The Southern Federation had arranged its usual qualifier on Broadlands this year it is held traditionally on the Lower Itchen. My fishing buddy Graham Lumsdon and I wanted to try and fish a few of the qualifiers this year to get more experience match fishing. We had already competed in the South East Federations event on the Lower Itchen a couple of weeks previous. We had also both assumed that we had qualified from this heat, but now we are not so sure. No one seems to have a straight answer to how the multi-entry qualification is going to work. Anyway, can of worms comes to mind and I think we can leave that until more light is shed on the matter.
The River Test, surely not a river fisher in the country has not heard of the famous chalk stream? Simon had put out a good instruction on how to find the river and access the fishing, an outstanding price had been negotiated with the owners. It would have been rude not to take advantage by putting in a couple of days. We were to overnight in Grahams van and I had arranged to meet him bright and early at the fishery where we would (and this is the royal we Graham does all the catering) rustle up a brew and some bacon butties. I was on the M3 at 0600hrs when my phone went, it was Graham “I canna find my wading boots” I will keep looking and meet you at Winchester services at 0730hrs. I drove very slowly through some horrendous rain dreading what this amount of water was doing to the river. I arrived at the services and gave Graham a bell, he was still looking …… I spent my time reading all the mags in WH Smith getting the are you going to buy one of those looks from the shop assistant. Anyways long story short Graham had stuck his boots in the airing cupboard to dry his better half had found them and he eventually arrived in the car park. We had a costa packet coffee and tootled down to the water which was only twenty minutes from the services. The hut at the fishing car park was outstanding with tea and coffee making facilities as well as two bottles of whiskey if you were so inclined. It was Bells and Grouse so the owners were fairly safe.
The river was not as bad as we had both thought it was a wide meandering river with a good flow that looked very deep in sections. We both decided to tackle it with a double nymph on the 11’ rods. Wading was allowed but only ten or so feet from the bank, which was wise given the depth of water which lurked in the areas you could not see into. We decided to go to the bottom of the beat and make our way upstream. It was a slow start and we both struggled to get into consistent numbers of fish. We would pick up one or two then nothing for a while. I bumped into another angler Darren who had yet to get a fish to the net. I told him what I was doing and moved just beyond to carry on, I flipped my flies into a run and before I could raise my rod the line went tight and I thought I was into a sea trout or brownie. No a Grayling leaped clear of the water and it was a lump, I have never seen a Grayling jump before but hey ho. It had almost instantly got downstream of me and I was shouting for help while trying to regain some semblance of control. Darren came around the corner just as I was dragging it over the net, you beauty! The fish went a conservative 45cm I was well chuffed, Darren kindly photographed the fish and all was well with the world.
We had stopped for lunch and decided to fish upstream in the afternoon which started off well with both Graham and I getting into fish. Soon we found ourselves walking past large stretches of river that looked uninviting and inhospitable. Graham managed a few fish I don’t recall getting any, I think we both knew this would not figure in our game plan for the match. Dumbasses we really missed a trick but more on that later. The day at an end we relocated to a pub car park where the landlord was more than happy to let us stay overnight after he fed us a hearty curry and a pint with a side of chips all for a tenner, jobs a good un! We retired to the van to sup some whiskey I had brought along some of the Spey
Ghillies Dram which is a cask strength brew very nice. We chatted about the day and the river. It had been not bad, sorry if that sounds a bit negative but in our defense, the water was fairly cloudy and we found locating pods of Grayling a bit tough. After a few drams and a bit of putting the world to rights, we retired for the evening. There was no rain overnight and when we arrived at the river it was a different place visibility was good and there were clear gravel runs in between the weed. We decided to walk down and start where we had left of the day before, at lunch, I believe the water had dropped a couple of inches and it was much clearer. It’s amazing what a difference this made, Graham and I both started to put together some pretty decent numbers in fairly short order. For the sake of thoroughness, we made our way back upstream to look again at the slow meandering stuff. Reports of Ben Bangham doing very well in this area warranted further investigation. “Nope this is a none starter” I declared to Graham, as it was I am still kicking myself in the arse for not having this area sorted. Graham and I had identified several areas where we would both be happy to fish so called it a day and made our way home.
The day of the match came and the wind was howling there were the odd bits of torrential rain which would come and go very quickly but nothing too bad. I picked Graham up and we headed up to the river bright and early, I had drawn a morning session and Graham the afternoon. Good stuff at least we would not be in each other’s way. My controller was Darren Hargreaves the kind gent who had come to my aid with the big Grayling. Darren had not controlled before so I gave him a heads up and he kindly carried my spare rod and long-handled net. It was very windy
which could and to some extent did play havoc with casting. We got to my start line with about half an hour to spare and we passed the time chatting about fishing, with a couple of minutes to go I got into position. Darren gave me the nod and I was off, nothing first cast nor second, come on what had happened to these fish! Third cast and a small Grayling breaks the surfaces and flies across safely in the net, it does not look very big but the measure was 15cm and it made that comfortably. Another couple followed, however I was disappointed I expected at least six or seven from this run. Anyways with three fish on the card and 15 mins gone I moved upstream five meters. The first cast in the new run and I thought I had hooked a brown trout the line went solid. The fish came to the surface with little effort and I dragged the huge Grayling on my line into the waiting net. The fish was a cracker and went 47.5cm, a bit special and to get this in a match brilliant! The fish kept coming and by the half-way point, I had managed double figures. Out of the corner of my eye, I had seen a fish or two rising in the margins and switched tactics to my lighter rod set up with a duo. I was rewarded almost instantly with three quick fish and dropped another couple. Time was catching up with me and I was down to my last 30 minutes with 16 fish on the card. It was time for a quick move across to the other bank, this meant tabbing down the river and crossing a bridge would the effort be worth it. I knew this side was good for a few fish but after missing my first two offers I thought my goose was cooked then they started to come. Not huge fish mind but big enough to meet the measure, as Darren blew time I had reached a total of twenty. As we walked back to the lodge Darren declared that he was going to come and fish the same area. I was fairly sure that he would do OK, Grayling is the most forgiving of fish and it would be no surprise to me if Darren did not catch some of the very fish that had visited my net. I arrived back in the park and soon learned that Ben had caught 34 a huge amount in a three-hour session showing exceptional angling, so hats off to Ben. I was closest to him with 20 and I think after that was around 16.
The afternoon session was to prove a little tougher and the angler I controlled managed a cracking fish of 38cm fairly early on. I watched Charles Jardine hook a rather large Salmon which leaped in the air and said farewell, on the other bank Rob Brown was building a tidy bag. I have to say the afternoon dragged on but eventually, the sands of time ran out. We all made our way back to the lodge. Graham had caught 25 in total which was the best I had heard and was indeed good enough for a session win ahead of Rob Browns 19.
Broadlands is a place that grows on you, it is a well-kept fishery and offers some superb Trout and Grayling fishing. I will return next year for another go at this river and might put three days practice in if the long haired general allows!