24 August – Keepers Bridge

Storm Francis approached from the Atlantic and threatened to spoil the fishing for a few days. I’d planned to take a guest to the Rother and visit the Itchen but both trips looked unlikely. The Rother was a bit high but I made a last minute decision to spend a couple of hours there, a quiet walk in the Sussex countryside before the storm.

I parked on the edge of the wood, the cool damp tunnel of trees was dark and a couple of Wood Pigeons called to each other. The new released, tatty Pheasant poults wandered around the track and the margins of the river puzzled by their new found freedom and lack of food. As I emerged from the wood a male Sparrow Hawk left its perch high in one of the Alder trees and settled in a big Oak further downstream. A large Buzzard was using the blustery wind to explore the field across the river, young Pheasants are easy pickings.

The contrast between the mellow lowland river and the frantic, young Dartmoor streams was marked. The grass was soft and easy to kneel upon but the fish-holding lies were not so obvious. The Beat below Keepers Bridge looked good, there were plenty of Alder trees and clumps of streamer weed to provide shelter for the Trout. I took time to practice my casting which was unusually accurate. The sun was bright and I knew that I had to get the fly close to the tree roots and weedbeds, fishing in open water would be a waste of time.

The gusty wind helped curl the leader into places that would normally be out of bounds but the fish were not impressed with the trick shots. I worked the fly around the weeds on the shallow sandy stretch above the bridge where a wild fish lives. I heard a rise and saw the ripples close to the far bank under the rushes. I dropped the fly upstream of the rise and the line tightened as the fish took. It fought like a four pounder but shrunk to about two pounds in the net. I was a little surprised to catch a fish so soon but I was happy with the result.

I moved downstream to a deep pool below an Alder tree where, after a couple of casts, the leader hesitated and slowly the line drew taught. Two slow takes, two hooked fish and two successfully landed. That was well above my average.

I walked downstream to the New Riffle but the water was too shallow and weedy to hold fish. The wind got up and dark clouds billowed over the Downs. I decided to leave while still dry. I hadn’t expected to catch much and two good fish were a bonus.

13 August – River Itchen

The journey West was tolerable,  while driving my thoughts were mainly about the Willows Beat where I had a fantastic day last season. That day sticks in my memory because it was my first experience of proper chalkstream fly fishing and because the Trout were spectacular. I was also anticipating a cool day beside crystal clear water, respite from the thundery weather hanging over the Surrey hills.

The water level had dropped a little but good management of the weed had kept the gravel shallows covered and provided cover for the Trout. I’d glued a new tapered leader into the core of the Rio Chalkstream Special and cleaned the rod with a baby-wipe. I was surprised at the amount of dirt that came off the carbon.

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I started at the bottom of the Beat which would take a couple of hours to explore thoroughly.  I found a couple of fish in impossible lies, where else would they be, but struck gold in the run below the Willow bush. The pool held about a dozen Trout of various sizes and they looked active.

I prepared everything, including the landing net, anticipating an easy first fish. An hour later, having tried every fly in the box, I was puzzled but not frustrated. A couple of flies had stirred a few fins but generally the various patterns and sizes had been ignored. Then, out of the blue, a fish shot across the pool and grabbed the fly. After some aerobatics it shook the hook. Small barbless hooks don’t hold a fish for long.

After another fishless hour I was beginning to think about lunch. I covered a fish in midstream and the presentation was perfect. As the fly approached my target a pale coloured fish dashed across the current and snatched the Black Gnat off the surface. Success at last.

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I moved upstream to the pool on the bend but as I sorted out my gear and celebrated, a few drops of rain fell and the temperature dropped. I decided to shelter under the Hawthorn tree, “it would only be a shower”. Big mistake, very big. I moved from tree to tree seeking better shelter but things got serious, the wind became gale force and the rain blew horizontally in sheets. My wellies filled up and I decided to walk back to the main fishing hut. If I had jumped in the river I wouldn’t have been any wetter.

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I stood under cover and dripped. The sun came out and I changed my boots. My T shirt and trousers felt like a wetsuit. I wandered, steaming, back to the pool but the water was coloured and weed debris made fishing impossible.  Cut weed left on the racks upstream had been washed off by the rising water level. I waited an hour but the water became a thick grey soup from the road washings so I reluctantly left. I felt relieved to have caught a Trout before the storm arrived. My iPhone is behaving erratically, it’s not storm proof.

7 August – River Plym

The soft summer rain had washed the dust away and brightened the greenery. It was enough to feed a small spate but the vast sponge of Dartmoor had soaked up most of the rainwater. I’d visited the River Plym on many occasions but never with a rod. It’s a magical river abused by people in wetsuits endangering themselves in the plunge pools and rapids.

The rain had put off the dog walkers and children from visiting the river but it would only be a temporary respite before the weekend’s forecast hot weather. The Walkham was the familiar honey colour but the Plym was crystal clear. I’d walked my chosen Beat the day before and earmarked several pools, I’d even seen a couple of Trout rise.

