Saturday 15 December 2018

Lower Itchen Fishery – Nugging Houses and Nigmenogs

Now truffels, what do they taste like, well mushroomy doesn’t quite cut it. Truffles are utterly intoxicating; a heady scent that if you find yourself hooked will turn you a bit googly-eyed at just the mention of it, like the scent of someone you fancy, or your clothes after the best Bonfire Night bash ever.

Imagine, that deep musky fragrance of a brand-new leather jacket. Now add garlic. Not raw or roasted but just softened slowly and lovingly in a whole heap of butter. Finally, yes, OK, they’re a bit mushroomy but on the rich, damp, autumn leaves side of things, not that forgotten jar of dried porcini.

Now Truffles are almost impossible to cultivate, their weird little tendrils fling out under the ground wherever they like and cannot be steered. Harvesting them requires expertly trained dogs. Pigs were used but they kept eating the truffles, whereas dogs are happy to exchange their findings for a handful of cooked sausages.

All well and good, but there may be an issue, you see…..

Dr Paul Thomas, from the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Stirling University ,led the research, which is the first study to consider the future threat of climate change on European truffle production.

He claimed yesterday that the lucrative truffle industry is set to disappear within a generation.

Yes really !!!! however I’m not quite losing sleep over it at the moment….

Apparently the study, A Risk Assessment of Europe’s Black Truffle Sector under Predicted Climate Change, is published in Science of the Total Environment.

Thomas reports that a warmer and drier climate will be responsible for a decline that will have a “huge economic, ecological and social impact” and could be accelerated by other factors, such as heatwave events, forest fires, pests and diseases.

With the truffle species Tuber melanosporum trading at more than £1000 per kilogramme, the industry is worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

Thomas said: “Our new study predicts that, under the most likely climate change scenario, European truffle production will decline by between 78% and 100% between 2071 and 2100.

What I could lose sleep over though is the chalk streams which are under threat, now chalk streams are a scene of gentle beauty and one unique to this country. There are just 210 such chalk streams to be found anywhere in the world and 160 of them are in England, mostly in the Home Counties but stretching as far as Yorkshire. These softly flowing rivers are entwined with our identity.

On first impressions, the Itchen remains as beautiful as a century ago but this pristine environment is under grave threat.

Not so long ago, a Riverfly survey of England’s chalk streams has revealed some of the rivers are in an “abysmal” state. Of 120 sites sampled in the census commissioned by Salmon and Trout Conservation UK, only 14 were found to be unimpacted by human activity.

Extraction, agricultural and road run off, poorly treated sewage and discharges from watercress and fish farms have caused a collapse in fly life.

On the Itchen (which is designated a special area of conservation and site of special scientific interest), populations of the blue-winged olive fly have been decimated alongside the southern island blue and olive upright. So too, the freshwater shrimp upon which trout feed in the winter months.

Where it all starts, where it all ends....
The flies are the basis on which this complex eco-system thrives....

Make hay and all that, as this was my fourth visit to the Lower Itchen Fishery in as many years, a gin clear chalk stream and flowing water with nothing remotely like it in the Midlands, well certainly in my stomping ground anyway. Nearly a mile and a half of river to roam, with only anglers to bump in to.

A typical stretch....
Oh and it’s chock full of fish !!!!

Dan was taking the journey down with me again this year and after a half decent trip last year where plenty of fish were caught, we were back pounding down the miles back to Hampshire to the joys and noise of Southampton airport and the nearby M27.

That’s the only spoiler an otherwise good day, the noise, be it road, or air, doesn’t befit the setting and location. I love fishing venues where the only noise comes from the wildlife.

To be fair you sort of forget about it when the bites are so plentiful. At least the route is pretty straight forward, a pub dinner to finish things off  and to miss the traffic and then back up the midlands, it's a busy day, but to be honest the angling conversation makes the drive go pretty quick.

