29 June 2010

A few years ago I came across a reference to a paper delivered to the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society by F Faraday about fish breeding at Horton in Ribblesdale.  This was in conjunction with a visit to Horton by the British Association in 1887 so it seemed logical that a copy of the paper might be lodged in the archive of the BAAS.  An enquiry to their librarian produced no joy so I resigned myself to the probability that no copy of the paper remained in existence.

I turned on the infernal machine last evening to check emails and was flabbergasted to find a copy of the paper sitting in the in box.  At nine pages it details the arrangement and operation of the old fish house on Horton Beck and describes its situation.  The paper is complete with a diagram of the layout inside the fish house and tells us that the operation was spring fed via a lead pipe.  I had always assumed that the supply was fed from the beck itself.

So thanks John for filling in yet another gap in our knowledge of the way in which the MAA preserved its waters and encouraged trout recruitment in the early days of the club's long life at Horton.

Turning to more modern considerations it rained heavily during the night accompanied by visuals and a soundtrack courtesy of the first thunder storm of the year.  The eau in the river is up a touch this morning and it looks as if it will be a damp day so we may have more eau by this evening.  Don't hold your breath, but it may at long last be worth cleaning the dust off that light weight river rod that has sulked in the corner all season.  I shall keep you posted.


26 June 2010

There are high hopes that crayfish plague may have been eradicated from the Ribble catchment.  The first draw down of the season up at Ling Ghyll was done on Thursday and just shy of 300 creatures were collected from the three cells. Given that 80% of these were in the top cell and only 20 were found in the bottom cell it's unlikely that sufficient numbers have gone over the bottom dam to keep the plague active.  We drew down again yesterday to collect any creatures that had remained hidden during the first draw down and only collected a total of 70 with just five coming from the bottom cell.

Tests will be carried out over the next few weeks to establish whether the plague has really gone and if so this will be the first time ever in the 130 year history of crayfish plague in Europe that an outbreak has been eliminated.  The next step will then be to start re colonising the catchment so that the Ribble once again can boast a healthy population of Austropotamobius pallipes.

Other than that it's pretty much as usual here with almost no flow in the river and the Tarn nearly 18 inches below normal level.  Although it's cloudy today there is little sign that we shall get any desperately needed rain.  Yet again I can't do the monthly invertebrate check as both the sampling areas are almost devoid of water.  The one bright spot is that the river seems to be full of trout of all sizes and ages with plenty of adolescents approaching breeding age.  All we need is some RAIN!

Broughton Game Fair is tomorrow at its usual site near Skipton,  No problems with a waterlogged site this year so maybe I shall see you there.


21 June 2010

I was up at the Tarn early yesterday checking on the catch returns for last week and having a general look around.  No sign of the swans who were all probably down by the dry ditch that used to be the river, but what was in evidence were hosts of small upwinged flies.  These were proving irresistible to swallows and trout alike.  The swallows were performing high speed aeronautics out over the water, dipping weaving and wheeling about.  The trout were leaping fully out of the water to catch this tasty morsel landing with dolphin like splashes.  I stood transfixed by this display whilst into the midst calmly cruised a family of coots.

After tidying the lodge – how is it that a small group of middle aged men can can leave a place looking like a pig sty – I tried to catch one of the upwings to see if I could identify which family it belonged to.  No chance! the dancers remained just out of reach and even though the Tarn is a good foot below its normal level and the morning was warm.  Sitting in wet breeks in the car back to the house was not an option.

There is a good chance that the Ling Ghyll crayfish project for 2010 will begin tomorrow.  Paul tells me that the pump should arrive ready to set up and begin drawing down on Wednesday.  It will be interesting to see how many creatures have found their way over the dams during the winter.  I doubt if many have done so in the past three months since it stopped raining.  We shall see.


