30 June 2008

The Broughton show was an enjoyable experience yesterday.  The rain kept away (mostly) and despite a rather grey and cloudy day a vast crowd seemed to enjoy themselves enormously.  One of the highlights of this show is the terrier racing which involves a large number of very small dogs in multiple heats charging down the main ring to exit though a small gap in a straw bale wall.  It's obvious which dogs have done this before and which haven't a clue.  Those with experience are off out of the trap as soon as the gates are released.  Others set of in most directions of the compass except the correct one or stop to socialise with neighbours or settle arguments.  The result is usually mildly organised chaos.  The best bit is when two evenly matched terriers arrive at the bale hole together and either scrap over who goes through first or end up wedged.

The Salmon & Trout Association had a stand there and I picked up an interesting leaflet about their nationwide riverfly survey.  The latest results for 2006 show a dramatic decline in riverfly numbers after a long period of stability.  The cause of this decline is put down to the very dry summer that year and the sporadic thunderstorms that caused short lived spates on many rivers washing away the stone clingers and free swimming invertebrates alike.  The results for 2007 will be important, but again this may not be a typical year (what IS typical now?) because of the very wet summer across most of the UK.  Our own results here at Horton only start from last year so it's too soon to draw any discernible pattern, but what is evident from the long term study that the S&TA are doing is that our riverfly numbers are dangerously low compared to the 1970's with most species at 20% of their former level.  Less food means less trout so it's vital that we try to find ways to help our invertebrates to recruit so it's good to see that the RFCA has written to all and sundry about the pollution threat from the forestry work on the upper Ribble catchment.  Misuse of herbicide or acidification of the water from decaying spruce brash will be devastating for both the Ribble and the Wharfe so our thanks should go to the Secretary of the RFCA for taking up this issue.

Finally, the river is still in good nick this morning and I understand that the Tarn fished very well yesterday so no excuses for not wetting a line this week.


28 June 2008

Those of you who follow this daily drivel regularly will know that I have a passion for books about stuff that's only equalled by my passion for usquebaugh and a couple of days go I came across reference to yet another tome that became a must buy.  A quick check on Amazon revealed that they had it in stock and yesterday it arrived in the post.

The book in question labours under the unlikely title “Ecological Aquaculture – A Sustainable Solution”. Sounds dull, but the contents are a veritable goldmine of practical advice, example and information about creating and managing sustainable fisheries.  The author, Laurence Hutchinson, is a former Naval Officer, fishery manager and consultant and he has the rare ability to explain complex scientific principles in plain English.  His book describes how to create aquaculture systems that are not wasteful or polluting and are self sustaining.  It focuses on the design and development of natural food chains as a solution to the problems associated with fish farming.  Just what we are trying to do with the old hatchery site and the development of the fishery here at Horton.

It will be fun experimenting with some of the invertebrate breeding methods described and trying out other practical and simple ways of boosting the ecological health and balance of the Ribble to ultimately increase the population of wild trout.

More rain yesterday means that the river is still in good water.  It's dryer so far today so the flow is consistent with good fishing conditions.

Maybe I will see some of you at Broughton Game Fair tomorrow.


27 June 2008

One of my regular early morning tasks after seeing to livestock is to sit down at this infernal machine and deal with emails.  Now I don't know how it is for you, but for me this always involves wading through a tidal wave of junk mail mostly generated from the mail account which deals with our holiday apartment correspondence and which is posted on our website.  I get all sorts of not to be missed opportunities which seem to come in themes and I suspect tell us a great deal about the Land of the Free where most of it originates.  It would appear that currently Dubya's citizens are obsessed with the size of their wedding tackle, fake designer watches, weight loss and sustaining an erection.  I'm no psychologist, but I really do have serious doubts about whether a nation with such fixations are really fit to run the free world.  The image in my mind is one of gangs of obese Texans with very small flaccid willys weaning junk Rolex watches roaming the world bringing peace and prosperity to all.  No wonder the world is currently going to hell in a hand cart.

What's this got to do with fishing you ask.  Nothing.  I just thought that I would get it off my chest and give you something to worry about on this grey, dank and rather chilly summer morning.

We had a lot of rain here again yesterday which petered out during the night, but at about 9.30 last night I stood by New Inn bridge and watched a very swollen river churning through both arches of the bridge.  It's dropping back and clearing a bit now so unless we get more rain this morning (which is forecast) the river should be fishable this afternoon.

There is some circumstantial evidence that the ejection from the nest of swallow chicks by adults that was shown on Springwatch is relatively common.  I had a call yesterday from one of the regular Thursday fishers to tell me that he had found three dead young chicks in the boat.  These had presumably been ejected from one of the nests above the boathouse door.  This is strange as we seem to have a real upswing in swallow numbers this season probably due to the dry weather during April and May which encouraged an abundance of flies for them to feed on.  Perhaps the recent wet and stormy weather has suppressed the availability of food so encouraging adults to thin out their broods to numbers which they can satisfactorily feed.  Another one to ponder.


