South East Qualifier for the National Rivers final on the Dart in 2013 was to take place on the 3rd of November. I usually fish at Wherewell but will be unavailable this year so this seemed like a good option. I had originally signed up to do the Southern Feds Itchen qualifier but this was canceled due to lack of numbers. A real sign of the times, I fear numbers may be down across the board again this coming year. I won’t dwell on that thought, with the prospect of fishing a river I did not really know I was buoyed by the fact that I could get advice from Andy Croucher via Skype who has fished this river a lot. Added to this I also had the great pleasure of having my regular fishing buddy Graham Lumsdon come along for a couple of days practice.
I have heard a great many people say how clear the Lower Itchen fishery can be but having been several times now I have yet to experience this. The large volume of rain this year has taken its toll on the clarity. We fished on Wednesday the 31st Oct and the 2nd Nov. On the first day we concentrated our efforts on the upper section for not much joy a couple of small Grayling each with only one of them fit to measure. What we did find were some beautifully marked brown trout some of the prettiest I have seen outside of Scotland. So, after a quick chin wag and a spot of lunch, we decided to move to the bottom of the fishery and work our way back up. All the way up we started to take reasonable numbers of fish not huge numbers but the size and quality were second to none. I was mindful that the year before Mike Heritage had amassed a total of 35 Grayling in his four-hour session. Unlike other rivers I have fished I could not seem to get into large shoals of fish that I could consistently catch. So catch and move seemed to be the best bet, we probably caught 30-35 fish between us not counting a number of brown trout. A good day by anyone’s standard. We arrived back at mine via the chippy and discussed flies methods and areas. Grahams advice is always well thought through and delivered with tact. I am sorely lacking in several areas in river fishing so playing to my strengths is always my plan A. However this would not cut it and I would be receiving a crash course from Graham on double nymph fishing…….again. Andy joined in on the chat via Skype just a shame he could not enjoy the 15-year-old bottle of Dalwhinnie that Graham had brought along. The next day I had to work and Graham had jobs he needed to do, we met up again that evening for a bit of tying and Whisky sampling. A little too much sampling as the bottom of the bottle was reached. The Friday saw the river in a reasonable state, not crystal clear I might add but OK. A couple of the competitors had turned out to practice and it was good to catch up with Clive Collier and Andrew Green.
The fishing was tough we worked all day for not a great deal dipping in and out of what we had considered hot spots. Both Clive and Andrew confirmed that it was not up to much so as the light faded we packed up and headed for home. The journey home was emotional, I live 38 miles away and it took two and a half hours to complete the journey. I got home a broken man and my fishing kit failed to make it out of the boot. When I traveled down the next morning I had quickly thrown an overnight bag together and set off. One of the things that the South East Federation organises is a practice day and overnight accommodation. Fourteen competitors were going to be staying over, I knew most of those attending from the Loch Style circuit so was looking forward to a few beers and a chinwag in the evening. To the fishing then the river was dropping and it was not easy but there were a few fish being caught mostly by
Tony Fox but the rest of us were doing OK. I managed fourteen which I thought was OK. As the day drew to a close I was near the big wear and caught two stunning brown trout on a dry fly. The river at this point seemed to be coming to its fabled crystal-clear state. The forecast was for light rain and I was really looking forward to the comp. The evening in the Premier Inn was excellent, plenty of fishy stories and banter. The food was very good as well, after a day or two walking the banks I wanted a good night’s sleep so it was early to bed for me. I was however beaten by my roommate for the evening Hector who was all tucked up by 2130hrs, good man. I fell straight to sleep and slept soundly until 0200hrs when I was woken by the torrential rain beating of the window like small pebbles. I got up to look and on the road outside the rain was bouncing six inches of the concrete. This surely could not last, It did and I did not get much more sleep after that.
I arrived at the river and my heart sank it was high and dirty and the feeder streams were shoving chocolate sludge into the water at an alarming rate. We made the draw and I was given an afternoon peg, downer. The guys in the morning had not much but a little bit clearer water further up the beat and managed a few fish Baz with the best of two fives the other from Tony Fox, the next best bag was Billy Rankin with two. I controlled Andrew Green who fished hard after starting late as the organiser he did not stand a chance of stepping off on time. Andrew did hook into a good sea trout that showed its tail and parted company with the flies.
His just reward came halfway through the session with a nice Grayling. A brownie also put in an appearance which saw us passing the rod round a tree only to see it spit the hook, at least the flies were retrieved. By the afternoon The Lower Itchen was up another foot and looked like a scene from Willy Wonka. I was wishing I could get in the glass elevator and go home! This won’t take long so read on …..thoroughly dejected I threw my flies into the muddy waters for three hours and fifty-five minutes for not so much as a sniff. As I lifted my rod near my last chuck I thought I had caught another clump of weed (they were numerous) but in what seems like a blur I had a grayling in my landing net. Even looking at it I thought this won’t measure, it went 23.5 good enough to get on the card. Only two other fish were unlucky enough to eat flies so by default and the most enormous amount of luck I managed to qualify for the final on the Dart next year. A few words of thanks to Andrew Green who organised the event (Thankless task) and Andy and Graham who again have helped expand my growing experience of river fishing. I am looking forward to some pleasure fishing on Wherewell very soon.