Chasing Rainbows

What a whopper!

What a whopper!

Amazing Avington Trout

Amazing Avington Trout

What a beautiful gill!

What a beautiful gill!

One of the delights of trout fishing, apart from fishing them, is to be in some of the most scenic and beautiful places in the world, pursuing a sport that you love. I was lucky to be able to spend a week in England in July, on a working trip but I managed to squeeze in a few fishing days. The work was serious and so was the fishing!

To be able to fly fish in England is very special to me. I have flyfished in a few countries, but have always wanted to do it in England, where, you could say, flyfishing was born hundreds of years ago. The memory of this recent trip is going to stay with me for a long time. It was not only the fantastic fishing there but the entire trip - meeting other fellow fly fishermen, sharing the same passion, exchanging flies (grown up toys), talking about presentation techniques, meeting many local fly fishermen with considerable skills and who were not shy to share them with a foreigner - made for some unforgettable experiences.

I began my fishing trip from London, where I left my hotel room at about 5.45am. It wasn't dark. Far from it. The summer sun was high up in the sky and it took me some time to get used to having sun glasses on in the early morning. My gear was with me in the taxi; I had gone through my checklist meticulously the night before to make sure I didn't forget anything. The taxi took me to Waterloo Station where I boarded the train to Avington, a small town in Hampshire, famed for its gin-clear water andgiant trout and southwest of London. For almost 30 years, fly fishermen have made their way there for the fish. That's where I have been dreaming to go for a long time too, almost like a pilgrimage.

I called up Mick Prior, (the then Fishery Manager), who is now a good friend, to make a booking. In England, there are fisheries where a booking is required because only a certain number of anglers are allowed on the property a day. You are also charged an arm and a leg for the privilege of fishing in prime trout streams. The train took about an hour to get there but the time passed quickly and pleasantly. I had a window seat and settled down quickly with a cup of hot tea, to enjoy the passing picture-postcard English countryside. Sometimes it is nice to travel alone, just being by yourself and completely relaxed.

On arrival at Avington, I was greeted by Mick. I noticed immediately that the air was so much better compared to London's. Mick told me that today there would only be two of us fishing, Ivan, one of Mick's regulars, and myself. It was hard to concentrate on what Mick was saying. I could smell the stream from where I was standing and could hardly wait to start. We had the whole place to ourselves! I didn't intend to paint the place red yet, but I certainly raced to rig up my rod. Mick gave me a few tips and then left me alone to do my own thing. The river was flowing a fair bit, was very clear and so would be unforgiving of any mistake. If you can see the fish and if you are not behind it, believe me, the trout is not moving because it is eye-balling you too.

There were some vegetation along the banks which made casting a little more challenging. I had to watch my back cast in some tight areas. Most aggravating the fish seemed to know where an angler would have problems casting and that would be where they would station themselves. I managed to sight a 1.8kg rainbow trout on the other side of the bank, about 15 metres away and at one of the narrowest points on the river, which was good news. The bad news was a willow tree which had overhanging branches providing good cover for the trout, but this made it harder for me to keep the fish in sight.

It was lying directly under the shade of the branches which made less than ideal lighting conditions for my polaroids, and the tree was in the way of an easy cast. As it is, trout are not easy to spot especially the bigger fish which cruise along the bottom of the river most of the time. Nevertheless, I made a cast with a weighted Damsel, dropping it just a metre or so from the fish. It swam away, exhibiting not even the tiniest interest in the fly! A few more casts and still no luck, but I had high hopes since I could see a few fish.

Mick came in his jeep to see if everything was alright. He advised me to change to the weighted Woolly Bugger I was wearing on my vest. I did so right away and stayed behind cover, opposite the tree, and waited patiently. Mick sighted another trout in the area and I presented the fly about 1.2 metres in front of it and on its path. As the fly descended slowly to the bottom, the fish saw it and in no time, went for it just before it hit the bottom. I set the hook and got connected right away. The fish fought hard, using the slight river current against me. I played it out in about 10 minutes, and it was in my landing net, pronto.