26 June 2008

Here's a story that belongs in the “strange but true” or “and finally” category, one of those stories that you wish you had been present to witness and one which will earn you free pints in the Crown if only it had happened to you. 

I had a phone call from a member last evening who recounted how he was fishing the Tarn last Monday and he was reflecting on how easy it was and how quickly he was reaching his 6 fish limit.  Whilst he mused he was retrieving his fly dressed by himself on a size 12 hook and with half a mind he was watching the swallows and rejoicing in just how many of them there are hawking over the Tarn this year.  All of a sudden he got a strike! But not a fish.  It seems that a swallow had taken a fancy to this diminutive fly dancing along the surface of the water and had taken it.  There then followed the most gentle of retrieves as our member endeavoured to bring the swallow in without harming it so that the barbless hook could be released.  As the rather surprised bird reached the sedge along the bank of the Tarn it opened its beak and the hook fell out.  The bird promptly departed and resumed hawking for flies none the worse for its involuntary addition to this members tally.

This begs a few questions.  Was this an amazingly well dressed fly, so good in fact that it deceived the gimlet eyes of a swallow?  Was it a juvenile swallow with more enthusiasm than sense? Or was this just a small bird taking the Michael?

It also raises the question as to whether Council should consider imposing a catch limit on swallows with each members tally entered in the Tarn register under a separate heading.  I leave you to ponder!

It's another overcast, showery and breezy morning with the threat of heavier rain later in the day so the river remains in good water.


25 June 2008

Most surprisingly things went nearly according to plan yesterday and lunchtime found me up to my knees in fast flowing water just above Grey Bridge on Brants Ghyll.  The water was crystal clear and quite cold, flowing over a bed of large boulders so I had my doubts about how much material would be disturbed by a kick around.  The first sample produced some very encouraging results, a lot of Iron Blues which were hatching in the sample tray as I watched them.  There were good numbers of all the key families in the monitoring programme except gammarus.  Their absence is, I suspect, more to do with the lack of in stream herbage and the speed of the current than the quality of the water.

There were a lot of bullhead fry in the net, far more than I usually get a few yards away in the main river, but the real surprise was the number and variety of species of stonefly.  I did 3 or 4 thirty second kicks along a 20 yard stretch and each sample contained ten to fifteen individuals ranging in size from the just visible to real creepers of over an inch.

Here is one of the largest and whilst it's hard to gauge size from the photo the curved line at the bottom is the edge of a standard petri dish.

This beck is clearly vital for fish recrutment and the general health of the river.  It may lack good spawning gravel, but with the hatchery and spawning channel a few hundred yards upstream it will play a crucial role in nurturing fry and young salmonids before they drop out into th emain river.

It's an overcast, cool and breezy start here with the threat of showers lingering in the air.  We had a drop of rain in the night so the water level in the river continues to hold out prospects for decent fishing.


24 June 2008

I have now put all the recent invertebrate monitoring results on to the online spreadsheet so if anyone would like to see these all you need to do is send me your email address and I will send back to you a link that will open them.  I have prepared some trend graphs that help to make clear how both species of fly and numbers within species fluctuate from sample to sample.  By and large these show a fairly steady state with some seasonal fluctuations, but it will take a few years of data before we are able to discern trends that might indicate an improving or deteriorating ecology.  Still, having made a start it should be possible to detect any impacts from pollutants entering the water, but I have a feeling that we ought to bring the Tay Bridge site into a monthly check since it lies below both the main sources of potential pollutants (sewage works and Whit Beck).  It should be possible to do three bankside checks in the same week without this becoming too much of a strain on my time.  I still want to see what's lurking in Brants Ghyll after the intriguing results I got from the confluence last week and as it's a fine but cloudy day today I will try to do this later this morning.

I was talking to the fisheries scientist that the RCCT have recently employed and he tells me that they are planning to start monitoring invertebrates at 40 sites on the Ribble below the MAA waters so our programme of monitoring will be a valuable adjunct to this major work.  He is keen for us to look at a site right at the top end by Gearstones so I may well take the net up there in a few days time and see what I get.

Let's not lose sight of what all this work is for, a better understanding of the distribution and volume of food available for our wild trout – the more food and habitat you have the better able the trout are to naturally recruit.  The next step is to identify ways in which we can encourage invertebrates to breed and I have two ideas.  First is to go back to installing fly boards to increase the preceding success of olives (Baetis) second is to explore ways in which we can breed shrimps (gammarus). The latter just need a protected habitat so I will bend my mind to finding some easily accessible, suitable sites.

There is still good water on the river, so tight lines.


23 June 2008

What a terrible day we had here yesterday.  It blew a gale for most of the hours of daylight and rained on and off well into the evening.  The valley is littered with bits of tree as is my croft, much to the delight of the goats -“all good things around us are sent from Heaven above etc, etc”.

