January’s a great time for sitting back and contemplating the year just passed and planning daring dos for the year ahead. Over supper with friends a few weeks back, the subject of fishing came up and I realised that days on the riverbank fishing had definitely been too few and far between.
Head chef Yoshi from the Michelin starred sushi restaurant Umu is keen, after his demonstration of the art of ikejime (a Japanese method of killing fish) at our Llangorse eel release day last September, to give another demo when the Welsh coracle fishermen’s sea trout season starts in March. This method involves using a wire to cut the fish’s central nervous system and has the effect of keeping the fish in perfect condition for several days longer than conventionally caught fish. We already have quite a few chefs keen to access fish caught using this method. Yoshi is also a keen fisherman, so this trip to South Wales will definitely be a chance to introduce him to some night fly fishing for sea trout, in my view the ultimate fly fishing experience.
As our supper came to an end my friends all resolved to fish more this year than last and give coastal saltwater fishing with a fly rod a definite go. I remember getting out my small telescopic fly rod some years ago in Sicily to fish a rocky coastal shore, and after a couple of hours being rewarded with some great sport and half a dozen scorpion fish. So fishing for sea bass with fly fishing tackle round the UK coast is a method I’m very keen to have a go at, and another must-do for this year. But days on the riverbank aren’t just about the fishing, it’s the connection with nature and one of my supper companion’s highlight of the year was sitting on the riverbank after an early morning fruitless endeavour, to be rewarded by an otter swimming down river and exiting the bank opposite to play with her young.
The elver season officially starts on the 15th February and as usual like most fishermen I took a cursory glance at the tide times to see if there was any chance of a favourable tide to coincide with season opening. Other factors though will come in to play, notably the water temperature. Elvers like the river temperature to be up to a certain level, so not really expecting things to happen realistically until March when the weather is a little warmer. The one thing my eye was drawn to though was two spring tides of 10.4 metres on the 21st of February and the 22nd March. What significance is that, I hear you say? Well I’m waxing my surf board because that means we will have what the Environment Agency call a 5 star bore tide. We are scheduled to have five, 5 star tides this year but these two will be the biggest we’ve had for some years. Unlike last year when the river was full of flood water the conditions for a decent Severn Bore look very favourable.
Some years ago Mark Hix and photographer Jason Lowe were in the area working on a cookery book and we thought it would be fun to take a boat out and ride the bore tide. We did - and it was - and some of Jason’s shots from that day made the book - perhaps we should get the boat out again. There will of course be hundreds of surfers and canoeists keen to see how far they can ride the bore, an attempt that should only be contemplated by those with reasonable skill, experience and suitable insurance. When the bore comes through it's a massive and powerful volume of water that picks up any large debris and rubbish in its wake. Tree stumps, pallets and wood of all description are dragged behind the wave. Moving along at a steady 5 knots this debris can do some serious damage. This natural phenomenon that is the Severn Bore is also part of the reason behind the success of the Severn’s elver and wild salmon fishery. Fish congregating in the Bristol Channel get a chance to hitch a free ride when these big spring tides occur throughout the spring and summer.
The start of the elver season on the 15th February means we will soon be recommencing our ‘Tanks in Schools’ programme and engaging with schools in local restocking of eels in local waters. We usually have a reasonable indication of what sort of season we can expect as the fishing season in France commenced in December. Although the French applied to Brussels to double their fishing quota which seemed a mystery as they struggled to sell their quota last year, indications are that fishing is not as good as last year. Sadly rumours that large illegal shipments have been arriving in China seem to have been validated when Reuters reported last Friday that two alleged Chinese traffickers were detained at Sofia airport in Bulgaria for trying to smuggle eight Styrofoam containers containing two million elvers. This surely undermines France’s creditability for operating a sustainable fishery. More incidents are sure to follow.
I was very keen in the last newsletter to alert customers to the gloomy prospect of salmon prices rising steadily, in fact I think I inferred that the increases would be relentless. Well I have to declare I hadn’t factored in the effect that the price of crude oil crashing and the subsequent realignment of certain currencies would have on the salmon market. The Norwegian’s, whose dominant ownership of salmon farms across Europe and South America, have seen the value of their currency drop almost 15%. While currency and the price of crude fluctuate it is uncertain what will happen short term, but the simple principles of supply and demand dictate that eventually we will be confronted with pressure on prices.
I would also like to mention a new addition to the Severn & Wye team, Greg Nicholson who joins us as our new Culinary Director. Greg has had a varied and exciting career to date, first as an apprentice with Nigel Haworth at Northcote Manor. Then moving on to work at a series of Michelin establishments; L'Orlatan (John Burton-Race), Gavroche (Roux), Oak Room (MPW), Browns 1837. He then spent 8 years working in a private household before a short stint as chef lecturer at West London University. For the past 2 years Greg has worked for Gate Gourmet responsible for menu development on flights for British Airways. Greg will have responsibility for all our new product development work and of course overseeing kitchen design, menus and programmes that we shall be putting together for the cookery school in the barn development next door. I know Greg is going to prove a valuable asset to the S&W team. Which brings me on nicely to our barn development which had its plans rubber stamped by the local authority just before Christmas. Work has already started on ground around the site and things should take shape very quickly now.
More news soon.