In April heavy rain brought floods to much of Southern England and as a result our visit to cast a dry fly to the trout of the River Frome was rather blighted as the normally crystal clear waters flowed bank high with water more akin to best bitter than Gordons Gin. Captivated by thoughts of what the river should be like and glimpses of huge grayling as the water fined down when we left prompted a return in the early autumn.
So on October 5th we once again set off to Dorset and the delightful quintessential old village of West Stafford a tranquil location that brings to mind the setting for an episode of “Midsomer Murders”. As we wound our way through the countryside with wipers clearing the rain passing river after river of turbid brown water my hopes of a casting line faded. At least we knew the accommodation was first class and that the village pub “The Wise Man Inn” provides scrumptious food.
On arrival at the Dairy House owner John Aplin and his wife Andrea gave us a friendly greeting. John told me that the river had been Ok but had started to rise and colour up slightly at around midday.
Saturday morning and John and I walked to the river to assess the conditions. The morning sun and dark clouds created a stunning illuminating light that would delight any photographer. The river was up and it was coloured but there was enough clarity to offer a chance of success. A weighted pair of Czech nymphs plopped into likely lies would be the method to employ and John kindly provided me with a couple of brightly coloured pink offerings that would be clearly visible to grayling. I returned to devour breakfast before revisiting the river with rod in hand beneath a bright blue sky.
I was delighted to connect with a hard fighting grayling after only fifteen minutes of fishing. Estimated at just over a pound it was no monster but was mission accomplished and enabled me to cast with confidence for the remainder of the day.
I wondered along the river bank dropping my offerings into each lie flicking into some lies casting to others searching the stream for the treasures that I knew dwelt within. This fishery is no manicured chalkstream like some revered River Test beat stocked with farmed trout. This fishery is well looked after but in a way that maintains its natural form. Its inhabitants are truly wild fish and what fish they are! Fin perfect grayling caught to a top weight of 4lb 5oz and wily wild brown trout that trout angler’s dream of. These prizes are not easily won as nature’s growth conspires to make each cast a challenge. To drop the weighted nymph or fly into each lie it is necessary to focus not only on where to place it but to also have a constant perception of where each tree branch or bramble is waiting to ensnare the offering. I am first to admit that my casting skills need honing and admit to leaving several hooks in the trees instead of the fishes mouth.
As the day drifted past and the sun shone I became immersed in the delights of the ever-rolling stream. Savouring the sights and sounds of birds and bugs that lived in this natural world. Later Pauline joined me and commented upon how quiet and serenely the river flowed unlike our North Devon streams and rivers that chatter hurriedly to the sea.
Then as I dropped my offering into yet another likely lie there came that delightful feeling as a grayling gyrated on the line. After a spirited battle a grayling of close to 2lb was safely within the folds of the net. I admired the fish and displayed it proudly to the camera one of the most beautiful fish I have ever had the privilege to catch the true lady of the stream.
Soon after we returned to the annexe for a welcome cup of coffee and slice of cake. The late afternoon and evening session we met with the family of swans that we had seen during April when they had been guarding their precious eggs. Four cygnets were now almost fully grown and proved extremely photogenic. The flash of a kingfishers iridescent brilliant blue, martins swooping over the river as they prepared to leave for far off lands a feast for the naturalist’s eyes and a challenge for the budding writer to describe.
As the light began to fade from the day we walked back along a fisherman’s path as mist started to rise from the damp fields. In the nearby meadow we spied a roe deer poised motionless as we watched. Then as it bounded away several others showed as they too disappeared into the evening mist. Blackbirds chattered in the thickets signalling the end of a perfect day.
The following day again I was privileged to cast into the river after walking to the water via a path that winds through foliage decorated by many thousands of gleaming dew droplets. The colour had by now drained out of the water revealing fronds of swaying weed. A small grayling succumbed to my nymph in the fishing hut pool. A pool that holds uncaught brown trout of mythical proportions elusive glimpses in swirling waters. A pool that had produced grayling close to four pounds for my good friend Nick Hart.
Later I found a shoal of grayling estimated at up to 3lb and attempted to tempt them with a carefully presented nymph. My ineptitude showed and the grayling treated me with contempt. Eventually I waded into the river and to my amazement the grayling remained as I drifted my nymph past them through the clearing water. I was beaten for the fish knew I was there and they were no fools.
I will be back to once again cast into these challenging waters with Pauline sharing the waterside delights.