Having re-read my June report I wonder if I was over-optimistic in my anxiety to encourage rods on to the river after the Mayfly, but actually the July catch returns have justified my enthusiasm. We are now well over 700 takeable brown trout for the current season (killed and returned), and just as importantly nearly 350 wild (under-sized) browns. The best brown for July was exactly 4lbs, and probably a wild fish, while another rod provided a colourful catch return for an energetic 3lber which thoroughly weeded him (as they do!), but met his match this time by the rod who removed his clothes and plunged stark-naked into the river to achieve a successful catch and release. He admitted that fortunately there were no witnesses. The grayling, too, are flourishing this year with some good fish among them – the best reported in July being 16 inches, and several rods have mentioned how strong a fight these bigger grayling put up.
Another couple of interesting reports were of a 2 1/2lb sea trout caught on Reach 9. I have no doubt that this was accurate: it is the right time of the year, and the description of the fish, and the report of how delicious a pink-fleshed meal it made left me in no doubt, even though this is very unusual so high up the catchment. The other observation was of three otters near Choulston bridge – almost certainly a bitch and two cubs. I am not concerned about otters in the river: they prefer eels and coarse fish to trout which require too much energy to catch, and it is unlikely they have much impact on stocks. But our rearing ponds at Haxton are another matter. I run an extensive electric fence there, but I am not convinced that this is completely effective, and we certainly lost more stock last winter than we have done hitherto. And as the Scottish ghillies say grimly: “If yer see otters in daylight, yer’ve got too many!”
Towards the end of the month I felt quite privileged to show the Director of the Salmon and Trout Conservation Trust, Paul Knight, and one of his committee, John Slader, around our fishery. Paul had been briefed that the Upper Salisbury Avon is now regarded by many conservationists and fishing gurus, as being in better ecological condition than those hallowed chalk streams, Test and Itchen. He wanted to see this for himself, as the spring invertebrate counts this year were showing the Upper Avon as having an abundance some three times greater than on other rivers. Paul was extremely impressed with all he saw, in particular by the restoration work on Reach 10, downstream of Figheldean bridge, where our ranunculus growth (probably the most obvious symptom of chalk stream health) is so profuse this year. Although as I have already said, this is an exceptional year for the condition of our river, it was nevertheless very satisfying to receive praise from the experts!
Many of you will have heard of the Riverfly Census which is being conducted across the country and which provided Paul Knight with the information about the Upper Avon. On our fishery we have conducted systematic invertebrate counts on 8 representative target species for several years now, led by Steve Perkins, and have detailed records from 2011 which confirm the consistently healthy state of the river. Steve has now started to monitor phosphate levels in addition to the invertebrate counts, as this is probably the biggest threat that rivers now face, (through diffuse pollution from agricultural fertilisers and household detergents). He has just completed an advanced course on invertebrate analysis, and will use the new River Invertebrate App which Salmon and Trout Conservation has developed. I mention all this because Steve is very anxious to get more of our members involved in riverfly monitoring, so if any of you are interested please do e-mail him:
It will not take up much of your time, but you will learn a tremendous amount about the river.
Finally what do I predict for August? Well, the river continues to be in wonderful order, although it is a struggle to keep on top of the strimming load, as the bankside growth has been so profuse this year. One of our oldest members, Charles Tarver, who was Vice Chairman in the 1980s, always insisted that the “Glorious Twelfth” was a highly significant date on our water, as that is the moment when the post-Mayfly slump is finally overtaken by good hatches of small up-winged fly. I have to repeat that on warm evenings the last hour and a half before dark must give the best chance for a dry fly, but as always a well-presented nymph at any time is not only the greatest fun but often very productive and perhaps gives the best chance of a big wild fish.
I will look at the August catch returns with great interest!
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