Fishipedia Report: Mayfly Magic on the River Kennet

June 23rd, 2011| No Comments

If you had one day left to fish and you could choose anywhere, where would you go? More often than not I think I’d choose a deserted bonefish flat. However, a day on an English chalkstream at the height of mayfly season would run it a pretty close second.

It’s not something I do all that often, but when the opportunity presents itself (as it did recently, in the form of an invite from a generous family member), nothing will stop me being there.

The Hungerford Fishery, a beautifully maintained and lovingly managed chalkstream in the Berkshire countryside, is the kind of place one would conjure up as the perfect representation of an English idyll. Five miles of gin-clear water flows through meadows and under little wooden bridges, over shallow gravel beds and past manicured banks, rununculus weed wafting lazily in the current, its surface disturbed occasionally by a rising trout.

River Kennet, Hungerford, UK

It’s the old cliché, but it genuinely is the kind of place where you feel so privileged just to be there, that the fishing is a bonus. On more than one occasion during the day, I happened upon someone sat with rod in hand just watching the water. “I’ll start in a minute,” said one. “For me it’s enough to just be here, you know?” I knew.

Mayfly Magic on the River Kennet

Mayfly Magic on the River Kennet

Being here in late May/early June gives you the chance to witness one of nature’s more extraordinary events – the mayfly hatch. ‘Duffers fortnight’, they call it. As clouds of mayfly begin to hatch off the water later in the day, you’re reminded of why. During one golden period, a fish a cast might have been possible if you’d tried very hard. But somehow, you soon realise that’s not the point. It’s equally as rewarding to stop and just watch, marvelling at the spectacle before you.

On the water, mayflies run the gauntlet – having spent a year or so in their nymph state, they rise up through the water column, emerge on the surface and attempt to dry their wings and take flight before their exertions should alert nearby trout to their presence and they disappear in a ripple of water.

Mayfly Magic on the River Kennet

Now look a little closer... see them?

Mayfly Magic on the Kennet

What all the fuss is about...

Plenty of them make it, though. You only have to look about you at the clouds of insects filling the air to see that. And how are they rewarded for this Herculean effort? With a whole 24 hours of airborne life and one solitary roll in the hay, before they drop their eggs on the water and check in to mayfly heaven, their spent bodies hoovered up by the hungry fish that missed them the first time round.

It’s an old story (and many of you are probably sufficiently aware of it to not need my summary) but it’s such a good one that you have to stop and give it the reflection it deserves. In the same way that no-one can quite fathom the process that draws a salmon inexorably through North Sea waters back to spawn in the exact spot on the river where it started life, so the mayfly hatch gives us another wondrous example of the recycling of life. How do these apparently simple creatures manage to drop their eggs in the same place every year and keep the whole thing going?

Just like the salmon run, or the tarpon migration, the opportunity to witness this phenomenon is another illustration of the way fishing connects you with the peculiar rhythms of nature – and when you consider that fossilised remains of mayflies have been dated back 300 million years, one can only guess at the length of time this process has been evolving.

For a few hours that afternoon I was fortunate enough to take my place in that process. From about 6pm or so I think I was the last person on the river, with all those miles of bank to choose from. As the sun set on a perfect English summer’s day, I wandered upstream from one location to the next, and found so many obliging fish I almost convinced myself I was becoming some kind of all-conquering expert. On days like this, just about anything seems possible.

A stunning River Kennet brown trout

A stunning River Kennet brown trout

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