About the rivers
The River Test
The Test, which is regarded as one of the finest chalk streams in the United Kingdom, rises from the Upper Chalk near the village of Ashe to the east of Overton in Hampshire. The river flows for 39 miles draining some 480 square miles that has an average annual rainfall of 32 inches, to its tidal estuary at the head of Southampton Water.
From its source the Test flows west to Whitchurch then southwest to Stockbridge and then south past Romsey to its estuary. The upper river has a number of spring fed tributaries - The Bourne, The Dever, the River Anton, Wallop Brook and the Sombourne Stream join the river above Mottisfont.
Downstream of Mottisfont the river flows through the Hampshire basin where it is joined by the River Dun at Kimbridge and the Blackwater at Testwood. Below the junction of the Blackwater the river has many channels as it flows through the Lower Test Nature Reserve at Redbridge.
The river is famous for its trout and grayling fishing and the quality of the water in its upper reaches is so good that it is used for washing and processing paper used in the production of British banknotes.
Downstream of Whitchurch the river widens as it flows through a wide flood plain flanked by watermeadows and it frequently divides to form a network of braided channels. These man made water courses run parallel to each other and have a series of weirs and sluices regulate the flow and water levels.
It is the high quality game fisheries that have made the Test famous. The middle and upper reaches are greatly esteemed for their trout and are generally regarded as the Mecca of dry fly fishing. Its chalk water and the careful management of weed beds are ideal for brown trout. Managed primarily by riparian owners and resident river keepers the fishing is sustained by regular introduction of reared brown trout. The river supports an abundance of insect life on which fish feed. Some eight species of stonefly nymph, over twenty types of mayfly nymph along with eight species of caddis larvae and seventy other invertebrates have been recorded in the river.
There are many prime fisheries on the river some of which are retained by the owners for personal use, guests and family friends whilst others are syndicated. Among the famous are the Houghton Club water and the Mottisfont Abbey fishery downstream of Stockbridge. It was at Mottisfont that in the late 1880s Frederick Halford and George Marryat studied the fly life on the river, and Halford then wrote the angling classic Floating Flies and How to Dress Them, followed by Dry Fly Fishing Theory and Practices. In effect their work and his writings changed the whole method of fishing on the Test, which continue to the present day. In later years GEM Skues developed upstream nymph fishing to fish feeding subsurface on the River Itchen, and although frowned upon by the purist dry fly fishermen at that time, it is now an acceptable practice on the Test.
Fishing on the Test
This is fish stalking country and anglers only cast their flies, whether floating imitations or nymphs, upstream to rising or feeding trout. The trout season officially opens on 1st April but most fisheries delay their opening day till either the last Saturday in April or 1st May, closing in early October. Grayling season runs from 16th June to 15th March. Anglers should also note that the fishing can be suspended during certain periods in the summer when fisheries cut and manage weed.
Although migratory fish have in the past been caught as far upstream as Longparish, the main salmon and sea trout fisheries are now downstream of Romsey, with the Nursling and Testwood fisheries considered the best. Most fish are caught by rods spinning lures or fishing the shrimp or prawn. Fishing with worms is prohibited. Some years ago the river keepers were keen to fish the fly for salmon and they developed the method of fishing a gold headed nymph fly known locally as the Hampshire Hog. On spotting a fish the fly was cast upstream and fished down to the fish in the same manner as in Czech nymph fishing. They had good results with the method at that time and it is possible that they still do. The salmon season opens on the 17th January and closes on 2nd October. In recent years runs of migratory fish have sadly depleted and as a conservation measure all salmon caught, must be returned unharmed to the river.
The River Itchen
The Itchen is regarded as one of the finest English chalk streams and anglers from all over the world are attracted to the river for the quality of its fly fishing.
Rising from the upper chalk near New Cheriton the river has a catchment area of 280 square miles and an average rainfall of 34 inches. From its source, where it is known as the Tichborne Stream, the 28 mile long river first flows north to New Alresford where it is joined by two spring fed streams - The Alre near Sewards Bridge and a little further downstream by the Candover Brook at Borough Farm to become the Itchen.
From there it flows west past Ovington, Itchen Abbas, and Easton to Abbots Worthy, then south through Winchester, Twyford, Brambridge and Eastleigh to Woodmill where the Monks Brook joins the river on the outskirts of Southampton. Below Woodmill the river is tidal and flows through Southampton to join the tidal reaches of the River Test at Dock Head on Southampton Water.
For most of its course the river is divided into many man made channels running parallel to each other and both water levels and flow are regulated by a series of weirs and sluice gates on each channel. In the past the water was harnessed for milling, navigation and irrigation and a network of water meadows.
Although milling and navigation are no longer an issue the practice of irrigating the water meadows continues to the present day for the cultivation of watercress. The system also includes the now disused Itchen Navigation system that connected Winchester to Southampton.
Designated as a SSSI and candidate 'Special Area of Conservation' the river system is noted for its high quality habitats and it supports a range of protected species from the otter to the tiny brook lamprey.
Fishing on the Itchen
In common with the Test there are many prime fisheries on the upper Itchen that are retained by the owners for personal use whilst others are syndicated and access to these fisheries is virtually impossible for the casual/day ticket trout angler.
These upper river fisheries are coveted by anglers and the various channels or carriers are maintained to provide optimum conditions for both wild and stocked brown trout. In pre environment agency days the Hampshire Water Authority introduced grayling into the system and over the years these fish have flourished and they now offer a useful alternative to trout fishing along with extending the fishing season into the winter months. The river keepers regularly cut weed during the spring and summer when rapid growth occurs to maintain levels and river flow. Rods should be aware that during these periods angling is suspended.
The river is rich in insect life, and in excess of three hundred species of invertebrates have been recorded on its main channel.
Like most other chalk streams this is fish stalking country with angler first having to locate trout rising to floating terrestrials or feeding on subsurface nymphs, and without scaring them, cast their imitations upstream to them. Success can depend on stealth and concealment, accuracy of the cast and a fair amount of luck.
It is difficult to put a date on when the method of upstream dry fly fishing first came about on the Itchen, perhaps it dates from the 1880s when Frederick Halford first devised, perfected and then wrote about it on the Test. Some years later GEM Skues pioneered the method of fishing a nymph upstream to trout that he could see feeding just below the surface, and although he was vilified by the dry fly purists for many years, fishing the upstream nymph to trout and grayling is now an acceptable practice.
The river below Winchester supports a good stock of coarse fish with roach, dace, perch, pike and bream featuring in catches during the winter months.
There are also runs of migratory fish. Very few fish run as far upriver as Winchester and most fish are caught by rods spinning lures or fishing the shrimp or prawn. fishing with worms is prohibited. Some years ago the Hampshire river keepers were keen to fish the fly for salmon and they developed a method of fishing a gold headed nymph type fly known as the Hampshire Hog. On spotting a fish the fly was cast upstream and fished down in the same manner as Czech nymph fishing. They had good results with the method at that time, and it is possible they still do. The salmon season opens on the 17th January and closes on 2nd October. In recent years runs of migratory fish have sadly depleted and as a conservation measure all salmon caught, must be returned unharmed to the river.