“The Birds” have invaded Severn-side! During the heatwave this month, I drove around a corner on our quiet housing estate lane leading to the A48 and then stopped in shock. The road ahead and the grass lawns on either side were covered with literally hundreds of big herring gulls, standing silent, almost motionless, and apparently glaring at us. The picture was intimidating to say the least! The estuary is not far away and it’s common enough to see a few gulls wheeling and screeching overhead when there is a storm at sea or in the high street of the town scavenging discarded fast food packets on a Sunday morning. However, I never saw so many gulls in one place before. Nor did they move away until I nudged the car forward and nearly touched them before the big birds in the road rose into the air and flopped down immediately behind us. The next lawn contained another flock of smaller gulls, black-headed I think, along with a few rooks pecking about in the grass. I felt a bit more relaxed here and this time got out of the car to look down at the road and the grass and found that both were crawling with immense numbers of winged ants. The midday heat was radiating back off the tarmac. Later we heard that the ant swarms that day in some areas had been so large as to show up on weather forecasting radar scans. And apparently the formic acid in ants, if gulls eat enough of them, can make the birds drunk and even aggressive. This lot certainly seemed ready for a punch-up. It was like one of those much to be avoided scenarios in the wrong kind of bar: “Are you looking at me, Mister?” I wonder, could this have been the unexplained premise behind the plot of that famous Hitchcock movie with Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor?  Had there been a fall of flying ants in California’s Bodega Bay?

Ant falls are legendary but not exactly predictable events. The rhythms of nature can be quite obscure. I was talking about this to a bee-keeping acquaintance the other day. It’s not that I’m thinking of taking up the hobby, but we have had swarms of angry bees in our garden twice this month and thankfully he came round to help us out. I pointed out that bee swarming has never happened to us before, but he tapped his nose (and insisted that they weren’t his bees) but suggested the insects this year are behaving strangely and he associated it with the heat-wave we had in February. It was a strange beginning to the year. The spring flowers all seemed to arrive together. No frog-spawn or tadpoles in the usual ponds this time, but they did appear in numbers in the margins of some of our rivers such as the Monnow. I normally find the shallows of our Forest Pool full of last year’s roach fry, but this year we have had a blossom of sticklebacks, which weren’t much seen previously.  

I wonder also, could trout have a thing for ants and formic acid binges? Having been advised that falls of ants are rare, but that when they do occur fish go crazy for them, for most of my angling life I have carried a few ant imitations, both black and red, in my fly box. Now I am feeling rather disappointed, because to this day I still have not seen a fall of ants on water and the imitations have never been used. Also, I’m trying to reconcile myself to the idea that birds the size of gulls can be interested in such tiny food items as ants. The gulls were all gone by the time I got back from Gloucester.

 

 

Ant imitations Ant imitations

July was what you might expect it to be: a hot and dry month, with fishing not at its very best. The main river flows became shrunken and overheated, to the extent that salmon fishing was eventually suspended due to concerns about catch and release. Barbel fishing continued on the lower Wye and trout and grayling could still be taken from the upper river by concentrating on the fast and more oxygenated runs. As usual, the shaded tributaries performed better in these conditions and some particularly good catches were taken from the Edw. The Lugg and Arrow also continued with reasonable levels, sustained by their springs. Further west the Towy and Loughor were also low, although some sewin, mostly in the 2-3 pounds size range, had arrived with the last flood in late June. A few of these were taken during the month and our friend Eifion surprised himself with an unusually large Towy brown trout taken in darkness on the Llandeilo water. By late July the country was facing record-breaking temperatures and reports of successful fishing were accordingly few and far between. Localised rain stayed to the north of us. Only during the last couple of days of the month did the weather break and we experienced thunder storms and some welcome showers. Frankly, and writing this now on the last day of July, we could use a good deal more.    

