Testing Time in Hampshire

It’s a dark cold morning in Hampshire. The Test valley is waking up to the prospect of a lot of rain and wind. For many, this grim November day will no doubt be made worse when an annoyingly brazen politician turns up with a pestering “Can I count on your vote?”

A day for a lay in perhaps. Or, why not stand waist deep in a famous river looking for grayling. It’s an easy choice, with the added benefit of no self serving wannabes knocking on the door.

It’s Grim Down South

I lived in Hampshire for years and know this area well, but I’m unfamiliar with the river here and grateful to Steve who knows every inch of this stretch. Andy has fished here many times too and the three of us are looking forward to a good, if somewhat damp, day.

Even in this weather the landscape has a unique beauty and this stretch probably hasn’t changed much for centuries. You can still see the hatches connecting the carrier and main river. Although close to the town, it’s pretty quiet and the only sound is the frequent arrival of ducks and swans and the occasional distant blast from a local shoot.

The water is up from the considerable recent rain and a little murky. Spotting fish is difficult, but we see a few in the gravel channels. The plan is to start on the carrier and work our way up to the main river. As much as I’d like to be casting a dry, nymphs look the way to go and some weight will be needed to get down in the faster runs.

It doesn’t take long for us each to catch a few juveniles before Steve lands a better fish. The grayling here look strong and healthy and there’s a good head of youngsters.

Steve With A Nice Grayling

My best fish of the day also comes from the carrier before the rain really kicks in. The take is strong and my first thought is a trout, but as I backtrack to keep him upstream I get a glimpse of that big dorsal. I do like catching grayling. Andy obliges with a quick photo and we crack on.

My Best Fish

It’s just before 11.00 when the rain starts and it’s in for the day.

The main river proves a challenge and I learn that some very good anglers at recent nearby events have also struggled for grayling. Perhaps we need a more protracted drier cold snap. Although we continue to catch some smaller fish, anything of size eludes us.

Lunch in the heavy rain is also a challenge, but we find some shelter and warm up a bit. Andy and Steve are known as the ‘pot noodle twins’ and so I join them in the habit. Re-energised we hit the main river again and the going gets even tougher. None of us catch for the next hour or so, not even a bumped fish.

Steve is called away a little early and so Andy and I spend a final half hour on the carrier again before packing up. I switch to a smaller lighter nymph and fine tippet and manage a few more. It’s not a prolific day but enjoyable none the less and we are each into double figures by the close.

My thanks to Steve for introducing me to his home water. It’s many years since I fished the Test and I’m grateful for the opportunity to experience this special river again.

I may be in the minority, but I think I’d rather be on a chalk stream on a wet November day for grayling than fighting the well-heeled in May, trying to catch a stocked trout.

Mr Notherone

Testing myself in the rain…

I’m in two minds about getting out on the river for a few hours. There’s a lull in the rain that’s been falling for days but the sky looks as if it could change that in an instant. The river level has been falling throughout the day though. Decision made, I head out.

I’ve never been a fair weather angler and I’m happy to fish through a shower or something heavier. However, I can’t say I enjoy a torrential downpour and this is what I find when I park at the river. It doesn’t look like easing and I’ve only a couple of hours available.

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As I make my way downstream I disturb what I’m pretty sure is a little egret. It clears the tree tops and cuts across the fields before circling back towards the river, no doubt I interrupted it’s late afternoon snack.

Without doubt, the worst thing about fishing in rain is seeing well enough to tie good knots. In the last few years I’ve had to accept that I need reading glasses to see close up and now when fishing I use a small magnifier that attaches to the brim of my cap and folds away when not needed. It won’t win any fashion awards but I find it excellent. Until that is, it rains and then I could do with windscreen wipers.

The river is coloured and pushing through, but not so much as to make things difficult and wading is still comfortable.

Over the last six weeks, a lot of my fishing has been with a dry fly but conditions today suggest nymphs are the way to go.  I target the faster head waters of the pools and it’s not long before I bump off the first fish and then bring another to hand from the same riffle. A small brownie with exquisite red spots.

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I’ve worked a lot on my nymphing technique and I’m more comfortable now ‘casting’ the flies but I still get the odd tangle. Today I snatch at what I think is a take and end up with a birds nest that’s largely of my own making as I tug at the line out of frustration. More fun tying knots in the rain.

IMG_3495I force myself to slow down and I’m soon into another good fish, again from the faster water at the head of a pool. The water shallows as I pick my way upstream and I manage two more trout targeting the holding areas just out of the main current.

The second fish is the best of the day and puts up a good scrap, made worse for me as I let him get below. In these conditions and fishing nymphs I’m able to use 4lb Maxima for tippet, so I’m able to bully enough to get him to the net reasonably quickly.

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I catch another three from the top of the next pool and just as I’m running out of time, the rain eases to just a light drizzle.

I’ve not seen any surface activity today but as I get close to where I parked up I spot a small rise in a quieter glide, just the other side of a mid-stream island. I glance at my watch and decide I’ve time to swap leader and tie on a dry. After a minute or two I’m wading across to the island trying to stay low. I see the fish rise again.

I squat down and ready myself to cast. As I glance behind to see how much room I have, I lose my balance and topple backwards. I perform the start of an acceptable backwards roll and as my head hits the water, I feel the rush of cold water down the back of my waders. Fortunately, it’s only about a foot and a half deep and I’m back on my feet pretty quickly, with just my pride bruised. Time to call it a day.

It’s quite a while since I fall in properly and it’s a gentle reminder to take more care. At least it’s June and not January.

Back at the car and in the best tradition of a poor workman blaming his tools, I examine my boots and determine that the studs have worn and need replacing!

Mr Notherone