A few months back John Aplin asked if I would head down to Dorset and present at the first meeting of this winters Dorset Chalk Streams Club. I was more than happy to oblige. I’ve attended a few of these meetings over the last couple of years and always enjoyed them plus I’m greatly indebted to John for his help and support in getting Chalk Stream Dreams off the ground. It was also a great opportunity to fish one of the Little Syndicate beats beforehand.
So, on Friday morning I got up early and headed for Waitrose in Salisbury. The store is a short detour from the route to Dorset and a good place to pick up some lunchtime vittles. I also needed a foodie present for Henry. He is a fellow Little Syndicate member, a Dorset Chalk Streams Club regular and I’d noticed on Facebook that it was his birthday. A lovely box of Happy Birthday chocolate cupcakes were just the thing. Leaving the store with a couple of bags of shopping and a free cup of coffee I was ready for the remainder of the journey.
It is a tradition on trips down to Dorset to stop for breakfast en route. There are a few places to stop between home and Dorchester. Various cafes, farm shops and layby eateries. My personal favourite is the humorously titled ‘Ooh Nice Baps’ just outside Milborne St Andrew. It was already busy as I pulled in, so I had a to wait whilst my coffee and sausage and bacon bap were freshly prepared. I sat eating my bap in the car, out of the cold and drizzle, listening to Radio 4 and trying to avoid dribbling ketchup down my shirt. Not a success.
I arrived at the Watery Beat just as the showers eased and the sun came out. Sitting on the bridge looking up and downstream I could see that the North Stream was running clear but very low. The mild weather meant there was still a lot of weed in the river, with only narrow bands of fishable water pushed left and right by the vegetation.
Pulling on my waders felt good. A barrier against the cold and the anticipation of getting in the water. Whilst the middle section of the Water Beat, down to the bridge, is quite open the Grayling water at the top runs under the trees so I went for an 8’4” 3 weight rod. Nice and soft for the short casts, flicks and lobs necessary on this tight water. Slipping into the river just where the gradient steepens I eagerly scanned upstream in the hope of a hatch and a rise or two. Nothing stirred. I could see every stick and stone on the river bed, even four or five feet down, but I couldn’t make out any fish. Progressing slowly and steadily upstream I peered into the water in the hope of a glimpse of a Grayling, ghosting in and out of the shadows. But nothing. Then all of a sudden something broke the surface up under the trees four rod lengths ahead. It was a swirling rise, rings dispersing across the glassy glide. At first, I thought it was a trout but then it happened again, and I could clearly see the pewter back and rainbow fin of a Grayling. My heartbeat quickened. It looked a good fish. The only problem was getting a cast over it. The trees between me and the fish hung low over the water and there was no real back cast. Tricky. There was also a nasty, cold downstream wind. Trickier still. I decided to climb out, jump ahead of the fish and try a downstream presentation. As a dropped back in I could see two good sized Grayling holding station midstream. They saw me too. One dropped back out of sight whilst the other headed upstream. The rising fish was wandering to and fro across the pool, dropping back to where I had first seen it before moving up into the head of the glide. Knowing where to drop the fly wasn’t going to be easy. Each time I cast to where I expected the fish to be it would pop up somewhere else. When I did get a good drift over it the fish studiously ignored my fly. A klinkhammer, an Olive Emerger, an F Fly, a shuttlecock pattern, a Retirer Sedge and an IOBO Humpy all drifted by unheeded. In hindsight I think the fish was probably taking midge pupa just under the surface, but I didn’t have a suitable pattern.
Having taken an hour and half to focus on this one fish, with no luck, I decided to rest the pool and have some lunch. The theme of my presentation for later was Fishing Food so it only seemed appropriate that I had a good lunch. Waitrose had come up trumps with a fine Saucisson, a Melton Mowbray pork pie and a chorizo and red pepper scotch egg, all washed down with a fiery ginger beer. Very nice.
Reinvigorated I returned to the pool to find the fish still on the fin. I tried another selection of flies. The fish seemed untroubled by my presence and my efforts. Eventually I lost heart and retreated, beaten but not broken. Living to fight another day.
On my way upstream, I’d spotted a Blackthorn laden with inky black sloes hanging over the water. So, as I retreated to the car I stopped to fill my backpack with foraged fruit. Not the catch I’d hoped for but not a bad alternative. Steeped in gin for six months and left to mature for a further six they would make a nice warming tipple for a future visit to the Watery Beat.
John was already home when I pulled up in front of The Dairy House. He welcomed me with a warm smile, a hand shake and an even warmer coffee. Time was creeping on so having enjoyed catching up over a coffee we decided that we better head over to the village hall in West Stafford and get set up. It didn’t take us long to put out the chairs, set up a few tables and get the laptop and projector booted up. We were all ready when the attendees started to trickle in fifteen minutes before kick-off.
I was nervous to start but the warm smiles of the audience and a pint of ginger beer helped to reduce the tension. The hour flew by and the laughs from the onlookers suggested that the presentation was going down well. Having reached the end of my talk I had one last thing to do before we could all hit the buffet. I asked Henry to stand and we all sang him Happy Birthday before I gave him his cupcakes. He seemed touched and very appreciative.
Listening to me talk about fishing, food and friends seemed to have given everyone an appetite and there was a stampede for the buffet. A wonderful selection of pies, quiches, meats, breads, pâtés, cakes and sweet temptations. A great opportunity to catch up and chat about the Dorset chalk streams.
Lots of people came up afterwards and offered me positive feedback so I felt pleased with my efforts. Whilst the fishing had been tough it had been a lovely evening in wonderful company. Can’t wait to see who is presenting next time.
For more information and details of forthcoming meetings checkout the Dorset Chalk Streams Club website:
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