Sunday, April 29, 2012

It's the wrong kind of rain for pike fishing

After five days of solid rain, the rivers are on the move. Out in the black Fen, it's filling the dykes and drains, swirling around the staunches as the lodes and leams rise to the brim. 

It's now officially the wettest drought on record, but it's the wrong kind of rain. After a prolonged dry spell, it runs straight off the dry soil into the rivers, prompting flood warnings as it runs out to sea.

It'll take weeks and weeks of it to restore the soil moisture deficit and replenish springs deep underground. So when the weather breaks and things warm up again, we're hardly going to notice much difference, once the drains and rivers return to their normal levels.

Where the Middle Level meets the tidal Ouse, the new pumping station stood idle for much of last winter. We know the consequences of prolonged heavy run-offs, when fish get flushed through sluices, decimating stocks in the lower reaches of drains.

The system needs a certain amount of rain for fish to flourish. But it needs it spread through the seasons, so there's enough water to go around once the crops begin to grow in the great peat prairies, sapping water from the land.

Changing weather patterns are skewing the equation, upsetting the apple cart beneath the surface. When the EA carried out research into declining barbel populations in the upper Ouse, the anglers blamed otters for falling catches.

But while there was ample evidence of Tarka, every fish tagged electronically at the start of the study was still alive a year later. What the scientists found was that low flows had allowed silt to choke the gravel on the barbel's spawning sites. That decimated fry recruitment, meaning there were no younger fish coming through

Pike are just as vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather, in a slightly different way. Fluctuating levels can see their spawning sites and the areas which harbour fry shrink or dry up altogether, while sudden downpours can simply wash them away.

Declining numbers of jacks points to a bigger problem than people who go fishing with lure rods from Lidl and carrier bags to carry their catch home for Svetlana to cook.

Maybe it's a problem nature can't solve on her own. Maybe it's time pike anglers lobbied for the the EA to conduct similar research into what's going on in one of our rivers or drains, to look at whether pike need a helping hand, like they gave the Ouse barbel when they restored their spawning sites, to ensure populations flourish.

Is this the way forward for pike fishing in the Fens..? Answers on a postcard.

+++It's not just pike which suffer, according to John Bailey - click here to read what he's got to say about how fluctuating levels affect roach spawning in the River Wensum. 

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