Big-fish fanatic Malcolm Hunt has bagged 502 doubles in less than 10 years. Could he make it 503 on a recent trip to Avington?
For me, the world of fly fishing started when I was a mere 11 years old, when I was given a day’s fly fishing at a local stillwater in Dorset. From that day I switched my allegiance from coarse and sea angling, cycling to my local lakes after school to help out and get pointers from the local anglers.
Having spent five years working part-time at the fishery, I was lucky enough to meet and observe the likes of Peter Cockwill, Charles Jardine and the legend that was Bill Sibbons. In fact, I blame these three for my ongoing obsession the quest to stalk specimen trout. It led me to study Fishery and Fish Farm Management at Sparsholt College and, 28 years later, I am still working in the industry I love, as a fishery manager and fish farmer.
Having reached my personal goal of catching every size double, from 10 to 20lb, in both rainbows and browns, I had allowed my passion for river and loch-style competition fishing to take over in recent years. However, the urge to catch big trout is still there.
Malcolm's biggest brown to date, a stunning fish of 20lb!
Location, Location, Location
As far as my achievements in catching big fish are concerned, I put this mainly down to my location. Living in Wiltshire, I have on my doorstep some of the best chalkstream-fed stillwaters in the UK. Most of these are famed for stocking specimen trout and I felt it rude not to take advantage of their close proximity. There is also the fact that, being a fish farmer, I am constantly watching the reactions of fish on a daily basis. This gives me an advantage as I am able to deduce if a fish is hungry or not, therefore not wasting my time on those fish that just aren’t interested.
Notable Big Fish Catches (BOX OFF)
502 double-figure trout since 2007.
Biggest rainbow trout 22lb 4oz from Amport Trout Fishery.
Biggest brown trout 20lb from Lechlade.
Best four-fish bag limit consisted of 22lb 4oz, 18lb 6oz, 16lb 4oz and 12lb 7oz from Amport.
Most memorable catch includes a 19lb brown trout while filming a promotional video at Lechlade, plus 10 other doubles that day!
Over To Avington
The venue had to be somewhere I knew well as, apparently, there was, and I quote: “No pressure, but a double would be required, and don’t be late!” These were the words from the editor! Now, I don’t mind admitting that the thought of catching big fish to order and being photographed doing it filled me with dread so, with this in mind, my venue of choice had to be the famous Avington Trout Fishery. Situated in the stunning countryside of Hampshire and fed by the clear waters of the River Itchen, Avington is, as most of us know, famed for being where the big-fish craze started. As I had caught many a double from here in the past, it had to be the perfect venue.
At 7.30am (yep, I was on time) we arrived and were greeted by my good friend, and fishery owner, Bob West. Then, from the depths of the on-site shop, I heard the familiar voice of Dorjee Chorak, fishery manager and one of life’s wonderful characters. After an hour of chewing the fat with these two gentlemen about our wonderful industry and, more importantly to me, which lake is holding the biggest fish, we finally made the walk down to Lake One. The conditions the days before were not ideal. The previous few days had been hot and sunny with the trout likely to be lethargic and less likely to feed. Thankfully, the day was overcast but still warm and humid.
The water was gin clear and, with my eyes firmly fixed to the margins, we soon spotted plenty of good-sized fish. At this point there were no obvious doubles to be seen and so we moved on to Lake Two, following the earlier advice of Dorjee, who had informed me that there were some very nice double-figure browns in there.
As soon as we reached Lake two, I saw numerous rainbows, from 5 to 8lb, lazily swimming near the inlet. Suddenly, from the far bank, one of the potential target double-figure browns made an appearance, swimming directly towards me. As you can imagine, setting up was rather more frantic than normal after spotting this huge fish
My first fly of choice was the Holo Bug, a Fulling Mill pattern. This particular fly has given me, approximately, a quarter of the doubles I have caught to date. For this reason, it is my go-to fly at the beginning of a day. Its slim, lightly weighted natural appearance is my gauge for subsequent fly choices, based on the reaction of the fish to those first few casts. If the fish swim a mile, they are either resident fish – ie they have been in that water for a long time – or it’s just not what they want. In this instance, the brown reappeared but showed no interest in the fly.
After several casts I decided to leave this fish and move on as it was clearly a long-term resident that had got to the stage that it could probably tell where you had bought your fly!
Moving round Lake two, having seen a vast array of quality fish, the pressure of finding the elusive double was beginning to show. Two hours had passed and I had only managed a handful of casts. Having changed my fly to a weighted Tan Shrimp, from Flash Attack Flies, I spotted a fish about a foot away from the bank. Peering through the reeds, I cast to it a couple of times, missing it once and it turning away on the second time. The third cast proved successful, and after a spirited fight, a cracking 8lb rainbow graced my net. At this point we decided a coffee was in order.
Spending time watching and observing fish is the key to
success. Nothing the trout's depth, patrol routes and their
reactions to different flies is as important part of stalking
Having walked back past the browns situated at the inlet to Lake two, I carried on up the right-hand bank of Lake one towards the lodge. I noticed a promising looking rainbow trout circling an area of overhanging tree branches. This was the moment I realised that the fish I had been looking for was within my grasp. The coffee had to wait.
