Fishing Rod Decoration

Seasons Reflections, the Winter to Come and Bruce Sandison

 

 The seasonal transition of early Autumn is an appropriate time to look forward to the delight and frustration of chasing pike and grayling during short winter days and capricious weather and a moment to reflect on the half year long trout season.

 

 Over these last six months the chalkstreams seemed always to be full. True for the first few months but latterly a false impression created by abundant weed growth and skilful scythe work during the rivers later haircuts. Other than the greeny algal stain that the rivers now regularly endure in May, the cool, alkali, nutrient rich water squeezed from deep layers of chalk flowed with the clarity of the gin distilled on the banks of the River Test at Laverstoke Mills. Even now at the end of rainless October the rivers run unclouded.

 We must be careful not to be fooled by this apparent visual perfection. The water has many unwanted ingredients that at best reduce and at worst destroy much of the invertebrate life that this fragile system requires for a healthy food chain. The perpetrators are being watched but prosecutions which result in real improvements are frustratingly slow.

 

 Before the mayfly emerged into cold and blustery mid May days the fish rose hungrily to early olives. These early season days are often overlooked by those who prefer to fish in shirtsleeves. Late April and early May days can provide excellent fly hatches and our targets often rested, hungry and naive.   By the end of this years annual danica feast there had been more days clad in waders and waterproofs than shirtsleeves but many displays of astonishing and insatiable greed, mostly, but not exclusively, by fish. 

 

 My guiding diary was thankfully very full this year and took me to a wide range of chalkstream beats, a few for the first time but mostly to more regular haunts. Some immaculate in manicured splendour others wildly beautiful in their subtly managed neglect. The proliferation of rewilding projects and the conversion of stocked to wild fisheries continues and is to be applauded.

 For another season I have introduced dozens to the chalkstreams and to flyfishing. Most left having caught their first fish, with lasting memories and hooked well enough that I hope they will be drawn back again next season. I never tire of seeing their amazed faces reflect the wonder of fooling fish in our preferred method of delicate trickery.

 

 The summer followed a not untypical pattern of strong and varied daytime hatches reducing through July and August into unpredictable evening rises. These late summer days so often characterised by hours of finding and spooking fish and then a period in failing light of very challenging and often rewarding fishing. It's a shame when clients leave the river too early. They seem not to appreciate that they can miss an hour of excruciating frustration.  My two biggest wild fish this season were taken late on separate evenings during a sparse spinner fall which brought previously unseen fish out to feed. A real test of technique and temperament. We won't talk about the fruitless waits for something to happen when either nothing did or my technique or temperament were wanting.

I fish for the magic moments and my selective memory does the rest.

 

 For the second half of the season, on most beats anyway, the dry fly restriction is lifted and as a devotee of clearwater nymphing to sighted fish I really enjoy this part of the season and teaching this method. Over the last few months as the levels dropped, we've been fishing in skinny crystal water as often or not flowing over gravels blanketed in weed, to shallow and very spooky fish. Everything needs to be stretched to avoid our patience going the same way. Our traditional nymphing methods need to be refined. With an increasing Gallic influence we're using the thinnest of tippets, very long leaders and long, accurate, delicate casts. Bite detection becomes harder; the fish are so far away it's tricky to see the subtle movements which trigger the hook set. Add a helpful mid leader bite indicator and the French leader transition is virtually complete. Clearwater nymph fishing to seen fish has always been an art form, now French style leaders and long light rods are advancing our skills, particularly in the current low clear water conditions. This is the second year where these tactics were needed in low water at the end of the season.

 These very effective techniques will continue now for grayling until the first rains arrive but when they do we are in for a very dirty river as the golden gravels are rinsed of the all enveloping and choking algae and filamentous weed.

