fly fishing sport fishing freshwater fishing
Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


Trout Fishing - The Kennet at Kintbury

I have been fortunate to fish the river Kennet since 1948, as a youngster I would be taken to this delightful Berkshire river with my father in an old Ford 8 car with orange indicators which would flick out from the left or right. We had no heater or radio, but we didn’t care. It was transport to beautiful secluded places where I could shoot or fish depending on the season. In those days my Kennet fishing was mainly for chub, dace and roach though during May and June we would fish for trout. Big fat wild brown trout, as I remember with bellies the colour of Marsh Marigolds and decorated with spots all shades of browns and reds. A magnificent looking fish, then are not all fish magnificent?

The River Kennet starts to flow near Clatford just west of the ancient market town of Marlborough in Wiltshire, to the best of my knowledge the first fishery is in the grounds of Marlborough College. The river then flows in a northerly direction into the Royal County of Berkshire. In its twenty odd miles it flows through some of the most delightful of English countryside. Sporting estates, water meadows, country houses, lush meadows, mill and weir pools, pollarded and weeping willows, alders, ivy clad oak and beech trees, nesting places for wood pigeons and roosting pheasants. Dozens of carrier streams increase the mileage of fish able water. Sadly with urban sprawl and the water abstraction for the town of Swindon the Kennet isn’t the river of my youth. Gone are the water meadows. Today the last few miles are often through urban sprawl ending up in the River Thames at Reading. Then wehave the problem with travellers who ignore all the rules of civilised living.

I've been privileged to fish the Hungerford Town water with both, the late Mark Williams of East Grafton and Bernard Venables of Upavon, The town water was given to the people of Hungerford by John O’Gaunt in the thirteen hundreds as a reward for helping his army in the Battle of the Roses. Grayling and brown trout fishing can be excellent. But sadly its stocked by horrid rainbows. Upstream fly fishing is the normal rule of engagement, and one should never allow the fly to drift downstream. When you fish the Town Water, you quickly learn about the Wine Cellar, where many of the rods leave their wine to cool off. What surprised me on my first visit was seeing the well mown banks with a fringe of reeds, rushes and wild flowers at the waters edge which offered cover to the kneeling angler. I feel very fortunate to have met Rob Star the river keeper, what a delightful gentleman he is.

Another stretch of the Kennet where I have had the privilege to fish is the famous Kintbury beat going downstream for about two miles to the Wilderness beat. This is part of Sir Richard Sutton’ Benham Park Estate. Included in this stretch of water is a maze of carriers giving several extra miles of fishing. There are dozens of different stretches of water to choose from, wide open stretches through water meadows, shallow gravel runs, deep pools with over hanging willows, slow deep runs under pollarded willows, tiny pools and narrow carriers. Its a trout fishers delight. Well managed by river keeper Gary Allen, and under keeper John Colley. Both men hail from Yorkshire where they originally worked as motor mechanics.

I had been invited to fish today by solicitor Stephen Collins, who’s wife Marilyn works for Meridian TV as a news producer. Marilyn was treating her husband to a days fly fishing as a birthday treat. This delightful couple live in the town of Hungerford where the River Kennet flows through the town. Its an ancient town of red bricked houses and antique shops. A place of history. As I was the guest speaker at the Newbury AA presentation evening the day before our visit to fish the Kennet. I was invited to stay with Stephen and his charming wife for a couple of days. Before going off to Thatcham Football club for the meeting, Stephen and me dined on a lamb hot pot dinner. I can certainly recommend Stephen’s cooking. The evening with Newbury AA members was certainly an interesting one. The Association must be congratulated on the way they encourage the ladies and children into this great sport, or is it a pastime. For me its a lifetime of passion.

It was about 7o’clock when I went down for breakfast of porridge and toast, overnight there had been rain, looking through the dining room window I could see it was cloudy with a light wind. A blackbird was tugging a worm from the lawn. The forecast was for a light shower with bright periods. Leaving Stephen’s quiet cul-de-sac we made our way through the rush hour traffic in town out onto the old Bath road, having gone through the thirty mile per hour limit, we increased our speed to a steady fifty miles an hour. While others were dashing off to work Stephen and me were going off to paradise. I thought to myself "Its great being an angler".

We turned off the old Bath road then drove down a gravel track hedged either side by hawthorn and blackthorn, leaving behind a crazy world. For one of bird song, green fields, woodlands, hedgerows and gin clear flowing water. Where trout with creamy yellow bellies and big brown and red spot would hopefully eat our well presented flies. Pulling into the riverside car park my attention was drawn to the rustic bridge, two grey wagtails were flitting to and fro catching flies on the wing. The river Kennet was flowing right to left, it looked wonderful, even more so when a nice fish swirled on the surface.

