Mayfly May 2023

When the wind’s in the East they like it least” – the old river-keeper saying certainly held good this May although in fact the weather vanes generally indicated Northeast, which is even more difficult for our fishery. This did not really trouble our more experienced rods, who reported some great fishing, but the strange weather conditions have undoubtedly affected the returns. Last May there were 238 recorded visits to the river; this year there were 153 – a surprising fall of some 36%. Inevitably this has affected the returns – you caught 391 takeable trout this May, a fall of nearly half from a total of 715 in May 2022). On the face of it this is perhaps disappointing, but our Hon Sec points out that per visit those figures are not particularly dire. If undersized trout are included, the catch per visit was 3.6 fish as opposed to 3.9 last year.

The jury is out as to why conditions seemed so difficult this May, and our Hon Sec believes that the post-pandemic surge of enthusiasm made for greater rod numbers on the river last year. But for the first half of the month this year (remember Coronation Day), the water was coloured and running bank high for much of the time. A few rods who worked hard with weighted nymphs in slack corners of the flow caught some good fish, but it was not until around the 14th May that sighted dry fly fishing to rising fish became productive. My first Mayfly was seen on the 12th and the first proper Mayfly hatch was actually recorded on the 14th. This is early, and it was not repeated to any significant extent until around the 21st when some rather inconsistent hatches resumed. Meanwhile some Hawthorn put in a brief appearance as well as small olives, but the cruel northeast wind persisted, with very cold, grey mornings and brilliantly sunny afternoons. Perhaps these conditions suppressed hatches, and certainly those Mayfly duns that did hatch remained on the water for only a few seconds, with the evening (from 6pm onwards) undoubtedly the most profitable time to be on the river.  Other Avon fisheries and indeed the Hampshire chalk streams were having exactly the same experience.

Looking Forward: No Weed Cut

So May has been difficult but there is a really good stock of fish in the river, and given the pattern of the Mayfly hatches so far I believe we will see them continue well into the second half of June. As you will have heard, the Environment Agency has announced that it will no longer remove cut weed from the river, and regulations therefore prevent all fisheries from cutting until (hopefully next year) a new system of weed removal and disposal can be established. There is one obvious advantage to this: the river will remain completely undisturbed throughout June for the first time for very many years. Enjoy it while you can!

The obvious disadvantage is that there will be some parts of the river where “wall-to-wall” ranunculus may make fishing very difficult, requiring extremely accurate casting to fish rising in the small channels between the weed banks. So strong leaders or tippets will be necessary there as the action in those circumstances is usually to be very brutal and fast in getting a hooked fish immediately on to the top of the weed where it can be “flapped” across to some open water to be played and netted. Easier said than done I know – but it does work, and practice makes perfect. If you do get weeded, please do not deliberately break off but quietly wade forward until you can run your hand down the cast to free the fish.

Perhaps too, for once we should welcome the juvenile swan herds this year which will act as surrogate weed cutters for us.

Otters, Mink and Water Voles

Thank you for your sightings of otter and mink. Please do also report water voles too, as these three species are linked. As you will know there is great conservation concern about the future of the water vole as they do not seem to have recovered from the widespread mink predation in the 1990s. We do have a population of water voles, but as your catch returns show, we also have mink, and they seem to be increasing. This is surprising as it has been generally assumed that territorial otters will drive mink away and we certainly have otters on the fishery. But perhaps this interpretation is overly optimistic, and I certainly intend to resume mink trapping in the autumn when it is most effective.  Meanwhile please do continue to report all three species.

Miscellaneous

A few unconnected points:

  • We have had one instance of a rod illegally fishing the very short stretch on Reach 12 (200m downstream of the Cemetery footbridge) which is the only part of our fishery where we do not have either bank. It is clearly marked on the map.
  • There is only room for four cars at Choulston bridge. Please do not park on the pavement or the road otherwise we may be prevented from using that car park altogether. There is a lay-by near the top of the hill on the east bank.
  • Thank you for reports of disruption and poaching. I will not repeat the instructions put out by the Hon Sec, but it is helpful for the Management Committee in any future rent negotiation to have details of activity that impacts on our fishing lease.

Finally, could I just say that I was very gratified to read the complimentary remarks you have made about the quality of the fish this year. There are certainly many more fish over 2lbs around and they are very fit. I was interested in the remark by one of our rods that he felt that the average size of our wild fish (that is those under 12 inches) seem to be increasing. This makes sense given that the overall population of these fish has increased a lot over the past 10 year which has been proved by your catch returns. We must assume that a proportion of these smaller wild trout do over-winter much more successfully than the stockies and provide a great deal of fun when hooked.  As some guru once said – “Don’t worry about identifying a wild fish: you will know soon enough when you hook one!”

Martin Browne

07768 354788