My last visit to this historic fishery was more than two decades ago. It was set up long ago by the legendary Sam Holland. I understand that Sam travelled all over the world in search of eggs, which he used selectively to breed the biggest rainbow trout ever seen in the UK. To this day they are referred to as ‘The Avington Strain’.
My good friend, Ron Oldroyd, used to be a regular visitor to Avington. Having had some cracking big rainbows in days gone by, including a 21-pounder, Ron was keen to see how it would fish. I retired 15 years ago, so an adventure down in lovely Hampshire seemed like a great idea.
I volunteered to do the driving, as Ron’s health is slightly below par, but the journey (both ways) was still pretty ghastly. Nevertheless, after a couple of pints of real ale, a delightful Indian meal, and a comfortable bed-and-breakfast, we were raring to go! If you need a bed, I’d recommend the Swan Hotel in Alresford.
The pace of life is noticeably slower and relaxed in that part of the country, and the atmosphere at the fishery is the same. The clubhouse is attractive and friendly, lined with beautiful, colourful hanging baskets. Inside you’ll find complimentary tea/coffee making facilities, and a gutting/filleting room, complete with knives and sharpening steels. The stock ponds are close by too. Here visitors can view the enormous full-tailed rainbows and brown trout destined for the lakes. Watching those monsters in the gin-clear water certainly boosts the enthusiasm to get started!
The lakes at Avington are clearer than anywhere else I have ever been. This alone makes the fishing very special. It is as though the fish are swimming about in fresh air. Many of the anglers seemed to be casting blind, but for me the real thrill is to target a particular fish – hopefully a big one – and try to intercept it with a well-placed offering.
If that all sounds a bit easy, don’t be mistaken. These fish see flies all day, every day, and are not so easily fooled. But that is all part of the fun. After numerous refusals, it is really exciting to watch a fish rush at, and engulf, your chosen pattern. After changing flies a few times, I had my first fish. It was a nice rainbow, which fell to a small olive damsel nymph with some ‘twinkle’ in its tail. It turned the scales to 6lbs 8oz – a nice fish – but I was still surprised by just how hard the fish fought. I’d imagined them to be slightly tame. This one must have taken some 7 or 8 minutes to subdue! On inspection it proved to be in perfect order – deep and with a perfect, full tail. A good start, but it was probably a little over an hour before I managed to fool a second one. This one was slightly smaller than the first, but on the same fly. Meanwhile I noticed than Ron had hooked three or four nice fish, but they had all managed to escape!
At this point, I decided that a coffee would be a good idea. It went down very well, and I returned to my spot re-energised. Almost unbelievably, the first fish I cast at after that shot straight to the nymph and ate it! There is no need to wait for a pull, as you can see clearly the fish’s gills flair as the fly disappears. That was the case this time and I lifted into another feisty fish. This one proved to be about the same size as the first two, and in equally superb order.
There is no catch-and-release at Avington, so when you’ve had your four fish, your day is over. This left me with a choice.
I decided to go for a walk, and maybe look for a really big one in the other two lakes. On my travels, I pulled the fly away from one or two eager, but smaller, customers, but the larger fish I spotted steadfastly ignored my efforts. Worse still, some fled in the other direction! It was a lovely way to spend the day, regardless, and time seemed to pass so quickly.
On returning to Ron, I discovered that he had caught and killed one fish, and lost five others. He was thoroughly enjoying himself. I went back to my old spot, which had just been vacated by two other fisherman, and had a fourth six pounder in relatively short order – again on the damsel nymph. As it was only 2pm, I decided to fillet the five fish, and have another coffee. It was pure bliss – taking my time and enjoying the whole process.
Having bagged up the fillets – and retained the carcasses to feed my tame, local fox – I thought I would wander back to the lakes to see how my pal was fairing. To my surprise I met him, heading back with his other three fish. Apparently they had suddenly ‘come on’ and he’d had them in half a dozen casts!
We enjoyed yet another coffee, relaxing by the clubhouse in the still-warm air, and congratulated each other on time well spent.
So ended a memorable day, and one that we both thoroughly enjoyed. If you fancy a bit of sight-fishing for large trout, you are unlikely to be disappointed with a day at Avington – I thoroughly recommend it!