As we chatted about the days prospects, we made up our chosen tackle. For me it was a Thomas and Thomas 5 weight Helix, Stephen a 6 weight, we were both using floating lines with 12 foot leaders with a tippet of 3lbs, should we need to use very small flies, we would go down to a tippet of 2lbs. We also made up a heavier outfit for chucking big streamer flies. Stephen was wearing gum boots and waterproof trousers, I pulled on my stocking foot chest high waders and Korker wading boots. Finally a fly fishing vest holding two fly boxes, tippet material, floatant, degreaser and all those other bits of gear we fly fishers collect. The waders are not just for wading, I can sit on the wet grass without any problems.

In my ruck bag I had a Nikon D70, Jetboil for brewing tea, milk and tea bags. Stephen had a very important bag, it contained a big box of sandwiches and buns, sadly I couldn’t share his passion for buttered current buns. He also had the gallon size water container, without which there wouldn’t be any tea. Our first chosen area was a weir pool on a nearby carrier, we decided to try some big streamer flies, On his second cast Stephen hooked a big brown trout, I watched it roll-on the surface, It had a creamy butter coloured belly, the spots looked as big as half a crowns. It was a good fish. Suddenly Stephen was left with a limp line. The fish had slipped the hook. I commiserated with him. Not knowing a few minutes later I would pull out of a nice brown trout.

Having lost a couple of fish we made our way to the main river, as we slowly walked upstream patches of blue sky could be seen. The sun was trying to burn off the cloud cover. An occasional fish could be seen sipping down an emerger. Our hopes were high. Walking far to close to the rivers edge, we spooked a big trout which disappeared across the river creating a big bow wave as it did so. We both cursed at our stupidity. On the far bank I could see a hare slowly moving along the hedgerow. Stephen pointed skywards saying "Look there's a buzzard" It was a great day to be alive.

I suppose we had gone about six hundred yards, when Stephen spotted a trout alongside some water crowfoot towards the centre of the river. Dropping back downstream, he tied on a size 14 Klinkhammer, then pulled off some line, he made two false casts. The line was going out over the water, the fly dropped lighly fifteen feet above the rising feeding fish. I left Stephen to his fish, while I made some fresh tea. Looking through the window of the fishing hut I could see Stephen had a bent stick and pulled string. I arrived at the waters edge just in time to net the first fish of the day. It was quickly unhooked and released without being touched by hand. We celebrated by clicking our tea mugs together and toasting his trout. After tea I then made a few casts in the bridge pool, with a size 14 Adams, I pricking two fish. Poor angling on my part. Of course the fish stopped rising after that We moved on upstream.

Talk about luck in this pastime, I chose to fish the inside of a bend, casting up and across, on my fifth or sixth cast I hooked a fish which didn’t fight like a trout. Suddenly in the clear water I could see I had hooked an out of season perch. "It was a big perch". I called out "Can you net this big perch for me Stephen" As the fish was netted, we could see another big perch following the hooked one. But I wasn’t going to complain because it wasn’t a trout.. After a couple of picture we watched the fish swim off. Hopefully to grow into a five pounder. Who knows I might net the fish at that weight for Stephen.

Moving upstream some eight hundred yards we arrived at another fishing cabin with plenty of windows and a view of the river. The cabin was equipped with magazines, scales, table and chairs. Another small rustic looking bridge crossed the river. The pool looked quite "Trouty" meanwhile Stephen had spotted a nice fish rising twenty yards upstream. "Go on Stephen have a go for that fish while I sort out lunch" Staying well back from the waters edge, he moved slowly upstream.

In the cabin I unpacked paper plates, mugs, tea, milk, water and my faithful "Jetboil". This piece of kit is perfect for making tea or coffee, its just as easy to heat up some soup or stew. After filling it with water I turned on the gas then pressed the igniter. It was all systems go. Looking through the window I spotted a nice trout rise in the bridge pool, a few olives were coming off. While waiting for the water to boil I walked across to the waters edge. It looked as if a mini regatta was taking place, waves of olives were floating down stream. Suddenly the water was broken by swirling, bulging, tailing fish. It looked like a hatchery.

