Saturday, June 21, 2008

Longest Day

The day started for me by the side of a reservoir, where I was night fishing for carp, when the sky began to turn grey in the east around 3.20am . It has just ended with a real treat; a Barn Owl quartering the meadow below the house in the half light of dusk after an absence of at least 25 years. All the work has paid off and another personal ambition has been achieved.

The little innocents

This is broad daylight, one late afternoon in the middle of town. A friend snapped these three as they tried to steal from the shoal below. To their left is a sign saying;

I would prosecute for fishing private waters without permission. He would be asked to produce an EA rod License. If he couldn't produce, a statement would be passed to the EA who would draw up papers for us to prosecute on their behalf. The tackle and fish would be seized as evidence. We would request compensation for the fish at £15/each.

Treat those two impostors just the same

Those of us who create a product that is purchased by the public will have had that product criticised and exulted. I learnt along time ago to trust my own judgement and nod politely at the praise while humouring the unfavourable comments. One person says the river should be concreted over, the other makes plans to spend every waking minute on its banks. Standing with each, it is evident why. The optimist and hunter is looking, looking where his experience tells him fish should be. All the time we are talking his eyes never leave the river and why should they? That fish under the far bush may only reveal itself with a small dimple at the surface a few times each day. It’s important to gather as much information as you can about it and its choice of food. In this way all the main hotspots in view can be scanned every few seconds. You can find that day ticket the Keeper is asking for by going in every ‘westcut’ pocket until it reveals itself in the last one.
The moaner will have his back to the river and wont have seen a fish rise all day. He will try to infect others. I remember two brothers ruining the whole weekend for anyone daft enough to listen to them. Negativity spread like cancer turning the river bank into a morgue. These people had been given freshly stocked fish in the past without having to think or work at it. When it comes to wild trout, that aren’t going to rise when they stand in full view and aren’t going to splash at a clumsy cast, it’s the river that’s at fault not them. Gareth and I met the two brothers and offered to spend our time and give up a few river secrets that we had taken the time to find out. They wouldn’t have it and left, never to return.
There is a short stretch of river that is almost empty of fish and I don’t know why. It is a tributary with all the characteristics appropriate to wild trout living. There are many tasty looking spots that should hold trout but don’t. It's below a Combined Sewage Outfall so we are having tests carried out to see if that is responsible before looking further into the problem. One thing is for certain, it will be sorted out and fish will rise there again in good numbers.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bio- diversity

Diverse-biology. Different species of plants and animals.On this protected, small, rocky outcrop the following plants exist:

Monkey Flower Mimulus guttatus
Water Cress Nasturtium microphyllum
Water Speedwell Veronica anagallis
Rosebay Willowherb Chamerion angustifolium
Water Mint Mentha Aquatica
Water forget-me-not Myosotis Scorpio ides
Marsh-marigold Caltha palustris

The Mimulus is a naturalised import from the States. All the others are native. Insects will prefer one plant to another so this area of river bank has a diverse range of both plants and animals.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sit up straight

This is a really funny photograph. OK it has local interest because the scene is set at Batemans House in Lathkill Dale but it’s the body language that is interesting. The two on the left are in service as fishing guides. They have been offered a cup of tea and gratefully accepted. They are clearly not be used to having their photographs taken. Those three, including the man in the hat are responsible for the fish, the others in the photo are family . The lady sitting on the ground looks like a dragon! Seventeen fish killed and laid out on the grass. I want to sit down and talk to them about sustainable fishing practises…
I’ve got 1901 in my head as a date for the picture. George Bartram’s grave is so worn away over time his name is hard to pick out. Even Batemans House is a ruin but the photo remains in excellent condition.
Headley Slaney is buried in Youlgrave Cemetery and George Bartram. Buried in Over Haddon Cemetery

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hard work/attention to detail

After many hours trying Jan succeeded in catching his first mink this morning. The quality of his trapping has certainly improved and his tunnels are now some of the best I’ve seen set. I can confidently predict that very few mink will find a happy home for long on his patch. I like to think that this dog was caught right on our top boundary because he wwas working his way down the river. Lets hope we caught him quickly before too many water voles were killed.

Our Mink raft/trapping scheme is co-funded by The EA and The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. Haddon Keepers run the trap line on a day to day basis and are reponsible for dispatching the mink. Ultimately it's all paid for by anglers.

3 of my favourite anglers

One spring morning I was asked to meet a guest at the hotel. He arrived on a motorbike with his fishing tackle in a rucksack on his back. He introduced himself and explained that he was deaf and couldn’t speak very well. This was back in the days when I would fish occasionally and we arranged to go out together onto my favourite section of my favourite river. He immediately surprised me by stripped off an enormous length of tippet to add to an already long leader. It was clear that he knew what he was doing and built quite a complex leader to match the type of weather, now quite blustery and wet. It ended up 16 feet long, almost twice as long as my usual one. Although we were fishing pocket water and runs between weed beds, he outfished me. It really was a new approach that I have carried with me as much as possible.

