Archive for the ‘Fly fishing’ Category

Census reveals poor state of River Itchen

For the first time our once pristine, gin-clear English chalkstreams and rivers have been put under the microscope in a national survey to compare and investigate whether they are as healthy as they should be. And the results are truly shocking.

The 2015 Riverfly Census, undertaken by Salmon & Trout Conservation UK (S&TC UK) has identified that there were only 14 pristine, unimpacted sites out of a total of 120 sites sampled in the survey on rivers across England.

According to fisheries charity, Salmon & Trout Conservation UK, the threat to our rivers has moved from industrial pollution to a range of subtler but equally damaging impacts from sources such as agricultural and road run-off, poorly treated sewage, septic tanks and discharges from watercress and fish farms.

Although these forms of stress are less dramatic than fish-killing chemical spills, the long-term effects on flylife such as blue-winged olives are equally profound.

Paul Knight, Chief Executive of S&TC UK explains, “Most of the rivers we analysed were impacted to some extent, although the chalk rivers were the worst.  England’s 200 or so chalkstreams form about 85% of the world’s total stock of this richly diverse and complex habitat.  Almost all of them are in a dismal state of decline. Plants, insects, fish, mammals and bird-life are suffering as a result of the loss of flylife, which plays a crucial role in the aquatic food chain. Basically lose your flylife and you will lose many other important species too.”

Even figures from the Environment Agency, show that 83% of our rivers are failing to meet the standard of ‘Good Ecological Condition’ classification, measured by the European Water Framework Directive.

Riverflies and other invertebrates are excellent indicators of the underlying ecological condition of our rivers because different species of invertebrates demonstrate different tolerances to the various forms of stress from pollution.  Traditional and less exacting methods of analysing water quality frequently struggle to capture the often combined impacts of nutrients, sediment and subtle organic enrichment on invertebrate life in our rivers.

The study was carried out by ecological consultants Aquascience Consultancy Ltd, on 120 sites in seven rain-fed rivers and five chalkstreams across the country. For the first time, the investigation used ground-breaking research and chemical analysis to accurately identify the problem.

Dr Nick Everall from Aquascience Consultancy says, “The national river survey showed a mixture of improving, stable and all too many sadly declining reaches in terms of overall ecological condition, environmental stresses and riverfly life in particular. Several rivers showed loss of condition with measures like mayfly species richness and freshwater shrimp population status over time. Breaking some of these river findings down with controlled laboratory tests has recently shown that raised levels of phosphate and sediment, akin to many of our stressed river conditions, has a detrimental impact upon the survival of early life stages of the base of the aquatic food chain for species such as the blue-winged olive.”

The Census identified that, although Hampshire’s River Avon – a chalkstream, came out best in the study, the next 6 places went to freestone rivers, mainly in the north and south west.  Three of our most highly protected SAC chalkstreams; the Itchen, the Lambourn and the Wensum, rank poorly in the Census.  These contained low riverfly richness and abundance in many reaches of these rivers. Indeed on the Itchen, populations of the blue-winged olive have collapsed, despite being relatively abundant in the early 1990s.

In addition, the River Test, which is an SSSI (one of our highest conservation classifications) showed that flylife is below that expected of a pristine river with many significant species impoverished and rarer species absent.

Freshwater shrimp (Gammerus pulex) an important element in the food chain for trout and salmon, recorded very low numbers and measured against historic Environment Agency records, are showing a long and marked decline.

Paul Knight says, “So far The Water Framework Directive’s measure of water quality struggles to capture the often combined impacts that pollution is having on the invertebrate life in our rivers.  The biometric fingerprinting we used in the Census was like examining these systems with a microscope rather than a magnifying glass and, significantly, the results showed that water quality is often insufficient to sustain the life that our target rivers historically supported.”

In his forward to the Census, keen fisherman and journalist Jeremy Paxman laments the loss of our pristine rivers and says, “Something has gone very wrong.  Yet experience tells us that almost everything in nature is connected.  A decline in flylife on rivers will have consequences.  The only way we can enlist popular support – and the possibility that someone might care enough to realise the risk we face – is to gather evidence.  That is why the Riverfly Census matters.”

Nick Measham, author of the report and S&TC UK environmental consultant, concludes, “The aim of our Census was to provide, for the first time, an accurate picture of water quality in our rivers, to gauge the problems we are facing and to identify workable solutions to restore degraded watercourses to their pristine condition.  The evidence from our Census is irrefutable. Increased human pressure is having a disastrous impact on our rivers.

