Less than two weeks had passed since my last visit to the urban chalk stream, where unknown to many, wild trout flourish as the river winds through housing and industrial estates, offering free fishing to those willing to search out access to the water. My target this day was a short fifty yard stretch, surrounded by impenetrable trees on either side and accessed down the side of a bridge. Upstream the trees meet in the middle forming an arch, but once through the arch, like a secret garden, a long pool is revealed, before being shrouded by more trees. This has been my special place for years and has provided hours of sport from some of the most colourful trout in the river. Instead of gravel, the bottom is covered with broken bricks from a building that once stood on it’s banks and the trout have taken on a dark colouring to match the bricks. This is now history. I arrived to find a building site where the trees had been, only stumps remained among the rocks, a fence now preventing entry to the leveled ground and the river running along a naked bulldozed bank.
I was saving my visit, until the mayfly were hatching and had been cherishing the thought of catching naive trout on the dry fly. The next option was plan B, a return to the roadside along the bus route, where I knew others fished and the trout are not so forgiving. Intending to fish the overgrown secret pool, I’d only brought my seven foot brook rod, but this would now allow me to fish a few tree covered pools, unfishable with my 9 footer.
Mayfly were beginning to lift off as I waded up the clear shallows and I could see trout were already rising to them further up, where trees hide the river from the busy road just yards away. A deep pool runs alongside a lone far bank bush and I could see a good brown just below the surface, moving from side to side intercepting mayflies as they drifted down. My first cast went wide of the bush and I waited for the fly to get downstream of the trout before lifting, when splosh, a smaller fish took, taking me by surprise and hooking it’self. Although only a few ounces, it scrapped all over the river before coming to hand. The big one was still there and I could clearly see the spots standing out on it’s back, when I made a better cast, the wind helping my Shadow Mayfly to drop gently onto the surface. A movement of it’s fins and the trout swung across and engulfed the fly. I struck and the trout launched vertically out of the river, falling back in a cartwheel motion, then zig zagging upstream across the shallows, my reel screaming on the rachet, before diving for cover beneath a willow. My line was near the backing and I followed upstream trying to recover line, allowing the trout to wear it’self down, pulling against me and the current. The line went slack and I thought I’d lost it, but the line was doing a U-turn, following the speeding brown. I stripped line as it turned again and made firm contact, bringing the fish downstream under my terms, back to where my landing net was propped against the bank. A five, or six minute fight, who knows, it seemed to go on forever. Scooped up in the net, I made for the bank to remove the fly and take a picture, this being a silver bronze fish with huge spots of at least a pound, grown fat on mayfly.
Unfortunately this picture does not do the brownie justice, it’s red spots almost invisible from this angle, the light bouncing back off it’s silvery flanks. I could have stared at this wild fish all afternoon, but soon returned it and worked my way upstream hooking, or missing several other fast risers in the shallow pockets, before reaching the willow pool, where I saw a the broad back of a trout of major proportions. No wonder my fish had come back out so quickly, he’d probably got a nip from this one. I tried several times to side cast beneath the willow fronds, to where this possible three pounder was lying slurping in mayflies, only succeeding in catching my fly. Being a cheapskate, I waded forward to get my fly, trying to keep low, but a bow wave heading upstream meant the fish was long gone. So was my fly. Beyond this point the trees make casting very difficult and I decided to get out of the river to fish above a concrete bridge.
Rejoining the river at the bus stop, there was sporadic rising, despite a steady supply of mayfly, just the occasional trout feeding for a few minutes, then stopping, only for other fish to start. My 4 lb tippet and fly renewed, I sat on the bank waiting for rises, sneaking within casting range, sometimes with no response, some with a miss and a couple with six and eight ounce browns that had no problems jamming the Shadow Mayfly in their mouths.
With the afternoon turning to evening, I began walking back down the river, eager to get on my way before the hordes headed home from work, but stopped when a swirl deep behind an overhanging tree indicated a better sized fish. Another swirl and a bow wave made me unclip my fly and have a go, this trout having dropped down from it’s safe position to begin feeding.
Being close to the road, I needed to time my cast to avoid passing cars and cyclists, a gap came and the cast fell short, another few feet and the fly bounced of a leaf , dropping into the sweet spot beneath the bank. A bow wave, a nose and the fly was gone. I knew the fish would be there when I lifted the rod, a splash and foaming water proving the point as I set the hook, followed by an upstream dash at high speed. These wild fish have so much muscle and power in their tails. The fight went from side to side, under banks of weed, along both banks, then finally downstream, where it arced back to my bank, it’s head came out and I netted it. The hook came out in the net and I worked hard to take a photo, when it wasn’t jumping about. Again the camera did not do this fish justice, this brown being almost as wide as it was deep.
As I was releasing this jewel of the river, a cyclist stopped saying that he was amazed to see this fish and asked if there were others like it. I just replied”Lots” and watched the spots blend in with the bottom and vanish.