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The Piscators’ Chronicle

The official magazine for The Wandle Piscators

Issue 2, 2017

2nd issue, including: Fly of the season, Trout in Japan, Small stream fly fishing, How to fish the Grasshopper, Swale Grayling, Wandle Barbel, the French connection and more…


4 Editor’s letter Full of surprises

6 In Memoriam: Will Tall 8 Fly of the season: The Snow Shoe Olive

9 Monitoring the Water Quality of our Rivers Dr Cyril Bennett MBE

12 For the better

River Wandle habitat improvement schemes carried out by the Wandle Trust and Wandle Piscators, by Tim Longstaff, Polly Bryant and Will Tall

14 What lies beneath

The Wandle Piscators supports the Environment Agency with our very own cell of the UK’s nationwide Riverfly Anglers’ Monitoring Initiative

16 The Last Resort

John O’Brien discovers that sometimes, smaller is better

19 Barbel: a season on the Wandle

Club President Stewart Ridgeway recalls some success


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22 The Foam Grasshopper

When, where and how to fish it. By John Stephens

26 Cherry Salmon and Cherry blossoms

Adrian Grose-Hodge fishes in the land of the rising sun


Arkadi de Rakoff finds the differences between the French and English trout venue refreshing

38 Mythical salmon

The echoes of a silver tourist, by Garrett Fallon

42 Addicted to the Tillingbourne Small stream fly fishing, by John Stephens

46 Wiltshire Diary: The Nine Mile River: a classic winterbourne Duncan Soar explores a little stream

The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2



Full of surprises Club chairman Stewart Ridgeway


elcome Piscators to the second edition of the club’s ezine. Firstly, apologies for the delays in the release of this issue, we have had a few obstacles in the way. When I first wrote this on the Glorious 16th of June I was looking forward to getting back on the river myself to start my barbel fishing campaign, and now, here we are, half way through the season. You can actually read how my 2015-2016 turned out for me—it wasn’t half bad—and despite the often-urban environment that I was fishing, the river conjured up a few surprises, as it continues to do 4

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I hope you enjoy this edition as much as the first one and please give us feedback and feel free to submit pictures and articles to our editor for future editions. Also, check out our list of up-and-coming club trips/ outings. We had a very successful club open day at Ravensbury Park (in conjunction with the Living Wandle Partnership) on Saturday 26th September, with introductions to the club and Wandle angling taster sessions on the day. Hopefully this will be as successful a day as the tradtional season opening day at Cannon Hill Pond on the 20th June.

The club has already had several away days for its members. We are hopeful that these social fishing events will prove popular, and so far at least, people seem to enjoy having the opportunity to meet other members of our club and fish at the same time. With a bit of encouragement, we feel we can all enjoy each other’s company more. But of course, our regular work parties are also another way to meet your fellow angler and learn more about the river we love while helping in its care and conservation. So remember to login to the club


forum for further details, and start synchronising your calendars. But what better way is there to spend time by the Wandle than having a go at the Annual Piscators Species hunt. With a multitude of different species lurking in some of the hidden spots of the river, all it takes is a bit of time spent searching out the more elusive and wary fish the Wandle holds. The resulting winner will usually manage to catch and bank well into the double figures of differing species, from the very exotic Grass Carp to the not so exotic but equally welcome Gudgeon. Speaking of Gudgeon, the rivers

“I’m not totally convinced yet about whether the (gudgeon) record will or will not fall on this little urban chalkstream.” rumour mill has been awash for the last couple of years with claims and speculation that the British Record could easily be broken on the river. I’m not totally convinced yet about whether the record will or will not fall on this little urban chalkstream, but if

it does I’m sure you will all hear about it via the club grapevine. Please also check out new Facebook page and give us a like and follow us on this link: thewandlepiscators! Lastly, it is with great sadness that we mark the pasing of a club stalwart, former Senior Vice President Will Tall, who died suddenly in September. We have tried to mark his passing with a fitting tribute on page 9. He will be greatly missed. Tight lines to all for the forthcoming season. n Stew (Wandle Piscators Chairman) The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2




The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2


In Memoriam: Will Tall B

efore his tragically sudden and early death on 10 September this year, Will Tall was a leading figure in the project to restore the River Wandle­—playing prominent roles in the launch of the Wandle Piscators’ riverfly monitoring programme and the rehabilitation of Cannon Hill Lake. Will grew up in Chesham Bois, and learned to fish in childhood on the nearby River Chess. He took a degree in General Science at Durham University, where he played rugby in the second row for Hatfield College. After university, he played in the same position for Rosslyn Park while carving out a successful career in the telecommunications industry, working as BT’s head of internet communications for eight years before moving on to his first directorship at Voxsurf. Several similar senior roles followed as he became a sought-after consultant and start-up mentor for a range of companies in the technology sector. Will joined the Wandle project just before the notorious pollution incident in 2007, when we met in a pub in Wimbledon Village to talk about his idea of launching one of the UK’s first whole-catchment riverfly monitoring schemes on the Wandle. For this pioneering citizen science work, he was awarded the Thames River Restoration Trust’s inaugural John S. Hills Memorial Award in 2009.

“Will understood that in order to convince water companies and government bodies of the need to take action, it is necessary to assemble hard scientific evidence.” Will understood that in order to convince water companies and government bodies of the need to take action, it is necessary to assemble hard scientific evidence, and this was the first of several initiatives which he set up for this purpose. As one of the earliest champions of the Anglers’ Riverfly Monitoring Initiative, he became a trainer for the Riverfly Partnership, and sat on the Partnership’s governing board. In this role he inspired many other groups to look after their local rivers, and collaborated with Dr. Cyril Bennett on an ambitious project to reintroduce Mayflies to the Wandle. As co-Senior Vice Presidents of the Wandle Piscators, Will and I worked together on developing several smallscale river restoration projects (before the scale of everyone’s ambitions, perhaps inevitably, started generating larger projects that could only be feasibly managed by the Wandle Trust’s full-time staff). From this point

he turned his focus to Cannon Hill Lake, a semi-derelict coarse fishery in an old brick-pit on Cannon Hill Common—fundraising, building new fishing platforms, installing aeration equipment, planting lilies with a novel lobbing technique, procuring new stocks of fish, and restoring the lake as an asset for the local community. He also took a particular interest in bringing young anglers into the sport, and managed Merton and Wandsworth’s junior angling teams for the London Youth Games. For several years Will led the Wandle Piscators’ fly-tying evenings, and he recently became involved in the flydressing traditions of the Flyfishers’ Club. He helped Charles Jardine with the winter tying programme, and worked with Peter Hayes and Tim Benn to reorganise the club’s fly-tying cabinet with new materials and a range of ‘instant fly kit wallets’ for a range of popular flies. On the water, Will was the epitome of an all-round angler—as happy teaching youngsters how to dangle maggots for tiny stillwater roach on Cannon Hill Lake, as pursuing pike, perch, trout and grayling with all kinds of tackle on the Thames, Tame, Wandle, Wylye and Itchen. He was a man of immense stature in every respect. We will miss him greatly, and we extend our deepest condolences to his wife Jo and his daughters Georgina and Hannah. n By Theo Pike The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2




Fly of the season:



The Snow Shoe Olive

John Stephens ties a variant of an early season Wandle must have: the Large Dark Olive.


s a member of the Wandle Riverfly team at this time of year I see increasing numbers of Beatis rhodani nymphs, popularly known among fly fishers as the Large Dark Olive, or LDO. During the early part of the season these little up-winged flies predominate in hatches all along the river. Numerous patterns have been developed to match this early season fly - Oliver Kite’s Imperial is one, the Grey Duster is another. Both of these hackled flies are excellent fish takers, but here I am tying a variant of my own using a found foam material that is used to package electronics kit, and with a wing made from snow-shoe hair fur, an excellent alternative to CDC. The foam wrap comes in different thicknesses; the paper-thin version provides an interesting wing material. The body wrap I am using here is 1mm thick. It is white, and due to its foam structure has a silvery appearance in water. It can be tinted using waterproof markers, either before tying or afterwards. Here, I have tinted the material brown and olive before cutting it into 2mm ribbing strips. When wrapping the ribbing over lap each turn to produce the distinctive tapered ribbing body of the fly. 8

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When cutting the snow shoe hair, cut deep into the base of the fur and take care to remove any soft down fur at the base and adjust the length of the hairs to form a neat wing shape. n Hook: Osprey Dry Fly size 14-16 Thread: Brown 6/0 Uni-Thread Body: Foam wrapping material Wing: Olive or natural grey snow shoe hair fur (long underfoot hair) Hackle: Furnace cock saddle Tail: Two bristles from an old synthetic bristled paint brush Method: 1 The materials 2 Lay down the thread and tie in tail (folding up and apart to set the tail) 3 Tie in a 2mm strip of foam and wrap forward to form a ribbed body 4 Tie in a small bunch of snow shoe hair fur (removing the fluff from the base) 5 Take two turns of thread behind the wing to force it upright 6 Tie the hackle in behind the wing, wind three turns to the rear, two infront 7 Whip finish to create a fairly large head and varnish to complete the fly.




