I’ve fished for, and caught, a fair few rainbow trout since first picking up a fly rod, courtesy of Rick, Rachel and Emma at Tackle Up in Bury St Edmunds in 1992.
Among them have been some real crackers, too; the best being 18lb 10oz from Lechlade and 17lb 12oz from Syon Park - a fish that currently resides in a glass case under a pile of T-shirts in my office! All my big fish have come as a result of casting out and retrieving, usually in a figure-of-eight retrieve, some kind of small lure, often a Genie’s Tinhead.
When Peter Cockwill was last a guest on Tight Lines he offered to show me how to stalk big trout. I’ve seen them and cast to them previously at crystal-clear venues such as Chalk Springs but after a couple of refusals of my almost-bare hook by the fish, it’s been back to the fluff.
Our day was arranged for probably the prime stalking water in the UK and one that has historic significance, having been made famous by anglers such as Richard Walker. Avington has been around a long time and, having suffered a few years back from a lack of quality fish and management, is now right up there along with the Lechlades and Chalk Springs of this world.
Peter insisted I fish with one of his ‘flies’ and it turned out to be a size 10 hook with a dozen turns of fine lead wire around the shank, painted green. No fur or feather, or even thread - this was the barest of bare hooks.
We started our stalk by crossing a carrier of the River Itchen via a slippery railway sleeper bridge, watching small grayling and trout parr sipping tiny morsels from the current. With that stream on our left and Lake 1 (Itchen Carrier Beat) on our right, we donned hats and Polaroids and started searching.
Two-thirds of the way down the lake, after walking past what looked like some pretty big fish to me, with barely a cursory glance by Mr C, we arrived at an opening in the bankside vegetation (lots of English balsam involved) and in front of us was what can only be described as an aquarium-like view of rainbow trout. Some looked in the 3lb class but Peter said, with a little chuckle: “They’re little ones, only 6lb or 7lb - look over there, that’s a bigger fish.” And it was too! A pale-coloured rainbow was cruising about 15yds away and as it turned to face me, the thickness was amazing!
On Peter’s instruction, I cast in front of it - just about - and the fish at once swam towards my ‘fly’. I inched the fly back in a series of pulls and twitches, like teasing a cat with a toy, and at the last moment the fish sheered off. While waiting for it to come back we spotted another huge fish, a bit darker, on the right and yet another on the left, this one with a light patch on its side. Neither of those were particularly interested but our light one re-appeared and once again followed but wouldn’t eat, although in one instance it opened its mouth - oh yes it is THAT clear - about 1ins behind the hook but I kept pulling. On almost every cast I was having to pull the fly away from ‘little’ (6lb-plus!) intruders.
“It’s possibly sinking too fast, try putting it right on his nose and see if he’ll have it on the drop.” was my next order.
Now I’m a long way from the best caster, but at 12m to 18m I’m not that bad - any less and I’m rubbish and my tackle on the day wasn’t designed for distance - but my first attempt was short and left. Next go was - miraculously - right on the money and with a tiny movement of its fins, the trout opened its mouth, closed it on my hook and shook its head as I tightened by pulling the line.
It was a good fight but these big rainbows in deeper water tend to fight hard and deep, rather than making spectacular runs and Peter soon had it in the net. It went 13lb 5oz and, once smoked, will taste superb, I am sure.