 

 I was sorry to hear a few days ago that Bruce Sandison had died. In 1983 he wrote " The Trout Lochs of Scotland".  An impressive research project and an invaluable guide for those who enjoy solo wilderness flyfishing, as I do.I still have my copy which is well thumbed and dog eared as it accompanied me on many trips north, stuffed in pocket or rucksack. This book was the main reason I tramped across heather and hill and found a staggering variety of trout lochs, some with "a basket of 6/8 trout totalling 2 pounds can be expected" to lochs which for no apparent reason held very big peat loch trout. This book also introduced me to the crystal clear limestone lochs of Durness which provided, over many years, unsurpassed stillwater fishing for large wild trout. I will be forever in his debt for the many amazing days and nights I enjoyed drifting across Loch Caladail.

 

 So, I'm  looking forward to some early river piking with interest. Pike are pretty idle, they seek a place which requires little effort to ambush and then digest their last meal. In high levels and strong flows, as we had last Autumn they find eddies and slacker water often close to the bank. In this water they'll look for depth so finding them could be easier but there is still so much weed. We'll see.  On my first day out I found a nice 10 pounder; a good way to start.

 

 Salmon fishing this year, has followed a similar pattern wherever the Atlantic Salmon cling on.  Norway, Russia, Iceland and home rivers all showed a similar pattern. The spring fish, where they did appear, were late. The grilse run was thin and although there were some good multi sea winter summer fish, this run ended early with many of the traditional back end rivers not seeing many late running fresh fish. Success with Atlantic Salmon is hard fought but worth every second of effort. They are the most beautiful and wonderful fish.

My few days in Iceland in early September were great but dominated by some abnormally miserable weather. The high spot was two consecutive sessions where the water height and colour were perfect as fish in every pool rose and chased a square cast stripped Sunray. Visual, exciting and very productive. The current exchange rate roller coaster will make my return from next years trip tricky with with only one arm and one leg. 

 

 

 But for now it's the refinement of the grayling and the primeval elegance of the pike that has my attention. I love my winter fishing. Waters less fished, different challenges, different frustrations. Plenty to enjoy.

 

Blog

By Graham Waterton

November 2016 - Seasons Reflections, the Winter to come and Bruce Sandison

- By Graham Waterton

 The seasonal transition of early Autumn is an appropriate time to look forward to the delight and frustration of chasing pike and grayling during short winter days and capricious weather and a moment to reflect on the half year long trout season.

 Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/itchen-autumn.jpg

                                                                                               

Autumn on the Itchen

 

Over these last six months the chalkstreams seemed always to be full. True for the first few months but latterly a false impression created by abundant weed growth and skilful scythe work during the rivers later haircuts. Other than the greeny algal stain that the rivers now regularly endure in May, the cool, alkali, nutrient rich water squeezed from deep layers of chalk flowed with the clarity of the gin distilled on the banks of the River Test at Laverstoke Mills. Even now at the end of rainless October the rivers run unclouded.

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/wild-brown-trout-chalkstream.jpg

                                                                              

A wild brown trout in gin clear chalkstream water

 

We must be careful not to be fooled by this apparent visual perfection. The water has many unwanted ingredients that at best reduce and at worst destroy much of the invertebrate life that this fragile system requires for a healthy food chain. The perpetrators are being watched but prosecutions which result in real improvements are frustratingly slow.

 

 Before the mayfly emerged into cold and blustery mid May days the fish rose hungrily to early olives. These early season days are often overlooked by those who prefer to fish in shirtsleeves. Late April and early May days can provide excellent fly hatches and our targets often rested, hungry and naive.   By the end of this years annual danica feast there had been more days clad in waders and waterproofs than shirtsleeves but many displays of astonishing and insatiable greed, mostly, but not exclusively, by fish.

 Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/mayfly.jpg                                                                                                                

Spot the natural

 

My guiding diary was thankfully very full this year and took me to a wide range of chalkstream beats, a few for the first time but mostly to more regular haunts. Some immaculate in manicured splendour others wildly beautiful in their subtly managed neglect. The proliferation of rewilding projects and the conversion of stocked to wild fisheries continues and is to be applauded.

 For another season I have introduced dozens to the chalkstreams and to flyfishing. Most left having caught their first fish, with lasting memories and hooked well enough that I hope they will be drawn back again next season. I never tire of seeing their amazed faces reflect the wonder of fooling fish in our preferred method of delicate trickery. 

