How You Can Support The Wild Trout Trust

Monitoring our rivers is a vital part of the Wild Trout Trust’s work Image source

Monitoring our rivers is a vital part of the Wild Trout Trust’s work
Image source: Ceri Thomas

There must have been something in the air (or the water) during the mid-late 1990s. Maybe it was an altruistic reaction to the pure me-first consumerism of the 1980s, or a slow-burn realisation that if we wanted good things to happen, we’d have to get together and do them ourselves, but the last years of the 20th century saw a quiet revolution in many people’s attitude to looking after our rivers.

In Wales, Devon and Cornwall, small groups of locals founded the first rivers trusts: the Wye and Usk Foundation, and the West Country Rivers Trust. In south London, the same thing started happening on the Wandle. And, somewhere in the western chalk streams, a few far-sighted trout fishermen decided they’d form the Wild Trout Society, which soon became the Wild Trout Trust. Theo Pike takes a closer look at the Wild Trout Trust (WTT), explaining what they do and how you can support them.

What is The Wild Trout Trust?

The health of trout in a river is a good indication of the health of the whole river

The health of trout in a river is a good indication of the health of the whole river
Image source: Ceri Thomas

Today, the rivers trust movement covers every river catchment in the country from source to sea, and the Wild Trout Trust is a well-established conservation charity that can’t have escaped the notice of anyone who fishes and cares for trout in the UK and beyond.

Put simply, if you’re interested in the health of a river or natural lake anywhere in Britain or Ireland, the WTT is here for you. The charity’s tight-knit group of 13 full and part-time members of staff (with more than 150 years of river-mending experience between them) delivers practical advice and hands-on habitat projects that may start with trout, but can often stretch way beyond this iconic indicator species to the health of the whole river or lake, and even its wider catchment.

How does The Wild Trout Trust help?

WTT-advisory

A WTT advisory visit highlighted this obstruction. “The prolonged burst swimming speeds required to pass make this structure an issue for fish passage.”
Image source: The Wild Trout Trust Advisory Visit – River Esk (North Yorkshire)

As you might expect, there’s a tried and tested formula for providing advice. First, there’s the advisory visit, when WTT conservation officers walk a stretch of river with all the interested parties, making notes, discussing options, and providing a written report with recommendations and sometimes project costings.

There are more than 600 AV reports available for download from the WTT website, and I’ve always thought that one of the Trust’s greatest gifts is providing ordinary people with knowledge and confidence to speak truth to power.

An advisory visit report, or a more detailed project proposal written up by a WTT officer to support a permit application, will often give you all the ammunition you need to approach the Environment Agency and say, “Look, here’s what we want to do for our river. Can we make it happen, please?

Practical help

river-conservation

Conservation work in progress on the Little Dart River, Devon
Image source: Shutterstock

This may actually be enough to get things going, but if you want to take your project further with the WTT, the next stage is the River Habitat Workshop, when the Trust’s officers will come back with tools and equipment to teach you and the other members of your group the techniques you need to improve your river yourselves.

It’s all about sharing solidly science-based knowledge for everyone’s benefit, and the Trust has published a comprehensive Wild Trout Survival Guide (now on its fourth edition) with detailed supplementary CDs covering chalkstreams, upland rivers and urban river restoration guidelines. There’s also an annual Get-Together, with locations rotating around the UK, and periodic Trout in the Town conclaves, when urban river groups can meet and share their experiences.

How you can help – the Wild Trout Trust’s auction

WTTauction

Place your bids in this year’s auction to help the Wild Trout Trust raise funds
Source: The Wild Trout Trust auction

Last year alone, the WTT delivered 196 advisory visits and 81 practical events, and helped to improve 365km of river with 3,600 volunteers. Some of this was funded as part of other projects with landowners, fishing clubs, rivers trusts and government agencies, especially the Environment Agency in England, and the WTT’s overheads are kept to an absolute minimum – for instance, all staff work from home. But every charity needs to find other sources of income too, and that’s where the Trust’s famous annual auction comes in.

In 2017, the auction raised an amazing £98,000 – by far the WTT’s most important single fundraising event of the year, allowing the charity to unlock as much as £490,000 in match and other project funding on a massive 5:1 ratio, as Kris Kent explains in this article for Eat Sleep Fish. The funds also help to keep the WTT’s team of officers on the road and in the river, paying for tools and equipment like chainsaws and waders for them and the volunteers they’re teaching.

This year, as usual, the benefits of the auction will flow both ways, not just helping the Trust to deliver vastly more than would otherwise be possible – but also providing bidders with rare and exciting opportunities to fish in many different places, sometimes with people they’d never otherwise get to meet, or even to buy rare books and other pieces of memorabilia. (I’m still kicking myself for missing out on that set of flies tied by Emma Watson – who knows what kinds of magic I could have worked with those?)

