Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Fog and ice on the test

When I was young my dad used to proudly inform me that our local rivers - the Test and the Itchen were among the most expensive stretches of bank in the whole world. To me this seemed incredible, surely the mighty Mississippi and Rio Grande were more sought after than the thin chalk streams flowing into Southampton water. As I fished the local ponds of my youth I often wondered what fish the lucky Lords and Ladies of Hampshire caught in the rivers that cut through their back gardens. I never dreamt that I would ever have the money or indeed good fortune to fish these hallowed streams.

But things change. Over the past few months I have been building my river fishing skills on the free stretch of the Itchen at Woodmill. Fishing the Itchen has been fantastic and I feel really lucky to have such a great stretch of free water on my doorstep. Some days it can be extremely hard with the river delivering many hard lessons, but in turn I have gained many important skills such as the Wallis cast and a range of different shotting patterns for different situations. With improved confidence, liquidity (thanks to the day job) and a rare day off, I now had the chance to fish the Test for the first time.

The stretch is prebook only so I phoned some weeks in advance to ensure that I was not disappointed. However when I arrived at the river bank and the chill hit my face, I knew that I had selected a very cold winters morning for my first visit. A ghostly freezing fog hung in the air and mist rose from the shallow river water. In the distance I could just make out the dark shape of a Heron perched, waiting for his fishy breakfast. The quiet eerie atmosphere was pierced by two male Pheasants noisily squabbling for primacy of the river bank.

As I walked to the rivers edge my boots cracked and snapped the frost bitten ground alerting the local Grayling and Trout of my arrival. Resisting the overwhelming urge to cast I walked around the beat looking at the water depth (two feet) and the pace (about the same as Woodmill) as I went. After a few minutes something made me stop. Like most of my swim selections this was primarily based on instinct rather than any great degree of analysis or knowledge ( I am a relative novice after all). Again trying to resist my urges I built the swim by introducing a steady supply of red maggots and corn. Sensing that the time was right I introduced my 3AA crystal Avon to the rivers flow with a delicate Wallis cast.

The float quickly sped along for a few moments before disappearing beneath the water. A few seconds later and I had in my hands for my first Test Grayling. It was only a small specimen but it was to my eyes incredibly beautiful, its sail like fin reminding me of the toy ships I used to sail on our local boating lake. As I returned the fish to the water I cradled the fish beneath the cold waters for a while to allow it to regain it's strength. After a while the Grayling got it's breath back and swam back into the main flow.

After making a few fruitless casts I came to the conclusion that the Grayling has told all of it's friends to hide from the man in the silly hat, so I set off across the misty fields to another swim that I had spied on my earlier travels. I stopped at a twisted pontoon that had once supported fly fisherman as they cast to the local Trout.

However it was clearly now a death trap, so I set up in the reeds to the right of the rotten wooden structure and began to introduce feed to the swim. As I sipped my tea I observed that some of the free offerings were being taken directly on the surface. Feeling that the time was right I cast my float out, but before the bait had drifted down to it's intended destination the red tip dipped out of sight. I struck and my Aqualite bent round seconds before a mighty splash disturbed the surface and a huge |Brownie (well to my eyes at least) burst out of the water.

The fish stripped line from my pin and headed for the middle of the river. After a period of negotiation I turned the irate Trout towards the bank. The fish then decided that some last minute watery pyrotechnics was in order and made a last bid for freedom before finally turning into my grateful net. Over the course of the day another 8 beautiful Brown Test Trout found their way onto the bank. This haul does not include a particularly suicidal fellow that was caught twice within a 30 minute interval! The fish was easy to identify because it's dorsel fin was in tatters from a Heron attack.

Later in the day I succeeded in getting the bait past the noses of the hungry Trout and managed to net 12 lovely ladies with the biggest getting onto a pound. The day was finished by the arrival of a 5lb Rainbow Trout that snaffled a piece of strawberry sweetcorn and battled like a berserker. When it was finally banked both my tackle and I were spent.

I returned Mr Splashy to the water and contented myself with taking some photos of the beautiful countryside. It had been a magical day on the test and a true red letter day.

As I drove bank to the urban environment of downtown Totton I promised myself I would in January and try to catch some bigger ladies of the stream.


  1. Brings back memories of my recent Itchen trip and the fun we all had then. Those streams really do deserve all the praise heaped upon them and I think it's great that coarse anglers can now get to sample at least a part of them both in the game down season. It's some of the best fishing to be had anywhere in the world...

  2. Hi Jeff thanks for the comment. I am really lucky having the Southern Chalk Streams on my doorstep.

    Love your blog by the way, imparticular small steam adventures!