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Archive for February, 2016


I was very privileged to be invited to fly fish a delightful syndicate water in Penshusrt last Spring by a fellow piscator.  It is a lovely spot in the shadows of Penshurst Place and takes up a minuscule part of Penshurst’s 2500 acres of formal gardens, woodlands and parkland.  Although only a tiny part of this grand and ancient estate, the setting is beautiful and seems very secluded despite its proximity to the main house.

Penshurst Place

Penshurst Place

I’m no fly fisherman but I do enjoy thrashing the water to a foam occasionally and Peter Bentley was the perfect host.  After a few casting lessons I was free to wander and enjoy the spring delights.  Numerous changes to the fly followed throughout the day and Peter finally found one to the trout’s liking; a small black buzzer.  I swapped and it wasn’t long before the fish were hitting the fly.  We both managed to coax a few fish out and I left a wealthier man for the experience.

It was now my turn to return the favour.  I offered Peter a day trotting for grayling.  I think Peter said he had not coarse fished since his childhood but a fisherman is a fisherman.  I hoped a day on the Itchen fishing for grayling wouldn’t bore him senseless and I’m delighted to say it didn’t!  A day’s fishing isn’t the same unless a hearty breakfast is involved and our usual eating establishment was the port of call.  The breakfast is ideal to keep you going for the remainder of the day.

A good quality centrepin

A good quality centrepin

We arrived at the river around noon and began the laborious process of getting the waders on and all of the other usual apparel before heading off to the river.  I think Peter was pleasantly surprised by the Itchen.  I guess that’s hardly surprising; it’s a beautiful, fast flowing river that winds its way through some lovely countryside. I think what really amazed him was the fact that so much of the river offers free fishing.  We wandered the river a little bit but settled for a really nice long glide that angled away from a long sweeping bend.  With the waders on we were able access the river and trot the perfect line.

I attempted to demonstrate to Peter the art of trotting with a centrepin.  As a fly fisherman Peter was pretty much used to the concept of a pin and now it was just a case of familiarizing himself with the reels action. The key was to ensure the line came off the reel with a controlled motion.  It’s imperative to keep a very slight pressure on the reel’s drum so it doesn’t over-spin resulting in the line spooling off the reel in a huge tangle.  It also allows you to strike whilst using the thumb as a break.  There is no need to use your other hand to feed line, a good centrepin will need no assistance there, unless the flow is barely discernible.

I have to say that after a very short demonstration Peter was soon trotting reasonably well.  I left him with some maggots and corn and wandered off to have a dabble myself.  The river was a bit higher and more coloured today after quite heavy overnight rain.  It didn’t look ideal and judging by the results, it had obviously affected the fishing.  I managed to tempt a few grayling from the top of the beat but nothing of any size.  I noticed Peter was talking to Geoff, who had wandered upstream and they looked like they had just landed a fish.  It turned out to be Peter’s first grayling and a very worthy one too at 1lb 8oz.  Not a bad fish for this stretch.

Success

Success

It didn’t take too long to add a few more to Peter’s tally including another fine fish over a pound.  Peter seemed genuinely delighted with his day and the method of catching them.  Fly fisherman are used to constantly doing things; casting, moving, changing flies and looking for fish.  Trotting is also a very active method and can so often involve being in the water as well as changing baits, depths, shotting patterns and floats and of course working the float through the swim at different speeds and lines.  I think Peter found it a very rewarding method and I could see him doing it more frequently.

As the day drew to an end I decided to try a deep run of around 6-7ft that I had found by wading upstream.  A few trots through this hidden spot produced a quick result.  The float buried and the fish on the other end felt very heavy and fought hard.  It thumped solidly on the end of the line.  I had a couple of problems; no net and I wasn’t near an accessible bank.  As I drew the fish close I realised it was a really decent grayling.  I managed to hand it out and only just managed to keep hold of it.  I had no scales and no bag either to weigh it in.  I don’t think it would have gone 2lbs but it wasn’t far short; maybe 1lb 12oz-1lb 14oz.  A very nice fish to end the day on.