From years of personal experience, too, I know it’s just as satisfying to donate one or more lots to the auction, showing your water to someone new, and knowing you’re part of a virtuous circle that’s making our rivers better for everyone.

So, whether you’d like to expand your fishing horizons this year, or you’re simply motivated to help one of the UK’s most hands-on charities make even more of a difference to all our rivers, keep an eye out for the Wild Trout Trust charity auction from Friday 9th to Sunday 18th March, and please bid generously. The next wild trout you catch will thank you for it!

10 things you might not know about wild trout

The Wild brown trout is an ancient creature

The wild brown trout is an ancient creature
Image source: Ceri Thomas

  1. Wild brown trout have been present in north-west Europe for more than 700,000 years, throughout several major glaciations. Their natural range extends from Ireland in the west, to the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea in the east, and from Iceland in the north to Africa’s Atlas mountains in the south.
  1. Trout need very different kinds of habitat through their life stages – from silt-free gravel as eggs and alevins, to deeper and faster water with lots of marginal cover as older juveniles, to even deeper pools with more habitat diversity as adults.
  1. Brown trout can live as long as 20 years.
  1. The British record rod caught wild brown trout is 31lbs 12oz (14.4kg) caught on Loch Awe by Brian Rutland in 2002.
  1. Evolution means every river holds wild trout that are very slightly different – they’ve become adapted to the special conditions of the habitat where they live.
  1. By contrast, many strains of farmed trout have been kept in captivity for more than 30 generations, becoming adapted to life in artificial tanks and raceways. This makes them much less likely to survive in the wild, but their behaviour may disrupt wild trout in the meantime.
  1. The easiest way to tell a wild trout from a stocked trout is to look at the condition of their fins. Many stocked fish suffer from damage to their pectoral and dorsal fins (often healed, leaving them kinked or rounded). However, wild fish can also suffer from abraded fins and tails after spawning.
  1. Trout often become noticeably spottier as spawning time approaches, due to redistribution of pigmentation. Some of these spots may fade away again, but others stay to ‘fill in’ gaps between previous spots as the fish gets bigger.
  1. Trout and salmon can sometimes interbreed. Studies on the River Tweed have shown that up to 4-5% of juvenile salmonids can actually be trout/salmon hybrids.
  1. Even ‘resident’ brown trout migrate surprising distances within river systems. On the River Deveron, one 55cm female trout swam from the Blackwater to Montcoffer, a distance of 84km, within a month of being caught, tagged and released, before turning around and coming all the way back again!

About the author

Theo Pike is a freelance environmental, fishing and marketing writer. He’s also Chair of Trustees of the South East Rivers Trust, and founding editor of urbantrout.net, a website and eco-brand dedicated to the urban fly fishing and river restoration movements. His first book, Trout in Dirty Places, was published by Merlin Unwin Books in 2012, and his manual on controlling invasive non-native species, The Pocket Guide to Balsam Bashing, appeared in 2014.

From April 2018, Theo will be working with the Wild Trout Trust as their Trout in the Town Officer (South) helping to boost the impact of this programme across the south of England and Wales.

Chris Ogborne’s Top Tips for Small Stillwater’s in Winter

A small stillwater in winter.

A small stillwater in winter.

Now that winter has officially arrived – even if global warming means that temperatures sometimes feel more like September – it’s the time of year when a lot of anglers think about a well earned break from our sport. A lot, but not all. Those of us who simply cannot bear to be parted from the game for more than a few days at a time are looking at winter fishing and the options, particularly on small STILLWATERS, are many.

Unless conditions are truly vile, there’s very little that compares with a crisp winters day on the water. Provided you take all the reasonable precautions and use sensible clothing then winter fishing can be every bit as challenging, enjoyable and rewarding as anything we do in high summer. On occasion, it can even be more fun and you’ll always have the certainty that you’re fishing with fellow anglers who are even bit as committed – some might even say eccentric – as you are!

I also have to put a quick word in here for the owners of small STILLWATERS. They, arguably more than any other style of fishery have a real commitment in offering us anglers year-round fishing, and it follows that we should return that by supporting them through these tougher months. Last summer was hardly a vintage one and whilst for us it simply meant that we didn’t have the greatest fishing ever, for the fishery owners it translated directly into reduced revenue So an extra day or two right now WILL make a difference to them and they’ll be more than a little pleased to see us.

Support your local stillwater - get out there for a few ours in the pale winter sun.

Support your local stillwater – get out there for a few hours in the pale winter sun.

