I was delighted to be invited along to a stretch of the Test by William Sleeman. This particular beat has been in his family since the 1950s and is run as small syndicate water. The beat takes a bit of finding but I had received clear instructions on how to get there. The beat had a modern solid hut by its banks and from the veranda, you could watch the river meander off towards the rising sun. I could see the odd fish rising which looked to be small Grayling. The morning had a nip in the air but the promise of a warm summer-like day stopped me from putting too many layers on. As I waited for William to arrive I had a short walk along the bank spooking a pretty large fish from the margins. I had set up with 3.5lb breaking strain and I was thinking I might be a little light if all the fish were like this. As I returned from the walk William was pulling up at the lodge. He explained that we would be fishing for Triploid Browns and Grayling. The opposite bank belonged to the Compton estate who stocked Rainbows so there was a chance of one of those as well. Due to the other bank being owned by Compton there is no wading from either bank. This was a great shame as I do enjoy standing in the water. This also makes the fishing a little more challenging, having to get the fly line over the vegetation and track the fly back. I was also very pleased I had brought my long handled net which was to prove invaluable.
The Hut was nearly bang in the middle of the beat and we decided to walk upstream first of all. We spotted a number of
fish rising towards the far side but I found it very difficult to get my dry across the river. After only four or five feet I was getting drag on the fly. William spotted several fish which we covered to no avail. After reaching the very top of the beat with not so much as an offer I felt that it may turn out to be a tough old day. I moved back down to an area that William had pointed out earlier and spied a couple of good Grayling, they were sitting in fairly deep holes so the dry fly rod was abandoned. The 11’ rod was perfect for poking over the top of the vegetation and I plonked my nymph into the water six or seven feet upstream from the quarry. I was pleased with myself as usually, it takes a couple of goes to get the flies just right. This time It was all looking good the fly was coming down perfectly, the Grayling were feeding just edging right and left taking small items of food from the flow. That’s when a muckle great brownie came and smashed the nymph, it then proceeded to go ballistic completely scattering the two Grayling I was watching and a shoal of other fish that had gone unseen by me. It was a strong fish and put up a hell of a scrap but it eventually found the net. I took a little time to recover the fish before releasing it to fight another day. I had marked the spot assuming that the Grayling would come back on station shortly. I pottered about upstream for fifteen minutes or so before returning. Sure enough, the two ladies had returned to their lie. They both managed to make it into the back of my net, I had made a start, fantastic!
I had moved back downstream spotting a glint of silver in the water as the sun rose a little higher in the sky. I tried the dry over the fish and received no response. It was too far for the nymph rod with the French leader so I opted for a duo rig and cast the flies out. Several small Grayling darted up to slash at the dry before it dipped and I lifted into what felt like a good fish. Its first run took all my loose line before it began eating into the line on the reel. As I brought the fish under control I could see it was one of the Rainbows that William had mentioned. I was playing the fish as hard as I dared on the light rig. William was walking up the bank as I slipped the fin perfect fish into the net. I was about to get it back into the water but this was not this fishes fate. William wanted the fish for smoking so it was issued its last rites and sent to fishy heaven. It was time for lunch and we both returned to the hut for a sandwich and a coffee. It was fascinating listening to William talk about a stretch of river that he was raised on as a boy. He had brought his own children here to camp in the summer months. All the while the sun shone and the river slowly meandered by, I could have sat there all afternoon but there were fish to be caught and a lot more of the beat to see.
After lunch William took me to the bottom of the beat we passed a large house with a larger garden but William said the owners don’t fish their bank so this section was pretty much only fished from the Test Field side. As we walked downstream we spotted the odd fish sitting contentedly in deep pockets. I had left my nymph rod at the hut and if I could have kicked my own arse I would have. I tried a couple of casts but simply could not get the flies deep enough. Soon enough though we came to some water that suited my rig better. I could see a number of small ladies in very shallow water; William and I were well shielded by the high vegetation. I had three fish only small 20cm or so in quick succession before handing the rod over to William who also took a couple of the small fish. I spotted a better fish further across the run. William made a perfect cast and a large brownie came up to inspect the dry tracking it back before ignoring it and then piling into the size 18 Mary below it. It was amazing to watch, as the fish tore off across the river. I scrambled for my camera but by the time I had reached the backpack the fish had come off. William started moving further up and I bimbled along behind him straining to see over the vegetation and into the water. In a small gap in the vegetation I could see a good fish in the margins and stuck my fly just in front of it a little move for a peek but no take. Retrieving my flies I swapped out the small red neck I had been fishing for a #20 Mary and tried again. This time there was no movement on the dry fly but the fished moved to the nymph and more blind luck than anything else I lifted the rod and was into one hell of a fight. Not for the first time today all my line shot through the rod rings and in a split second I was playing the fish on the reel. After a couple of cartwheels when I was sure it was going to come off the fish finally succumbed to the pressure of the little three weight rod.
Now I know they are stocked fish and many would decry the whole stocking rivers piece but I could not give a rat’s arse. This was a beautiful creature and I was thrilled to bits to have it in my net. I got a couple of quick images of the fish keen to get it back in the water. It took a good four or five minutes to recover but with a bit of TLC, the fish swam back to the pocket from whence it came. A Cheshire cat grin on my mush as I walked back up the bank keen to let William know that I had just had a fish that I would have estimated at 4lb. I was distracted by a number of fish rising on the far side. Try as I might though I could not present the fly well enough to catch a fish. One missed opportunity, what will be will be. William had found a number of Grayling in a stretch of the river that reminded me very much of the Lower Itchen. He offered me a go at a Brown trout that seemed impervious to Williams flies. My first cast was not far away and the fish did seem to move to the fly which gave me hope. I changed to a slightly heavier fly and got the casting spot on if I could not catch it maybe I could knock it out! As the fly drew closer to the waiting fish a huge Grayling swooped and scooped and I was taken a little by surprise as the rod bent over. The fish gave a few thrashy head shakes in the surface and was gone ejecting my flies onto the waiting vegetation. This completely buggered up my leader and cast. I re-rigged and walked down the bank to catch up with William who had spotted a fish feeding on the surface. I stepped back to watch as William cast his dry fly nothing appeared on the first run through but on the second time of asking the water exploded as a big Rainbow headed to the horizon! I got in at the margins in an attempt to help net the fish but it was off down the river with William fighting to get control. By the time I had dragged my fat arse back up onto the bank the fight was done and I reached William just as he was netting the fish. It weight 4.5lb and had a tail like a shovel. A deep and thick set fish and another for the smoker, I had not really noticed the time but it was 1630 and I decided to call it a day. William was also ready to pack up and be on his way. What a great experience I have often thought what it would be like to fish the Test in Brown Trout season and now it has happened twice in the space of a month. My thanks to William Sleeman for making me most welcome at the fishery and for being such a gracious host.
I am off to Draycote for a few days at the end of the week so let’s hope the fish there are in fine fettle!