April 2023

Opening Month

To put it mildly, the first month of the 2023 season has been difficult. River flows were higher than usual, and frequently coloured, there were very few warm spring days to encourage fly life (Hawthorn in particular were suppressed), and of course stocking was spread over several days mid-month, and those fish take time to adjust to their new surroundings. I always think that our fishery is at the very limit of chalk stream territory – the great escarpment along the north edge of the Plain lies only 5 kms north of our top boundary. Beyond that is the Pewsey Vale, intensively farmed on clay and Greensand for both arable crops and dairy herds, hence the high run-off which generates a lot of silt in periods of heavy rainfall. So it was not until the 9th April that the first takeable brown trout was caught, and although the river started to fish better by the middle of the month the weather remained unsettled with few days of good water clarity. Consequently our rods had little success with a dry fly – the vast majority of fish were caught on a nymph. Yet surprisingly we actually exceeded last April’s total of takeable fish: 83 last year, 88 this, although totals of undersized (wild) fish were down, probably due to the high flows. So to round off the general comment on the opening month I do think the contrast with last spring (very low water, cold northerly winds) and what we have experienced this year, is very encouraging indeed, despite the present challenging conditions. There is plenty of ground water, which will see us through any early summer drought periods, and should provide really favourable conditions for the Mayfly hatch which we always expect to start in earnest during the third week of May.

Rule Changes

It is interesting to speculate how our April catch returns would have looked under these same conditions some 50 years ago. Three absolutely fundamental fishery rules were in force in those days: “Members may only fish for fish which they can see, or those which are rising”, “... no nymphing until 1 June”, and “No wading except between Bulford Bridge and Milston”. Subsequent rule changes have long since ditched those very draconian restrictions, and rightly so, as the present river conditions demonstrate clearly.  Fly fishing culture is evolving quickly to keep pace with a growing understanding of river ecology particularly on the chalk streams. Most fish are now returned, heavily strimmed and manicured banks are discouraged in order to provide best conditions for invertebrates; river flows are manipulated to allow silt to settle where it will encourage vegetation, thus cleaning the main channel and spawning gravels and generating a healthy pool/riffle sequence. I assure you we do our best on all this!

Fly Life

There is no doubt that the April weather and water conditions have affected fly life this year. Apart from Grannom (some of the best hatches I have ever seen occurred at the beginning of the month) the other species we would normally expect have been largely absent. But there is is still time. Although the Large Dark Olive hatches have been minimal we can certainly expect a surge of Hawthorn if we get a warm spell, and once the Mayfly period starts a useful tip is that it was most noticeable from previous catch returns that the so-called “Mohican” patterns are extremely effective (you can Google these under “Mohican Mayfly”). They are very light-weight, with detached body and c-de-c wing and certainly seem to be more effective than the old-fashioned heavily dressed patterns like the Grey Wulff, (see photo below for a simple, home-tied Mohican example).

web fly

Finally, some pleas and reminders:

  • Do park sensibly. There is room for 4 cars at Choulston bridge without blocking the gates, and at least 3 cars at the Gated Crossing if placed at right angles to the track.
  • Do not leave belongings visible in a parked car.
  • Remember you are asked to fish upstream only during the trout season (skating a downstream Grey Wulff across the current is not acceptable!)
  • Please would you report all swan nests direct to me by phone (you may have to leave an answerphone message next week, which is fine).

I am away for the week 14 – 21 May, so hope to see a marked change in conditions and fly life when I return. Any problems please consult the appropriate committee member (see web site) or e-mail the Hon Sec. And keep those catch returns coming.

Good luck!

Martin Browne

07768 354788