The early bird catches with a squirmy worm
The Prof deploys a femme fatale of a fly to tempt trout at Damerham
David Profumo deploys a femme fatale of a fly at Damerham
‘In 1984, I almost kiboshed the future of the English novel
BACK in the 1980s, I used to frequent the small southern stillwaters that were becoming increasingly popular with fly fishermen in search of sizeable, selectively bred rainbows —venues such as Sam Holland’s Avington (where he reared ‘super trout’), Allen’s Farm (run by my late friend Peter Lapsley) and Latimer Lakes, where, as a student, I had a season ticket.
On the cover of my paperback guide to such fisheries was a photograph of the legendary Richard Walker in his trademark bush hat playing yet another specimen at a place named Damerham, which had become something of a laboratory for developing sight-fishing techniques in its aquavit-clear Hampshire waters. I visited it often and, when its new owners, John and Pam Lay, kindly invited me down for a day last month, I was thrilled at the prospect.
Rain puts paid to ‘stalking’ tactics on such waters and the previous two days had proved torrential. However, in the event, as I meandered down the long, bucolic lane outside Fordingbridge, the sun began to shine upon our endeavours.
At the lodge, I was greeted by the Lays and by their two qualified instructors Ian and Tracy Thew —the latter being the founder of Fish Wives, the group for lady anglers—who were on hand to assist. As Editor Hedges and I were the only punctual members of our party, we decided to make a preliminary, armed survey of the three pleasantly secluded lakes.
I am a great believer in the earliest hour on such clear waters, as the fish can soon become leery. Before long, we’d taken a nice trout each from the deep scoop at the bottom of Holyhead lake, where a school was calmly cruising. I was using the Squirmy Worm, a pinkish femme fatale of a fly that caught me fish all day.
The Damerham stock is all reared on-site and includes some colourful rainbow variants (lilac, beige), my favourite being a strain with backs of kingfisher-blue and silver flanks. These trout are in conspicuously good fettle and took me down to the backing on several occasions.
We’d assembled a lively cast of guests, all long-standing sporting stalwarts—bobby Pawson, Robert Montague, Loyd Grossman and Bill Forse, with a special appearence by Charles Jardine, the superstar of Britain’s fly-fishing scene (which is a bit like getting Oecolampadius round to help with your divinity homework). Soon, everyone was into fish.
These lakes offer a target-rich environment, but, in the aquarial water, they’re no pushovers. You need to be stealthy, selective and precise if you’re going to fool a particular specimen. Blind casting and false casting are not recommended. Small, heavy nymphs—shrimps, damsels, or rudimentary lead bugs such as When All Else Fails—are the order of the day, although Loyd distinguished himself by taking his limit on a dry Daddy.
It was soon fizz-thirty and we repaired to the commodious lodge, where manager and expert chef Jeremy Snowdon treated us to a slap-up, sit-down luncheon with copious wine and much good humour. Damerham is ideal for corporate parties; it offers tackle hire and instruction and is particularly suited to novices, as the ambience is very relaxed and the fish are abundant and visible.
Indeed, in 1984, I almost kiboshed the future of the English novel by introducing Graham Swift to fly-fishing here, when we were editing our piscatorial anthology The Magic Wheel. He became instantly obsessed, but still went on to win the Booker Prize.
After lunch, I pretended to guide for the great Jardine. We’ve been fishing buddies for 40-odd years and, despite being so famous (as a casting demonstrator, flydresser and artist), he remains modest, generous and good-humoured—even when I botch netting his trout. No wonder he’s universally popular.
The night before, he’d knocked up a slender, tufted, buzzery-type pattern on one of his own red CJ nymph hooks and those usually wary Damerham denizens were finding it irresistible. Charlie showed me the exact spot where, as a youth, he had landed the then fishery record of 10½lb, to the chagrin of the owner, who had deliberately stocked it to be caught by Richard Walker and thus generate maximum press coverage. Apparently, the magnanimous Walker was charming about this publicity mishap.
We encountered nothing of those dimensions during our delightful day, but Damerham is again in good hands and I have high hopes it will recover its former glory. For further information about day tickets, contact Jeremy Snowdon (01725 518446; www. damerhamfisheries.co.uk)
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.
Three’s company: the author and Midge offer encouragement to the legendary Charles Jardine