Clive used to visit the area from his home in California. His wife was from nearby Chesterfield and his only chance of keeping sane whist visiting the in-laws was to spend almost his entire visit on my rivers. He would fish and fish and fish and end the day with as much enthusiasm as he started. I fondly remember walking him off the mid summer river at mid-night after I’ve searched the banks for him, considering him drowned. He was back on the river at eight in the morning.

The Major was a long term visitor and a great friend. We would chat much more than fish and his long stays at the local holiday cottage always meant some fascinating stories from his life, like the time he went round Aintree in the National.

I’ve never liked those who try and catch a hundred fish and over do things. Anyone with a basic understanding of the river and a couple of good patterns can easily hook a hundred fish in a day. The only reason they catch that many is so they can tell people. This type of angler has some way to come. I admire anyone who can enjoy themselves fishing, not those who need it or take it for granted.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Odd one out?

This is a very significant photograph. It shows how wild trout can become extinct in a river. We came very close to just that about five years ago.

A bag and size limit encourages mature fish to be killed. Stock trout are introduced and taken as part of the bag, but look what else gets killed too. The top fish was a 3lb wild hen rainbow trout, worth 3,000 eggs on the redds in the spring and every year after. All of the other four together were worth less than a fiver. There were huge discrepancies between the two types of fish, yet they were treated the same and dispatched to fill a bag limit. The stockies were easily replaced but this wild fish could have taken seven years to grow, brown trout even longer. Our wild trout were being killed much faster than they could regenerate naturally.

Fortunately our brownies especially have made a great come back, under the protection of catch & release and careful handling from our anglers.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Plover success

The project is in its 5th season and has been a terrific success. Our neighbouring farmer has instructed his farm hands to keep off the land between April 1st and June 1st. Sometimes this has meant him not harrowing and rolling because the ground was too wet before the cut off date. These little plover are clearly able to avoid the mower and will now move off the meadow into the headland and the shallow scrape ponds around the field perimeter.


To finally get to a position where there is no need to lie or be misleading in my profession has taken some time. Dishonesty is endemic in fishery management. When we were stocking the rivers we did so at night or at least in the half light of dawn so no one could see. Of course we left our tell tale vehicle track in the mowing grass but anglers wouldn’t put two and two together. ‘Do you stock the rivers Warren?’ ‘We dribble a few in from time to time to freshen things up’ was my standard answer. We stocked over 2,000 3+ fish each summer. It's easy to tell people what they want to hear and it was important to maintain the illusion of wildness; that those four 2lb brown trout each of our fishermen killed were special and their angling skills must have been worthy of the capture of these ‘5 year old’ trout, where all others had failed. The anglers paid, felt good about themselves and came back. They thought the world of us keepers. Business was booming so agents and owners were happy, everybody was pleased, except the river.

Then we started to feed the rivers. During one late winter period over ½ a ton of pelleted food was hoofed in. Those fish really grew, but when an early season rod bent into one, many others in the pool would think it feeding time and come splashing around the rod tip. What’s happening Warren ? ‘Territorial behaviour’ came my answer. I didn’t tell the truth and have my fattening up campaign rumbled. Again, everyone remained happy… except the river.

Up on the bookcase here is an old booking diary showing how we regularly sold 30 rods on many mayfly days. This was followed by a pat on the head from an agent who knew no better. I was bleating about the over fishing but didn’t make a stand until my early 30’s. Until then it was all about ‘making hay while the sun shined’, at the expense of the river.

We now have a strict twelve rod limit on our day ticket water. There’s plenty of room for them at 7 ½ miles but even our owner will not fish when all twelve rods have gone out. We don’t feed the river and haven’t for five years. The public are being asked to stop their urban feeeing too. Our fish farms are all closed and we don’t stock any adults, yearlings, babies or eggs in boxes and haven’t done for five years.

The River now comes first, at the expense of the anglers, agents, farmers, owners and keepers.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

One less Barn Owl

My guess is a Goshawk killed this Barn Owl. That perennial villain of the edge of woodland must have carried off its kill to feed it's young. Those Barn Owl chicks nearby will be having a lean time of it with just one parent working overtime to bring voles and mice.