Monitoring the Water Quality of our Rivers Dr Cyril Bennett MBE


here is a general perception that if a river looks good, then it must be good, and whilst river modifications can certainly improve the habitat, they will do little if the water quality (and quantity) remains poor. Professor Penny Johns at Bristol University (a specialist on the impacts of food production on water quality) has stated that “intensive farming,

with agricultural run-off (containing sediments, nutrients, herbicides and pesticides) is now the single largest polluter of our rivers and if we don’t address this problem soon the consequences for our water resources are going to be huge; and will get worse”. The Freshwater Habitats Trust and The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust have been looking at ways to

reduce surface run-off with the use of buffer strips, sediment traps and water interception wetlands; but we also need to be monitoring the amounts of these pollutants entering our river, and where they’re coming from. This is fundamental to the work of the Salmon & Trout Association, which as we saw last year with its phosphate project on the Itchen, is prepared to challenge The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2



both polluters and the Environment Agency to take action. But this can only be done with hard evidence. Water quality is everything and we look to the freshwater invertebrates to tell us just how good (or bad) it is. The Angler’s Riverfly Monitoring Initiative (a simple method using just 8 groups of invertebrates) is now used at sites throughout the UK to alert the Environment Agency to serious pollution incidents, but as good as it is, it will do little to identify the slow degradation we are seeing in water quality of many of our rivers. We are therefore developing a simplified procedure to allow us to identify water quality problems at these sites. A system developed by the Environment Agency, Staffordshire 10

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“There is a general perception that if a river looks good, then it must be good, and whilst river modifications can certainly improve the habitat, they will do little if the water quality (and quantity) remains poor.” University and Aquascience Consultancy Limited uses freshwater invertebrates to analyse water quality. This is done by allocating an individual score to each invertebrate

species depending on its sensitivity to sediments, phosphorus, organic pollution, reduced flow rates, and conservation value. When a full invertebrate survey is carried out and fed into a biometric calculator, water quality is recorded; this procedure, known as ‘Invertebrate Fingerprinting’, is now being used throughout the country. Using historic Environment Agency data, the water quality at 55 sites on the Hampshire/Wiltshire Avon catchment have been assessed showing that high impacts of silt and phosphorous have been occurring (and increasing) at some sites. This was also carried out on both the Test and Itchen and more recent data, collected by the Wessex Chalk Stream & Rivers Trust and analysed by Aquascience


“A trial course was successfully carried out at Salisbury last September where ARMI monitors were able to identify and record all of the species collected from a river Wylye site.” on all three rivers, is showing some disturbing results. In order to use this procedure on a much wider scale, a simplified package has been developed which can be used by ARMI monitors. This consists of a biometric calculator, pre-loaded with all of the species recorded at a particular

site, and for identification, high resolution identification charts of each species recorded at the site (Fig 2.); we are hoping to produce the images as a downloadable APP shortly. This gives give a ‘benchmark’ of the species and numbers present at a site which can be referred back to in the event of any future problems. When spring and autumn data are loaded into the open cells of the calculator, water quality stresses are automatically calculated and displayed in bar charts; this also includes the new WHPT and ASPT scores routinely used by the Environment Agency. An initial one day training course will be necessary to familiarise individuals with the procedure and this will need to be done with invertebrates taken from the site to be monitored. A ‘bespoke’ package can then be produced for on-going use. A trial course was successfully carried out at Salisbury last September where ARMI monitors were able to identify and record all of the species collected from a river Wylye site. When these were added to the chart, water quality was automatically calculated. Future courses are planned and the Salisbury & District Angling Club will be ‘benchmarking’ its sites on the five Wiltshire rivers. n

Fig. 1 (opposite page and above): biometric calculator: ARMI monitor results of the trial course carried out on the River Wylye at Stapleford. Fig. 2 (Left): High resolution identification chart, Welshman’s button, a sign of good water quality

The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2



For the better

River Wandle habitat improvement schemes carried out by the Wandle Trust and Wandle Piscators, by Tim Longstaff, Polly Bryant and Will Tall Wandle Trust finalises the installation of the Trewint Street Fish Passage Fish passage on the River Wandle is impeded by over 30 in-stream structures, the majority of which are weirs left from the milling era. These weirs and structures are a barrier to the movement of fish both up and downstream and also fragments and isolates habitats. Trewint Street is one of the significant barriers to fish passage, with two weirs either side of a large concrete island. With funding from the Environment Agency, Thames Water and Defra’s Catchment Partnership Action Fund (CPAF), the Trust have installed baffles and a fish pass


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to the right hand side weir, allowing the movement of fish once more. The pass will also benefit European Eel populations, which have declined by over 98% in the last 15 years, with barriers to movement being a contributory factor.

So what are the Trust doing?

On the right side channel, a series of baffles was installed to the upper section of the concrete weir. These baffles are made from recycled plastic and fixed to the weirs in rows. They

slow the flow down on the weir, deepening the water and allow fish to swim up the weir through notches cut into the baffles (Image, Fishtek) In the lower part of the right hand channel, three notched barrages were created to reduce the drop in water level between the channel and baffles. This allows fish to easily swim up through the notches and through the baffles to new habitats beyond (Image, EA). Here’s a video of the river as work was being carried out on the right hand channel: (insert video)


Tackling invasive species

As part of the Living Wandle Landscape Partnership, the Wandle Trust has launched a new project on invasive nonnative species on the River Wandle. Over the next two years Alan, their new Invasive Species Officer, will be working with local stakeholders, landowners, communities and volunteers to coordinate the control and management of several invasive plants currently present on the Wandle including Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed and floating pennywort. Alan is currently recruiting volunteers to join his River Rangers team. The team will help monitor invasive species on the River Wandle from its source to the Thames by surveying the entire length of the Wandle three times a year, building up a picture of where the invasive species are and how well the Trust’s management efforts are working in controlling them.

Cannon Hill

The Wandle Piscators are one of seventeen angling clubs to secure a grant from the Angling Trust this past year. We have used the money to install fixed fishing pegs, including three disabled angling platforms at Cannon Hill, and replanted the lake with water lilies and oxygenating plants which were stripped from the lake when it was de-silted in 2009. (Insert images from thread)

Wandle clean ups

The Wandle Trust has been carrying out clean ups throughout 2015. Here are the stats! n If you are interested in becoming a volunteer please check out their website or contact them using the email above.

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What lies beneath Olive

Here at the Wandle Piscators, we’re proud to support the Environment Agency and to lead the restoration of the River Wandle’s invertebrates with our very own cell of the UK’s nationwide Riverfly Anglers’ Monitoring Initiative. Founded in 2007 by Will Tall, and now under the leadership of Robert Humphrey, the project makes frequent checks on the fauna that make their homes in our riverbed, forming a high-protein buffet for any Wandle fish.

Caseless caddis

Damsel Fly nymph

The protection of natural habitat is essential to the health of the Wandle’s invertebrates 14

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Panning for gold

The Riverfly Partnership

The Riverfly Partnership is a network of nearly 100 partner organisations, representing anglers, conservationists, entomologists, scientists, water course managers and relevant authorities, working together to protect the water quality of our rivers, further the understanding of riverfly populations, and actively conserve riverfly habitats. For more information go to:

Click on the map above for details of our monitoring locations‌

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The River Swale 16

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The Resort

John O’Brien discovers that sometimes, smaller is better


he River Ure was slow, very slow and low, the water almost stationary. Even with the lightest of tackle and the most delicate cast, the fly line seemed to crash into the surface of the pool. There were occasional fish there rising gently to sip something, but what? All my tried and tested patterns were rejected—no, not rejected but ignored. I could not find in the water any sign of what it was the fish were feeding on, except the occasional tiny, tiny black smut—that is the best way to describe it. The nearest I had to it was a size 20 Griffiths Gnat which looked huge in comparison and was duly ignored by the fish. Determined not to be left in that position again, that night I tied up a couple of really tiny size 30 imitations—a “fly” I called the Last Resort. It consists of nothing more than a few wraps of black thread around the smallest hook I could find. I knew that I would never be able to get a line through its eye on the riverbank so I tied on a tippet of 1.5lb line while the fly was still in the vice and then wound it round an empty thread bobbin for storage. Four days later, fishing the River Swale at Richmond, Yorkshire, I came across a similar situation. A slow flowing pool with rising fish but all my offerings ignored. I spent 30 minutes trying to tease a bite from it but failed. I had only another 20 minutes or so to fish before having to hit the road back to London and so the time had come to try out the Last Resort. It was strange to fish. I had no idea whether the fly was floating or sinking and only a vague idea of where the fly was once I cast it out. On my third cast I detected nothing as I let the fly drift down the pool but as soon as I started to retrieve line I realized that I had a fish on. The take had been subsurface and so gentle that I felt nothing. The fish was big and gutsy and I knew I had flimsy line at the end of The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2



Tip from the top

A big gutsy grayling’ The Last resort: tiny in comparison

my tackle so had to play things very carefully. After 10 minutes or so the Last Resort finally rewarded me with a fine grayling. (Picture 2—the grayling) I still had 10 minutes left and so cast out again. With time almost running out and Mike, my fishing buddy, calling me from the bridge just upstream, I took my last cast. The fly drifted down the pool and nothing moved but as I started my retrieve again there 18

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was a fish on—another completely undetected bite. This time a fine brownie came to the net. There was no time for photos of this fish as we were now running late after the fight and it was time to go. In future the Last Resort will be a permanent feature of my fishing vest— not in a fly box as it needs to be knotted onto a fine leader, but tucked away in a little plastic bag. n

One evening on the same trip we got into conversation with a couple of anglers. The younger man was clearly acting as a guide to the older “gobby rich bloke”—you know the type. Anyway it transpired that the younger man was part of the England fly fishing team and had also fished the Ure recently. He recognized the conditions we described and the difficulty of getting a bite and said he had had a slow day catching ONLY 17 grayling! Mike and I had caught one trout each. He said that his tactic was to target grayling in those conditions, as they were a bit more gullible than the trout. I was intrigued by the concept of targeting the grayling and asked him how he did that. He said that before he started fishing he waded up through a series of pools deliberately spooking the fish. Then he returned to the starting point and began fishing. The trout remained spooked for a long time but the grayling were already back in position and feeding by the time he returned so with no trout about, grayling was all there was to be caught. A clever idea, but I’m not sure I would try it. n


a season on the Wandle

Club President Stewart Ridgeway recalls some success

The Wandle, home to barbel


t’s never a good feeling to be stuck in a hot office on a bright sunny day, and it’s even worse when that day is the Glorious 16th of June and your Facebook feed is constantly pinging with notifications of other anglers’ success on the bankside. Quite frankly five o’clock could not come quickly enough. Being lucky enough to live close to work and equally close to some quality Wandle barbel swims, I was home, changed and back out on the river armed with my tackle a mere 50

minutes later. Having not had any real rain for a while the river was looking a little low but gloriously clear, not the greatest conditions if I’m honest for Barbel but after a three month layoff it was just good to be back on the bank. With opening day enthusiasm flowing through me I was soon tackled up with a simple semi free-lining rig terminating in a cube of good old trusty Spam. A deft flick saw the bait bang on the spot underneath the low-hanging

bush on the opposite bank. Being the first day of the season the fish were certainly in a confident mood and a rapid knock, knock, knock on the line resulted in a quick strike which met with zero resistance. Oh well, that’s just how it goes I guess at times. Back to the chase and a second cube of Spam was soon back out in prime position. This time the bait hardly had time to settle on the river bed when a couple of good pulls signified more interest. I managed not to miss the bite and a The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2


