On receiving an invite from Orvis to get together and to learn how to fly fish I was filled with nothing but excitement. Even though my parents live only a few miles from the River Test it was a past-time I had never previously had the opportunity to try, so as soon as the opportunity was offered it was not something I could or would ever turn down.
Having planned and organised a date a few weeks in advance the obvious worry is predicting the British weather. But we were in luck! The sun was out, and the river – with its crystal clear waters – looked beautiful!
I was to meet Myles Levy, an Orvis employee and master fisherman, at the company’s stretch of river – now known as a ‘beat’ – in Kimbridge, Hampshire. There are a few things Hampshire is known around the world for. The home of the mighty Southampton FC (and some other team that wears blue.. I forget the name…), the departing port of the Titanic and finally, the RIVER TEST.
For years, whenever I spoke to friends who were fishermen about the Test they would talk of their dreams to fish there or recall fond memories of casting a fly out across its chalk streams and rivers. But today, me, a novice in every sense of the word, was going to learn how to cast a fly on this famous stretch of water, much to the envy and jealousy of some of my fanatical fishing friends.
I pulled into the car park at Kimbridge and was greeted by Myles. The plan was to try and catch a few fish before having a walk around some of the other beats Orvis manage along other stretches of the Test just down the road in Timsbury, Hampshire.
After having a quick look around and then dumping my gear, Myles first wanted to see just how good (or bad) I was going to be…. I was now in Myles’ capable hands.
When it comes to fly-fishing I quickly learnt that there is so much to listen to and consider, ‘don’t use your wrist’ , ‘flick it back’ , ‘pause for the line to catch up’ , ‘remember that pause’ etc. etc. ‘pause Ben’, ‘pause’. If it wasn’t clear, I was struggling a little with the ‘pause’ at the top of the cast which is necessary for the rod to accelerate into a stop and essential for casting the fly and the line out on to the river.
Myles allowed me to use his equipment all of which was beautifully crafted Orvis gear. The rod, the reel, the line, and a box of flies were all lovely bits of kit – even being a complete novice I could tell that. They were all stunning. I was kindly given some gear for the day (T-shirt and cap – see links) which was a bit more my style, coupled with the obligatory crocs and a pair of polarised specs I was ready to go.
Geared up and after a brief tutorial, it was time to start casting and hopefully catching a beautiful brown trout or two. The optimist in me was not feeling hugely optimistic.
One of the things I found fascinating about the entire day was the precision and the attention to detail when it comes to the behaviour of the fish. The frustration, the challenge, the competition… Having always doubted whether or not fishing truly is a sport, my opinions quickly changed! It is one of the best countryside sports I have ever had the pleasure of trying my hand at, and one that requires a great deal of patience, skill and accuracy.
Exhilarating and competitive. Testing your nerve and mental endurance. The art of fly-fishing is truly a real skill. A skill I don’t have yet…. but one I hope to master.
Finding fish, as it turns out, was the easy bit – especially in the ‘gin clear’ waters of the Test – but, as I also learnt, the skill was to find 2 or 3 trout swimming near each other. Their naturally combative and territorial behaviour will (might….) cause one fish to assert dominance over another and go for my neatly placed fly in an attempt to supersede the others. That’s the theory anyway.
Myles felt (so I, knowing nothing, obviously agreed) that the best fly for the day would be a Crane Fly….
Now, if I may get a little geeky for a moment, these flies are small works of art. I have never seen a box like it. Myles had probably about 150 flies in the box of all different shapes and sizes, but when taking a closer look at them, they were simply stunning. The heads, the body, the joints in the legs, very few details were missed…. they blew me away (I left wishing I had taken more photos). The skill and intricacy of what it takes to put these lures together is amazing. And for a £1 or £2… what value too. They are miniature pieces of art.
MY SECOND CAST….
So, I had no idea how long it would take to catch a fish, if indeed I did catch anything other than weed… But to get a fish on the line on my second cast was far more successful than even my wildest dreams could have imagined.
I was watching my line and the fly drifting slowly down the river with the current and then from nowhere, a glistening brown trout rose from the depths to take my fly. The fight was on. The contest was far more energetic than I expected, and the strength of this small fish was surprising. The thrashing of a tail or a change in direction to test my rod was its strongest weapon. But then it happened….
….the plucky little character (trying to be polite here although my frustration took over on the day) unhooked itself. In one graceful leap from the river, the fish thrust itself from the water, into the air whilst at the same time dislodging its hook. MY hook! My first hooked trout was gone… But the irony was from this point on it wasn’t the fish that was hooked…. it was me.
The skilfulness required throughout the various stages of the fly-fishing process is infectious. From choosing the right fly and place to fish, to the cast and the hooking or the reeling in to the letting go. Every part of the process is related to the previous one, but in no way complimentary. It a game of wile and skill. A quest for perfection and finesse. Whilst also requiring a certain amount of luck.
The only thing I can compare to the frustration caused by fly-fishing is golf. It can all go really well, although, should one part not be quite right, it all goes wrong. But with fishing there is another variable. The uncontrollable, frustratingly unpredictable and almost knowingly cunning fish – in this instance brown trout.
But just occasionally it all comes together.
So, in the 4 hours I was fishing on the river with Myles, I caught two beautiful brown trout, and this might sound ‘sad’ but I was absolutely over the moon with that haul! I fully expected to catch nothing. I didn’t really consider that a bite could happen, let alone hook 6 fish and actually bring 2 gorgeous trout in.
My first, I released, back into the beautiful glassy waters. I felt this might be good fish karma for the rest of the day. Fortunately I was right. My second fish put up a good fight, but when I finally brought him in he was a beauty.
A whopping 2-3lb brown trout. And what a looker it was. In fairness to the fish, it had put up a good fight, but he was the unfortunate fish that day. With 3 swift strikes to the head with the priest he was dead. A beautiful animal, but now, a delicious dinner. He was then put back in the net and hung in the water as we fished on. Myles said this helps with the taste and keeps them nice and cool in the cold Test waters.
We decided to call it a day, and it was time to bag up the fish. With a sharp knife and few perfectly places cuts, the fish was gutted and bagged, ready for the journey home and to take pride of place in the fridge, and later that day on the plate
I feel this bit needs nothing more than a photo 🙂
I had an amazing day with Myles on the River and I just want to say a HUGE thanks to Orvis for a brilliant day out and to Myles for being such a brilliant and patient coach. I loved every part of it. From learning to fish, to spending time on the river, listening to the birds, watching butterflies and damselflies flitting around our heads, and seeing numerous fish species swimming in Hampshire’s stunningly beautiful River Test.
But, at the same time, I also need to blame you entirely for the money this new habit of mine is going to cost me. My impending bankruptcy is ALL your fault!!
For further details about Orvis’ fly-fishing courses, schools and lettings visit http://www.orvis.co.uk/fly-fishing-in-the-uk , or contact Sporting Adventures on T: 01264 349515 E: firstname.lastname@example.org to book.
Founded by Charles F. Orvis in Manchester, Vermont, in 1856, Orvis is America’s oldest mail-order outfitter and longest continually-operating fly-fishing business.
In addition to being the world leader in fly fishing, Orvis offers a wide assortment of men’s and women’s sportswear, luggage and travel accessories, technical apparel and homeware. To find out more about Orvis’s range of products and services, visit www.orvis.co.uk.