Jeremy Lucas ....on the Teise

Jeremy Lucas is a well known writer on fly fishing. Here he talks about his second season fishing on the Teise:- 

We are so lucky to have the Teise, and I count my blessings that I joined the TAOA as soon as I moved back to Kent, after 20 years in Cumbria. In my view it offers some of the best river fly fishing in south-eastern England. My second year here has been remarkably different to my first. Expecting more of the same dry fly action as experienced last year, I could easily have been disappointed, because dry fly action was minimal until the very end of the trout season. I wasn’t alone in finding this, as I know several anglers also found dry fly unrewarding. Neither was this peculiar to the Teise. I heard from several friends on other rivers that their dry fly fishing was minimal. It was, nonetheless, a surprise to me.

 

The nymph fishing, conversely, was astonishing. Actually, I can't remember a river season with the nymph so consistently successful. Time and again on my visits I found the river’s surface unmolested by rising fish, and so elected to nymph fish, even after an abortive foray with CDC plume tips (dry fly). Almost without exception the fish would oblige. Choice of fly, however, was hugely significant in this. My usual Pheasant tail nymph (PTN ) was, again surprisingly, comparatively ineffective, while the Hydropsyche caddis larva, (hydro) dressed on a size 16 jig hook and with a 2.0mm tungsten bead, was simply devastating. It might be worth pointing out that the hydro is one of the most common caddis species in most northern rivers (alongside the Rhyacophilla), so its effectiveness might be expected.

 

Apart from caddis, the actual hatches were poor, I thought. I certainly did not see the same numbers of upwing species as during 2020. The most abundant surface flies were black gnats and small midges, which seemed to interest the dace and small grayling, but little else.

 

My days this year have hardly been days; rather two hour sessions, typically, and usually in the early afternoon. I love a quiet river, when one sees the fish, and other wildlife, undisturbed and behaving naturally. I have often driven to Harper’s to find several cars parked there, so have driven elsewhere to find some quieter river. Not that I have minded other anglers at all. Quite the converse - my occasional encounters with other members have always been good and it has been fascinating to hear about others’ experiences on our river. It is simply that the best fishing is always on water which has not seen too much angling pressure. Beats 2, 3A and 3B, seem (to me) to attract almost all fishing activity on the Teise. I understand this, of course, because I think that most, if not all, the stocking is on those beats, but I wonder why more anglers don't explore elsewhere.

 

The stocked rainbows were spectacular this year. Particularly the very first stocking, which was with rainbows of outstanding quality. I have never seen such dazzlingly conditioned stockies; indistinguishable from wild fish. Fins like blades, scale perfect, and firm, blasting across the river when hooked, like steelhead. It reminded me of the British Columbian rainbows that were first stocked at Grafham in 1967, or, for that matter, like wild BC rainbows! I have often been ‘rude’ about stocking with rainbow trout in British rivers, but our club has done very well with sourcing these fish. I very much look forward to tangling with the overwintered survivors next year when they will effectively be feral trout. In any case, these fish have been welcome, particularly during the many days we had in the spring and summer when the water was up and coloured. On these occasions, the rainbows invariably saved the day for me.

 

So, while enormously enjoying catching these rainbows, I have also, more memorably, caught ten different species on my forays on the Teise. These have been: roach, rudd, chub, dace, common bream, gudgeon, minnow, brown trout (stocked and wild), rainbows (all

stocked, though a few overwintered) and, of course, grayling. I am yet to catch barbel, carp, perch or pike, though I have seen, or heard that they are present, all of these. I believe there might even be tench here. On top of this I have seen eels and even lampreys! If nothing else, this is indicative of a healthy river.

 

The work parties (and I’m ashamed to admit that I made none of these) have done noticeable, laudable work on beats 2 and 3. Indeed, there are two timber deflectors placed on 3, on opposite banks, which have produced a twenty metre run that is now alive with grayling and dace, and I would hope to find wild trout in there soon. I was surprised by a wild trout not far away from this, on the glide above Harpers foot bridge, where one usually only encounters stocked trout (as well as chub, dace and grayling). My other wild trout have all been from the lower beats, and they have been few and far between.

Exploring beats 5, 6 and 7, has also been fascinating, over the two seasons I have enjoyed here. The casting on most of beats 5 and 6 is hugely restricted, mostly roll - manufactured, improvised - casts at short range. There is a lot of water here which is ideal for numerous species, including chub, dace, grayling and trout, and it is entirely ‘natural’ in that there are no stock fish here (at least that I have yet found), very overgrown banks, which swell and reach out through the summer to close down more and more of the hidden stream below. Wading is difficult, and there are a few areas where it is dangerous to wade even during drought conditions. For all the demanding nature of these beats, however, they offer the best ‘wild’ fly fishing I have ever found in south-eastern England. They are something of a Catch 22, in that I would not recommend anyone other than the very experienced to fish these beats alone, while wading, and yet they can only really host a single angler working his way upstream. Once an angler has gone through, the fish are extremely wary.

Beat 7 is an enigma. There is a sluice at Bockingfold (built for agricultural purposes, as they all are) that interferes with the natural flow of the river. During summer this is closed for most of the time and the water backs up all the way to the road bridge a kilometre upstream. During winter the sluice is open and reveals the natural state of the river, which shows gorgeous gravel glides and runs which would be perfect for both trout and grayling if the flow were more stable. I have caught dace here, and seen pike, but neither trout or grayling, and have been frustrated by this, given the lovely glides in profusion. If only agriculture did not always determine how our countryside, and the shrinking, natural environment, should be!

 

The average size of the grayling was markedly up this year. I caught six that were over 30cm, and several others over 25cm. My biggest was a 34cm cock fish from 3B, which came a cast after catching a big chub. Both fish came to the same fly, a hydro. Indeed every one of my larger grayling came to this fly, except on my last session of the year on beat 6 when I caught six grayling on dry fly.

The Teise is constant discovery for me, partly because of the broad range of species willing to take the fly, and also the challenging fly fishing possibilities on the lower beats. It teaches me, or consolidates, so much. The chub, for example, I find enthralling. They are possibly the most wary of all the species. Several times this year I found shoals of chub and sometimes managed to catch one fish, only for the rest of the shoal to become wary. I never once caught two chub from the same shoal. The way they communicate danger is baffling, and instant.

 

I remember one occasion when I discovered a shoal of three rudd patrolling near the surface in a pool on 3A. I tried them with dry fly for ten minutes or so, but unsuccessfully. They were not taking anything from the surface. So, I decided to try them on a small hydro nymph. On the first cast I noticed the biggest rudd dive down as if following the nymph’s descent. The line tip barely hesitated on the surface and I lifted, astonished that I had actually hooked the rudd. Unfortunately it slipped the hook after a few seconds, but repeating the process I caught one of the smaller fish a few casts later, also after observing it dive down in pursuit of the falling nymph. I have never before seen this behaviour from rudd.

The little, wild trout are the gems of the Teise, and our encounters with them are precious. It might seem contradictory, but while I don’t think there are many in our river, there are probably more than we realise. There is a great deal of water on the lower beats which is ideal habitat, but unfishable, or extremely difficult to fish, with fly. I am enchanted by this remarkable little stream and am already looking forward to next season, exploring further (I have yet to fish beat 4) and catching species which have so far eluded me.