End of Season Report 2022

Overview

I hope you do not think that I place too much emphasis on our catch return statistics but they do provide the only reliable indicators of how the fishery is performing. I certainly take notice of them and I suspect the Management Committee does also. These days the digital returns master-minded by our Hon Sec are light years ahead of the postal returns of my predecessor’s time. Those required considerable clerical effort from our members (and they had to pay for the stamp too!) so the present system is definitely a win-win: the returns are more accurate, cost nothing and require minimal effort. So I hope you will accept my judgement on the season when I say with some assurance that given the summer heat-waves (including the hottest day ever recorded on 19 July), and the exceptionally low flows, the results are remarkable. The 2021 season produced the second highest total of takeable brown trout we have ever recorded (at 1719). This season was only 206 down on that total at an extremely respectable 1513. The total of wild (under-sized) brown trout also remains very satisfactory at 695 – and remember that figure does not include the takeable wild fish which you always kindly say are difficult to distinguish from my stock fish, and are therefore always included in the takeable total.

Finally, the grayling total is also extraordinary, nudging just over the 2000 figure for the first time, at 2022. That figure of course includes a lot of very small fish, as we seem to be at that stage in the grayling cycle. That certainly bodes well for grayling next year. But it is interesting to see that the month which recorded the lowest number of brown trout this season – namely September – also recorded the highest number of grayling. I think this is because the brown trout became increasingly street-wise, spooky and very difficult to deceive in the last few weeks of the season, while the smaller grayling were shoaling in certain obvious riffles, and were rather good fun for sharpening one’s nymphing skills.

“Pecking Order” of the Reaches

The catch returns also provide some fascinating detail as to the performance of the various numbered reaches in different months, weather and water conditions. If you ask the opinion of any experienced member as to the most popular reach most will say without hesitation that this is Reach 7 – Gated Crossing to Choulston Bridge - and the car park pressure certainly confirms that! But the catch returns show that this reputation was only justified in May and June this season; for the rest of the time Reach 7 dropped back to fourth place with Reaches 8, 9 and 10 overtaking it.  The latter, Reach 10, (Figheldean bridge to Gunville) has been a source of concern simply because it received by far the most expensive restoration project we have ever  had on our fishery, and since then it has not performed particularly well. This year it has done better despite the swan invasion which trashed every scrap of ranunculus weed in the reach, and it is now by far the most productive reach for under-sized wild trout. This is undoubtedly because the restoration work greatly increased the rate of flow throughout the reach, generating excellent juvenile habitat, while the deeper stretch just upstream of Gunville has also provided good adult lies in the hot weather this year.

Winter Fishing

At Corfe End Lakes the dry winter, hot summer weather and the absence of ground water from late May onwards could not have been more damaging. The Lakes rapidly became largely unfishable in late spring, as we expected. We therefore do not intend to stock again until the water conditions permit this. The Hon Sec will notify members once that decision is taken.

However grayling fishing should be good once some ground water is restored – although my guess is that this will not be until December this year. That said, as I write this we are at last getting plenty of rain so I may yet be proved wrong.

If anybody wishes to fish for pike with a fly there is no need to let me know. However please do inform me if you intend to spin for pike, as that will almost certainly trigger false poacher alarms.

Improvements

At the end of this report I have placed a photo of a new walkway which with work party help we have recently improved the access along a very awkward part of the bank just downstream of Choulston Bridge. I show this to alert you, because in a high water year this will probably be submerged, but will still permit safe passage along the bank.

I have also installed a pair of fixed ladders to allow wading rods easier access to the river, both upstream and downstream of the Gated Crossing where the bank is too steep for safe entry and exit. This is an experiment requested by the Committee, and I welcome any comment which members may have about it.

As you know, we work closely with the water team from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, which has done some excellent work on the fishery over the past few years. They have just completed a project on the slack stretch upstream of Figheldean road bridge where the prolonged low water this year has demonstrated that some intervention is necessary to improve both depth and flow. However they have used the wood from the overhanging willow on the west bank above the bridge to narrow the river and to deflect the current. This will look ugly until it settles down and beds in. The jury is out on this one, as it is quite an ambitious intervention, but my feeling is that it will improve the holding potential of this stretch next season, particularly if we continue to experience dry summers and low flows.

Conclusion

I do realise that this season has probably been the most troublesome ever for disturbance by the general public during the prolonged hot weather – particularly at Gunville hatch pool which has now attracted a rowdy teenage influx following the closure of access to Figheldean mill pool. But as I have already pointed out, we do have 6 miles of fishing, so I genuinely believe that on our water it is always possible to find peace and quiet coupled with productive fly fishing. Thank you for your patience on this, also for your contribution to the work parties and for your excellent catch returns. Roll on next April!

 

Martin Browne

Tel: 07768 354788

Photo below: New walkway downstream of Choulston Bridge.