Fly fishing on the Itchen

My trip to Londonderry last month gave me a renewed enthusiasm for fly fishing but river fishing for trout in my area is ridiculously expensive and having paid a few visits to some still water fisheries in the area, I just couldn’t summon up the enthusiasm to fish one of them.

Rigorous enquiries, both in local tackle shops, amongst colleagues and on the net suggested there might be a short stretch of the river Itchen in Winchester that was free fishing and so I went on an exploration one afternoon and although I was unable to locate the stretch I had been looking for I found one length of river near the town centre where I saw another angler fly fishing. On speaking to him he told me that the river was indeed free fishing at this point and there were a couple of other stretches in the town that were also free. It turned out that he too was a qualified coach and he offered to show me where I could fish. His name was Keith Dipper and we met as arranged last Monday at his house. His front door opens onto the banks of the river and I spent a very pleasant day in his company with him acting as my gillie.

It was such a joy to be fly fishing a river again, I soon shook off the cobwebs from my casting techniques and was able to present a nymph in all but the most difficult swims. This is not an easy bit of river to fish, there is rarely room for a back cast and much of it is fast and turbulent. Add to this the fact that it is in an urban setting and I can see that it might not suit everyone. The wind was still coming from the East and was blowing predominately up stream, along with the cold spell the night before this made dry fly fishing unsuitable and any form of an insect hatch unlikely.

Keith assures me that under the right conditions it is possible to catch on the dry fly but we both chose to fish gold head nymphs. I chose a very soft actioned five weight Shakespeare fly rod that has become like an old friend over the years (nearly twenty!), it allows me to fish with a very fine point, three pounds breaking strain in this case and to use a small hook. The fly I chose was a size eighteen may fly nymph with a gold bead head fished on an nine foot tapered leader.

My guide caught the first two fish, small brown trout, before I hooked my first fish. Unfortunately it was a grayling that was out of season and the second and third fish were salmon parr and I don’t have a salmon licence. Not a good start, but my fourth fish was a small brown trout and I was as pleased as punch.

Small Itchen brown trout

Keith showed me several stretches of the river on which there was no restriction to fishing some of which will be very suitable for winter fishing for roach and grayling, it seemed strange to be walking through shopping streets carrying a fly rod with a landing net hanging from my belt but the shoppers paid us no heed, too busy with their retail therapy.

After the tour we returned to the river near Keith’s house and I caught the best fish of the day, a brown trout of nearly two pounds that tested my light tackle to the limit aided by the very fast current. It seemed to spend as much time in the air as it did in the water and took me a few very enjoyable minutes to subdue.

A slightly better Itchen brown trout

A great day out – not the best day’s trout fishing but certainly the cheapest.