August 22

Overview of the Month

I will keep this fairly short as there is simply no comparison with the excellent August which we experienced last season, and which surprised us all. This August we were hit by a second heat wave and at the same time by quite exceptionally low flows. In my report last month I quoted Frank Sawyer’s apocalyptic judgement on conditions during the 1976 drought, and I have no reason to suppose that they were much different from what we are now experiencing. Indeed the catch statistics this August are nothing to be proud of: we caught only 73 takeable brown trout in the month, compared to 174 in August 2021. For the very first time, too, we caught more under-sized (wild) trout than takeable fish – 85 were recorded to be precise. So it has been extremely challenging fishing, and I certainly congratulate those of our rods who persevered, in particular those who have been successful. It is obvious from the remarks you have made in the returns, that both dry flies and nymphs have been equally successful if (and it is a big “if”) you can cover a feeding fish without spooking it. As one rod put it, “extreme stealth” is required, with small flies and long leaders. The Pheasant Tail Nymph is at its best in these conditions, usually in sizes 16 – 18 but surprisingly one rod found that a PTN in size 14 will sometimes induce a bigger fish to move out from its safe lie under the bank or weed patch. With dries the small c-de-c variants have been the most successful if you can prevent them becoming water-logged.

But the PTN was available and well-known in 1976 so it still surprises me that Frank’s verdict was so dire. The main difference in all probability is our recent total relaxation of all restrictions on wading. The fish population remains in the fishery, and they have to feed, so they can be caught. But when rods were confined to the bank as was then the case, it must have been a colossal disadvantage in drought conditions. Perhaps too, all the recent work that has been done to get more energy into the flows by using current deflectors, bed-raising, willow hinging and general narrowing is also paying its own dividend by developing healthier and more resilient conditions in low water. I hope that is the case anyhow!

Lastly, I am very happy to report that our stock fish survived the second heat wave without significant loss – we have been fortunate in that this season.

Productive Reaches

However, in the latest returns one of our rods stated miserably: “...what has happened to Reach 7...? This was a reference to the exceptional potential in the last few seasons of the stretch between Choulston Bridge and the Gated Crossing. Well, I think the answer lies in the bed raising we did recently in order to increase the rate of flow above the Gated Crossing. This may be counter-productive at the moment due to natural shallowing in very low flows. I agree that Reach 7 has not fished as well as some of the others this August, but it was still the 4th most productive Reach in the fishery, and I am confident that in normal conditions it will continue to fish well. Interestingly Reach 9 was top of the pops for both grayling and takeable browns in August – the lack of gradient in the lower half of the Reach has produced good holding water. Likewise the lower beats – downstream of C Crossing – have also come into their own in these drought conditions, but some of the wading there, particularly in Reach 14, is not for the faint-hearted!

Wading Entry to the River

On the same subject it was suggested in a committee meeting that wading would be rendered easier and safer by placing fixed metal ladders to provide entry to the river in areas of steep banks. Accordingly I have installed two of these ladders as an experiment, one above and one below the Gated Crossing. We certainly do not want too many of these on the fishery, but I would very much welcome any comment on the two I have installed.

Public Access

 Perhaps the most regrettable downside in that hot August holiday period was the amount of disruption our members have had to bear, caused by uncontrolled public access to the river. Picnicking, swimming, littering, dog-walking, paddle boarding, canoeing, vandalism and poaching – we had the lot last month, and I really do sympathise with those of you whose enjoyment of the river and the challenges it poses in low water were ruined by these activities. There were some disgraceful incidents, and the MOD police have been supportive where they can. One of the worst incidents has resulted in the public right of way at the bridge over the river at Gunville being closed by the Figheldean Parish Council: the guard rails on the bridge have been vandalised, rendering it unsafe. I know our Vice Chairman has already represented strongly to our landowners (MOD/DIO) that this level of disruption would not be tolerated for a second on any private estate, and that our rent should be adjusted accordingly.

That said, I always liken our situation to fishing within a national park rather than a private estate, and these problems do occur in relatively confined areas. We do have 6 miles of fishing and the obvious immediate solution to the issues above is quite simply to move to another part of the river – in any event most of the offenders go home to supper before the evening rise begins!

Conclusion

There will be one month of the season to go by the time you read this, and although we are unlikely to see much change in the flows, September and October can often be very rewarding, so keep at it if you can!. I will be away on holiday from 16 Sep until 3 Oct, so if you need to report any problem or need any advice, do contact the Hon Sec (by e-mail), or the appropriate committee member by telephone: contact details are on the web site.

 

Martin Browne

Tel: 07768 354788