Although I cannot drink more than a few warming drops - my casting goes to pieces and then I have to nap - a good slug of Speyside malt helps along the memory of lost fish, "Oh! He was a fighter. He broke me and I had a 45-pound breaking line on! Biggest fish I've seen. Big as our Mary..." Always remember to splash a few drops of whisky into the water for the fish. They like it.
It was a particularly splendid picnic that I had laid before me a few Fridays ago, on the Compton Manor beat of the Test at King's Sombourne. In a hamper, with proper cutlery, china plates and enormous linen napkins. What? Yes, yes. We'll get to the fishing in a minute. There was asparagus, salad, fresh bread, cheese, biscuits, finger sandwiches (smoked salmon, egg mayo, goodness knows what else) with all the crusts cut off, water (sparkling and still) and a flask of coffee. This last addition is particularly handy for me as I am known for my love of afternoon, after-lunch naps.
There would have been wine too except, for the aforementioned reasons, I had said no to the chef at Lainston House who had prepared this stonkingly fine hamper of goodies. For pudding there was a bowl of ripe summer berries with a generous dollop of thick, crusty clotted cream. How the other fisherfolk stared at us in envy!
Now the fishing. Regular readers of this column will know that I am not the Test's biggest fan. This is because, although it may have been the world's finest chalkstream once, I do not agree with the porky-fat trout the Test is stocked with, just to make corporate days out more fun.
The Test is, however, very beautiful, and this stretch is glorious. There's a bit of everything here, slow water, fast water, a weir, easy and more difficult bits to fish. On this particular beat there is no catch and release allowed so after catching your limit (three brace) you have to get that fly out of the water.
We met one old gentleman who was happily fishing away with a Royal Wulff (a very popular fly on this river), but without much success. A few weeks before, Oliver Edwards had suggested using a Klinkhammer on the Test, and it had been a big success. So, I suggested that this nice old gent try one. "Never heard of it," he said, so I gave him one of mine and, 10 minutes later, I saw him up river, his rod bent into the sort of arc that makes fishermen smile from ear to ear. He waved as he got his fish in, a very big brownie.
I had got a new rod that day for my imminent birthday. My fishing buddy, Pete, had given me a Shakespeare Expedition Fly. A four-piece, nine-foot rod that is ideal for travelling. This was most welcome as I had been eyeing his Expedition Fly for some time. But before I could set to work I had to have just one bread roll, for energy of course. I had to do this in secret as I am always teased for eating all the picnic before I've even set up my rod. As if!
A new rod always takes a bit of getting used to, and just as I was casting like a beginner, the bailiff came along. So I had to draw my line in and pretend I had some urgent leader maintenance to attend to. When he was safely out of the way, I perfected my casting and put on a Parachute Black Gnat. Like someone who has been married too long and always has sex in the same way, I have become rather boring with my choice of fly. I am obsessed with Para Black Gnats. They always work for me. If I run out, I get a panic on because no other fly has so far been as successful for me in the summer months.
This day was to be the most prolific fishing day of my career. Nearly every time I cast I raised and hooked a fish. Not trout, which was a shame as I began to get fixated with the idea of catching a big brownie, despite what I have said before about having no interest in these porkers. They were all grayling. In January, I had fished the Test for grayling with no success and now I could not stop catching them. There is no limit to the amount of grayling you can catch here, because these beautiful silver fish are considered to be pests. They are not stocked but just grow wild which, for me, makes them very precious.
However, after a while, I began to hate grayling. After banging five on the head, I released any others I caught. One can only eat so many. My obsession with catching a trout grew. Pete (two big fat brownies under his belt) even had to call me to have lunch. At 9pm he had to drag me off the river bank as I kept putting my new rod away, only to get it out again when I saw a trout rise. In the end, only the lure of a vodka and tonic made me leave.
Lainston House can arrange for its guests to fish this stretch at a cost of pounds 130 per rod, per day, which is very reasonable for the posh old Test. It is only possible to do this on a Friday as the other days of the week a syndicate has use of it. This is a particularly good treat; you can have a fine day's fishing, collapse into a jacuzzi, drink champagne and sleep in a four-poster bed and dream of fish. The season ends on 9 October and re-opens in late April. I thoroughly recommend it. And the picnic.
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