Geoff had managed to tempt a few fish too and Martin Porter had also turned up for a go and he too winkled a few out.  I haven’t seen Martin for a while and it was good to catch up again.  Hopefully it won’t be so long until our next encounter. As the light faded we decided it was time to head home.  All in all a successful day and hopefully a new course fisherman has been born.  I think Peter will venture down again and I’ll be kept busy with another golf club member looking to try his hand at a spot of trotting in a week or so’s time.

 

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After some fairly exhaustive research trips around the Winchester area for more fishing opportunities, Geoff and I finally gave up and headed off to a stretch of river that we knew well.  Conditions have been tough recently and we knew the Itchen had been running high and coloured.  We finally arrived at the river around midday and were pleasantly surprised to find the river looking spot on; a nice smooth pace and just a tinge of colour.

I headed to the top of the fishery and tackled up.  The usual set-up would suffice; 14ft float rod, 3lb mainline and a 16 hook-to-nylon.  I opted to use a 3g Bolo style float and had the option of red maggots or sweetcorn.  I ended up trotting a swim that dropped off into a deep glide under a bridge.  In fact it was the M3 flyover!  Noisy but productive.  I seem to have a thing for motorway bridges at the moment!

First trot through produced a bite and they kept coming.  I trickled in a few maggots every cast and after around 30-40 minutes I banked around 8 grayling, 1 trout and at least half a dozen small salmon par.  I then decided to drop downstream slightly into a beautiful glide on a slight bend.  There was a good depth of around 4ft and an easy pace to the flow.  It looked perfect.  First cast; grayling on.  More followed and in fact by around 4.15 I’d had 31 grayling to approximately 1lb 4oz, with the average around 8-10oz.  Not monsters, but on a cold day it was very rewarding sport.

I decided to move downstream further as the afternoon wore on.  My last swim was a long glide which then narrowed by an overhanging tree.  Again it had a good depth and a nice smooth flow.  Yet again immediate results.  The grayling here appeared to be of a slightly better average size, closer to a pound.  10 more grayling followed to around 1lb 4oz+.  I must have lost 12-18 grayling too, probably down to the barbless hooks.  I find micro barbed tend to loose fewer grayling, although some days it’s hard to keep them on any hook, they all seem to be made of rubber.  Still that’s the fun (?) of fishing for grayling.  The trouble is loosing the biggies tends to hurt a bit.

Gay Pigeons or s scene from the Birds!

Gay Pigeons or a scene from the Birds!

Geoff had also fared pretty well.  He had managed to take 26 grayling to around 1lb 8oz and had averaged fish to around the 1lb mark.  By 5.00pm it was bloody cold and we decided enough was enough.  It had been an interesting and productive day in search of new venues and getting the rod bent again.  Those 2lb+ grayling are still proving to be rather elusive though.

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There is something very special about big roach. The desire to catch them seems to consume me sometimes. However finding them and spending enough time actually fishing for them, is difficult. It must be a throwback to my childhood days, catching those lovely red finned, silver bars from my local lake and the river Medway that has never really left me. As much as I love catching barbel, chub and grayling, roach still gets the adrenaline pumping and the sort of excitement levels that a kid normally only experiences on Christmas morning when Santa has been! I just can’t seem to shake it off.

For me a big roach is over a pound. At that weight they become rather special, no longer something that just gets pulled in on a couple of maggots every cast. No, the bigger specimens are harder to come by, particularly from flowing water. Of course there are a few venues that I could visit like Lochnaw Castle, Sway Lakes or Linch Hill and one day I may just do that. These days I much prefer to trot a float for them and if absolutely necessary lob out a small blockend feeder. For me it’s the venue and the method that gives me the most reward.

It's quality roach like this that keeps me coming back for more!

It’s quality roach like this that keeps me coming back for more!

There are plenty of rivers that can and do throw up some really big specimens. The Frome produces fish to over 3lbs, the Kennet still produces the odd big fish, the Hampshire Avon produces plenty of fish to over 2lbs and of course further afield the Trent and Wye both produce big fish. It’s not so much finding the rivers to target, its more of a case of finding the right stretches and then spending plenty of time trying to catch them. I seem to spread myself a bit too thin sometimes by fishing for everything, all over the country rather than concentrating on just one species at possibly one venue. Mind you that’s how I and my mates like to fish, so I’m certainly not complaining.

