End of Season Report 2023

Statistics

I expect I have said this before but we should all be very grateful to our Secretary for his meticulous analysis of the statistics gathered from all your catch returns. The overall results this season have confirmed what I already suspected would be the case – that the outcome is a bit disappointing. This, I have no doubt, is due to two factors well beyond our control: weather (or perhaps more accurately, climate change) and the weed cut ban. I will return to those factors below, but will first comment on the figures. You caught 1251 takeable brown trout (both killed and returned) this season which is 262 less than last season’s total. A glance at the ten year catch returns on our web site will tell you that this is the lowest figure since 2016. The number of under-sized (wild) trout is also down on last year at 523, although this is still a satisfactory return and is less of a concern. However the grayling figure at 1281, which is the lowest total since 2015, is certainly a surprise as we were all expecting a really strong year given the record number recorded last season.

One other interesting statistic is the remarkable superiority of the dry fly over the nymph last season. I would have put any money on this being the other way round, but apart from April when inevitably the nymph triumphed, for the rest of the season the dry fly accounted for over twice the number of fish caught on a nymph. I find this very reassuring in terms of the health of the river, and there is no doubt that the pre-war hierarchy of “The Officers’ Fishing Association” would be saying “we told you so” to Oliver Kite and his disciples! Mind you, they were not able to take advantage of our very generous and permissive policy on wading. If you are in the water and downstream of a rising fish, it will not see you. All you need for success is an accurate cast and the right fly.

Weather/Climate Change

Weather is the first of the two concerns that have undermined our sport this season. I have linked it with climate change because there is no doubt that extreme weather events will plague us into the foreseeable future. This is the second of two successive summers when we have experienced record air temperatures, fortunately for less than a week this time, in June. This poses the greatest threat to our fishery in terms of the impact on our stock fish which are growing on in the pond at Haxton. Exceptionally high air temperatures quickly warm the water to dangerous levels. The warmer the water the lower the dissolved oxygen which fish must have in order to “breathe”. Having closed down two of our three rearing ponds several years ago, thereby directing flow into a single stock pond, we are in a stronger position to counter this threat. Nevertheless it remains in my book as a possibility for a complete wipe-out of our new stock – potentially a massive financial blow as we would have to buy in replacement fish. Furthermore these would not be of the quality you are all used to.

But unusual weather patterns also affected fishing this season in other ways. The returns for May are barely half those of 2022: the bitter north east (downstream) wind undoubtedly suppressed the Mayfly hatch and was not helped by the brilliant sunshine that accompanied it. Although those of our rods who persevered will have experienced the joy of an occasional abundant Mayfly hatch, not only were the number of visits to the river down, but before the heat wave struck, early June suffered wet and windy spells. This unsettled weather returned in July with some episodes of coloured water, and it was not until August that we at last had ideal fly fishing conditions.

Weed Cut Ban

But by August the impact of difficult weather had been further compounded by the decision of the Environment Agency (EA) to cease the extraction and disposal of cut weed upstream of Salisbury. This amounted to a ban on all weed cutting as it is illegal to allow cut weed to float out of a fishery downstream without any formal extraction and disposal arrangements. All the Upper Avon fisheries were impacted by this, and downstream of Amesbury some of the Salisbury and District Association water had to be closed for fishing. Helped by the grazing appetite of our swan population we made the best of the situation in the event, and indeed some of our more experienced rods enjoyed some very challenging fishing in the narrow runs and “windows” among the rafts of ranunculus. But this ban undoubtedly affected all our returns, in particular the remarkable fall in grayling catches.

What of next season? Well, I do realise that the lack of a June weed cut has been very frustrating to you all. It has been to me as well. Whilst I make no absolute promises, I am genuinely optimistic that the weed cutting arrangements for 2024 will be as normal for the River Avon. Our good friends at the Salisbury and District Club have experimented with a weed boom at Stratford Sub Castle. This has been a success, and we (the Wiltshire Fishery Association) are just waiting for a meeting with EA officials to agree weed cutting arrangements for 2024. I would publicly like to thank our downstream neighbours for the way they have dealt with the problems this year. In particular I would like to thank Paul Clancy and Andreas Topintzis. Their positive attitude has solved problems that at first appeared insurmountable. Thank you.

End of Season

To finish I will remind you of the usual end of season points:

  • Corfe End Lakes . Remember our lakes remain open (and are stocked with rainbows of varied sizes). There is no closed season for them.
  • Pike Fishing. During the winter you can fish for pike using any legal method (there are no formal dates for the season). However please do warn me by phone or e-mail if you intend to spin, otherwise you risk arrest!
  • Flyfishing for Grayling. Again, do use any fly-fishing techniques for grayling until 1st March. There is no need to submit catch returns but if you are lucky enough to get hold of a fish of 15” or more please do let me know.

Thank you all very much for your patience during a difficult year.

Martin Browne

Tel: 07768 354788

E-mail: avonkeeper@gmail.com