 

 Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/happy-fisherman.jpgPicture: /blog-files/blog/w288/smiling-faces.jpg

                                                                                          

 

 

 

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/job-done.jpg

 

 

" I never thought that would work!"

 

The summer followed a not untypical pattern of strong and varied daytime hatches reducing through July and August into unpredictable evening rises. These late summer days so often characterised by hours of finding and spooking fish and then a period in failing light of very challenging and often rewarding fishing. It's a shame when clients leave the river too early. They seem not to appreciate that they can miss an hour of excruciating frustration.  My two biggest wild fish this season were taken late on separate evenings during a sparse spinner fall which brought previously unseen fish out to feed. A real test of technique and temperament. We won't talk about the fruitless waits for something to happen when either nothing did or my technique or temperament were wanting.

I fish for the magic moments and my selective memory does the rest.

  

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/wild-brown-trout.jpg
                                                                                                               

 

 

 For the second half of the season, on most beats anyway, the dry fly restriction is lifted and as a devotee of clearwater nymphing to sighted fish I really enjoy this part of the season and teaching this method. Over the last few months as the levels dropped, we've been fishing in skinny crystal water as often or not flowing over gravels blanketed in weed, to shallow and very spooky fish. Everything needs to be stretched to avoid our patience going the same way. Our traditional nymphing methods need to be refined. With an increasing Gallic influence we're using the thinnest of tippets, very long leaders and long, accurate, delicate casts. Bite detection becomes harder; the fish are so far away it's tricky to see the subtle movements which trigger the hook set. Add a helpful mid leader bite indicator and the French leader transition is virtually complete. Clearwater nymph fishing to seen fish has always been an art form, now French style leaders and long light rods are advancing our skills, particularly in the current low clear water conditions. This is the second year where these tactics were needed in low water at the end of the season.

 These very effective techniques will continue now for grayling until the first rains arrive but when they do we are in for a very dirty river as the golden gravels are rinsed of the all enveloping and choking algae and filamentous weed.

 

 I was sorry to hear a few days ago that Bruce Sandison had died. In 1983 he wrote " The Trout Lochs of Scotland".  An impressive research project and an invaluable guide for those who enjoy solo wilderness flyfishing, as I do.I still have my copy which is well thumbed and dog eared as it accompanied me on many trips north, stuffed in pocket or rucksack. This book was the main reason I tramped across heather and hill and found a staggering variety of trout lochs, some with "a basket of 6/8 trout totalling 2 pounds can be expected" to lochs which for no apparent reason held very big peat loch trout. This book also introduced me to the crystal clear limestone lochs of Durness which provided, over many years, unsurpassed stillwater fishing for large wild trout. I will be forever in his debt for the many amazing days and nights I enjoyed drifting across Loch Caladail. 

 

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/ttlos.jpg

                                                                                                                   

An essential for the wandering flyfisherman

 

 

So, I'm  looking forward to some early river piking with interest. Pike are pretty idle, they seek a place which requires little effort to ambush and then digest their last meal. In high levels and strong flows, as we had last Autumn they find eddies and slacker water often close to the bank. In this water they'll look for depth so finding them could be easier but there is still so much weed. We'll see.  On my first day out I found a nice 10 pounder; a good way to start.

 

 Salmon fishing this year, has followed a similar pattern wherever the Atlantic Salmon cling on.  Norway, Russia, Iceland and home rivers all showed a similar pattern. The spring fish, where they did appear, were late. The grilse run was thin and although there were some good multi sea winter summer fish, this run ended early with many of the traditional back end rivers not seeing many late running fresh fish. Success with Atlantic Salmon is hard fought but worth every second of effort. They are the most beautiful and wonderful fish.

My few days in Iceland in early September were great but dominated by some abnormally miserable weather. The high spot was two consecutive sessions where the water height and colour were perfect as fish in every pool rose and chased a square cast stripped Sunray. Visual, exciting and very productive. The current exchange rate roller coaster will make my return from next years trip tricky with with only one arm and one leg. 

  

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/p9120394.jpg

 

                                                                                     What you can't see ... about 4 degrees and blowing a gale!

