Our excellent fly fishing guide Stephen Wright reports on two recent consecutive days fishing on the River Itchen and River Test, where the quarry was the “lady of the stream” that most beautiful of fish  – the Grayling.

Day one saw me introducing Cliff, a seasoned fisherman but with limited river fly fishing experience, to one of the most hallowed of chalk streams; the River Itchen .  I expected a “tough” day – low water, bright sunshine and a nagging easterly wind.

The day started in dramatic style. As we gradually entered the water, Cliff announced water was pouring into his wader. Lesson one – always check your kit! A cursory look indicated a gaping hole in his thigh waders.  I provided him with a change of clothes and a set of waders and we started again.

We started in a shaded area just below a hatch pool, in water so thin Cliff thought could not possibly hold fish. I explained we were looking for the slightest hollows in the river bed as these would surely hold Grayling. We observed the water for a while before concluding a nymph was more likely to succeed.  Cliff soon mastered the art of casting upstream and on the second cast his size 18 PTN tied to a tippet of 2.5 pound was seized by a beautiful wild brownie of about 12 ounces.  Sport continued with the Grayling making an appearance and we were soon approach double figures with fish to a pound. As the sun moved round, so the fishing slowed.

As the day progressed and the sun beat down, the fish became very finicky and easily spooked. Stealth was the order of the day and by careful wading up to the fish, keeping the sun in our face and our profile low, we managed to get the odd fish to make a mistake. But only by being prepared to continually change our fly and reducing down to size 20. – And whilst not easy, it was rewarding.

Cliff loved the whole experience (soaking apart) and vowed to return before too long. The sun that day was our enemy but it did at least dry his clothes out for the return journey home!

Next day I collected from Winchester Station, Ole a very experienced New Yorker, currently living in the UK. We made our way north for the short drive to the most prized of chalkstreams the River Test. The day could not have been more different – cloud cover throughout, the odd light shower but with still a blustery easterly blowing.

We had discussed tactics whilst travelling and agreed that if fish were not rising then we would fish a nymph, something Ole was particularly comfortable with and skilled.

On this occasion I suggested a tippet of no less than 4 pound as it was just possible some large Brown Trout might be lying with the Grayling. We fished a size 18 PTN variant with a red collar. And as predicted we started to catch Brown Trout to 3 pounds.

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Some Grayling managed to beat the Trout to the Nymph and Ole was delighted to catch his first ever Grayling – not huge but a first.

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We moved in order to show Ole more of this beautiful river and find a spot with less Trout!
We continued to catch well (what a difference the weather can make) and at lunch we had caught twenty beautiful fish.

I drove Ole to another part of the estate, where I expected the water to be more technically challenging for by now the light hearted banter had built between guide and client –  the suggestion being that the fishing was too easy!

Ole loved the complexity of the new water and soon had to deal with challenging flows and varying depths, something he was well used to at home.  At this stage catching was not necessarily the order of the day but perfecting that perfect drift down the far bank was much more pleasurable and rewarding.

We did catch of course and Ole produced his best grayling a fish of about 15 inches.

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So what did the two days prove to me?

Certainly as I have already said, weather conditions are important BUT, importantly, the day is not all about catching countless numbers of fish but enjoying what you are doing and learning new skills.