BEDFORDSHIRE

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bedfordshire is generally a flat county, and maybe only Lincolnshire is flatter! It is full of rivers and streams, but most flow slow and deep, and contain a full head of a great variety of coarse fish, and its prime river, the Great Ouse, is reckoned to have some of the best fishing in Britain. The habitat preferred by salmo truta is rare.

I bought OS 153 and 166, and scoured these looking for potential trout water, my thinking being that perhaps the headwaters of the counties’ recognised fisheries might be shallower and quicker. I drove the grid on a systematic basis, but found that whilst OS showed lots of thin blue lines, many were mere ditches. Maybe the chalk seam to the south and east of Dunstable would have the odd stream worth a look. The headwaters of the Gade looked promising. To the south of Luton, the Lea just below the Bedfordshire/ Hertfordshire county line looked trouty, so why not just above it! This part flows at the bottom of the garden attached to a Doctor’s Surgey, and I popped in! They thought I was mad. But I did see some healthy barbel in a couple of feet of nicely flowing waters though the hedge adjacent to their property. ‘There are no trout there’, the head of the clinic advised!

I wrote seeking advice on Flyfishing Forum pages; I wrote to Angling Clubs and Stillwater fisheries’ management; I wrote to fishing chums and through them to EA officials (of which more later). I was not discouraged and learned of the odd catch of trout, but these it seemed were more likely, escapees, than indigenous. I visited and walked some of the stretches where my respondents suggested I might be lucky. But I found little to excite, although via this Blog, I received a helpful reply from James Humphrey, who wrote –

“You should try the River Ivel, a couple of places, just outside of Shefford which is very small and looks fairly unpromising but I have caught one there. Or continue down stream and apparently they are caught fairly regularly at Clifton Road Bridge stretch. Shefford Angling Club and maybe talk to Andy at Andy’s Angling. Hope this helps.”

I don’t know whether James caught on the fly, though.

But his note did make me think that headwaters were my best bet, and those of the Ouse tributaries should be my focus, and I discovered the Biggleswade and Hitchin Angling Association.

One of the BHAA’ then officials, Anthony Pogmore, embraced my quest and offered me a temporary membership, and this gave me access to water where trout had been caught, but mainly by coarse fishers and after walking several of their beats on the Ouse, the Ivel, the Ivel Navigation, and the Hiz, I concluded that a rethink was in order, and I was not going to be beaten!

Paul Jennings put me in touch with Justin Mould, EA Fisheries Officer for Cambridge and Bedfordshire, and a ‘light came on’ when he wrote about fish surveys conducted just years before –

“The sites on the Ivel (Henlow and Girtford) would probably be very hit and miss, although there are still occasional accidental captures made by coarse anglers, but I suspect that the River Hiz may give your friend the best chance though. A colleague recently told me that he had seen a few brown trout during a recent visit to Ickleford Common, so this area might well be worth a look also.”

River Hiz

The Hiz may take its name from the Hicce tribe who gave their name to Hitchin, and their river, the Hitch, is abbreviated to, Hiz. Its source is a chalk fed spring just south of the village of Charlton, and its flows just 10 miles and joins the River Ivel at Henlow.

In his book ‘Chalkstream – In Praise of the Ultimate River’, Charles Rangeley-Wilson, includes a piece written by one, MRL White, and first published in The Field, in 1906. He wrote – ‘Sharp stickles and long, smooth glides over golden gravel, fringed by lines of overhanging willow – the haunt of trout of unknown pounds avoirdupois’

DSCF6002

A century later, how would I describe it? Between Hitchin and Arlesey, the river flows through Ickleford Common. As ‘common land’, cows and sheep graze freely, and are held back from the stream by ‘significant’ (aka barbed) wire fencing. The ‘Hicca Way’, inaugurated in 2012, is a footpath which follows the course of the river between the two towns.

It is popular, therefore, and it is ‘natural’, and it feels far away from the intensity of nearby Hitchin and Letchworth Garden City. It is surrounded by farmland, horses and combine harvesters were working hard this week.