We started well enough. AS of Newent reported 9 trout and 2 grayling from Ty Newydd on June 29th. BP from Pembridge used a Tenkara rod on the 30th to take a dozen trout with nymphs from the Edw stream at Aberedw. On the same day SF from London reported a remarkable catch of half a dozen grayling, all of them over 2 pounds, taken by nymphing with a French leader on the upper Wye’s Doldowlod. On the 2nd July, SR from Richmond reported 10 trout and 2 grayling taken at the Rocks. AM from Worcester had a good day on the Arrow at Titley on the 4th, taking 12 trout from 5-10 inches on a Parachute Adams. JB from Tewkesbury with a friend fished at Doldowlod, and in a catch of 3 trout and 2 grayling reported a specimen trout of 20 inches. Described as fat, and assuming the length measurement is accurate, this fish would have weighed 3.5 pounds or more. On the 6th JA from Leominster got up early and used dry flies to take 21 fish between 5 and 10 inches from the Edw at Cregrina. In fact three anglers were out on the Edw beats that day. BP from Pembridge got 16 with a Tenkara rod at Hergest, while JD of Porthcawl got no less than 25 on dry flies from the slower moving top end at Hundred house. The best fish in this catch were two at 12 inches and a real specimen for a small stream of 16 inches. PR of Bristol caught trout of 1 and 2 pounds at Glan yr Afon, despite the usual problems with stone skimming holiday-makers, swimming dogs and yet another Usk canoe incursion. The following day CP from Merthyr Tydfil with a companion took a dozen rainbow trout at Usk Reservoir and returned more. AS of Tidworth had a rather glorious day at the Rectory on the upper Wye and reported 38 trout, 19 grayling and 2 chub for good measure.

In his report CB from Presteigne described some confusion – amiably sorted out with the landowner – about the section of railway line running alongside the upper part of the Whittern beat on the Arrow. This line is private, still occasionally used, and there is no public access to the rail track. Effectively you need to walk round the end of it. If you work your way to near the top of the beat where the line once crossed the river by a bridge now demolished, cross the water to the other side and make your way into the wood, you will come across a public footpath running back on the far side of the railway. This will eventually get you back to the old station, the road and turn left for your car. Alternatively, if you have only fished up as far as the beginning of Lyonshall Wood, there is a tunnel leading from a riverside field under the railway embankment which will get you onto the same footpath.

Back to the Edw again and CC from Redditch reported 20 trout from Hergest on the 9th. On the 10th JA from Leominster visited Hundred House once more and this time took 16 trout from 5-10 inches. RB from Redditch fished the main Wye at the Rectory and reported 20 trout and 10 grayling. However, for the next period hot and dry weather really was starting to have a bad effect on main river game fishing. Water levels had fallen and the new temperature gauges gradually worked up to 20 degrees, a level at which catch and release for migratory fish is felt to be risky. Barbel and chub, species which stand up to heat much better, continued to be caught in numbers on the main river. Conditions were better in the high mountain lakes and in some of the Wild Stream tributaries under shady trees. On the 13th BP from Pembridge reported 14 little trout from Llyn Bugeilyn, mostly on a Bibio Hopper.

On the same day JA from Leominster tried out the shrunken Teme at Bucknell for just three fish. Judging by the recent reports and a visit I made with Cedric Mathieson I had assumed that this water is not holding a big stock of trout this year – but that next winter’s floods may well change that. However, just a few days after reading that report by JA the latest edition of Trout and Salmon dropped onto my door mat. Believe it or not, this was the September edition and it contains an article rather delightfully entitled The River that Sometimes isn’t There by Toby Coe about the upper Teme and its strange flow characteristics. Fishing at Bucknell with Ed Noyes of the Severn Rivers Trust, the pair came up with a beautiful specimen trout, of 4 pounds 6 ounces no less. I can’t find this in the WUF reports but, as far as I can tell from the article, the visit probably happened during this season while olive uprights and a few mayfly were still up. They ambushed the fish when it was found feeding in a run above a deep hole. I actually think I know the pool. Have a look at the photographs, which indicate the river was at the time running reasonably full by normal standards. Toby’s recommendation in the article is exactly what I would suggest: work upstream slowly with an 8 foot 4 weight rod and a dry fly on a long leader (but not too fine a tippet), keep your eyes peeled and make a very careful cast when you spot movement or a good fish on the fin.      

