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A Day on the River Test

By Mike Pratt

The river Test in Hampshire, England is a clear, chalk stream river known to many Fly-fishermen the world over. It is steeped in the very early traditions of fishing for trout with dry fly. There are doubtless many rivers which fish better, but it still holds a certain fascination for the fly-fisherman. Nowadays much of it's length is owned by large businesses who let out the fishing rights for considerable sums of money - Orvis has some good beats at more affordable prices.

Willow stretch

I am a most fortunate mortal in that I have access to a long stretch of the river for modest cost one day a week throughout the season - May to October. It is stocked with Brown trout but also has some wild ones. Even though I am disabled, having broken my neck many years ago, I am able to fish these river beats from a sitting position using a small folding chair or wheelchair and have been doing so for the past 14 years. Apart from keeping a good lookout for muddy patches on the bank I have no problems in spending the day fishing. There is no wading allowed on these beats.

I use a Hardy 7ft 6in. Ultralite carbon rod with a #3 double taper floating line and I tie all my own flies. I have found fishing on the Test is never dull. It changes with the seasons, the weather and the years. I shall never tire of it. The following is a brief account of a day I spent on the Test late in May.

When I arrived on the river in mid-morning the weather was cool and overcast with the wind coming from the Northeast. There were no flies hatching and the whole river looked dead and lifeless. I wasn't very hopeful of a good day's fishing but you never know. As if to encourage me, about 11.30 one or two Mayfly started to hatch. Nothing to get very excited about, but at least it was a beginning.


From my vantage point on the bank I could see a fair way up-stream past a large Copper Beech tree which overhung the river. It was evident there was some activity beginning to manifest itself in that direction. I moved up above the Beech and, although it was in the full force of a fairly brisk wind, there were a few more Mayfly coming off the water. Just above the tree, and in mid-stream, there was a very nice looking trout of about two pounds rising to the infrequent Mayfly.

What a lovely sight this is. The Mayfly hatching and floating down with the current, like small sailing boats. The trout lying behind a clump of weed, slowly rising up towards the surface to a precise point for interception, deliberately and slowly opening its mouth, humping up slightly out of the water, a gulp, the fly gone and the trout turning back down to it's station behind the weed. This is what fishing is all about.


I watched this fish take three Mayfly - he wasn't interested in anything else - and then I put my own traditional Green Drake pattern Mayfly over him. He rose with the same slow deliberation, intercepted and took. He turned away and I struck. He moved away, going deep and shaking his head with great gusto. Before I had sufficient control of the line he was in the weed bed. There was sudden stillness which indicates a lost fish. I reeled in a fly and large lump of weed. A short acquaintance but memorable in that it was the first on a Mayfly this season and every stage of the take was observed. I suspect I was rather pleased that he had got away.

I waited and watched for a while but the Mayfly stopped hatching and only the odd grayling appeared to be active; the wind dropped, the sun came out and there was suddenly some warmth in the air.


I moved upstream over a footbridge and settled down to a spot of lunch whilst I contemplated nothing in particular and everything in general. There is more to a day fly-fishing for trout than just well - fly-fishing for trout. A quiet lunch in the shade of a tree, watching the river wildlife - a pair of Kingfishers, a water vole and, if you are lucky, a Roe Deer coming out of the trees to graze. It's all part of the enjoyment of being on the river bank. However, today whilst I was so occupied, the trout started to rise in earnest pursuing a new hatch of Mayfly.


I noticed a considerable amount of splashy activity in mid-stream where a trout was going somewhat mad after the Mayfly which were floating downstream on a fast current line. I decided to try my Green Drake pattern over it. Luckily there weren't too many naturals on the water to confuse this chap and he took my fly with tremendous force, dashing off across the river at great speed. This fish now began to emulate some Rainbow trout that I have known. He rushed about, every now and again pausing to leap high out of the river, the water seeming to boil around him.

This is not good for ones nerves. Remembering to slacken the line when he crashed back into the water. Not good at all. However, after putting up a stiff and prolonged fight, I eventually got him into the net weighing in at two and a half pounds.

During the next hour I made contact with three other fish of similar proportions for varying lengths of time but failed to land any of them. They all seemed to have snatched at the fly, not taking as deliberately as the trout by the Beech tree had. It appeared the fish were intercepting the hatching nymph just under the surface, or just on the surface. Very difficult to produce a dry fly pattern to emulate the natural at this stage of its career.

About 4 o'clock a trout started feeding with great splashy takes way out over the other side of the river. The river is fairly wide here, and it's always a bit of a challenge to put a fly out that distance with the required degree of accuracy and finesse. It was worth having a go. If memory serves it was on about the seventh cast that I managed to get everything right and found myself in communion with an annoyed and active trout.

It always produces an interesting moment or two when you have to deal with a fish at long range. Being unable to move from my sitting position I am concerned lest they decide to swim towards me and I cannot keep the line tight. Although this chap moved about at speed, he was well hooked and I did eventually tire him enough to get him in the net without too much ado. It was a good stock Brown trout in excellent condition weighing the same as the last one.

The Mayfly hatch died away fairly rapidly after this and, even though I made contact with a fish off the point of the island lower down the river, the activity soon ceased completely.

I left the river at about 7 o'clock on a sunny, but beginning to get chilly evening, happy with the day's events, particularly that I had been able to use my traditional Mayfly patterns on trout feeding on fly hatching lines once again. Very satisfying. ~ Mike Pratt

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