The early bird catches with a squirmy worm

The Prof de­ploys a femme fa­tale of a fly to tempt trout at Damer­ham

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - David Pro­fumo

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

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