I had been anxiously looking forward to my day on the Itchen. Years ago I had fished the river for Grayling during the late Autumn but not on the Trout Beats. I’d found the river intimidating, the depth and speed were beyond my experience. On each trip I had caught many good Grayling, some over three pounds. On my last visit a pike over twenty pounds had snatched a big fish at the rim of the landing net. In the crystal clear water I could see every tiny scale fluttering downstream as the monster repeatedly chomped it’s lunch before snapping the line. Scary.
The weather forecast was perfect and my only concern was the Ultimate Driving Machine, would it get me there ? The satnav sulked and my memory of the journey was fuzzy. I had plenty of time to recollect while cruising the 50mph contraflow between Portsmouth and Southampton.
The lower river looked stunning. I drove up the track very slowly, remembering the pools and admiring the trees. The Poplars and Willows had matured and the river was enclosed, sheltered from the breeze. The top Beats made me smile. English water meadows and a pristine chalk stream fringed with mature Willows reminiscent of a Constable painting.
I took three small boxes of dry flies and a pocket full of toffees to the bridge at the bottom of my Beat where I watched two large Trout finning under a tree. Further upstream I found a group of fish on the shallows. One solitary dark fish took my fancy. The gusty wind was downstream but it put a nice bend in the tippet. I learnt a lot about presentation. The fly had to drift from a yard upstream, directly over the fish. With my initial wayward casts I caught a couple of Graying on a parachute Pheasant Tail. My target Trout ignored the fly.
Eventually another Trout turned, chased the fly downstream and was hooked. It was about 3lbs and when released, dived away from the landing net back into the weeds. I relaxed, the pressure was off, I had caught a good Trout on an upstream dry fly from an iconic chalkstream.
I thought I’d ‘cracked it’ but the other fish in the area were spooky and slid away from my fly. I changed to a size 14 Adams-ish which floated well and was visible but two hooked Trout came adrift. The small hook couldn’t hold them. I moved upstream to an open pool and had three more fish, including a wild brownie, on a size 12 parachute Pheasant Tail.
I sat in the sun at the fishing hut and had lunch. I recalled the lessons learnt; accurate casting was essential, once a fish had rejected a fly the entire shoal would avoid it, changing the fly pattern renewed the Trouts interest and I needed more toffees.
After lunch I returned to the dark coloured Trout and presented a selection of flies, all of which were ignored. I caught a cheeky Grayling which fought its way down past my target fish. After releasing the Grayling I was surprised to see that the Trout had maintained its station. I flicked a parachute Black Gnat into its window and it took confidently. By the time I had returned the fish, another Trout had taken over the lie beside the weedbed.
I went upstream to the footbridge at the top of the Beat, crossed the river and walked back downstream to the long pool below the overhanging Willow. The sun on my left shoulder illuminated a group of Trout, casting their shadows on the bare chalk. I started at the downstream end of the run and although the Trout were rising, they ignored my fly. I chose a Size 12 Walkers Sedge which immediately resulted in a take, the Trout chased it downstream and grabbed it.
I moved up the run a few yards, caught a Trout and returned it. Six times. I had a long chat with the Keeper and rested the fish. After about an hour I resumed my seat on the grass at the bottom of the run and flicked the fly upstream towards a better fish. It took the Sedge and battled in the deep water. I put a bend in the rod that I normally reserve for tree roots and the monster finally slid into the landing net. It was about 4lbs, a coloured male with a hooked lower jaw. The scales, fins and tail were perfect. I was pleased to release him, it would have been sacrilege to kill such a magnificent specimen.
I caught another good fish from the run and then wandered back to the bottom of the Beat. The weather had changed, clouds were building and the wind was a little stronger. I was weary and had made up my mind to leave. One last cast. I looked in the pool above the footbridge and saw a Trout finning close to my bank. I hid behind a tree trunk and dropped a sedge fly into the water. I kept the tippet off the water and twitched the fly to induce a take. The effect was very realistic. The fish approached the fly several times and examined it. I was convinced the Trout would take but it grew tired of my attempts and slid away into the weeds.
I flicked the fly above an overhanging Willow on the opposite bank and a Trout took it without a second glance. My final fish was returned upstream on the shallows where I wished it well. It had been a superb day.
I sat on the bench at the fishing hut and relaxed with a Red Bull, I needed the energy for the drive home. The scenery was beautiful, it was quiet and I had not been disturbed. A few small upwing flies had hatched throughout the day and the fishing had been challenging. The tally had not been easily won. I took a short cut on the way back to avoid the contra flow and the traffic around Chichester. I became lost near Liphook and toured Hampshire before finding the Midhurst road. Another lesson re-learnt.