A first 10lb Wandle barbel fish was on! What resulted was a shortlived and fairly lacklustre fight, even in the rapid current at this particularly tight and narrow swim. A bronzed summer chub of about 3lbs was soon sliding over the rim of the net. A quick selfie and the fish was slipped back to its watery home a few metres downstream so as to (hopefully) not disturb the swim too much more. Not quite the start I was looking for, in that it wasn’t a barbel, but at least I was off the mark and my usual opening day blanking curse was gone. Anything more now would be a bonus. Hoping that the chub had not spooked the other known residents of the swim, I cast out another cube of meat and watched it settle into the darker water under the far bank bush. After a wait of a whole ten minutes or so I could sense the buzzing feeling up the line as a fish was possibly inspecting the bait, two positive pulls on the rod tip saw me striking and meeting with solid resistance. There was no mistaking what had taken the bait this time; solid, fast pulls and downstream lunges could only indicate on thing… barbel! When it surfaced it was a big chunk of a specimen too, and not wanting to get too excited it looked bigger than anything I had managed out of the Wandle up until that point. 20

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“A new personal best and first double figure, what better day to reach that pinnacle than the Glorious 16th of June.” Following a somewhat nerve wracking battle—having seen the size of the fish—I eventually coaxed it up against the flow and over the rim of the landing net, with myself wedged in between two bushes and perched precariously on the concrete bank edge. Laying the fish out on the landing net in preparation for weighing I could tell that this one was a little bit special by the depth of the fish if nothing else. The scales proved me correct when they managed to pull all the way around to the magic 10lb mark and then went a little bit further, in fact all the way around to 10lb 6oz. A new personal best and first double figure, what better day to reach that pinnacle than the Glorious 16th of June (see above). What followed of the next few weeks was a series of after work and weekend hit-and-run barbel hunting sessions in that very same swim as the 16th,

which sadly, whilst yielding some fish, didn’t follow up in terms of specimens with only a few three to four pounder stocky-sized fish making a bankside appearance. As June rolled into July the search for some wild brown trout took up a few of my sessions resulting in fish of up to 4lb 12oz, again a new Wandle personal best. The season had indeed gotten off to a flying start in terms of barbel, the question was could it last? The answer was yes, but only if I went exploring and trying out other swims. Most of July and August was spent chasing smaller species on lightweight float gear as the weather was hot and the water low. All that was to change in the weeks around the August bank holiday and its traditional heavy rain and high river levels. This year was no different and a few changes of swims and tactics brought new success to the 2015-2016 barbel campaign. With the rising water levels I shifted from semi-freelined baits to hair-rigged shop-bought boilie offerings fished hard on the deck on a simple free-running rig. In the patches of deep water and steady flows, which are not always that easy to find on the Wandle, it was almost instant success as soon as the bait was hitting the river bed at times.

A 9lb 14oz August barbel There followed a run of fish all around the 5-6lb mark, not massive but always willing to feed and give a good account of themselves in the fast water on this little river. Interestingly, from late August onwards the average size of the barbel was consistently around the upper 6-7lb mark, all in top condition with bronze flanks and an eagerness to feed in most conditions. There was the odd large fish thrown into the mix including a couple of nice eight pounders, and a 9lb 4oz beauty (see above). Unusually I was having by far the greater number of fish during daylight hours, where previously the hours of darkness had been much more productive. Having said that I did manage a decent number of fish after dark including my second ten pounder of the season, which I was willing to pull the dial on the scales round to the magic mark, as a fish of one ounce less would still have been impressive just not over that all important mark we like to set ourselves. Sadly the picture of this fish didn’t really turn out suitable for publication so you will just have to take my word on this one. River fishing for barbel is certainly one of the most exciting forms of angling you can do in this country,

Last of the season: 6lb 11oz in my opinion. The anticipation in waiting for the ‘Three foot twitch’ as a fish picks up the bait and heads off downstream. There is certainly no mistaking that a barbel has taken a liking to your bait when that happens! My barbel season started and actually ended up finishing on a high this year. Opening day had my personal best and my first double figure Wandle barbel, then late on in the season while exploring some new, rather hard to access long-trotting swims I managed

to hook and land my first barbel on float gear, and after a few seasons of trying it was good to finally get this one nailed. It wasn’t a bad specimen either at 6lb 11oz (see pic above right). It even managed to pose for the picture with all its fins bristling. Now, as I write this, there is barely one month of the closed season to go and I will soon be itching to get back on the bank and fingers crossed have an even better Wandle barbel season. Well here’s hoping anyway. n The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2




The Grasshopper When, where and how to fish it. By John Stephens.


lot of my fishing both stream and still water is done in the south of England with much of the summer months spent beneath the north downs in the Tillingbourne valley, a few miles east of Guildford. The water here filters down through the chalk of the downs and the fly life is prolific with good hatches of Olives and Mayfly in spring and early summer. But when those summer doldrums arrive everything seems to slow down and mid day fishing can be pretty dire. It is at this time that terrestrials come on the scene and recently I have found 22

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them patterns of choice; indeed they are now a main feature in my summer fly box. As a fly tier I am always looking for patterns and materials that can be adapted from one situation to another. A good example of this is the Foam Gasshopper that I first came upon on a visit to western Montana. Here big boulder strewn rivers like the Madison, Yellowstone and Beaver cut through miles of grassland prairies that are home to some of the biggest grasshoppers you have ever seen. And close under those riverbanks trout lie

in wait for the unfortunate hopper to take that fateful leap too far. It was at the The Maddison River Fishing Company in Ennis where I had my first encounter. The cool looking assistant, Brian, sporting a psychedelic T shirt, baseball cap and polariods, advised: ‘If you’re fishing the Ruby, you can’t go wrong with a foam hopper.” He was pointing to a fly case full of massive foam and rubber legged monsters. I must have looked the picture of incredulity. These things were over two inches long, fluorescent green and yellow with bright orange patches and


A selection of foam grasshoppers

Rich Michau tying a hopper bunches of rubber legs fit to scare off any self-respecting angler, let alone the trout. Of course, this was Montana, not Hampshire. Brian picked out a Grand Hopper, one of the biggest and brightest yellow and tan models, a super charged monster if ever I saw one. I selected a couple more, less garishly dressed examples and laid them modestly on the counter. ‘Fish them in fast water,’ was Brian’s parting advice. ‘The Ruby has some nice undercut banks. Cast them close under the bank and they’ll come up for it, you’ll see.’

I didn’t really believe him. In my fly box I had some Woolly Buggers, some Yuk Bugs, Prince Nymphs and a good selection of small copper bead heads. Up until now these had served me well, cast three quarters up stream and dead drifted through the boulders, over which most of the rivers in this region run. The Ruby River flows from the Gravely Range through Ruby Reservoir and down on through the wheat and pasture land of the Ruby Valley to meet with the Jefferson at Twin Bridges, home to the famed R.L.Winston Rod Company. By Montana standards the

Ruby is more stream than river. It is exactly as Brian described it: a fast winding ribbon of blue, with deep sparkling runs, cutting through blond fields of wheat. I tied on the big yellow Grand Hopper and as Brian had told me to, I cast it right into a fast seam of water that ran deep under the overhanging bank. As I watched the bright yellow thing bob along in the churning current an old familiar voice whispered in my ear. ‘You’ve gotta be joking?’ Then right on cue up it came and I was staring wide eyed into the brilliant The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2



Common green grasshopper

white throat of a lovely Ruby brown trout. It came out of nowhere, and in one fin thrusting motion swallowed the foam hopper and was off down stream, leaving me to stumble over the boulders in hot pursuit. When I finally got the fish into the net it was a fin perfect, 18’ wild brown, dressed in its buttery gold autumn colours. The kind of fish that stays with you long after you’ve packed your rod and left the river. It was one of those fly fishing events that you never forget. Over those remaining weeks in Montana the foam hopper proved itself time and time again. It was just as Brian said, ‘Give ‘em the right fly, at the right time, in the right place and you’ll get some fishing you’re like to remember.’

Back home in Blighty

Rising Grand Hopper

The Yellow Foam Hopper Hook: Size 12 Grip 11001, Kamasan B800, TMC 200R Thread: Uni Thread 6/0 Yellow, Olive or Tan Foam Body: 2mm Yellow Closed Cell Foam Sheet (lakelandflyfishing. com) Foam Wing: 2mm Green Closed Cell Foam Sheet Rubber Legs: Medium Round Rubber Legs—yellow ( Dubbing: Pale Olive or Yellow Super Fine Dubbing Glue: Fulling Mill Fishing Super Glue or similar. Marking: Letraset Promarker, Black, Brown or Green 24

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But would the foam hopper work back home in my neck of the woods? You’d be right in thinking that the Tillingbourne valley is just about as different as you can get to the Ruby Valley; no Tobacco Root mountain range here. But just wait a minute, what we have got is a sweeping valley, a stream fed from aquifers deep under

the north downs, and most important of all, the beats that I fish run through grassy meadows, which in mid summer—you got it—are home to a host of grass hoppers. Omocestus Viridulus or the Common Green Grasshopper might be a whole lot smaller (17-23 mm long) than its cousin from across the big blue but to the trout in my Surrey stomping ground it is just as appetising. In fact in my recent experience there are days when it’s top of the menu. My scaled down versions are tied on size 10 11001 Grip Dry Fly/Emerger hooks that measure 15 mm from eye to bend; add a foam body and you have a nicely scaled Common Green Grasshopper! I have also used size 12 TMC 200R and Kamasan B800. I particularly favour the Grip hook because it has a wide gape, which helps ‘hook-setting’ on a bulky fly. For body material the best foam I have come across is Rainy’s Evozote sheet. It is lighter than other closed cell foam materials and is available in a range of colours and thicknesses. It’s a great material but it isn’t cheap, especially with packing and postage.


