I have been fortunate enough to have guided Tony several times on Alphonse over the years. So I was delighted when he kindly invited Alex and I to fish the Itchen with him and the notorious Rebel (Tony’s dog) last September. Lack of rain had made our rivers low and many had settled to their bare bones. Sitting around a wooden table we sipped coffee and caught up, the river trickled past. Joining us was the river keeper Phil Parker, joining him were his two spaniels. The dogs crowded around Tony as he fed each a handful of digestives, one biscuit at a time.
Tony, myself and Rebel started upstream while Phil and Alex took a wander below. A small CDC puff tied onto skinny tippet proved to be a good recipe for my first fish of the day. This setup picked up the odd fish as I wandered upstream. Tony was fishing the far bank and it was not long before we were fishing opposite each other.
We had come to a series of gentle riffles that flowed to form a series of small troughs, each trough was guarded by coat ranunculus weed around its edge. A good trout lay just upstream, the fish was darting back and forth between smoother and faster water which suggested it was nymphing hard. It took a couple of casts to find the right line, but once I did the fish took willingly. Rebel took the bent rod as an invitation to launch himself into the river to try and retrieve said fish. Tony’s bark did little to persuade him otherwise, but eventually the current proved too strong and Rebel gave up his pursuit. I chuckled.
We eased away the rest of morning catching a mixture of trout and grayling while keeping a beady eye on Rebel, who was ever keen to have another dip. Lunch was well timed for I was starting to get fiercely hungry and a basket of food and a cold beer provided some much needed sustenance.
It almost felt a shame to break up the easy chat by returning to the river. But, ‘when in Rome’. Alex and I ambled downstream while Tony and Phil fished closer to the lunch table. A cruel and chilly wind had come which made both the fly life scarce and the fish sluggish. Rather than going hell for leather we bounced between pools at a leisurely pace, took photos, and watched each other fish. In truth we were both waiting and hoping for an evening rise.
As evening approached the wind died and warmth returned to the air. A small hatch of olives brought fish to the shallows and to the surface. The hatch and activity increased as the darkness gathered. Rather than opting to stay in deeper water many fish took position on the top of weed beds, gaining confidence in the dying light. Looking upstream there was high bank on the right and weed covered shallows to the left. Spaced twenty meters apart we picked off each rising fish, before moving into the small side channel above. More accurate casting were now needed to cover the small pockets cut between lumps of weed. With not enough space for both of us to fish at once, Alex took the first shot. Minutes later he was holding a lump gold. The olive hatch continued to produce good fishing for the following hour.
As the darkness wrapped closer sedges started to bounce up and down, occasionally dipping themselves on the surface which encouraged splashy rises that broke the silence of the evening. I stuck on a large elk hair caddis for it was too dark to see much else. The rod bent twice more. But soon, we were stumbling around in the dark barely able to see our feet let alone our fly. It was time to call it quits and end what was another magical September chalkstream day.
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