Back in the cabin I made tea, sorted out the ham rolls and current buns, which sadly I couldn’t eat. I then arranged the seats so we could look out through the window as we enjoyed lunch in such an idilic place. Through the window I could see Stephen heading my way. No doubt he was hungry and in need of a fresh brew. The smile on his face told me he had caught his trout. As we sat having lunch we discussed the mornings event and the wild life we had seen. It had been a great session.

Lunch finished I packed everything away, then picking up my rod and net I walked across to the Bridge Pool, sitting there quietly I looked for a rising fish. I suppose ten minutes had gone before I heard then spotted the swirl of a fish. Watching the spot like a hawk I looked for some flies drifting down the stream to see what the fish had come up for. Suddenly two large dark olives lifted off then dropped back on the water. A fish sipped down one of the flies. I tied on a size 14 Klinkhammer with a grey body. Creeping on all fours I moved into a position where I could drop a fly some ten feet above the feeding trout. One false cast and the Klinkhammer dropped like thistledown on the water and slowly drifted downstream, I retrieved the slack line making sure I didn’t disturb the drifting fly. It was the perfect drift the fish rose, then ignored the offering. Three times this happened. I changed the tippet from 6x to 7 x then lengthened my leader from ten to twelve feet. Still this obstinate trout refused to eat my fly, while occasionally sucking down the naturals. I changed the fly patterns from Klinkhammer to Adams to Greenwells. Then a Grey Wulff, finally a Blue winged olive. Still the fish refused to eat. It was time to move on.

One of the common cause of failure in fishing is either to large a fly or the thickness of the leader. I feel I had used the correct size of flies and a fine enough leader. I couldn’t give a reason why that fish refused my offerings. Moving upstream I crossed a small bridge over a beautiful looking pool which really did scream trout. I made my way quietly downstream so I was positioned below the pool. Sitting quietly in the long grass I watched for rising fish. A few olives were coming off, then a trout sipped down a fly so quietly it left the tinniest of dimples. In the next ten minutes twenty or more olives came off.

Suddenly there was a big hatch of olives, the surface of the pool was dimpled by rising trout. I must have counted five fish. Wagtails were in on the act as they fluttered to and fro catching flies on the wing. I picked out a nice fish rising close to a bridge support. My cast dropped the size 16 Paythorn Olive under the bridge, just before the fly landed I gave the rod a wiggle, this put a wiggle in the line. I would now get a longer drag free drift. Suddenly the fly was gone, a fish swirled I lifted the rod then tightened into a nice fish. After a brief struggle I netted a lovely brown trout about one and a half pounds. Suddenly the sun appeared from behind a bank of cloud, illuminating the butter yellow belly, the red and brown spotted flank of the trout looked magnificent. At last I had defeated a Kennet trout.

I moved back to the main river, conditions were perfect warm sunshine with a light south westerly wind. I was hoping for a hatch of hawthorn flies but I didn’t see a single insect. Walking downstream well back from the waters edge I looked for rising fish. Arriving at a junction where a carrier entered the main river I spotted a rising fish, then another In the space of five minutes I spotted six fish, olives were floating down in profusion the trout were gorging themselves. These were big olives. I changed over to a size 12 Paythorn Olive, it was an easy forty foot cast straight upstream. The line gently dropped on the water in a straight line, the leader turning to the right. There was no way a trout was going to see my fly line. The fly drifted downstream. Suddenly it was gone as a trout quietly sucked it down. I tightened into a nice fish, I was forced to give a few feet of line. Slowly I gained line, allowing the well balanced tackle to absorb the shocks, soon I had the fish in the net and hoisted it aloft. A nicely marked brown trout about a pound. I gently released the barbless hook from the scissors of the fish then released it back in the river untouched by hand.

Standing up I could see Stephen coming down a grassy track from the carrier, Have you caught I asked, he answered in the affirmative. Two on a dry, Klinkhammer and one on a nymph Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear. I said "Well done Stephen" We then made our way downstream to the next fishing hut, it was time for more tea. As we got near the hut a good fish swirled on the surface. "Go for it Stephen while I make the tea". By the time tea was made Stephen was on his way down to me having taking that swirling fish. As we sat drinking tea and chatting about the day I recorded a short interview with Stephen for my "At The Waters Edge" programme on BBC Radio Lancashire which can also be heard via the Internet then click on fishing. Tea finished we made our way back to the car park. It was nearly 7 o’clock in the evening, I had a long journey home but it had been a great day. I arrived home at 11o'clock. Next Friday Stephen and me will be on the Enborne a tributary of the Kennet, the following day Saturday we will also be taking part in the www Barbel Playground trout fishing day on the Wasing Estate trout fishery

Martin James Fishing