Opening Day - 2023

The trout fishing season in my neck of England opened on Monday. On the spur of the moment I took the day off from work and headed over to my now customary season-opening venue, with my family in tow. 

It was a very wet March so it made a nice change to see sunlight threading through the clouds in the morning, even if it was only 4°c when we arrived at 9am. The field beside the river was damp and muddy and my son had fun squelching through the puddles and ooze in his Wellies. 

It was fairly easy to navigate the bankside verge by stepping over the still modest bramble and nettle, but that will change soon. The river's steep banks had recently flooded leaving behind deposits of treacherously slick clay. At times it felt like I was wearing ice skates, never a comfortable feeling when only a moving body of water waits to soften a fall. The water was fudge brown and flowed higher and swifter than on any of my previous visits. It would undoubtedly be a day for heavy nymphs.

When my son grew bored he went off to a nearby soft play centre.

The featureless surplus of moving colour disguised the holes and undercuts which might harbour trout.  Bubble lines sometimes offered a visual clue as to where to begin. I mended my fly line frequently in the strong flow and held as much of it off the water as I could. My unaccustomed shoulder muscles had grown soft over the winter months and began to ache. Tree branches were still bare but they clutched at my nymphs like a sticking fly trap. Branches competed with unseen debris on the riverbed and before any real time had passed, I had lost four of my best nymphs. 

Trees beside the river sent gnarled shadows over the water thanks to the vernal sunlight. The forest was alive with the constant chorus of songbirds, broken intermittently by the rasping, unwelcome squawk of a pheasant.

Two and a half hours passed without any joy and I wondered if I had ventured out too soon in the season. I had not seen a single flying insect and the water seemed very dead. At last, in a pool where I enjoyed success in a previous year, a little trout took my fly and I watched its frantic silver journey in the brown bloom until my hook disappointingly slipped free. I hoped that I hadn't missed my chance to land a trout on opening day. 

Purple toothwort

In the next pool the current narrowed between the roots of large trees on each bank and formed a choppy gutter. I could tell the water had good depth because the soft riverbed dropped away steeply beneath my boots. A fish took my nymph and I watched it for a second or two before it wriggled free. It looked to be a good fish of a lb. I checked the hook point on my Hare's Ear but it seemed fine and I persisted with it. Several drifts through the gutter later and I held my first trout of the season in my hand. For good measure the gutter soon yielded a second trout. I'd found a honey hole.

I wrapped up my three hours by catching a third fish from a pool a little way upriver. It was the best trout of the three and it was a fine way to bring my morning to an end. 

A leech was fixed to the tail of this trout which I separated before returning it.

The early days of April are not the best time to fish in southern England. There's still too much of winter about and I keep my expectations low. I read somewhere that - perhaps counterintuitively - the fly life in the south of England takes longer to 'wake up' than in other parts of Britain. Whether that's right or wrong I don't know but it seems to match my experience. I fish at this time of the year because I'm suddenly allowed to, partly out of ritualistic habit but also to mark a symbolic passage from winter to the good vibes of spring. It's a magical moment when rivers begin to draw life back to them. It felt good to walk the banks of a river with a fly rod in hand again, and mostly for reasons unconcerned with the task of catching fish.


  1. Justin
    Those are colorful trout you landed to start your season. This stream and its surroundings remind me of the scenery in the Northeast U.S., with very little foliage visible.
    Is that an Orvis reel paired with an 8 to 9 ft. flyrod your son is holding? Did you try high-sticking some of the pocket holes you were fishing?
    I am really into high-sticking or Euro Nymphing now, especially since I had success using the technique on the Sipsey the other day. I am still working on detecting the hit, which resulted in losing as many trout as I landed that morning.
    Looking forward to your next post ---thanks for sharing

    1. Hi Bill, thanks. The foliage will be like a jungle soon. Yes, it's a little Orvis Battenkill I reel with a 7'6" Superfine rod. I find high sticking to be a little dull so I never persisted, but I have enormous respect for those who do because it's a very successful method!


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