Caught by the River

Space and time

Malcolm Anderson | 21st June 2020

In a piece written just before the start of the coarse fishing season, Malcolm Anderson sends updates from the banks of the rivers Bourne, Ebble, Avon and Nadder.

When lockdown began easing and the government announced that people could head to the rivers of England to fish once more, I have to admit I was reluctant to go and fish myself.  It felt odd to just suddenly be OK to fish after following such clear lockdown guidance for so long. Not so much for the walk-to-the-local-river type of trip, the risk was always fairly low there, but opening the rivers in some kind of free-for-all so that people could suddenly drive all over the country in pursuit of trout seemed at odds with the risks we had all been informed about.

But open the rivers they did, and as a local bailiff that meant that even if I didn’t fish, I’d need to get out there and walk the riverbank, checking that people had licenses and were following what little guidance we could offer on staying safe from the pervasive virus that has shaken the world over the past few months.

As initially feared the opening wasn’t exactly smooth, and it seemed to me that people from all over the south of England had headed to the chalkstreams.  Carparks became full and many of the visitors seemed to have lost all common sense; notions of social distancing forgotten in the rush to be on the river. More than once I left the river shaking my head at the stupidity on display.

I continued to do my bit however and walked sections of the Bourne, Ebble, Avon and Nadder but didn’t fish.

Eventually as we worked through the groundhog day weather of late May things calmed down a bit.  Anglers seemed to be focussing their attentions elsewhere – or perhaps had scratched the angling itch for the year – and my rivers settled back into themselves.  

Walks became quieter and the wildlife began to re-emerge with a reduction in footfall.  The rod started coming with me, and in the quiet spaces provided by weekday furlough afternoons, I marked the start of my fishing year nearly two months late with a stunningly marked river Nadder trout.

So, virus aside, how are things on the rivers this year?

Honestly, it’s looking beautiful out there.  After the heavy rains of the winter our aquifers have held up better than expected through the dry spring, and although river flows are dropping, the prolific water crowfoot growth is for now holding levels up.

Mayfly hatches are now beginning to peter out a bit and in a normal year that would usually mark the point where the rivers empty of other fly fishers, their numbers vastly reduced for the rest of summer. This year I really can’t call it.

Fly fishing aside June 16th is just around the corner, and I’ll get out and mark the opening of the coarse fishing season as I do every year.  That small drink on the river bank a silly human tradition, putting a mental notch in the year.  

Trouble is, the start of the coarse fishing season always reminds me that time is passing, that winter is on the way and that I need to sort the firewood.