“We will now challenge the Government to tackle these damaging sources of pollution before we reach the point of no return.  We have a five-point plan of action involving working with the Environment Agency, but also challenging them where necessary, especially over the urgent need to identify and regulate polluters.  However, we believe the best chance of reversing the degradation in our rivers is to work directly with those who, mostly inadvertently, are the sources of the stress on river water quality, and to show them that they can also benefit from adopting measures that protect watercourses. ”

Read the full Report here.


The comment below is from Nick Denbow, who learned to fly-fish on the Itchen and Arle in the 80s, then studied Aquaculture at Sparsholt, before setting up the Western Caribbean Fly Fishing School in Mahahual, in the Yucatan, Mexico:

“Absolutely. This is exactly and completely what I wrote my Sparsholt thesis on in 1998. They should have listened then!
Hopefully now you are out of Europe you can have rules specific to each river individually.
A great start would be that water abstractions should only be allowed and licensed if the water is properly scrubbed to its original or better than its original quality parameters. This as far as I know still only happens in Holland.
The decline in species richness of Mayflies is almost completely due to habitat destruction. Poor river maintenance in the 90s during low water levels led to over widening and deepening of many sections of river so that they remained viable businesses as fisheries. Mayfly species distribution relies on a variety of habitats and only one of 47 in Hampshire is a burrower in silt, E. danica. Due to spending 4 years as a nymph this insect is more common on the lower stretches of any river system. The others are stone clingers, moss creepers, agile darters and laboured swimmers. Take away these habitats and replace it with silt and the bugs will move on at the rate of invertebrate drift. If this starts at the top of a river system (as that’s where most cress beds are) then you gradually remove all the favoured invertebrates from the river, gradually all the way down stream.
By creating favourable habitats on side streams or periodically in areas of micro habitat in poor quality areas it’s easy to ‘re-establish’ populations as adult (winged) may flies all migrate upstream to breed. So what I’m saying is its recoverable if the river acts together.
The lack of G. pulex, the freshwater shrimp, is not due to habitat but rather directly from chemicals used in water cress production, specifically zinc. It’s been proven for many years that the products used to spread on cress and its roots prevents crustaceans being able to build their shells. Spatial avoidance of G. pulex from areas of cress has been seen for years. Due to the Trout’s dependence on shrimps in the winter months due to lower fly hatches, it’s beleived to represent 80% of the Trout’s annual diet. Take that away and your Trout simply won’t survive the winter, which is their spawning time.”

Nick Denbow
BSc (Hons) Aquaculture and Fishery Management
STANIC Qualified instructor
The Western Caribbean Fly Fishing School, Mexico,
00 52 1 983 7323 144

Herons in Alresford

Heron Protection

We live in Alresford surrounded by watercress beds, river streams, lakes, and fish farms. Pretty much heaven for any bird that likes the odd bit of fish for dinner, lunch, or worst of all – breakfast. The tall trees in the Avenue are much appreciated, as beautiful, attractive, part of the town heritage – and to Herons the perfect place for their nests. They do like an easy life, and for breakfast, particularly at dawn in the Summer, when all are still asleep, they tend to look around for something easy and tasty in the garden ponds round the town. There are very few of my Alresford friends who have not lost carp or goldfish from their ponds, to a marauding Heron.

At home we have a very deep pond, protected from normal aerial view by an overhanging yew tree on one side, and other trees along another side. There is a wooden fence around the open side, officially to prevent toddlers from falling in, and reeds and oxygenating plants shelter or cover the surface in the Summer. Even so we added a submerged water butt, on its side, to give a cave for the fish to hide in. We have not knowingly lost many fish, but there are maybe 30-40 in there, breeding away, so it is difficult to keep track. But you can tell when there has been a visitation – the fish do not come out of hiding for 2-3 days, not even for their morning feed.

Nevertheless, in the Autumn, when dawn is later, it becomes noticeable that there are occasional visiting herons sitting on the 6 foot fence near the pond, watching: they fly off as soon as we open the curtains. The answer to this problem has been varied: it started with putting obstacles on the lawn so their landing run was restricted; we bought a plastic Heron to stand guard, as it is said they will not poach fish from another Heron’s pond; and when all these failed we have used wooden poles to hold up metal mesh screens above the pond main surface. Still they are seen, attracted when the tree cover allows the water surface reflection to be seen from above, and the pond weed dies down.

Autumn pond protection with metal screens

Autumn pond protection with metal screens

They say you can get electronic bird scarers that detect the arrival of Herons, and sound an alarm, but they would probably wake us up all night as a result of the passing cats, hedgehogs, foxes and whatever else that visits regularly. So any further suggestions would be welcomed: the next plan is to install a green plastic net over the wooden poles.

