I had been dreaming about the Itchen for six months. My last visit in 2019 was a one-off but it had been such a revelation that I had immediately taken a Rod for the 2020 season.
Nothing could be left to chance, my gear was cleaned and sorted. Repeatedly. A route map had been downloaded and a picnic hamper prepared. I set off with enough clutter for a family holiday. I had a full tank of diesel and plenty of toffees. A gentle south-westerly and clouds had been forecast, everything looked set for a memorable day. My expectations were high. A quiet day, beside gin clear water, a couple of nice Trout and a relaxing lunch.
I arrived about 10:00am by which time the clouds had burnt off and the cool start to the day had turned into a baking hot morning with a breeze from the Sahara. I walked the beat, keeping out of sight, using the bushes and trees to hide from the spooky fish. The lack of clouds and con trails allowed the sun to penetrate down to the gravel, revealing monster fish, most of which were chub. I watched a six pounder on a patch of gravel occasionally pick up a shrimp or rise to intercept a passing nymph.
The water was fast and there was a lot of surface debris from the Willow trees. The fluffy seeds floated downstream amongst the froth from the riffles. It would be difficult for a fish to lock on to a dry fly.
This was not a day for messing around. I set up my rod and loaded my pockets with essential toffees. Intense concentration would be the order of the day with occasional breaks for food and drink. I spent an hour trying to tempt Mr. Chub from his patch of gravel, side casting from under a tree. Each time I managed to get the presentation right the fish melted away into deeper water.
I eventually found a feeding trout and presented a selection of tasty morsels. It rose, quickly checked out the series of flies and rejected them all. After each rejection I browsed my fly box for inspiration thereby giving the fish time to relax. A dark brown detached body Mayfly spinner eventually deceived the trout which dashed off downstream at an alarming speed and dived into a weedbed. Much laughter and tugging resulted in the capture of my first fish of the day. It was a wild trout about 1lb. I was surprised at how hard it had fought and wondered how I would control a trout four times the size.
The bodywork of the car was too hot to touch so I stood in it’s shade while having lunch. Quiche, warm sausage-and-bacon roll and ice cold orange juice refueled me and put me in a positive mood. It was too hot for wine or beer, I would have fallen asleep. Lunch over, I wandered around the beat searching for trout but the sun was high and they were all hiding under the weeds. I bothered a group of chub in a whirlpool on a bend. They all ignored my flies while continuing to intercept nymphs. I had a short siesta and moved upstream for the evening rise.
As I knelt under a Hawthorn taking photos of a resting Mayfly spinner, a good fish rose several times just upstream of a Willow bush. A passing swan put the fish down but my patience was rewarded when, fifteen minutes later, it resumed feeding. I flicked out what I thought was a good imitation of a spinner, the fish exploded through the surface like a missile and thrashed about before seeking deeper water under the Willow. I bullied the trout and kept it away from the tree roots. It was a pristine two pounder. I released the fish and compared my imitation to my photogenic friend on the Hawthorn leaf. I was embarrassed by my imitation which was an amateurish bodge compared to the delicate, symmetrical beauty of the real thing.
I moved upstream on the opposite bank and saw a rise under the far margin. A well presented Quality Street sedge fooled the trout, a small wild fish. A couple of minutes later a Walkers Sedge accounted for another two pounder. I struggled to draw the fish upstream against the current and had to walk down to net it. As the light dimmed the fish switched on and I covered a few fish each of which went down. I rested them but when they came back on the feed the outcome was the same. Either poor casting or the wrong fly was to blame. Probably both.
I’d had a great day. I need to improve my casting, devise more realistic fly patterns and consider using stronger tippets.