Trout of the Day
‘Five minutes later he returned to the barbecue with a freshly caught trout in his hand’
Finally we can go fishing and enjoy our first riverbank feast of the season, but you need to catch your trout
Amazing weather and the bitter irony of not being able to fish because of lockdown made no sense whatsoever to me. We all fish as far apart from each other as possible, unless you’re on a boat at sea of course. But rules are rules and, though I was tempted when I heard reports of salmon and sea trout heading up my local rivers (the Axe and Brit), I didn’t break out so much as a fishing fly.
Finally, the rules relaxed a little, and the long-awaited riverbank lunch I had planned with Robin Hutson could happen; we could even chuck a fly on the water either side of one of our legendary feasts.
The excitement leading up to our debut day was pretty much 50/50 between Robin and I; as it was our first fishing trip of the season and our first meeting for months, we wanted to celebrate by cooking a truite au bleu for lunch. This is an old-fashioned dish, served in fancy hotels and restaurants, where a trout would be cooked in a court boullion, straight from the tank and filleted in front of the guest.
It’s also a very simple dish to knock up on the riverbank, and a great way to cook the freshly caught trout you have landed.
Howard Taylor had kindly invited us to fish on his new beat, Freelands on the River Test - a legendary chalkstream famous for its brown trout - which is a beautiful spot to have a quiet days fishing and lunching.
By the time the barbecue was hot enough to start cooking Peter Hannan’s Glenarm Estate rib of beef, neither of us had got a trout on the bank.
“Lucky I brought the beef!” I said to Robin. “But we still need to nail a trout for our starter.”
The fish had other ideas. We tried all sorts of dry flies - from daddies to wulffs - nothing took their fancy. Although it’s easy to blame the sun, it’s bloody frustrating, but that’s fishing!
By this stage my fish kettle was simmering away next to the beef, so I sent Robin back on the water for one last try with yet another fly - this time a large ugly mayfly pattern. Five minutes later he returned to the barbecue with a freshly caught trout in his hand. Job done!
Robin and I always laugh at cooking our first fish ‘au bleu’ because in his youth, when training in hotel management, Robin had collected the cooked trout from the kitchen, lifted it out of the fish kettle at the table and proceeded to fillet it in front of the guests only to discover that it was still raw in the middle. Being the young trainee he got flak from the chef, but we still have a chuckle about that story on ‘Truite Au Bleu Day’ over a vino or two.
Find more details on flyfishing on the River Test at Freelands at upstreamdryfly.com.
Take an old saucepan or fish kettle to the riverbank for this recipe, one which you don’t mind going on the barbecue. If you’re very lucky, you may even have access to a posh fishing hut with a cooker!
2 medium-sized trout or 1 larger one, gutted 2 tablespoons sea salt 150ml white wine or cider vinegar
10–15 black peppercorns 1 teaspoon fennel seeds 1 bay leaf
Bring enough water to the boil to cover the trout. Add the salt, vinegar, peppercorns, fennel seeds and bay leaf, and simmer for 5 minutes. Carefully place the trout in the simmering water and remove the pan from the heat. Smaller fish will cook through if you leave them in the water for 10 minutes. If you have caught a large fish, just simmer it gently for a few minutes before removing the pan from the heat. To serve, remove the trout from the cooking liquid with a fish slice or similar onto a serving dish.
Taken from Hooked: Adventures in Angling by Mark Hix published by Mitchell Beazley
ABOVE: Mark gets the fishing feast underway on the banks of the Test