Doesn't time fly when you are having fun? Here we are, the last day of the brown trout season already and the past seven months seem to have flown by. I will be in retrospective mood tomorrow, but all in all it doesn't seem to have been a bad fishing season.
We did some electrofishing on the main river yesterday. After a false start that found us scratching our heads by the river just above the football field and contemplating a boulder strewn broad channel that was clearly going to be a nightmare to survey we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and decamped to Drain Mires where we could get the waggon right down to the river bank along side some very good salmon spawning gravel. This area is very open and windswept with almost no bank side cover and some poaching of the banks by livestock so we had some apprehension about what we would find. Certainly no brown trout as this is not good trout habitat. In a 30 meter length we got over 30 salmon fry and a single salmon parr together with a host of minnow, bullhead and stone loach. Not a bad result for 3 hours work, but it's evident that with a bit of judicial habitat work this area could become a super salmon and trout nursery. The west bank here is well fenced already and the east bank is fairly high with a good uncut margin before it merges with the meadow behind. A bit of bank protection and a few willows here would work wonders for both salmon and trout recruitment.
Depending on how the weather shapes up we may try to survey another river site early next week. The aim is to get some reliable data about salmon recruitment on the higher reaches of the river before the hydro scheme becomes operative at Settle so that any changes in recruitment can be referenced against the situation without the scheme in place. My big concern at present is that the work currently being done at Settle has closed the fish pass on Settle weir so if we do get some decent water over the next few weeks our salmon will find their progress up stream severely restricted. The fish pass needs to be opened up as soon as possible and I find it rather surprising that the EA allowed work to be carried out here during the migration season.
We had a slight change of plan yesterday. Instead of electrofishing the main river we went up to Nether Lodge and did Cam Beck just below the farm. This is an unfenced, tree lined length with a cobble and boulder bottom. Not easy to net, but we got some quite interesting results. As well as a good number of bull head, minnow and stone loach (they seem to be everywhere) we also found a dozen or so trout parr up to 4 inches. The real surprise was a large salmon parr which was taken in one of the small pools. The fish in this beck are very dark in colour, not so brightly spotted as those in Brants Ghyll an take a great deal of concentration to spot and bring to the net once the current has stunned them.
The plan now is to do the main river this morning, but it will be a challenge to find enough water on a narrow riffle of sufficient length to make this viable.
It's yet another grey and cloudy day with just a light breeze. We are promised a little rain later, but this is likely to arrive too late to make the last day of the season a sensible fishing option.
The main crayfish survey concluded yesterday with a total catch for the six days of just shy of 900. When the recaptures are added in then well over a thousand creatures came into the traps. This is a staggering total and well over twice as many as were recorded the last time a population density survey was done here in 2002.
Those members who visit the Tarn over the next few days will notice a number of coloured pegs set around the margins of the tarn. These are marking out 25 and 50 meter intervals so that exact locations can be plotted. The plan is to lamp the Tarn late one evening this week, probably Thursday and record the number of crayfish active between each peg. This data will show how well the population is distributed at the Tarn and whether the population total extrapolated from the trapping results is skewed due to traps being set at the most densely populated locations. The pegs should cause no interference with fishing so please be patient and leave them in place.
It's back to the very depleted river this morning as we plan to electrofish one of the riffles upstream from Austin's pools. I am not aware that any electrofishing has ever been done this far up the Ribble so the results whatever they show will be interesting.
We seem to have a fair number booked for the Hot Pot Supper on Friday, but there is still time to get your name in to Michael if you wish to attend. It should be an enjoyable evening.
I spent a fascinating morning yesterday helping the Ribble Catchment Conservation Trust to do an electrofishing survey of Brants Ghyll. This was a full qualitative survey unlike the five minute quantitative survey that we did here last autumn. First we set a couple of stop nets 30 meters apart to define the survey area. Then the area within the nets was fished from top to bottom. This took about three quarters of an hour and produced a fair bucket full of fish. Whilst we waited for the escapees to settle down and take up station the catch was processed. The result was a very healthy population of trout and salmon parr together with a reasonable number of trout and salmon fry.
We also got quite a haul of bull heads which I know from my riverfly work are common in the river and about a dozen very large stone loach.
After placing this processed catch into an aerated bin we did two upstream passes with the gear to ensure that the area had been entirely swept of fish. These produced a further small haul of parr and fry and a handful of bullhead and loach.
The health of a salmonid population is judged by reference to a standard measure and what we have in Brants Ghyll is a category borderline B/C population where category A is the highest. This compares to a D category last season so it looks as though both salmon and brown trout are recruiting well in Brants Ghyll.
We will shift our attention to the main river on Monday and take a look at a riffle sequence above the Austin's pools between New Inn and Newhouses.
I then went up to the Tarn to give Paul a hand with the day's crayfish recording. We now have a catch of around seven hundred creatures most of which have only come once into the traps. So by Sunday we should have over nine hundred which leaves no doubt that the Tarn is likely to be the healthiest population of native crayfish in the UK. Just out of curiosity I set two traps right out in the middle of the Tarn. In the past only the margins have ever been trapped so we thought why not? let's see what a couple of deep water traps turn up. I will check these later this morning. We may get nothing, but who knows.
If you are visiting the Tarn over the next few days please be aware that the boathouse door is parting company with the rest of the boat house and taking the support with it. A repair is a three man job at least so this will have to wait until we can get a small working party to the Tarn, get the door off, repair the door post and rehang the door. In the meantime please do be careful if you are taking out the boat. The door is extremely heavy and should be treated with great caution.