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When I arrived the last of the morning mist was rising from the river and the freshly washed leaves glowed luminous green in the sunlight. The air was heavy and thunder rolled around the valley. I sat on a rock beside a big pool, the water felt warm in the shallows.

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My first cast with a cut-down dry fly, I’d forgotten the nymph box, was greeted with a rattle on the rod tip which was confidence building. I gradually covered the pool and soon hooked a fish on the surface but it dropped off. A few casts later I missed another take. I was eventually rewarded with a draw on the leader and a small Trout came to hand.

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Further up the river I worked the fly under a tree on the far bank and a solid take produced a fish which was slightly too big to swing in. It was a very dark fish and it darted back to it’s lie near the tree roots. I stopped beside another pool further upstream and watched a Kingfisher, a Dipper and a Wren going about their business.

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The air was humid and a thunderstorm threatened so I turned around and walked slowly back to the bridge. It had been an exhausting few hours in temperatures around the mid-twenties but I had enjoyed the solitude and the wildlife.

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3 August – River Tavy

The Devon air was fresh and clean and so were the rivers. There were lots of rivers to explore but I was drawn to the Tavy. I probably should have widened my horizons but I’d caught Trout there on a previous visit and my confidence was high. The ground was firm and dry which would allow me to navigate the steep track down the side of the valley in the knowledge that I would be able to drive out later that evening. The high pressure and hot weather had returned. So had the children and spaniels, a late start was called for.

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I was impatient. As usual. It was tea time when I arrived, I could hear the splashing and shrieks long before I reached the river. The smell of wood smoke drifted down the valley and a Buzzard mewed just above the ancient Oak trees. I approached the pool quietly, keeping to the tree line. I passed two chattering women less than a few yards away without attracting their attention. A young boy hurled rocks into the deepest pool. Further upstream I sat and watched the water for an hour. Each pebble and crease in the bedrock was visible. The water level was good and the runs and pools all held trout. The surface of the water was alive with midges and a few sedges fluttered around the river.

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I walked to the footbridge where the Tavy and Walkham meet, the rivers each have their own character. The Tavy is wide and strong, big brother to the Walkham. I spent most of the evening watching the water and taking photos but when I returned to the Big Pool the humans had been replaced by kingfishers and the urge to cast a fly took over. I sat quietly on the stones and tried dry flies, buzzers and a Black and Silver Spider but the fish were unimpressed. The Sea Trout were leaping but not taking and with each cast their activity moderated. I repeatedly told myself to stay until dark but I was tired and frustrated. Next time perhaps, after the rain.

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30 July – River Itchen

My day started with a leisurely drive in the cool cabin of the Volvo listening to Beethoven. I was beside the river by noon and spent an hour wandering around looking for fish and admiring the scenery. It was hot, breezy and the air was clean. It felt more like the South of France than Hampshire.

I found two large Salmon, some Chub and Grayling in a back eddy under a line of scrub Willow.  A much larger salmon occupied a lie in midstream. The fish looked relaxed and the Chub were feeding. I sat and watched the shoal for twenty minutes, they were easy to see in the bright sunlight even though the eddy was five to six feet deep.

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I bent a few stems to enlarge the letterbox through which I would waggle the rod. I laid the landing net over some plants that were out of reach and tied on a Walker’s Sedge. The stage was set. The first couple of casts, into the wind, were short. I pushed a little harder and the leader curled nicely towards the bank. One of the Chub turned and followed the fly downstream before rejoining the shoal.

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The same fish took the fly gently the next cast. It ran downstream but failed to get it’s head in the weeds. It was a struggle to get it in the landing net. The fish was a bit thin after spawning and weighed about 3lbs. A great start to the day.

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The three Salmon weighed between 12lbs and 15lbs and I surrendered my Beat to a couple of Salmon anglers in exchange for the shade of Beat Three. I had lunch and gathered my thoughts before exploring the top pool. There were a lot of good sized Trout in the pool, wandering around and occasionally rising to take a fly.

I had chosen the silk line to help with presentation. I hooked a fish on a Walker’s Sedge but it escaped. I wandered down the true right bank and returned to the top of the Beat up the opposite bank. I found several fish but spooked them with wayward casts. The silk line was too fine in the tip and impossible to cast accurately in the head wind. I had afternoon tea and swapped back to the Rio Chalkstream Special.

 

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The fish had settled and were feeding delicately on midges in the fast water. I tried various flies but the fish were educated and rejected all of them. I chose a Black Neoprene Buzzer and the tippet moved away on the first cast. I lifted into the fish but it also escaped as it came to the landing net. After resting the pool I presented the fly to a rising Trout and to my surprise, it took confidently. I played it gently and I was relieved when the landing net engulfed the fish.

I spent some time offering the buzzer to Trout and Grayling but the pattern was no longer effective. I will have to experiment with various coloured buzzers on my next visit.

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