After years of thinking and talking about river fishing, Beardy Paul and I finally decided to bite the bullet and booked a day on a stretch of the River Test at Stockbridge in Hampshire. Its a reasonable trek for Beardy Paul (albeit quite close for me), so we decided to grab an extra day at Haywards Lake (Sportfish) near Reading.
I arrived a little earlier than Beardy Paul around mid-morning to a hot, sunny day with a strong easterly wind, not exactly the best conditions. Nevertheless, the guy at the desk suggested trying the shallow bank along from the lodge where they had seen fish rising close in around the weeds.
As I wandered round, I could see swarms of adult damsels hovering over the weeds beds and the odd splashy rise. I set up with a single slim-line damsel nymph on point and cast out over the weeds. On my third cast, just as the nymph was getting close to the weeds, I had an aggressive take and soon had a lovely rainbow into the net. A couple of casts later, the same thing happened again and I had my second fish after just twenty minutes of fishing. I carried on with the nymph for a while longer but the takes dried up. The splashy rises, however, increased so I put a black popper hopper on so I could cast out over the weeds and let it float around in the zone where the two previous takes had come from. There was nothing for fifteen minutes but suddenly a trout emerged from the weeds and sucked down the hopper gracefully.
By this time, Beardy Paul had arrived and was looking at waders in the shop. I told him to leave that till later as the fish were taking dries. He didn’t take much persuading and was quickly lined up with me on the bank. Typically, while the splashy rises continued the takes died off. I managed another rainbow to a green, deer hair dry but otherwise it looked liked the trout were fixated on the adult damsels.
We took a break for lunch and after Beardy Paul had sorted out his waders, we decided to try from a boat. The day had become hot and sticky so we thought the fish might be further out in the cooler water. The wind was quite strong in the middle and made casting from a tethered boat with two anglers very difficult. We tied up to a buoy closer to the bank and found the fish still rising close to the weeds. After a fruitless hour trying the reach these fish who were rising five yards out from the bank we ditched the boat and went back to fishing from the bank. This time we were armed with some blue adult damsels we had purchased from the shop. We had a very pleasant afternoon then fishing dry damsels to rising fish. Unfortunately, there were so many naturals that it was difficult to get our imitations noticed but Beardy Paul managed four and I had another one.
Given the conditions it was strange to see fish rising consistently all day, barely five yards out from the bank and in just 3-4 feet of water. They seemed to be hiding in the weed (no doubt it created some shade for them) and were certainly fixated on adult damsels, which is a first for me.
We’d booked a private beat on a carrier of the Test in Stockbridge. The Greyhound beat was owned and managed by the Greyhound pub and offered 500 yards of double bank fishing with a private garden and a hut with fridge and facilities. The fact that it was next to a pub was, I’ll admit, a driving factor! It was not cheap but this was a proper ‘experience’ day.
We arrived at around 9.30am to another hot day with barely a cloud in the sky. The manager of the pub showed us around, gave us our own set of keys and offered to bring food and drinks down when we wanted them! The beat itself was a typical stunning chalkstream setting, the gentle water framed by luscious banks allowed to grow tall and then mowed paths down either side. The top end had a little more cover with a fringe of trees which would prove to be useful later. We grabbed a cup of coffee (we’re not used to having things like that on tap when fishing) and, grinning like school kids, had a wander down the beat. It was surprisingly deep (and not surprisingly weedy) with a couple of shallow, gravelly areas and it seemed, initially, that these were the areas holding the fish. The top of the beat was deeper, slower and much more difficult to see any signs of life.
There was nothing rising but we decided to start off targeting the fish we could see on the gravel areas. With no obvious signs of hatching flies, I decided to start with a simple black Griffiths Gnat. We took our time, having a couple of casts at each fish in turn before changing flies. On the second section of gravel, I had a swirly take from a brown to the Griffiths Gnat but was far to eager and struck too soon. But at least we’d had some interest. We carried on for a while but the brownie just ignored our flies. Rather than cast too close, I angled further upstream to a deeper section above a patch of weed. As my Gnat was just between the weed and the gravel section a shadow shot out from the depths and sucked down the fly. I lifted into it a bit slower this time and managed to connect into my first Grayling!
We had a quick break and then tried the opposite bank which offered a better viewing angle to see into the water. There was still nothing rising so we targeted the fish we could see with a variety of dries with the odd swirl but no real interest. Given the sun, lots of the fish were just lying deep not doing much. We walked towards the top end of the beat where the far bank was shaded from the trees and noticed the odd dimple in the water, signs of trout taking something in or just below the surface film. The water was a bit cloudy here but there were signs of fish moving in the water. They looked like emerging buzzer takes on a Stillwater and I remembered reading that chironomids can hatch on slow moving, silty stretches of river. I popped a small black CDC buzzer on and cast it out, letting it drift gently with the current. There was one fish I could see that seemed to be more active than the others and tried targeting it, which was difficult as it was moving around a lot. But eventually I managed to pop my fly just in front of him and he took it with gusto. Just a small rainbow but still lovely to catch a river trout on a dry.
As the sun moved directly above us, the shade disappeared and so did the fish. There was one spot with an overhanging tree where there was a patch of shade just a couple of feet wide. I’d seen a fish rising near there earlier and thought I’d just try a quick cast. After a couple of attempts, I managed to plop the CDC just upstream of the tree and close to the bank. As it drifted under the tree and into the shaded area, a huge shape rose up and engulfed the fly. It was a good sized rainbow of around 4-5lb so, with a fine tippet, I played it as gently as I could and eventually got it to the net.
We decided to take a break for lunch then and this was something wholly different to our usual break for a warm sarnie. We popped into the pub and grabbed a couple of pints of a lovely beer they have specially brewed for them. We then ordered another two beers (well, why not) and a burger which they brought down to the beat for us. Lovely beer, probably the best burger I have ever eaten and surrounded by beautiful scenery on a lovely summers day. And an afternoon/evening of more fishing to come. What could be better?
Unfortunately, the hot, bright sun didn’t lend itself to great fishing in the afternoon. Beardy Paul managed a Grayling on a black midge but otherwise there was not much activity. We had another break around 6pm while we waited with anticipation for the evening rise. We’d just got started again, targeting the trout we could see on the gravel beds when Beardy Paul hooked into a lovely, golden brownie which was probably 4-5lb.
That, however, proved to be the last of our action. Despite a massive hatch of sedges, the fish stubbornly refused to rise. But it didn’t dent our spirits. We’d had a fantastic day, catching our first trout from a river in wonderful surroundings and with some great food, drink and service from the pub.