Not much sign of sun over the past few days and very little rain so the river remains very low and sluggish. We are going to attempt a spot of electrofishing this morning on Brants Ghyll and a couple of selected pools on the main river. The objective is to try to build on the work done last autumn on the side becks and establish the nature of the brown trout population on the upper river. I have a feeling that there may well be just too little water to get any meaningful data, but we shall see.
What is going well is the crayfish survey. The last two days checks have produced over 150 creatures in the ten traps on each day with very few repeat catches. So at this half way stage we already have a larger population sample than was got in the whole of the 2002 survey. This suggests that our native crayfish are recruiting very well which speaks volumes for the overall health of the Tarn and its fish stock.
My belief is that this high density population of crayfish is a significant benefit to the fishery as these omnivores play a vital role in keeping the water clear and clean. They are scavengers and will soon dispose of any dead matter in the water thus reducing the risk of disease that might affect the resident trout. The young crayfish probably provide a ready food source for bottom feeding fish through the early spring which is why early all fish irrespective of whether they have just been stocked or are over wintered come to the rod in such good condition.
We shall see what today's check reveals.
We cleared down the crayfish traps at the Tarn yesterday morning and found an exceptional haul of animals. The perceived wisdom is that a single crayfish per trap indicates a location with a thriving population. We got an average of 23 creatures per trap with one trap holding 50 white claws. This early result suggests that the Tarn may well be the best native crayfish site anywhere in the UK,
We recorded and numbered each creature checking for disease and any other indicator that problems may be building in the population. Only two of the 230 animals processed showed signs of white porcelain disease. Again the rule of thumb is that a 10% rate of infection is accepted as normal so our population is not only exceptinally large it's also seems to be exceptionally healthy.
There are still 5 days of the study left to run so these are just preliminary findings. The traps were reset yesterday and will be cleared down again today. It will be interesting to see how much of the catch consists of re caught animals and how many are fresh catch. The numbers will tell us and the numbers will also show how mobile the population is as we can relate each numbered creature to the location where it was originally and subsequently caught.
Do look out for numbered crayfish when fishing the Tarn. Crayfish bingo is always an option to help pass those tedious hours when the trout are not cooperating.
Despite some rain yesterday the river is still too low for decent fishing and with high pressure forecast to build again over the next few days it's doubtful if there will be much decent water before the end of the trouting season next week.
The first significant rain for a fortnight fell during the night and its a typical equinoctial day so far with a very stiff westerly wind blowing along a lot of dank grey cloud. The river has risen a touch, but it will take a drop more rain yet to make any real difference to the level.
We set ten traps round the Tarn last evening as part of the crayfish survey and these will be checked this morning. The plan is to do a 6 day check so the traps will remain in situ until Sunday with daily processing of results. I will post these up as we get them and try to draw some comparisons with the results obtained from the last survey in 2002.
A rather depleted group completed the main river fly check this morning. Mind you, it wasn't just the group that was depleted. Both the river and the number of beasties caught were on the meagre side. We did find representations of most of the 7 families that we check at both sites so my guess is that the low numbers are simply due to the time of year (many nymphs have hatched now) and the almost dry conditions. It was a glorious morning so the three of us spent a very pleasant hour and a half messing about with bugs and water.
Attention transfers to the Tarn tomorrow with plans now set to begin the big crayfish survey. You will notice traps set around the margins of the Tarn most of this week so please try to keep clear of these when fishing. The results we obtain will hopefully give us an idea of how the population of native crayfish is getting on. Data will be collected on the health, size and sex of the creatures caught. The total number trapped will also provide a means of extrapolating the total population present. More on this in due course.
I have just been watching a small dark olive spinner (male) that is clinging to my kitchen window. It's only when you have chance to study these tiny creatures at leisure that you can truly appreciate their delicate beauty. This one is predominately grey with a dark head bright eyes and an orange tip to the abdomen. the tails are equal to the length of the rest of the body and are such an outstanding feature of the insect that I do wonder just how plausible is the assertion that Roger Fogg makes in his book on wet flies that tails and wings are not important in a dressing. I know that with his patterns it's movement that really counts, but a trout seeking food and feeding on submerged spent spinners surely has awareness of the overall shape of his food which will be materially affected by the presence of tail and wings? I leave you to ponder.
I was up at the Tarn at the crack of dawn for a check around. Son of Simon seems to be working as there was no sign of cormorants. It was dead calm and the Tarn was mirroring the hills around with barely a distortion. I should have taken the camera, but stupidly left it on the kitchen table. There were a few rises as I left although these seemed desultory without any real enthusiasm. The Tarn fished better last week and seems to be doing well this week. A great relief after the rather disappointing returns for the start of the month.
After a dampish start it's turned bright and sunny with a moderate westerly breeze and the local forecast is for much of the same over the next few days.
The Tarn has been hard work again this week with fish seeming reluctant to take and few visible rises. There could be a number of reasons for this lack of piscine cooperation. Cormorants have been present so fish may have been spooked by predation, We stocked just over a week ago and the new residents may not yet have dispersed, or it may just be the weather and an exceptionally heavy hatch of sedge that is providing enough sub surface food to make rising not worth the effort. Much has been written about the mind of fishes, but until we learn how to interpret behaviour with total accuracy (or learn how to communicate in fluent trout) your guess is as good as mine.
We may be a little short of water for the invertebrate check this coming Sunday unless it turns wet later in the week which seems unlikely, but my plan is to go ahead and do the check whatever the prevailing conditions. The team is a little short on members this time due to absence on fishing trips etc (no sense of priorities some people!) so if any member fancies a couple of hours at Horton on Sunday morning catching and classifying bugs then do come along to the pavilion at 10.30.