1 Fix the hook in the vice and run the thread down to the bend and back to the eye to build up a rough textured base, finishing with the thread just behind the hook point. 2 Using a sharp craft knife cut a strip of yellow body foam slightly longer than twice the length of your hopper—50mm. 3 Place the foam body strip against the shank of the hook so that one end is level with the hook eye, fold the strip around the hook bend, bring together and position so that the rear end of the body extends up to 5 mm beyond the hook bend; then trim the foam at the eye to form a neat head. 4 Unfold the body strip, and holding the strip against the hook shank apply a coat of fishing Super Glue to the foam and hook shank, bring the strips together to encapsulate the hook shank and hold until set, 5 Take two wraps of thread around the body and tighten down to form the tail segment. 6 Take the thread forward under the body and make two wraps to create the first body segment; repeat this three times to create evenly spaced segments that end with a slightly larger head segment, trapping down with a half-hitch. 7 With a sharp craft knife cut a wing section of green closed cell foam the length and width of the hopper body; position the wing over the body and bind down with two turns of thread; apply a coating of fishing Super Glue between the wing and the body and press together until the glue sets.

HOPPING MAD Alternatively you might use standard closed cell foam, available from most tackle dealers, or in handy packs from Hobby Craft stores. Rubber leg materials can be bought in ribbon strips, handy for tying in double strands for thigh sections then stripping down below the knot (see below). These are available in a range of natural and bright colours and they can easily be barred using a water-poof marker pen to enhance visual texture. Crazy Legs are also nice to use and can be combined with standard rubber legs to add to the hoppers movement in the water. For the wings there are a range of very simple or more complex alternatives, including a CDC or Krystal Flash underwing, topped with Web Wing and deer hair—if you are using Web Wing, then use a wing burner to create the wing, as this seals the edges and prevents the material from shredding. The classic Rainy Grand Hopper has a brown turkey feather cut wing tied over Krystal Flash and deer’s hair. This makes for a really meaty fly that hits the water hard; what Brian would call ‘A wake-‘em-up hopper.’ The one that I have chosen here is an all foam design adapted from a

Proof that English trout take foam grasshoppers pattern demonstrated by Rich Michau, a fly tier from Bozeman. A relatively simple pattern to tie, it sits high in the water, even in the most turbulent of riffles, and has excellent visibility. I have used it in white water beneath a wear and along the stream close into the bank; in both situations it will bring trout up when nothing else is moving. It also works well on still water; give it a

8 At this stage you can add the eyes and any other body marking with a permanent marker. 9 Prepare the rubber legs by adding banding with permanent marker. 10 Cut two single rubber legs, twice the length of the hopper. Position them on either side of the body and tie in with two wraps of thread; adjust them so that they are slightly inclined toward the head of the hopper and lock them in place with a half hitch. 11 Cut two doubled lengths of rubber leg material and knot them, pull lightly to form the knot, adding a touch of fishing Super Glue to it before tightening on it and holding for five seconds to set the glue—failure to glue the knots can result in them unravelling. 12 At this point you can split the lower end of the legs and trim off one of the strands below the knot, thus improving the aesthetics and the kicking action of the hopper. 13 Position the legs along the body of the hopper, carefully aligning them with one another before tying in with two wraps of thread and locking down with a half hitch. 14 Now seal everything in place with a coating of fishing Super Glue. 15 Apply dubbing to the thread and dub the wraps between thorax and head. 16 Cut an inch of bright orange Antron wool and tie this in as a sight post. 17 Whip finish and trim the sight post.

twitch to impart the kicking motion of a water bound hopper—they do in fact try to swim! The Common Green Grasshopper can be found in pastures and upland heath pretty much anywhere in the British Isles. The lifecycle begins in April when nymphs hatch from the soil. They moult into the adult form in June. From mid July onwards the males display to females by rubbing their legs against their wings to make that characteristic ticking song that sounds just like a freewheeling bicycle. After mating the females lay their eggs in the soil ready to hatch the following spring. Kick through the grass in any meadow and you’re likely to see these little hoppers take flight before you. Depending on local conditions they can be fished with success from late June through until October. However, in my experience they come into their own in July and August, when the trout seek somewhere to hide out of the sun and are reluctant to show themselves, especially during the day. This is the time to tie on the Foam Grasshopper and cast it into those fast runs, under that shaded bank or out there where fish are just cruising lazily along - use a long fine leader with plenty of line sink, give it a twitch and wait for the action. n The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2



Cherry Salmon and Cherry blossoms Adrian Grose-Hodge fishes in the land of the rising sun


s far as season openers go, I couldn’t have asked for a better one than the one I had this year. Not only did I find myself in the Far East but also I was able to 26

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target two species that have been on my bucket list for some time. Now Japan might not be on everyone’s fishing radar or destination bucket list, as many people believe that it is either

too far away, that the fish are too small, or that the expense is too high to make the journey worthwhile. However, my hope is that the words and images in this article convince you otherwise.


Ebi, happy at the end of a good day’s fishing

“Fishing in Japan has a long tradition, though fly fishing is relatively new compared to Tenkara or bait fishing.”

Japan is a mostly mountainous country, with deep wooded valleys, through which run rivers of all shapes and sizes. Its population is roughly 120 million, and it is believed that

one in ten fish. Fishing in Japan has a long tradition, though fly fishing is relatively new compared to Tenkara or bait fishing. Possibly, the best periods for the roaming fisherman to visit are

in late April and early May, when the cherry blossom is in full swing and when Amago, a red-spotted sea-run cherry salmon, run up from the sea. Autumn, when the myriad shades of yellow, red and orange set the landscape on fire, and mid-June to the end of July, when a few more intrepid fly fishermen head north to Hokkaido, where the choice and size of fish to target make it a destination that any adventure fisherman should seriously consider. For Japan, as far as fresh water game fish go, has five types of salmon, three types of native trout, char, taimen and steelhead if that were not enough. I decided to go during the season in which you hear more sighs in a week than you do in the rest of the year, The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2


Right, now where are those trout? namely the cherry blossom. My target species were Yamame, a landlocked Cherry Salmon, whose name means ‘queen of mountain streams’ and the native char, Iwana. Neither of them grow big, but both are stunning fish to behold. A 30cm Yamame is considered a fish of a lifetime, and the Iwana doesn’t grow much bigger. Research prior to the trip had indicated that I would be using very long tippets, up to 24 feet, tapered down to 6X or thinner, and that flies would be in the 18-24 size, the norm leaning towards the latter end. Seeing that I only had a small window to fish for these two species, I decided on having a guide. A wise 28

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choice, as my guide, Ebi, was the type of guide I like—the type that isn’t giving you instructions or a running commentary throughout. Rather, one that lets you in on a method or fly that works, puts you over fish, and leaves you to it. One of the perks of having a guide was that I was picked up from my hotel in central Tokyo and driven the two and a half hours into Gunma Province, where we arrived at our chosen accommodation. The Kana River wraps itself around the hotel, tantalisingly close to one’s room, which overlooks it. The hotel caters for both Japanese, as some rooms have tatami beds, and Western tastes, has its own

‘onsen’ - a hot-spring communal bath - and serves up amazing traditional Japanese meals, normally consisting of somewhere between 10-15 small and varied dishes, ranging from sashimi to pickled lotus root. Japanese cuisine is not something I’m going to forget. Period. As you can imagine, I was itching to get on the water. From what I had read and been told, Yamame were very hard to catch, as they had small mouths, were lightning fast and had lived among people for a long time. However, Ebi told me that at that time of the year trout fed off midges, stoneflies and mayflies (any upwing insect), and that these ranged in size


The Japanese Iwana, or ‘rock fish’

from 10-16. I had read that the midges disappear with the washing away of the snowmelt in the water, and to be honest I didn’t witness a midge hatch while I was there. That left with me the choice of fishing either an elk hair or balloon caddis or a quill-bodied olive dun pattern with a fluorescent orange post, all of which I fished in sizes 1216. In faster water a balloon caddis in slightly larger sizes did the trick as it allowed me to actually see and track the fly. If I wanted to improve hook up rates I’d tie these flies on the same size hooks but ensure I had hooks with a narrower gape. The river itself was very clear and initially I was surprised at the number

of fishermen around, especially bait fishermen. My first session produced a dozen Yamame, many more missed, and a handful spooked by sloppy casts. The very first fish I caught measured 10 inches, which is a very good fish, as a trophy would be anything over 12 inches. I found that in the riffles a short leader of about 7-9 feet is fine, tapered down to 5 or 6X. However, in the long flat glides and pools a longer leader of 10-14 feet and tapered down to 6/7X is better suited. Another thing that I noticed is that a lot of Japanese fishermen stand upright while they fish, which I don’t think helps success rates. My suggestion would be to use

builders’ gel-filled-kneepads, which allow you to approach fish in a much stealthier way, apart from protecting your knees and your waders! The following day was different as it had rained overnight and the temperature had dropped noticeably. The day was grey and overcast. We decided to fish the same river though much further upstream as the weekend coincided with the ‘Yamame Festival’, which brought out a lot of bait fishermen. On some sections you could see fishermen standing shoulder to shoulder. We did, however, manage to find some lovely stretches, where fish were rising along the inside lanes of bends. I caught a good number of The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2


The Yamame: worth the clamber and the wait fish and by mid morning my mind had wandered off to my quest for an Iwana. We decided that we would try a different river in Nagano Province in the hope of locating some. I was warned that chances were slim as it was still early in the season and the Iwana was not looking up yet. Those that had tried to catch some hadn’t had much success. Iwana means ‘rock fish’ in Japanese, which is apt as they spend their times in the margins, motionless, like rocks. We also decided that we would go 30

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exploring in the afternoon, a decision that we didn’t live to regret, as we found and caught a number of Yamame in some lovely looking water. Again, many more fish were raised than hooked up with. I’m still toying with the idea that some I missed because I was too slow in lifting into the fish, while others simply missed the fly. I did catch some fish on the nymph but I did much better on the dry. I’d have liked to try out some mini lures and foam flies more, as I had a little success and plenty of follows. I’ve always found

“Fishing in Japan is about being slow, stealthy and purposeful with one’s actions.” that to dabble and experiment a little bit often brings unexpected results. The weather forecast had predicted rain all day but we were fortunate, as the valley we were in didn’t receive a drop of it.

The following morning saw us leave for Nagano province in search of an Iwana, after yet another enormous breakfast. We met up with a friend of Ebi’s, an experienced angler who put us onto a lovely boulder-filled tributary of a tributary, which at times was not even a couple of feet wide, real pocket water. One of the things that I love about this type of fishing is that you are casting to a small target area, and you know that you only have probably one, possibly two casts into any pool, before any self-respecting fish disappears.

