Late season sport
The southern chalkstreams may be famous for their early season hatches of Ephemera danica but there's great sport to be had later in the year, says Marcus Janssen.
On reflection, autumn is a truly fabulous time to be on a river in the UK. There's a hint of winter in the air as you meander upstream, and the rustle overhead tells you that the leaves are about to turn, even if most of them are still green. With a faint hint of woodsmoke on the stiffening breeze, you feel the first flutter of excitement as log fires, sloe gin and the season's first pheasants come to mind. By the beginning of September, thoughts of rising trout have made way for high octane grouse and even the prospect of early season partridges. But unbeknown to many, while the sound of gunfire reverberates through the heathery hills and valleys, down on the chalkstreams, the dry fly season is far from over.
After several failed attempts to get onto the Test this year, my invite to join Howard Taylor of Upstream Dry Fly for a day's spring fishing soon became a summer invite and, by the time I actually managed to get down to Hampshire it was in fact mid-September and autumn was well and truly upon us. “Not to worry, the fishing can still be very good at that time of year,” Howard assured me as I rang up to reschedule. ‘Yeah, but they won't be on the surface' I thought to myself.
The Bossington beat of the Test is as charming as it is quintessentially English. Manicured grass banks lead to a quaint thatched Victorian fishing hut. Inside, a Royal Worcester tea set awaits anglers in need of an afternoon brew and perhaps a scone with clotted cream and jam. Downstream, below a weir and an enticing looking pool, several large brownies can be seen weaving between ribbons of Ranunculus and, occasionally, a kingfisher flits between the branches of a weeping willow on the far bank. And with autumn's first few splashes of gold, copper and crimson in the trees, it is, if nothing else, an idyllic setting in which to cast a fly.
Gladly, the trout prove to be obliging enough, readily taking #16 and 18 pheasant tail nymphs drifted downstream beneath a Klinkhammer. These may not be wild or particularly wily trout (Bossington have their own hatchery), but I'm glad to report that they did turn their noses up at anything that showed the slightest hint of drag. And apart from the odd grayling that suddenly darts up and snatches at the emerger, the dry fly floats by, apparently unnoticed.
However, at some point before midday, something changed. Where only moments before there had been no sign of a fish, there were suddenly trout everywhere, in every pocket of open water, right up in the water column and feeding hard – some weaving several feet to intercept suspended morsels. Clearly, something was afoot and it wasn't long before the first little duns started to flutter up into the sunlight. A big hatch of blue-winged olives was soon underway and, despite the presence of the adults in good numbers, the trout continued to gorge on the tiny nymphs as they struggled to make their way up to the surface through the swiftly flowing currents.
The action was fast and furious for the next half-hour as almost every decent cast to a feeding fish was rewarded with a positive take, my #18 pheasant tail nymph proving irresistible to most.
“This is bloody good fun!” I laughed as Howard and I simultaneously hooked into fish. Howard's turned out to be the fish of the day and, although we didn't weigh it, it would easily have stretched the scales to 4lb, possibly even 5lb. Most were between 2lb and 3lb, with the odd plucky grayling of a pound in between.
As the hatch progressed, the occasional rise here and there revealed that the trout were beginning to shift their attention to the emerging duns. Howard changed to a CDC emerger first and was rewarded within minutes, his Hardy Zenith 5wt doubling over into another solid fish. I didn't take much persuading and, armed with a compara dun a'la Procter, I too was soon in the thick of it. I'd hate to guess how many fish we landed between us, but suffice to say we were kept busy.
“There's more to the Test than just mayflies,” said Howard. “People get very preoccupied with the legendary hatches in the spring, Duffer's Fortnight and all that, but as you can see for yourself, there is some seriously good fishing to be had later in the year too.” And because of the low demand for fishing at this time of year, day tickets often go for a bargain, even on the very top beats.
Indeed, who'd have thought it – top dry fly sport during the shooting season.
And what a way to bring the fishing season to a close.
If you are interested in fishing the chalkstreams of southern England – in the spring, summer or autumn – get in touch with Howard Taylor at Upstream Dry Fly.
t. +44 (0) 1425 403209