Friday, 30 August 2019

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

I have never been a great fan of poetry. I recall getting into considerable trouble with my English tutor for, when asked to critique a poem, I went on a diatribe as to the wastefulness of this apparent literary art. Most poems where, I maintained, a pretty collection of soaring faux rhetoric that invited the reader to seek meaning when there was indeed none. A sort of intellectual practical joke.

John Keats. August 1819.
Many years on from my lecture hall tantrum I still don't feel the love for poetry. When I come across verse in whatever context (what are those Nationwide TV adverts about?) I glaze over to allow my mind to go a different place. But I guess I'm mellowing just a little. If someone chooses to read Alfred Tennyson's poem The Brook at my funeral, "For men may come and men may go, But I go on for ever." I'll prick up my ears. I'll also make an exception for To Autumn for it has a particular connection to the chalkstreams.

John Keats, along with Wordsworth, Byron, Blake and Shakespeare is regularly cited in the top five English poets of all time. I'd hazard that his opening line "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" is as often quoted (and without being reviled) as Wordsworth's "I wandered lonely as a cloud". And very shortly it will be the two hundredth anniversary of his poem that charts the three different aspects of the season: its fruitfulness, its labour and its ultimate decline, that he penned on 19th September 1819 after walking beside the River Itchen.

Keats was a troubled man; he would be dead eighteen months after writing To Autumn aged just twenty-six. Overtaken by both health and financial difficulties this was to be the last poem he would write. The day he walked was a Sunday. It is commonly assumed that he drew his inspiration from his regular route along the water meadows south of Winchester, across what would be regarded as Winchester Cathedral and College land today. However, more recent research suggests that day he walked upstream from the cathedral, turning away from the river to take in the view from St Giles Hill above the city.

If you try to retrace his steps, you might be disappointed. The stubble of his corn fields on the hill are long replaced by suburbia. The Itchen is largely hidden from view, buildings standing on the banks where Keats' sallows (willow trees) once grew. That said not all historical context is lost. The bridge over which he crossed to make his way up St Giles Hill, and the ancient Winchester City Mill at its base, remain largely unchanged.

So, if you do try to take the walk to celebrate the anniversary - I certainly will - you'll probably pause on the bridge to watch the churning, turbulent river below as it is spat from the confines of the mill race. But for all the melancholic beauty of Keats' words it will probably be those of Tennyson that come to mind, "For men may come and men may go, But I go on for ever."

Bridge with Winchester City Mill behind

Sex. But not as we know it.

Here in the UK we are trying to preserve the integrity of our native wild trout population by stocking only triploid trout; that is to say infertile fish. Not everyone likes this approach, the result of an edict passed down by the Environment Agency and with the backing of law, about eight years ago. Some feel that triploids, as opposed to the fully fertile diploids that we used to stock, adapt less well to life in the wild, have lower survival rates and are less inclined to rise.   

We are not alone in one fish population having the potential to elbow out another. In the western states of the USA brook trout, originally introduced from the eastern states, are outcompeting the native cutthroat to become the dominant species to the detriment of both the habitat and fishing. Eliminating, or even reducing their numbers by netting, chemical or other human intervention has proved ineffective so since the turn of the century Idaho Fish and Game biologists have turned to genetic manipulation for a solution. Here is how it works:

"Every trout, just like humans, has genetic markers that determine their sex, either XY (male) or XX (female) and according to a study released by the American Fisheries Society, the males can be feminized by exposing them to oestrogen. And by breeding these "feminized" males, a YY male trout can be produced. These YY trout are then introduced into the wild. But this is where it gets interesting when the YY males spawn with an XX female, 100% of their offspring will be almost 100% XY males. The idea is this, that over time as these fish continue to spawn, eventually the entire population will be male and then die out."

It is still early days but experiments suggest that these wonderfully named 'Trojan brookies' could eradicate an unwanted brook trout population in a decade. Which begs the question, could this work for brown trout in the UK? If, assuming they didn't have the same behavioural problems attributed to triploids, we stocked Trojan browns instead then we'd be still be able to preserve the genetic integrity of our native population who would happily continue to breed with each other.

Video of the Week

Salmon Fishing In Sweden -
Salmon Fishing In Sweden " Silver Shadow " 
Here's a good Atlantic salmon fishing film from the Catch Me Fly Fish crew.

They head for the Swedish rivers that flow into the Baltic Sea to prove, contrary to most films that make it look easy, how tough it can sometimes be.

To watch it click here.

The Quiz

As ever the quiz is just for fun, with answers at the bottom of the page. 

1)      Which famous angler and author is buried in Winchester Cathedral?

2)      Who led the force that invaded the city of Troy hidden in the Trojan Horse?

3)      When did Winchester cease to be the capital of the Kingdom of England?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director


1)      Izaak Walton
2)      Odysseus
3)      1066

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