And Heron Appreciation

One of my colleagues, Alan Franck, Editor of the magazine HazardEx, visited Alresford in the early 1980s. He remembers:

“One of the most memorable weekend walks was a winter’s day circuit to the north of Old Alresford, with a weak silvery sun illuminating a landscape of muddy ploughed fields and the stark woodland edge. We came over the brow of a hill and saw a flock of birds rising from the watercress ponds below, in the distance – but there was something unusual about their ponderous flight which caused me to take out my binoculars for a closer look. And there, in front of us, was an extraordinary sight never seen before or since. Hundreds of herons were circling up into the sky and slowly flapping off into the West.”

They were obviously returning to the Trout Farm, or flying off further afield for better pond pickings!

Another visitor

It is worth also mentioning that other visitors pass by Alresford Pond and the Trout farms round here: early one Autumn morning en route to work around 7am an unusual and large bird took off from a roost on the tops of the trees above the roundabout on the A31 above Ovington: this was very white underneath, with shaggy feather covered legs, brown upper parts, and I’m convinced it was an Osprey! This was many years ago, before Buzzards had become regular sights round here, but it did not seem to be what I know as a Buzzard.

Fly Fishing, by ……who?

Who remembers any BT Yellow Pages adverts on TV? The chances are, most people will remember the advert that featured a book, called “Fly Fishing”, by “J R Hartley”. It became so popular that they had to create a book of that name, and then sold a lot of copies! Probably I can find one to scan and show here.

More significant was that the actor who played the part of J R Hartley, Norman Lumsden, did not know very much about fly fishing. In fact, I don’t think he had ever been fly fishing. So one year, when my son (also called Nick Denbow) was working as a fishing guide and ghillie at the Rod Box in Kingsworthy, the Channel 4 TV people asked if the Rod Box could take Norman out onto a trout river to help them film him, with a fly fishing rod. We think the show was “Out and About” with Toyah Wilcox. Actually Nick took Norman and the crew out onto the Itchen Navigation near Twyford, and Nick had to teach him what to do with the rod and line, standing in the river, presumably in waders, for the first time in his life.

Nick Denbow and JR Hartley, in about 1990

Nick Denbow and JR Hartley, in about 1990

Norman was about 76 by this time, and he did very well, only needing to be held upright a few times. Whether the C4 pictures made him look as though he knew what he was doing, I am not qualified to say. Son Nick has the picture to prove he was there, and a copy of ‘Fly Fishing, by J R Hartley’, suitably autographed.

Flying Fortress crash in Alresford Pond

Nelson Trowbridge of Alresford recently wrote to the Alresford Historical and Literary Society:

“I feel sure you will know that in September 1943 the centre of  New Alresford narrowly escaped being blown up by a damaged B-17 Flying Fortress bomber (Lady Luck) of the 303rd bomb group, US 8th Air Force, which was carrying a full bomb load on course to crash at or near St John’s Church and the top of Broad Street.  The pilot, Captain Cogswell, ordered his crew to bail out then stayed with the plane and  steered it to a field on the far side of Old Alresford Pond.  He baled out at the last minute, and survived.

Captain Cogswell is a war hero who should be remembered.  In connection with this you might like to know that the exhibition of the Lady Luck events has been restored by Mike Adams in The Globe Inn and is now open for visitors to explore.  I hope your members will do this.  I donated my scale model of Lady Luck, a copy of my booklet  “Lady Luck: What really happened”, photographs and more. There is a lot to examine and think about.”

Editor’s notes: There is now a plaque, in Soke Gardens, honouring Captain Robert Cogswell: Soke Gardens can be found down the lane to the right of the ‘Globe on the Lake’ pub and the cottages next to it. This cobbled lane leads to the sluices, or “Shettles” which control the flow of water from the lake down the main stream that flows under the bridge, past the Town Mill and then forms the River Alre. It is said that the Shettles  were the landing place for the Bishop of Winchester on his travels to and from his palace at Bishop’s Sutton, presumably getting into a coach in front of the Globe. When first formed, the pond reached as far as his palace at Bishop’s Sutton, but over the years silting has reduced its size and depth.

In the 1980s when my son fished in Alresford Pond, from the Great Weir, he caught pike, trout – escapees from the Bishop’s Sutton fishing lakes – and carp. The largest carp caught by anyone was reported as 34lbs. More recently the otters have ensured that there are no more carp.

There is a photo of the Lady Luck crew on the Alresford Heritage photographs website, see–weir/p-017.html

River Life

River Life – From a Water Bailiff’s Notebook.