 

But for now it's the refinement of the grayling and the primeval elegance of the pike that has my attention. I love my winter fishing. Waters less fished, different challenges, different frustrations. Plenty to enjoy.

 

March 2016 - Reasons to be Cheerful

- By Graham Waterton

This is a strange time of the year when a day can make such a difference.  Two days of pike guiding in bitter northerly winds with sleet and hail showers followed by a casting lesson at the lake in warm spring sunshine. 

The pike season, for me that's the new year to March 14th, was mixed. A couple of 20 pounders, a few teenagers and few others made it a good season but not quite as good as last year. Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/chalkstream-twenty-pound-pike.jpgI only pike fish on a few chalkstream beats and don't like them being overfished but there's no doubt this narrow branch of pike flyfishing is becoming more popular which is sadly leading to some beats being overfished.  Rain was a mixed blessing with lots of days lost but it also gave some extra water and colour which often stirred them into activity.  My last day did not end in glory with three raised, one hooked and lost. A few days before however, while the camera on my head, was turned on, for once, I did catch a good fish which is now safely back in the river but I did capture her moment of fame. See the result here.

 

 

If your single handed casting experience is limited to a set up suited for chalkstream trout, casting a large fly, often 5 to 10 inches long attached to the appropriate rod and line for chalkstream pike, can be frustrating, ineffective and downright unsafe.  Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/pike-fly.jpg I've often fished with this sort of set up, normally in warmer climes but I've needed to analyse and teach these skills to my pike clients. Although techniques like water hauling, double hauling, extending stroke length by adopting an open stance and drifting the rod back sound technical they are not that difficult to master and really essential for safe and effective casting of a big fly, particularly in the wind.

 

There's plenty of time for a lot more rain and God forbid, flooding but I hope not. Those entrusted with the care of the rivers that suffered severe flooding this winter are once again concerned with the effects floods have on spawning, eggs and young fish. Lots of interesting work has been done to try and evaluate these effects. The subsequent studies seem to suggest that it is not necessarily all bad news. We shouldn't forget that although these fish are susceptible to mans intervention, evolution has produced creatures which are very able to survive more natural threats such as high river flows.  For instance an extreme flood is not necessarily terminally damaging to redds and eggs. A less extreme flood, particularly of longer duration can actually improve egg hatching rates by cleaning out silt from the redds. Sadly at the egg stage it seems grayling are more vulnerable than other species due to the shallow redds they prefer. Although fry are to a degree more vulnerable, even when fry numbers are reduced the surviving fry flourish as competition for food is less. Therefore the surviving fry and smolts are healthier and stronger and more likely to survive.  Timing, extent and duration of floods are relevant and as spawning times vary from species to species and river to river it becomes very difficult to predict the effects of any one flood. Once again, although winners and losers, that's natures way of spreading the risk.

 

As ever I've generalised but for the nerds, some more reading here and here.

 

 

The salmon season up north has been underway for a while and a few spring fish have already been caught on the chalkstreams. The figures for last season show that most chalkstream fisheries and the Test and Itchen as a whole had record numbers of salmon and sea trout in 2015. The Environment Agency have counters on both rivers which showed the best year for 25 years with 2007 salmon running the Test and 907 running the Itchen. Although both migratory fish are caught on a number of the lower beats, one of the most prolific,Testwood and Nursling, the lowest beat of the Test, had their best year with 397 salmon and 617 sea trout. These numbers are a credit not just to the fortitude of the fish but the improvements all interested parties have made and the catch and release policies most fisheries operate.

If you're used to swinging a fly on a big river then this sort of salmon and sea trout fishing may not be for you but it is fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable and after all right on our doorstep.

 

So a strange time of the year it is. No fishing to be done but soon the clocks spring forward and the approach of a new season on the chalkstreams is greeted with huge anticipation. Reasons to be happy? Well the groundwater levels are well above average which should give us a season of good river levels. As the winter and early spring have been relatively warm and early fly hatches like the mayfly are dependant on critical water temperatures being reached we could be in for early hatches. Most keepers have had good conditions to complete all their winter work and lastly many beats have converted to wild fisheries. All good news for another great season. Can't wait.

