The title may lead you to think I’m about to review a new children’s title by Julia Donaldson & Alex Scheffler, but no this is about our day out on the banks of the River Itchen on a damp January day.
Having been away up in Derbyshire over the past couple of day I promised young Tales that we would head out fishing over the weekend, I did give him the option to spend time flying his new remote control Super Cub S, a rather substantial model plane but with low cloud and damp conditions fishing was the preferred option.
It took a few trips up to the loft to store away the Christmas decorations and find a couple of bags of tackle and rods that had been put up there to clear space before my Mother arrived for the Christmas period, I could locate everything we needed however enough to tackle up a fly rod and a 11ft float rod for trotting.
Our destination today was on the outskirts of Winchester, we a fish a section fish the Itchen that run through meadowlands, flanked by trees and with the distant silhouette of Chuch spteeples whilst cattle graze on new shoots as mild conditions and no snow allows the grass to be lush the time of year, occasionally tugging at the holly trees that over hand from the boundary of the hedgerow with the river. The river path was well trodden as it is a popular spot for destination ramblers as well as local dog walkers and those who just want to take to the country to fill their lungs with fresh air and feel the chill wind against their faces.
It didn’t take us too long to commute the 68 miles but as the rain pelted the windscreen we glanced at each other wondering if we were just completely mad or were those clouds going to break to give us an hour or two of solace on the water, for us a pilgrimage as both the Itchen, Test and Avon are for us as much a Mecca for our fishing.
The river was running clear not quite gin clear but clear enough to feel confident if the fish were around we’d tempt one or two out on what would be our first fishing trip of 2017, may they continue in the months to come with greater frequency than last year. After we had the rods set up we walked down the hill from the Station where you can park to the small bridge that marks the start of the free fishing beat. Armed with a mixed box of maggots for trotting and a Wheatley box full of woven Czech nymphs we felt we had all we needed plus ‘lady luck’.
As we walked the riverbank it was not long before we can across a father and son fishing, trotting their float mid-water and as we watched the tip of the rod started to bend, they played a grayling into the margin before we picked up conversation with them. I did notice the use of a closed face Abu reel, vintage and still in my mind one of the best river trotting reels I’ve ever used the Abu 1044. Fishing a mix of casters and maggots they seem to have had success so that indicated a way forward.
Young Tales took up the fly rod, with his first cast the yellow woven nymph pulled around with the current only to be taken by an eager grayling close in the margins, however after a momentary tug the fish was off.
The scenery in this valley of Hampshire reminds me of the etchings of that truer British romantic artist/etcher Samuel Palmer,distant church spires, grazing cows, streams, woodlands and low flying barn owls- it is truest a magical place that is only just over an hour from London. I am lucky to own a collection of Palmer’s work and the scene today reminded me of ‘The Willow’. It was under a willow that young Tales was casting, several follows but no takes so we moved upstream past a small a weir or flow regulato, here the water runs dark, deeper and through a narrower channel lined with reeds giving you between 18 inches and a yard to fish from if you are without waders.
The drips of water from the hood of my Barbour ran consistently indicating that the drizzle had now turned into train, soon the rain passed over and fishing resumed. The bright orange tip meandering through the pale gray reflective water, in and out of shadows and momentarily pulling back in an eddy as the current flowed over a submerged tree trunk and clump of weed, most of the weed in the river has broken off as it decays before it starts it new growth. As the float swung to the left of a channel it disappeared beneath the surface at the same time the top of the rod bowed to the water and the line pulled tight. There displaying her pewter coloured scales and crimson dorsal fin a ‘lady of the stream’ gracefully made her way to the straw coloured reeds and deep green cress that grace the margins. For young Tales a beaming smile and a voice full of excitement as his is what we came for. Several trotts later another pewter bar came drop the depths. These fish are strong, if you try to handle one they have immense strength that pushes against your grip. Having returned the fish and taken time to observe the flow of the river we where joined by two Officers from the Environment Agency, they had come to check that we were carrying our Lisence to fish, to some this is an unwelcome visit however this is the first time for many years I’ve been asked. I have to say I was please to see these Officers of our sport, for it is the revenue from our licenses that help manage the waterways we fish.
The rain had set in and my old Barbour was leaking, classic it may be but not as functional/waterproof as more contemporary outerware. As Mrs Tales points out my old Barbour not only smells like a pocket full of change but stiffens in the cold and from age is more like a sieve. The warmth of home seemed more inviting than another hour on the river so we started to make our way back to the car, we stopped for one last cast and out of the corner of his eye young Tales spotted a stick, not any old stick but a home-made bankstick. Made of bamboo, brass, alloy with silk whippings and a Hazel twig fork at the top. Buried deep into the bank and on the edge of reeds to most it would be unnoticeable, it had probably been there for sometime and only now visible because the surrounding vegitation had died back. On inspection it was thoughtfully constructed, along the shaft was a paper tape measure varnished along the bamboo length but it was showing signs of weathering but did have the name ‘Robbie’ written in ink beneath the varnish. After much debate we decided to take the bank stick home with us..we will take ‘Robbie’ out on another adventure and should ‘Robbie’s’ owner get in touch then happily return it. As you can imagine ‘Stickmam’ came to mind and young Tales was quite chuffed with his riverbank find.