In October I had the opportunity to cross the Atlantic and connect with the English contingent of Fulling Mill and sample a day’s delightful fishing on the fabled River Itchen in Hampshire. While I am technically a Brit I’ve now spent more than half my adult life living in America, so I do regard myself more as a Yank these days. This also applies to how I fish. With a ball cap on my head, I’m often throwing rodent size streamers, heavy nymphs and foam dries that would make Halford or Gordon shudder in horror.
We stayed at the Grosvenor Hotel in downtown Stockbridge, arguably the center of the English Chalk stream world. A sleepy little English town but unlike most English towns the number of fine art galleries, wine shops, and angling stores far outweigh the more mundane stores of a typical high street. A trip to the local fly shop made it clear that I was no longer in the US. Mixed in with the usual rods, flies and other tackle were racks of flat caps (yes I bought one), tweed jackets, wool sweaters, and very bright dress shirts (no I did not buy any of these).
Walking back to the hotel we peeped over the bridge in the center of town to see a number of very large and fat trout swimming in the River Test, less than 10 feet away from lumbering lorries (translation – trucks) and buses.
The next day after a classic “full” English breakfast we hit the river eager to explore the Fulling Mill beat of the River Itchen. Eric Kelly, technical manager and I from the USA were being given the tour by Fulling Mill home boys Steve Carew and Kieron Jenkins.
This is a rambling beat with over 2 miles of delightful fishing available to the four of us. This time of year the main hatches have passed and the goal was to euro nymph for the abundant grayling and resident browns. Unlike many other rivers and beats in the area, this section of the River Itchen is not stocked – music to my ears.
Chalk streams are crystal clear in nature, fueled by large underground aquifers releasing through the mineral-rich chalk bed and so providing a tremendously rich environment for the resident fish. Unlike most rivers that I fish in America, a chalk stream is all about walking up river, eyes peeled for fish, then casting to those fish spied. While the clear water allows for good spotting conditions it also means that the fish can quickly spot an angler waving a rod or walking the bank – so stealth becomes the name of the game, minimal false casts, moving slowly and using whatever bank side cover available is the name of the game. It’s a tremendously exciting way to fish and perhaps more like hunting than my usual American ways of fishing.
I was rigged with an Orvis 10’ 3 weight Recon, a fly line that never really saw the light of day that was rigged with 15 ‘ of maxima 20 lb leader down to an 18” sighter followed by two weighted nymphs on 5.5lb tippet (I used the new FM Masterclass Fluorocarbon – I never had a break off all day). While some in our group opted for a little sparkle and flash in their nymph selection, being a dour Yorkshireman I opted for a simple size 14 HE jig on the point with a black slotted tungsten bead and the dropper was a size 16 PT, again with a black bead head.
The days fishing was a blur of stalking, spotting, casting and then generally hooking and playing some amazing fish. We mostly caught grayling which are beautiful and a rare fish for an American angler to catch, especially in such numbers. Amidst the grayling we also managed to land some wonderfully strong wild Browns in the 14-18 “range. It’s riveting to spy a good brown, make a cast, see a flash of white as the fish opens its mouth, strike and then be hooked into a force of nature charging off down the river.
As the light faded, 4 tired and happy anglers retired from the River Itchen to the pub for a few pints and a classic dinner of fish and chips.