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Posts Tagged ‘River Itchen Grayling’


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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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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I have recently visited the Lower Itchen Fishery on two occasions but only for the roach fishing.  At one time you couldn’t have prized me away from the big grayling that used to be commonplace here but sadly those days seem to have gone and the desire to catch decent roach has taken over.

The Itchen has become quite famous for the quality of the specimen roach that it produces.  It regularly throws up good 2s and there seems to be plenty of fish over the 1lb mark to be had.  As always, a well run fishery with a good river keeper, seems to be the key.  They manage the river in all of its seasonal moods very well and this encourages quality fish reproduction and a very healthy environment for them to grow big.

The Mill Pool

The Mill Pool

On our first visit here, which was just after our Welsh trip, I was advised by Jez Brown to target an area just below the main mill.  It did look ideal with water gushing into a pool having passed under the old Mill itself.  It created a lovely big crease and I have to say, screamed roach.  So I decided to just sit it out here all day and feeder fish maggots.  The trip was on behalf of the Barbel Angler website and owner Micky Holtom was one of the guys down to fish.  We met as usual at the Winchester services where for the price of a small Principality you can buy a mediocre breakfast.  I declined the offer to eat and opted for a coffee instead.  All in all there would be about 20-25 of us.

So as I said I set-up a feeder rod and fished a medium sized Kamasan Black Cap to a 16 hook and double red maggot.  Casting out regularly to build up the swim, I kept bait going in continuously throughout the day.  However the first cast produced the biggest roach of the day for me at 1lb 4oz.  I followed that up with about 20 more roach to just under a pound but later in the day a pike moved in and I think spooked the roach.  All I could get after that was very sharp bites that were unhittable.

1lb 4oz Roach

1lb 4oz Roach

As well as the roach I had quite a mixed bag really.  Small chub, dace, gudgeon and about 6 or 7 Bream to 4lb 12oz came my way, so I had a lovely day’s mixed sport.  It kept me busy all day and and I rarely had any period of no action of some sort.  Perhaps I should have moved once that pike turned up and despite the Pallatrax boys (JeZ Brown and Luke Ayling) trying to coax the pike out on a dead bait, the swim was never quite the same.

4lb 12oz Bream

4lb 12oz Bream

We all met back at the car park and it seemed some had done reasonably well.  Jez and the other boys had taken grayling to a fraction under 2lbs, with numerous other rods taking some nice fish to around that mark too.  Keith Speer stuck it out in his swim, despite the slow going, and was eventually rewarded with a lovely roach of 2lb 8oz.  Geoff fished a spot that I particularly like at the lower end of the fishery and managed a number of nice roach to 1lb 11oz but sadly lost a couple of better fish.  Around 8 of us retired to the White Swan public house for one of their excellent carveries before the journey home.

Geoff's 1lb 11oz Roach

Geoff’s 1lb 11oz Roach

It was another great day in great company and lets hope there are many more to come.  Thanks lads.

On the second recent visit I again set out my stall for the roach.  I targeted the area Geoff had fished the week previously and my intention was stay there pretty much all day.  Both Kevin and Geoff opted for the top end of the fishery hoping for a decent grayling.  The river appeared to be really pushing through with a touch of colour.  The flow was perhaps a bit more than we would have liked but we had to make the most of what we had.

It seemed to be a busy day.  There were quite a few booked into the LIF stretch and lots of guys on the fee stretch.  None of this affected me as the spot I wanted to fish is awkward to access from the other bank so I had this spot to myself.  The usual tactics were employed: Avon float, bulk shot, 3lb mainline.  I started with breadflake to a 10 hook and on one of the first casts I landed a lovely 15oz roach shortly followed by another.  I then lost a fish and the swim seemed to die.  I took a break and poured myself a cup of steaming hot coffee and watched the planes appear over the treeline as they made their decent into the airfield nearby.  The roar of the jets engines rang in my ears but I’m so used to it I find it, in a perverse way, an enjoyable distraction from the fishing.

The Eastleigh Spitfire

The Eastleigh Spitfire

I phoned Geoff and it seemed the fishing was quite frustrating upstream.  The flow was making things difficult and Geoff had either bumped off or lost quite a few good grayling.  Between him and Kevin they did end up with a few though to about 1lb 13oz I think, but it was rather slow going.

Keith Speer wandered down for a chat late morning/lunchtime and we chewed the fat over coffee for a while when we were joined by one of Keith’s fishing pals.  He had already caught a couple of nice roach going 1lb 14oz and 2lb 1oz, so the big girls were feeding.  Keith had only managed to find the chub but had already taken around 8 or 9 nice fish.  Later on Keith’s mate had a further 2 good roach of 2lb and 2lb 8oz, so what a tremendous result that was and I think Keith ended up with about 15 chub.

The Itchen

The Itchen

I carried on fishing and swapping baits from maggots to bread.  The maggots certainly produced more bites and I had several fish around the 1lb mark.  As the light faded I hoped that some of the bigger fish would put in an appearance but sadly they failed to show.  Geoff struggled for bites once he moved down into this area mid to late afternoon but Kevin got amongst the chub below the road bridge and ended up with 11 and a couple of small roach.

A decent grayling

A decent grayling

So all in all another pleasant day on the river and with just a short time to go before the end of the season, here’s hoping for a successful final fling to one and all.

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