Avon Springs has 1400m (1525yd) of single bank chalk stream fishing on the River Avon. A catch-and-release policy is in effect after reaching the limit of two brawn trout. Grayling fishing is also catch-and-release.
The fishery also has two lakes, one of five and one of two acres, stocked with brown and rainbow trout from 2lb (0.9kg) to double figures.
For more information, contact Avon Springs, Recreation Road, Durrington, Salisbury, Wiltshire (tel. 0980 53557).
How to get there
- By car From the A303 near Amesbury take the A345 north to Durrington. You’ll come to a roundabout across from the Stonehenge Inn. Turn right. When you get to Bulford Road, turn left and carry on until you reach Recreation Road. Turn right into Recreation Road, and you’ll find Avon Springs at the end.
- By train The nearest British Rail station is in Salisbury.
A determined brown trout thrashes away at the surface of the river, trying desperately to shake the hook. This long, slow stretch of the river produced a mixture of brown trout and grayling before and after lunch. Charles nets a 0.7kg grayling. The one that didn’t get away ! Charles displays a famous chalk stream brown trout, taken on his own variation of the Red Spot Shrimp. A bit of practice after lunch. One of the few times all day that Charles is standing while casting. The angler who can place his fly with subtlety and accuracy is going to catch fish.
A brownie like this one on the left is guaranteed to make most fly fishermen smile. Charles bends into another fish which he must keep from the weeds. In early summer, the water crowfoot hasn’t yet begun to swamp the river.
Of the seven trout caught by Charles, all were in the (0.45-1.1kg) weight range – though brown trout up to 4lb (1.8kg) have been taken from this stretch of the river many times. A troublesome tree branch claimed the life of his leader. As well as trees, Charles has been catching trout since the age of six and is among the most respected fly fishermen in Europe. He works as an illustrator, writer and fly fishing instructor. Beneath a threatening sky , he keeps a low profile and casts upstream to a rise.
Well downstream of his intended fishing area, he strains the water with the insect net and discovers myriad dark olives and shrimps. He attaches a home-made size 14 dark olive nymph on the end of his 9ft (2.7m) leader and casts upstream from a kneeling position. ‘Try not to cast directly upstream of a rise,’ Charles recommends. ‘Your line might land on the fish and scare it. Widen the angle of the cast between the fish and yourself.’
On his seventh cast his leader stops in the current, signalling a take. Charles lifts the rod immediately to set the hook. A lib (0.45kg) grayling makes a spirited burst towards the opposite bank. His rod held high, Charles gives some line but keeps tension between the rod and fish. Soon he manoeuvres the grayling across the surface into his waiting net.
Of his first fish he says, ‘Trout and grayling can see the tippet even in small diameters. They take the fly because it looks and acts like food. A light, soft leader helps the nymph move naturally.’
Charles crawls a few metres upstream, stalking a fish across river. He hides behind tall dead grass. ‘See that fish,’ he whispers. ‘Your best chance is in your first cast. Slap the water, and you’ll scare the trout into the next river.’
The surface film of the Upper Avon in Wiltshire is a conveyor-belt of hatching insects. Trout are hovering just below the surface, regularly sipping in their struggling prey, one after another, like a ticking clock. The river is seething with activity on this overcast, early summer’s morning.
On seeing such prime fly fishing conditions some anglers, particularly Americans visiting the renowned chalk streams for the first time, foam at the mouth and stutter in sheer disbelief for the first few minutes -’B… b… bbbrown trout.’
Charles, however, gazes intently at his leader, the veteran chalk stream angler composed, relaxed, seemingly unaffected.
Insect net in hand, he slowly makes his way to the riverbank. For a brief moment, though, his pace quickens, and he has to make a conscious effort to force himself to slow down again. Finally, his excitement is revealed. He smiles sheepishly, admitting his enthusiasm.
Of course the WF5 floating fly line lands gently on the water while the fly drops in front of and in line with the trout. Perfect. We wait as the fly drifts naturally past the quarry…but to no avail. ‘Damn. Typically upper class, these southern fish,’ he retorts. Fallen from grace, the dark olive nymph is quietly removed from office. On goes a size 16 Adams.
Meanwhile, the fish continues to take emerging adults in the film and on the surface. ‘I think it’s a trout; grayling tend to have ‘bubbly’ rises,’ he whispers. Cast number two with his 8J4ft (2.5m) rod. The fly rides high in the water; then something sucks it through the surface film like a hungry child stuffing its gob with a chocolate bar. Three seconds later Charles strikes. ‘Ha!’ he shouts in triumph as his rod bends into the fish. But the defiant trout screams towards the weeds. ‘Ha!’ it says as it reaches the saving fronds of the crowfoot. Charles gives it line. The trout thrashes about in the weeds for a while. He then tightens up and leads the fish downstream.
