Archive for January, 2016

The Itchen Valley offers the chalk stream angler some of the best grayling and trout fishing in the country.  The run of salmon may not be what it once used to be but they do still show in reasonable numbers.  The Itchen starts it’s life in Mid Hampshire near the village of Cheriton before heading north and then south through the historic city of Winchester.  Winchester dates back to certainly the 1st century BC.  It became a Roman settlement and later fortifications were added and Winchester’s importance was set in stone, if you’ll pardon the pun!  The cathedral grew in significance and the city later became the home of one of England’s most famous kings; Alfred the Great.

Winchester Cathedral - Courtesy of Wikipedia

Winchester Cathedral – Courtesy of Wikipedia

After Winchester the river flows south to join the Southampton Water below the Itchen Bridge in Southampton.  Between Woodmill and the upper reaches the fresh water provides some exciting opportunities for the coarse angler.  Pretty much all species can and are caught from these crystal clear waters; barbel, chub, pike, perch, roach and of course grayling.  The roach grow to exceptional sizes and I’ve seen chub to over 6lbs caught and barbel well into double figures.  All in all its a great place to while away a few hours trotting a float.

An Itchen Roach

A 2lb+ Itchen Roach

Geoff and I have been fishing the middle Itchen on and off over the last few weeks.  Sadly due to the exceptionally wet and windy conditions these trips have been few and far between.  Luckily the Itchen copes quite well with heavy rain and both the levels and colour improve very quickly, although it does have to stop raining at some point for it to do so.

These recent trips have provided plenty of action as always.  It would be almost impossible to blank here I think.  Often we end up with a really good bag of grayling and trout.  Our latest 2 trips couldn’t have been more different though.  The first saw us tackle our usual stretch from around 10.30am.  We always start with a cooked breakfast in a very nice local cafe that has a roaring wood burner to keep you toasty on those cold frosty mornings.  The river was up and quite coloured and we know that will be more challenging.  Still we explored the mile or so section of river from one end to the other.

The water was pushing through quite hard and so a big bolo style float seemed appropriate.  I ended up using a 3g one straight through to a 16 hook.  Bait was the faithful maggot or sweetcorn, lightly nicked on.  Both of these have been tremendously successful here in coloured and clear conditions.  It’s remarkable that in one swim you’ll only catch on maggot and yet in another only on sweetcorn.  Also as the day passes, again a change from one bait to the other seems to make a marked difference.

On this particular day the fish were hard to come by.  I think that was mainly down to the heavy, tea like colouration.   Grayling are sight feeders and therefore harder to come by in these conditions.  Still we persevered.  By constant bait changing and a mobile approach, we ended up with quite a few between us although mainly on the smaller side.  I think the biggest was perhaps a pound.  We had to cover a lot of ground to keep catching and all in all managed to see most of the mile plus stretch of river.  I can’t remember the actual numbers of fish caught but it was well down on what we would normally expect.  I seem to recall around 10-15 grayling between us but it could easily be more.  The old grey matter is not what it once was I’m afraid!

The second trip this week saw improved conditions.  The river was still higher than normal but a lot of the colour had dropped out.  Earlier in the day (after breakfast of course!) we took the opportunity to check out another stretch, which sadly proved to be not so good.  We finally arrived at the river around noon.  The flow had lessened and the river was looking damn good.  I opted for a slightly smaller float; an Avon with 5bb shot and a 16 hook.  I started off in a favourite spot with double bronze maggot.  The results came after about 5 minutes of trickling bait in.  A really hard fighting and heavy fish used the flow to its full advantage.  They turn sideways into the flow and feel incredibly heavy in the conditions.  Initially I wasn’t sure what the fish was but soon that magnificent sail like dorsal cut through the surface film and gave its presence away.  This looked a good fish and after a heart in the mouth fight we netted a really decent fish.  It looked every bit 2lbs but looks can be deceptive.  It weighed 1lb 12oz and is certainly up there with the biggest specimens we have caught from here.  I followed that up with another similar sized fish but probably a few ounces smaller.

1lb 12oz Itchen Grayling

1lb 12oz Itchen Grayling

The afternoon proved to be most enjoyable.  The sun was out and it was a typical cold, frosty winter’s day.  The sort we are more used to at this time of the year.  There was a slight wind but not enough to make it unpleasant in the winter sunshine.  The water was cold though and wading almost waist deep at times had a certain time-span.  After around 20 minutes the cold got into my bones and I would have to get out and try and warm up.  I love days like these.  To me it’s what winter fishing is all about.

Geoff and I covered around half of the beat during the afternoon and some really good quality grayling came our way.  I ended up with 19 nice fish and probably a similar number of trout.  Not bad for around 4 1/2 hours fishing.  At one point I hooked a proper zoo creature.  I couldn’t budge it off the bottom and it just headed wherever it wanted.  It powered upstream until it got bored and then decided to head off towards Southampton with me in tow, chasing it down the bank until I could go no further.  Something had to give and it turned out to be the line at the hook knot.  I never saw the fish but suspect it was a decent sized salmon.  A little later on Geoff hooked something similar and the fish came out of the water like an Exocet missile,  It was indeed a salmon of around 10lbs, so my leviathan was likely to be the same.

The Itchen Valley

The Itchen Valley

This was one of those rare occasions when I managed to catch more grayling than Geoff.  That’s two consecutive sessions I’ve managed to outdo him.  It’s so rare for the maestro to be bested, I thought it worthy of inclusion here!


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