The fishing is the peoples, therefore. But you have to clamber over tightly strung wire fencing to get close to the river, and only where you can actually see the river. For, and for just how many years, I know not, the river has not been ‘keepered’ like its Hampshire cousins, and is a wilderness. The river has been strangled by neglect.

 

Ancient willows tumble into its flows, alders block out light, and the hawthorn bushes all form a protection, for much of its length here. Where it is possible to peer into its clear flows, ranunculus streams in slow motion in huge clumps, inside the bank where reed grows five feet high. Few fish it.

But look at that! Above a patch of what looks like a sandy bottom is the most glorious sight. A trout of some size, just hovering in mid-column, until it sees me, and slides under the streaming weed. There ARE fish here! I spook another, of similar size, and wonder whether this could be my day.

I am walking down river, marking where I see fish for my upstream attempt to snare one later.

When I can walk no further, I turn. I now know there are fish here, even if I cannot see them. The weed is thick, and between the clumps, the gravelly bottom is exposed by the faster flowing water. This is the feed line for trout who prefer the security under the weed. No fish are rising, so I tie on a weighted nymph and flick it into the flows. The wind is making casting into a tight space difficult and a hawthorn bush relieves me of my fly. A quick replacement is cast but a sloppy landing spooks the feeder who skips under the weed. Damn! But there ARE fish here!!

This is difficult fishing. Overgrowth means that where there is a glide, casting is impossible, and that assumes I can clamber over the wretched barbed wire to get into casting position.

Now that looks like a trouty run, and I can get at it. But I have to contend with the fence, and a mating pair of swans whose thoughts for their brood of three, will be enough to see me off, if they feel threatened. But clamber, I did, and threatened they were not, even though they staked a claim to their bit of stream, they retreated and I was clear to cast.

I know enough about trout to know that even though they may not be feeding, an attractive floated morsel, and too enticing to resist, will often rise a fish you cannot imagine is even there, in the first place.

DSCF6015

I cast such a morsel, a #16 elk hair caddis, bulked out by gink, into the runs between the fronds, and was distracted by a conversation between a dog walker and his mobile.

Nothing.

The winds died down. It started to drizzle, just a little. The head of this pool looks interesting, so I cast into it.

What happened next was magical. It was all in slow motion.

The waters parted as a snout appeared and sucked in my fly.

The water where my fly landed, swirled in angry disturbance.

My line tightened as I lifted, and my heart started to beat faster. The pull was strong and I knew this was a good fish.

He rushed into the nearest weed and I lifted higher, keeping him clear.

He tried to snag in weeds again, and again, as I realised this really was a good fish, and I had not even seen him yet. I reminded myself of the maxim, “ you have to ‘boss’ a good fish, don’t let him ‘boss’ you” and I tightened even more, conscious that this 3-weight Orvis had to deliver. My rod was bent right over, as time and time again, he strove to get under weed. Closer now, I saw what I could not believe. This was a seriously large fish, deep bellied, powerful, and angry. My heart pumped even harder as I came to terms with the possible. He was within six feet from me now as I pulled my landing net from its magnetic hold. Lifting more, I pulled him close, and with one movement ….GOT HIM! He was bigger than the length of my net.

DSCF6010

Now what? What do I do first? I need a photograph…!

Scissors removed my fly from his. I realised he had been well hooked and was always mine, then. I let my rod into the water and rested the net on floating weed, where he stayed calm, to recover from exertions enough to enable me to take a few pictures.

Now it was my turn to honour him. Lifting him reverently, I lowered him back into his stream, where he pondered what had just gone down. ‘’What was that all about?” He had probably never seen an artificial fly, never therefore met an angler, and his whole being, in shock…bit like me!

I photographed him from above, and then underwater, as he recovered his dignity. And after a few minutes, he slipped back into his own space.

DSCF6013

My dog walker returned, and took the trouble to ask how I was getting on. I explained what had just transpired, and how excited I felt to have captured such a magnificent specimen. At 19” in length, and a full bodied specimen, he was probably 2 1/2lbs of wild brown trout. “There aren’t many fish in the river, now” the local revealed, and walked off.

