A day on the River Test

When I first learned I was invited to a business conference in Germany in June this year, my initial thought was, ‘Great, I’ll extend my trip by a couple of days and shoot over to the UK and see my family (who live in Hampshire).’ My next thought was, ‘Hampshire? I could fish the River Test!’

The idea of flyfishing on the River Test seemed on par with playing football on the MCG, or golfing at St. Andrews – a bucket list sort of thing. So I was pretty pleased to get a day with a guide from Upstream DryFly on a stretch of the river near Stockbridge.

After a comedy of post-conference transport incidents, I finally arrived at my accommodation, The Greyhound on the Test in Stockbridge, just after 2am! John (or was it Jean?) was up and welcoming and assured me my late arrival was no problem; he was so charming it really was hard to believe he was French! I had a great night’s sleep, and wonderful breakfast (this is a well awarded Gastro pub and hotel) and met one of the cleaning staff in the corridor outside my room. “You’re brave, fishing during the weed cut,” she said. I hoped I hadn’t just wasted a lot of money!

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Now the guiding company had explained to me that there was a weed cut going on, which I thought might involve some lovely country folk snipping away bankside with some shears, or at the most a farmer using his scythe before getting the wheat crop in. What it actually involves are narrow barges, each with an outboard motor at the back and a motorized cutter at the front, slashing their way upstream to control the proliferation of aquatic weeds. Apparently the result can be rafts of vegetation floating downstream in coffee-coloured water. So with some trepidation I ventured out to the bridge next to the pub and was pleased to see the water had several feet of visibility and only a few bits of weed floating downstream.

When I got back to the pub I was met by my guide for the day, Graham Waterton, pleasantries were exchanged and we were off to the beat I had booked. My first thought when we tood on the small bridge marking the bottom end of the beat was, who mows river banks…? The water looked pretty clear and it wasn’t long before a fish or two rose downstream, where I was strictly forbidden to fish being another beat. There are quite a lot of rules for fishing trout waters in England, and especially on the Test. Basically, upstream, a single fly, and only on the designated beat, from the one bank, and no wading. You have to pay the fishing rights owner as well.

Home Beat at Bossington, the Pavilion in the distance is about half way up the beat I fished.

Home Beat at Bossington. The Pavilion in the distance is about half way up the beat I fished.

We walked the 150 metres up to the Victorian thatched pavilion where we based ourselves for the day and had a cup of tea. As I stood there looking at the water and thankful for the warming brew (this was England in June after all) I could start to see a few fish. So, they were there, I just needed to catch them!

A typical Test brownie.

A typical Test brownie.

Now, the mayfly hatch is of course a month earlier than my trip, but Graham soon called out to me he could see a couple of mayflies moving around. I looked intently and really couldn’t see what he was talking about; all I could see were a couple of things flapping around that looked like Kozzie duns. So I was a little surprised when Graham told me that these were actually the mayflies which the Test was so well known for. I pulled out one of my fly boxes and showed him what I fish with on rivers like the Goulburn, or the Mataura to imitate “mayflies”. He called them duns not mayflies, and without getting in to the finer details of entomology, I think it’s just one of those endearing things which illustrates the similarities and defines the differences between the English and us (think stroller vs pushchair, or whipper snipper versus strimmer, or bathers versus swimming trunks, or… well you get the picture, similar names each as ridiculous to each other as they are normal to us).

Grayling on the dry.

Grayling on the dry.

So, how was the fishing? The fishing was good, very good. During the course of a day I caught a dozen, missed as many takes, hooked and dropped almost as many. The record book (each fish and fly needs recording in the book in the pavilion) showed 9 browns, a rainbow and 2 grayling were caught and released. Almost all were caught on the dry, a size 16 “mayfly” or a size 14 Adams being quite productive.

This part of the Test also has the odd rainbow.

This part of the Test also has the odd rainbow.

Some fish were quite willing, others steadfastly refused everything, and most needed a mended line to give just the right drift and a change of fly or two before being fooled. It really was a great experience, and guess what? I have just received notice of a conference in Europe next year, in May!

The following companies gave great service and I don’t hesitate to recommend them:

Accommodation & food: The Greyhound on the Test at Stockbridge in Hampshire. www.thegreyhoundonthetest.co.uk

The bed and breakfast cost was 145 pounds for the night.

Guiding Service: www.upstreamdryfly.com

(The cost for the day’s fishing was around 216 pounds for the fishing rights for one beat for the day and about 250 pounds for the guide for the day. All up about 1,000 Aussie Dollars. So quite comparable to some guides in NZ.)

Gear and Tackle:

Sage SP 4 Weight with a Hardy Ultralite reel – a 4 weight was perfect for this fishing.

Tippet was 3.5lbs which scared the hell out of me, but after breaking off the first fish hooked on my second cast, I did get used to it and the soft rod action of the SP was reassuring.

Flies – all the regular patterns I use in a day’s fishing locally seemed to work, except the Chernobyl Ant (yes I did try it). During the famous mayfly hatch proper, I was told you had to have the right fly or things would be difficult – no doubt catered for by a couple of tackle shops in Stockbridge which I didn’t visit.