Small confined spaces put your skills to the test. Fishing in Japan is about being slow, stealthy and purposeful with one’s actions. One carefully picks their entry points, get the angles right and puts their fly in the right place while maintaining as little drag as possible. Fly and fly size, are secondary. I worked, or should I say, clambered my way upstream and finally caught my Iwana. High fives all round. Smiling from ear to ear, it’s hard not to feel elated when a plan comes together. My trip had been a

success and I was as happy as Larry. I carried on fishing up the stream, catching and losing these amazingly coloured fish. I had to pack up early that last day as I had to meet up with my wife, but unlike most times, I had no difficulty leaving the water. I had achieved my objectives and the only sadness was the knowledge that I had so much more to discover. The beautiful environs and the stunning fish of Japan make it a top destination in my eyes. One I know I’ll go back to given half the chance. n The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2



THE FRENCH ARE COMING! Arkadi de Rakoff finds the differences between the French and English trout venue refreshing


ean Pucci is enjoying a first year of retirement from his former jewelry business in Paris. But that’s not the sole reason he’s a very happy man. He’s also the proprietor of the first ‘International’ Troutmaster water, La Moulin de la Chaise Dieue du Theil in the Normandy region of France. Okay, the name’s a tongue-twisting mouthful but don’t let that put you off because it’s a cracking venue for a complete and happy day’s fishing; mature, landscaped 32

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grounds, excellent clubhouse with well stocked bar and dinning room, plus bankside barbecues and picnic tables, and of course, wonderful sport on 7 acres of lakes and the feeder streams of the river Iton. Everyone loves their local lake, warts and all, and I’m no exception, but this place is a bit special. This is Moulin’s first year as a Troutmaster water and competition among anglers has been intense. With only two more monthly returns left

to determine the fish-off contestants, there’s more than a bit nail biting going on. So watch out you English Troutmasters, the French are coming, intent on bagging that crown! Well, that’s their attitude and why not? Isn’t that what competitive sport’s all about? And let’s face it, the French have a wonderful tradition in competitive fly fishing; world champions an incredible 4 times in a row (2000/1/2/3) and still


currently ranked top of the international league table. But that’s mainly river fishing and Chaise Dieue is a different kettle of poisson.

The Moulin

The Moulin started life as a 19th century flour mill set astride the river Iton in the grounds of a local Abbey’s estate. And when Jean brought the dilapidated complex forty years ago he was finally in a position to turn his dream into a

working reality. Over the intervening years, with a lot of hard work, vision, courage and considerable financial outlay, Jean created a 22 hectares (50 acres) complex of 5 distinct lakes in varying sizes and configurations, fed by the Iton and a local spring source. The millrace still functions and helps pump the river through the system, enlivening the waters and encouraging fish action. Because at this stage of it’s journey the Iton is ‘category 2 ‘

(which means it’s a coarse river—trout rivers are category 1) the waters are somewhat coloured, particularly after heavy rainfall. But believe me that doesn’t inhibit the action. The upside is that category 2 rivers are open all year round, so the two kilometers of double bank feeder streams that serpentine the estate add another dimension to the season’s fishing opportunities. Stocking levels are high and the species varied: Browns, Rainbows, The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2



Blues, Goldens, Brookies and Saumon de Fontaine. The fighting qualities are excellent, especially among average weight fish—bigger ones have a dour bullishness that often results in a line breaker for the unaware. And despite its tendency to colour, top of the water sport is generally excellent (decent visibility in the top 2 to 3 feet) Either dries or nymphing just sub surface offer the best results. And even in the dog days of summer, the lake’s powerful inflows and outflows produce oxygenated water and moving food sources, inducing plenty of action in the resulting pools. If all else fails, you can always get into the deeper areas and strip a lure, but at least 90% of your time is fished on a floating line. The fishery rules take everyone into account. It’s basically catch and release so there’s never an ‘early bag’ syndrome looming heavy over your rod. If you want a fish for the table, the first 3 kilos are included in your day ticket. After that, you pay by the kilo if there’s a lot of mouths to feed. One of the nice things about Chaise Dieue is the convivial atmosphere between locals and visiting anglers who are mainly from Paris, including a fair smattering of English ex-pats. Jean 34

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“One of the nice things about Chaise Dieue is the convivial atmosphere between locals and visiting anglers who are mainly from Paris, including a fair smattering of English ex-pats” has even created special days such as Specimen Trophy Fishing and the annual Fish/Golf championship (1 day for each sport) to foster the club’s esprit de corps. The Moulin’s bar is run on an honour system of ‘help yourself ’ and chalk it up on the board. And you don’t pay for your ticket until the end of your day! The only downside is if you pass through the bar too many times on your way to the different lakes you’ll wind up with a bit of a headache: the weak amongst us say, the clubhouse is too conveniently central and the locals far too inviting. But it’s good to fall into fishing conversations with our french

brethren because you get some very interesting and lively views on the sport. If you ask a true French Fly fisherman to name the main difference between them and us, invariably comes the reply; “The English fish more for the sport while traditional French anglers fish for the table”. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, underlying which exists the question of conservation. The French fishing authorities tread a fine line trying to preserve natural stocks and the need to re-educate their voracious anglers in the ways of conservation. In the main, French trout rivers are in the public domain and allow any technique (spinning, worming, etc). Although on the increase, due mainly to the younger (enlightened?) generation of local fishing board presidents, in some regions of France, fly only no-kill stretches are as rare a commodity as the truth from a politicians mouth. But enough of the politics, let’s get back to Chaise Dieu’s fishing.

The fishing

Chris Dawn joined me for a couple of days in early August to gauge the potential of this new Troutmaster water and I hope, thoroughly enjoyed


The venue the experience. The weather was unseasonably mild; cooling breezes, good intermittent cloud cover and a decent clarity of water providing excellent top of the water sport. The first lake in front of the club house was teeming with fish souping up nymphs and emergers in the top few feet. Chris was first on the water prospecting a bay at the near end while I used local knowledge and headed for the middle section by an outflow that nearly always produces fish. Sure enough after a couple of casts, what felt like a nice 3 pounder was dancing around on the end of the line, only to disengage from the suspender buzzer before arriving at the net, encouraging but not entirely satisfactory. There was a good selection of anglers already on the water but in spite of the visible feeding fish there were precious few coming out. On a whim, I changed to a wet. I used to have a lot of success on an Invicta under similar circumstances at Lakedown before it closed down. The memory had probably been triggered by Chris telling me earlier that the venue had recently re-opened, and sure enough my first success of the morning soon hit the bank. There’s nothing

The clubhouse like confidence to breed success and another followed suit before I felt inclined to move on. Knowing we had the luxury of fishing the lake over 2 days was a great incentivet to experiment with the flies. My boxes are full of flies I’ve bought and hardly used—discarded as no-no’s after a few futile attempts. I seem to spend most of my time fishing buzzers, damsels and goldhead because I know they produce results, but recently

boredom’s been setting in, and I’ve started revisiting the discard box, and with good effect. Being a lousy entomologist, I tend to go more by instinct than knowledge, and recently I’ve stumbled on the value of legs. Anything small with legs and a bit of wing has been working well— left to drift under tension just below the surface, with an occasional tweak to add a spark of life. A hopper and a hawthorn produced two more fish to The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2



4lbs. Then suddenly it was all quiet on the western front and time for us to change lakes (which meant another visit to the clubhouse for a refreshing beer). Chris had been coming to terms with the top lake and its foibles and was now well in the Chaise Dieue groove. Having moved to the outflow he was soon into a tough-muscled, fighting three pounder that took a fair time to throw in the towel. And judging from the grin on Chris’s face, it was a contest well worth the winning. Arriving at the bar we were greeted with news: a three kilo plus rainbow caught by a local angler was already an early contender for a monthly fish-off place (we retrieved the fish from the fridge for a bank side shot) It cost him a few euros for the extra kilos, but a small price to pay for the trophy. Throughout August, the fishery is managed by Robert Taillandier, captain of the French national fly fishing team in the 1980’s. Over another beer, Robert told us how his team had fished an international match at Rutland and got slaughtered (they didn’t even have a day’s practice), but he’d fallen in love with the venue and was in awe at the home angler’s technique. Six years later he and his team returned there to win the European championship—thanks 36

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“One of the nice things about Chaise Dieue is the convivial atmosphere between locals and visiting anglers who are mainly from Paris, including a fair smattering of English ex-pats” in no small measure to ex-England captain, Tony Pawson, for his help and encouragement. Robert always treasures this memory of Tony as an example of true British sportsmanship! We spent the afternoon exploring other lakes and the feeder stream with reasonable success. There was still plenty of movement on the waters and klinkhammer emergers were doing the business for me. It was getting late in the evening when Chris called me over to the top end of the stream to witness a catch in progress. Flicking a dry out under a bridge, a skillful angler had winkled out a nice looking Rainbow and was playing it more gently than a Mendelsohn moonlight sonata. It must

have taken him nigh on ten minutes to get it up to the net (it was never more than three or four feet away from his rod tip, and hardly broke the surface). He was a gentle, melancholy sort of guy, and this was reflected in his style. A fitting end to the day.