So let’s imagine for a moment that Christmas is a fading memory, that we have a free Saturday with nothing in the diary, and that the pale sunshine is tempting us out of doors. The fishery welcome mat is out and we’re heading for the water. Here are my top tips for getting the most out of the day.

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Layers: you’ve heard it before but it still amazes me that most people’s idea of fishing clothing is little more than a jacket and maybe a waistcoat. The key to staying comfortable at this (and indeed ANY) time of year is LAYERS. Airflo offer some superb lightweight layers to keep you warm and importantly to keep you flexible. Avoid layers that simply add bulk and think instead about layers that allow you freedom of movement. Thermal underwear may not be a fashion statement but they are massively valuable, as is a light outer layer such as the Airflo thermolite Jacket. Remember that a dry and comfortable angler is always a more EFFECTIVE angler.

Weatherproof: and by this I don’t just mean waterproof, I mean proof against all weathers. Conditions at this time of year change rapidly and if you’re hiking around the lake or you’re more than five minutes from the car then you’ll need to think wind and waterproof as well as warm and dry. Nothing cuts a day short like having a cold run of water down the back of your neck! My Airtex jacket kept me dry this year in the worst that an Icelandic storm could throw at me, and I stayed fishing long after others had left for the hotel.

Food items: think about what the trout might, should, and could be eating. Yes, it’s true that some aquatic insect life tends to shut down for winter but this is by no means universal. I’ve seen good midge hatches in January and February, and in lakes where Spring fed water keeps temperatures up you can be really surprised at the level of activity. There’s a strong case to match the hatch as cold weather sport is emphatically NOT all about gaudy streamers and attractors.

Look for any sort of water inflow.

Look for any sort of water inflow.

Water inflow: it goes without saying that you should always try to read the water, but the real banker in cold weather is any kind of water inflow. It might be little more than a trickle, but any kind of flow will attract fish to a greater or lesser degree. Dissolved oxygen levels are always a key factor in finding areas where fish will hold.

Water depth: this is probably the second most crucial factor to influence where you choose to fish. In cold conditions the fish will inevitably look for deeper water and the deeper it is then the more chance there is of thermoclines. Sometimes the natural lay of the land will show you how the contours work, but on man-made lakes your best bet is simply to ask the owner or manager where the deeper areas are. Look for a VARIETY of depth if at all possible, as fish will move in and out of the deeper areas at different times of day.

A fish caught off a bank side feature - a large tree stump.

A fish caught off a bankside feature – a large tree stump.

Bankside features: It might sound absurdly obvious, but I ALWAYS look for bankside features both to hide me from view AND to provide underwater structure. Yes the willow tree on the bank provides shade and helps with watercraft, but less obvious is that the same willow will have a substantial root structure beneath the water surface. This in turn will hold food items for the fish, as well as providing them with cover and a retreat.

Keep moving: Wide open spaces along the bank may make for nice easy casting, but unless you’re extremely careful with your profile then you’ll very quickly have a fish exclusion zone in front of you. Even when you’re using the bankside cover its still a good idea to keep moving and changing your spot. Unless there’s a VERY good reason, I never spend more than 20 minutes without moving.

Speed of retrieve: in very general terms, the slower the retrieve the better at this time of year. The fish tend to get lethargic in very cold water and will be less inclined to chase a fly, so give them plenty of time to make up their minds. We’ve all seen those fish that seem to follow and turn away at the last moment – the reality is that they’ve probably been following for ages and we’re simply retrieving too fast.

Line choice: This goes hand-in-hand with retrieve speed. For my money, there’s very little that cannot be achieved with either a floating line or a slow intermediate. The Airflo ‘slow glass’ intermediate is probably the default choice for winter fishing as it allows so much flexibility, yet at the same time enables you to explore most if not all of the depths.

A result of the right fly choice being made.

A result of the right fly choice being made.

Fly choice: The ‘life’ factor: with slower retrieves it follows that flies with more natural ‘life’ in them will work better. Keep the streamlined and sparse flies for summer and choose patterns with soft feather or hackles. Nymphs and attractors tied too tight will look ‘wooden’ and lifeless whilst those with soft dubbings, mobile body materials, softer hackles and even rubber legs will look SO much better.

Timing: the middle hours of the day are almost always the best. Early morning is rarely my favourite time, particularly after an overnight frost. In similar vein, the last hour of the day rarely produces good sport as the fish are thinking about heading for deeper water to cope with the long winter nights. Even a little midday sunshine can work wonders for aquatic life, as well as giving us anglers a little extra vigour with a touch of warmth on our backs!

