My last trip to the Itchen had been a steep learning curve and hard work. Since then the ultra fussy Trout would have seen a lot of leaders and flies. The persistent Mediterranean weather was unhelpful, the fish would probably be hiding in the weeds and in the deep runs under the trees.
It was a long journey and I spent most of the motorway miles planning the day ahead. I knew the route, the gate padlock combination and I had fished the Beat twice before. I had carefully sorted my dry flies and wouldn’t have to spend ages poking through boxes looking for inspiration, the patterns were all organised.
Impatience got the better of me and I left the house earlier than I had planned but getting lost in the suburbs of Southampton compensated for that and I arrived at 10:00am. I had a farm shop sausage roll for breakfast and then a short walk to check out the river. It looked good.
The air temperature was 18 degrees and the north wind required a thin jacket. Harry Plunket Greene complained of the mainly downstream wind in the Hampshire valleys but it would help put a nice bend in the leader. The heavy overcast was excellent, perfect fishing conditions. There were a few Mayfly hatching and more swans than swallows which ensured that the duns made it to the trees.
I had a new silk line to play with. It felt strange and as I began casting on the fishless shallows at the bottom of the Beat, it sounded strange. The high pitched grating conjured up visions of sawn rod rings. I found it delightful to use, very accurate with a gentle landing. I was in two minds, messing about with a new line on a special day seemed silly but the line deserved a proper workout.
It was going to be a long day and the plan was to break twice, first for lunch and then for afternoon tea. Three fishing sessions on a familiar Beat in perfect weather, what could go wrong ?
I walked very slowly upstream, pausing to observe each each weed bed and deep run. Several surface dimples failed to produce a take and I only saw one small fish on the gravel. After three hours I reached the seat below the Willow bush and as usual, there was a fish finning under the trees near the far bank. Another fish revealed itself a little lower down. At last, two good fish to target. As I started to cast both fish became agitated and had clearly seen me. One departed upstream but with frequent rests, I managed to get a rise from the remaining fish to a Walkers Sedge. The Trout nosed at the fly, followed it downstream then, with a sneer, casually turned away.
A fish rose above the Willow bush, under the far bank, it looked like the fish I had unsettled earlier. I offered a selection of beautiful imitations but the only movement was away from my flies. I tried a Mayfly with a Teal wing, the fish rose without hesitation and gulped the fly down. It was on for a few seconds. Time for lunch. The silk line had become saturated and developed a heavy sag on the cast so I changed to my usual Rio Chalkstream Special.
I had another yummy sausage roll and orange juice, no beer or Red Bull. After a rest in the car I returned to the seat by the Willow. There were no fish. The swans were neck-down eating the weed and I wondered if the fish followed them around, feeding on the dislodged nymphs and shrimps. On the bend by the Hawthorn tree a group of about six big Trout hung in the current. I watched them for a long time, cast to the biggest and was surprised when I connected. Everything went solid and I assumed that I was snagged. I put a good bend in the rod and the hook pinged out. I had been patient and observant but the execution was amateurish. I needed another rest.
I consoled myself with a farm shop apple pie and chocolate biscuits. I resolved to maintain my concentration and to work harder. When I returned to the Hawthorn tree the cattle on the opposite bank were charging about and driving the swans off the bank, back into the water. The scene looked like a John Constable painting, the bend in the river reminiscent of ‘The Hay Wain’ without the horse and cart. I stood beside the tree, using the trunk to keep off the skyline. I waited until the cattle had moved away and the colour had settled out of the water before presenting the fly upstream, close under the bank. Success. A fish about two pounds put up a strong fight and eventually dashed away from the landing net.
Flushed with success I walked along the bank under the trees while scanning the shallows for fish. I stopped on the bend next to the big Willow tree but quickly became surrounded by honey bees from a nest in the split trunk. From slightly downstream, I watched for a rise in the deep run where I had caught so many fish last September. On the first cast another good fish grabbed the fly and charged down into the weedy shallows. It put up a good fight in the strong current and was difficult to net. I explored the stretch of river above the burnt tree but despite a few small rises, I couldn’t get another take. I was suddenly exhausted and returned to the car. The journey home was Red Bull assisted.
The jury is out, deciding the fate of my new silk line. I used it for about four hours before it became water logged. If I cut it in half and treat it with Red Mucilin, the combination of two short lines would last all day.