Day two

The following day we concentrated on Lake Emily, by far the largest of the complex. It’s much more open than the other lakes and suffers from exposure to prolonged August sun. It had been closed for a few days to rest the fish, but now the weather was cooling, we’d been given the keys to the gate for a morning’s exploration. I wandered off to the far side while Chris stayed on a shady platform and cast into the turbulence of a powerful outflow (sensible chap). He was into fish before I even made it to the other side—and the onset of a panic attack! What had I done with the (only) key to the gate? I spent the next hour retracing my steps from the gate to the far side, searching every trodden bit off grass. Meanwhile Chris had been getting take after take and landing a fair few fish. Finally, he managed to convince me we’d been through two gates, not one as I’d thought, so I backtracked to the first


A melancholy gent with a beautiful fish to find the key still in the lock. Me and keys (and a lousy memory). By now the outflow had had given it’s best and it was time to go. We were off to fish an evening rise on the Risle, my local river. But that’s another story which if he has a mind, Chris will recount some other time. A few days later I returned to the lake to snap a few more images (and fish a while). There wasn’t much in the way of photos but I passed an interesting lunchtime in conversation with local angler, Pierre La Brot, and his visiting English friend, Dave Pratt, from Chertsey. Pierre’s a restauranteur, which was in evidence by the excellent selection of food and drink on the picnic table. Dave’s a coarse angler who dabbles a fly in the close season, and that morning his son had caught his first ever fish on a fly. Dave was so impressed with the venue and French culinary hospitality, he vowed if a UK venue could provide as much, he’d be a regular punter, season or no close season. I asked Pierre what he thought of English lakes. He loved the clarity of water and the stalking but said most French anglers would be horrified if told they had to pack up (or pay again) when reaching a bag limit. We’re back to fishing for sport

The rubber bloodworm or the table, and Pierre just fishes for the love of it. And I made my own surprising discovery on the day, a new fly, the rubber bloodworm! I’d bought a couple earlier in the season and they’d lain forgotten in an odds and sods box which came to light when I was tackling up. Being a week for experimentation, I gave it a go. Talk about startling, it took 4 fish in less than an hour (on a subsequent visit, another 10 fish in the day, including a brownie from the river!) How do you account for that because it certainly wasn’t a demonstration of fishing expertise? Maybe it was English

grub that they’d never seen before (they don’t seem to be available in France) or maybe there were tons of the naturals about. Probably, it was just plain luck, but now I can’t wait to try them on a UK lake. So, if any of you English anglers fancy pitting your skills against the Chaise Dieue French, Jean be would be only too happy to accommodate. n Words and pictures by Arkadi de Rakoff For further information on fishing in Normandy (Trout rivers and Lakes) please visit website: www. The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2



Mythical salmon

The echoes of a silver tourist, by Garrett Fallon


f you exit through the back door of the house I grew up in in Ireland, walk past the sloping field and along the driveway, over the rattling cattle grid, then turn left, you will see, at the end of the road, two large imposing stone pillars—guardians of a hidden realm—in between which hangs a solid, wide, iron gate. You can peer through its parallel bars, and your eyes continue walking as the driveway narrows gradually into the distance. There is a sign that says ‘Private’. If you’re brave enough to go through this gate, the tall trees on either side 38

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are almost threatening, certainly claustrophobic, and the constant chatter of crows offer a sinister companionship, watching your every move, plotting against you. If you look up, the swirling branches and rushing clouds bring dizziness, as if you’re falling under a spell. It is always windy at the top of those impossibly tall trees. Underneath, the woodland floor is dark and uninviting, and the occasional scurrying of paws or breaking of a twig forces you to be on guard. It is strange enough during the day, but at night time you can’t help but hurry

home along this path. There is always a feeling of hidden eyes watching your every move. This narrow corridor suddenly widens into a wooded area where the drive decides to swing around to the right. There is an ancient graveyard here, in the ruins of a tiny chapel. It is overgrown, with long grasses, thickets of bramble, some old box hedges, and the ubiquitous ivy holding the ruin together, like sellotape on a fading photograph. The remaining headstones lean at contradictory angles, adjusting to the gradual slipping of the slight

AN IRISH TALE one kneels to say a Hail Mary for every step of the rosary, a penance perhaps, or simply a prayer. There is a tumulus nearby—a pre-Christian burial mound—but you have to know where it is or you’d never find it, and a mass rock sits quietly forgotten in a nearby field. Long before Christianity came to these parts, the pagans were burying their dead on this spot.

Supernatural fish

slope they sit on, fighting against the roots of the trees and bushes that are trying to undermine them. I wonder if the stoic determination of some of these stones to stay upright is a sign that the bodies that lie below—now surely nothing but bones—still have something to say. Outside the walls of this ruin, a Lady Well guards the chapel, making sure that the abandoned graves and the spirits within remain firmly in their place. The oval brick well nestles in the ground, and a circle of flat stones surround it, on which

In Irish mythology, Lady Wells are depicted as originating in the ‘Otherworld’, a parallel dimension whose inhabitants have the power to control the natural forces in this world. Water flows from their world into ours, gushing forth as rivers such as the Boyne, urged on by the power of the goddess Bóann. Supernatural fish, especially the trout or the salmon, are said to appear in these wells to those seeking omens for the future, and the goddesses themselves are fabled to take the form of the fish. Salmon were often believed to bear the light of ‘iomas’—the ‘light that illuminates’—meaning wisdom or insight gained from a supernatural encounter. Long ago even the pagans realised that the salmon was from another world, a passing visitor through ours. Magic fish indeed. The River Boyne is not far from this spot, barely a few fields away. Legend has it that Fionn mac Cumhaill, the great leader of the Fianna of Ireland, was still a boy when he was sent to study under the guidance of the wise man Finnegas, who lived on the banks of the river while trying desperately to catch the Salmon of Knowledge from its waters. Whoever ate this fish would possess all the knowledge of the world. When Finnegas did catch it, Fionn cooked it for him, but burnt his finger on its skin. Sucking it to relieve the pain, the knowledge passed to him instead, and he went on to become one of the most important characters in Irish mythology. We were brought up on stories of fairy rings, forts and mounds. There

were places in the landscape that were left alone, respected from a distance. It is difficult to fully shake off this belief of otherworldly significance when you’re standing by the well. It is a strange world of echoes and shadows, a domain of the dead perhaps, eerily silent—the caw of the crow stays away from here—apart from the sound of rushing water. Seeking this out, you pass under the low-hanging branches of old trees and push apart the wild grasses, huge patches of dock leaves, nettles and cow parsley. The noise is getting louder, calling to you. Then you see it—a weir—and the mood changes, life rushes into the scene, quickly washing the sense of foreboding away. Behind the weir the landscape slopes up to the Big House, former seat of the local lord, whose ancestors are still feeding the worms in the fading graveyard behind.

The weir

The weir is on a straight stretch of a small limestone river, and before the water tumbles, it is clear and deep. But it is not clear like crystal, but like Irish whiskey. There is a tint to it, a peatstained reminder of its journey, and the bogs through which it has flowed. There is a purity to the water of the English chalkstream that evokes Sunday afternoons after church, tradition and order, a clear conscience, and their often tidy appearance reminds you of English country gardens, herbaceous borders and beds of roses. This Irish limestone river is a different animal. It evokes toil and labour, mucky work and dirty hands, and smells of cow shit, but god, it is beautiful. Perhaps its colour reflects the journey the river makes when flowing between the two worlds. Perhaps it emerges first as crystal clear, only to gradually colour as it flows through the grit and grime of our dimension, where the sins of this world and a sorrowful history of conflict and famine stain it forever. I fished this spot as a child countless times. We started catching minnows The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2



“There is often a glorious hatch of upwings, dancing in the light like fairies, glistening like beacons until they are snatched by a rising fish.”

in bottles, graduating to worming for perch and trout. We hardly ever caught anything but saw enough to feed the mind. On one occasion my friend David roused me from the monotony of my chores to rush to the river and watch the mass of elvers climb the weir. There were thousands, taking hours to pass. We caught them in jars—seething masses of writhing bootlaces—then released them into the quiet water above. I doubt I’ll ever see such a sight again. There is a spot of slack water on the far bank where the reflection of the weir wall blocks out the light and allows you to see anything that swims there. It is here that I saw my first salmon, resting up after making his ascent. We tried everything to catch it, but it remained aloof and unmoved.

The river

My father often fly fished here, wading the deeper water above and below the weir, where, when the torrent fades, the river glides gently past beds of rushes and through long strands of ranunculus weed. There is often a glorious hatch of upwings, dancing in the light like fairies, glistening like beacons until they are snatched by a rising fish. There are always trout rising in this little stretch, and they continue to rise all the way to the small, double arched stone bridge that offers the angler a chance to peer directly into the water, where the walls between the two realms are at their thinnest. There were gudgeon there—huge gudgeon. Long and pink, silver really, but with a pink hue. And perch, lots of them. Oh, and the eels, sneaking into cracks in the brickwork, feeding on the dead sheep that would occasionally wash down the river after heavy rain, and get stuck with the floating branches and other debris that was swept from the land. It was here that I saw my second and third salmon. Once again it was David who knocked on my door and told me to follow. His sister had been walking that morning and had peered over the bridge, looking for the cheerful gudgeon, but there were two salmon 40

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AN IRISH TALE instead. They were still there when I arrived, barely a dozen feet away. They swam in the sun, spinning around each other in an ethereal dance. I wanted to touch them, to see if they were real, but they were out of reach. I couldn’t jump from my world into theirs. My father and I would often stand by the weir, half-expecting a salmon to jump it. That’s the problem with weirs. Once you’ve seen a picture of a salmon jumping any weir, you can’t help but expect it happens all the time, even though you know that, sadly, it hardly happens at all. Yet you continue to stare, as if somehow this act alone will magic a fish from the realm of water. There is a small bush clinging stubbornly to the near-vertical river bank about 20 yards below the weir, its fingerling branches and leaves overhanging the water, staring over the precipice with barely a thread holding them to the ground. There is a tiny pocket of calmer water under it. “In all my years, I’ve never seen a fish rise under that bush. I think there might be a big fish just sitting there,” my father said. I thought nothing more of it until myself and the gang of lads I hung around with as a boy were fishing the weir one summer’s day. We were sharing an old sea boat rod and freelining worm down the rapids. It was David’s turn to cast, and I had crossed over the bridge and made my way around to the far side of the bank, while Joe and Aiden were acting the mick. David was distracted by the horseplay and had forgotten all about his bait, until I shouted over that the line was now stretching down past the rapids and would soon snag on the dangling branches of the bush as the river sped around a bend. He started to reel in and his rod bent double. I still remember the look on his face—a mixture of blind panic and youthful excitement—his eyes wide open as they were assaulted with adrenalin and possibility, both hands firmly on the rod as it kicked and bucked furiously. As young lads, we’d never hooked into anything bigger than

