Urban fly-fishing report: River Itchen, Winchester

Winchester trout 1 - Rich Baker

Regular Urbantrout readers will probably recognise the city of Winchester as one of our favourite beats: this stretch of the Itchen was already a post-industrial river when Frederic Halford and his fellow grandees of the Flyfishers’ Club held their annual Mayfly Mess at the Royal Hotel in the Victorian era, and we always like to think a little historical vertigo puts everything in the proper perspective…

Fully immersed in both ancient and modern urban fly-fishing traditions, Rich Baker fished Winchester again at the end of last week and sent us this typically intrepid report from the Old Barge and Alfred’s Brooks:

When I got to the Itchen Navigation on Thursday night it was still carrying a touch of colour (presumably because of the June weed cut) but otherwise in fantastic shape. Good water levels, and still the odd mayfly about. 

Fishing the 10’ Marryat with a French leader and #18 PTN I accounted for 4 trout and 1 grayling, and also lost a bigger fish. After that I moved further down a little carrier and landed another 2 trout before the best part of the trip happened: a deer came bounding across the fields, and crossed through the river not 10 metres away from me. We couldn’t have been more than half a mile from the city walls! It stood stock still as it sized me up. I didn’t move, then it bolted. Lovely to be so close to one (oh for a rifle and an elevated position!) 

After this highlight I moved to Durngate and walked down the river alongside the Willow Tree pub. At the bottom of their beer garden, two carriers converge and flow under the road and into that little council estate. Peering over the wall I could see 2 good trout clearly nymphing: one 2.5-3lbs and one about 1.5lbs. I scaled the wall, and made a cast at the smaller fish. 

He took straight away and surged upstream, I crashed forward through the undergrowth and sat down on the side of the bank, net in hand to land him. It was then I noticed the first sting! Within seconds I was attacked by a horde of wasps. I’d clearly sat on their nest. Such was the quantity of them I had to throw the rod in, drop the net and hurl myself into the river. Wallowing downstream and under the bridge I finally got away from them, and it was then that the rod floated past me. In agony I picked it up and duly landed the trout! Lovely fish (sorry no pic!) 

Retrieving my net I called it a night, got back to the car and headed home. By Four Marks, though, all was not well – throat swelling up, rash all over, arms like Popeye etc. Bad times. Eventually I pulled over at a petrol station and called an ambulance which came and sorted me out. I’m still scratching as I write this! 

For a full and authoritative account of Winchester’s rich fly-fishing history, we highly recommend Tony Hayter’s FM Halford and the Dry Fly Revolution.

Meanwhile, if you’re using Trout in Dirty Places as your guide to exploring our wealth of urban rivers this season, contact us afterwards and let us know how you got on!

Winchester trout 2 - Rich Baker

(All photos: Rich Baker)

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5 Responses to “Urban fly-fishing report: River Itchen, Winchester”

  1. chris says:

    Can I fish the Navigation between Garnier Rd and St Catherine’s lock for free during June 16 and March 15?

    • Theo says:

      Hi Chris, yes, as far as we know that’s free fishing during the usual open seasons (3 April – 31 October for trout, 16 June to 14 March for grayling).

      Basically it’s a downstream extension of the “Old Barge” free fishing water below the playing fields. However, you may also wish to call Winchester Council just to confirm?


      • chris says:

        Hi thank you, I did try contacting the Council, they said contact the E.A which I did who told me to contact the Council.

        I just wanted to fish somewhere between the Blackbridge and St Catherine’s Lock. It will be some time in Aug or Sept so the dates you say cover me. Wanted to try a bit of float fishing with my JW Young 13ft specimen float rod I have just had given me.

        Hope I will not break any laws, first time I’ve fished in years and I seem to have the bug.

        Many thanks – Chris

        • Theo says:

          Chris, if you’ve contacted both the Council and the EA, we’re pretty confident you’ll be fine on this stretch – getting sent round the houses is a very common occurrence when you’re researching urban fishing.

          The only other things to say about fishing public water are these: make sure you’ve got your EA rod licence handy, avoid fishing in anyone’s garden, and be polite if you get accosted and asked to leave. Good luck and let us know how you get on!

  2. chris says:

    Thank you for all your help, going to try down by the playing fields or somewhere between Garnier Road car park and St Catherine’s lock.

    Many thanks

    ps great website

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