 

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/bourne-rivulet.jpg

 

 

January 2016 - Winter Fishing and the weather, of course.

- By Graham Waterton

 

Snowdrops and azaleas out in the garden and the first green blooms of hawthorns in the hedgerows. Its January for goodness sake! 

 

 Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/gravel-cleaning-bourne.jpg

 

 

A few weeks ago I was gravel cleaning on the Bourne Rivulet and could have kept my feet dry in slippers. As the weed died back the chalkstreams ran down to their lowest for several years. Groundwater levels are also in extreme deficit and although a normal wet winter will redress this annual paranoia, watching the extraordinary rainfall and increasingly frequent floods in the north all weather norms are in doubt. So, with some relief, as I post this blog the rain has arrived in the south and all rivers are running high and coloured. You might like to read this article as it explains a bit about El Niño and suggests we may have a very wet, warm and windy few months. 

 Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/nasa-topex-sea-surface-heights.jpg

http://robertscribbler.com/2015/12/30/nasa-worst-of-el-nino-still-to-come-with-climate-change-in-the-mix-2015-2016-event-may-equal-most-devastating-on-record/

 

Although the wildlife is remarkably resilient to floods I know many who work on the river will not want a repeat of the 2013/14 floods.

 

 

 

Up to a week or so ago, with low, clear and increasingly weedless water, the grayling fishing was tough and on occasions almost impossible. Lone fish, without the confidence of the shoal, spooked at the slightest concern. Blowing leaves, falling twigs and the longest most delicate casts sometimes sent them bow waving goodbye up stream. As ever when conditions challenge, success is sweet and a dozen made a letter day redder. I had a couple of good days on the Itchen where the greatest cause of spooked grayling were the antics of spawning

trout charging around the gravel shallows. A healthy problem to have.

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/itchen-autumn.jpgPicture: /blog-files/blog/w288/grayling-colours.jpg

 

I heard from an experienced caretaker of wild trout fisheries the other day that brown trout spawning times differ greatly from river to river. At first hand I saw spawning activity on the Avon in November, the Itchen in December and he was reassuring me that the Bourne trout spawn well into January. Water temperature, which on chalkstreams differ from river to river seems the obvious answer but I must find out why.

Pike are canny. Unlike trout and grayling they don't have to find a constant conveyor of food. Occasional feasts and then time to hide and sulk. In low flows they can hide almost anywhere, which in the lower Test beats gives them plenty of mid river nooks and crannies. 

Now we have rain and hopefully colder temperatures both in and out of the water. When the river fines and the fish shoal the grayling fishing will improve. As for the pike, this heavier water, will demand that they tuck themselves into the banks and more predictable deep slow lies. As April approaches the big females will feed more to get ready for spawning.

So, we are dependant on the weather gods, as ever but there will be some sport as we crawl agonisingly slowly to the start of the trout season.

 

Picture: /blog-files/blog/w288/test-pike-fly.jpg

 

A few brave fishery owners and managers are sending a shiver of expectation up and down the chalkstreams. There is a veritable avalanche, or should that be waterfall of 'rewilding' projects taking place over the winter. A number of the famous stretches and beats have undergone significant works to resculpt river banks and beds to provide better habitat for wild fish. One estate on the upper Test has gone completely wild, as has a beat on the Wylye that I am involved with, to name but two. This means creating an entirely sustainable wild fishery with no stocking and of course, catch and release. It's a brave and applaudable move for an estate which runs a commercial fishery. Whilst some regular rods may have left, they will attract new members who value and enjoy wild trout chalkstream fishing. We are all watching with interest but I'm not the only one who hopes this trend will drift downstream to more and more fisheries. I gather plenty of riparian owners are inviting consultants including those from the Environment Agency and more significantly The Wild Trout Trust to advise on work that can be done in the years leading up to fully 'going wild'.  Watch this space.