The river is a very interesting study. First there are the fish. In the Itchen there are trout. Fishermen from all over the country come to try to catch them on dry fly, for the Itchen is a dry fly river. Then there are pike which eat the trout and have to be kept down by the riverkeeper. There are also minnows, sticklebacks and bull-heads which boys and girls love to catch with jam jars on the end of a piece of string.

There are several kinds of river weeds: water celery, water crowfoot and starwort. The water crowfoot and water celery are the two best weeds for trout and fly, they make good cover for trout and good feeding for the fly larvae. Starwort holds plenty of shrimp. Some of the fly on the Upper Itchen are olive, iron blue, sherry spinners, red sedge, silver sedge, alders and black gnat. The olive is the most common of these fly, and most trout are caught on them. The commonest of birds on the river are the moorhen, coot, dabchick, duck, water rail and heron. The coot is black with a white bill. It eats river weed and insects. It makes its nest out of dry reeds and lays eight or nine greyish eggs with black spots on them. The young ones have a white breast until they are full grown. The mother will fight to defend her young. They have a short length of the river, and if any other birds come onto it, the coot will drive them away. The coot is not a very good flier and only flies at mating time.

The dabchick is a dark grey bird with legs set well back. It cannot walk on land, but is a good swimmer, and can stay under water for a long time. If it is on the surface when it sees you, it will dive under and you may not see it again. It makes its nest of river weed. The nest looks like a small pile of weed, with most of it under water, and only a little above. It lays its eggs on top of the pile and when it hears you coming, it will cover its eggs and dive under the water. The eggs are white when laid, but in time they get stained by the weed and turn a dark grey. The dabchick will drive the coot away from its nest by attacking it from underwater.

The water rail is dark brown in colour. It is a very shy bird and not seen as often as other water birds. The water rail’s nest is made of dry reeds, and is not often found. It feeds on river insects. Its call is not unlike a rabbit when a stoat has caught it.

The otter is found living in the Itchen. It is brown with a few grey hairs around its throat and mouth. It has webbed feet, very short legs, a long body and tail. It lives on trout, eels, crayfish and any other kind of fish in the river. It is a shy animal in its wild state, and if it sees you it will not be seen again. It leaves a tiny row of bubbles in its wake when underwater. The otter always uses the same places for coming ashore. If you see a place where it crosses over from one stream to another, you have only to look each morning and you will be able to tell whether there is one about, because it leaves its footprints on the path.

….by Rodney Norgate, Class 2.

Published first in the Alresford County Secondary School (later to become Perin’s school) magazine, Volume 4, of 1955.

Fly Fishing shops

Alresford FlyfishersJack Shepherd, a real old style fly fisherman, had a fly fishing supplies shop and workshop in the Mews in West Street, behind Design Realities, under the arch beside Tiffin and to the left, the single storey shop. There you could buy feathers and hooks and other things to make flies, plus also rods and reels. Because I had a son, aged around 8/9, who was obsessed by fishing, we spent a lot of time in there.

But Jack also owned or leased the fishing rights to the section of the River Arle between the Fulling Mill and the Eel House. My son Nick was in his element here and spent hours patrolling this bit of the river, and helping Jack, but actually learning all about the river. The first job was to get rid of any Pike that were living in this stretch, which called for a different type of coarse fishing. Then Jack stocked the river with trout, presumably rainbow trout from the fish farm, and after the regulation weed cutting in the water with scythes, and bank trimming, the beats on the river could be sold to fishermen for the day or for the morning.

The next level of fly fishing shop was the Rod Box, which when my son was aged 12-14 was in the centre of Winchester, in the shop with the basement, across St George’s Street from WHSmith. Then the Rod Box moved out to Kingsworthy, where it still trades. So we spent a lot of time there buying fishing things, and eventually Nick worked there in his holidays and Saturdays.

For 2012 it looks like the Pike are back in that section of the Arle, and it is not used for fly fishing. My son Nick  went to Sparsholt and studied Fishery Management, but then I think got fed up of the cost and cold of fishing in the UK, and moved to Mexico, still teaching people to fish, but in warm Caribbean waters. There they get lots of fish, Jacks, Permit, Dorada, Octopus, Rays, all in reach of the shore. But he still has called his business “The Western Caribbean Fly Fishing School”, working from a base on the beach attached to the Nohoch Kay bar/restaurant in Mahahual, in the southern Yucatan. Occasionally, now being a Spanish speaker, he comes back to the UK to work on the salmon streams in Northern Ireland, with Simeon Hay, the son of the previous owner of the Rod Box. The fly fishing for salmon attracts a lot of Spanish fishermen to take fishing breaks in Northern Ireland!

So possibly Jack Shepherd and his fly-fishing shop has a lot to answer for!

Contributed by Nick Denbow (Snr)