On the 14th CH from Bexley Heath caught 13 trout from the Bideford Brook on a small Black Klinkhammer. On the following day TH from Telford fished the Lugg at Middlemoor and caught 12 trout and 3 grayling to 12 inches, mainly using nymphs in the fast runs. TH from Brecon had a good session at the Rectory on the 16th, taking 22 trout from the fast water above the Millstream with a nymph. JH from Epsom was up at 4.45 on the 17th to drive 180 miles to the Edw at Hergest, where he caught 11 trout to 13 inches using a Griffiths Gnat and a Parachute Grey Duster. I thought I was a keen one to get up and fish, but that shows commitment. I assume he stayed overnight, because the following day he fished the main river at Craig Llyn and caught a large trout and a 17 inch grayling. Now comes a report which really impressed me and has caused me some thought. TP from Woodbridge describes himself as a blind angler and for that reason he fishes leader to hand, feeling for the takes. At the Rectory on the Wye he fished the riffles in that manner on the 18th and caught 9 trout, 5 grayling and a chub. I would love to have watched him doing that. Lord Grey, author of the famous Fly Fishing and former Foreign Secretary, sadly lost his sight in his later years and by special dispensation fished the Wiltshire Avon, but in his case down and across, yet feeling for the takes in the same way. A young keeper named Frank Sawyer went out with him once on the Officers Fly Fishing water at Upavon. I wonder if it would be possible to use spider fishing downstream similarly.

AK from Blakeney and a friend were out on Ty Newydd on the 20th and apparently came across a couple of poachers as well as canoe trespassers. I am not clear if anything was done about it at the time. The best advice if you come across other anglers on your beat and doubt their authenticity is to show them your ticket and politely ask to see their ticket in turn. If everybody has a ticket, there should be no cause for embarrassment. There should be no doubts either about paddlers under present conditions; canoeists on their way down the upper Wye in low water at this time of the year should be informed they are trespassing and asked to leave the river.  Meanwhile AM from Solihull, apart from queries about the ticket prices, agrees with my complaint that Lyepole is overgrown and needs a trim. AM should know about this, he tells us, because he gets his own hair trimmed twice a year, whether it needs it or not. I follow exactly the same policy about washing my cars. Mike Newton of Bristol fished at Gromaine and Upper Llanstephan on the 21st for 14 trout and 10 grayling to 14 inches. JD of Porthcawl had 9 small fish from the Edw at Cregrina on the same day and wondered how he might be sure which of them were little trout and which were salmon parr. 

It’s not always as obvious as you might think, but he noted that two of his fish had tails more forked than usual for a trout, which is certainly one of the clues. The number and intensity of finger or “parr” marks on the flanks is not necessarily reliable. 

Look at the photograph opposite showing a little trout and a little salmon. (From PD Malloch’s 1909 Life History and Habits of the Salmon, this is more than a hundred years old, but it makes a perfectly good reference).Without getting into more complicated examination of scale counts etc, if you have a little fish lying on the palm of your wetted hand ready to be released, these are the main differences to look for:

  • Trout parr, like adult trout, are more ready to lie quiet for a few seconds, particularly if laid upside down.
  • Salmon parr usually wriggle around like crazy until you put them back. (For my part, at this point I usually apologise for accidentally hooking them and express a hope to meet again in three or four years).
  • Trout parr have a slightly larger head in relationship to the body and tend to be thicker in the shoulders.
  • Salmon parr have a more streamlined body than small trout and a more receding forehead.
  • As mentioned above, salmon parr almost always have a more pronounced tail fork.
  • Salmon parr have larger pectoral fins than similarly sized trout.
  • The moustache-like maxillary bone at the side of the mouth of a trout, large or small, almost always extends as far as an imaginary line running vertically and just touching the rear edge of the eye.
  • The same bone in a salmon usually extends only as far as a similar line extending through the centre of the eye.
  • The last (maxilliary bone) test is usually the most reliable one and this hold true for big fish also if you ever find yourself in doubt.

Salmon parr, of course, can vary in size from only 3 or 4 inches in their first year to as much as 7 or 8 inches in the second year as they prepare to go to sea. I may mention the fact in my report if there are a lot of smolts around in the spring – obviously we should disturb them as little as possible. Incidentally, my own policy with small fish and WUF catch returns is to report only trout and grayling of 6 inches and larger. It makes life easier simply to ignore anything smaller as being parr, although I might mention their presence if there are many of them. This arbitrary size cut-off is not, of course, strictly accurate. In some very small streams such as the Upper Cilieni and Blackpool Brook in the Forest of Dean, it’s perfectly possible to catch a trout as small as 4 or 5 inches which is nevertheless an adult and probably unlikely to grow larger. You can see that clearly enough if you look closely. Size and growth of trout is all about the availability of food in any given location.

