The River Piddle

The River Piddle: Fishing Fellowship Part ll

After the exceptional hospitality afforded me in Tiverton by Adrian Howell and Darren Blackburn I set off on a day trip further afield to meet up with two anglers who once again I had never previously met and who had promised me assistance in accessing some fishing. This was however really rather special for a number of reasons. Firstly Tony King and Richard Slocock operate REFFIS, (Register of Experience Fly Fishing Instructors and Schools), an organisation established to provide a means of identifying quality angling instructors and guides. They also had access to the most Southerly Chalk Streams in the UK, the rivers Piddle and Frome in Dorset. I have actually, up to this point, never fished a genuine English Chalk Stream and was most excited by the prospect. I headed out of Tiverton in the early morning along winding country roads and negotiated numerous complicated sets of that most British of inventions the multiple “mini” roundabout, losing my way on occasion but finally found myself crossing the border into Dorset.

Richard and Tony run REFFIS. The Register of Experienced Fly Fishing Guides and Schools. Click on the image to find a REFFIS guide near you.

It proved an interesting journey and I was fascinated to see how as I moved further East the cottages changed subtly, appearing a tad more cosy and warmer in aspect than the dour constructions of the South West. Obviously this is a primarily the result of the use  of different stone, these older villages having been built using whatever materials were local. The cottages of Cornwall and Devon frequently manufactured from granite blocks and with local slate roofs having a cold and somewhat forbidding outlook, as though permanently huddled down against the wind and rain. The Dorset houses fashioned from lighter and warmer looking stone and generally topped with thatched roofs appeared much less dreary and welcoming in some way. The change in archictectural styel providing an interesting diversion as I motored past the parking for the Olympic Sailing events being held at Weymouth.

True to his word Tony was waiting for me at Lawrences Farm, Richard’s home in Tolpuddle, and first order of the day was coffee and some fly fishing chatter in the kitchen. There could be little doubt that there is a brotherhood amongst fly anglers as we settled in easily to discussion of fishing, guiding, REFFIS and the pro’s and con’s of instruction. It is rather like suddenly finding others who speak the same language and with communication barriers removed one settles into familiar conversation like old friends despite the newness of the acquaintance.

I spent some time with Tony on the lawn, casting various rods and going through the paces of an assessment to insure that I could actually cut the mustard when it came to fly fishing and the instruction thereof. It is interesting to see how different people approach fly casting instruction and although we didn’t entirely see eye to eye on the best means of transferring such knowledge it was equally apparent that we both knew what we were up to and agreed on all the more important aspects. So having passed muster it was time to head out to a beat on the Piddle for a spot of fishing. The weather wasn’t as kind or unkind as it might have been, a little gray and windy but at least not pouring down and we found the stream flowing strongly and crystal clear.

Tony King fishes the Piddle near Tolpuddle.

Tony proved to be a mine of information, instructing me on such gems as the traditional explanation that the many towns in the area, Tolpuddle, Afpuddle, Briantspuddle, Puddletown and the like had indeed been “piddles” in the past, the names changed to avoid causing affront to visiting royalty at some point in time.  There is apparently little evidence that this is truly the case but it is a nice story. The River Piddle however remained such and looking at the crystal water and waving weed fronds of this glorious little gem of a stream it was quite obvious that any association with bodily functions or sanitarywares was purely coincidental. Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Piddle

Tolpuddle is equally famous for the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a group of 19th century farm labourers who formed a friendly society in protest of the reduction of their wages. The Combination Acts which made gathering for such purposes had been repealed and the formation of Trade Unions was no longer illegal but the martyrs were prosecuted under an ancient law with respect to the swearing of secret oaths and ultimately sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia. They became popular heroes and 800, 000 signatures were collected demanding their release. Supporters organised a political march and eventually their sentences were overturned and they were released some two years later. Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tolpuddle_Martyrs

With history put to one side Tony and I focused then on the fishing. The Piddle at this point is a narrow if frequently deep stream, and “lightly keepered” which means that it doesn’t sport the overly mown and tended lawns of some of the more famous chalk streams, it also and importantly remains un-stocked and hosts native brown trout . In fact the bankside herbage was more than averagely unkempt due to the heavy rains which had made grass cutting impossible in the preceding month, which made stalking and casting more tricky than it might have been, but the fishing was no worse for the challenge.

However conditions left us battling an unruly and troublesome breeze attempting to land flies in a fast flowing stream which in some parts was only a few feet across. Tony I have to confess was far better at spotting the trout than I was, but we did get to target some specific fish under tricky conditions and in time I had my first genuine wild native brown trout on the bank.

The chill wind and damp conditions were not conducive to insect hatches and the better fish fell to nymphs, I was sure that we could have caught more with a long rod and some weighted Czech nymphs but I don’t think either of us really considered this as a righteous option on such a spectacularly gorgeous stream. I think that we spooked more fish than we caught but it didn’t matter, we caught and release a number of trout, a few of good size and were more than happy with our efforts. On the walk back to the car Tony spotted a large Pike holding in the clear water, I suspect they he was already planning to come back and remove this predator at some point in the near future.

Tony with a gorgeous native wild Piddle Brownie, you can click on the image to go to Tony’s website.

The drive back to Tiverton was briefly interrupted for us to share an ale at a roadside pub before we bid one another farewell and went our separate ways but I am most thankful to Tony and Richard for affording me the opportunity.  Fishing on both the Piddle and Frome can be organised through Richard and information on these lovely and reasonably priced waters can be obtained from http://goflyfishing.co.uk/ If you find yourself in the vicinity of Dorset I can heartily recommend that you give these lovely streams a try and if you are particularly fortunate you may be able to arrange for Tony to guide you. The images above provide links to REFFIS and Tony King’s Website.

Many thanks to Richard and Tony for the opportunity, two more anglers who selflessly contributed to my most enjoyable holiday.

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