I went up to Turn Dub this morning to sample invertebrates.  As I walked along by the tarn squadrons of electric blue damsel flies flitted amongst the sward by the water and the air was full of the sound of skylarks.  The sample produced meagre results from a very high river.  Much too high to risk wading out in the main flow even wearing a life jacket.  Still, the results I did get show all families present except true mayfly so the reduced numbers are most likely due to the very high water, fierce current and more marginal sampling.  I may well sample here again later in the week when the water has dropped a bit and compare the results.

Of course, all this water is good news for those of you planning to fish the river this week.  It will drop quickly today with no appreciable rain forecast and it's already lost the heavy peat colour it was carrying yesterday so conditions should be good all week.


22 June 2008

I've just concluded a meeting with The RFCA and ACA about the impact of the proposed forestry activity at Greenfield on the Ribble catchment.  This was a useful discussion and I am hopeful that the parties involved will now be prevailed upon to take the potential risk to the rivers Ribble and Wharfe much more seriously than they have done up to now.  Fortunately we have begun to gather some valuable data about the current state of the river which will provide a baseline against which to monitor changes as felling and replanting commence.  The really daft thing about this plan is that the forest managers do not need to submit an environmental impact assessment as they intend to replant the forest.  This means that there is no way of assessing the potential risk to the catchments of either Ribble or Wharfe from acidification or other forest based pollution.  Both the RFCA and ACA intend contacting all those involved with the forest scheme to register their interest and to demand that they be included in any consultation about the felling operations and access route planning.  It will be made clear that should there be any detectable deterioration in the rivers which impacts adversely on fishing interests then those responsible will be pursued through the courts using common law. A good outcome.

The river is currently in spate after the heavy rain that we had here throughout most of yesterday so fishing on the river should be good next week as the levels drop and the colour falls out.  Stewart would have us believe that a bit of colour is vital for good trout fishing where the fish are wild and flighty so large bright flies may be the order of the day next week.

The weather prevented me from sampling invertebrates at Turn Dub yesterday so I now plan to do this on Monday when the water is a little safer for wading.  If the results from New Inn are any indicator then the sample may well throw up some nice surprises. Fingers crossed.


21 June 2008

The longest day and it's all downhill from here towards December.  Sobering thought isn't it? Still, the river is in pretty good nick at present.  It's surprising how resilient the eco system is and how well it copes with the extreme fluctuations in flow, temperature and volume.  I did an invertebrate check yesterday down at New Inn and the results are encouraging.  Fewer Heptagenia (March brown & yellow may dun), but this is probably predictable as most larvae will have hatched, mated, laid eggs and died by now.  There were a very large number of caseless caddis, far more than in previous samples and low and behold two true mayfly (Ephemera danica) turned up.  The river below the bridge was swarming with fish fry, mostly minnow, but I could see a good number of salmonid fry in there as well.  I got eight young bullhead in the sample so they are recruiting well. And finally I turned up one massive inch and a half long stonefly at the confluence of Brants Ghyll and the main.

I must do a sample in Brants Ghyll itself as the 30 second kick I did at the confluence suggests that the volume and variety of invertebrates in the Ghyll is much richer than the main river.

I will try to do Turn Dub later today and then post up the results of both surveys on the online spreadsheet.

The Terrier and stick show last evening seemed to be a great success.  A lot of people crowded into the garden at the Crown and slightly fewer midges than normal thanks to the breeze.  It was a beautiful sunny evening and we spent some time later watching fish rising in the pool above New Inn bridge.

I am meeting the Anglers' Conservation Association tomorrow morning to talk to them about the extraction plans for Greenfield forest and its impact on the Ribble catchment.  The ACA are keen to do some campaigning on behalf of the Ribble so the threat posed by the forestry operations right at the top of the catchment seems to be a good place to start.

More tomorrow.


20 June 2008

Water levels are holding up well after the heavy rain we had on Wednesday and the fish are feeding.  I spent a couple of hours yesterday walking the river as far as Selside with a prospective member and whilst we saw little sign of trout moving it was heartening to see all the runs and glides washed clean of the algae that had accumulated over the past couple of months.

Others did see fish later in the day as the water cleared off.  Brian T fished the upper river and reports as follows.

Hi Ian,I thought you may be interested to know.The
upper reaches of the infant Ribble  beckoned me today with the rainfall we had
yesterday.It's 3 years since I fished as far up as this so I thought it was time
to have another look.I was quite surprised at the amount of water coming down
from the cave/pot just above Gayle Beck and I was quite encouraged at the
prospect of some decent fishing.I was not to be disappointed.First fish was taken
just below Gayle Beck,a beautiful wild 1/2 pounder.A total of 4 fish landed and
several hooked but lost.All fish were around the 1/2 pound mark or just under
and took either Snipe/Purple.Wickhams,or F Fly.The poor blighters must be pretty
hungry after the long dry spell but its nice to know the fish are still up as
far as this  and catchable given the extra water.Its a pity that the river
levels we had today are not more regular at this altitude because it makes for
some pretty good sport.Incidentaly,the water  level still seemed to be pretty
constant as I left about 7PM.      Regards Brian.

There is still good water today so I plan to do the bankside invertebrate check for June later this morning.  We shall see what effect 2 months of drought have had on the distribution and populations.