Monday, 15 February 2016

Which is your favourite fish?

Which is your favourite fish? 


Which is your favourite fish? I have to admit I had never given it much thought until the other day when an email from underwater photographer Jack Perks urged me to vote in the UK National Fish poll he has organised.

An unlikely winner?
The purpose is to find the iconic native species that means something to us as a nation and embody Britishness, which makes a simple choice a deal more complicated. 

The logistics of even picking the fish as eligible for the poll is not easy. How do you define native? Carp are included on the basis of a 600 year tenure but rainbow trout, a mere 150 year ago arrival are not. Should European eels go in the fresh or sea column?   

As Jack points out there are over 400 native species, freshwater and seawater, so he has helpfully narrowed the list down to 20 in both categories.  I confess there is a fish on the freshwater list I had never heard of - the Vendace. Wikipedia tells me it is 'an edible whitefish found in lakes in northern Europe. In Britain it is now confined to two lakes in the English Lake District.' My feeling is that Coregonus vandesius will struggle to garner many votes.

Looking around the world for clues for which to pick isn't helpful. Birds? Well, just about every country has a national bird. But fish? Well not so much - I could only find three nations with a national fish and that is a diverse bunch. Costa Rica has the Manatee, Japan unsurprisingly the Koi carp and South Africa the not-very-attractive Galijoen that looks a bit like sea bream. 

Who knows what we will choose and whether the British people will take a fish to their heart. My only hope is that the poll doesn't get hijacked by a 'species' group - I am sure plenty of you will recall a few years back when something similar happened tying the BBC in all sorts of knots when Bob Nudd topped the voting for Sports Personality of the Year.

If you'd like to vote you have until 26th March when a top ten will be announced with a further round of voting to establish the winner. Me? Well, in the sea category I am going to put my tick beside the mackerel on the basis that it must have been the first fish many of us caught and thus inspired a lifetime of angling. In the river my marketing head tells me Brown Trout, but in my heart the Three Spined Stickleback wins every time with a life story as interesting as any fish that ever lived.

Here is the link to vote.


Mill racing ....
I am writing this on Valentine's Day with joy in my heart and the sound of rushing water in my ears - the chalkstreams are full. 

It was looking grim at the end of November; we were showing few signs of making up for a very dry 2015 but the Gods have smiled. December was wet and January positively bucketed down giving us twice the average long term rainfall. As the monthly Environment  Agency report says, 'river flows and groundwater levels ranged from normal to exceptionally high status' in January.

It is good to have it validated but I really take my cue from the mill race that runs under the office here at Nether Wallop Mill. All through the summer and autumn the steel gate that controls the inflow is screwed down tight to preserve what water there is upstream.  As winter goes on I gradually open it up and when I can finally lift it all the way I know we have reached saturation point.  That day came about two weeks ago. The water pummels through without constraint; some weeks I even have to run the mill wheel to let even more past.

Nether Wallop mill wheel & race
Nether Wallop mill wheel & race

This is all good. The aquifer, that giant sponge deep beneath us that feeds the chalkstreams, is now full. We are set for the season ahead.

PS I have tried to capture the noise and power of the flow in this 35 second video. The mill wheel is cast iron, built c. 1865. As you will see it is in need of a repaint - for some reason at one time it was painted white. I suspect I will not be troubling the Oscar committee .....

NEW FOR 2016

You may well be reading this over half term juggling work emails, cursing the cost of Alpine lift passes and wondering who on earth invented the long half term. Surely it was just three days in our day?

I can't do much about the Pound/Euro exchange rate but if you are looking for a diversion for the summer holidays I'll point you in the direction of my week long Kids Fish Camp for July.

It has come out of the Saturday school fishing clubs - a chance to learn all about fly fishing here at Nether Wallop Mill. We do all the obvious casting and catching stuff but add in some entomology, fly tying, a trip to a fish farm and culminate the week with a day on the beautiful Bullington Manor beat on the Upper Test.

Our very own Alan Middleton runs the week with great expertise and enthusiasm. It is open to all ages 8-15. No experience required. Tackle provided. More details here ....



Here are a few bi-weekly puzzlers to confuse, confound or illuminate. It's just for fun and answers are at the bottom of the page.

1) St Valentine is the patron saint of what activity?

2) What is odontology?

3) A gam is the collective noun for what species?


I was rootling around at an antiques fair in Stockbridge a couple of weekends ago and came across this photograph in a Hampshire history book. It was immediately recognisable as Itchen Stoke Mill as was the activity, weed cutting, but as Captain Kirk would say, not as we know it.

I thought at first they might be harrowing the river; that was commonly done to encourage spawning but with the photo dated around 1905 and the foliage suggesting this is summer or early autumn the timing would not be right. The current owner, Roger Harrison, cast some light. He tells me this was indeed weed cutting but of a fairly radical sort. The machine is moving a heavy cast iron bar along the river bed, tearing out the weed to create open channels in preparation for the water meadow flooding during the winter. The principle being that by removing the weed the water level would drop allowing the land to be drained more easily as and when required.

The bar didn't rip out the roots of the ranunculus so it would re-grow the following spring. It is thought that the bar, heavy as it was did, by accident rather than design, create some good, loose spawning gravel as it trundled along the bed as would have the hooves of the shire horses.

If you happen to visit this part of the River Itchen* you will notice the only change is trees; back then the Itchen valley was entirely denuded of trees which I guess was a product of the sheep grazing that dominated the area at that time.  

*Stop at The Bush Inn at Ovington and  walk back a hundred yards up the road. There is also a lovely footpath walk alongside the river.

Have a good week wherever you might be.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 1) Bee keeping 2) The scientific study of teeth 3) Whales

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