dealt with then the EA will work to restore the remainder of the beck to a condition where it becomes suitable for wild trout to spawn.  This will involve dredging out the deposited lime and laying gravel on the bed.

In some ways it will be a shame to lose this unique feature, but it will also be a tremendous bonus to gain a good quality spawning beck on a beat that is a favourite amongst members.  I will try to find out more on this.

Ian

28 August 2007

There is a meeting of the Ribble Fisheries Consultative this evening for which I got all the papers yesterday.  It looks like a full agenda with a number of interesting items up for discussion.  I see that the Preston barrage saga rumbles on and its good to note the very robust attitude that the RFC have taken with Preston Council over this issue.  The Council's Chief Exec has been left in no doubt about the strength of feeling amongst anglers that the barrage will be hugely detrimental to the river environment and that RFC will take legal action should the council proceed with its plans.  As things stand at present the plan is to conduct a feasibility study to determine cost and environmental impact and any decision about building the barrage will be taken in the light of the findings of this study.  The problem is that we don't know the criteria on which the council will base their decision such as what is acceptable cost and what environmental damage will be tolerated.  If this project goes ahead it could have disastrous consequences for Ribble salmon and sea trout as well as affecting course fish below Settle.  Anyone with concerns about the scheme should write to the Chief Exec of Preston Council.

It's always nice to get some positive feedback about the state of the fishery here at Horton and an email I got yesterday from Gavin P left me feeling that we must be doing something right.

Hi Ian
Today's fishing was a little on the difficult side on both river and tarn with firstly the stiff breeze that sprung up on the tarn and secondly with the river at bare bones conditions. However the fish did put in an appearance at the tarn where we finished with 8 very spirited fish, as you will note by the returns. The river whilst very low was dotted every where with rising fish and we fished the foot bridge pools and up the following rills where we found fish feeding all along this length at Parker's wood.

On thing I thought might interest you was that In the faster water we found that nearly all the fish caught appeared to be young salmon parr up to 8ins long with a very deeply forked tail. They would snap at any offering that passed over them, and I caught around 8 of these returning them very carefully. It was a shame the Neil had left by this time, as I would have liked him to have seen these young salmon.
 I did end the afternoon with 5 stunning brownies up to around 12″ in length from all along Parker's wood. This once again was most enjoyable day with only my knees feeling the pace as most of the fishing was done by kneeling down on the gravel, and as convinced me that applying for membership was one of the better things I have done in the last 12 months. I think kneepads in future will be the next purchase

I only hope that other new members are enjoying this fishery as much as myself, and whilst the river as been hard to fish this makes the results even more worth while.

Regards

Gavin

I had noticed a lot of salmon fry earlier in the year and it would seem that a lot of these have survived in the good water we have had most of the summer.  This bodes well for the long term future of salmon stocks on the upper river and it will be interesting to see if this large population of parr translates into more sizable runs in the coming years.  The fish counters lower down should tell some of the story.

Ian

27 August 2007

It looks as though the fight to preserve our remaining stocks of native crayfish is about to go mainstream.  Professor David Rogers of the University of Derby who has spent his career studying Austropotomobius pallipes has been commissioned to make two TV documentaries to be broadcast in the next few weeks.  One of these charts how he has reintroduced the white-clawed crayfish into the river Lathkill in Derbyshire.  Kingfisher Productions filmed Professor Rogers last year at various stages of the conservation project; at the river, at holding tanks for the crayfish and at laboratories at the University's Kedleston Road site.  The programme will be hosted by cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew and will be broadcast as part of Saving Planet Earth theme.  A second documentary for the BBC Nature in Britain programme will go out in September.  Given our own involvement with Neil Handy's similar project here on the Ribble these two programmes should make essential viewing.

