Duns on the Dun

As May rolled around again I was required to attend an annual work conference in Italy, which presented another opportunity to visit family in the UK and fish the chalkstreams of Hampshire. I left my organising a little late this year so I was unable to secure a beat on the River Test itself. However Anna Taylor from Upstream Dry Fly had a range of options for feeder streams of the Test, all of which looked idyllic.

In the end I settled on the Blue Pool beat of the River Dun. Maybe the name attracted me, or maybe it was the  proximity to a great looking local pub, The Mill Arms at Dunbridge. Or maybe it was because this was a cheaper ‘two rod beat’ (meaning the cost was roughly half the normal price but I might be sharing with another angler). Whatever the case, it turned out to be a great bit of water to spend a day on – and I ended up having entirely to myself anyway.

The Dun is an archetypical English chalkstream.

The Blue Pool beat is named after a chalk aquifer rising up into the stream, which has a bluish tinge. On the day I was there, it was very overcast and the river took on more of a grey appearance, giving the impression of a mist settling on the water as I looked upstream.

I was in need of a new flyline for my 4 weight and stopped at the well-known Robjent’s tackle store in Stockbridge – the hub of the local mayfly fishing. Has anyone ever walked into a flyfishing store and come away with only what they went in to buy? (The Flyfisher EOFY sale saw me go in to buy some tying materials and walk out with a new rod, reel and line as well…) Armed with more flies, some mud to sink the tippet, and a few other bits and pieces I can’t even remember now, I headed off through the narrow country lanes to my fishing spot.

It was late morning when I pulled up to the parking bay next to the bridge and took my first look up and downstream. Downstream was picturesque, the river broadened to a mill pond where the old mill house sat, a stunning looking property – and judging by the multiple rings appearing across the surface there were plenty of trout present. Turning around and looking upstream to the start of my fishing beat I could see… ducks, swans, no rises….

Geared up, I started a slow walk up the river, scanning the water for fish. (Note for next time – gum boots are a must; hiking boots just don’t cut it in the wet grass all day.) I needn’t have worried about the lack of rises, as within a few metres I started to see the unmistakable outlines of the odd fish sitting high in the water column and feeding.

One thing on my mind was the catch limit: I was allowed to land a maximum of six trout for the day. Part of me worried I would catch them all too quickly, and then what was I going to do? (Probably sit in the pub all day!) Another part of me worried that the fishing might be tougher than it looked, and I didn’t want to not catch my limit. With this in my mind, I started the walk up the river bank and not far along there was a short wooden jetty poking through the dense rush bank to the water’s edge – and a fat brown trout sitting a nice cast up from the end of it.

I had selected a rather generic Adams in a size 14, cast a metre or so in front of the brownie, and without hesitation it accelerated up and slurped down the fly. A nice “God save the Queen” pause and the strike hit home. A first cast fish, and a lovely 3½ pounder at that. One down, five to go….

One down…

I spent the next hour or so just relaxing and checking out the entire beat. The Blue Pool itself was really quite stunning. Maybe it was the water temperature change, or the colour, or the depth of the pool, but something seemed to attract and hold fish there in much greater numbers than elsewhere on the river.

Above this pool the water thinned out considerably, and it was very clear with maybe a slight tea stain to it. The trout were smaller here, most likely wild fish, and I cast to one sitting in the skinny water along a sunken log. This ‘pounder’ put up a nice fight for its size and with two trout caught and released, it seemed like a good idea to break for lunch back at the pub. (While English food of old was rightly maligned, it is much improved in many places now and The Old Mill showed the very best of what a good English pub meal should be).

Something from The Old Mill to replace all those calories burnt up during the morning session!

The tempo of fishing a chalkstream is really quite different to what we often experience in Australia and New Zealand: the lazy movement of the river, the graceful white swans and even the take of the trout; all seem to be deliberately peaceful and slow-paced. It really is very relaxing.

I had left a couple of fish to catch in the evening when the hatch would start. A single mayfly came off the water which a trout missed and my mayfly imitation was quickly cast and eaten. By now it was seven o’clock. I was looking forward to a shower, another great meal at the pub and a couple of pints of West Country scrumpy, so I started the walk back to the car with one trout still to catch.

Good water for a long-handled net.

In the last few strides before passing through the gate to the bridge, I spotted a trout sitting next to a log. The trees were thick overhead and an upstream bow-and-arrow cast (possibly sacrilegious on a chalkstream!) found the fish, which duly obliged, to end another wonderful experience on an English chalkstream.

A nice wild brownie to finish.

I’m happy to recommend Upstream Dry Fly (or just check out their website which is in itself quite a destination), and the Mill Arms at Dunbridge as a place to stay and eat If in Stockbridge check out Robjent’s; Alistair is a character and always good to talk to if the shop traffic allows.