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Testing Conditions

Malcolm enjoys a couple of days on the River Test and spots a fellow angler in need of a good magazine...

Malcolm's two days on the Test were
Malcolm's two days on the Test were "varied and stuffed with interest".

Some of you might be getting the feeling that I am paranoid when it comes to the weather, for I am conscious that just about every blog that I have written over the past year or two has moaned about the climate here in northern England.  What we want for May is warmth, with a wee bit of cloud so that the sun does not dazzle the trout, a light balmy breeze and perhaps a few light showers. This will bring out the flies and bring up the trout. Yet here we go again: leaving aside my two days fishing on the Test, plus a day’s journey back home, my diary records 11 warm days and 17 days with a cold wind blowing from a northerly ‘airt’. For instance, on the 14th I wrote, “Warm out of BITTER NNW-NNE wind!”

My friends, dry fly fishing, is what I want to do when I go fishing, can be impossible when a cold wind blows down the river or across the loch. And so, where I did manage to find a sheltered pool (as on one of our Hodder beats), I saw flies (all the usual suspects, from mayfly and yellow may duns to medium olive and false march brown) and found trout rising, mostly small ones, but they were wild. But when I wandered away to a more exposed pool, the wind chilled me as I gazed in vain for flies hatching and trout rising.

Two days on the Test, courtesy of Roger Craig, was beyond doubt the piscatorial highlight of the month, for the two days were so varied and stuffed with interest.

We drove down the first morning and arrived on the river bank at precisely 11.10am. Mayfly duns were trickling downstream and a few trout were rising close to the bottom limit of Roger’s beat. At 11.12 I caught my first, a strong brownie of about 16”, on a CDC Mayfly Dun and at 11.15 Roger had his first. We then separated and as Roger began to move slowly upstream, looking for rising fish, I tarried at the bottom end hooking four trout, two on Deerhair Duns, two on CDC Mayfly Duns, one of which ploughed into a tangle of shrub roots under the bank and snapped my tippet.

I now moved slowly upstream and as I did so it started to drizzle. Our bank of the river is heavily treed, which makes back-casting interesting, puts trout in tricky lies (under low-hanging branches, just upstream of big trees growing at the water’s edge, alongside emergent vegetation alongside the bank), but has lies that wild trout or stockies that have been in the rive some time prefer to the more open water in the middle and close to the far, fairly treeless bank. So through the rest of the morning and afternoon we both found interesting, challenging rising trout and we caught several on our dry flies.

Then, just after we had snacked in preparation for the final evening session, we sat in the Land Rover as the heavens opened, with a great deluge of a thunderstorm that lasted three quarters of an hour. You should have seen the water surface after that! It was covered with mayflies, both duns and spinners that were either hatching or egg laying, or that had been swept from the trees they had been resting in.  Thirty and more to the square metre was my crude estimate. And the trout rose to devour them, like pigs feasting on a sack of spilt tiny new potatoes.

Two trout were memorable. The first was a rainbow trout of about 5lbs weight that had, in its jaw, a huge Black Lure with a goldhead at the front. It had not been long in there. Who uses a Black Lure at mayfly time on the Hallowed Test? The second was a nice brown trout that I hooked at 7.40pm on a White Palmered Mayfly Spinner. My note, made at the time, says, “CAME IN IN 2 SECONDS, LITERALLY.”  As soon as I hooked it I simply pulled it in and over the net. It was 24 inches long and had an old heron stab wound close to its vent. Why was it so interesting? When I described it to Roger and precisely where I had caught it, he remarked, “I caught that trout with that wound in exactly the same place not long earlier!” So that is why it didn’t put up a fight. It knew that I would put it back!

One interesting aside: that afternoon, from 2.40 to 3.40, there was a huge hatch of iron blue duns. I don’t see IBD hatches like as often as I used to on my northern streams. I spotted only two trout taking them.

Day two was a much quieter day as it seemed that a large proportion of trout had over-eaten and were lying on the bottom with doses of Milk of Magnesia or Alkazeltser. Despite a nice trickle of mayflies most of the day, quite a lot of trout were ‘oncers’ and oncers, fish that rise only once despite other flies passing over them, can be very difficult. Some of the trout seemed a bit more selective. Five trout rose to my fly as it approached, but instead of grabbing hold properly, they fell back with it as it drifted downstream. Two then rejected it by turning away, but three did try to take but with two I struck too early.

After a shower at 4.15pm there was a great fall of spent spinners and the fishing became that bit easier, for the number of rising trout picked up. Now I have to end with something I found rather sad...

Several fly-fishers were on the other bank, casting out but seemingly ignoring rising trout. One such was standing between to alders, about 30 yards apart. He cast-cast-cast for over half an hour as I slowly made my way up stream. I was opposite and noticed three trout rising in front of him. I moved on and then perched on a bench. I sat and watched for ten minutes. Trout rose, he cast out but not to them nor, as far as I could see, with a dry Mayfly. Then he reeled in and moved downstream for about fifty yards where he proceeded to cast-cast-cast. I moved down to opposite where he had been standing. The three trout rose and so keen were they to eat mayflies that I got all three on the first cast on a Poly Mayfly Spinner. People like that ought to subscribe to Fly-Fishing & Fly-Tying.

At  6.40 a strong northerly breeze started blowing downstream. I was tired. I detackled, gillied for Roger who was still catching trout on his cane rods and silk lines, before, at 7.40, we retired to the hotel, satiated with the mayfly but ready for hot food and a drink or two.

What a fabulous brace of days!

May you, dear reader, enjoy similar days in the months to come.

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