Turning to things less aquatic my eye was caught by an article in Saturday's Telegraph magazine.  I have said it before many times but nature has a way of slapping you round the face with a fact that seems so bizarre it can only be true.  In a beautifully written piece about the forgotten wild places of Britain which is abstracted from his new book, Robert Macfarlane recounts a conversation he had with a friend about squirrels.  Robert was having difficulty phoning his friend at Walnut Tree Farm in Suffolk. Squirrels, his friend said.  Squirrels had been the problem.  His phone line had at first gone crackly, then dead, and he had called in the engineers.  The engineers had found that squirrels had been nibbling the phone line.  Apparently this was becoming a common occurrence.  Squirrels are highly intelligent, agile enough to tightrope-walk along telephone wires, and poor conductors of electricity.  Somehow they have realised that by biting through to the bare wires and short circuiting the 50 volts that run through them into their own bodies, they can  heat themselves up.  In this way each squirrel becomes a sort of low-voltage electric blanket – and will sit up on the wires with a stoned smile for hours.

As they say, don't try this at home.

We have another bright and sunny day here at Horton with little breeze and just a thin smear of cloud.  It's chilly though with just a hint of the coming autumn in the air.  The river is bare bones now so Tarn fishing is the best bet until we get some rain.

Ian

26 August 2007

The latest edition of Fish, the magazine of the Institute of Fisheries Management landed on my doorstep yesterday.  As usual this is packed with interesting stuff, much of it relevant to game fishery management so I will come back to a few of the items over the next couple of days.  One article immediately caught my eye and consists of a letter from DEFRA outlining proposals to modernise salmon and freshwater fisheries legislation.  DEFRA have been trying to get Parliamentary time to revise legislation for some time now and a specific fisheries Bill fell foul of the Parliamentary time table earlier in the year.  The problem is that some of the proposed changes require primary legislation which is difficult to slot in because of the sheer volume of new legislation that the Government believes we need.  The aim now is to include the necessary clauses in the Marine Bill which has an agreed slot.  The full scope of the proposals are well worth studying as they will impinge in one way or another on how we manage our fishery and how we fish for both migratory and non migratory salmonids.  There is some good stuff such as clearer definitions of freshwater fish and their protection, a clause on the need for fish to have free access to feeding, breeding and nursery sites and ways of addressing the growing problem of theft of fish.  Also included is a major revision of the current licensing system which, put simply, will repeal the deeming provisions whereby a salmon license is deemed to allow fishing for trout etc and replace them with a power for the Environment Agency to specify which type of fish the holder may target.  The aim here is to give the Agency the flexibility to introduce licenses that reflect the kind of fish that angler's are interested in and assist the more focused management and conservation of fish stocks.  The Agency is currently considering issuing a whole raft of separate licenses. 

Other proposals include Provisions on Illegal Instruments, Power for the EA to make emergency measures, reform of law on close time by-laws, reform of law on introduction of live fish, and the extension of Net Limitation Orders to cover eel fisheries!

Lastly there is a proposal to ban the sale of rod caught salmon and sea trout and introduce a “Wild Salmon Dealer Licensing  Scheme”.

All this will go out to consultation shortly and we should ensure that our views are known to our various representative bodies.

Leaving all that stuff aside for the moment, the Tarn was looking great this morning now that we have a return to bright warm weather after yesterday's dull, cold interlude.  There is a light south westerly stirring the surface and sufficient cloud to diffuse the light.  The river is now pretty low and well past its best so wild fishing will be a challenge until we get some rain.

Ian

25 August 2007

It's cooler and cloudier this morning, but is showing signs that it may clear to give us another warm, bright day.  Water levels have held up surprisingly well showing just how wet the high ground is in the river catchment.  There was still a good flow coming over Settle weir yesterday afternoon much to the delight of the large group of children who were swimming in the fish pass.  There was also a good fly hatch at New Inn judging by the feeding activity of the resident trout.  This long pool was peppered with rises at about 3.30 especially under the trees by the football field.  There is little sign of rain until after the bank holiday so river fishing will become increasingly difficult as the level drops.