The weather continued very hot and the main rivers were now quite low, although the Wye level benefitted to some extent by negotiated releases from the Elan valley dams. Only the Lugg and Arrow, sustained by their springs, still showed reasonable flows. Prospects for fishing did not look good. Water temperatures were hovering around or above the 20 degree mark, the point at which the catch and release welfare of game fish is considered to be critical. Thunderstorms and heavy localised showers on the night of the 23rd produced a muddy spell on the Usk for a few hours, but no associated rise in level, most of the water having been sucked up by the thirsty ground. Afterwards, it seemed as hot as ever. There was some talk about suspending all types of fishing on our rivers. The 25th, so it was predicted, might very likely turn out be a heat record for the UK, a record for July, a record for ever in fact. Hot air was wafting up into Europe from Africa. Air temperatures in the high thirties were expected in Eastern England. What to do with such a burning day? “Let’s go fishing somewhere,” said David Burren, and so we set off in his Jaguar for Stonehenge and the Avon at Heale.

Despite the dry heat and the fire in the sky, the Avon water meadows looked lush and green. We found keeper Peter Major nursing his own worries about his fishery, regulating the flow of carriers carefully to keep fresh water running through the stews. Nevertheless, a few fish were rising occasionally on the main river and I was sure the clear chalk aquifer water felt distinctly cooler than our own rain-fed western rivers. Peter had thought we might do better starting at 6 and fishing to dark – certainly this would have been my policy on the Usk – but David got us started at 11 o’clock that morning, no ifs or buts, and we toiled on through the hot afternoon until finishing at 9 in the evening. I’m glad now he was so insistent. It was hard work indeed, with occasional stops from casting to wipe sweat from the brow and long pulls of bottled water, and yet some fish at least were prepared to come up through the day. As it turned out, there was no particular evening rise.

The Avon is a famously late mayfly river – Peter swears he has seen one hatch out here on November 5th – and a few mayfly duns were being taken by the trout during the afternoon. Rises to these were occasionally fierce, but I also saw pale wateries and medium olives in small numbers and the rises to these from fish lying close under the surface were lazy and slow. We both experimented with large and small dry flies; in the end I used a size 12 Monnow Gosling for most of the day while David employed various size 16 miniature flies. I ended up with 12 trout and a chub, while David finished with 11 trout and a grayling. Make of that what you will. Biggest trout was 4 pounds, but there were a few wild ones amongst the heavy stock fish. The chub, by the way, was the only one of its kind I have known to jump when hooked. Fish seemed quite lively when returned. I missed a very large number of fish during the day and in my case the fly was bumped or inspected many times, but the number of fish also prepared to take it deliberately precluded too many fly changes.

Peter and his son Ben, on his first day of school holiday, came down in the evening to see us off and we talked against the background of the foaming and gurgling of the dark water coming through the turbine hatch. Even on the chalk streams, according to Peter, anglers and owners now regularly face the threat of unauthorised canoeing along with poaching and all the other irritations which face those looking after fisheries. Inside the hut above the turbine, which has unglazed windows, we were shown the nest made by grey wagtails earlier this year. Wagtails are as common on the chalk streams as everywhere else and a welcome sight for anglers. On the other hand, Peter tells us he never sees dippers on the Avon. Our Welsh border streams, large and small, seem to have dippers everywhere now and anglers certainly regard them as friends. I take the cheeky little bird as a welcome sign of a healthy river full of the same nymphs which trout and grayling like to eat. Dippers on the forest brooks, particularly Bideford, have become almost tame.

By the end of the month most of our anglers were scratching to produce results in the high water temperatures. However, on the 29th Dave Collins of W Herefordshire fished the upper Wye just below the Elan junction. The water here benefited from the cold compensation water running in from the Elan dams and he recorded a more reasonable temperature of 14 degrees before catching 11 grayling to 16 inches and 3 trout, mostly on dry sedge patterns. 

