Report on the 2015 Season

I am sorry this report is a little late on to the web site, but I wanted to wait until after the autumn committee meeting, and I am glad to say that the Committee was very happy with the catch returns this season (see the 10 year catch return page which has now been updated with the 2015 figures). We were not expecting to exceed last year’s totals simply because weather-wise it has not been a particularly pleasant summer for fly fishing, with a great deal of wind and rather cool temperatures. But in terms of takeable trout we exceeded last year by a large margin and it is clear that those of our members who persevered, and who found the sheltered places – in particular Darkest Africa, upstream of the Gated Crossing and either side of  Figheldean Bridge – were well rewarded. I notice that in low water seasons, and this year has most certainly has been one of those, the takeable trout do tend to concentrate in certain places, usually with some depth, good cover from weed or marginal growth, and an adequate rate of flow. The recently restored parts of the fishery do provide those conditions and have been fishing really well.

Once again our very difficult bottom reach (Reach 14) has produced one or two very big fish and a lot of excitement. This reach is not stocked, so you are fishing for seriously street-wise wild brown trout, and as it can only be fished by wading (ideally by a left hander too!) it is not for the faint-hearted. However looking at the catch returns, some of our members have clearly come to terms with it, and also with the next reach upstream which still continues to produce some very big escapee rainbows from the Avon Springs lake fishery.

The undersized (wild) brown trout are also holding up well, and I would be very grateful if you could be conscientious again next season in entering these on your catch returns, as they are a very important indicator of the health of the river.

Although grayling were a little down on last year they have maintained a good average return this season, and I have been told of at least two fish of around 45cms (18 inches), with many others approaching that size. These very big grayling are well down in the deep holes, and are not often seen taking surface fly even during Mayfly period. There is no doubt that you have to get down to their level – which is very close to the bottom - if you are to interest them, and of course the so-called Czech nymphing technique is now well known and probably the most effective way to get at these big fish. (As they say: “if you can’t catch them, knock them on the head”!)

Every year I reflect on how fortunate we are with our Mayfly hatch, and once again we were not disappointed, although the weather was particularly unpleasant with a lot of rain and wind. However – and I will not apologise for repeating this point yet again – probably the very best of the Mayfly fishing is to be experienced in foul weather, when the fly is pinned to the surface by low temperatures or rain, and the fish take advantage: this was certainly the case this season. There has also been a lot of discussion over the best fly patterns to imitate the hatching dun and I will put together some ideas on this next spring.

But the small upwinged fly has undoubtedly continued to disappoint. Some say that in July and August our members leave the river too early and do not persevere until last light, which is when the big hatches are expected. But even then these hatches have been sporadic and unpredictable this year. All I would say is that currently this is a well-documented problem on all our chalk streams at the moment, and is being linked to the discharge of phosphate-rich run-off from field fertilisers, septic tanks and sewage effluent (although to be fair, Wessex Water has installed a phosphate stripper at the Netheravon sewage treatment works). One obvious effect of all this pollution is the “algal bloom” which clouds the water in April and May – again common to all southern chalk streams, and we have not escaped it. So all that does underline the importance these days of fishing a nymph competently, and the Committee continues to run an instructional day on nymph fishing in early May.

The low water this year affected Corfe End Lakes badly, as you can also see from the catch returns. Once the ground water fell off in late spring, there was little or no through flow, so the blanket weed flourished and the quality of the fishing and the fish deteriorated rapidly.

Finally, a few words on river management, and I must say first of all how grateful I am for all those members who helped me in the various work parties that Colonel Robin Garrett organised this season. However some work has also been done by outside bodies and some of you will know that the hatches at Gunville have now been removed by the Environment Agency, and the old, crumbling footbridge on the public right of way replaced by a modern, uglier version. However this is the final action in the extensive restoration of our Reach 10 (Figheldean bridge to Gunville). The impoundment caused by the hatches has been eased, and the river now has a clear run through into the hatch pool, with consequent increase in flows upstream and a big improvement in river conditions – you will see this demonstrated by the amount of ranunculus weed that even now is flourishing in that stretch, also by the amount of gravel now exposed from under the bed of silt that has been flushed off the river bed throughout the reach. We do expect that reach to fish even better than it has done this year, and the spawning conditions for wild fish will have been greatly improved.

The Environment Agency has not yet declared its hand on funding for restoration work next season and we will let you know when it does so. There is no doubt that our fishery has benefited immensely from the big DEFRA grants that have resulted from EU directives on river improvement, but there is much more that can still be done, and we remain in contact with the Environment Agency, the Wildlife Trust and the Wild Trout Trust over future plans.

During the season I received several reports of pike, large and small, throughout the fishery and those who helpfully submitted these sightings will be pleased to know that during the three day pike cull last month we killed exactly 99 pike – up to 15lbs. Although it is impossible to quantify the benefits of the cull, it is pretty obvious that 99 pike must make quite an impact on fish stocks during the winter, so I was pleased with the success we achieved and extremely grateful to all the members who helped me over the three days of the cull. So far we have had no problems with cormorants this year either, so all in all the river is in very good order, our stock fish in the rearing ponds are flourishing (and putting on weight rapidly!) and all that remains for me to say is to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and some great fishing in 2016.

Martin Browne

Tel: 07768 354788