A vin­tage year for trout

Country Life Every Week - - Reel Life -

AL­THOUGH I miss out on much of the chalk­stream year by dwelling in the High­lands, I’ve main­tained my cher­ished mem­ber­ship of a club on the Itchen and it was there, on April 8, that my 2016 trout sea­son got off to a rip­snort­ing start.

My friend, John Hotchkiss, and I be­gan at the up­per­most beat, where the water was clear as schnapps and good num­bers of over­win­tered fish were in ev­i­dence. In the glide above our sec­ond hut, I es­pied a big brownie on the feed, wa­ver­ing be­tween two ban­ners of weed, and, just be­fore my lit­tle dry Humpy was about to skate and drag, he wolfed it down. Be­ing in su­perb con­di­tion, he was kept for the freezer. That one weighed in at 5lb, 12oz—my largest ever from the club water.

So, it was al­ready some­thing of a red-let­ter day when we mo­tored down to join the keep­ers (Peter and Philip) for a lunchtime drink. We’d landed sev­eral brace be­tween us and the spring sun was shin­ing on our en­deav­ours. A hover of fish was finning be­low the wil­lows and my luck was in, be­cause, sec­ond cast, my fly was taken with a de­cep­tively gen­tle, tilt­ing rise—and, even­tu­ally, the net went un­der a trout of more than 4lb. I scarcely minded that I had to be ‘up North’ for most of the mayfly, af­ter that.

Al­though there re­main se­ri­ous con­cerns about water qual­ity on our chalk­streams, the Itchen this year en­joyed de­cent hatches of grannom and iron blue and I’m told there was also an ex­cep­tional run of sea trout. By then, I had taken up the longer rod and was chas­ing brown­ies of the Cale­do­nian kind, par­tic­u­larly in two, very dif­fer­ent house lochs.

Here in Perthshire, my in­ge­nious neigh­bour An­drew—whose self-de­signed cut­ting boat has trimmed the veg­e­ta­tion as far away as Bal­moral—was thin­ning out our weed growth when he al­most bi­sected a brownie he swears was as long as his arm. I haven’t yet seen it again, but we had some good day­time sport, espe­cially when the daddies were tum­bling across the breeze like this­tle­down. Per­haps the big fella was fi­nally winched out by those un­in­vited guests who also gen­er­ously left be­hind their fag pack­ets, cider tins and an unopened pot of wig­gly worms.

Over in Har­ris, there’s a spec­tac­u­lar, rowan-girt lochan be­hind The Doc­tor’s house; the fish are elu­sive and few, but, once, a two-pounder fell to my Zulu. This year, with the chill winds, I man­aged just a soli­tary tid­dler. They tend to stay down, con­cen­trat­ing on corixa and stick­le­backs, al­though my per­sis­tence is spurred by the dis­tant mem­ory of a trout the size of a grilse slurp­ing sedges among the reeds—back in Au­gust 1993!

In high sum­mer, I nipped south to Hamp­shire again for a day on the ex­quis­ite lit­tle Dever—favoured venue of our peri­patetic Bundha Club. We had three beats to our­selves and I be­gan down­stream with nov­el­ist Luke Jen­nings—among the stealth­i­est of an­glers I know. Un­less you creep around here, the trout spook away, herd­ing their star­tled cousins ahead. There are also some canny big grayling with claret fins that si­dle war­ily across the sub­strate. By the time we were tuck­ing into the chicken and Sancerre at lun­cheon, we had each caught and re­leased sev­eral of both species, on tiny nymphs.

I owe my suc­cess, partly, to some new ‘ce­ramic flies’ I re­cently mail-or­dered from Stanis­laus Frey­heit and I thor­oughly rec­om­mend vis­it­ing his web­site (www.french-nymphs. com). Heavy, stream­lined, and deeply en­tic­ing, his orange spot gam­marus shrimp (num­ber H14) and the medium ce­ramic M21—olive-bod­ied with an orange bead head—have served me well for all my sight-fish­ing this sea­son and I now carry dozens of them.

We also took a day at nearby Long­stock Park Lake, on the im­mac­u­late Leck­ford es­tate. Back in the 1980s, at the time of the so-called ‘still­wa­ter ex­plo­sion’ when Sam Hol­land was de­vel­op­ing his strain of ‘su­pertrout’ and prac­ti­cally ev­ery hole in the ground was be­ing stocked with lum­ber­ing rain­bows, I avidly used to fish such small south­ern wa­ters. One visit to Av­ing­ton yielded me a brace to­talling 30lb.

The tech­nique of ‘stalk­ing‘ re­quires get­ting your weighted ‘bug’ down to the ex­act level of the cruis­ing spec­i­men and, for some decades, my ‘se­cret weapon‘ has been the tasty look­ing Croque Mon­sieur, a con­fec­tion of lemon­ish An­gora wool, gin­ger palmered hackle and a de­tached (la­tex) mayfly body tied in at the tail. The Long­stock fish seemed to ap­pre­ci­ate it—am­bling up, pale mouth agape, to in­hale it flut­ter­ing down the water col­umn. The Croque ac­counted for four, the best just over 5lb—al­though not ex­actly clas­sic chalk­stream tac­tics, I ad­mit.

And now we have the de­li­cious prospect of au­tumn grayling.

A hover of fish was finning be­low the wil­lows and my luck was in

David Pro­fumo caught his first fish at the age of five, and, off the water, he’s a nov­el­ist and bi­og­ra­pher. He lives up a glen in Perthshire.

The au­thor, Philip the keeper, and his brace of Itchen brown­ies

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