River Whitewater, Hampshire

I was the lucky winner of a day's fishing on the very private River Whitewater in this year's Wild Trout Trust auction. This crystal clear chalkstream rises near the M3 motorway (London to Southampton) and is the nearest of Hampshire's chalkstreams to my home. I normally drive over it without a passing thought but was glad to now have an occasion to pull off the motorway and discover a new river.

Shortly before meeting my host on Sunday of the coronation weekend, I stopped briefly in the village of North Warnborough to visit the ruins of Odiham Castle. The castle was built in the 13th century during the troubled reign of King John and was once rather opulent. A bend of the River Whitewater sweeps around the castle and it was my first glimpse of the river I would later fish a little way upstream. I noted the river's exceptionally clear water and its riverbed of white chalky gravels, and became very excited for the day ahead.

I met Ed Dixon at 11am and he walked me along almost the entire length of the beat to show me the likely lies and holding spots. The club's water is divided by an ancient corn mill into two sections of very distinct water. We first walked beside the impounded section upstream of the mill where the water is unnaturally wide and barely flowed in a shallow reed lined lagoon. Trout were starkly visible above the grey silt of the riverbed and I looked forward to returning to the spot later.  

18th century mill house

Downstream of the mill the river took on the natural character of a chalkstream, where it was augmented by water seeping from an adjoining fen. The fen is fed by a series of springs that bubble up from the chalk aquifer to form a large area of marshy woodland. With a sprinkling of imagination it looks something like the bayou of Louisiana. Here the marsh suddenly gives way to a distinct, moving river, although the boundary between sponge and river remains fluid in the places where the river is connected to seemingly bottomless, obsidian pools. The river channel is crystal clear and luminous green starwort is the predominant aquatic weed. It was a lovely sight and one of the most unusual and interesting chalkstreams that I have fished. 

As the river has no stable banks in this section, the club has laid down a series of etched planks in the waterlogged margin of the true right bank. Many of the planks are submerged and with years of practice Ed glided over them with the balance of a tightrope walker. I had to feel with my boots for the precarious path, careful to be sure of each step on the wobbling wood, grabbing fistfuls of tussock sedge for balance. Falling into the ooze would have been problematic. 

At the bottom of the beat I waved goodbye to Ed who had a lunch engagement to attend. Along the walk he'd told me about some of the fen's wildlife. Wild ponies have been introduced to graze away at unwanted vegetation. I would spot several through the trees later. Grass snakes grow up to 6 feet long in the fen by devouring the ready supply of frogs. Ed had personally witnessed one of this magnitude. I had no idea they grew to this length! The best was a tale of Ed being attacked by a mink which was either one of or a descendant of (I didn't catch the year) an intentional release of hundreds of these animals by animal rights activists. Once freed the mink went on to decimate the river's wildlife. I was unaware that mink might attack humans and I made a note to be more respectful of these fearless creatures in the future.

One of the drier sections where the path lay exposed.

The fishing proved to be exceptionally difficult because the fish were very spooky, a factor which only appreciated when the cloud cover rolled away in the afternoon and exposed brilliant sunshine. The trout were lying deep between clumps of starwort and I used a heavy nymph to try and get the fly down to them in the relatively short lead-in water. But the plop of the fly in the placid water would routinely send the trout scattering like ants in a disturbed nest. I did hook a trout at the end of an unusually long drift, but the fish left the hook after a second. On another occasion, a trout snatched at my fly only for my strike to grasp at nothing. When I inspected the hook, the sharp end was missing, sacrificed to one of the many cloying trees of the wetland I suspect. 

After a couple of hours of creeping through the reeds to watch fleeing trout, I came upon the welcome sight of a rising trout. When searching my box of flies for a pattern to use, some instinct nagged at me to use a Deer Hair Emerger, which was odd because, in spite of its fish catching reputation, it has never been a successful fly for me. The rising trout was obviously a generous spirit for it took the fly at the first time of asking. I was delighted to have caught a first trout from a new chalkstream, especially after a  challenging start. 

By 4pm I had shuffled my way back up the planks to the corn mill, spooking countless trout in the process. I arrived hungry and thirsty because I'd left my lunch and water behind in the car. I was delighted to have at least tasted success though, and I enjoyed a late lunch watching the trout in the hatch pool. I couldn't entice any of them to take the fly which I dangled in the water as I ate a sandwich. 

In the late afternoon, when the sun felt hottest, I followed the public footpath upriver from the corn mill. There were a few walkers, who all said hello in the polite countryside way. An elderly bird watcher stopped to tell me about his sighting of a marsh warbler. We listened to a calling cuckoo before he carried on with his walk. 

In the strong sunlight I easily spotted a trout above the grey sands of the lagoon. What held my attention was that this was by some distance the largest trout I had seen in the Whitewater. Its long shadow swayed rhythmically with the swish of its broad tail. With my light #3 weight rod the trout was a full casting length away, roughly in line with a solitary willow bush on my bank. I crept in front of the tree and sent out a long perpendicular cast. Perhaps it was a fluke of timing but the trout moved a couple of metres further away from me just at the moment when the fly alighted on the water. I worried that it had been spooked. 

The next cast would test my ability as it was right at the end of my range. Usually unseen fly line of a different colour, all very tightly coiled, began to shoot out from the tip ring in a series of double-haul casts. The CDC hawthorn pattern landed about 2 metres directly upstream of the trout. The water barely flowed so my fly appeared to remain largely stationary. The trout eased forward with an unhurried and deliberate purpose and then took the fly as nonchalantly as one might eat ice cream in arctic extremes. I waited a second and struck, jubilant as I watched the trout recoil and turn downstream, and then run towards the sanctuary of the willow beside me. I stripped in the long length of line as quickly as I could, desperate to keep the sagging belly in the line taut. As the trout approached the snags beneath the willow bush I applied side strain, forced it to turn back upriver, and then the fight was all but over.    

This trout was the icing on the cake of a very enjoyable day. It was tempting to think of its capture as a turning point in an unusually tepid start to the trout season. Perhaps from this moment on I will find the trout in a more obliging mood as they begin to look to the surface for their grub. I walked to the top of the beat where there is a lovely pool, sent out a few half-hearted casts, and decided to pack it in at 5pm. I knew that it was unlikely that I'd catch a better fish.

My thanks to the Greywell Flyfishers for hosting me for a day and to the Wild Trout Trust for making these enjoyable distractions possible.


  1. Justin
    What a gorgeous brown taken to end another Chalkstream adventure. Your description of every stream you fish makes all your posts so interesting. Great read; thanks for sharing.

    P.S. Do you know anything about the town or city of Alnwich England where the Greys Streamflex fly rods are made?

    1. Thank you, Bill. As for Alnwick, I could point to it on a map but have never visited. I hope to visit Northumberland in the next few years to do some fishing, see the many historic sites and visit the House of Hardy museum in the town (Hardy and Greys are owned by the same people). If there's anything specific I can help you with, send me an email.

  2. So glad the weather improved, we had originally planned the day before and the weather was horrible. Your description and the photos are wonderful, keep up the good work!


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