 

I caught quite enough salmon in Iceland in September and had high hopes that this season of plenty would give some clients the same opportunity in Scotland but sadly not. Low water persisted well into mid October and then of course, we had too much. I haven't seen the end of season figures for the Tweed but I suspect it will show a very patchy season, better than last year but overall, worse than average. There's always another season and the 15th January is only a week or so away.

 

Otters. A Public Relations Disaster Waiting to Happen

- By Graham Waterton

 

 

The otter population hit a low point in 1977 since when, their proliferation in England has increased to the point where a serious conflict of interest has arisen between those who treasure its reappearance and those whose jobs and livelihoods could be affected by its continued population expansion. The debate is gaining momentum and I hesitate to join in but I fear we may be heading down a path, which could easily jeopardise the fishing communities current position as the least contentious of the field sport disciplines.

 

Currently the otter is a European Protected Species and on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It also gains protection under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010. To paraphrase the regulations, you are breaking the law if you capture, kill, disturb or injure otters, possess, control or transport otters, damage or destroy a breeding or resting place, or obstruct access to their resting or sheltering places.

Although under these regulations it is possible to apply for a licence to prevent serious damage to a fishery, it is unclear if this could enable a cull and more likely could only enable actions such as fencing a fishery where that may obstruct access but not if it 'disturbs' the otter.

 

Combined, therefore, these afford it almost total protection. A perfectly reasonable position bearing in mind that these beautiful creatures were virtually extinct across the UK apart from small populations in Scotland, Wales and the South West of England by the late 1970s.

 

England has not experienced otter numbers like this before and they are now seriously affecting a significant number and a wide variety of fisheries. A family group of 5 otters can have a devastating affect on a fishery (whether stocked or naturally populated) in a matter of days.

 

This situation is known as a 'genuine wildlife conflict'. The hen harrier/red grouse is another.  It took 15 years to establish The Hen Harrier Joint Recovery Plan (which included 6 years of mediated conflict resolution) in which time the apparently legitimate positions of both the grouse shooting community and the hen harrier conservators spread to widen the gap between the shooting/non shooting worlds. We continue to hear of hunt staff accused and some prosecuted for illegal actions against foxes.

My concern is that there are a number of people within the fishing community who are and have probably been for some time, breaking the law by killing otters. Fishing, so precious to all of its practitioners, could follow this path to the courts and a public relations disaster, setting the angling fraternity back by decades in terms of its public image.

 

How did we get to into this position?

 

True otter numbers have never been accurately recorded as they are very mobile, both as individuals and as family groups, their behaviour is secretive and they have mainly nocturnal habits. Nonetheless the national population before the 1950s was not considered to be in danger. From about 1956 certain organochlorine pesticides became widely used in agriculture and until they were banned in the mid 60s, they devastated the otter population, which continued to decline until the late 1970s.

 

In 1978 organised otter hunting came to an end due in part to low numbers but also huge public and political pressure which made a legal ban inevitable. These packs continued to hunt mink, fur farm escapees, many released by animal liberation activists in the late 1990s. That, of course, ended in 2004 when The Hunting Bill was enacted.

 

Between 1977 and 1979 the first National Otter Survey identified otter presence in only 6% of nearly 3000 sites surveyed. It was the low point in otter numbers.

Since then numbers have increased and the national population has proliferated to every county in England. There were some captive bred releases made in the 80s and 90s, which came to an end when it was clear how quickly repopulation was occurring naturally. The most recent Otter Survey in 2009/10 identified otter presence in 60% of the same sites.

The reason for their recent population increase is, in the main, due to reduced water pollution and improved habitat. It is ironic in this context that the cleaning up of our rivers was due, in the large part to fishing clubs, associations and fishery owners and the pressure applied by them on our national fisheries and environmental bodies. Whilst we have a long way to go in terms of river improvement, the otters ascendancy has been a clear consequence of this on-going success story.

 

The otter, Lutra lutra, is at the top of the food chain, with no natural predators. They eat fish, water birds, amphibians, crayfish and occasionally small mammals. Fish provide between 75% and 95% of their diet but they appear to have no preference, merely feeding on species in proportion to what is locally available. The decline in eel numbers, thought to be a favourite diet item, will have pushed them onto other species. Although in captivity they will eat about 1.5kg a day it is clear that they can be highly selective in their tastes and will kill more fish than they need to eat to survive, witnessed by the amount of fish with one bite missing, found dead on the bank, a habit not unknown in predators like the fox.

