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