Soon the beaten brownie glides into the net. It’s unhooked and carefully returned.
Slurrp! The fish sucks in his fly, and line rips off his reel as a (0.7kg) grayling powers downstream. Charles coaxes the fish even farther downstream. ‘It’s logical to try to ‘persuade’ the fish downstream when working upstream. That way you won’t put down other feeding fish up river.’
The grayling makes two long runs before it can be brought near the bank. It’s easily unhooked in the river and then quickly returned.
Tantalized by sweaty cheese sandwiches and tepid coffee? Hip-deep in thick black mud at lunchtime? No way. We retire to a nearby picnic table. Charles breaks out the 1986 Blanc De Blancs and turkey and tomato sandwiches (courtesy of Mrs. Jardine).
The importance of stealth can’t be overstressed. Charles is concerned with all facets of it. ‘Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to leave the rod, reel, tackle and everything in the car. Get some small twigs and mark the rises a few metres from the river. When you come back with your rod, you don’t need to go too near the water.’
If you fish along the riverbank, make sure your clothing (and fly line too, for that matter) matches the background. Dark greens and browns appear as a silhouette against a light sky, so it pays to think about how the fish see you.
With a river flowing through a dimly lit tunnel of overhanging trees, any light-coloured clothing is highly visible against the dark background. It’s best to wear a combination of light and dark clothes when river fishing.
Charles decides to fish subsurface; he attaches a variation of a Red Spot Shrimp in size 12. The shrimp’s body has Crystal Hair to give it a translucent appearance. An innovative fly-tyer, he used a section of transparent rubber glove (once again courtesy of Mrs. Jardine) for the shrimp’s back to make it look more like the natural.
After casting up and across, he watches the well-greased butt section and first few feet of fly line. A common question when upstream ‘nymphing’ is when to strike. If there’s any hesitation at all, strike. But if you’re getting hung up on weeds or debris along the bottom, use a lighter fly.
A fish rises near some reeds on the far bank. Charles uses a reach cast to put an upstream belly in the line. The fly drifts with the current, and the shrimp dupes the trout. He strikes quickly, and another Avon brownie bolts off with such power that it manages to tear free. A few casts later, there’s another take from a brown trout. But this time Charles, not the trout, wins.
The clouds begin to loosen their grip on the sky, and the sun breaks through. Tbe trout, however, are reluctant to feed. ‘There’s no point in getting upset about not catching,’ Charles remarks. ‘Most people think you must be doing something wrong. You’re probably not. Relax; try to enjoy the day.’
With the afternoon heat insect hatches become fewer. Upwinged species such as dark olives lose a lot of body moisture if they hatch in hot conditions. The second moult is then much more difficult. Ideal hatching times are when cloud-covered skies shade the sun. Some species of upwings prefer to hatch at night or during the cool of the evenings and early mornings.
Charles puts on a size 12 Elk Hair Caddis, greases the leader and casts up river. When the fly is directly across from him, he lifts the rod slightly, stops, and lifts it again, skating the caddis fly irregularly on the surface.
Obviously, the single most difficult quality to bring to an artificial fly is ‘life’. Skating a caddis across the surface is an effective way of adding life to an artificial dry fly. But the hot sun prevails; the fish remain unco-operative.
It’s back to the Red Spot Shrimp variation. Charles casts and allows the fly to drift… and drift… and drift. He fishes directly along the bottom of the river – where the fish are – and mends the line frequently. The shrimp proves its worth. Soon Charles lands yet another brown trout.
The clouds regain control of the sky. A cool westerly wind blows. The surface of the river in the calm stretches has a slight ripple.
Though insect activity is low, a bend in the river – offering deep water and an undercut bank – looks as if it holds trout. Charles crouches low and begins firing away. On his second cast the leader stops suddenly. Charles strikes and then watches as yards of line go shooting through his fingers. ‘Whatever it is, it’s quite large,’ he says.
After two minutes he still doesn’t know what the fish is. It won’t come to the surface. With his light tippet, he is careful not to bully the fish. He lets it tire itself out in the deep water. Two more minutes go by and it surfaces. ‘It’s a rainbow!’ he exclaims in disbelief. ‘Probably an escapee.’ Altogether, it takes six minutes to secure this tenacious 2lb (0.9kg) American import.
A major hatch of upwings is underway again. Charles works the deep bend for another half an hour, getting three brown trout and one more grayling, and then he decides to fish the five acre stillwater. All in all, it’s been an excellent day with six brown trout, one rainbow trout and three grayling.
Charles walks to the stillwaters – hurriedly, this time – and once again smiles, revealing his excitement.