 

It is unclear why some fisheries are currently more affected than others. Clearly the availability of a significant food source causes the otters to become resident and indeed seems to stimulate a mature pair to breed. Otters kill both large and small fish. Perhaps captive reared trout, large carp and pike for instance because they are relatively slow swimmers, are so much easier to catch?

 

This is an increasing problem, although there are winners and losers. One beneficiary are the fish farmers who report their busiest year for some time replenishing stocked trout fisheries, both still water and rivers, whose populations have been heavily predated. So for fisheries, what are the implications of all this?

 

You can fence them out. Expensive but a solution nonetheless, perhaps for small stillwaters, fish farms and fishery stewponds but completely impractical for larger still water fisheries and rivers. Commercially run fisheries can restock more frequently but that will impact on running costs and therefore ultimately the fisherman's pocket. I suspect some rivers will revert to wild fisheries but little is known about the impact of otters on small chalk stream wild fisheries, which have nurtured good heads of large wild trout. Some smaller coarse fishing streams have had their populations of large barbel and chub devastated. More research is definitely needed, particularly in wild trout fisheries.

 

 

What we do know is that for the short and I suspect medium term, the otter is fully protected by law. I simply cannot see culling licences ever being granted or a resumption of otter hunting. For those who live and work on fisheries every day and whose living depends on a healthy coarse and game fishing industry, this is deeply concerning and may have a high personal cost to them and to all anglers if something is not done fairly soon. We need quickly to find alternative solutions based on scientific evidence and speed and scientific evidence don't often go hand in hand.

 

 

From a personal point of view and I suspect like many of you, I have mixed feelings. For many years I fished the Scottish west coast and the sight of otters in the sea pools and in the estuarine kelp beds was a delight - a breathtaking distraction from our mutual desire to catch a sea trout. My many seasons on the Towy gave me a few evenings sharing a sea trout pool with a single and occasionally a family of otters. Memorable moments.

Now I am involved on an almost daily basis with fisheries across the area. One, a carp fishery, has seen its significant carp population more than halved. The stink of rotting carp carcasses around that lake greeted many fishermen. Several commercially run trout fisheries where I work and fish have had to restock many more times than usual as a result of otter activity. Stew ponds have to be fenced and fish carcasses cleared up daily. 

 

So, back to the start. Why am I worried? It is not so much the proliferation of the otter as in the long term we must deal with this reality. No, the immediate problem is that we know otters are being killed, deliberately, by a small number within the angling community.  In fact they probably have been for some time. If I am right, it is only a matter of time before someone is caught which, quite rightly, will result in a very public prosecution the likes of which have done so much damage to the hunting and shooting communities in the past. Do we want the exposure that some moorland keepers and owners have endured through killing raptors or the ignominy of hunt staff caught with sacks of fox cubs?

 

I don't have a solution. I suspect that fishery management techniques must simply adapt to the new reality of life with otters. That reality may mean for instance, more otter proof fences on some fisheries. What it will mean though is that on otter present waters there will be less fish for the fisherman and probably fewer bigger fish. On stocked waters, more stocking or more frequent stocking will be required, both leading to more expensive fishing.

 

To those who work at the 'coal face' of the fishery sector who daily witness this increasing predatory pressure and whose livelihoods may be put in doubt, please behave responsibly.

 

What is more important in my view, is that all those bodies in touch with land and fishery owners, clubs and associations, should implore their members not to turn a blind eye and hide behind a defence of ignorance at what may be happening on their fisheries. If they don't, there's a disaster waiting to happen....

 

October 2015 - The Trout Season and Salmon Ramblings.

- By Graham Waterton

 

As we reach the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness it seems an appropriate time to look back on a wonderful trout season which has been a very busy one for me.

