May 17 had not so much been pencilled in my diary as tattooed across my mind for months. Finally, I was going fishing in the midst of the mayfly hatch and, thanks to my friend Simon Cooper, who runs Fishing Breaks (www.fishingbreaks.co.uk), we were going to fish the River Test on the Oakley Beat near Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire. This is the inner sanctum of the most revered stretch of fly water in the world.
The river was full to the brim after the recent rain, but, due to the cold, barely a mayfly had been spotted. It was like arriving at a party on the wrong date. I fished the morning with hawthorn and grannom flies, usually tempting morsels to any trout, but to no avail. However, hearing a slashing take, I knew it was time to change to the main course. Three trout were caught in quick succession and lunch was rapidly abandoned. Then, the mayfly hatch stopped.
Hours later, as we sat with empty, protesting stomachs, it started again, this time in a frenzy; swifts arrived from nowhere, whizzing past my nose as they snapped at the insects, ducks swam with their necks outstretched like frying pans to gorge. Trout churned the water, and I caught another. It was truly a spectacle from one of Sir David Attenborough’s television series.
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