Last but by no means least is the packed lunch! I always include not one but TWO thermos flasks in winter, one for coffee and the other for a good thick soup. After a ten minute break with what my Dad used to call a ‘good rib sticker’ soup then I’m always ready for more fishing!

Tightlines, Chris Ogborne.

Bucket List Fishing – The Lough Corrib Experience

Every serious angler should have a bucket list, a select wish-list of places to be fished before we head off to the great rivers and waters in the sky. Here Chris Ogborne ticks another one off his already impressive tally. He packs his fly fishing gear and jets off to Ireland’s mighty Lough Corrib to sample the infamous early spring duck fly fishing. Read on to find out why this place is so special and how he gets on!

Although I’ve been privileged in my angling life to fish so many amazing places, traveling literally all over the World with the England Teams and also on business, I’ve never managed the infamous duck fly on Corrib. It’s partly oversight but somehow the diary has never been free enough. I’ve always meant to go, I’ve always wanted to go, but pressure of life has conspired against it. Until last week. Some very special friends said ‘lets do it’ and so I did!

The vast expanse of the mighty Lough Corrib

The vast expanse of the mighty Lough Corrib

Nothing prepares you for the first time you see Corrib. At just under 40,000 acres it’s over ten times the size of Rutland and you could fit the whole of Chew Valley Lake into one of its bays. It’s a vast body of limestone lough, a huge expanse of water that is overwhelming at first, daunting at best, and one of the few true remaining challenges in our sport.

I’d fished it once before when the World Championships were held there in ’95, but that was in ‘normal’ months when traditional wets and pulling flies were the order of the day. This time it’s early season and we’re here for the explosion of fly life that takes place every year in March and is known the World over as ‘duck fly time’. To quickly dispel any myth about it, the duck fly are simply buzzers. Black ones. Millions of them. It’s a miracle of nature that this phenomenal hatch takes place each year, providing the first real feast of the year for the trout, the birds (the Ducks love them, hence the name) and various other forms of life in the lough. The numbers are beyond definition or imagination, as columns of the insects rise like smoke above the islands, trees and bushes in their mating dance. Clouds so dense you feel you could cut them with a knife. And when the breeze takes them out over the lake they fall to the water and occasionally, in those elusive moments when conditions are just right, the trout go mad!

There are many schools of thought on how to fish for them, and that’s not the purpose or intention of this article. These words are intended as a simple tribute to the place. Dry fly works well, and so does imitative nymph. Some suspend a buzzer beneath a floating dry, whilst others fish just a singleton. Some cast far from the boat or bank, others fish a short line with great stealth   Fine leaders are a must for me, although stories abound of fish taking happily on heavy lines. In truth it matters not – you’re there, and you’re fishing the duck fly hatch. That’s all that really matters.

A rare calm morning on Lough Corrib

A rare calm morning on Lough Corrib

The key is weather, and thankfully I just happened to get lucky last week. Amidst a period of high wind and rain there was a day, just one day, when it all fell calm. Intermittent sunshine was coupled with a mix of gentle breeze and flat calm. Temperatures rose and in the afternoon it felt more like June than March. The flies drifted onto and over the water and if you had a good boatman. as I most certainly did, then it all came together.   I took fish of 2lb, just on 3lbs, and one trophy fish of 5lbs 1oz, the latter being one of the most beautiful browns I’ve ever had in my life.   After weighing and a picture, it was returned to the water to fight another day.

A stunning 5lb Lough Corrib duck fly feeder

A stunning 5lb 1oz Corrib duck fly feeder

The amazing backdrop of countryside and stunning scenery makes an impact and enhances the day. At every turn of the boat a whole new part of the lough becomes visible, with the vista changing completely in the space of a hundred meters. Islands appear, large and small, some covered with vegetation and trees and others little more than a collection or rocks. You’re constantly amazed at the skills of the boatman, guiding the boat with innate skill and avoiding submerged rocks just inches beneath the surface. The micro climate changes, as does the clarity of the water. You drift past spots with evocative names, some famous for generations an others merely a private mark stored carefully in the boatman’s mind.

The amazing light on Corrib

The amazing light on Corrib

It was over by late afternoon as the chill returned to the water, but that didn’t matter. I’d had the red letter day, fulfilled the big tick on my bucket list, and enjoyed one of the ultimate angling experiences of my life. With the very best of company and a little – OK, a lot! – of the black nectar known as Guinness it was, as they say in Ireland, a great Craic.

Beyond that it was emotional, and I use that word carefully and in full knowledge that not everyone will understand.   Fishing Corrib is a humbling process, as you’re always aware that the lough can and will have the final word. But if it goes right, just once in your life, then you are a happier angler and a richer man for having been there.