Driving down the narrow lane overlooking the Meon river valley with friend Peter, we had our day at Meon Springs already planned out, catch our two fish limits in the first hour, a cup of tea in the clubhouse, then down to the catch and release lakes for the rest of the day, where with the pressure off, we could try a few different methods.
Filtered through the Hampshire chalk hillsides, the waters of the Meon are crystal clear and on this late January morning, fish could be seen moving between the weed beds, through the glass like surface. Not venturing far from the clubhouse, I started the day on the reliable old favourite Blue Flash Damsel lure, fished on a floating line, with a slow figure of eight retrieve. Peter in contrast went small with a Tiger Buzzer fished static, bumping a fish, that took on the drop, first cast. I also had a short pluck at the lure and it seemed that we would be back for that cup of tea within minutes. Oh, how the mighty fall!
Twenty minutes in I’d only had a couple more plucks, while Peter was on his third fly change and also on the BFD. We made our way up toward the deeper water of the dam, hoping that presenting our lures to fresh fish wood do the trick.
This worked for Peter and he was soon playing his first of the day, a sub 2lb rainbow, but apart from a few visible follows, I had yet to score. Off came the BFD and on went an ancient hand tied Black Marabou lure, 0ne of my get out of jail tyings, the long soft feather giving life with the minimum of movement.
First cast in, a take on the drop put a brief bend in the rod, before coming off. Pluck, pluck. The following casts sometimes had two trout in tow, just mouthing the marabou tail. At last the line stretched out and I was into a deep fish, Peter coming over to do the honours with the net, putting a near 3lb fish on the bank.
Another angler joined us and after he had landed two fish on the trot I went over for a chat, well sign language actually, as he was from Sweden, who, in his own words had “little English”. He was using a sinking line, a short leader and a purple and gold, double hooked salmon fly. It worked well enough, the added attraction for me being his automatic Mitchell Garcia 710 fly reel, the internal clockwork spring giving and taking line with no angler input. I’ve not seen one of these heavyweights for thirty years.
By now Peter had changed over to a blood worm three feet under a yarn indicator, which bobbed and disappeared several times to be missed on the strike, or dropped seconds later, until finally contact was made and a small rainbow made up his two fish limit. I continued thrashing the water, while Peter went to investigate the catch and release lake, my frustration growing with each tug on the line, that failed to connect. Time to change tactics. As many of my takes had been on the drop, I tied in a short length of bouyant yarn indicator four feet from a bloodworm.
No sooner had the nymph begun to sink, than the indicator bobbed and skated beneath the surface. Lifting the rod in response, the rod dipped, then sprang back and I knew that the fly would be gone. Rainbows can take at such speed, that even an 8lb leader can snap like cotton. In the next half hour the indicator sank four more times, only for me to miss each strike. They were not just playing with the bloodworm, but my blood pressure too.
Peter returned from his foray unimpressed, casting his line out close to mine and you guessed it, the indicator went under and he was fighting a good rainbow, banking a fish the same size as mine. Now with three fish, he returned to the clubhouse for tea and a bacon sandwich. Walking with him, I dropped off where I’d begun two hours before, casting out the bloodworm to more half hearted interest, the indicator, dipping, moving up wind and sometimes even briefly submerging, but to no avail. The bites stopped, they were bored with their new toy. The answer was another move back up the lake 50 yards. A new cast to fresh fish got a positive take. I felt the weight, then it was gone. Peter was returning, I was still on one rainbow. Back on the water, the indicator moved off toward the far side, a steady lift and I was in again. Finally! He came back in time to net my second, a well conditioned 2lb 2oz rainbow.
Peter had packed up already and as we walked back to the clubhouse, I decided to have a few more casts, stopping at the original spot again. Like before the indicator was dithering about, small rings radiating out, then it began to move slowly. I lifted hard, being met by solid resistance and the sight of a big fish struggling to escape, taking line in spurts as it made off across the lake. Keeping the pressure on, this broad backed rainbow was within sight of the net several times, twice it was in the net, but Peter was unable to lift it out, before it straightened and escaped. Finally the net was under it and the monster relaxed into it enough to be lifted out.
My session had been transformed in the last twenty minutes, all the frustrations of not quite hooking fish were forgotten, with this catch going on the scales at 2lb 12oz, 3lb 2oz and the largest rainbow from the fishery that day of 6lb 2oz being my biggest yet. The weather was kind to us too, the first winter outing to Meon Springs, when we weren’t rained upon, or frozen into submission.