The Lower Itchen Fishery

The Lower Itchen Fishery

My latest effort was a venue that produced some nice roach for me last season. It was close to the end of the season last year when I heard the tragic news of Keith Speer’s passing. On that particular day it produced a magnificent 2lb 3oz fish for me. I will always remember that day because of that fish and the sad circumstances that transpired during the morning.

So I was due a return visit to the Lower Itchen Fishery, again in search of a special roach. I had a swim in mind and on arrival at the river Geoff and I were met with promising conditions. The river was a bit higher than normal and perhaps pushing through a bit harder, but with a touch of colour and very mild conditions, it looked good for a roach or two. Geoff decided to tackle the straight below the weir, whilst I headed upstream to a known holding spot.  With planes taking off from Southampton Airport at regular intervals and the M27 traffic thundering past, it was hardly tranquility personified!  However I’m used to it and actually enjoy watching the planes taking off and I hardly seem to notice the motorway traffic either.  There is a distinct lack of wildlife at the lower extremities of this fishery, however wander upstream a mile or so and that changes quite dramatically.  I’ve seen quite a few deer, owls, buzzards and an assortment of other feathered wildlife to keep even the most ardent of twitchers occupied.

A big Itchen Grayling from a few years ago

A big Itchen Grayling from a few years ago

My plan of attack was quite simple; feed in an occasional ball of groundbait laced with maggots and a good glug of Ocean Pride flavouring whilst keeping a steady trickle of loose feed going in all day. My hope was that it would eventually bring on the roach. Tackle was a 15ft float rod, centrepin reel loaded with 3lb line and a size 16 hook-to-nylon fished with either a single caster or maggot. I also had some size 18s if the fishing was proving a bit slow, however with the colour and pace I felt fishing that light unnecessary. After a cup of coffee and a toast to absent friends, I tackled up and started to trot through the swim. It was around 6ft deep and started to shallow as the swim reached the bridge around 20 yards or so downstream.

Groundbait laced with maggots, a tub of casters and a good quality bait pouch.

Groundbait laced with maggots, a tub of casters and a good quality bait pouch.

Almost immediately the float dipped and something writhed on the other end. It felt like a grayling and indeed it was. The float continued to dip most of the day and I ended up taking around 25-30 grayling to just over a pound. On around 12 occasions I hooked something much bigger, which pretty much towed me all over the river, once or twice heading towards the Solent!  They turned out to be trout of course, either brownies or sea trout up to nearly 4lbs. They were good fun to play in the flow but I don’t think they helped with the roach. Sadly, despite my best efforts, I only managed to tempt one small roach. Perhaps the flow was too much and the roach had moved, or maybe I should have fished lighter? Who knows?

I managed to hire a model for the day....yes young Danny is still going strong.

I managed to hire a model for the day….yes young Danny is still going strong.

As the light faded I had a call from Geoff who was now barbel fishing below the weir. There was a palpable air of excitement in his voice and he informed me he was playing a big barbel but was struggling to get it into the net. I reeled in and with a few bits of gear tucked under my arms, I headed downstream to Geoff. I dumped the tackle at the car and rushed round to Geoff’s aid. It was already over and a big barbel lay recovering in the net. It was thick across the back and looked comfortably a double. We both thought it looked 12-13lbs however the scales recorded 11lb 5oz. It was a lovely, well conditioned fish and without a doubt the highlight of the day. It was also Geoff’s first Itchen barbel and a day he won’t forget in a hurry. It seemed a fitting time to end our proceedings for the day and head back home. We’ve had some great sport at the Lower Itchen Fishery over the years and although our visits here are few and far between these days, we still enjoy our time here and it can still throw up something a bit special occasionally.

Geoff's magnificent 11lb 5oz barbel.

Geoff’s magnificent 11lb 5oz barbel.

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