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River Piddle, Dorset UK

By Paul Slaney

River Piddle

The weekend passed here in a delightful summer, fishy haze. My friend Arthur came over from Ireland for the weekend to fish the Wessex chalkstreams. Trip has been arranged for some time and I had been very much looking forward to it.

So Friday afternoon found me driving the 4 hour trip from the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham down to the beautiful little Dorset village of Tolpuddle.

As I drove those last few miles through the flood plains of the rivers Frome and diminutive Piddle, the worries of the working week shed from my mind and like a fine aperitif the occasional glimses of jewel like chalkstream through the greenery sharpened my appetite for the fishing to come.

The venue for our all too brief visit, was The Wessex School of Flyfishing, our host Mr Richard Scocock, owner of the school and manager of several miles of prime chalkstream fishing on the Frome, Piddle and three spring fed lakes. We were to fish the Piddle on Saturday.

I met Arthur as I drove into the lane leading to the school, he was heading in the opposite direction, to the pub, a quick handshake through open car windows, a quick u-turn for me and minutes later we were tucking into pints of the local ale and ham and eggs. The talk? fishing of course!

A couple or three pints later found us booked into our bed and breakfast accommodation at the school, tackled up and on the bank of one Richards crystal clear spring fed lakes. And just as the sun started to set in the western sky, our first casts to swirling fish in Dorset.

River Piddle

Man! those fish were difficult! our initial beer induced confidence drained with each fly we tried. Each fly steadfastly refused by the still swirling fish just an easy cast away. Insects and bats filled the night air, the derisive hoot of a Tawny Owl mocked us from the woods behind, a gentle mist shrouded the lake and the taunting fish still swirled and slurped at their supper. There was only one plan of action to be taken.

We packed up fishless and went back up to the pub (grin) More beer and fishing talk and long after midnight we strolled back to our beds through the leafy lanes, a clear and fine night. The way lit by every star in the heavens as it can only be in a place far away from the artificial glow of civilisation.

Saturday morning dawned fine, sunny and a little breezy. After a good breakfast we met with Richard who told us that our fishing for the day was to be on two beats of the Piddle and the run of lakes, this was a very generous offer on his part when you consider that all that water would be for our sole use. On a large scale map of the beats he pointed out the most promising runs and holes, throwing in some tales of huge fish yet to be caught and their positions with remarkable accuracy! (no fishing report would be complete without tales of big fish Eh? More on this later) So plenty of fishy opportunity to be had and thus our confidence of a good day soared to a new high.

A little about the Landscape and the River Piddle.

The Piddle flows west to east through some of the most attractive countryside in the south of England. From its source on the southern chalk slopes of Blackmoor vale it runs its short course to the sea at Wareham, visiting along the way the thatched roofed, picture postcard villages of Piddletrenthide, Piddlehinton, Puddletown, Tolpuddle and Briantspuddle.

Its deep, narrow, meandering course through prime agricultural land is shrouded for most of its length by high, lush bankside vegetation, the only way to fish the Piddle is from within, up to your mid thigh in water with short little casts through the tunnel of vegetation.

The Piddle is home to the whole run of waterbourne life, good hatches of olives, mayfly, sedge and midges. Arthur was suprised to see the shocking yellow of the Yellow May Dun flitting over the water. A hatch that he wasn't familiar with in Ireland. The fish are all wild browns, healthy, well fed fish and the stretches under the management of Richard are almost unique in the UK as he doesn't supplement the head of fish by stocking. All his guests are required to practice catch and release. NO fish to be killed. PERIOD!

His gentle, sympathetic water management methods, coupled with intelligent weed cutting should be a milestone for most water keepers of my aquaintance. In my honest opinion, this is a prime example of what a healthy chalkstream should be, you can keep the Test and Itchen, sadly they seem to be little more than stock ponds, put and take fishing for much of their course these days.

So back to the fishing.

We started at the bridge at Braintspuddle, parked the car in a field and walked through some woods to be greeted by the sun dappled Piddle in fine flow. Straight away we started to spot fish holding in the currents between the long weed fronds. I love the contrasts in colour on the chalkstrams, deep lush green banks of weed, golden chalk and flint gravel between them and dappled light capping it all. The flies of choice were shrimp imitations as it was still early in the morning and no fish were rising that we could see.

The first shots at them were disastrous, fish scattering in all directions. Our haste to get at the water resulting in missed opportunities. But after a while we both settled into it and started to take a fish here and a fish there, leapfrogging each other up the stream as we fished. The fish weren't big, 14 inches was a fine example but they were as tough and wary as they could be. Each fooled fish a minor victory.

This developed into the pattern of the morning. Myself fishing the shrimp and Arthur taking fish using a #14 Klinkhamer. As the morning warmed up, the strength of the wind rose adding another interesting challenge, the lightweight lines we were using and the accurate casts needed between the weeds and under the canopy of vegetation getting more difficult to control as lunchtime approached.


Back to the pub, for food and to regroup before the afternoon session. But first a stop to peer over the bridge somewhere near Briantspuddle.

Floating weed mass

Remember the talk of big fish? Well, just below us was a long frond of weed and as we watched mesmerised by its gentle undulations in the current a fish of around 2 pounds shot out from under it in panic shortly followed by a persuing fish that was easily three times that in weight. The glimpse of that fish awed both of us as he quietly slipped back under the weed having seen off the intruder.

Lunch was spent formulating a cunning plan to extract that beauty from his weedy home.

Back at the water. . .

Switching into commando mode, we put the plan into action with clockwork precision. Spotter on the bridge, fisher in the water swimming the fly in and out under the weedbed. Again and again! Presentation looked perfect enough that even a blind fish would take that fly! But he had us beat! Quick review of tactics, some ideas that would have made Richard cringe. Hey! we are only human! But we decided to leave him be and concentrate on his smaller brethren upstream.

The afternoon and evening turned into a repeat of the morning, a few more fish, a few more pools fished. Our best success came in the sheltered areas of the stream, the wind by now was making an accurate presentation almost impossible.

The final score at the end of the day? Well, enough to satisfy honour, but not enough that we didn't feel humbled by these brave little Wessex fish.

Wessex trout

Later that evening, as we finished a delicious curry before we went our separate ways, the heavens opened into a torrential rain storm. It looks like the health of the Piddle and its inhabitants is assured with fresh water from the chalk aquifers.

As I left the Piddle behind that rainy night, my thoughts turned to the good company I'd enjoyed, to our gracious host, to the excellent fishing we were lucky enough to obtain, to the good food and beer we were served and to that undulating mat of weed below an ancient stone bridge somewhere near Briantspuddle in the leafy depths of southern England . . . ~ Paul Slaney

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