The day started with proper tea in a country garden. From a proper tea pot. Very civilised. Only the bumbles bees and song birds broke the silence. The drive to the river along familiar Surrey roads bought back memories of too many hours at work behind the steering wheel. The river was not as I had imagined. On my last visit to the Wey I had been introduced to a chalk stream. Shallow crystal clear water, the narrow stream clogged with Ranunculus. This was a big, wide mature river running through a nature reserve. It looked beautiful, wild and timeless.
Hundreds of black headed gulls were swooping and diving along the river, feasting on Mayfly. Their attack was relentless. As we walked upstream the gulls moved away from us to continue harvesting the hatching Duns on another stretch of river. They silently dipped onto the surface like enormous white swallows. It was reminiscent of seagulls chasing whitebait but without the noise.
We retraced our steps and explored downstream. The river meandered through the water meadows channeling the steady stream of hatching flies to the outside of each bend. I elected to fish upstream where I had seen lots of Trout holding features that cried out for a nymph. Each bend, willow bush and weed bed offered new challenges. I used the Mayfly nymph that had deceived my last Trout at Little Springs, I had confidence in the imitation.
It was very bright with occasional high cloud cover and a gentle downstream breeze. I fished hard, expecting a swirl or bump on the rod but my concentration eventually lapsed and I had a Red Bull lunch in the shade of a group of Alder trees. A newly hatched Dun landed on my arm and I carefully transferred it to the tree trunk where it would be safe. It flew away towards the gulls. Over lunch we chatted and agreed to swap beats.
The gulls continued to massacre the Duns but in late afternoon they switched their attention to a fall of Spinners. I stood between two Willow trees and drew a nymph from deep water back towards me over a sand bank. Nothing. I drifted the nymph under a tree on the far bank, convinced there was a Trout under the raft of weed and twigs. Cast, twitch, repeat. Nothing. The air was thick with Spinners, two came to rest on my arm as I was casting. I took that as a sign to stop and rethink.
We met again under the Alder trees and I was placed in pole position on the inside of a bend above a long straight. I sat among the rushes and nettles waiting for the evening rise. I sat on my landing net. The pole fitting broke. The sun began to sink, the temperature dropped and the light changed. The soft evening light gave the clouds a silver halo and the river sparkled. The gulls thinned out and I thought about where they came from, how they knew about the Mayflies and where they were going to roost.
Eventually a couple of tiny rises along the far margin stirred me into action. I tied on a size 12 long shank green nymph and cast upstream. The line twitched but I was too slow. There were hundreds of Spinners drifting in the current along the far bank so I swapped to a dry Mayfly and covered several rises. The fish inspected the fly but swirled underneath it to convey their contempt. As I reeled in to change the fly a good fish made a couple of grabs at it but in the confusion, missed its target. The irony struck me; a well presented, drag free imitation had been rejected but a fast moving dry fly with a wake had provoked a take.
Two or three fish were cruising around the pool taking the little black sailing ships that stood out clearly on the calm water. It was 8:00pm and all the gulls had departed. I tried various Mayfly patterns, some of which were closely inspected but most were ignored. There were so many natural flies on the slow moving water that the fish were swimming around at random, there was food everywhere they went. I tied on my reliable squirrel hair Spinner and waited.
A good fish rose twice going upstream close to the far bank. I dropped the fly two yards ahead of it and the fish took with a thump. The Trout shot off downstream and after it had gone twenty yards, I decided to follow. I left the pole and tucked the net frame under my arm as I stumbled through the nettles and small bushes. The fish jumped well clear of the water, it was a rainbow about 2lbs. By the time I drew level with the fish it had found a weedbed. I tightened slightly and the hook pinged out. I was not disappointed as landing an angry rainbow with a pole-less net was always going to end badly.
I walked back upstream and found a couple of fish rising only a yard from the bank. There lots of swirls but no takes. It became too dark for my tired eyes to see the fly. It had been a lovely day. Long, hot and demanding but very memorable. Quite unlike any other river fishing I had experienced. The river had not been stocked, we had been chasing overwintered rainbows and wild brown Trout.
On the way home my mind was a swirl of Mayflies, fussy Trout and gulls. I listened to Elgar’s cello concerto in the car and finished the day in my armchair with a cold beer. Excellent.