March 2016 - Reasons to be Cheerful
Wednesday 16th March 2016 - By Graham Waterton
This is a strange time of the year when a day can make such a difference. Two days of pike guiding in bitter northerly winds with sleet and hail showers followed by a casting lesson at the lake in warm spring sunshine.
The pike season, for me that's the new year to March 14th, was mixed. A couple of 20 pounders, a few teenagers and few others made it a good season but not quite as good as last year. I only pike fish on a few chalkstream beats and don't like them being overfished but there's no doubt this narrow branch of pike flyfishing is becoming more popular which is sadly leading to some beats being overfished. Rain was a mixed blessing with lots of days lost but it also gave some extra water and colour which often stirred them into activity. My last day did not end in glory with three raised, one hooked and lost. A few days before however, while the camera on my head, was turned on, for once, I did catch a good fish which is now safely back in the river but I did capture her moment of fame. See the result here.
If your single handed casting experience is limited to a set up suited for chalkstream trout, casting a large fly, often 5 to 10 inches long attached to the appropriate rod and line for chalkstream pike, can be frustrating, ineffective and downright unsafe. I've often fished with this sort of set up, normally in warmer climes but I've needed to analyse and teach these skills to my pike clients. Although techniques like water hauling, double hauling, extending stroke length by adopting an open stance and drifting the rod back sound technical they are not that difficult to master and really essential for safe and effective casting of a big fly, particularly in the wind.
There's plenty of time for a lot more rain and God forbid, flooding but I hope not. Those entrusted with the care of the rivers that suffered severe flooding this winter are once again concerned with the effects floods have on spawning, eggs and young fish. Lots of interesting work has been done to try and evaluate these effects. The subsequent studies seem to suggest that it is not necessarily all bad news. We shouldn't forget that although these fish are susceptible to mans intervention, evolution has produced creatures which are very able to survive more natural threats such as high river flows. For instance an extreme flood is not necessarily terminally damaging to redds and eggs. A less extreme flood, particularly of longer duration can actually improve egg hatching rates by cleaning out silt from the redds. Sadly at the egg stage it seems grayling are more vulnerable than other species due to the shallow redds they prefer. Although fry are to a degree more vulnerable, even when fry numbers are reduced the surviving fry flourish as competition for food is less. Therefore the surviving fry and smolts are healthier and stronger and more likely to survive. Timing, extent and duration of floods are relevant and as spawning times vary from species to species and river to river it becomes very difficult to predict the effects of any one flood. Once again, although winners and losers, that's natures way of spreading the risk.
The salmon season up north has been underway for a while and a few spring fish have already been caught on the chalkstreams. The figures for last season show that most chalkstream fisheries and the Test and Itchen as a whole had record numbers of salmon and sea trout in 2015. The Environment Agency have counters on both rivers which showed the best year for 25 years with 2007 salmon running the Test and 907 running the Itchen. Although both migratory fish are caught on a number of the lower beats, one of the most prolific,Testwood and Nursling, the lowest beat of the Test, had their best year with 397 salmon and 617 sea trout. These numbers are a credit not just to the fortitude of the fish but the improvements all interested parties have made and the catch and release policies most fisheries operate.
If you're used to swinging a fly on a big river then this sort of salmon and sea trout fishing may not be for you but it is fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable and after all right on our doorstep.
So a strange time of the year it is. No fishing to be done but soon the clocks spring forward and the approach of a new season on the chalkstreams is greeted with huge anticipation. Reasons to be happy? Well the groundwater levels are well above average which should give us a season of good river levels. As the winter and early spring have been relatively warm and early fly hatches like the mayfly are dependant on critical water temperatures being reached we could be in for early hatches. Most keepers have had good conditions to complete all their winter work and lastly many beats have converted to wild fisheries. All good news for another great season. Can't wait.