I called back to him. “Where am I, exactly?”

The response – “Well I’m in North Herts, but you’re in Bedfordshire”

He should know, but I verified that by referring to my OS maps, and GoogleMaps/Earth.

My calendar reveals that my first visit to Bedfordshire in search of a WBT was in 2011….it has taken a mere six years to find one!

Opening Day

The Avon at Durnsford looked glorious in the mid morning sunshine, today. The water was coloured and flies, few. I only saw one rise which I think was a small grayling. I fished for a couple of hours before the showers came, and blanked. Me! An April Fool ? Nah!! It was lovely to be in the water, if only for some casting practice.

IMG_1592

100,000 !

My sites, now, and just this week, have been visited over 100000 times…thank you!

Please keep visiting, and keep reading.
Still ten Welsh Counties to ‘net’, and so many departments in France, too.

I am planning furiously….our season is about to begin, and like all trouters, I am excited and optimistic.

 

Izaak Walton

I have posted about Izaak Walton before, and after visiting his resting place in Winchester Cathedral.

This week, I was privileged to be invited to lunch at Ironmongers Hall close to the Barbican in the City of London. At the pre meal reception I noted with surprise this

img_1566

and also a portrait, of the Father of Modern Angling –

img_1567

Eager to connect Izaak with the Worshipful Company, Wikipedia helped me do so –

“Izaak Walton was born at Stafford c. 1594; the traditional ‘9 August 1593’ date is based on a misinterpretation of his will, which he began on 9 August 1683.[2] The register of his baptism gives his father’s name as Gervase. His father, who was an innkeeper as well as a landlord of a tavern, died before Izaak was three. His mother then married another innkeeper by the name of Bourne, who later ran the Swan in Stafford.[3]

He is believed to have been educated in Stafford before moving to London in his teens. He is often described as an ironmonger, but he trained as a linen draper, a trade which came under the Ironmongers’ Company.[4] He had a small shop in the upper storey of Thomas Gresham‘s Royal Burse or Exchange in Cornhill. In 1614 he had a shop in Fleet Street, two doors west of Chancery Lane in the parish of St Dunstan’s.[5] He became verger and churchwarden of the church, and a friend of the vicar, John Donne.[2] He joined the Ironmongers’ Company in November 1618.[2] Walton’s first wife was Rachel Floud (married December 1626), a great-great-niece of Archbishop Cranmer. She died in 1640. He soon remarried, to Anne Ken (1646–1662), who appears as the pastoral Kenna of The Angler’s Wish; she was a stepsister of Thomas Ken, afterwards bishop of Bath and Wells.[3]

After the Royalist defeat at Marston Moor in 1644, Walton retired from his trade. He went to live just north of his birthplace, at a spot between the town of Stafford and the town of Stone, where he had bought some land edged by a small river. His new land at Shallowford included a farm, and a parcel of land; however by 1650 he was living in Clerkenwell, London. The first edition of his book The Compleat Angler was published in 1653. His second wife died in 1662, and was buried in Worcester Cathedral, where there is a monument to her memory. One of his daughters married Dr Hawkins, a prebendary of Winchester.[3]

The last forty years of his life were spent visiting eminent clergymen and others who enjoyed fishing, compiling the biographies of people he liked, and collecting information for the Compleat Angler. After 1662 he found a home at Farnham Castle with George Morley, bishop of Winchester, to whom he dedicated his Life of George Herbert and his biography of Richard Hooker. He sometimes visited Charles Cotton in his fishing house on the Dove.[3]

Walton died in his daughter’s house at Winchester, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral.[6]

Note that the spelling of his name then, was Isaak…

Also, there is no reference to his birthdate in the stained glass, but several to his preferences of life!

La saison est terminee…

I have now fished 11 of the 22 Regions ‘de France’ and caught trout in nine of them, and I have caught trout in 12 of the 16 Departments I have fished, and from sixteen rivers. This season, I added Pas de Calais and Haute Marne to my list of Departments…I must try harder!

