May 21

First of all, a very big thank you for your May catch returns – they were particularly informative and helpful in what has been a most extraordinary month, and an unexpectedly successful and productive one too. After that almost totally dry and cold April, we were landed with one of the wettest Mays of all time. The river was very high and coloured between 22 and 27 May, which we would expect to be the very peak of the Mayfly hatch in a normal year. However those few stalwart members who braved rain, wind and milk-coffee water did not all go home blank. Let me quote just one return which shows how one should never write a day off, particularly as the water just starts to clear as was the case on 27 May:

“...Very high, dirty water. A few fish rising to some sort of small nymph just below the surface...probably olives. Some Mayfly coming off, but totally ignored. Lost 4 other trout [he declared 4 plus 2 under-sized] on a size 18 half-drowned Hare’s Ear. All the fish were within 18inches of the bank in the slower water, and the rises were barely perceptible. A day for acute observation and great patience”.

That last sentence says it all about chalk stream fly fishing really – and fish were caught in every day of the month with the overall statistics being once again tremendously encouraging: a total of 589 takeable brown trout were brought to the net, and even more encouraging to me, 313 under-sized, wild fish. That is in fact 34 more wild fish than were caught in the entire 2010 season. I hope you will agree we are making progress!

So to summarise May in a couple of sentences, what appears to have happened is that the first sparse Mayfly hatches started quite early, around the 10th May, but the persistently cool, wet weather has stalled the main Mayfly hatch to some extent although our river monitoring has demonstrated that there is an abundance of the Danica nymphs. This will probably mean that the Mayfly hatches will continue well into June. We shall see.

Fly Life

 

This continues to be another source of satisfaction to me, as I said in last month’s report. There was a tremendous fall of Hawthorn in the first half of the month and the weather helped to blow this on to the water and pin it there. What a great fly that is – fish seem to prefer it to almost anything else, and the more scruffy and untidy your pattern, the better they like it. I always think that the illustration of that fly on our web site is much too neat. The Large Dark Olives continued to appear, now being overtaken by so-called Medium Olives with the Adams and Klinkhammer patterns reported as being successful in the returns. In fact it is quite clear from the returns that throughout most of May that the Mayfly was in unsuccessful competition with other smaller species of upwings, including even the Iron Blue, and that the fish (probably the stockies) were not all that interested in the larger fly. However this is now changing: they are getting the message that there is a good meal to be had!

I was speculating once more to committee members as to the reasons why our fly life is doing so well, arguably better than on many other reputable local fisheries. I will not list all the many possible reasons here as I have probably covered these in earlier reports, but I will just comment that we undoubtedly benefit from some recent conservation measures undertaken by DEFRA like the ban on neonicotinoid insecticides.  You will have noticed that we are also hearing more cuckoos this spring, which in turn probably reflects an upturn in the Reed Warbler population, their main host species in the valley. They rely on an adequate supply of insects along the river.

However one concern which affects us particularly is the flea treatment which most people now apply to their dogs, which they then swim at the mill pools and the tank crossings. Apparently (according to Salmon and Trout Conservation) this is extremely damaging to aquatic invertebrates, and of course there has been a big upturn in dog populations since the onset of the pandemic. But there is not much we can do about that.

Ongoing Problems

 

These will be familiar to most of you but I must quickly list them:

  • Fencing  We continue to do our best in discussion with the Defence estate (DIO) to remedy the seriously dangerous fencing situation on Reach 8 and 12. Meanwhile please take the greatest care where bank erosion has reduced the pathway between fence and water to a few precarious inches. We have already had one accident reported.
  • Poaching, Vandalism. Car Break-ins and Swimming With hot weather now forecast I am afraid we may see a lot more of these intrusions. I was pleased to read that you do appreciate the arrival of the MOD police on the river bank, and do not object to your permit and licence being checked. Their patrols are a great deterrent to poaching, theft and vandalism (and there have been no further car break-ins), but less so I regret to wild swimming, paddle boarding and dog walking. Please do note on your mobiles the telephone numbers the Hon Sec has just circulated so you can report poaching incidents at once; please also note the VRN of any suspicious vehicle you encounter, and pass that on to me.
  • Pike There are indeed some big pike around, including the huge “shark” reported from Reach 12. But to reassure you, it is 6 years since fisheries were banned by the EA from electro-fishing for pike, and I am actually seeing far fewer than when I first arrived here as Keeper. I do think the pike population is stable; furthermore remember that big pike eat small ones!
  • Tree Blow-down  As a result of the widespread removal of diseased ash trees we are going to see a lot more of this as the wind impact shifts. The huge beech tree blocking the east bank upstream of Choulston bridge is just one example. This is too big a task for our work parties to tackle and we have to wait until Landmarc is able to deal with it. Please be patient, and remember that you can still access the Cress Bed Lake by walking up the foot path from Choulston to Haxton until you reach the lake, where you can access the fishing bank across the rather rickety bridge on the far side.
  • Weed Cut This is not actually a problem, indeed as we all learnt to our cost last season it is absolutely essential, and at the moment the EA do not see any reason to impose a ban this year. I intend to start the cut on Mon 14 June. It will continue through that week and possibly a little beyond that. But as I always say, do not let that put you off. You can either chance it and move upstream of the cut if floating weed is interfering with your fishing; alternatively simply give me a ring the day before to find out where it will take place the next day.

I believe that June will continue to provide some wonderful fly fishing for all of us. Please do continue to be conscientious in posting your catch returns on the web site: they really are an essential management tool. They also produce some surprises – for example, who would have expected to learn about a turtle reported from Corfe End Lakes – and I am not joking!

Martin Browne

Tel: 07768 354788; e-mail: avonkeeper@gmail.com  (when contacting me please use the mobile number, alternatively text or e-mail; no social media please!)