Tuesday, 24 September 2019
MANY years ago, when I was about nine years old, my grandfather took me fishing at the lake situated in Caversham Park, part of the grounds designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown.
After first of all fumbling about with rod and reel, I soon mastered the technique and caught my first tench (Tinca tinca). I was hooked.
Even though I don’t fish anymore, I’m still fascinated by all the creatures that live in our rivers, lakes, canals and ponds, be they fish, molluscs or insects. Good examples are the whirligig beetle (Gyrinus substriatus) and the water scorpion (Nepa cinerea), with its snorkel tail.
Of course, the plants that live in and around the water all have a part to play in these rich environments.
About 40 years ago a school friend caught (and returned) a 7lb barbel (Barbus barbus) in to the Kennet.
Back then this was a huge catch and was even mentioned in the local press.
Today my friend James Taylor regularly hooks and lands 14lb barbel, huge perch (Perca fluviatilis) and chub (Leuciscus cephalus).
The fish generally have obviously grown but what is driving this?
One theory is that it is caused by the contraceptive pill and that our rivers and streams are now so full of hormones that it has had an effect on the size of our freshwater fish.
If you take a stroll south-east from Henley along the towpath that passes the River & Rowing Museum in Mill Meadows you’ll meet the end of Mill Lane. I recommend taking a walk on a bright, sunny and still day over to Marsh Lock where a path leads eventually to Lower Shiplake.
After taking a good few steps do stop for a moment as you head towards the lock proper, look upstream and down into the water. You may be lucky enough to spy some big chub lurking near the surface.
These are fine fish with huge mouths and thick lips. They are quite predatory, just like the perch and the pike (Esox lucius).
Some years back I cycled out to this lock with a friend and halfway across the wooden walkway we stopped to look at the river’s flow.
To my astonishment, I saw a very large golden carp (Cyprinus carpio) just below the walkway’s pillars.
Our river is home to a great variety of fish. Large mixed shoals of bream (Abramis brama) and roach (Rutilus rutilus) inhabit midwater, dace (Leuciscus leuciscus) and bleak (Alburnus alburnus) swim near the top, small gudgeon (Gobio gobio) and pope (Gymnocephalus cernua) forage down way below. Pike lurk in the stillwaters at the edges like assassins ready to pounce on any unsuspecting victim.
On a different note, the RSPB ran its Big Garden Birdwatch over the weekend and Monday.
I spent an hour counting the birds in my garden. All the usual suspects were present — blackbird, song thrush, dunnock and robin, great, blue, coal and long-tailed tits, greenfinch, wren, carrion crow, magpie and jay.
The heron was absent but a moorhen was pottering about as usual.
What made me chuckle were the mallard ducks sat on my roof. Nature is wonderful and can also be amusing.
04 February 2019
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