 


The Planning Inspectorate’s report following the inquiry into NRW’s proposed changes to the game fishing by-laws in Wales has been published. From the point of view of those parts of the angling community with strong objections to the new by-laws, it makes embarrassing reading. The Inspector makes it clear that he considers much or most of the Objectors’ case to be ill-thought out and irrational, and professional cross-examination of witnesses certainly seemed to demonstrate this. On the other hand the NRW, relying mainly on scientific data and with their own case professionally presented, seem to have carried the argument convincingly. The result is almost certainly going to be the passage through the Welsh Assembly of the by-law proposals as originally planned.

There are surely lessons to be drawn from this. One is that if government is to be challenged by the angling community in the “courtroom” environment of a public inquiry, the engagement of professional counsel is pretty much essential. The kind of emotional and passionate views expressed in letters to the angling press don’t sound too well in court unless backed up by solid evidence which can’t easily be challenged. Instead, arguments and potential objections needing in turn to be countered during a cross-examination, have to be carefully rehearsed. This is what barristers do for us; if anglers wish to engage at this kind of level, they would be wise to prepare a fighting fund to pay for it.

Secondly, don’t forget that this inquiry really came about in the first place because of the very poor relationship which had already developed between Welsh anglers and the NRW. Some of us used the word “draconian” to describe the style of the NRW leadership in pushing the proposed new by-laws, quite apart from the laws themselves. Consultation does not seem to have worked in a convincing way. The fact that we have just heard of several fresh slurry spills with associated with fish kills will not help to assuage the annoyance of anglers; NRW is not perceived as being effective in policing these incidents in the past even though the law has recently been strengthened and there are other criticisms about bailiff numbers and anti-poaching activity. There will be some bitterness now, which we should guard against. Objecting anglers shouldn’t become yet another of those groups, so common everywhere these days, of people who can’t accept that they have lost a debate.

For myself, I’m a supporter of catch and release and did not have strong objections to the by-laws overall, but I did have a couple of queries about the hook specifications entailed in them. In the circumstances, I’m happy enough to accept that I am in the minority and overruled on this occasion. However, at the same time I’m reminded I had some correspondence a few months ago with the English EA on exactly the same hook specification subject for English rivers. It was all a much pleasanter experience; they wrote back and discussed the issue and eventually explained that due to anglers’ suggestions they had slightly modified some proposed legislation, ending with the question “in light of this, would you feel prepared to withdraw your objection?” I was so prepared. In summary, I think NRW needs to work hard now to rebuild its relationship with Welsh anglers. Some vigorous action against polluters and poachers would help.

 


In my job I get to watch a lot of other anglers cast and fish. Often it’s instructive, sometimes thought-provoking and sometimes I am left with a conundrum to resolve. For example, there was the visiting Swedish angler in a party fishing for trout with me this spring. I already knew that he had spent most of his time on big European rivers, and like many Nordic anglers there was a definite downstream tendency to his style. Even dry flies were as likely to be cast down as up. The real surprise came when he explained that he didn’t over-head cast. Not ever. Never had done and didn’t particularly want to. Instead he used roll and Spey casts all the time. This was not because he was a salmon angler. Again, never had been and didn’t particularly want to be; in fact all his rods were single-handed. He just liked roll and Spey casting. There has been more interest in single handed Spey casting recently and I use one now and again when conditions warrant it. But this was the first time I had seen the over-head cast with single handed rod ignored completely. He borrowed my 10 foot wet fly rod with a team of three spiders and searched a big Wye pool systematically using the snap-T cast. It worked very well with my double taper line and there were no tangles with the flies. I saw no reason to interrupt him.

Then there was the gentleman who started for the first time to fish small streams with me during the mayfly season. He had a lot of fun and I have to say he was a very good caster using what I will call a conventional “overhead” stroke. I lent him a 7 foot rod, another first, and he liked it. The problem came when I tried to encourage him to cast some of the time over his “wrong” shoulder or side. Like most of us, he was a right-hander, so this meant facing the target and making the cast diagonally, bringing his casting hand up to the left shoulder, or horizontally, by bringing the casting hand across to his left elbow. I think this is a really important skill for those fishing in tight spaces. But something was wrong; he couldn’t seem to manage it and, when he did, the normal accuracy was entirely gone. We progressed for half a day, while he tried everything he could to keep going up the left bank (looking upstream) of the river to keep his right side cast in play, or if forced to the other side, made a rather awkward cast with his body half turned backward and looking over his shoulder.

