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Testwood Grand Slam sea trout

Testwood Grand Slam - salmon

The Testwood Grand Slam

3rd July 2013

A salmon, a sea trout
and a brownie in a
- Marcus Janssen
headed south to
try his hand at the
Testwood challenge.
Despite staying up to watch the Olympics
opening ceremony, my fisherman’s alarm
clock didn’t let me down, waking me half
an hour before I needed to be up. And
with the possibility of salmon, sea trout and brownies on
the cards, I was perhaps a little more excited than usual.
Word of my fly fishing obsession had obviously spread.
Howard Taylor, whose company Upstream Dry Fly has
the fishing rights on the Testwood and Nursling beats
of the River Test had kindly invited me to have a go at
their grand slam – all three native salmonids, on the fly
within 24 hours. This is a bit like inviting a very hungry
man to The Waterside Inn, Le Gavroche and Le Manoir
Aux Quat’Saisons for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To the
avid fly fisherman, invites simply don’t get any better.
I arrived an hour early, and with clear blue skies
overhead, a light veil of mist on the water and some
coffee in my flask, I meandered my way downstream.
It was sheer torture – within minutes I had spotted a
decent brown sipping dries on the far bank, a good sea
trout had cruised past me on the incoming tide and a
spanking fresh grilse had shown in the tail of the pool. I
simply couldn’t contain myself and sent a text message
to my host, letting him know of the pain I was going
Thankfully Howard is a sympathetic man, because
minutes later the beat’s riverkeeper emerged from the
Georgian mill-house which overlooks the main Testwood
pool. A man after my own heart he obviously recognised
the look of madness in my eyes, skipped the pleasantries
and cut straight to the chase. “Hi I’m Peter Farrow. Shall
we go and try for a salmon before breakfast?” he asked.
The finest introduction I’d ever heard.
The plan was to focus our attention during the day
on Mr. Unpredictable, the salmon, and then target sea
trout at night. And if all went to plan, we’d either have
the early evening or first light the following day to try
for a brownie.