EA Fish Rescue

The upper river bed dries up in the summer. Sometimes it holds on until mid summer but it always goes. The Lathkill still flows underground, through a coffin shaped subterranean ‘sough’, draining access to the rich lead veins and any hope of annual flow. Until the sough can be blocked the EA come and take the ex-brood fish, having run the winter river to spawn and their offspring, safely downstream. The method used is labour intensive for safety sake and requires a team of five. Before they can begin the sluice is opened to let off the pool, An electric current stuns the fish so they can be netted. Alec, the keeper on this patch, transports them to safer, summer quarters after a count and health check. Before the EA came to help, all these fish would just die in the mud. They catch as many as two thousand fish over their two visits.

Bank repair/habitat creation

Living willow, that is willow wands twisted around willow posts driven into the river bed, provides protection against severe erosion threatening to create an ox-bow. It also give cover to water voles and water birds as well as all sizes of trout. We are learning that it must not be installed on a fishing bank as it grows up and prohibits access but on infrequently fished banks, there is nothing better.

Mayfly 08

A great refusal at 3:36 and the cast only a second before was just about perfect.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

5th June vid

After cutting the tape with a saw Jan declined my offer to catch the first fish in a generation from Ogden Island. A two summer wild rainbow soon came up to a mayfly and was slipped back. We watched one very big brown living behind one of our croys and a shoal of large grayling would often bump into our legs whist we waded up and down. There are a couple of Club members who have their eyes on them this winter.


We sell wild trout fishing with as much interaction with the local wild life as you wish. Some anglers don’t lift their eyes from their floating fly, such is their concentration, whilst others tumble into the Hotel in the evening with stories of dippers, kingfishers, close encounters with water voles and special moments of their own. Others just have a contented look on their faces and say nowt.

Earlier in the week I was helping a guest towards understanding wild trout and how to catch them. His white trousers were grass stained with their knees an earthy mix of nature. We had spotted a trout up in the water, finning, sipping flies from the film and a good prospect on a tough day. He had learnt to turn that long leader over and drop the fly like thistledown. He was getting the hang of side casting to keep the wavy stick off the skyline but, just as you can be frightened by the closing double at darts, this chap was dropping his fly short. Off came a couple of yards from the reel and his tiny beetle landed perfectly. The fish…never moved. What came next surprised me. I was ready to go into my comforting, optimistic, encouraging mode when my guest turned to me with a huge smile on his face and said…”Now this is real fishing!”

He got it. This wasn’t the time to blame the line, or the fly or the rod, or me. He simply gave credit to the fish in front of us. It made all the forelock tugging and fussing about with corporate guests worth while.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ogden Day

Ogden Day
James Ogden. 5th June 1865. Fished the Wye in Bakewell. Used a artificial dry fly. Watched by the Head Keeper and the Estate Agent. Made law the day after. Dry fly Only rule: 143 years old today.

Ogden Island
160 yards of main river cut off from fishing by carrier. No wading here and the island is like a jungle. Not been fished for a very long time. Jan and me studied, watched, planned and grafted. Made accessible and fun for fly fishing. Bridge built over to it, which was opened today. One fish caught to close the project. Door left open for the rest of you to enjoy it.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Least favourite work

If you shake his hand and say Good Morning Mr Jones…and he doesn’t say. “call me Alan” you know it’s going to be a long day. John Gierach summarises guiding beautifully and writes wonderful explanations as to why he doesn’t guide and why I should stop straight away! Unfortunately we have two corporate days, starting tomorrow and I can’t wriggle out of them this year. That said I’ve just spent a couple of very happy hours stalking trout on the mayfly spinner with quite a competent fly fisherman. The sport was good and for the first time I’ve seen this newly renovated section of river earning it‘s keep. Not only is it holding many more fish, but it’s much more interesting fishing. Well worth the effort (and it was hard work!). Vid to follow.

Poetry Please

Sunday June 1st Radio 4

There’s many a proud Wizard
In Araby or Egypt
Can read the silver writing
Of the stars as they run

And many a dark Gypsy
With a pheasant in his knapsack
Has gathered more by moonshine
Than wiser men have won

But I know a Wizardry
Can take a buried acorn
And whisper forests out of it
To tower against the sun

There’s many a magician
In Baghdad and Banaras
Can read you for a penny
What your future is to be

And a flock of crazy prophets
That by staring at the crystal
Can fill it with more fancies
Than there’s herring in the sea

But I know wizardry
Can break a freckled eggshell
And shake a throstel out of it
In every hawthorn tree

There’s many a crafty Alchemist
In Mecca and Jerusalem
And Michael Scott and Merlin
Were reckoned very wise

But I know Wizardry
Can take a wisp of sun fire
And round it to a planet
And roll it through the skies

With cities and seaports
And little shining windows
And hedgerows and gardens
And loving human eyes

About Me

My photo
Derby Uni LL.B.yr4 Birmingham Uni (field lecturer)