Monday, 20 May 2013

Build It and They Will Come — Above Beside Below Beneath Beyond (Pt2)

Having read my introduction to what was admittedly a naive but pivotal hydraulic experiment and its far reaching effects and consequences but whose success owes far more to luck than any kind of judgement, you might be uttering ~

'So what!'

"It's a river after all, and all rivers have fish in them. They were bound to turn up and populate that pool you foolish man..."

But, hold your horses and let me tell you the pertinent facts before you pass judgement.

When a dog paddles all the way from where we are now for a mile and half down stream before wetting its belly, then the river between is fit for nothing besides paddling dogs and sticklebacks. . . 

Excepting the diversions of water necessary for the building of flour mills every mile or so along its length during the Middle Ages, the River Sowe where I live in the Northern part of Coventry was once an entirely natural lowland river but in just the last century, because of flood control measures and radical simplification for the purposes of draining unproductive floodplain meadows in order to create population feeding arable land for the war effort, circa 1943, apart from the very few remaining places where such modifications were deemed pointless and the river left to its own devices, as habitat fit for fish it was utterly destroyed and has been a watercourse without them wherever its unruly nature was 'managed' for nigh on a century.

The second riffle created by the floods — below is dead water, but above who knows what might be happening?

The quarter-mile stretch running through Longford Park that I'm talking about held no fish whatsoever apart from the one well adapted to take advantage of very broad, everywhere shallow, arrow straight and evenly silted, left for dead watercourses — namely, sticklebacks — the one fish you will see living in such exposed and sterile waters because it's so heavily armoured, spiky, and inedibly throat-choking, it has little cause to fear birds who eat them live.

Believe me, I would have seen any other fish if they were ever there because I walk it often and take my water loving spaniels and myself into it — not just along it — and honestly, it was not only devoid of them but there weren't so many sticklebacks to see either it was that poor a habitat.

But would the pool hold proper fish just a few months after its creation? It seems highly unlikely it could, don't you think... ?

I trusted Mother Nature would fill the pool in time because she abhors a vacuum and all that, but my faith was rewarded earlier than expected with the sight of a heron lurking there, a bird that cannot afford to waste precious energy being in the wrong place.

I believed she was there for very good reason... but was she actually fishing... or fishing for opportunities? I wanted to know which, so I took a rod out during the snows of February and cast a bit of bread in it.

Nothing doing.

I don't know why I was so disappointed, but every bone in my angling body tells me that when a pool looks that good it'll hold fish. Of course, why would it? It hadn't been there long enough for that...

Moving down to the second pool — there beneath a submerged Sainsbury shopping trolly I had a few little taps that showed fish of some kind were indeed present. My optimism wasn't unfounded after all. But I had no intention of striking these bites, just wanted to see if I could get them as indicators of fish actually there, but then the proof took the bait and despite my best intentions, he hooked himself.

This significant little pioneer must have taken advantage of the floods as a route upstream to pastures new, I thought, and from my knowledge of this river I knew he'd successfully navigated a long and arduous passage through very heavy water from the first places where fish are to be found a mile and more downstream. I thought it remarkable he was there so fast but expected him to vacate the premises as unsuitable and just as quickly as he'd arrived when the waters fell.

Come Spring I wandered down the park and had a good hard look into the pool...

Immediately I saw fish. The heron was right to be there after all!

Couldn't make out if they were minnow, stoneloach or gudgeon, but they were present in number — twenty or thirty at least — much smaller even than the chub but fish all the same. A start in the right direction, for sure, and hopefully heading toward something better...

The first riffle below the pool, the second in the distance, a pool of its own between ...

Just a week ago the river was up again after heavy rain. Nothing like as big a spate as those of winter but more than enough for fish to travel by. It lasted just a few days but then it fell, clarified, and by last weekend was low and crystal clear once more.

Sunday morning I took Molly and Oscar out on what is now their favourite walk of all — in the river!

It was warm and bright, children were playing happily on the stepping stones above the weir, the trees  full of chirping and trilling birds. As we made our way through the bud burst thickets and new green shoots, I stopped above the pool and peered into its depths. In the dappled water I saw nothing at first and wondered if they'd gone but then a small darting fish crossed a light coloured stone and all was well.

Then, I caught sight of something more substantial... a fish with all the appearance and about the size of a roach!

It's not at all easy to see fish (let alone make photos of them!) in clear water when it's deep enough to suit them as a home, but of course that's exactly why the near four feet of depth the pool now possesses is ideal to for them to live in and why anything less will not be suitable.

If you can spot them easily — so can their aerial predators.

Rooted to the spot I shaded my eyes, let them acclimatise, when after a while I spied a fish even more remarkable than the roach I'd always wished would colonise the place, but the last I'd considered might.

A perch! And not just any perch either but a good half-pounder...

Then there were two, then three perch, and then roach, and yet more roach. As my eye adjusted and its focus sharpened it was clear the pool was populated with just as many large fish as it could feasibly hold and amongst them were plenty of smaller fish too.

But then — and this is truly amazing to me — it was as if the Gods of the River smiled and provided just what was required at the precise moment it was necessary for the purposes of this blog — a fishy photo opportunity!

Out of the depths came a small brightly coloured fish with blood-red tinged mouth, belly and fins who went belly up upon the surface then floated along in the current coming right under my bank, so I leant down and scooped him up in my hand — a plump cock minnow in full breeding plumage!

He came back to life in my palm and wriggled about a bit so I slipped him back but he floated away downstream disappearing over the riffle no doubt exhausted by the rigours of spawning a new generation of minnows for the pool but also food to sustain its newly arrived perch.

As I left the scene behind me, wading up the ankle-deep water in the spillway below the cascade weir and clambering over the rocks a tremendous feeling arose from deep down in my gut exploding into physical action as I punched the air and shouted at the top of my lungs...


Above the weir kids were now frolicking up to their knees in water, their parents sitting on the grass beside picnicking. Immersed in the tranquil seclusion below witnessing the unfurling miracles of aquatic life beneath, I'd clean forgotten about the public park beyond...

To be continued...


  1. Jeff I love reading of your forays on the desolate looking small waters. They remind me of Mr Crabtree himself

    1. Thanks, John. Actually I feel like Peter down there mucking about like I did when I was boy. If there's anything I can say that'll make men go out and mess around with water, it's that it makes you feel young!

  2. Jeff
    You might have a bit in common with this bloke , if the video is not available in UK his techniques were to slow down the flow by introducing obstructions into the streams (logs etc) and planting bankside vegetation (including quick growing noxic weeds which would then get removed when the native vegetation was mature enough) which helped raise the water table and stop bank side erosion and increased fish habitat and improved water clarity. Went against all conventional thinking at the time. The aerial shots they show of where has done his work on a stream compared to neighbouring properties on the same waterway are incredible.
    Great work on you stream , i love it when such small actions can change somethings so much. A few more obstructions and you might create a lovely little fishery.
    Rob Ballarat Australia

    1. Rob, thanks so much for that link. What he's doing is amazing and though the streams are different in Australia in term of soil to where I'm playing about, the principals are the same. I've watched ten or more of the Youtube videos about him and his work and was amazed at his confidence shovelling the bed around and creating structure where it was missing.

      The piece on weeds was informative too, and they will be my next port of call.

      Terrific stuff, and with this man to inspire me I reckon I can make it into such a fishery.

      Thanks, Jeff