April 2022

Welcome to the New Season

If any of you conscientiously keep a file of these monthly reports, it is worth taking a look at my report for April last year. There is a remarkable similarity in weather and water conditions: this April has produced another dry spring and quite cold weather with a frequent North or North-East (downstream!) wind. So well done to the rod who caught the first trout of the season from Reach 2 on April Fool’s Day – no fool him, this was well before we had stocked, so he managed to deceive what was undoubtedly a very street-wise fish .

But although there are similarities between the two opening months, I think there are also differences. One obvious one is the impact of Storm Eunice which really did present me with some interesting challenges in clearing the tree blow–down that resulted from the storm -  and many thanks to those of you who turned up for the work parties. There is still some work to be done on the bankside path, and if any of you find this is still seriously impeded anywhere please do let me know at once. You will see that I have left some of the woody debris in the river, particularly where it reinforces existing restoration work, so ultimately some benefit may be gained from Eunice.  Just like last year, too, there is a very weak flow of groundwater  (the result of a dry winter and spring), and as any future rainfall will now be taken up by growth of vegetation we are almost certainly in for a low water season, with all that that implies for fly fishing effort. Another difference, disappointingly, is that the cold weather (and cold water) does seem to have suppressed fly life so far. This has been noticeably less prolific than in April last year.

Hawthorn Fly
Hawthorn Fly

There have been no reports of big hatches of Large Dark Olives which we were so pleased to see then, while the Hawthorn (see photo above) that are now hatching, do not seem to have attracted much interest from the stock fish. However, as I write this there is an encouraging forecast of much warmer weather, which should improve matters a lot. We really do not want a repeat of the late May weather we experienced during the Mayfly hatch last year.

The cold spring weather also seems to have affected members’ enthusiasm to get down to the river! Our Secretary’s careful analysis of the catch returns show that there have been only 60 recorded visits to the river compared to 86 last year, with only 84 takeable brown trout returned for the month compared to 114 last April. But as he points out, those who did venture out were rewarded: they averaged 2.4 fish per outing compared to 1.9 last year. Wild (under-sized) fish are up too, with 59 recorded – a continuation of a very encouraging trend. Needless to say nymphs were by far the most effective tool in the box, several of your catch returns reported the lack of surface movement, and nymphing techniques were aided by the clear water. So far there has been very little evidence of the algal blooms that have coloured up the river in recent spring months – but again much will depend on the May weather and in particular the amount of sunshine we get if we are to escape this.

Swans, Weed and Low Water

Perhaps one of the more worrying aspects of conditions at the moment is that in low water seasons we do depend on weed growth to hold up flows and provide comfortable lies for the fish population. In fact ranunculus (water crowfoot) is the “engine” that drives favourable habitat in our chalk streams. Apart from providing small local impoundments as feeding stations with adjacent cover, it also narrows up channels producing runs of faster flows which in turn prevent the build up of silt on the river bed. Weed is also of great importance for invertebrate life – in particular for the small up-winged flies that give us such interesting and challenging dry fly fishing once the Mayfly tails off. Weed growth at the moment is healthy but patchy, and my main concern is Reach 10 (Figheldean road bridge to Gunville hatch pool). Here, as some you have pointed out we have been inflicted with a herd of 16 swans which have been feeding on the east bank meadow grass and, alas, also on the ranunculuswithin the river channel. Apart from Bluegate Pool and the short stretch above Gunville this reach is fast-flowing and shallow, and the loss of weed which the swans have trashed or eaten has seriously impacted the potential of the fishing there. We do our best to encourage the territorial pairs of swans which keep the intruding juvenile herds away, and in previous years as many of you know only too well, we have relied on “Rambo” and his mate to do this on Reach 10. However, Rambo’s mate has now deserted him, and he has no motivation to keep the intruders away from his old territory. Indeed if you look at stretches where there is a strong territorial pair in residence (for example downstream of C Crossing on Reach 12) , the resultant weed growth is remarkable. Let us just hope that this big herd of swans disperses soon, and that Rambo finds a new partner.

Outlook for May and June

I am sure most members are awaiting the first Mayfly hatches with keen anticipation. Our monitoring sessions this spring show a normal amount of danica nymphs in the kick samples, so I would expect that we will enjoy a hatch up to last season’s standard at least. That might sound a risky prediction but several of our experienced committee members are convinced that our fishery does have some of the very best of these hatches among most of the southern chalk streams, and perhaps more importantly these hatches do not cease abruptly as is the case on some of the more famous fishery names. I expect the first serious hatches around the 21st May although this can vary a lot – last year the first hatch was recorded on the 10th. But we are really extremely fortunate that our Mayfly does continue well into June, by which time the stock fish are becoming much more experienced and “picky”. And keep an eye open for those small “ink spots” that come downstream with the Mayfly – we have quite a healthy population of Iron Blues, and they are often taken in preference.

I would add that I was extremely pleased with the quality and numbers of our stock fish this year. We have put much the same number to the river as we did in 2021, and as we seem to return more and more fish these days, there will certainly be a number of larger over-wintered brown trout in the river.

So, I must wish you all the very best possible fun over the next few weeks – and please do take trouble to record your catches carefully in your catch returns. Remember that under-sized brown trout and grayling are just as important to monitor as our stock fish – and of course we welcome any additional information which you think the committee should take on board, including sightings of the dreaded dog walkers and wild swimmers!

Martin Browne
Tel: 07768 354788