Verdict on theMayfly Hatch
Well, it has certainly got more difficult! Both the takeable brown trout and the grayling catches in June are almost exactly half the May recorded catches, but surprisingly they are still well ahead of the June 2019 totals despite the very obvious difficulties and restrictions which the weed cut ban has inflicted on all the Upper Avon fisheries. I think the main reason for this (apart from your skill!) is the rather unusual pattern of the Mayfly hatches this spring. These have been prolonged but much more localised and not particularly abundant: the first proper hatch was recorded on 11 May while a committee member reported a localised hatch on Reach 8 (upstream of Figheldean mill pool) mid-afternoon on 30 June to which the fish were responding with enthusiasm. He caught one of my bigger stocked fish on a dry Mayfly pattern, a fish which I am pleased to say forced him to run some distance along the bank to avoid playing it on his backing. So perhaps in hindsight we should say that the rather different Mayfly period this year has been absolutely ideal for the keen dry fly fishers, in contrast to the much shorter and more prolific hatches we have experienced in the past.
I would add one other point on the June results. Because of the lock-down we were forced to stock almost a month later than usual. Consequently the fish had no time at all to establish territories and to teach themselves to find natural food which is part of the usual pattern in April. So to a rather bewildered stockie, the immediate appearance of Mayfly, larger and probably more satisfying than stock pond pellets, must have been utterly irresistible. Only as we got into June did the stocked fish become more street-wise, and more of a challenge to deceive. This gradual change is certainly reflected in the catch returns, as the more experienced rods turned to terrestrials: beetle and ant imitations and of course dry Daddy Long-legs have all featured (and will continue to do so), as of course have various nymph patterns. But once again it is obvious that the good old Pheasant Tail has proved quite remarkably effective: Frank Sawyer would be tremendously proud to see your returns today.
The “Second Half”
Having mentioned Frank Sawyer, and looking ahead to the second half of the season, do not neglect his Killer Bug. Although some see this as predominantly a grayling fly, it is in fact very effective for trout providing you stick reasonably close to Frank’s original pattern and weight. Give me a ring if you are unfamiliar with the fly and want to know more about it. Otherwise I hope the weed cut moratorium will genuinely increase the abundance of up-winged fly as some have predicted. It would be great to see the big Blue Winged Olive hatches of last century once again, and even if that is too much to hope for, then we should certainly see less of the usual slump in July. We will be doing a top-up stocking during the month, which should liven up proceedings in any case.
In my report last month I recommended using 6lb breaking strain leaders in order to cope with a strong fish in heavy weed growth. As I said, you have to be brutal on first hooking a fish in those circumstances in order to get it into a clear run or pool where it can be landed. This of course is much easier to do with a dry fly rather than a nymph, as the fish is already on top of the water (and therefore the weed) on first taking the fly. One of our committee members is now advising 8lb b/s co-polymer for those circumstances, and has been successful with it. But if you are weeded by a fish when using a nymph do not give up: brute force is no longer effective. You have to wade up close, and quietly follow your line and leader through the weed with your hand – and be prepared for the fish to make a run for it.
The final points I would make on the weed problem, looking ahead, is that even in some of the “wall to wall” weeded reaches there are still some residual deep, clear pools which are very under-fished and which can yield some very big surprises indeed late in the evening as fish move out of cover in order to feed. And as the summer moves on, the ranunculus will start to rot away: this is unsightly, but the point is that it will move if there is a big rise in water following a storm or period of heavy rain, so be alert to that possibility.
I am afraid one ugly incident spoilt the day of a guest of one our members, when his car was broken into at the Gated Crossing car park on 25 June at about 7.30pm. This car park has been a target for possibly the same thief at least twice before, whereas (touch wood) the other car parks seem to have been unaffected – probably because they are less secluded. At the risk of boring you I must repeat my strong advice: do not cover anything up inside the car, and only take to the river the items you need for fishing. Empty cars are not broken into – for the thief it is not worth the risk.
Pike and Wildlife Reporting
Your returns are demonstrating what we expected. Since the Environment Agency withdrew all licences to cull pike by electric fishing, there is no doubt that the pike population has increased. Damaged fish and sightings of pike are not at all unusual now, but please do keep reporting them. If any member wishes to try and catch and kill a pike on the very effective flies that are now available, please do so – there is no need to inform me. However once the season is over we can use more serious tackle, and I will put out more advice on this at the end of the season. But to balance the issue of pike damage we should be pleased that for two years now we have not suffered cormorant predation in any serious way. Otters are now well established and predate pike and eels in preference to trout (which require much more energy to catch). In consequence water voles are back pretty well throughout the fishery as the otters have driven the mink away – but perhaps not as far as we would like as I was very recently called out to shoot a mink which had been trapped near Enford. Please do report mink if you see one.
There has been quite lot of tree blow-down this month. Please do not put this in your catch returns, but ring me directly if you come across a tree which is blocking the bankside path.
Finally, for the keen bird watchers among you, I must pass on the report of one of our rods who recognised a Great Bustard on the meadows at Gunville, and only yesterday we had a Great White Egret on our stock ponds at Haxton. I think I can safely say that neither of those birds would ever have been seen by Frank Sawyer during his time as our Keeper!
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