 

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I returned from the U.S. in mid May and straight into wall to wall mayfly guiding for nearly six weeks. The weather produced a long mayfly this year with

plenty of clients experiencing this extraordinary event for the first time.There were some particularly prolific spinner falls providing some frantic fishing as the light fell.

 

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The post mayfly doldrums were not too long and within a week or so fish were back on their normal summer diet of small olives, sedges and the various terrestrials. The doldrums was short lived this year because the fish were not able to gorge on mayfly for extended periods. The cold weather shortened each day's activity and extended the season resulting in fish not as satiated as usual.

As the summer progressed water levels dropped only being supported by weed being trimmed rather than being cut and in some cases not cut at all. By September we had beats looking very weedy which were tricky to fish but better than low levels and no weed. To fill the aquifers and reduce the groundwater deficit we will need plenty of rain over the winter.

 

I think it was the calm and well balanced reporting of the Daily Express that predicted 'an invasion of Daddy Long Legs' presumably forgetting that it happens pretty much every year and results in some great fishing in the last few weeks of the season. This year was no exception.

 

 

I guided for many good and experienced fisherman this year but some of my best memories of a very busy summer were the smiling faces of novices having their first chalkstream experience and most of the time, catching fish.

 

 

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     I had lots of family days in August and the Test valley echoed to whoops of delight as the young, and old, earnt some bragging rights.

 

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I also took a number of more experienced rods to the Bourne Rivulet to experience its unique challenges. A few were rewarded with some cracking fish up to 20" which is around 3lbs. An exceptional wild chalkstream brownie.

 

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It's been a good season for salmon and sea trout on the chalkstreams. Both the principal beats on the Test, namely Testwood and Nursling and on the Itchen, the Lower Itchen Fishery had excellent years for both salmon and sea trout. I had a great evening at Testwood in August getting attached to plenty of sea trout up to 5lbs.  It was really enjoyable and if you haven't given it a whirl I can thoroughly recommend it. For those living in London and the South, excellent sea trout fishing on our doorsteps.

 

Generally the Atlantic salmon season has been significantly better than last year with most rivers experiencing an increase of spring fish and particularly grilse which were almost completely absent last year. Sadly a few catchments are still having a ghastly time, the Dee, for example, once again very short of fish.

 

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My annual pilgrimage to the Midfjardara in Iceland reflected this increased improvement with 10 rods catching nearly 200 salmon in 3 days. This had been the story for much of the season; not surprisingly the river has had a record year with just over 6000 salmon. An astonishing figure compared to last years 1700 and the previous best year in 2010 of 4043. The vast majority of these were grilse but who's complaining. By my calculations that's well over 40 fish per rod per week which made the Midfjardara the best of the naturally spawning rivers in Iceland this season. I'm booked for next year already! Even within Iceland there was feast and famine. It seemed that the North Eastern rivers had a bad time and the west and south rivers had some record numbers. All about water temperature, I gather, too cold in the north and perfect for the west. One day someone will completely understand why one river has the worst and another the best season ever. The enigma of the Atlantic salmon.

 

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Fishing late season in Iceland, we normally miss the summer treat of fishing a small hitched fly for fresh fish but not this year. Fresh fish were entering the system right up to the end of the season and we caught fish hitching, on tiny flies, on small cone heads fished upstream, traditionally swung flies and even bombers. It really is heaven for those prepared to experiment and take advice from their excellent team of guides. 

 

I have Tweed trips with clients in October and November to come and will report on the Scottish back end season next time. Interesting that the Scottish government have just diluted down their earlier proposals to restrict the numbers of salmon killed in our rivers. Now a 'targeted system based on fish stocks' is proposed. I have mixed feelings about this. It seems to me obvious that if fish stocks are so low we should move to no salmon being killed, rod or net, on all catchments, until stocks recover. I know that the implications of that could be difficult but if we don't, we risk stocks reducing to a level that recovery would be nigh on impossible. No pain, no gain.

 

A looming issue, particularly in the Southern counties with chalkstream fisheries, is the proliferation of otters. It's a complicated issue which I explore in another article here and which will also be published in the next Piscatorial Society Journal.