So for this year, and to my French guiding friends, thank you for showing me your special ‘places’ and advising, teaching and helping me enjoy our wonderful past time on your beautiful streams…so thank you, Marc, Michael, Thierry (I have to fish the Sioule again), and Christophe.

Voyez vous en 2017…merci encore.

slide1

The Ginger Beer Beat

Tags

, , , , , , ,

If you are a fisherman you will get this.

If you are not, you may not.

But when a fisherman, the most generous of species ‘homo sapiens’, invites someone who is not a fisherman, to try…

Then links him with someone of patience who wishes to share, to impart…

Some magic can happen.

Such was my day with Satts (Chris Satterthwaite) and novitiate, Ed Pickard, Satts’ running chum, who has never fished before, therefore. Which is why Chris organised Orvis guide/instructor, Brian Robinson (surely one of the best guides in Hampshire) to assist Ed’s entry to our lovely world.

Coffee and early day exchanges done, it was to the riverbank, for some explanation from Brian, of the history of the English chalk stream, and on this bridge

DSCF5124

from where we all wondered at the streaming weed, the clear water and the odd fish, holding quite deep. A Mayfly excited, but there were not many, which led to a discourse on what worries so many – the state of our chalk streams and the impacts of man’s actions on them. (The S&TC UK deserve all our support for raising the profile of this problem)

Kitted up, Chris and I walked the beat, leaving Brian to get Ed casting, and before long, Brian declared that Ed was “getting it”. So many listen to his casting technique suggestions, he said, and then put them into practice, but then just as quickly, forget to. But Ed, an eager listener (and hearer!) quickly understood the 10pm to 1pm orthodox, and whilst once or twice the rod dropped to below the horizontal on the back cast (and whose doesn’t some times) and Brian already knew that Ed, who was already throwing the line sufficiently well to go to the river bank, was ready for lesson two…fish spotting!”

And there were quite a few, on view.

There was little fly life though, just a May or two and a few small olives, and the fish were lying well down in the water, so, in due course, Brian opted for a weighted nymph for Ed’s first cast to the flow.

Many forget that for a beginner, hooking is one thing, but playing, netting and landing, is yet another skill which has to be learnt. But how do you learn to do this before you have learned to hook something. Well Brian’s answer to this was cunning. Both went into serious spotting mode and it was Brian who cast to a targeted fish, and with his considerable experience, he secured an induced take quite quickly, whereupon he handed the rod to Ed, and calmly talked him through the process of getting the fish to net and bank, which he did!

So now it was Ed’s turn, solo! And under Brian’s tutelage, and either side of a delicious picnic, he landed four fish on his own.

hope he will by now be kitted up and ready for another day on the water, for I have rarely seen someone casting as well as he, and so quickly, and his joy from a successful first ever fly fishing experience was palpable., and we were all pleased for him.

DSCF5132

Where next for him? Frensham Flyfishers…and the Wey, will be my bet, for round two! Wonder whether Brian is available!

Happily, Satts and I caught ten fish, or so, an assortment of browns and grayling, and at least two of the browns were wild fish. (But this day was not about us!)

The Ginger Beer Beat is picturesque and is kept (keepered) beautifully as I hope these pictures show:

DSCF5121

DSCF5123

DSCF5131

DSCF5125

Post script: I regret, I am not a fan of the River Test, because it seems to me just daft to have interfered with its natural stock of brown trout by introducing overgrown, aggressive feeding, non breeding rainbows on many, if not all the beats downstream of the A303, in an astonishing trashing of such noble heritage, simply for commercial gain. If those of these beats’/businesses’ clients, for whom catching is so important, still need to, I commend them to the many ‘put and take’ ponds, where they can fish and catch to their heart’s content. For they are not anglers.

Will the owners of these famous beats relent? For it is they who are responsible for this ‘trashing’. Now there’s a challenge…!

So why was I there, then? A hypocrite? No! I was there at the invitation of Chris Satts, who I like enormously and with whom I have fished before and hope to again, and, because of the reputation of a beat, lovingly cherished by Orvis – even if it is slightly overfished.