The River Dun, Hampshire

Depending on the amount of winter rainfall, the River Dun usually rises between the villages of East and West Grimstead in Wiltshire. At this point, the Dun is only 2.5km away from the River Avon of Frank Sawyer fame, but it flows almost due east for 13km to join the River Test at Kimbridge. I am aware of four day ticket beats on the Dun - working upstream from the Test they are at Mottisfont, Dunbridge, School Farm and The Blue Pool. I chose to fish the Dunbridge beat. 

The hamlet of Dunbridge is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as land belonging to a Gilbert de Bretteville. A wonderful insight into the elaborate feudal structure of the age, the survey recorded two villagers, a plough, a meadow and woodland, and a two swine render. It placed a value on the land of 1 pound 5 shillings. Almost a millennium on, Dunbridge isn't much larger today, but it now has a train station and a pub.

The beat itself is just upstream from Dunbridge. To reach it I crossed the Test at the famous Kimbridge Estate, where I momentarily stopped my car on the single lane bridge and watched the venerated waters flow beneath me. I was in some of the finest trout real estate in the world. 

Dunbridge is quite simply a slice of chalkstream heaven. From the designated car park, I walked about 100m through a meadow, and with each step on the freshly mown path I felt ever more captured by the tranquil clutch of the river and private setting. The hut is sited near the top of the beat, and what a well appointed and immaculately clean hut it was! You roll the dice with fishing huts, and my experience is that most are dusty old relics nearing firewood status. This one could be lived in at a squeeze. It even had the luxury of a cafetière to make a proper cup of coffee with! 

It was the 1st of May and opening day on this beat, and the catch return book in the hut had been opened to a new page, pleasingly blank. I hoped it meant plenty of naïve trout in the water, in something of a state of carefree reverie.  



The water looked perfect, every bit the chalkstream of my dreams - small enough to cast to the far bank, completely pellucid, fast flowing, and a quilt patchwork of bright golden gravels and waterweeds in differing shades of green. 

The beat is 550m long and I walked slowly to the bottom, taking care to walk as far away from the river's edge as possible. My expectations rose along the way at the sight of fish in the water, and one or two of them were rising. It was 10.00am and it bode well for a hatch later in the day. I couldn't resist casting to one of the rising fish along the way, and the fish happily obliged, but turned out to be a grayling of around 8 inches. I quickly returned it to the water (in fact, I would unwittingly catch several more grayling in the 6 to 9 inch range during the day, but I don't note them here because they are in the midst of their closed season). 

Near the bottom extent of the beat I came upon an impressive house with garden lawn reaching down to the river bank. I later met the owner, Mike Harrison, who told me that he and his wife built the house 30 years ago, when there was nothing on the land. I looked at the mature trees and lovely garden and sensed Mike's pride. I dream of living in such a place. 


A road bridge spanned the river at the downstream boundary of the beat. A deep pool had been scoured beneath the bridge and I watched the water patiently. After a while a trout rose at the head of the pool. It was a gentle sip and I almost missed it. I flicked an olive into the water but the fly was almost immediately pulled through the pool in the most unnatural way. The fish never rose again. 

My attention was caught by a racket in the skies above me, where a red kite was being mobbed by two crows. Red kites are renowned for raiding the nests of crows and this was probably a breeding pair of crows hoping to chivvy the kite along. The crows' aggression paid off as the kite sailed out of view.    

I walked slowly upstream, scanning the gravel runs between the weeds, seeing nothing, and came to an enticing pool beneath the bare fronds of a willow. A trout was rising beneath the willow, at the tail of the pool. Its square tail and shoulders breached the surface in calm, measured rises, and I could tell it was large. It was a difficult cast but somehow I nailed it, mended the fly line upstream, and watched the fly drift slowly beneath the willow. The trout opened its cavernous white mouth and sipped in the fly. I paused a moment, elated, then struck, but the fly twanged past my right ear. I hadn't thought the strike through. Given the low willow branches I should have struck low and to my left, downstream, to properly set the hook, but I had instinctively favoured my rod arm. By striking to my right, upstream, all I had achieved was to pull the fly out of the trout's mouth. I kicked myself because it seemed such an obvious error after the event.

Around the bend and in front of the house was a long, straightened section of deep, slowly flowing water. I had gathered by now that instead of the naïve trout I had hoped for, the resident fish were incredibly spooky. I walked very slowly, crouched down, and was rewarded when I spied a good sized fish holding near the opposite bank, behind a weeping willow. It hadn't seen me. I covered the trout with my dry fly but it was unmoved, so I replaced the olive with a shrimp. The trout had no qualms with the sunken fly and took it first cast. When hooked the fish acquitted itself very well, and once on the bank, I paused momentarily to note the red spots on its flanks, so rare in a stocked trout in my experience.     


I crossed the footbridge from the left to right bank to continue fishing the long house pool. I took my time, moving at the speed of a glacier, but either spooked or failed to tempt any of the denizens of the pool. All thoughts of easy fishing were now firmly at the back of mind and I knuckled down to the challenge. Where the current entered the pool I spotted a lazy rise in an eddy against the right bank. I changed back to an olive pattern and cast my fly into the water. After several seconds a large snout pierced the surface film, followed by the shoulders and rump of a sizeable trout. I felt the fly briefly find purchase but it too twanged past my right shoulder. In my excitement at the size of the fish I had struck too soon. I chided myself at the rookie mistake, and resolved to sharpen up. God save the Queen, and all that.

