Start of the Season – April 2021

Comment on the Opening Month

April is a proverbially fickle month weather-wise and this year it has been exceptionally cold and dry – not ideal for spring trout fishing. But as I sat down yesterday to note down some comments on the start of the season, I had just returned from the river where I witnessed probably the most prolific hatch of Large Dark Olives I have ever seen on the chalk streams – and I have been working on them since 1998. To see a fly hatch like that on our fishery is tremendously heartening, as it does tell us that as far as management is concerned we must be doing approximately the right things – and this is borne out by many of your own comments in the April catch returns – for which many thanks indeed.

Despite the cold weather the river has fished remarkably well in April – and although there have only been 87 catch returns submitted for the month, they produced 114 takeable brown trout (up to 18”), 49 under-sized (wild) browns and 165 grayling. Many of your returns mention the good hatches of Grannom and also of olives – almost certainly the same species as the ones I mention above (baetis rhodani for the entomologists among you). In fact “Large Dark” is a bit of a misnomer as although they are fractionally larger than the BWO, and indeed some are certainly darker, the main point is that here is an up-winged fly hatching at a very inhospitable time of the year. However what I found very remarkable, and noticed for the first time, is that our newly stocked fish displayed almost no interest in the hatches, whereas the street-wise wild and over-wintered browns with at least one season’s experience under their fins, showed no such reluctance. And while on that subject, I am optimistic about yet another healthy Mayfly hatch – our spring monitoring session shows a healthy abundance of Mayfly (danica) nymphs. But remember that two years ago there were some good Iron Blue hatches mixed up with the Mayfly, and here again I would guess that the wild fish may well discriminate in favour of the small up-wings – indeed the angling literature makes this point frequently. So be prepared to change your clunky Mayfly patterns for an elegant little c-de-c emerger, and you may be rewarded!

Outlook for the Season: Positive Factors

Algal Bloom. I have mentioned the encouraging results of our invertebrate monitoring, and one other positive factor (so far) has been the absence of the usual algal bloom which over recent years has coloured up the river in the spring. All the rivers of the Upper Avon catchment experience this problem, which undoubtedly reduces the challenge and enjoyment of spring fishing. But this year the exceptionally clear water has allowed us to spot and stalk fish in classic chalk stream style, from the start of the season. This of course is a particularly deadly approach when nymphing – in fact in years gone by the use of a nymph was banned until June partly for this reason. Why the algal bloom has failed to appear this year is anybody’s guess: virtually no April rainfall (hence no run-off), low air temperatures, changes in land-use in Pewsey Vale, improvement to flows and channel profile following all the restoration work that has been done – these are all factors which have undoubtedly improved the condition of the river, so may have delayed or prevented the usual bloom. We will know more once we get a long-awaited warm spell of weather.
Stocking. I am also very satisfied with the results of our stocking this year. Because the lock-down last year disrupted the stocking cycle, we carried forward more fish in our rearing system than usual. As a result you will find that there is a wider size range than in recent years, including some fish at the top end of the range that may surprise you. I certainly do not think you will be disappointed. Looking at the early April catch returns, too, it is quite obvious that a number of our stock fish have over-wintered, so to all intent and purposes these are wild (although being triploid they do not interfere with the spawning cycle of our true wild population).

Weed Cut. You will all remember that we were banned by the Environment Agency from cutting any weed last season, as social distancing rules prevented them from extracting cut weed downstream of Salisbury. That restriction greatly reduced the amount of fishable water available to our members, as ranunculus weed took over much of the river from mid-summer onwards. That in turn led to severe overcrowding of the few viable stretches remaining. Not so this year (or so we are assured) and I am hopeful that all our six miles of water will be available once our mid-June weed cut is completed.

Corfe End Lakes. Thank you for those of you who have expressed your appreciation of our committee’s efforts to restore Corfe End Lakes. A new committee member has taken on the management of the lakes, and we are pleased with the results of the expensive clearance of the reeds. But the jury is out on how we overcome the infestation of algae which has become an annual feature which prevents fishing once the air temperature rises in the spring. Research is continuing on this, and we hope to show an improvement next year, once the banks have recovered from the ingress of diggers and dumpers. Meanwhile I am glad that some of our members have had success and fun with the rainbows we have stocked there.

Outlook for the Season: Potential Problems

Recreation and Poaching. Inevitably, with the local military population now greatly increased as a result of re-basing, there will be pressure on our banks from dog walkers, picnickers, wild swimmers and indeed poachers. While it is always fair to point out politely that there is no public right of way along our bankside path (as indeed our notice boards state clearly), our committee asks you never to be confrontational with members of the public, as that will only result in reputational damage to the Association. Poaching is a different matter of course, and the best course of action if you encounter that is to ring me at once.

Bank Collapse. There are also several areas of the bank-side path that are becoming dangerous as a consequence of bank collapse narrowing the gap between fence and water-line. All these places are obvious (providing you have not got your eyes on a rising fish!), so please do take great care if you encounter this problem. We are in discussion with DIO about it, because the simple expedient of moving the fence line may not be acceptable to the tenant farmer, who would lose grazing as a result, quite apart from being extremely expensive. But please do let me know at once if any places become impassable.

Hooper’s Farm Our main parking place for Reaches 13 and 14 (at Hooper’s Farm) is currently blocked by hard core rubble being used by the farmer. Several of you have commented on this. It is still possible to park alongside this providing you do so carefully and sensibly – and also please leave your permit on your dashboard, so the farmer knows you are fishing.

Car Security. Sorry to raise this old chestnut yet again, but it is essential that when parking anywhere along the river you do provide maximum visibility of the interior of your car to any potential thief – in other words do not leave anything inside that is remotely attractive, and do not cover anything up. A lot of work is continuing on this following the problems last season, and we are being well supported by DIO.

Swan Nests. Finally would you please let me know of any swan nests you encounter – the male swans will let you know – it is best not to turn your back on them as some of you are only too well aware!

I hope you all have a great season, and I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible on the river. Do not hesitate to ring me if you need any advice or help at any time.

Martin Browne
Tel: 07768 354788