“That’s the problem with weirs. Once you’ve seen a picture of a salmon jumping any weir, you can’t help but expect it happens all the time, even though you know that, sadly, it hardly happens at all.” half a pound, so our emotions quickly outgrew their shells and we entered into a new territory of adventure. All of us were frantically shouting instructions to David, but my words could hardly be heard over the noise of the rushing water. It wouldn’t have made an ounce of difference anyway, as I had nothing valuable to offer except “Hold on!”. Then suddenly we saw it. A huge fish jumped from under the bush, crashing through the

water in a shining, spinning mass. Its dark back and pink sides were clearly visible—a salmon! Holy Shit! This was real fishing, and we weren’t equipped for it. Then the line parted with a crack and David reeled in nothing but disappointment. Of course the salmon wouldn’t have been resident under the bush, but obviously knew a good spot when he saw one. Perhaps every passing salmon took refuge under that bush, and had done since the time of Finnegas. But seeing that fish pushed us all into another realm of possibility where the water could reveal more than trout, gudgeon and perch. When I stand on that weir now, I can’t help but feel that at any moment the goddess Bóann will appear in the form of a fish that jumps that weir, and I will travel between the two worlds again, and return to being a young boy. n Garrett Fallon is editor of Fallon’s Angler, a printed magazine championing long-form angling writing: The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2



Addicted to the Tillingbourne Small stream fly fishing, by John Stephens


have become addicted to small stream fly fishing. I am not sure exactly how this has happened, but the past five summer’s fishing the Tillingbourne must take some of the blame. This delightful little stream threads its way from the Tilling Springs in the Surrey Hills to join the River Wey at Shalford, just over two miles south of Guildford. On its journey of just over 11 miles it passes through the villages of Friday Street, Abinger Hammer, Gomshall, Shere, Albury, and Chilworth. Albury Estate Fishery manages the stretched from Shere to Powder Mills at Chilworth. It holds a good head of wild brown trout, supplemented each summer with stocked browns. Carp, bream, rudd and pike are also to be found here and there. And at Powder 42

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Mills there’s the chance of an escaped Rainbow, which on six foot three weight rod can be quite a handful. I first came to fish the steam several seasons ago, one afternoon in early May. I was on a day ticket at Vale End and was fishing Birget Lake. The Tillingborne hosts a good hatch of mayfly, and on this afternoon they were on the water. I watched them mesmerized in their graceful dipping dance, a ballet of the air. And every now and then a fish rose with a big splash and the unfortunate dancer was no more. At this time my experience of dry fly fishing was limited to the odd reservoir dalliance with a shipman’s buzzer, a Bob’s bits or hopper. You see, until this time I was not much of a river fly fisher. And I have to confess that for me the mayfly had something of the Holy Grail

about it; it was old school, it occupied a higher order in the hierarchy of fly fishing, and seemed quite beyond my humble reach. However, after having searched through three fly boxes I came across a largish (size 10) CDC moth. It was no doubt concocted one idle winter evening fly noodling and dreaming of moonless West Wales nights, black as black, of a river like wet slate and of the shy, illusive and suddenly crashing sea trout, and of that eerie call of a lone curlew down along the reed-thicketed estuary. A large white moth will often tempt a sea trout. With its big white downy wings, the fly floated gossamer-light onto the water where it landed with the softest kiss. Perfect, it would seem. But it might just as well have been a fag end.

SMALL STREAMS It was completely ignored. After five or six casts my confidence began to wane and that tried and trusted blue flash damsel began to whisper to me from my fly box: ‘Myfly, huh? Why not try me? You know me. I am your faithful friend. I catch fish.’ Finally I gave in and retrieved the moth, skating it in to the bank. Then it happened. Just as I lifted off a big brown, leaped out of the water right at my feet. And it took the fly in mid air! It was one of those jaw dropping fishing events that stay with you forever. I’d not seen the like of it before, nor have I since. I have seen trout leap at mayfly, but have never seen them clear the water and take the fly in the air. My face must have looked a picture. I could only stand and stare, for sad to say the fish just crashed back into the lake, taking my CDC moth with it, never to be seen again. This was my first and rather dramatic introduction to the exciting potential of the may fly. The very next day I was back again, having spent the evening fashioning some fairly basic silver and yellow drakes and a grey wulff or two. The mayfly that I seen at Vale End were ephemera danica. The brown the previous day had mistaken the large white moth for one of these and simply couldn’t let it get away. When I got to the water I could see the mayfly were out in force again with fish taking them along the river. ‘Why not give it a try?’ I thought. Now, anyone who has not fished a small stream like the Tillingbourne must be forgiven for not understanding just how tricky and downright frustrating the fishing can be. Let’s just say that you have to have a keen sense of your surroundings, of the lovely bankside reeds, that really should be cut back a bit; of the low hanging bows of the willow and alder that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; and of the trusty old oak over your shoulder that you somehow manage to forget is there every time! The back cast! The back cast! When fishing the Tillingbourne, or

The clubhouse

“Anyone who has not fished a small stream like the Tillingbourne must be forgiven for not understanding just how tricky and downright frustrating the fishing can be.” any small stream like it, experience has taught me that you have to develop a very generous and carefree attitude when it comes to losing flies.And don’t even think about going to fish these little streams without a fly box that is well stocked with those favourite and winning patterns.

And yet that said, I find there is nothing more delightful and rewarding than a short, accurate cast that places the fly exactly where you want it; over those bankside nettles, below that hungry alder branch and just in front of that tantalising silver ring. Then, what greater thrill than to see, as if in slow motion, the trout drift up as easy as easy and take your fly? See it turn down. You lift the rod and your fish is off and running, tugging at the end of your line. On a warm late afternoon with mayfly dancing over the water time can stand still, and it is just you, the rod, the line, fly and the glide of the stream beneath you. Pure magic. On my first afternoon fishing along the stream from the road bridge up past the fishing lodge and along the back of Belmont Lake I caught a dozen The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2



CDC White Moth

Pale yellow Mayfly Dun

Lamb’s Wool Sedge Pupa 44

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fish, half of them stocked browns to about 1.5 lbs, the other half the pettiest little wild fish you could hope to see, the biggest no more that 0.75 lb; all on the mayfly. Shortly after this first foray into the world of the mayfly, I was encouraged to join the Albury Park Syndicate. Membership provides just over two miles of exclusive fishing on the Tillingbourne and on the Park Lake, which is stocked with rainbow trout. Nestled in parkland both lake and stream provide a delightful ‘away from it all’ experience; since the syndicate it relatively small there are seldom more than two people on the river at any given time, most members seem to fish the lake. During the past five years the mayfly hatch at Albury has been fairly consistent. Usually starting in early May, it can last until late June. During this period a Grey Wolf, Shadow Mayfly, Adams, or Light Cahill on a size 10, dry fly hook will take fish all along the stream. On my first day last season I caught twenty five fish in an afternoon along the Weston and Turbine beats. I also fished the stream at Powder Mills and had great sport all through the summer with browns and rainbows. To my surprise I also caught a rudd and a bream from the mill-pond at the end of the lake. One of my favourite times to fish the Tillingbourne is in September. Mid summer can be a daunting time on most waters, and the Tillingbourne is no exception. Yet, come September, things improve. The days get shorter and cooler and the fish begin to move again; they begin to feed more readily, especially during late afternoon and early evening. This is the time to try the crane fly, as late summer will see plenty of them on the wing and getting blown onto the stream. Another pattern that has given me some really fine evening sport is the little cream sedge pupae. I tie this with natural lambs wool collected from the hedgerow in spring. The wool is coated in lanolin, the natural oil that allows the sheep to shed water from its coat.


Dub it onto a size 12 or 14 emerger hook with a claret, scarlet or orange seals fur collar, and you have a fly that will take fish in the surface film, and when pulled back will have them bow waving after it in pulse racing pursuit. Last autumn I discovered another great little late season pattern. I was fishing at the end of Lodge Beat, one of my favourite places on the Tillingbourne. As I watched my size 14 Snow Shoe Dun drift toward the hot spot where fish were showing something in my peripheral vision twitched. I looked to my left shoulder and there, turning on a length of gossamer silk was a little green caterpillar; known I believe as the Winter Moth caterpillar. I watched it for a few moments as it descended on its thread, first twirling one way and then the other, lifted now and then by a breeze that rippled the stream. It was light green and about 2cm in length. Further up the bank, where the stream cuts a curve beneath overhanging trees there is a long pool. Here fish were rising consistently, right beneath the trees. Could they be feeding on these little green caterpillars, I wondered? I searched through my fly box for something that might resemble them. The closest match was a size 14 Olive Nymph. I figured it might work, tied

A brownie caught on a Yellow Drake it on and made my way back along the bank to where the fish were rising. As I approached I saw a little ring appear at the bottom of the pool. I placed the nymph just above it. Hardly had the fly touched down when it was taken with a swirling snatch. I quickly manoeuvred the fish away from the target zone, netted and released it. In the next twenty minutes fish after fish came to the little green nymph. Finally an over enthusiastic cast left the fly firmly entangled in the branches overhead. That evening, using a pale olive

dubbing brush, whipped down the shank of a size 14 Veniard Osprey Light Nymph hook, I tied up half a dozen green caterpillars. In the days that followed this little offering proved to be a ‘must have’ autumn pattern all along the Tillingbourne. I fished it with equal success through the Park, at Weston and at Powder Mills. It is easy to tie, just a hook, dubbing brush and olive thread. It has caught lots of autumn fish, but hasn’t helped my addiction for Tillingbourne . Tight lines. n The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2



The Nine Mile River:

a classic winterbourne

Duncan Soar explores a little stream in WIltshire


s a fly fisherman, I consider myself very lucky to live where I do. We’ve got the Wiltshire Avon flowing literally a matter of yards away from the house, and within a short drive a number of stunning tributaries—the Nadder, Wylye, Bourne and Ebble—all of which join the Avon in or around Salisbury. And as a member of the Salisbury & District Angling Club I get a fantastic choice of water on all of these rivers to fish. But since moving here four years ago, there’s been one particular river that’s piqued my interest. The Nine Mile River is a tiny tributary of the Avon that rises on Salisbury plain and joins the Avon at the village of Bulford. Despite its name, it’s actually only a few miles long, and due to the fact that it’s a winterbourne, much of the flow of those few miles is dependent on seasonal rainfall. Yet it has many of the characteristics of its larger neighbours; clear-flowing water, some beautiful spawning gravel


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and it’s home to trout, grayling and brook lamprey, as well as a wealth of invertebrate life. The legendary river keeper Frank Sawyer fished it as a boy and took a great interest in it, describing it as a “miniature chalk stream”. Despite these idyllic appearances though— and much like its urban cousin the Wandle—it’s had a tough time of it over the past century. After first spotting it where it runs through Bulford village itself, I was curious to find the source up on the plain. The map shows it rising from a number of ponds in the downs above the village. This is all in an MOD live firing area, so access is restricted most of the time, however sometimes at weekends the red flags are brought down and civilians can explore. Taking advantage of this one weekend in May, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and dusted down my running shoes to set off on a long-overdue run across the plain. I’d assumed it

would be obvious finding the spot where the map seemed to indicate the bridleway fording the river. As it turned out, my run was rather longer than anticipated. I went straight across where I’d expected it to be flowing and kept going, thinking it must surely be around the next bend somewhere. Returning home disappointed (but well exercised), I checked the map and realised that I’d not taken the wrong route but that it had in fact been so long since the river had flowed that high up the valley that there was no longer any visible sign of it. I’d been aware of the concept of winterbournes before, but hadn’t realised quite how extremely the flow varies on a seasonal basis, and that certain sections will regularly completely dry up. Fast-forward a year, following the very wet winter of 2013/2014, and the landscape had changed dramatically. Returning to the same spot in May 2014, I was delighted to see the river literally

bubbling from the ground and snaking a meandering course across the plain. Where there had been nothing but grass and scrub a year before, there was now a pristine flow of crystal-clear spring water, fresh from the recharged aquifers.