18 June 2010

We finished the habitat survey on Wednesday by walking the length of Gayle beck from Gawber to about 500 yards above Far Gearstones and now have a step by step analysis of both Cam beck and Gayle beck from the confluence to the point on each where a natural barrier prevents trout migration.  In fact on Gayle beck we went far further than the first waterfall since the habitat above was so good and unlike Cam beck we know that it's free of crayfish plague (or so we assume).  The beck up here is stunning set as it is in a natural canyon with falls and pools aplenty.  It is alive with trout and since these are above a three yard fall it's likely that they are as near native as you will get on the Ribble.  Few members fish this far up the beck, but I can imagine far worse ways to spend an afternoon than backwoodsing with light tackle up the canyon winkling out fish that can scarcely have ever seen an artificial fly apart from one of Brian's.  So MAA members should remember, you can fish as far up as the footbridge above Far Gearstones.  But don't all try it at once.

So, we now have the most detailed information ever gathered on the two main feeders for our fishery and plenty to analyse. Nothing we found on Wednesday alters the initial view that with a little judicious habitat work the fish recruitment potential of both becks could be raised significantly and many more trout brought to adult stage.

It's now over to the Trust to compile the data into a report with the aim of securing DEFRA funding for the works needed.  Fingers crossed!

As I write this there is the merest suggestion that we might get some rain later today.  The breeze has picked up and the sky looks dark and threatening.  Quite a contrast to the wall to wall blue we had here yesterday.

It's the annual Terrier and Stick show at the Crown in Horton tonight.  Starts at 6.30 and brings together all the terrier men from the north of England to show off their dogs and have them judged.  There will be displays of crooks and market sticks all beautifully hand crafted .  This is a classic country event and one not to be missed.  So maybe I will see you in the Crown for a pint and a bit of a crack later.  If you do come and this breeze dies down bring your midge repellent!


15 June 2010

I had a fascinating day yesterday working with the Ribble Catchment Conservation Trust and Environment Agency helping to carry out a thorough habitat survey of Cam Beck.  We began at the confluence and during the day worked our way upstream to Nether Lodge.  Given that this is only about a mile you can get some idea of the thoroughness of the survey.  We recorded every riffle, pool and glide with all the in stream and bank side habitats.  Each riffle, pool and glide counts as a single unit and by the time I departed at four thirty we had recorded around 60 units. 

The volume of data is phenomenal and once entered in a database will provide the most accurate description of Cam Beck ever recorded.  Geo referenced photos were taken of every unit so that the written data can be compared to a visual image and plotted on a map or Google earth. 

The purpose of all this hard graft?  Evidence that can be presented to DEFRA to release significant funding for habitat improvement to increase the recruitment potential of our wild brown trout.  It's too early to draw real conclusions, but we found some cracking sites for off line spawning channels, plenty of opportunity for bank side fencing and tree planting and realised that whilst the beck probably has good fry habitat it totally lacks good spawning beds and habitat for mature trout.  If these deficiencies can be addressed through DEFRA funding then the beck should teem with fish as the water quality even in this drought is excellent as is the supply of plentiful invertebrates for food.

More later


I took a break today to attend to a mountain of Parish Council work after last nights meeting.  The depleted team tackled Gayle Beck, but it's back to Cam Beck above Nether Lodge tomorrow

13 June 2010

A much greyer day with a shower overnight that has given my lettuces a bit of a lift, but done nothing for the river or Tarn.  the forecast for the week suggests that we may be in for a wetter spell.  Don't hold your breath.

It looks as though one of the cygnets has gone missing.  There were only three in evidence yesterday along with the two adults.  What were sculling about in numbers were coot chicks.  They move fast and constantly, but I counted at least seven being shepherded around by mum and dad.  They are just little scraps of fluff so how many will survive is any ones guess.

I'm not sure how effective our beck survey will be tomorrow in this drought.  All we can do is record what is there and collect as much data as we can.  At least we shall be able to walk the bed of the becks and take a good look at the substrate.  Water sampling could give some skewed results though as conditions are far from typical.  Talking to some visitors yesterday revealed just how localised this drought is.  Up in Wensleydale and Swaledale there is plenty of water.  It's the Ribble, Wharfe and upper Aire that are suffering.


9 June 2010

The rain promised for today has so far been rather desultory.  Just grey dampness rather than the “steady rain from Heaven” that we need.  It's rather breezy too which all makes for a dismal day without the benefit.  We are supposed to return to drier, brighter conditions tomorrow so still we wait for decent river fishing.

