When asked a few months ago if I wanted to join Keith and Jeff on trip to fish the river Itchen in Hampshire it probably took me all of a millisecond to answer yes and ever since I had a kid like case of pant pissing on the go as I became more and more excited as the day approached.
After what seemed like a short journey southwards in which there was only one single topic of conversion we finally set eyes on the river. We weren't due to fish until the following day and the first stop was the pub that sits beside the river below the stretch we were due to fish. After spending two pints of time with all three of us staring into the gin clear river gawping and trying to second guess what the group of three chub would do next, none of us could stand it any longer. Hastily all of us set up a rod each and under the guise of getting to know how the river moved, we all wet a line.
Amongst the trillion minnows that attacked my bait every run through I did manage to land two small roach and a little chub of ten or so ounces. But although I never admitted this to my companions at the time I was feeling a little trepidation about this river after a mediocre performance, even though we could obviously see how hammered the river gets on this free stretch by local anglers.
My worries were more than dismayed when upon arrival I clapped eyes on what was a completely different river to the one we had cast into the night before. Muddy well worn pegs in the bushes next to main roads were replaced with manicured grass along side a pacey stream with fronds of streaming weed wafting under its sparkling surface.
Trotting I had been informed was the order of the trip and although I own a vintage centrepin reel I had borrowed a far superior J W Young pursuit II from Richard, Jacky's dad, to do the river some justice. Even just setting up the rig and plopping the float into the water to check the shotting got the line peeling from the pin. This river and this reel were meant to be together. After a few runs down I was beginning to feel like I was the gooseberry caught in a romantic moment between reel and river. But my part was soon to come.
There is always that feeling when beginning to fish on a new bit of water. The one were for the first few seconds you think 'is this gonna happen?' This feeling was soon kicked off into the undergrowth as my first run through in a deep swim on a bend, the float disappeared and an instant strike was met with an unfamiliar swirling fight. In my first real swim on my first real run through I'd hooked my first Itchen Grayling.
At first I couldn't believe it. But after nine more casts and nine more Grayling, this rivers mighty reputation seemed rather well founded. My first trout encounter of the day came shortly after my tenth fish when after the float buried once again my now blasé strike was met by some proper force and a brown trout of around 2-3lb came hurtling out of the water. Unable to apply any force due to a light link and standing helplessly watching a gymnastic show worthy of any circus,I was soon snapped off!
The next spot was another deep sweeping bend that turned out to be mainly populated with Grayling. Casting tight to the outside of the bend above the platform on which I was standing I could first back trot, reeling in line as the float approached, then follow the course of the float with the rod as the float passed by, then let off line once the flow off the water pulled tension back into the line, whilst all the time making minute adjustments to steer the float and line within millimeters of any over hanging branches. Every run through would get some kind of reaction from something hiding in the deep bend.
Even if I let the float run right through the swim and glide of down stream into the shallower water I could hold back hard and raise the bait up in the water just off the bottom. Doing this brought a stream of what I thought at first to be tiny brown trout, but were in fact confirmed later to be salmon parr.
Finally after realising that I had spent far to long in one place I forced myself to move and wandered off down stream investigating any interesting looking swims as I went. There were bites to be had in even the shallowest swims that seemed devoid of fish. At every stop at least one or two grayling could be taken at some part of the swim and after awhile my rough tally of how many and how much they weighed was soon forgotten.
If the first bend I had fished wasn't attractive enough the next one was a minter and turned out to be just as rammed with even more Grayling. After a further hour repeatedly running the float through I had amassed another twenty plus fish of between 2oz - 12oz. Again I had to force myself on to the next swim.
After this I wandered of down stream and became a little more discerning about the swims I trotted. This was largely due to me covering only a tiny section of river in the first third of the day. I was the only angler on the whole bottom section and wandering alone in pure heaven I peered into every deep hole and off every bridge. In one deep still eddy I thought it looked just the place were a carp or two might patrol and I duly deposited a pint of maggots and some corn tight to a reed bed under a collection of flotsum with the intention of returning later to see if any thing was around, though I never did as the fishing overload took hold of me.
Walking back up stream for our half time tea and discussion I met up with Jeff who was still trotting corn and bagging a very nice stamp of Grayling and learnt that he had lost one huge salmon and landed another.
Whilst Jeff did the honours with the Kelly kettle and tea bags I located Keith sitting school boy style with his feeder rod in hand on the platform I had fished earlier. Sitting next too him chatting as he deftly flicked a feeder full of maggots deep into the bend I watched as the tip sprang back and forth as the contents of the feeder attracted a steady run of Grayling and trout. Ten minutes of watching and I was about to utter the words "giz a go mate" but was cut off before I started with the offer of a go. Watching the tip constantly moving confirmed the huge mass of fish in the deeper water and also confirmed that after lunch my feeder rod was coming out for a bit of fun on the deep bottom stretch.
After a break discussing the goings on of the morning for all of us it was decided that we would drop the whole operation down into the slower deeper bottom section and hunker down for the afternoon as we had all absolutely mullered our Grayling points for the challenge, and now it was time for even more self indulgence. After walking the very bottom of the entire stretch I decided to fish a swim in probably the least romantic area of the entire fishery just above the motorway bridge. With two pints of maggots left over and after seeing the effectiveness the maggot feeder had had upstream I cadged a feeder off Jeff and set up the crudest of paternosters. Filling the feeder to the brim with maggots and regularly swinging it onto the far bank, then letting it swing in brought instant results, with a nice brown trout of around two pounds first cast.
My crude coarse tactics absolutely ripped this pristine game river to bits. My next decent fish came after a slew of Grayling by way of my best lady of the stream to date. Sadly I never got a chance to weigh as I had become paranoid about these beautiful fish going belly up, which they seem to do so easily. But I am sure it was getting close to a pound in weight.
Another hour of swinging a feeder stuffed full of magoos into the river every five minutes I had amassed even more Grayling but the next bite was by far the most ferocious of the entire day. To say the tip went round was an understatement, as the tip, top section and middle section of my light feeder rod bent double! At first the fish didn't move but when it did it made straight for the closest weed bed. My suspicions were confirmed that a chub had taken my bait when I spotted those big white lips poking from under a large amount of weed it had collected during the fight. It didn't look to big in the net but when on the bank and with the weed off of it the length of this lean fast water fish revealed. On the scales it went 4.6lb though later in the year with a bit more weight it will be five pounds every day of the week.
After the chub all went quite for a while and I changed onto the bread feeder as my maggots were almost gone. Straight away on a tiny flake of bread I got a repeat performance from another chub which found it's freedom in the exact same weed bed the last one made for. After snapping off the feeder in the weed I again set up again and to my surprise the first taker of my bread flake was another nice trout.
I carried on all the way into dark with the bread flake in the hope that this swim might produce a nice roach that I had been informed frequent it by some of the other anglers who passed by. After landing one more trout the light began to fade and all too soon the day was over. I have to say that this really was a truly wonderful experience that I hope won't be too long in coming round again. Fishing with a large group of anglers who had all been booked together gave the whole day a real sense of camaraderie and any help or knowledge needed was freely given.
Thanks to Keith for inviting me along and giving me all the advice I needed before the trip and also to Sash if he reads this for organizing the fishing.