A day on the River Test England


While on a business trip to London this past September I took the opportunity to take a vacation day and fish the famous chalk stream River Test. I queried the internet and found a guide named Dave who came well recommended on some of the British fishing forums. Although I am not a big fan of the pay to fish practice in England and some other countries I thought it would be an interesting experience. The price for beats on the Test range from £150 to £500 per rod per day (1£=$1.60) not including guide fees. Dave provided me some options like if I wanted to be able to wade and if I wanted to fish areas with more wild fish. My desire was to fish where there might be some wild fish and was aesthetically pleasant. Based on this feedback Dave was able to book a moderately priced beat on the Test called Chilbolton Commons.

My trip started with a week of meetings in London and a bit of tourism. I took a few hours to checl out the River Thames and Big Ben.

Also discover London’s China Town while walking back to the hotel.

Crispy Duck!

After my meetings were all done I bid my workmates goodbye and took a morning train from Paddington Station to a town called Basingstoke where my guide was to pick me up. Lots of interesting scenery as we sped from urban London to the more rural Hampshire.

Dave was waiting at the train station and we drove straight to the River Test about 30 min away. The beat was in the small village of Chilbolton which full of great old thatch roofed houses. Evidently Chilbolton was the site of several famous “Crop Circle” incidents. I guess the extraterrestrial must like to fish for trout

I got my first look at the Test crossing the footbridge to the Chilbolton Commons.

Lots of willow trees and other vegetation overhanging the water. The river was relatively shallow in most places (3 feet) and very even dept for the most part. The bottom consisted of chalk and chert rubble with not many big stones or boulders. Much of the bottom was covered with aquatic weeds.

The beat was in the Chilbolton Common’s which has been used for grazing livestock since the days or Kings and Serfs. There are also a series of walking and horse trails. I like that this map showed where the nearest pub is. This fishing beat is one of the few that is not on an Estate.

Guide Dave gearing me up. The gear was Orvis stuff and I believe I fished a 5 wt. I fished a variety of dry flies including parachute Adams, Crane Fly patterns with nymph droppers like Hares Ears, Pheasant tails and Prince nymphs

The River beat was quite idyllic with lots of Swans in the river and partridge in the brush. The bank was lined with tall grass and there were lots of trees and shrubs to make casting challenging. For the most part I had direct my back cast off to the side or almost straight up to avoid the shrubbery. I felt pretty good that I only lost 3 or 4 flies all day.

Dave did lots of scouting to spot fish. The river bottom had lots of light round/oval spots where the fish had worn the weeds off the bottom. These spots that looked a bit like reds more often than not had a fish hanging out in them.

After I figured out how to cast amongst all the grass and shrubs I started getting strikes but kept missing the fish. I was either doing a “dainty” lift of the rod or a strip strike set. I was mainly getting strikes on the nymphs. Dave pointed out the error of my ways and told me to respond quickly and violently to strikes. Within no time I had my first Grayling in the net.

Dave with one of the many Grayling I caught that day.

Most of the Grayling were 10-12” with an occasional larger fish. The bigger fish were not much longer but were fatter.

After several missed fish and a break off I finally landed my first Brown. Since the banks were so reedy all the fish had to be netted and unhooked on the grass. This allowed me to get lots more picture of fish than I normally would as I prefer to keep the fish in the water. Despite this handling all the fish went back in the water with no apparent ill effect.

One of the many nice browns of the day.

Dave returning a longer but slimmer Brown. In the afternoon there were some bugs hatching and fish started hitting the dry fly more.

Caught several fatter Browns

This fat Brown coughed up a surprise which after further investigation appeared to be a Shrew. Neet to tie up some Shrew patterns.

After a really great full day fishing Dave drove me to Winchester where I was going to spend the night at an Inn. This town is home to Winchester College and the Wichester Cathederal where Sir Izaack Walton is buried. The River Ichen which is yet another famous Chalk Stream winds through town.

Dave recommended I stay at the Wykham Arms Pub/Inn which is next to Winchester College and Cathederal in the old part of town. This place was absolutely awesome and historic. While eating dinner at the Inn I met three Brits who were there to fish the Ichen. One of the guys was a graduate of Winchester College and as an Alumni is able to fish several miles of the Ichen owned and managed by the College. I guess I went to the wrong college for my undergrad degree.

On the way to catch my bus to the airport I wandered around the grounds of the Winchester Cathederal. I decided not to tour the Cathederal and catacombs as I was rather hung over from sharing multiple bottles of wine with my new British fishing buddies

Although I do not like the whole concept of ownership of River fishing rights and the pay to fish system I had very enjoyable and memorable fishing day. The clear benefit is lack of crowds and healthy stable fish populations. I will likely do this again on another river if I get the chance but will still feel a bit guilty about it.


Steve Call

Active Member
Great report and great photos.

I've never fished the rivers of the UK, but always been amazed at the numbers of fish you can see from bridges and paths. Maybe next time.


Sculpin Enterprises
Thank you, Tom, for a great report. I saw your photos in the gallery a few days ago and I'm so glad that you added depth with your narrative. Seems like you had a wonderful experience: river, fish, guide, pub, and town. In a country as densely packed with people as England, pay-to-play or an analogous scheme to limit pressure (lottery for beats?) may be the only way to sustain these fisheries. When the Fork's area rivers resemble bumper boats in the late winter C&R fishery for wild steelhead or the Yakima is packed with fishers like last weekend, one wonders how much access to a private stretch of water would be worth.


Upton O

Blind hog fisherman
I have a question about the grayling, are these the same or similar to the grayling we have here in Montana, Canada and Alaska? I haven't seen or heard of the fish you caught and I'm really interested. My wife and I are planning a return trip to London and then a trip to Scotland and I'm thinking about taking the wand with me.

Thanks for posting your report.
Hi Upton,

What I was catching was Grayling or European Grayling (Thymallus thymallus) which is a distinct species from the Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus articus) which are found in the US, Canada ect. The mouth of the European Grayling seems more downturned than I remember on Arctic Grayling but it has been some time since I caught one. The official speciation differential is based on number of dorsal and anal fin spines.




New Member
Awesome stuff Tom. Great pics! Each time i have been to the UK all i end up doing is drinking cask ales and touring castles.

I think 99% of us Americans and probably Canadians would all agree that the way fishing rights in the UK is handled is an abomination. That being said, it is what they have and are used to. I know the next time i go, i will be taking my 5wt and will do the same thing as Tom did. Just the heritage and history of the places and rivers is worth the price to participate and know you have fished in a place full of so much history of our sport.

Again, awesome post Tom.
I came across this article from another fishing forum and it looks like you had a great time, think I might try it myself!

I have to ask, why do you guys think the fishing rights are an abomination? As a Brit I'm just curious to know (not looking for an arguement here, just wondered).
Because free access to the land and waters we scratch a living out of is a birthright! Because we don't see fishing,hunting, or any other outdoor sport as a diversion that should only be enojyoed by an eccentric elite.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the report and would myself pay once or twice as a "novelty premium" to be able to share in such a fabled fishing venue.