30 December 2007

Well, here we are, the last Blog of 2007.  I don't know what the weather has been like where you are , but up here in the valley it's been wet and windy all week in fact it's been so wet that the river has either been bank full or in spate most days since last Sunday.  The result is that today is really the first day since then that its been safe to do the invertebrate check at Turn Dub so my plan is to go up there later this morning and see what I can find.

The microscope that the club invested in is proving invaluable in helping to sort out some of the less obvious invertebrate families and to confirm bankside identifications of very small individuals of which I'm now finding a lot.  The size of individual creatures within families does seem to vary from month to month which, I suppose, reflects the life cycle of the different families within this cold upland river.

It will be interesting to compare today's results with the November results from the same location and begin to build a picture of whether and how fierce spates affect the presence, distribution and size of the invertebrate families.  Of course, the whole point of this is to better understand the distribution of food available to our wild trout throughout the changing seasons and to build a clearer picture of the health or otherwise of the environment in and around the river that might affect the potential of the trout to recruit and thrive.

From a sporting viewpoint the results we have obtained so far are useful.  We now know that the predominant invertebrate species below Selside are heptagenia, baetis and ephemerellidae in that order so fishing with fly patterns that represent flat bodied  mayfly, olives and BWO should at least offer our fish something with which they will be familiar, but as Arthur Ransome once said of the river at Horton the trout here see certain fly patterns so often that they become discerning experts on the skill of the fly dresser so offering something out of the ordinary may get better results from time to time.

So, I hope Farther Christmas was generous this year and your fingers are even now itching to try that new rod or reel at the marker pool, Drain Mires or Selside.  The days are slowly getting longer and it won't be long now until the new season opens.  Just think, it's 130 years in 2008 since the club started (slightly less since it came to Horton) perhaps we should mark this in some way?

Happy New Year.


23 December 2007

It's continued to be very cold here this week and the temperature dropped so low on Friday that the river at New Inn froze across most of its width.  Of course, this was helped by the low flows we have at present due to the lack of rain over the past few weeks, but it was still pretty cold.

The river was, however, high enough to enable me to do a good invertebrate check on Thursday at New Inn Bridge.  This gave a very satisfactory result.  Fewer heptagenia this time but, significantly more blue winged olives and gammerid (shrimp).  I also identified a satisfactory number of turkey browns.  This is likely to be much to do with my increasing confidence and skill in identifying these creatures but, I do think that there were more of them this time than previous months.  This particular creepy crawly  is a vital indicator of very clean water and is comparatively rare in our rivers and streams so its presence at Horton is testimony to health of our river.

I plan to do a similar check at Turn Dub tomorrow and will post up the results on the on-line spreadsheet so that our riverfly group can see them.  If anyone else would like to see the spreadsheet just send me your email address and I will give you access.

I had an email from the Head Keeper on the river Dove last week asking about the crayfish breeding programme.  It seems that someone gave his team a presentation about crayfish conservation recently and referred to the pioneering work that Neil is doing here at Horton.  He sent me a photo that was used in the presentation to identify which he thought was our river and I instantly saw that it was of the stretch below New Inn Bridge looking downstream to Rowe End.  Fame at last!

Otherwise it's pretty quiet here at present with everyone gearing up for Christmas and New Year festivities.

So have a Merry Christmas and I wish you all a prosperous and fulfilling new year.


16 December 2007

Winter has arrived here in the valley this week and it's been cold and frosty most mornings which should give the bugs a nasty headache and kill off the midges that were still swarming up till the beginning of the month.  The 'not to be missed' event recently has been the Horton parish party with the usual WI panto featuring some very strangely dressed residents all being very silly.  I tried my hand at a comedy routine this year, but I do think that perhaps stand up comedy is not really my forte.  Still it seemed to go down well.  Talking of parish parties there seems to be an ancient tradition of MAA involvement in these events and a long time ago the club participated in the annual Christmas 'do'  organising uplifting readings and monologues as well as community singing round the piano.  One item just shows how much times have changed in the past 100 years as it concerned  a novelty act entitled 'nigger dancing'!!  Yeeees!

There was a fascinating article in the paper on Wednesday with an amazing photograph.  It would seem that the proprietors of a trout farm down in Hampshire were growing increasingly concerned about the high level of apparent predation at the farm during the winter and the loss of mature brown trout so they set a wildlife photographer to keep watch and record anything unusual.  What he saw just illustrates the power of native instinct.  The holding pond at the farm is fed by a six inch pipe about 3 feet above the waterline. The trout were leaping up into the pipe and swimming against the flow for 30 feet to emerge in the supply channel which is a tributary of the Itchen.  it would seem that the fish regarded the inflow as a waterfall and instinct was encouraging them to move up in order to spawn. The photo accompanying this article shows 4 large brownies caught in the act of leaping into the pipe in a bid for freedom.  Sadly this emulation of the great escape has now been stopped as a grill  has now been fitted to the supply pipe.

