July 2020

Welcome to the “Second Half”

There have been no big surprises in July: the post-Mayfly month has been very typical with much more challenging, picky, spooky fish, and several dour evenings with hardly a rise to be seen. But with the weed problem putting a lot of the fishery out of order, I was expecting to see a dip in the normal catches for July. In fact the recorded catches of takeable brown trout are actually well up on those of July last season (by over 60%), but then to be fair the number of recorded visits to the river in the month are actually double those of 2019, so there is nothing remarkable in those statistics. It is just good news to see that the fishery is being enjoyed by so many of our members in a year which has been fairly grim in other respects.  

I always think that the “second half” really begins on the Glorious Twelfth, and I know that several of our older committee members agree with that. I have probably said this before, but one of our previous Chairmen used to insist that the best of our fishing (putting aside the easy bonanza of a good Mayfly month) is actually in the last six weeks of the season: there are more varied and more prolific fly hatches, less disturbance from dog walkers, swimmers, boaters and the like, and some very fit fish which have put on a lot of weight and a great deal of experience over the months since stocking.

Fly Patterns

Your catch returns always make interesting reading, but last month particularly so with regard to the widely varied fly patterns that have proved successful, and I am quite sure that this will now continue to be the case since the more experienced the fish, the more likely they are to refuse patterns that do not resemble their current food source. I was very pleased to see that there have been some strong hatches of Blue-winged Olive (notably on Reach 7). Hopefully we will see more of these as summer moves on towards autumn: the Adams is an unbeatable BWO dry fly pattern if you are lucky enough to encounter a hatch, although many of the c-de-c patterns are equally good – and of course the Pheasant Tail is as always the most effective nymph imitation.

But you have been successful with other patterns. The good old Elk Hair Caddis has been catching fish in the late evening, with a small Black Gnat effective during the day. There have been some remarkable falls of flying ant – perhaps not a pattern to be found in many boxes – and to ring the changes in nymph patterns you will never go far wrong with a small Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear, perhaps at its best if weighted with a small bead-head. The fly which is perhaps the most typical of the later months of the season is the Pale Watery, a name which many fishers use to label any small, pale olive. But last year’s “Fingerprinting” invertebrate report on our water specifically identified Baetis Fuscatus as one of the most prolific nymphs in the fishery – this, for the purists, hatches as the true Pale Watery, and although these days most of the small c-de-c patterns do a good job of imitating the fly, remember that the male is much smaller and paler than the female, which at 7mm is rather more yellow. To be honest the good old-fashioned Tup’s Indispensable works brilliantly as a compromise for both sexes!

Current Concerns

I think uppermost in my mind at the moment is an apparent resurgence in the mink population upstream of us. No less than four have been trapped in the past two months and these animals are undoubtedly moving down into the river from the Kennet and Avon Canal. This is the time of the year when the young disperse to find their own territories and as everyone knows they are death to water voles – they gradually eliminated the vole population on the Upper Avon from the 1990s onwards, until a combination of the outstanding Game Conservancy pattern of trap, and the return of the otter, restored the situation. We now have our water voles back, but not in any great number, and I genuinely believe that our two or three otter families are keeping the mink away. Please do let me know if you think you have identified a mink: otters are noticeably larger.

I think we just have to live with the pike problem which I have mentioned previously. We expected this problem to emerge once the licences to cull pike by electro-fishing were withdrawn, nevertheless it obviously worries me when I read of the damaged fish and pike sightings you report in the returns. To balance the concern I actually believe that our wild brown trout population is not significantly impacted by pike, and the increase in the perch population which several of you have reported (an interesting development) will provide an alternative food source. I am afraid our stock fish just have to take their chances.

Finally, some members have told me that they are concerned about an apparent decline in grayling numbers, and have pointed the finger at the extensive restoration work as being a possible cause of this. Certainly the restoration work on Reach 7 has reduced the deep, slow stretches which are beloved by big grayling – but Reach 7 is already producing better results for brown trout than any other reach. I do not believe that any displacement of grayling as a result of habitat changes will actually move them out of the fishery, and of course the present weed situation probably disguises their actual numbers. I was pleased to see that now we have been permitted to return to the normal system of hatch management at Haxton Mill (at the brewery), some really good grayling are once again being caught in Reach 4. Interestingly your returns show that 365 grayling were caught in July, significantly more than in June. But we will continue to watch the grayling catch returns carefully.

I look forward to reading how you all get on this month.

Martin Browne

Tel:  07768 354788