The Special Fish

As anyone with a business knows; we spend a lot of time thinking.  Turn your passion into work and I think that the brain buzzes tenfold.  In the car, taking a shower, going to sleep … and during!  Heading home from guiding Berkshires River Lambourn on Tuesday I had plenty of time to reflect upon the day’s events.

My guests for the day were Jim & Tom.  Now Jim is amassing a fair bit of experience but for Tom this was just his third ever attempt at fly fishing … all be it he has so far fished the Lambourn on a previous occasion and a tributary of the River Test, the Anton.  Unfortunately a busy working life means he hasn’t been able to dive head long into the sport just yet … but after his most recent session I am pretty certain things may change!

In all honesty it was a tough day.  The river was looking simply stunning showing off its voluptuous weed beds through crystal clear water.  Brilliant for fish spotting but late into the season the resident Trout (and substantial sized Grayling) have seen their fair share of flies and fly fishers.  Dozy they are not.  In fact it seemed that if we so much as exhaled a little too hard the fish would flee under a patch of that voluptuous weed.  We were going to need a plan B.

Tom French with a Trout from the Lambourn

Toms first of the day – from a hatch pool

Casting practice sorted the obvious place to start with Tom was on a hatch pool.   These areas of a chalk stream offer broken water which may hide the odd wayward cast plus the fly bumbles along at a fair rate.  Less time for the fish to make a decision!  I am glad to report that this approach was successful and Tom soon had his first fish caught on a nymph, safely in the net and posing for the camera.  We had a few slip the hook and another that almost came to the net, but as I explained to Tom the landing of a fish is one thing.  OK, he would end up with a digital picture in his inbox, but in fact it is that all important take and even more importantly … how you catch the fish, which in my opinion makes the difference.

Tom French releases a Lambourn chalkstream Trout

Back she goes

This thought was discussed over lunch.  So far we had stuck to hatch pools using subsurface nymph tactics as the fish were lying deep and refusing to rise; not surprising as there wasn’t a hatch!   Actually fishing an upstream nymph is more difficult than it sounds especially when you only have a few hours casting and fishing experience under your belt.  Tom had managed very well but what I really wanted to show him was something truly visual.  A Trout taken on a Dry Fly.

We set off in the hope of finding a willing Brown to cast at and of course found nothing!  We spotted a few but in the now substantial summer sun they were even more tricksy.  After a good hour of searching it was back to a hatch pool in the hope of a little fish fix.  Tom added to his tally, all on the nymph, but still nothing on the dry.

Fishing nymph tactics for Trout on the Lambourn

Tom with one of several Trout caught on nymph fishing tactics

We needed to find some shade.  Unlike many over manicured streams this section of the Lambourn (near Great Shefford) is allowed to grow naturally and the top section in particular offers a narrow section of water through dense canopy.  Perhaps that would be our chance?  Sure enough after a stealthy walk picking our way through the reeds, we at last found a fish on the top.  At first I caught the back end of a tell tale rise, the final moments of the disturbance scurrying across the water’s surface.  We froze with military precision, daring not to breathe while fixing our gaze.  And there it was again … and again.  “This fish is happy Tom!” I whispered “but it’s going to be a tough cast”

The beat allows wading so we slipped in carefully, positioning ourselves tight to the bank with the water well above waste height.  All around were trees and bushes, a big ask for Tom, but at least the fish was still rising.  All we needed now was an accurate cast and my gut feeling was that we would be hooked up.  Tom was really in at the deep end, learning how to side cast while trying to take in my tips to aid the turnover of a 12 foot leader attached to a wisp of a #16 Adams.  Full marks for his patience because of course hooking up on the surrounding vegetation was pretty much a given, after all decent loop control takes practice in the confines of a back garden or playing field, let alone with a ton of pressure to accurately cast at a rising fish.  Snagging trees is frustrating (most river anglers know the feeling!), but Tom doesn’t give up easily and all the while I encouraged him that if we covered this fish successfully it was very likely to take.  So why didn’t it gobble down the Adams when it drifted perfectly over the lie?  Come on guide, wrong fly!!!

It was time to take a very close look at the water and in doing so I began to spot what looked suspiciously like a few pale watery duns stranded in the tight surface tension.  On went a #16 imitation in double quick time, which was into a tree almost as rapidly.  Never mind, there were plenty more to tie on and I was confident that Tom would put in the all important cast at some point.  He was agonisingly close at times, but this fish was so fixed upon its feeding station that it was going to take accuracy to stand a chance of hooking up.  The first perfect presentation with the new fly did the business, I called “STRIKE!!!”, Tom lifted, there was a boil, the line snapped tight and the rod bucked … a little.  But the fish was off!

All that work and the fish had given us the slip.  I could see Tom’s disappointment but offered a few words to try and raise his spirits such as “That’s fishing and you did everything absolutely perfectly, but sometimes the fish get the better of us”.  This should be the case but deep down I really didn’t want that to be Tom’s last memory and silently cursed the lost fish for not hanging on to the hook.  And then there was another rise!!!

It had occurred to me that there may have been two fish and now that its previous companion was no doubt seeking shelter under a weed bed while nursing toothache, this fish seemed to be sipping at the surface with even more confidence.  A few more branches and flies later once again Tom got it all right, “that’s it!” I said and we watched mesmerised as the tiny CDC imitation floated towards our target.  Slurp (well sip really …), strike and its game on!!!  One thing Tom really does well for someone with so little experience is play fish confidently and in very tight surroundings he managed to steer the rather surprised Brownie on the end of his line to the awaiting net.  All be it he had an agonising wait beforehand as the fish did everything it could to throw the hook and bury itself into the weed.  But this time we won the battle and right on cue Jim turned up to share in Toms excitement .

Tom lands a Lambourn Trout using dry fly tactics

The Special Fish!

Tom’s massive smile and firm hand shake made my day.  It always does.  This is why I guide; there is just no better feeling than seeing someone turn my tuition into their success.  The fish itself was not much over the pound mark and in the enclosed conditions I didn’t make a great job of the grip & grin, but not much of that really matters.  What Tom now has is the memory of a special fish, a special moment and what I hope turned out to be a special day.  My only wish is that one day he can find the time away from his busy London career to enjoy more of them.

If you would like to fish this beat of the River Lambourn, speak to the nice guys over at Famous Fishing and of course I am only too happy to help you out.  Find out more about my guiding services here.

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