End of Season Report – 2021

Comment on the Season 

Some of you may disagree (I hope not too many of you!) but I can truthfully say that I am very happy indeed with the 2021 season, with the exception of the final 6 weeks. There I must apologise because in my last report I did say that I expected some very good fishing in September and October, as has been the case over the past few years. But actually the river was lightly fished, the weather was not great, and some of your reports indicate very little surface activity. Those of you who persevered did have some success with nymphs, even some with small dries, but altogether the results were down on  last season and did not come up to my expectations.

But that is in marked contrast to the earlier months. I am sure some of you are members of Salmon and Trout Conservation which fights such a great battle on our behalf and on behalf of those species. However they published a Member Update in September which included a piece on the Avon, including the phrase “there is no doubt that the river is in crisis”. This spurred the conservation member on our committee to respond to S&TC pointing out that in our August report to our members I stated that I had never seen the river in better order! I may be tempting fate but I certainly hold to that view. We experienced yet another prolonged and prolific Mayfly hatch which was preceded by the appearance of Large Dark Olives in April and early May. Since then, hatches of small upwinged fly have improved on recent seasons, with some encouraging reports of Blue-winged Olive in the late evenings of July. Our invertebrate monitoring tells a similar story: there is a healthy and relatively abundant array of key species in our surveys, and in particular of gammarus – the freshwater shrimp – which is reputedly the canary in the coal mine of chalk stream fisheries (hence the success of the Killer Bug in our water). But to be fair, only a short distance downstream the river has been subject to some disastrous storm related sewage discharges from the two major Sewage Treatment Works at Ratfyn and Amesbury - made worse by the huge increase in local population as a result of Army rebasing and civilian housing developments. All this hase certainly damaged the adjacent fisheries there.

Touch every piece of wood in sight, but the Netheravon STW has never given us any cause for concern, and we do monitor the river carefully immediately downstream of the discharge point on Reach 7. So we seem to be fortunate in comparison with some other local fisheries, and I am pleased that the statistics compiled by our Hon Secretary prove that this season generated the second largest total we have recorded for takeable brown trout at 1719. Last year was the huge record at 2106, but that was due to several exceptional factors most of which we hope do not repeat themselves. Even more important this year are the figures for wild (under-sized) fish, which at 895 are at an all-time high – and remember that that figure does not include wild fish which have been caught measuring over 12” – I have been flattered to be told that they are not distinguishable from my stocked fish! Grayling, too, are at a healthy figure of 1650 which is about average for our water – again contrasting with some other fisheries (in particular those on the Wylye) which seem to be experiencing a consistent grayling decline.

So What is Going On?

I hope you will agree that given the statistics above, and your own experience on the river, you cannot possibly support the S&TC statement that the river is in crisis, although certain stretches may be in trouble. I do not claim much credit personally for the excellent condition of our water. There are many external factors that influence both our catches and the health of the river, and we are fortunate in three respects:

  • You, our rods, are now returning well over half of all the takeable brown trout you catch. I   am sure that these fish, which on the whole are carefully returned, live on to be caught a second or even a third time – albeit getting more street-wise with each nasty experience!
  • The nature of our fishery has changed fundamentally over the past 15 - 20 years as a result of restoration work, some of which we have done “in-house”, and more recently in cooperation with Wessex Chalk Streams Project run by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. Those who have read Frank Sawyer’s books will remember his concerns about silt. But by narrowing the river, using woody debris and hinged willow, by bed-raising using imported gravel, and by carefully placed current deflectors, we have managed to generate more energy in the flow over much of our 6 miles. This has cleaned the river bed gravels, and allowed silt to deposit where we want it rather than across the whole channel, thus benefiting up-winged fly and ranunculus weed growth. This is also the habitat in which our juvenile wild trout thrive.
  • Our Management Committee allows me to leave as much bankside marginal growth as I can, consistent with fishing comfort. The experts all agree that the manicured banks which are still prevalent on many famous chalk stream beats are damaging to fly life and affect other wildlife too. But by permitting wading throughout the season we have countered some of the adverse effects which untidy banks have for fishing access and opportunity, and I do believe that we are gaining a more abundant fly life in consequence. Otters, water voles and damselflies like it too. However I do take on board the difficulties that some of our older members experience in wading, and also some recent comment about the difficulties encountered in passage along the bankside path (in particular on Reach 7).I expect this to be discussed in the committee meetings this autumn, and action will be taken to improve this over the winter.

There is of course one obvious downside to the situation on our fishery. This is quite simply that we are not tenants of a private estate, and must respect the very lenient MOD policy regarding public access to the training area of which the river is part. Hence the often infuriating problems of dog-walking, wild swimming, even ad hoc boating and paddle boarding, all of which are on the increase. Thank you very much for recording these incidents in your catch returns this season: the records may help to abate our rent and of course we do try to deter recreational use of the bankside path by leaving it unstrimmed at the main access points. I am afraid some tenant farmers are also reluctant to maintain the bankside fencing unless it is in their own interest, and this is also a perennial problem.  All this causes me a lot of hassle, but I welcome the new initiative by DIO of deterrent patrols by MOD Police which most of you will have encountered this season for the first time. It has certainly deterred poaching and probably other suspect behaviour too.

Corfe End Lakes

You will have seen the Hon Secretary’s e-mail about the Lakes. These have been stocked with rainbows in variable sizes and should fish well in mild weather until they are closed down on 31 Dec. You may wish to check out the hut even if you have nothing to enter in the catch return book as we are re-starting the offer of free fishing magazines – do leave any in the hut you have finished with, rather than throwing them away: first come first served! And please do not submit e-catch returns for the Lakes but do remember to enter your return in the hut book.

Grayling and Pike

The Hon Secretary has also advertised the grayling tuition day on 30 Oct. For those who do not attend this, please remember that there is no need to notify me before you go fishing for grayling, but if you are lucky enough to catch a proper specimen grayling (that is any fish over 16” –  and they are there if you work at it!), please e-mail or text me with the details. On the other hand if you want to fish for pike it is best if you ring me first. Anyone spinning will probably be reported to me as a poacher, so I do need to know if you are doing that –and I can also advise you on the best spots and tackle.

Work Parties

There has not been a brilliant response to calls for volunteers this season, and it is understandable given that many people do not want to commit themselves to this a long way ahead. However there is another approach. Rather than committing formally to a particular date, I wonder if any of you would like to put your name down to help me with short notice tasks on the river, on a completely informal basis. All you need do in the first instance is to give me a ring to say that you would be willing to  help providing you are not committed elsewhere, and give me your telephone number. When the need arises I could then ring round the list of numbers until I find one or two people who would be able to assist with a specific short notice task. Do give this a thought, and perhaps offer your name up if you would like to be involved.

Thanks

Finally, thank you for your quite excellent catch returns. It is very helpful and also encouraging to read about the detail of your successes and indeed your frustrations, together with your observations on all the other things that happen when you are on the river. We are very lucky to have such an enthusiastic membership. I do hope you have all enjoyed the season.

Martin Browne

Tel: 07768 354788