The location caused some casting issues, reducing my available cast choices to either a bow and arrow cast or a roll cast. Using a red Stalking Bug, I cast towards the fish a couple of times but failed to get its attention. Changing to a Holo Bug, I tried again. Each time, the rainbow came tantalisingly close to taking my fly, but then turned away at the last moment. Frustrated, I changed my fly again, this time going back to the Tan Shrimp. I also, very carefully, went around to the other side of the tree and, due to the limited casting and playing area, bow and arrow cast approximately two feet in front of the fish.
At this point the fish obviously saw something it liked as it nailed the bug. Then followed a frantic fight to get the fish into my net as soon as possible, as I knew the fish would try to go up the lake, and with trees in the way I would never be able to follow it. With as much pressure as I dared I persuaded the trout into my net. The rainbow was fin-perfect and, on getting it on to the bank, I knew that this was job done. A quality Avington double tipping the scales at 12lb 9oz, double number 503!
After a well-earned coffee I returned to Lake Two and caught another two rainbows, one of 7lb and one of 8lb, on the Tan Shrimp to give me a great four-fish bag by lunch! I may have been away from the big-fish scene for a few months but the excitement of stalking big fish is still there.
Why do I love it so much? It’s the challenge of trying to outthink these wise old big trout! If I find a fish I really want I won’t give up on it even if it takes all day or even a few days. It’s my competitive side. I know I will get it eventually, those big Avington browns best watch out!
Techniques and Tackle BOX OFF
My personal choices for stalking are simple, effective and standard for any small stillwaters throughout the UK.
To stalk big fish, I personally think that walking around the water looking for the fish is the best way to go. Big fish have patrol routes, which will include margins, and working these routes out is key to being able to land that big fish.
You also need to know the sink rate of the flies being used. This is so you can gauge when and where to cast your fly to be able to intercept the fish at the right point. For example, if your chosen fish is swimming quickly and your fly is slow-sinking, the fish will pass underneath your fly without even noticing it. Too heavy a fly and you could scare the fish.
The choice of fly will be determined by the fish's initial reaction. The need for dull, general patterns may be required for those wise, resident fish.
There are also those frustratingly picky fish that don’t want to know anything. With these, it may be worth dropping the fly to the bed of the lake, then slowly raising it up to the fish as it passes. They are so used to seeing things drop in front of them that the change in direction may just make them take notice.
I will always take three rods with me wherever I go and then decide upon arrival which to take out after seeing the weather conditions on site, which I feel is important. Firstly, my trusted and well-used Greys G-Tec 9ft 5-wt rod combined with my favourite reel, acquired for me by a friend from New Zealand on his last trip, spooled with a Loop Opti 5-wt line. Secondly, my Orvis Helios 9ft 4-wt rod and Hardy 4000DD reel filled with the Charles Jardine Presentation line and then finally, my 9ft 6-wt G-Tec, a powerful yet forgiving rod perfect for windy conditions, combined with a Snowbee Geo reel and either CJ Presentation or Loop Opti 6-wt line.
Playing the fish on the reel avoids the problem of line getting caught up in the bankside vegetation; a worry if that double bolts off quickly!
Almost every guide and seasoned angler will tell you the reel is the least important part of your setup, and as a rule I totally agree. However, when targeting big fish I always play the fish on the reel. This reduces the risk of losing the fish from standing on the line or getting it caught up in the ground vegetation. This gives you more control over the playing of the fish rather than worrying where your line is. Therefore, having the need for a robust and reliable drag system is my main priority when choosing a reel.
Second in importance only to my reel choice will be my choice of polarised glasses. For any angler wanting to target specimen fish, polarised glasses are an absolute must. Without them, the chances of being able to catch a glimpse that ever-elusive double-figure brown will plummet. My personal choice for glasses will always be Costa Del Mar. I always carry two pairs, one for low light conditions such as in wintertime and heavily overcast days, and another with amber lenses for general light conditions.
Leader choice. Well, I only have one. It has served me well and has never, and I do mean never, let me down. Drennan Sub-Surface Green in 6lb and 8lb. I can hear the comments now – “Why aren’t you using fluorocarbon?” Good point! My reasoning is a simple one, fluorocarbon doesn’t stretch and these high doubles tend to fight in high-powered bursts, thus the need for the extra forgiveness when they do. Sub-Surface Green ticks all the boxes for knot strength and being extremely forgiving in line abrasion. Big fish, when hooked, will tend to head for cover. This generally means weed, tree roots, overhanging branches or anything else that could potentially snag the line.
A point to remember is brown trout, especially 10lb plus, have incredibly sharp teeth, more so than rainbows, and as a result have a habit of catching fluorocarbon and weakening the leader, resulting in lost fish. I am not discounting the use of fluorocarbon, as I occasionally use Orvis Mirage in 7lb and 9.2lb when only targeting rainbows.
A few other things I will always make sure I have are a weighty priest, a peaked hat and a really good pair of walking boots. The walking boots are a necessity as I am constantly on the move. These fish don’t stay in one place so neither do I. I have been known to walk round a fishery 10 times in the pursuit of that big fish before even making a cast.
Getting the fishery staff’s information on fish, locations and whether these fish are residents or newly stocked is vital to my day’s approach. The more knowledge you have, the more armed you are for the day ahead, increasing your chances of finding that specimen trout.
Double delight! A stunning 12lb Avington rainbow, reward for parience and observing fish during the course of the day.