And so Peter and I set off for the far bank where
he briefly demonstrated the unconventional
local method of fishing for salmon. Rather
than fishing down and across with a traditional
salmon fly, as is the norm, a very heavy tungstenbeaded
Testwood “nymph” is roll cast no further
than a few feet upstream, allowed to sink to the
bottom, and then gently drawn to the surface by
lifting the rod tip. A bit like Czech nymphing at
very close quarters, this really is a novel approach
to Salmo Salar. “And you won’t feel the take,”
said Peter, “you’ll see it.” He certainly had my
A few casts later I discovered exactly what he
meant. As I watched my fly lift through the water
column, my eyes were suddenly drawn to a large
and ominous shape that had risen from the
bottom of the pool. Mesmerised, I watched as a
salmon of at least 10lb suddenly darted forward,
grabbed hold of my fly and then promptly spat
it out. “Erm, you might want to strike a little
earlier,” observed Peter, head in hands.
Visually, this is salmon fishing on a level I
had never experienced before - and it’s about
as exciting as fishing gets. One of the reasons I
love New Zealand’s rivers so much is because
their gin-clear water is like a window into the
trout’s private world. It’s the ultimate fly-fishing
classroom in which you get to observe first hand
how trout behave in their natural environment
and react to your presentations and every move.
But never before had I experienced the luxury
of watching a salmon react to my fly at such
close quarters.
Admittedly, I did have some composure issues
to start off with - by breakfast time I had missed
three takes due to a lack of appendage control -
but after a croissant and a cup of freshly brewed
coffee, I felt I was ready for round two. “It’s all about line control,” advised Alistair Robjent,
a River Test expert who’d come along to assist
me with my task. ‘And self-control,’ I thought
to myself. “If there is any slack in the line,” he
continued, “you’ll never set the hook in time.
You’ve got to be lightning quick.”
With renewed focus and salmon in our sights,
we returned to the river with high hopes.
But with the sun now directly overhead in an
azure sky, we felt our optimism begin to wane
as the temperature rose. Indeed, by lunchtime
Mr. Salmo Salar had still eluded us. Alistair had
managed to land a nice little brownie and I’d had
a perch and a pretty little finnock that was so
small we decided we’d only count it if things got
really desperate. I also had a brief encounter with
a really good trout that had thrown the fly after
just a few seconds.
But as we languished over a barbecue
lunch and a glass of ice-cold Pimms, a bank
of cumulonimbus started to build in the west.
“That’s just what we need,” observed Peter as we
once again made our way over to the far bank.
“As soon as the sun disappears behind that, we’ll
be back in business.” It was as though someone
had flicked a switch. Within minutes, I had not
one, but two good fish follow my fly and turn
away at the last second. “Right, get ready,” said
Peter as I rolled out my next cast, “we’ll have
him this time.”
As my fly appeared out of the opaque green
depths, a fresh run salmon was suddenly right
there, a foot behind my fly. This time I was ready.
As soon as I saw its mouth open and gills flare I
struck solidly, my rod immediately doubling over
as the fish bore down into the pool. Fish on!
Several minutes later, after Peter had expertly
wielded his net, a wave of relief and euphoria
washed over me as I cradled the fish in the
shallows, preparing it for release. “Right, you can
relax now,” laughed Peter. “The pressure’s off –
you’ve done the hard part – all we need now is a
brownie and a proper sea trout.”
Talking of proper sea trout, as we sat around
the dinner table later that evening waiting for
darkness to fall, Howard reminded me of a fish
we’d both seen a few hours earlier. I had mistaken it for a large salmon as it cruised past us with the
sun’s last rays reflecting off its bright silver flanks.
“No, no, no,” Howard corrected me, “that, my
friend, is a sea trout.” It must have been close to
And so, as I stood in the silver moonlight
some time after midnight, I couldn’t stop
thinking about that fish. I kept imagining that
my fly, somewhere out there in the inky black
pool, was being watched by one of the river’s leviathans. But an hour later and the festivities of
the previous night began to take their toll. A little
more than half awake, I gave in and crouched
down on my haunches, allowing my heavy
eyelids to close as I absent-mindedly tweaked my
fly across the pool.
Suddenly, the rod bucked violently and was
almost wrenched from my hands and for a brief
moment I thought I might be dreaming. But
the sound of my screaming reel and a surge of
adrenaline brought me to my senses. Alistair soon
appeared out of the gloom with a net and a grin
on his face. I could hear him chuckling as the
fish cartwheeled across the pool, backing peeling
from the reel at an alarming rate.
A tense ten minutes later, and with my heart in
my mouth, Alistair slipped the net underneath my
biggest ever UK sea trout and hauled it onto the
bank. A smidgeon under 7lb, it was a bar of silver
and a thing of beauty. “Now that,” said Alistair, “ is
a proper sea trout.” Utterly exhausted, I decided
to call it a night. Alistair decided to fish on into
the small hours, landing another two cracking fish
while I snored contentedly from the comfort of
the fisherman’s cabin.
Again, my angling alarm didn’t let me down,
stirring me at first light and with less than two
hours to complete my Testwood grand slam. I
pulled my 5-weight from its sleeve and scanned
the pool for any movement. As if on cue, just
as the sun’s first rays reached the pool, a trout
showed in the tail of a gentle glide. Prompted by
the subtle rise-form, I tied on a #16 parachute
emerger and put a slack-line cast a little upstream
of where the fish had last shown. Without
hesitation, it was sipped from the surface and my
Testwood grand slam was officially complete.
I was just about to start packing my gear away
when Peter emerged from the mill house. “So,
shall we go and try for a salmon before breakfast,”
he asked once again. It was a rhetorical question.
“It would be rude not to,” I answered. Peter got
one on the very first cast. I got another on the
third. I’d had a sea trout, a brownie and a salmon
since midnight - indeed, I’d had a grand slam
before breakfast.
Day rods for salmon and night rods for sea trout
are available at Testwood and Nursling through
Upstream Dry Fly, as are private, full-season
memberships. For further details:
Tel. 07748 832968