Friday, 25 October 2019

How many is many?

I have spent the last month on the highways and byways of southern England visiting my many river owners. With the season drawing to a close this is the time we collectively take stock. Talk. Plan. Review. Bewail the bad. Celebrate the good.

These are rarely contentious meetings; in most cases the relationships date back decades rather than years. That is not to say we don't have the occasional disagreement but in the end we always navigate those for essentially, even though there is money involved, this is about all feeling a certain amount of quiet satisfaction from the outcome of the year. We want to enjoy everything about the fishing and hope you have too.

The interesting thing about the round of meetings is that usually, without any prompting from me, a theme appears. Often it is weather related; yes, you've guessed it the lack of rain or very occasionally too much of it. This year it was catch and release. However, not the principle of it - that is well established - but rather the number of fish caught and released. Before I explain let me back track a little.

Releasing fish of an edible size is a relatively new phenomenon for the chalkstreams. When I started out in business nearly thirty years ago it was all catch and kill. You caught your four fish and went home. Catch and release? Plenty of people positively fulminated against it. I recall many a 'fruity' conversation (this was pre-email days) as releasing went from niche to normal. A good thing? Well, yes and no.

The yes is all fairly obvious; I don't need to recite the arguments here for you. The no? Well, you may be wondering why there might even be a no. Well, the fact is the end-of-season conversations have revolved around catch record books that show anglers who have caught (and released) 15, 20, 30 and even 40 fish in a day. Now we do generally ask that people observe a limit that varies from six to twelve, but it is clearly either ignored or unread. In any case it's impossible to police - we rely entirely on honesty and goodwill.

And therein lies the problem to which we really haven't found an answer. What is a reasonable number of fish to release in a day? How do you limit the catch on what might be the best ever fishing day of someone's life without being prescriptive? How do you explain the dour state of the river to the person who arrives the following day?

I do think this is one of the difficulties with catch and release; it is gradually cranking up the base line as to what we regard as a reasonable day without due regard to what a river is able to sustain.

My otters are back

It seems my otters have been on something of a sabbatical. Having been constant companions here at Nether Wallop Mill in 2015/16 they, at least as a family group, have all but vanished.

Not an eek. Not a squeak. From time to time I have found the occasional part eaten trout but essentially, we have navigated two winters unscathed, starting the new season with much the same population of trout as we ended the previous.

But for the past month, in the depth of night, I have half woken to hear distant noises. Or at least I think I have; sometimes the morning-after memory is fuzzy. A confusion of what you might have heard recently and what you remembered hearing long ago.  

However, a week last Saturday, amidst a 3am deluge, there was no doubt. I headed outside torch in hand. And there, right at my feet, almost within touching distance were two pups, maybe 6 months old, caught in the beam. I'm pretty sure I was the first person they had ever seen (certainly the first in a white towelling dressing gown!) for rather than flee they just looked up a me by way of curiosity.

It's a trait of otters of that age that they are closely bonded to each other; where one goes the other follows as if joined by a short bit of string. Stood on the edge of the lake they considered me for a while, gradually moving closer and tighter together as certain doubts crept in as to my veracity. I don't think they ever really saw me as a threat, for when they eventually decided the lake was a safer bet than the bank, they unhurriedly slipped into the water eeking their way to mother who echoed back from somewhere out in the darkness.

So, I'm again with an otter family who are much in residence. Since that Saturday they have been back nearly every night. Is it Kuschta, the heroine of The Otters Tale? I think not; sadly, age will have caught up with her. But I'd like to think the current mother is one of her two pups. Otters being such territorial creatures the chances are many times better than good.

Wild Trout Trust Conservation Awards 2019

It is not often we give high fives to the Environment Agency. But, for all its manifest institutional failings, when it comes to those who work at the sharp end, we have many allies and friends who deserve every plaudit that comes their way.

Heb Leman, Hannah Barclay & Jenny Wheeldon
That being the case I was delighted when the Outstanding Habitat Improvement Project Award for 2019 was given to the Environment Agency for the Test & Itchen River Restoration Strategy. Some of you may recall that we were part of this with our project at Bullington Manor on the River Dever over the winter of 2017/18. Ours was just one section of the 10km of river that has been significantly restored which has also seen eight barriers, 1km of steel and wooden sheet piling removed, 16800 tonnes of gravel added, and 40 hectares of flood storage created along with much 'softer' habitat improvement.

Huge congratulations to not only Project Manager Heb Leman who has more chalkstream water than blood in his veins but also Hannah Barclay of the Environment Agency and Jenny Wheeldon of Natural England

Avington captured in film

Avington, the trout lakes on the edge of the River Itchen, has long been part of my life. As a teenage fly fisher in the 1970's it was something remarkable to have on your doorstep as it provided British record trout that grew in size with each passing year.

Avington - A Trout Fishers' Paradise
Avington - A Trout Fishers' Paradise
The creator of these amazing fish was an ex-NASA physicist Sam Holland who had retired to Hampshire intent of breeding super-huge fish that would not only break records but the rods of the anglers who attempted to land them!

I am not sure how much he succeeded with the latter, but he certainly succeeded with the former Avington becoming the undisputed home of British record browns and rainbows until it ceded the crown to Dever Springs.

The story of AVINGTON: A TROUTFISHER'S PARADISE is now a feature-length documentary (50 mins) that is available to watch on Fishing TV

Click here to see the trailer.

The Brexit future

You may have noticed, tempting though it is, that I haven't strayed into the Brexit debate on these pages. Why would we want to fall out? With each other that is.

However, I think we can all agree that there hasn't been much humour in the past three years, so I was grateful to a Swiss (they are neutral after all) client who has forwarded a poster from the future.

It made me laugh, so solely in that spirit of Brexit, I hope is does the same for you.

The Quiz

A test of your Europeanness. As ever the quiz is just for fun, with answers at the bottom of the page. 
1)      Which country left the EU in 1985?

2)      Which is the most easterly EU nation?

3)      What is the current population of the EU?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director


1)      Greenland, after two referendums that both returned a no vote.
2)      Cyprus. Portugal, Spain and Finland are the most westerly, southerly and northerly respectively.
3)      513 million people.

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