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Hampshire water meadows

The Romance of Fly Fishing - Week End Pleasures - The Black Gnat Time - After the Thunderstorm.
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Perhaps it would imply an excessive egoism if we were all to set ourselves down to think out the order in which we should place our pleasures...
There are moments that stand out in one's life memories as the best and brightest, and these in my own mind's vision, have the serene jet sparkling face of a river for their background. (Horace Hutchinson.)

Comparison are ungrateful: more so in angling perhaps than in other sports, for the reason that so many circumstances and surroundings are ancillary to the day's pleasure. To plash through the water meadows of the Avon or Itchen, to crouch behind the giant rushes or dock leaves at the water edge, to peer over and see whether the two pound trout, or grayling, is rising beyond the waving weed patch, need not be considered in any way a joy superior to that felt by the angler making his way up a Northumbrian burn or a rocky stream in Derbyshire. Nor indeed to that felt by the same angler fishing with a wet fly upstream with a success that speaks for itself of his knowledge of where the fish he and how they can be attracted to feed. The style and equipment of all forms of fishing may be different: but not the spirit of the sport.

To catch fish is no more the sole object of fly fishing than to get from one seaport to another the sole object of yachting; or to steer a partner round a ball room the sole object of dancing. Mere dead reckoning in either case is not the whole story. Even in the shadows of the beeches - or the palms - sitting out counts for something. The frame of mind induced by a river winding through a water-meadow is that of the sleek cows with contented eyes which breathe upon the canvasses of Mr. Arnesby Brown.

The season opens in mid April, or a full month later than the preserved water of South Devon; a plan which perhaps removes all idea of fishing with a wet fly. In the ten rod club to which I have had the pleasure to belong for the past eight years, wet fly fishing although by no means barred on the ticket has hardly been practised; whether from custom, agreement, pride, or etiquette, I cannot say. If one is forced to make comparisons I should say that there is less emulation among the members to count the number of fish in their creels at the end of the day. Hours are spent in sauntering up the bank or splashing through the flooded meadows, albeit the majority of the ' rods ' live at a distance, London, Brockenhurst or Southampton.

A charm one hardly likes to dilate upon n naked print is that Sunday fishing is not forbidden which means that a few of us, more unprincipled and perhaps less scientific than the others, are able to spend every hour of a weekend out of doors; using all the tact we can to avoid giving offence to church goers by getting away across the public meadows before ten o'clock and remaining as much out of evidence as we can until seven in Spring, or until dusk in the summer evenings.

Curiously enough, although the river is in many places not deep, wading is seldom or never resorted to. The banks are mostly unstable and fibrous, composed of chalky mud overhanging runs and channels of two or three feet deep into which I should be very sorry to step for fear either of sinking waist-high or of being carried bodily down stream.

Shallow portions occur mostly in mid stream where islands of waving weed or celery beds afford secure cover for all the most cautious trout. It is among the glittering openings between these retreats that one looks for the rise of a feeding fish. Having found it, plans must be laid for approaching the bank behind the rushes to a place from which one may hope to cover the spot with an upstream cast.

No straight forward approach or good long cast avails for a fair sized fish. The sight or shadow of a full length figure, the wave of the arm or even the glint of the rod, the splash of the life, each and all are too tell tale tactics to practise with any hope of success. They merely cause the. rise to discontinue and the weeds to wave like mermaids' hair over the place where it had been noticed. As to thrashing away at the spot, well, you might just as profitably walk about an open field with a gun and expect the wariest woodpigeon to circle round you and be fired at.

Many years ago I remember a man telling me that in Scotland trout are counted by pounds, on Dartmoor by dozens, and in Hampshire by brace. North Country anglers would I think be surprised if the truth were told to them of the total bags that many of us secure on the Itchen. A Southampton friend wrote to me one October that ' he had enjoyed a very fair season, just fifty trout averaging 1 to 1¼ lbs., and twenty five grayling; his best trout being just under, and his best grayling just over, three pounds.'

This would probably mean forty half days spent upon the water, allowing for his absence on holiday abroad during the entire month of August. Here then is a fairly practical answer to the question ' Is that good enough?' My own answer I will give at once, very much in the affirmative as Cabinet Ministers are so fond of saying. Thankful indeed shall I be if any future season will yield so satisfactory a total. Under the conditions of mens sana in corpore sano, and pleasant weather, I will be content with half; knowing that the enjoyment to be obtained therefrom will outbalance that of any other form of sport which is likely to be presented to me.