Eventually I realised what was wrong. Most of us keep the rod handle under control by gripping it with the thumb extended up the back of the handle, that is to say 180 degrees away from the front of the handle and the casting target. But there is an alternative method, which is to extend the forefinger up the back of the handle. I suggest beginners to try this out at least, although I have a feeling that the extended thumb gives a more secure grip with less effort. On the other hand, there are a few who find that that the extended fore-finger gives more accuracy, at least at close range. My friend was one of these, and as I have mentioned he was a very good caster over his right shoulder. The problem was that it is nearly impossible, or at least very difficult, to make a cast across the “wrong” side of your body and keep your forefinger extended up the back of the handle. This requires an extreme rotation of the arm which is difficult to hold, especially when making casting strokes. I was loathe to suggest a change to the grip which was working so well for my client, but I suggested he experimented with the “thumb on the back” grip also. It’s also important to mention that, in the case of small streams, casting conventionally overhead is usually the exception rather than the rule. Due to overhanging branches, most of the time it is necessary to cast sideways, on one side or the other. This is what used to be known as “underhand” casting as described by the likes of Grey, Halford and Waller Hills, and it still takes plenty of practice to perfect.

 


It was encouraging to read that, despite the long heatwave of 2018, both Blagdon and Chew Valley had a good season last year, not only in terms of the catch but also in value of tickets sold. It seems that, for all the recent financial concerns, the future of fishing in these reservoirs is now assured for a while.  Thanks are due to the pressure groups and local MP Jacob Rees-Mogg who put in a plea for continuation of angling on Bristol reservoirs. Today it is hard to appreciate the genuine awe with which, more than a century ago, British anglers once regarded Bristol Water Company’s Blagdon Lake and its pioneering fishing for large grown-on rainbow and brown trout. A Milward-Bartleet tackle catalogue for 1926 (reproduced by Phil Waller in his book on vintage reels) listed an extra-size version of something called the Fly Fisher’s Winch, which was recommended by the famous editor of the Fishing Gazette, RM Marston. This especially big reel was for “…reservoirs, such as Blagdon, or American and Colonial waters holding big trout.” New Zealand, I suppose, came under the “Colonial” heading. Anyway, Blagdon was clearly in there as a well-known haunt of unusually big trout. And the rest of the world didn’t get a mention.

Apparently it all began by accident. At the end of the 19th century the wide valley under the Mendip hills was flooded to provide the water needs of Bristol and soon the little brown trout from the original feeder streams began to grow unexpectedly large now that they found themselves free in a huge and fertile lake. This is, after all, limestone country. Notice of this was taken by the Water Company directors, a few of whom were anglers, experimental lines were cast and for several years this very select group had some wonderful fishing to themselves. Finally a decision was taken to open it to the public and the rest, as they say, is history. Donald Carr became renowned as the first ranger and fishery manager and to the original wild browns were added artificially reared browns and rainbows of just 4 or 5 inches, left to grow on in their own time. It was certainly very different to the stocking policies of modern reservoir fisheries.

Much of Blagdon’s magic must always have been due to the scenery: the village with its trees and church tower, the valley overlooked by the Mendip hills and the great lake. Harry Plunket-Greene in his Where the Bright Waters Meet captures its charm as deftly he does that of the Hampshire Bourne. There are also tales enough in angling literature of huge trout which came in after sticklebacks while wading anglers held their breath and cast for them in the last of the light. It wasn’t easy fishing and summer evenings feature often in the accounts. Blagdon has always been famous for its evening rises. Likely flies in the early days would be on the large size and probably had evolved from sea trout fishing: Alexandra, Teal Blue and Silver, etc. Many were the blanks reported, but occasionally monsters were hooked and backing run far out into the lake so that the fame of Blagdon spread far and wide. In those early days, more than a century ago, it must have been rather like Grafham during the 1960s. Anglers have always been suckers for the chance of a really big trout. It makes me smile to think that there was a time when most anglers began their careers with small brown trout in rivers, but were excited at the novel idea of fishing for really big rainbows in lakes. Today, it’s the other way round; nearly everybody starts with rainbows and still water, but most eventually progress to wild trout in rivers.

