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Just Good to be There


Text and art by Mike Pratt


It was a lovely day to be on the river. The water was crystal clear, the weed was beginning to show in large drifts and the Swallows and Martins were swooping low indicating plenty of fly activity.

When I arrived everything was fresh and clean with a pleasing scent of new mown grass where the Keeper had been at work on the island. It is at moments such as these that I realise that I won't really be too upset if I don't catch a trout. Just being lucky enough to experience the beauty of it all is reward enough.

Although there were one or two fluffy clouds in the sky even they were lazing about in somnolent manner, indicating that they posed no real threat to the general ambience of well being pervading the scene.

It was already very warm by the time I had 'tackled up' so I started off the day fishing near the Chestnut trees at the downstream end of the island where there is a little shade from the sun at this time of day. As I could see that already there were Mayfly hatching in small numbers all across the river I thought there would be a good days sport ahead.

It soon became apparent however, that there were no trout holding in the pool in the vicinity of the Chestnut trees. Indeed, there were only one or two small Grayling to be seen. I moved further up-stream past the Alders towards the fishing hut but could find no trout anywhere.

The Mayfly - smiling broadly - were proceeding to hatch unmolested.

I wondered if the lack of water depth in the river this year was a factor in keeping the trout to a minimum in this stretch of the river? Or was there a Pike in the area? Hmmmm. Now there's a character who can remove fish from a stretch of water faster than any fisherman I know.

When I moved a little further up-stream above the Copper beech I did find two trout out in the river opposite the point of the island. They were moving with immense determination to take the Mayfly which were now hatching in profusion. In the clear water I could see easily this pair lying just below the surface on top of some clumps of weed. They seemed to be motionless - as trout often do until I appear - except for the slightest movement of their tails. Suddenly they would be galvanised into action at the sight of the next fly floating towards them. Although they were only about ten feet apart they appeared to take no notice of each other.

I put a traditional Green Drake pattern to each of them in turn - the downstream one first just like it tells you in the books - both took the fly with great gusto, tightened the line and then were gone.

A cry of anguish.

How many others have suffered this fate? - I can only think that in their excitement at seeing these huge morsels being offered in such quantity that they were trying to gobble as much as possible; failing to close their mouths properly on one before rushing for the next. But, rather perversely I thought, they showed no further interest in my fly.

Talking of books - I was earlier - it is a source of wonder to me that so many writers refer to the two weeks or so when the large Mayflys are on the water as 'Duffer's fortnight'! Thus intimating that even someone like me cannot help but catch fish. Tell me why - when there are upwards of eight hundred and thirtysix-ish juicy naturals floating down upon the current - should any self respecting trout make a fool of itself and go instead for a bundle of feathers, silk and steel splashed down in front of it? I do wonder - quite a lot. After a prolonged pause in the heat of the day whilst I partook of liquid refreshment and lunch in the shade of the Copper beech, I decided to transfer my attention to the Broad - the river downstream of the Chestnut pool - to see what was moving on the fast stretch of water just below the old disused railway bridge.

Although the day had become very hot and bright, here there were several trout moving to the Mayfly which were now hatching in large numbers. I again tried a pattern similar to the one that I had used in the morning. The result was the same. Two fish lost in quick succession.

With so many naturals on the water it was becoming very difficult to persuade any trout that it's future was with the artificial. I persevered for some considerable time but the feeding fish ignored my offerings totally. (Duffer's fortnight - aye?) This is not good for the ego. Racking my brain for a possible solution to the problem it occurred to me that if I put a large but different fly upon the water I might have more success. I don't know why I thought this, but a desperate fisherman will think all sorts of things, not all of them printable.

I did what the one-time US Ambassador Lewis Douglas did when fishing the Test as a guest of the late Lord Brand some years previous. I changed my Green Drake for a large Grey Wulff. Whilst doing this I became festooned in Mayflys. Above and all around me the air was filled with these insects. Across the water it looked like a snow shower; I have never seen so many Mayflys in my life before. Not only were they all over me, the trees all around were covered. It was a magnificent sight.

(A point of interest: Lewis Douglas is credited with introducing the Grey Wulff to the English chalk streams on that day. It's quite possible.)

In these conditions it was with little hope that I offered my Wulff to a large trout feeding just below the bridge. He rose slowly to it, turned, followed it down-stream through all the naturals and then very slowly opened his mouth and sucked it in. I managed, just, to control my excitement sufficiently to let him turn down with the fly before I struck. A splendid tussle followed for a couple of minutes before I brought him to the net at 3 lbs 4ozs. His throat was packed with Mayfly. But you see, we all like a change now and again. Something we should always remember.

I had no further luck during the rest of the day, but with all the naturals to choose from it was not surprising that I was ignored. It was of no consequence though, the sight of all those Mayflys swarming about the river, on me and over the trees is the memory to treasure.

Who needs to catch fish?

I left for home a hot but very contented fisherman.

It was good just to have been there on this day. ~ Mike Pratt

More Fly Fishing in Europe:
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Bug Tank Benefits - By Peter Lapsley
River Piddle, U.K. - By Paul Slaney
A Day on the River Test By Mike Pratt
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2004 Fishing Season in the Czech Republic - By Tim Baldwin

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