In the lower branches of a tree on the opposite bank, a four-legged blur of brown caught my eye. I wondered if it was a weasel or stoat, but didn't see it again for long enough to tell. 


Ignoring the eddy I cast the olive into the bubble line of the main current and a gorgeously marked wild trout of 11 inches snatched it. Its flanks had a blue sheen in the light. 


Just upstream of the footbridge and around a bend of the river, was a lovely long glide of relatively shallow water, which firmly became my favourite stretch of the beat. A water vole casually swam across the river, almost from under my feet. There were good numbers of trout here too, and I spotted several large specimens lying up against the opposite bank. I failed spectacularly to catch any of the larger fish, but I did elicit a rise from a strikingly handsome wild trout, with apple-red spots and fin edges. The literature from the letting agent had suggested that a survey of all the Test's tributaries had shown that the Dun held the highest numbers of wild trout.    


Midway up the beat I found a very deep pool where the river takes a left turn. A large trout lay near the tail of the pool and I watched as it turned to its left, flashing the white of its mouth as it swallowed a hapless morsel. I spent the best part of 40 minutes trundling all manner of nymphs past its nose but it wouldn't budge. Once or twice it turned and chased my fly before seeming to lose interest. I tried to induce a take by lifting the nymph too, but this trout was too wily for me.  

I walked back to the hut to enjoy a late lunch of delicious pork and Ibérico chorizo sausage rolls and orange juice. I took stock of my day. My tally of three fish was lower than I had expected. The beat's rules stipulated that two fish my be killed and a maximum of eight trout released. I didn't wish to kill any fish so I had five trout left to catch in what remained of the afternoon, and evening. 


After lunch I returned to the house pool because I felt it would provide the best opportunity of landing a large trout. At the head of the pool I watched a considerable trout feeding and it was quite possibly the same fish that had risen to my dry fly in the eddy earlier in the day. I could watch it react to my flies in minute detail. In the main it ignored them, but more than once it lifted in the water column to inspect my fly before turning away. It was fun, but frustrating, and had a lot to do with the tricky current on the far bank which imparted drag. The closest the fish came to actually taking a fly was when I threw out the 'hail Mary' option of a size 14 black beetle. I thought something large and different might shake it from its fastidiousness, and it nearly worked when the trout drifted beneath the fly for the longest time of all before eventually spurning it. Several drifts with a small nymph also failed. I eventually gave up on this fussy fish and let the nymph drift further down the current where another fish had risen a few moments before. The nymph was seized in the depths and I had my fourth trout.   


The time was now 3.30pm and I walked back upriver as something of a sustained hatch of olives occurred. I think of a hatch in real terms when the birds become interested in the insects. Along the way - in the stretch I identified earlier as my favourite of the beat - I tempted a very large fish on the opposite bank to take a nymph, causing an eruption of water as the line was stripped from my hands. I held on and turned the fish, but it dived into the weeds where fly and fish sadly parted. A great shame, because it felt and looked like some fish.

I pressed on upstream and fished the second half of the beat for the next hour and half. The water was predominantly shallow and fast flowing in this section and I coaxed several wild trout to slash at my olive imitation, with three coming to my net by the time I reached the beat's end. 

As the shadows lengthened I ate a quick snack at the hut and assessed my day. My tally was seven trout and I had one more to go before reaching my limit. I ventured back down to the house pool for another crack at it. It was here that I met Mike, who seemed pleased that I had caught seven trout. Mike mentioned that somebody had fished the beat the day before in the One Fly Festival (damn, I thought I was the first of the season) and managed to catch only two. It felt like I really did have to work hard for every fish today! Mike wished me luck with my final fish and we parted ways. 


Just as the clock ticked past 6.00pm I had my final fish from the house pool. It took a nymph and fought ferociously. In the net I could see that its dorsal and pectoral fins were a little wobbly, but they didn't seem to hamper it in any material way. It was an excellent way to bring my day to an end. 



As far as fishing days go, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The combination of tranquillity and complexity afforded the perfect escape. 

Comments

  1. Justin
    I would say this outing has to be one of your best as far as quality trout that were taken. The Hut is a great place to take a break in the action and enjoy the scenery. I assume the interior images are the inside of the Hut? The individuals who built the house near the Dun have the luxury of living in paradise!!! I can only imagine living in a place like that.
    I know all the places you fish are private and have strict rules to follow, which makes for some fantastic fishing. Is there a waiting list to fish the areas you are blessed to fish in? Enjoyed the read, because you detail every move you make---my patience would have faded spending 40 minutes to get a take from the trout you were working on. Congrats on getting the limit---thanks for sharing

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    1. Hi Bill, thank you for the compliments! You are right, much of the chalkstream fishing in the south of England is locked away in private hands. Fortunately, there are a handful of agents who let day access to beats on the chalkstreams, but the prices can be eye-watering!

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  2. Lovely write up Justin, you capture the idyll well. And yes, Jo and I daily pinch ourselves at how privileged we are to live in this paradise. On another note, I see from another blog of yours that you are a Swazi. So am I! I was born in Manzini (Bremersdorp as it was then), and brought up variously in Stegi, Piggs Peak, Mbabane, and spent many happy days in a canoe on the river by Mhlambanyati. Come fishing again! Mike

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    1. Hi Mike. Small world! Glad you found me online - thanks for a lovely day.

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  3. Some belters there Justin! Great report.

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