Gavin P emailed me yesterday to report how well the Tarn is fishing.  Plenty of bites from fish as well as midges!

I've not been down to the hatchery for some days so may take a wander down for a look this evening just to see if I can spot any of our young fry.  With only 40 very small fish in such a very large pond it's a long shot, but who knows?

Ian

24 August 2007

This really is too much of a good thing.  Three glorious days on the trot, a record for this summer and it's even better this morning as the north wind has backed to the west and fallen to a gentle breeze.  The river is a bit low after a dry week, but the pools are still full and should offer good trout fishing.  The Tarn should be on top form as this warm weather will encourage surface feeding so dry fly should be well worth trying.

Some fishermen, of course need, no fancy gear to land the most spectacular Scottish salmon.  They simply hang around in the estuaries chatting and playing tag, waiting for the fish to run and then move in quickly to snatch the fish as they pass up river.  There has been much just recently in the papers and on TV about bottle nosed dolphins and their taste for fresh Scottish salmon with many pictures of their skill in catching big fish.  I'm not sure what impact they have on overall salmon stocks, but compared to other challenges that the salmon face including coastal and marine netsmen I guess not much.  They really are a delight to watch and seem to know that they are being filmed so put on a display for the camera.  Perhaps a pet dolphin would make catching Ribble salmon a bit easier.  You could use them like the Chinese use cormorants although I guess that getting the fish off them would be a bit more of a battle.  A three meter dolphin is a bit more of a handfull than a cormorant.

Ian

23 August 2007

This must be some sort of record.  Two decent days on the trot, in fact this morning is rather better than yesterday as the strong north wind has abated to a light breeze.  Water levels in the river have dropped a fair bit, but there should still be good trout fishing on most pools and deeper runs.

For the past few months I have been suffering a surfeit of cockerels.  One of my broody hens disappeared into the undergrowth and returned with 12 chicks, 4 of which grew into cock birds.  Three of these were like dad, multi coloured jobs with bright orange capes, bottle green flanks and black tail feathers.  The fourth had a higher percentage of black rock genes and was very dark, very large and very aggressive.  He has spent the past couple of months living in the small greenhouse to prevent him from killing the other cocks.  I am pleased to report that all is now much quieter at Newhouses this morning as Satan and two of his brothers went to market yesterday and are now probably part of a chicken tikka somewhere in Bradford.

It was a real eye opener to see the sheer range of birds up for auction, from tiny bantams through to massive light Sussex and some buff coloured jobs with fluffy feet that I didn't recognise, but make my hens look like midgets.  I was quite taken with the quail and might get some of these from a reputable breeder as their eggs are supposed to be a delicacy.  Still, the real priority is to replace my runner ducks which the fox took back in April.  The problem has been finding a supply as they seem to be pretty scarce here in Yorkshire.  If anyone finds some I need four ducks and a drake.

Ian

22 August 2007

It's a lovely bright sunny morning here at Horton with only a stiff north wind to take the edge of perfect summer conditions.  After what seems like weeks of grey sky the are virtually no clouds so tempting a wary wild brownie out of the river today will be a challenge of stealth and patience.

Gavin P emailed me yesterday to say that he pricked a large salmon down on the marker pool.  This, in his own words, “shot off towards the sea”.  Water levels are now rather low for good salmon fishing and likely to remain so until Saturday when a return to more inclement conditions are forecast.

Ray B brought a young guest up to fish the Tarn yesterday evening and I see from the ticket that he took two fish so presumably they had a successful time.  Fred B is also bringing a youngster up today and these introductions to fly fishing at an early age especially when effort is rewarded with a good catch are really important to the future of the art of angling and the conservation of our rivers and wild fish.

It's odd, but the number of guests this season is down on last year despite good water all summer compared to the drought we had last year. Still, we do seem to have converted more guests into full members this year so the long term benefit to the club is greater.

Ian