20th century trials and tribulations

At this point, I happened to learn a bit more about the river’s history thanks to my pal Theo pointing me in the direction of a fascinating account of it. In his book “Fishing on the Frontline”, Nick Sawyer reproduces an article that his grandfather Frank Sawyer wrote in 1972. It’s a sorry tale of a once vibrant and healthy river that Frank fished and played in as a child that became polluted, over-abstracted, and eventually neglected due in no small way to the build up of the military presence around Bulford. Some of the abuse the river took in the early and mid-20th century seems hard to believe today. In the run up to the First World War and in the years to follow, the population of this part of Salisbury Plain increased considerably, much of it due to the increased military presence. As the population around the river increased, the pressures on it grew too. A local sewage works was constructed which on a number of occasions polluted the river both by overflowing into it in times of heavy rain, and also by leaching pollutants into the surrounding land which subsequently made their way into the

“Despite Frank Sawyer’s best efforts to restore the Nine Mile River to its former glory, by the time he writes the article in 1972, the outlook is bleak. ‘The little stream is doomed,’ he writes.”

The Nine Mile River as it flows through Bulford Village

river. There were other pressures too. As the boreholes surrounding the river were pumped more heavily for their drinking water, there was consequently less flow to flush out the pollutants, creating a double impact. Even when the sewage works were moved, there was run-off of fuel, oil, grease and acid from the rubbish that was subsequently stored in the old sludge tanks as well as from military vehicle service areas. The valley turned into a general dumping ground, and it seemed there was little consideration for the health of the river. Despite Frank Sawyer’s best efforts to restore the Nine Mile River to its former glory, by the time he writes the article in 1972, the outlook is bleak.

“The little stream is doomed,” he writes. “No longer is this a little stream which could delight the heart of a fisherman or a lover of the countryside, but just an example of the cost to us all of what the planners call progress”. The good news is that things have clearly improved since then. In 1972, the only thing that flowed in the stream was “an oily, stinking mess [that] finds its way through a maze of rubbish and over a bed that is dead”. The water now flows clear, and there’s no sign of the rubbish that Frank Sawyer refers to. The upper section of the river falls under the SSSI status of the surrounding section of Salisbury Plain, and fortunately there are now far more The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2



“However, one major pressure on the river remains in the form of groundwater abstraction. As the population around the area has increased still more in past decades, so has the need for fresh drinking water.” rigorous standards that have to be met in terms of water quality. You can sometimes see trout swimming as you look at the river from the roadbridge. And not so long ago I saw a pair of brook lampreys shimmying in the gravel bed to dig a redd for spawning.

The current upper limit of the river (Nov 2015), well below the traditional perennial head.

The impact of abstraction

However, one major pressure on the river remains in the form of groundwater abstraction. As the population around the area has increased still more in past decades, so has the need for fresh drinking water. And water in the aquifers that has been freshly filtered through chalk provides a very convenient source of this. (In the South West of England as much as 75% of the water that Wessex Water supplies comes from groundwater sources). As these are the same aquifers that chalk streams flow from, it stands to reason that there will be some effect on the flows of the surrounding rivers. Just how much effect is dictated by the volume of the water abstracted as well as the proximity of the abstraction point to the river. For a winterbourne such as the Nine Mile River, abstraction has two effects it will increase the number of ‘dry days’ of the sections that are susceptible to seasonal weather variations, and it will also increase the length of river that is affected in this way (effectively moving the ‘perennial head’ - i.e. the point from which the river is always expected to have flow - downstream). Exactly 48

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how much effect it has is a grey area and hard to ascertain accurately, but it clearly does have an effect, particularly due to the fact that winterbournes already have flows that are particularly susceptible to change in seasonal rainfall. As Frank Sawyer himself noted, after pumping was switched back on after a period of respite, “long before midsummer in the years following, the upper reaches of the little river were dry”, and he was subsequently forced to abort his programme of stocking trout fry. While there is little that can be done about naturally low flow levels due to a very dry summer, it’s clearly important that the river’s seasonally low flows aren’t even more impacted

by over abstraction. Apart from the obvious problem of there not being enough water in the river for fish to survive and spawn in, low flows can result in siltation of spawning gravels, increased algal growth, and can threaten the existence of certain ‘specialist’ winterbourne invertebrate populations. Species such as the scarce purple dun (paraleptophlebia werneri) and certain stonefly species have been found to thrive in the ‘transitional’ zone of winterbournes, having evolved to survive the dry period between flows, and take advantage of the fact that predatory species such as the freshwater shrimp cannot do the same. They do this both through their eggs


The river flowing through woodland above Bulford. entering a ‘diapause’ phase that allows them to hatch when flows return, and through their nymphs burying deep into the gravel during dry periods. As I read more about the Nine Mile River, I became increasingly curious about the extent to which the flow of this little river was affected by such abstraction. Reading around on the web, there seemed to be mixed attitudes - some reports suggest it’s negligible while others believe there is clearly an impact, with the Environment Agency believing that its effect is ‘significant’. Records don’t exist of the river’s flow before the aquifers were tapped for drinking water, but Frank Sawyer’s account of the river during his childhood hints at much greater flows and fish populations during the river’s heyday. He writes of the “first class trout water it was before the war” (there are fish in the river now, but it would be inaccurate to describe it quite so positively today). He remembers the first major pollution incident which resulted in a massive fish kill. Ironically, the number of fish that

floated down the river are evidence of just how healthy it was up to that point: “A number of people were standing looking at the water and several boys around my age were paddling. Others were running up and down the banks with sticks. The river had risen and was very dirty but I could see that the excitement was caused by trout and grayling splashing at the surface and dying. Here and there a big trout would dash to one side or the other and run aground where it was grabbed and thrown out onto dry land. Trout and grayling of all sizes up to two pounds came floating down with bellies to the sky, some still gasping and struggling feebly. Quickly I pulled off my shoes and stockings to join the other boys in the water. Soon piles of dead fish were spaced at intervals along the banks of the stream, each boy claiming his own pile. Excitement increased as one really big trout quite three pounds was taken” It’s hard to imagine quite the same numbers and size of fish these days, with the water in the village section currently little more than ankle deep.

The Wild Trout Trust undertook an advisory visit in the summer of 2006, which happened to coincide with a severe drought. Consequently there was no flow at the perennial head (traditionally seen as being Sheep Bridge where the road swings round towards Bulford Camp) and significantly it’s noted in the report that this was apparently the first time that the river hadn’t flowed here for 21 years. Compare this to today (late November 2015), and not only is there no flow at Sheep Bridge again, but you need to travel a good 50% of the way back downstream to the village before the river itself reappears in the bed. Although this has been a fairly dry year, we’ve certainly not had a drought. One of the issues regarding the current abstraction situation is that whereas water companies are strictly regulated regarding the amount of water they are licensed to abstract, the Ministry of Defence are “Crown exempt”, meaning they can abstract water without the need for a licence. While both Veolia and Wessex Water The Piscators’ Chronicle Issue 2


are licensed to abstract from the surrounding area and their abstractions can be controlled and adjusted if necessary, it’s hard to know just how much effect the military abstraction has on the Nine Mile River. There are currently 11 unspecified abstraction points run by the MOD in the area, and it’s not hard to imagine how these could have a considerable combined effect on flows in the river.

The future of the river

Over the next few years, there’s going to a big change in the population of this area. The army are undertaking a major relocation programme as troops and their families are brought back from Germany, known as the “Salisbury Plain Army Basing Programme”. Consequently there will be approximately an additional 7,500 people moving to the areas around Larkhill, Bulford, Tidworth and Upavon, with an additional 1,200 family houses needing to be constructed. Clearly there will be a significantly increased usage of water, and potentially more pressure on the Nine Mile River if abstraction is increased. 50

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“Soon piles of dead fish were spaced at intervals along the banks of the stream, each boy claiming his own pile. Excitement increased as one really big trout quite three pounds was taken.” Conversely, one of the plus points of the rebasing is that the whole impact of the military on the river and surrounding environment is currently being reassessed, and the army to their credit appear to be taking their environmental responsibilities seriously. New and upgraded network connections are hopefully going to help reduce overall water loss, and other engineering projects such as Wessex Water’s £200m “Grid” plan will potentially mean there will be more options when it comes to

sourcing water in future, without necessary having to extract it from the immediate area. Furthermore, it looks as though from 2018 MOD abstractions will need to be licensed, which will hopefully result in more tightly controlled water usage, and will at least allow effects of abstraction on the Nine Mile River to be predicted more reliably. All things considered, I’d like to think that if Frank Sawyer could see the river now, he would be cautiously optimistic. There’s now nothing like the shocking pollution he writes about of years gone by, and the whole valley has been cleaned up hugely, due no doubt to changes in military practises, as well as reduced impact from farming along the river today. An article on Avon catchment winterbournes from 2009 describes the Nine Mile River as “the jewel in the crown” of local winterbournes due to the variety and rarity of its invertebrate and plant life. People are starting to realise just how unique rivers such as this are and that if we want to enjoy them into the future, they need looking after. n

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Piscators' Chronicle Issue 2  
Piscators' Chronicle Issue 2