My first free day after lockdown was a baking hot day after several dry days. The prospects weren’t good, but I decided to fish Beat 8, hoping there may be a little more water in the lower, slower reaches of the river.
Unfortunately, even in the deeper stretches, there still wasn’t enough water to create much of a flow, but the banks having been given a neat No.2-all-over by Glenn the riverkeeper, it allowed delightfully easy reconnaissance as I crawled (getting funny glances from ramblers on the path) along the bank of the long pool, looking out for fish to target.
The low, clear water made fish spotting fairly simple: there weren’t any. I guessed they might all be in the fast water due to the heat. But just as I was about to give up, I spotted a couple of very decent specimens mooching around in sluggish, thigh deep water towards the top of the beat. I left my dry fly rod on the bank to mark their locations so I could target them later, then jogged down to the next pool and worked a team of upstream nymphs through the pocket water above it, producing four pretty decent twelve inchers.
More in hope than anticipation, I then straightline-nymphed my way up the long pool, hoping to dig out any fish my visual inspection had missed. But no, all the fish that weren’t there before still weren’t there.
As I reached my marked spot, I switched to the dry fly rod, in anticipation of some decent top of the water sport from my two targeted fish.
A few sulphur duns were coming off the water by then, but nothing was rising to them. Despite this, (and because I hadn’t any better ideas), I flicked a large Tup’s a couple of yards above where I’d seen the first big fish. Nothing. The fly bobbed and swivelled toward me on the torpid current like a demasted galleon, but there was no corresponding movement below the surface. I cast a few inches to the left. Then a foot to the right. I twitched it to impart a bit of life. Still nothing. And I noticed the real-life sulphur duns were also continuing their journey unmolested.
I was going to have to be a little more provocative. Being now level with some overhanging alder bushes, I screwed on Paul Procter’s Patent All-Purpose Terrestrial – a beetly, waspy, bluebottley mongrel of a thing that would bring an entomologist out in hives. I cast it splashily as close to the bushes as I dared. Still nothing. I splashed it hither and thither, but no matter whither, fish came there none. They were spooked, probably, I imagined.
I shrugged, quietly cursing Proctor and carried on up into the braided current, flicking the splashy monstrosity in the hope of a consolation 10 incher. Still nothing.
Until, right at the neck, in impossibly shallow water, a big, spiteful brown head snatched the fly from the surface, shook its head, felt the line tighten and took off like a goosed badger.
It wriggled down the braided water and plunged into the deep pool, racing around furiously, searching every tree root, every stone, every exit. It flashed close enough to the net to raise my heart level with my epiglottis. I was nervous the net wouldn’t be big enough to scoop it cleanly. So on its next lap of the pool I guided it gently onto the smooth, mossy stones and beached it. It measured fully 15 inches against my rod. After a quick photo and release of the barbless fly, I guided its head back towards home. It smacked its huge tail and wriggled powerfully back to the depths.