During the opening fortnight of the season the fish are not in anything like the game condition that they acquire after a fine week in May. The red quill is one of the favourite and most effective flies particularly on the side streams where the smaller trout - our limit is three quarters of a pound - are mostly taken. For the last two years I have more or less discarded the winged patterns finding that hackle flies float quite as well, and are more likely to hold when the strike is made.

For some reason too a gold-ribbed Hare's ear dressed with reversed wings has gained a great reputation particularly on windy days when one has to pick and choose a likely place according to the various bends of the river. Fortunately this can nearly always be managed even with a nasty north or north-west wind which sometimes prevails week after week. For the idea of the reversed wing dressing we are all indebted to Mr. H. K. Grierson who had them made to his fancy by Messrs. Cox & Macpherson of Southampton, from whom they can no doubt be obtained. What the insect may be which they instate, others must guess or explain; but it will sometimes take good fish when nothing else will.

I must frankly say I prefer softer weather, and less good sport, seeing that there is very little cover or protection on open water meadows such as one gets on streams which are bounded by a steep bank or cliff on one side. It is for a fortnight prior to the mayfly that I have during each year always obtained my best baskets, a black gnat, alder, and Welshman's button being at that time the most killing flies. The twenty seventh of May is a date I cannot help always associating with red letter luck. On the twenty seventh of May, on a Devonshire river, the best angler of that district caught twenty seven trout, ' several of them pounders,' a catch which was the envy and talk of the club at the time and first caused a limit (six brace) to be fixed by the owner of the water.

On the twenty-seventh of May, on the Itchen, I had the best day's sport I ever enjoyed in point of size and number. During the entire morning the fish rose and accepted nearly everything that was nicely offered to them so much so that when a thunder storm brewed up at 2 p.m. the opinion of each man passing down the water was ' all is over for to-day.' Everyone left the river but myself. For some dogged reason - chiefly that being out for the day I wanted to have my full measure - I made up my mind to stick it out until the storm was over.

It proved a thoroughly nasty time; the thunder storm working round and round with many alarming lightning flashes and torrents of rain which made me feel a fool for my pains. Fortunately I did not know at the t me that some cattle had been struck by lightning. At five o'clock being far up the water I made for the only small inn there was, some three quarters of a mile away, arriving to tea with a rainproof coat in a state of liquefaction. After an hour's rest 1 set off down the river wishing I had taken the advice tendered me.

The rain still continued but the storm had at last grumbled itself out. Half way home a change came, the rain showed every sign of stopping while the sky to the westward became so much brighter that it looked as though the sun intended to peep through before setting behind a heavy bank of cloud. There was a long and broad stretch of water between two bends where both banks were edged with dense rushes, a deep and weedy place where sport as a rule was only good on August evenings with sedge flies. While watching to see f the river was coloured after the rain I saw a rise, then another in mid stream, - small grayling no doubt. The fly I had on was a medium sized Welshman's button quite good enough for anything under the unfavourable conditions.

Going down to the lower end of the rushes I faced upstream to see whether anything could be done. Within the space of a few minutes several rises occur red all of them far out in mid stream. At the first cast a fish took the fly instantly, sprang out of the water and was off, a splendid yellow trout. Above him was another rise, the fly pitched badly to one side but he rushed at it was struck, and was on; a good trout. After some really violent behaviour he was landed and laid on the path (1 lb. 7 ounces). On coming back to the rushes, or rather into the rushes, I could see as many as a dozen fish mostly out of reach rising in all directions but, being in a foot of water, I was so low down that it was difficult or impossible to get out a long line. Each rise that was covered was taken instantly and apparently rejected the very next second. Two more I lost, one small, the other a heavy fish. Then I landed one of just over a pound, lost another and caught the next a pound and a quarter.

All this half hour the rain was having its final patter, just blurring the surface sufficiently, while the sun was doing its best to cast a shadow. It certainly seemed the most ideal evening to come out. The only drawback n my personal case was soaking wet clothing. No other angler reappeared or it would have interested me to know whether the trout were rising in other parts of the river in the same frantic manner.

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Pictures for Hampshire water meadows

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