Thursday, 23 October 2008

River Test Grayling

What a perfect day for fishing we encountered yesterday. Heading out at 7am with Tim Watson and Tony Kaye, we were all excited at the prospect of a session fishing the Fullerton beat of the River Test. Anyone who has spent any amount of time fly fishing will need no introduction to this river that is steeped in history. For my own part I find it a little manicured and I would always prefer to fish for wild fish (much of the Test is heavily stocked) but during the winter months this productive chalk stream provides hours of intense fishing fun for one of my favourite species, the Grayling.

We arrived at the Mayfly Pub in Fullerton a little after nine with frost still showing on the surrounding fields and had a quick look before eagerly heading to our beat where upon we were met by a beautiful scene as mist lifted from the water. Why didn't I get a picture!? Scenic it may have been but I learned long ago that during these early hours the water is best left alone, start fishing too early and you will spook a lot of fish. The mist also makes it difficult to spot fish and this is why I love chalk streaming so much in the first place; its visual fishing.

After a decent breakfast of pain au chocolat very kindly donated by Tim, we were soon donning waders although in fact waders are not strictly necessary! The banks are so well manicured I reckon you could get away with a pair of slippers and wading in the river is strictly forbidden to ensure the fly life is not damaged. Despite the relatively low air temperature through the day I believe this policy works as there was a great deal of fly life to be seen, especially during the warmest part of the day.

The fishing proved to be excellent. I got Tim and Tony started on an upstream nymph, using just one heavily weighted artificial to beat the flow connected to a long tapered leader. We greased from the fly line to around three feet before the fly and then made casts directly upstream. The idea behind this is to allow the fly to sink to the correct feeding depth of the target fish and it takes some practice to master. Tim soon had hold of the technique and despite a couple of missed takes, the greased leader suddenly stabbed forward and with a smooth lift the first fish was on. Takes can be obvious but at other times the line will just stop and very often I watch the fish to see their reaction. If they so much as twitch, I strike!

The Test Grayling are beautiful creatures and we landed many specimens through the day although by the afternoon the nymph was resigned to the fly box and instead we changed to small CDCs and mini Klinhammers for some top dry fly action. The Brown Trout can be pretty daft on these stocked chalkstreams but to outwit the Grayling everything had to be just right, especially in the bright sunny conditions. The sun did warm the day briefly and the fish took full advantage of the conditions as a hatch got going. Tony also made the best of the autumnal sun ending up in his shirt sleeves! Its late October, the sun is out, we are in shirt sleeves and the Grayling are biting ... does it get any better?!

Sometimes ... One real moment of excitement developed when while guiding Tony I spotted a jack Pike laid up near the edge of the river. I always carry a Pike fly and a length of trace, just in case we happen upon one of these toothy predators as they are very often willing to smack a fly. Not this fish, it staunchly ignored everything until all of a sudden there was a huge commotion and a fish shot out from the opposite side of the river and nailed our fly! My first reaction was that another, unseen Pike, had taken. In fact as the line tightened the fish cleared the water and a Brown Trout approaching double figures flicked two fins at us!!! The fish spat the hook in disgust leaving us to gibber for a good while afterwards!

Maybe the fish knew that this bad weather we are now experiencing was on the way because they made the most of the day feeding heavily right until the sun was almost set. The air temperature had dropped and usually this switches everything off, but not tonight, the fish just kept on coming. It was a cracking finale to a day of non stop sport which the guys deserved after enduring a couple of tough sessions this year at the mercy of our British summer. Leaving this beautiful scene at the end of the day we stopped on the way home for the obligatory pint and the conversation soon moved from fishing to .... Tim's home made cider! From the reports I have had I don't recommend drinking this the evening prior to a fishing session, the results maybe not so favourable!

On Saturday I head top another chalk stream ... the Avon ... but I am not so sure the weather is going to be so kind. But it would be boring if it was all the same. Fly Fishing is all about being able to adapt and if that means dealing with a gale and rain, so be it!

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