I will bring this remarkable photo along to the AGM, it should provide some interest and amusement (probably more than the Parish party).

See you next week.


9 December 2007

What a truly appalling day we had here in the valley yesterday.  It was raining hard first thing, but by mid morning we had a sleet blizzard driven along by a fierce south east wind.  A trip to settle to order the Christmas turkey seemed more like a form of extreme sport.  We were lucky, later in the day some poor devil had overturned his 4×4 at Studfold.

By evening the river was in full spate and looking angry with foaming stopper waves at Newhouses.  Fingers crossed for the salmon redds which are now building up and will still be pretty lose.  The trout will also be starting to spawn.  It's been a bit wet to spend much time looking in the side becks for evidence of spawning brownies, but this morning is a bit more calm and we have less rain so I may well venture up to drain mires this afternoon for a quick look.

I mentioned some weeks ago the book by W Carter Platts that the Hon Sec lent me.  This is an absorbing read, full of practical advice on how to nurture a wild trout fishery on spate rivers and preserve brown trout.  It should be essential reading for anyone managing a spate river and I can't fathom why it's not more widely known. The language is a bit archaic (it was written in the early 1920's), but it has an innocence and poetry missing from modern technical papers on the same subject.  What really stands out is the importance that Platts places on ensuring that sufficient food is present in the fishery waters to sustain the population of wild fish you are trying to preserve.  Here he maintains that watercress beds are vital to a healthy trout population and regular readers will recall my blog about a hatchery down south where strong, fit fish are being bred feeding on nothing more that the washings from an organic cress farm.  So, nothing new under the sun and I can think of a number of places here on our own fishery where we might try to establish a good crop of cress.  Even the spare tanks at the hatchery might prove suitable for this.  The aim is to breed shrimps (gammerid) and snails that wash into the main feeders and river.  Experimenting will be fun and we already have a record of gammerid populations against which to measure changes if any.  The MAA did this early last century and they had a number of ditches at the hatchery which were used for breeding shrimp and snails.  Again, nothing new.

Talking of the MAA in times past, my regular correspondent yesterday sent me a document about times past at Horton which includes an account of a dinner on at the Golden Lion.  I have only had a quick skim so plan to read this fully later this morning.

Thanks to those of you who offered to plant trees.  The weather has been too bad recently to even think about organising this, but I will be in touch with you once I have an agreed plan.  The saplings will keep in good condition for several weeks where they are.

Lastly, my apologies for any spelling errors in this blog.  I am using for the first time my Christmas present to write this.  We invested in a laptop and the keyboard is a little different to that on the Big Black Beast in the office.

More next week.


2 December 2007

Well, into December already and soon the wild brownies in the river will be joining the salmon in the annual spawning ritual.  There is certainly plenty of water about at present to enable them to move to the spawning beds.  We have had a very wet week and the river was running in full spate on Friday night after a torrential downpour that lasted all evening.

My request for volunteers to help plant trees has met with a deafening silence so i plan to go ahead anyway and see how many can be got in next Sunday weather permitting.  All I need to do in the interim is to clear this with the landowner.

There was a remarkable photograph in the paper on Friday showing a heron with a 1.5lb brownie speared on its beak.  The chap who took the picture down in Hampshire apparently waited for hours to get the shot and it rather begs the question as to what happened next?  How did the grey poacher get the fish off?  Did it manage to swallow such a large catch?  Judging from the expression on its face it did seem somewhat surprised.  Talking of herons I have yet to see the bird that is permanently stationed on a rock below Settle weir catch anything.  I guess it must do as there would be little point in spending so many hours at this exposed spot if there were no reward, but heron do seem to be blessed with almost inexhaustible patience and persistence.  Something I have in short supply after spending two days rebuilding all the lost data on my hard drive (see last weeks blog).  I have now invested in an external hard drive to which I can back up everything so fingers crossed!

I am delighted to say that for the first time in the 5 years that I have been keeper here the swans on the Tarn have managed to raise two healthy cygnets to maturity.  They are still clumsy fliers, but can art least take off sufficiently now to avoid predators.  Both cygnets are turning white and will soon be looking for their own territory as I doubt if the cob will tolerate the youngsters around into next breeding season. We shall see.  Interestingly the parents have not left the Tarn all autumn.  Usually by now they have vanished for a few weeks to return after Christmas. 

More next week.