It’s over 40 years now, since I first came to Blagdon. The excuse then was that we had family friends, one of whom was doing a master’s degree in veterinary medicine at Bristol, and who had rented a cottage in Blagdon village for the duration. This choice was purely by chance, because our friends didn’t fish. My sons were no more than toddlers then, but we all came over from Surrey in a Ford Cortina one weekend in early July. The cottage was charming, tucked under a giant copper beech in a steep little lane. I remember the weather was very hot; on the Saturday the hay meadow full of wild flowers opposite the cottage was cut and afterwards, slightly sinister to observe, the thorn hedge along the road was full of small coiling adders which had fled the mower.

Hot mid-summer weather is not really ideal for fishing, but the family had granted me just one day to concentrate on the water and I was not going to miss my chance. I duly bought a bank ticket and spent the whole day in marching round the entire lake, fishing where I could. It’s a long way round Blagdon, believe me, and the sun was blazing that day. I only had one take during the main part of the day, which occurred while I had left a sinking line in the water and my rod laid on the ground as I sat eating my sandwiches. The line suddenly tensed, but the fish didn’t stick. Then, at nearly 10 o’clock at night, as the heat began to fall off, there was suddenly a great swirl in the otherwise calm water of Butcombe Bay. I cast the size 8 Dunkeld I had on the leader to the spot, stripped it back fast and the fish was on! So the day finished at last, with a single handsome Bristol Water Company 2.5 pounder to show for it. Not very subtle fishing, I must admit, but it’s a reminder of the lost energies of youth if nothing else. I had been desperate to get a trout from Blagdon on my first visit.

Reading the stories from the early twentieth century, I gather that summer evening experience of mine back in the 1970s was quite typical of fishing in the first days of Blagdon. Many of the lure fishers attended late in the evening, waiting for the big rainbows to come inshore and show themselves before casting their Demons and Terrors (2 and 3 hooked lures) at them. At the same time, there was another group, typified by Dr Bell of Blagdon village, which took a very different approach. These reservoir pioneers studied the aquatic insects which the fish were presumed to feed on, and came up with some of the earliest still-water nymph patterns. The lake is known for its giant green buzzers and various kinds of sedge pupae. Bell’s Amber Nymph, a sedge pupa imitation, is a well-known pattern originating from that era. Lionel Sweet of Usk was another who concocted a sedge pupa pattern for Blagdon. On my own later trips to the lake, I usually took a boat and, along with almost everybody else, concentrated on fishing nymphs or dry flies. The development of the Diawl Bach, the Little Devil, is somewhat obscure and there are several versions of its genesis, but the story that visiting Welsh anglers invented it for Blagdon is certainly my favourite one. A team of size 10 and 12 Diawl Bachs certainly gives very exciting fishing here if the trout are prepared to rise at all. Dry flies work as well and the Hopper group of patterns was evolved by the Bristol school of anglers. I still find late evening fishing on the lake rather magical, if it doesn’t get you in trouble with the management for returning the boat to the pontoon in darkness. It is a beautiful place as the sun goes down. Harry Plunkett Greene stated, quite accurately, that on a calm summer evening at Blagdon you can clearly hear a voice speaking across a mile of water.

Now we regard Blagdon with affection rather than awe, because there are many other places where we can find big trout. New anglers who start their journey with rainbow trout are likely to cut their teeth on 2.5 pounders and larger. It’s also the case that Blagdon is sometimes out-fished by its newer Bristol Water Company neighbour at Chew Valley. Neither of them can be said to be easy on every visit. On the other hand, it’s true that when one of these twin sisters is “off,” the other one is quite likely to be “on,” for no really perceptible reason. Both are relatively shallow and fertile waters, grow big trout and represent a true challenge for the imitative angler. I make an effort to visit both of them now and then, but I must admit that, for me, Blagdon still has the edge. There is something of an act of homage about a day here, because, as I am always reminded when I reach the old lodge, this is the one where reservoir trout fishing in this country started.

 


The only remark I can make about August is that more rain now will be really appreciated. Tight lines!

 

Oliver Burch http://wyevalleyflyfishing.com