I’ve gotten to know it quite well now so I had a plan for the day which was for the first half fish trotting for the Grayling which are in numbers here, and then do something a little different for the remainder,which was to fish a maggot feeder downstream in some of the pools and also where the game shallower runs turns in to predominantly coarse and slower glides.

So 2 set-ups for this trip, my Drennan 14ft Acolyte Plus Float Rod fitted with a TFG classic centrepin and a 1.5TC quiver rod were made up before and would be the only rods in my armoury.

Maggots would feature more for this trip where bread and corn did before, but corn would still be used from time to time when trotting as it did seem to pick up the bigger Grayling when I was here last.

I found that get some confidence up with some freebie maggots first, pick up a fish or two and then a bright bit of corn down often picked up the bigger stamp. The Bait-Tech tutti-fruitti corn is ideal, big pieces and also a bright orange colour which may well make them look a bit more like Salmon eggs.

Tackle and bait slimmed down to the bare essentials, just how I like to fish….

The lower slower reaches you're more likely to pick up chub, roach, even carp and barbel, so headed in to dusk, I'd set my stall out and watch the isotope as we'd head in to proper dark and for the last cast I'd put on a small PVA bag of grubs for a last gasp head turner.

So enough of the preamble how did it go, well it had defiantly seen more foot traffic this year and the road as bad as ever, and with more pressure, certainly the fishing wasn't as productive as it was the previous year. My grayling banker swim where every trot down used to produce fish was seemingly devoid of fish, but with the water low, it is just a matter of roaming around to try and locate some fish.

Dan was exploring one of the feeder streams whilst I concentrated on the pacer water, but this is the Lower Itchen, there is always fish in it. I eventually stumbled on some fish and after bumping off the first two fish and having a trout do me over with a hook pull, eventually I managed a grayling, then more, then another and another, just up from me Dan was catching another nice trout of around 3lb's or so to add to his tally.

After a few more Grayling and Salmon Parr, I decided to get the feeder rod out and head down to the coarse stretch. After a biteless first swim I headed to swim on the outside of a bend and after a few grayling up to a pound or so I hooked in to something that felt like a dead weight as first.

Dan in to another trout....
It wasn't pulling that hard and only when it surfaced I realised it was a bream, a decent size one as well and a lovely golden colour. It was over 5lb but with balance scales only maxing out at that, I couldn't weigh it properly, I didn't think it would beat my PB anyway.

So with an hour to go I decided to go to my final area, and it proved very frustrating, a group of big Roach were spotted, with one huge one the likes of which I'd never seen before. A PB easily, and probably by a pound, maybe even a pound and a half.

They were just not interested, but then they ain't easy to catch these fish, having been fished for on almost a daily basis at this time of year. Dan came down to join me just before a trout got in on the act which I thought might move the fish on, but no, they were still hanging around when we decided to pack up.

Less that 2 hours to get back home, an easy drive back as well. A next time ? most probably but this time maybe in a different month altogether. Those anglers that shared the banks with us, were also struggling with bites, so it wasn't just us finding it tough, the salmon numbers down this year also apparently, which isn't good news. Hopefully it will be back on its feet again.

Sir Jeff Hatt refered to the Itchen as a 'commercial fishery, and it is definitely that, but if you want to get bites and almost guarantee a lady, or two in nice surroundings then this place is worth a try for the price of a few packets of fags.


  1. It’s very true what you highlight Mick, it’s incredible how finely balanced our ecosystems are, especially the chalk streams, I’ve said it time and time again that without proper safeguarding we may lose these diverse rivers forever.

    As for the fishing on the LIF, it’s great for numbers but if it’s specimen sized Grayling you desire there are many better places, yes, you won’t catch many fish, but the chances of 2lb+ Grayling and even more special 3’s are greatly enchaned.

    Tag along one day, maybe you will get lucky and catch a special lady of the stream. Maybe we should organise a bloggers “Trot In”!

    1. Apparently some proper big ones are coming out in the stretches further upstream where they see less pressure, but they are only available for a two weeks window to coarse anglers apparently. But yes I'm all ears !!!


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