Jeremy Lucas ....on the Teise

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

It has felt like coming home, back to where I grew up, to where I first fished. And it has been bliss. To find a wildlife corridor that is, frankly, one of the healthiest in south-eastern England; it has given me fresh hope for the world. We left Cumbria, the Eden Valley, escaping the ravages of industrialised agriculture which has utterly destroyed the most wonderful wild trout and grayling ecosystem that England ever possessed.

I was lucky to find myself right at the top of the TAOA waiting list and was able to start my trout season as soon as we were all allowed on the water after the lockdown. This little stream blew me away! Danicas and uprights were trickling off, though rising fish seemed few. I immersed myself in the jungle corridor which is the steep-banked, densely overgrown waters of the upper beats. It was a blank canvas, and I wrongly used the 10’ two weight for my first couple of visits, persisting too long with nymphs and duo, catching an awful lot of foliage and feeling like a complete beginner. This, in spite of a lot of the chalk streams I fish in northern France (where we used to live for much of the year before the calamity of Brexit) being similarly demanding of a shorter rod and a more considered approach. This is typical, I suppose, of small, wild streams.

Even so, in those early visits as I adjusted to the needs of fishing this river, I could see some of its potential, and I began to catch fish. I remember the first very clearly. It was on beat two on a hot day in May (weren’t they all?). There was, I thought, a reasonable amount of fly life about - midges, a few uprights, damsels - and yet almost no rises until I came up on a pool where the flow dropped to nothing and I began to see fish sipping down what I guess were midges. It takes only the briefest of such indications for me to rip off the nymphs, or duo, and put up a CDC plume tip. I mean, the Teise is exactly the same as any other river in the world in the sense that when the fish are looking upwards, at the easy targets on the surface, then that is where your fly just has to be.

The first fish was a dace; six ounces of utter beauty. Don’t think of this as a lowly coarse fish; really, if you have dace in the stream, then it is healthy. Dace are notoriously intolerant of pollution, like grayling. And from that one area, five more followed. Right at the top, in the pool run-in, I had seen a fish rising occasionally that I was convinced was a trout. The very first time I put the plume tip in place, the fish whipped it away. Striking, I felt what I now reckon was a rainbow, surging up towards the current, and then was gone. It left me shaking, and it completely spoiled the party for the dace shoal.

A cascade of discoveries, and species, ensued, as I learned how to fish the Teise. Learning to fly, again. My usual rod is now a 9’ four weight, with a Sunray presentation line - which is very thin and allows the use of a short leader (essential here). My standard leader length is around seven feet and consists of level 0.12mm tippet; either for the single dry fly or duo/nymph. I still hook up on the overhanging foliage. You simply can’t avoid it now and then, but particularly with dry fly this is now minimal, even on the lower beats such as the lovely beat 6 - which is about as challenging as a southern river gets, in my view.

There is so very much to discover on this enchanting river. Each time I visit I never know quite what to expect, and I am often surprised; though there are some lessons, now relearnt, which can help each and all of us. I’ll mention a few here in the hope that you might find them helpful. The first, and probably the most important, is never to ignore dry fly. Even when there are no rising fish at all, in the heat of a summer day, perhaps, dry fly can make all the difference. Not any dry fly though. I would caution against using a big fly, even when there are big naturals on the surface. My standard plume tip is an 18, but I frequently go down to a 20, which is generally much more readily accepted, particularly by the grayling. They will come out of the blue for a plume tip, but you must choose your water. The deep slacks and slow pools are not the place to be. Look for the oxygenated water. Sometimes, grayling will lie in very shallow water, so long as it is fast flowing. Trout too, particularly rainbows, crave oxygen and you can find them in the whitest water in the stream. There is no water at all on the Teise that is too fast for grayling or trout, with the possible exception of the weir at the top of 3A.

While dry fly completely dominated for me in summer, I have noticed as the days have shortened that nymph has scored more heavily for all species other than grayling. Again though, I would suggest going small. An 18 jig hook has been the best for me, and not my usual Pheasant Tail variant, but a Hydrospyche caddis nymph, which has done so well for both brown and rainbow trout (and numerous coarse fish species).

Moving quietly upstream, rather than down, will disturb far fewer fish and allow you to approach within easy casting range. I don’t think I have once cast ten yards of line on the Teise, and most fish are caught within six yards - some this autumn almost right under the rod tip. There is lots of gravel, and hard clay on our river, and plenty of shallow wading, or bankside approaches, where we are not doing any damage. We are lucky to have a river with notably good fly life, bucking the trend in agricultural England nowadays, so we need to exercise caution where we wade, in my view anyway. I like to pull up some of the balsam as I travel around a beat, watching the stream for rises. Unfortunately, there is a lot of it, and it is damaging the bankside ecosystem.

Fish tend to be highly localised, and each species occupies subtly different niches within the stream. This is common to all rivers, but I know that many fly fishers don’t recognise this. It is all too common to fish the river and start believing there are hardly any grayling at all. While this species has an enigmatic reputation, grayling can nearly always be caught. You will probably have heard that in the autumn and winter, you must fish with nymphs, particularly those with some pink in the dressing. While I know that such flies will work on occasion, there are many more times when they simply will not, particularly if the nymphs are too big. I almost never use pink in my nymphs nowadays, and you would be hard pushed to find a nymph larger than a 14 in my fly box. My standard is an 18, as described above.

You’ll find dace in slightly slower water, though this species also needs the flow. Chub will be anywhere, but they’ll often need some depth below them. The roach will be hanging in mid-stream, mid-water, and appear from nowhere. Bream will be deep, always, never rising to the dries, but in faster water than doctrine will have you believe. Rainbows, bless them, will be all over the place, until they naturalise, and then you’ll find a species that is a worthy target species. I have been known to be rude about rainbows. Freshly stocked, they seem a travesty in a little stream in southern England, but give them a few weeks to naturalise and they are spectacular, taking you off to British Columbia. I’ve seen carp, but not caught them. Barbel are intriguing, and I know they are present, but they have eluded me, even though I have run nymphs through water that looks perfect for them. The wild browns are similarly treasured, but I have so far caught only two that I am certain were wild. The stocked browns - okay, they’re stocked, but lovely fish; all the better when they have survived a few weeks and learnt, like us, to exist in the wild river.

My species count for our stream is so far eight, and I aim to add at least another two. Each one puts so much into the Teise narrative, my own esoteric journey with a fly rod. I am so grateful to have found this enchanting Wealden river. Again. Welcoming me back home.