Trout and Grayling in the UK

I have been fly fishing for a long time, but only recently began fishing for trout. And when a business trip took me overseas this fall, I spent my Halloween fishing the historic Itchen River with local guide Andrew.

Andrew had fished and guided all over the UK, and had a particular fondness for Grayling, a native fish to England and common to sub-arctic regions of North America and Europe.  Our plan was to fish the “Orvis Beat” (beat meaning portion of the river) for Brown Trout and Grayling with dry flies.

A mansion on the Itchen River.

The UK fishing scene for trout is extremely ritualized.   We arrive at the river, and I am immediately instructed (with a text book!) on possible dangers I would encounter that day.  Tripping hazards such as roots, bees, collapsing river banks – I was crossing my fingers Andrew was more mellow than he was letting on.  During my “education”, I also learned Andrew is a Level 2 guide, meaning he had been through significant training (and it showed) on how to run things, as well as the finer points of casting, fly dressing, and tea preparation.  And yes, we did take a tea break that day.

The river itself was beautiful – scenic and serene, surrounded by multi-million pound homes, horses, and enormous old trees.  And as a chalk stream, its waters were crystal clear, the bottom relatively flat, and full of leafy aquatic plants.  It was some of the easiest wading I had ever done, which made the safety presentation even more silly.

We fished “New Zealand” style, or “Clink and Dink”:  a dry fly on top, and a nymph below.  We worked up river very slowly, casting 40′-50′ ahead, and letting the dry drift back in the current.  The fish were hungry, and I managed 4-5 browns and a 7-8 graylings by the end of the day.  The grayling in particular showed a fondness for pink nymphs – a well known fact of British angling – and are referred collectively to as the “Lady of the Stream”.

Browns are thick in the Itchen.  That sounds wrong…

The river did have some large Browns, but the biggest fish I took was around 14″.  They were spunky, the grayling more so, and they all did some jumping and running around the river.  Tackle was a 9′ 4wt rod, floating line, and typical 5X leader.  These fish are not spooky – nothing like my home waters of the Gunpowder River and Savage River in Maryland.  As it turns out, most portions of the river are only fished 1-2 times a week by paying customers.

I found out that “beats” along a river are typically bought and sold, much like any other property.  And in the UK, many have been handed down through the generations, and guides pay the beat’s owners to fish it.  As a result, very little of the local rivers outside of London, and much of the UK, are open for public use, which is a sad thing considering how beautiful they are.  It makes me appreciate how the US has managed to set aside so many rivers and streams for public enjoyment – it is not simply the domain of the rich.

In summary, I had a great time fishing with Andrew – he was a great guy, and a good guide.  The fishing was interesting, and the instant coffee I had (I passed on the tea) was drinkable.  I can’t think of a better way to spend a Halloween.


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