Back to the river Itchen

A couple of years ago my friends and I spent a lot of time each winter fishing for grayling on the river Itchen but then low summer flows and an algal bloom caused a massive fish kill and most of the big grayling were lost. Last winter it was difficult to catch grayling at all.

Last week I was in the Davies Angling shop in Staines to buy some bait and got talking to Phil Leach the new owner. He mentioned that he had just had a great day’s grayling fishing on the river Itchen and explained that he had fished the Lower Itchen Fishery. I was delighted that the river had recovered so quickly and bought some extra red maggots for a trip down there the following day. As this is the first year in the last five years that I have not renewed my season ticket for the fishery, I telephoned the bailiff Jon Hall and the owner Lyndsey Farmiloe to book a day ticket and I was pleased that they remembered me.

Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. I was at the fishery as it opened and it was great to be back. I now own a Toyota 4×4 so the track along the riverside no longer holds any fears and I drove down to the top end of the coarse fishing stretch. Parking right by the riverside and fishing with my back against the front bumper of my car is a luxury I have missed and I was soon playing a spirited brown trout. About the third trot down I hooked my first grayling and was reminded of how well they fight. It was only about ten ounces, much smaller than they used to be, but I was very pleased to see it.

My first grayling of the winter

I am still using four pound Fireline braid for trotting and the lack of stretch in this line amplifies the fight, as well as making it easier to hook fish at long range. I am also experimenting with some new hooks that were given to me by Dave Higham on my last visit to his fishery at Oham Lakes. These are made by Kensaki and are quite fine in the wire but Dave promised me they were very strong.

Kensaki size 18 match hooks

I used them in size eighteen tied to a two and three quarters pound hook length and, as I had hoped, they dealt with trout up to nearly three pounds as well as grayling to a pound and three quarters very well. They are just the right size and shape for my favourite double red maggot hook bait.

Just after lunch I was trotting on a long straight stretch of river, down past the remains of a weed bed behind which I have found the grayling sheltering in the past. At the end of the trot I always hold the float back hard to make the bait rise up in the water, this often provokes a take that is often felt rather than seen on the float. On this occasion I felt a sharp tap and struck into what felt like a small fish, as I started to gain line the rod slammed over and the fish tore off down stream. It was a similar feeling to hooking a small roach or dace on the river Kennet and having it taken by a big pike and at first I thought that this was what had happened.

After twenty yards of line had been stipped from my reel at great speed I realised that this was not a pike and as I only load my centrepins with forty yards of line to prevent it bedding in, I decided it was time to get up off my ar*e and give chase. I eventually managed to get downstream of the fish and turn it into the current. I then realised that my landing net was thirty yards away and was too small anyway. The fish turned down stream again and I lost the twenty yards of line I had just won back in one very powerful run and again I had to run to get below it. In doing so I passed another very understanding angler who had a larger net and followed me. The fish eventually rolled into the net and I had caught my first salmon, a seven pound cock fish who was very coloured and had been in the river some time. Shame it was the wrong time of the year and I didn’t have a salmon license but it would have gone back anyway.

My first salmon

I had always hoped that my first salmon would be caught on a fly and not on double red maggot on a size eighteen match hook to a two and three quarters pound hook length. Still, beggars can’t be choosers and I wouldn’t have missed that fight for anything. I ended the day with several trout and a dozen grayling to a pound and three quarters, the sidestream was, alas, unfishable due to the floating leaves but it was wonderful to see that the river is recovering.