Towards the end of my week-long visit to family and friends in my native England, I was beginning to think a chance at casting on British waters was evaporating like the morning fog from a glassy lake. My one local fishing connection, my Uncle Steve, had not returned a message I left for him inquiring of the quality and availability of local fly fishing, and I was running out of time. But then came Saturday night, and a birthday party for my Grandmother, where family from near and far gathered in celebration for drinks and a little catching up. It was here that I eventually found myself sitting across from uncle Steve and his wife and, naturally, Steve and I immediately switched the conversation to fishing.
After sharing some comparisons of our respective fishing universes, Steve asked if I’d like to go fishing before I was due to leave on Tuesday. We made plans on the spot for Steve to pick me up on Monday afternoon at lunch, and then we would fish until twilight. He knew of a local fishery where he learned to use a fly rod several years ago, and where he fishes today, when he finds the time. As he began to describe the lay of the land to me, I realized this was a place I’d read about just a week before, when researching the possible nearby waters in advance of my visit.
Mere Beck is a fourteen-acre, man-made fishery consisting of several pools and streams connected by spillways and creeks. It is said to have taken five years of development and careful planning and landscaping to create this unique water system, and the result is a beautiful piece of land in which you are free to explore all it has to offer, for a modest fee.
The waters offer Rainbow, Blue, and Brown Trout, and this is, of course, the main attraction and the reason people pay to enter. But despite the construction of the pools that has taken place here over the years, the remainder of the land has been left untouched, and the fishery is bordered by farmland, leaving the fishery with a natural feel for both fisherman and animals. On my visit I observed Pheasant, Swans, Coots, and geese along with a host of native plants, both terrestrial and aquatic.
On Tuesday morning, I had second thoughts about the trip as I looked at the accumulated frost on the lawn and saw that the temperature had no intention of climbing much further than the current morning chill. I was, after all, completely unprepared. No boots, no warm jacket (at least not one I was willing to wear while hugging a trout), and no gloves. It took very little mulling over to snap out of it. How often was I going to get an opportunity to catch trout in England? With a little help from family members I was able to scrounge up a little cold weather gear, but I’d still be going fishing in sneakers.
Steve showed up, and I threw my bulky ski coat into the back of his Volvo, and off we went.
After rigging up and paying the fee, (Steve’s treat. Thanks Steve!) we walked down a grassy trail to the first pond. thankfully, Steve had everything I would need; a rod, leader material, a couple of boxes of flies, and nippers. After a brief discussion of the various waters and a couple of suggestions from Steve on where I might find fish, we did what fly fisherman do, and walked off in different directions.
I started by casting to a shallow pool near some overhanging branches and some low-lying Lilly pads with a Montana nymph, just a hint of red atop it’s matted black. My first few casts were clumsy and I even managed to hook an innocent tree, but soon I found my rhythm and was delivering the fly where and how I wanted. I was casting from this spot for no more than five minutes when a rainbow trout jumped from the water just to my left. Then he jumped again, this time in-front of me, where he hurdled my floating line and landed with a splat. He size and aggression were equally impressive, and I thought this might be a sign of a good day ahead. At the very least, I knew the fish were here, and active.
This was to be an event that would set the trend for the rest of the day. While Steve and I spent the majority of the day out of sight of one another, I saw many rising, jumping, and slurping trout. Some were making the kind of disturbances a breaching carp will make in Spring time. Their size was impressive and the rises were never out of casting distance, but they simply would not be fooled by the fools on the banks. Once I gave up on the Montana, I tried dry nymphs, a fly that looked a lot like a Prince with a twist, and a small streamer. None helped me get on the fish that were active all around me. Over the next two hours I walked from pond to pond, tormented by concentric circles and phantom splashes that echoed over my shoulder in the otherwise serene countryside environment, until i noticed that my fingers were going numb from the lingering cold. I reeled in, and found Steve casting from a nearby bank. He had had equal luck as I, so we did what Englishman do when they need to regroup and renew. We went for a cup of tea.
On the grounds of the fishery are a few small cabins. They are bare inside other than a bench, a sink, a heater, and all the equipment required to make a decent cup. Images of fisherman holding large trout caught in these waters hang from the walls, and the windows are damp from condensation. Steve got to work brewing the tea, while we discussed how we would change our luck.
Over tea, I mentioned to Steve that I’d been reviewing the fisheries catch record online, and had noticed a pattern. many fish had been caught on a Cats Whisker, a fly I was unfamiliar with. it turns out to be quite a popular fly, but somehow, among the tens of thousands of fly patterns available these days, it had escaped my notice. Steve described it as a simple affair, white marabou against a chartreuse body, and that he had some with him.
We finished our tea, and headed back outside. As if by fate, there on the bench where we had stashed our backpacks was someones discarded Cats whisker fly. I examined it as Steve produced an new version from his box, then I held them both in my hand to compare. I commented that the one we’d found was poorly tied; clearly someones hurried tossing together of glue and feathers, and that Steve’s was very clearly purchased off the shelf, a clean and secure, professionally tied fly. It was then that Steve casually mentioned that he had tied this fly, and that I realized Steve was an excellent fly-tier.
Once again, Steve and I parted ways in search of fish. I eventually settled into the far corner of the fishery where small strip of grass protruded into one of the larger ponds. About 30 feet across the water was a narrow walking platform flanked by bulrush and cattail reeds, a good place, I thought, to find one of these noisy trout. I tied on one of Steve’s Cat Whiskers and went to work.
Daylight savings time was in effect, and before long I was fishing in the twilight. I sent a long cast up to the edge of a clump of reeds and grass and the fly dropped gently on target. About 3 feet away from where the fly now sank gently, I detected a swirl in the water that then became a ripple, and in an instant, as I began to tug the line for my retrieve, I felt a strong, hard bite. I reacted quickly, but the line was limp before I could process what had just happened. I let the line lay in the water and waited, hoping for a second chance, but I was wasting my time. After I retrieved the line, I found that the trout had escaped with Steve’s beautifully tied fly, thanks to my poor knot. It’s a dysfunction I suffer from in the fading light; I begin to hurry. I hurry knots, casts, retrieves, and hook-sets when I feel pressed for time, and once again, I had no one to blame but myself. I tied on my remaining fly and made several more futile casts to similar locations.
So, the day would end without either of us ever catching a fish. But like many, if not all fishing trips, it was not in vain. I’d fished for trout in picturesque English waters, surrounded by wildlife. I’d learned a new fly and how it was tied. I’d felt the rush of a large trout taking that fly. And I’d spent time with Uncle Steve, one of many family members I don’t get to see nearly as much as I would like. I also observed Steve’s accurate casting, and made a slight adjustment in my own cast based on my observations that has improved my accuracy. I was, by no means, coming home empty handed, and all was well with the world. England will still have trout when I return….
Some more photographs I took at Mere Beck.