Late last week an unexpected parcel landed on my door mat.  Now I don't normally get parcels that I haven't ordered and my birthday was nearly a month ago so it was opened with considerable curiosity.  Inside I found a framed photograph and small board with an obituary pasted on it.  The photo is fascinating as it is of the old hatching house and holding tanks that the MAA built on Horton Beck in 1884.  On the back is the date 1906 so the photo was probably taken just before the hatchery closed and the site at Bransghyll was set up.  Sitting on the edge of the tank is an unidentified character. It can't be old Walker as he had died seven years previously and the figure looks too slight and too young to be Nat Hunt the keeper.

The obit is for Walker and is in a format style familiar from Angler's Evenings so it may have been written by an MAA member (possibly Abel Heywood).  These items were sent to me by Nat Hunt's grandson so thank you John they will both be put on the wall of the club's lodge for all members to enjoy.

Next Monday and Wednesday I am working with RCCT to carry out a thorough survey of the upper river above the confluence.  The plan is to gather data that can be analysed to gain a full understanding of the environment of the river and provide information that can lead to works to encourage the recruitment of brown trout.  We aim to photograph Cam Beck and Gale beck at key points, take water samples, assess the chemistry of the water and look for barriers to trout fry development.  I will tell you what we find.


7 June 2010

Well it can rain all it likes now that Horton Gala is done for another year.  Saturday was just right with wall to wall sunshine and a touch of breeze to take the edge off the heat.  Due to other commitments I was unable to do the usual fish weight guessing, but the Hon Sec was present with his ferrets playing bingo and getting plenty of petting from young ladies (the ferrets not the Hon Sec).  It was good to see at least one member on the Gala field who seemed to be enjoying himself in the refreshment tent.

It would seem that there are still monsters in the Tarn as a guest narrowly missed what he estimated to be a near five pound rainbow whilst fishing from the boat yesterday.  The fish came in nicely after a bit of a struggle, but unfortunately the net got caught up on a seat fastening and in trying to free it the rod tip dropped and off went the biggest fish of the season.

According to the forecast we are promised some significant rain over the next 24 hours so the river may be worth a try later in the week.  I shall keep you posted.


3 June 2010

A glorious day here that kicked off with an early morning trip to the Tarn to drive in a post out in the water so that the boat house door can be kept open.  It's a real pain trying to manoeuvre the boat back into its snug little dock when the wind is blowing and the door has swung shut.  The boat being basically an aluminium box has all the grace of a drowning elephant and even in a light breeze it takes much brute force and concentration to get it to go where you want it.  Now just by slipping a cord loop over a short post to fix the door open one can at least attempt a run directly into the boat house without the aggro of te door swinging shut at the last moment.

As I stood on the board walk watching the swan family and the frequent rises to feed of our rainbows I soon became covered in sedge flies that were hatching all across the Tarn.  Even the minnows were jumping to take this bounty and a large shoal of these fish seemed to be busy spawning in the shallows by the lodge.  These were monster minnows at least 12cm long and fat as pigs.

I have begun rebuilding the duck wall as it abuts the new fence to keep the sheep and cows out of the new plantings.  There is more work to do here, but it became rather too warm in chest waders to cart stone from the Tarn outfall to supplement the stone in the old wall.


2 June 2010

It was a thoroughly wet day here yesterday, the first really wet one for nearly two months.  Whilst the river is still very far from perfect it has come up enough to make fishing just about feasible.  With a return to dry settled conditions for the remainder of the week this flush of water will not last long so my advice is to head for the pools below Horton village sooner rather than later.

I took a prospective member on the usual Cook's Tour of the fishery yesterday and despite the dire state of the river he came away enthusing about what he had seen and immediately sent in a request for membership.  We met the Hon Sec and his guest at the Tarn.  Said guest had with him a super cane rod that he had built from scratch.  This beautiful piece of precision art felt so light and balanced even in my ignorant hands.  It worked as well sending home two fine rainbows for the pot and a further brace and a half that were returned.

The swans are managing to keep all four cygnets out of further trouble.  The family were sculling round the Tarn yesterday morning seemingly enjoying the rain.  The cob has become intensively protective and hisses like water on a hot stove if you get what he considers to be too close to his offspring.  Perhaps he blames me for the episode with the hole a few days back.  In the mind of wildlife it's always the fault of the hairless ape when anything untoward happens.