The beautiful rainbow trout weighed over 2kg and since I planned to keep the fish, I hid it underwater, covering it with weeds so the foxes would not be able to get at it. My army training came in handy here, having been taught camouflaging skills that could be used in different situations. In this area, foxes were known to steal fish from fishermen who were careless with their catch. Also, by hiding the fish, I could move about without carrying an additional load. I sighted and landed two more trouts in the 2-3kg range, with the same fly before losing it to a fairly big fish. It was a sunny day and as the hours ticked by, it became hotter, about 29 degrees C. The fish hunkered down below in deep pools where it was cooler. It was almost noon by now and I decided to take a break.

An inn nearby called "TheTrout Inn" (of course) catered to the fishermen in the area. It was a beautiful setting for lunch and I had a sandwich washed down with ice-cold Irish lager (beer). This sure helped to beat the afternoon heat. The second half of the day was spent walking along the banks of the river, trying to spot fish. I had changed the fly to one tied by a very good friend and meant to be used on this trip. I saw some silvery flashes at the bottom of a deep pool, went for a closer look and saw big, dark shadows lying at the bottom.

I went behind the fish and cast way ahead of them, up current, and then allowed the fly to sink a little before I started to strip. This strategy paid off with a big rainbow trout following the fly for a few seconds before it made up its mind. I set the hook, felt the positive load and then the fish charged into the weeds, taking a string of vegetation with it and putting a lot of stress on my 6-lb tippet as a result. I lifted my rod and let it do its job. When almost all of the fly line was out, the fish decided to change its tactic and went swimming downstream together with the current. I went after it quickly!

I retrieved most of my fly line and when the leader was coming up, I thought it was time to bring the fish in. Easier said than done. I had my landing net ready on one hand and with the other hand holding the rod, tried to position the fish for my net.

Each time I had the net almost under the fish it swam out again and I would have to put down the net and fight it a few more minutes before attempting to net it again. This fish fought a long time and played dead many times too. I counted the number of times I picked up and put down the net, 15 before I finally succeeded. It was worth the trouble. The fish hit the scales at almost 5kg!

Not far away from this same deep pool, I spotted another dark shadow hovering near the bottom. This one was a lot bigger! Heart pounding away, I took my time to position myself in order to make a good cast. I planted the fly about three metres away from the fish and waited for the fly to sink all the way to the bottom before I started stripping line. As the fly passed the dark shadow, a mere nose twitch away, it remained very still. At the time, it was rather windy, the rippling water surface making it hard to spot the fish at the bottom. My eyes were also rather tired after stalking fish the whole morning and I thought they were playing tricks on me. It might not be a fish after all, but if it is, it was going to be trophy-size. In any case, I tried again and again.

My last cast had the fly inching right in front of the fish's nose. That was when the wind died down for a moment and I was able to see it. There was a split second white flash underwater which indicated to me that it had finally opened its mouth and took the fly. This triggered my right hand, which was holding the rod, to lift it up and my left hand automatically pulled in the fly line till I felt the load on the other end. The line tightened up fast and then it stopped for a few seconds before taking off again, this time in the opposite direction, burning my fingers in the process.

It took close to 50 minutes before this fish yielded. I enjoyed every moment of this long battle. I knew it to be a very big fish and I didn't want to lose it. My mind was concentrated solely on playing the fish, trying to hang on to it for as long as I could. When I finally got the fish into my landing net, it could hardly fit into it! In Avington, they use big salmon landing nets for the trout, I learnt later. This rainbow weighed more than 6 kg and with it, I had reached my bag limit for the day. Mick told me that this was not a typical fishing day in Avington, catching two "double-digit" trouts (if you use English measures) a day.

Ivan, however, was a disappointed angler; he did not catch a single trout the whole day, so Lady Luck must have been with me then!

Famous for its clear water stalking and big fish...