By Phil Spratt
So where did this journey start? I grew up in Shoreham by Sea and cut my angling teeth, like many living near the cost and growing up, shore fishing and catching flounders, mackerel and any other fish that passed by my bait and took a fancy to it. After moving away from the coast and living inland for 30 years, I moved to near the south coast again and returned to shore fishing. But in the meantime, the fishing had got much harder, not to mention the huge amount of equipment that needed to be lugged around. Surely there must be a better alternative.
During a drive through the Hampshire countryside, I stumbled across Meon Springs. It is in an area of outstanding natural beauty and therefore a wonderful location. I was curious. What would fly fishing be like? But hang on a minute, isn’t fly fishing just for posh people and not for ordinary people like me?
I tentatively approached the lodge not quite knowing what to expect. Far from being elitist, the welcome was warm, having no experience was not a problem, the right gear could be loaned and an Experience Day could be organised. Emboldened, I signed up for the Experience Day and was taught how to cast, play a fish and what flies to use. I was mobile, the equipment was just so light, you were always in direct contact with the fish…I was hooked (pun intended).
The following months were a learning journey: entomology, what flies to use when, how to fish a dry fly and, most important, how to cast properly. This is where Keith Poulton came to my rescue by teaching me the basics of casting and, crucially for the future, how to double haul.
Meon Springs held an annual open day with fly fishing demonstrations, tuition, fly fishing companies and, as it happens, good weather. One demonstration was on double hauling by Justin Anwyl, a local saltwater fly fishing guide. So it was possible to fly fish in the salt. I was fascinated. Could I do this? I bought a secondhand 9# rod, a cheap reel, some clousers, some waders and headed off to Hayling Island, which according to my research, held the promise of bass.
When I arrived, reality took place. The wind was blowing, there was a vast sea and my casting was woefully inadequate. It was time to back back to the drawing board and a return to Keith for more casting lessons. I had to improve my double hauling and more tuition with Keith helped. I got better. I caught my first bass, then mackerel and, on one occasion, a sea trout. The saltwater season from the shore is short in the UK.
So it was back to Meon Springs. Sunday fishing at Meon Springs became a ritual, as did Rainbow Trout for Sunday dinner! My wife is not really a fish eater but she quietly accepted my Sunday night offering and supported me in my fishing. I was improving. Now for the catch and release. This was a stern challenge. It needed finesse and smaller flies. At this time I started to tie my own flies and experienced, for the first time, the joy of catching a fish on a fly I had tied myself.
I was now fly fishing the salt during the summer season and Meon Springs the rest of the year. I was making fishing friends too who offered their help and guidance. What now? I started watching fishing programmes and really looked forward to any fly fishing parts. Salmon fishing seemed the next step. However, I always remembered a comedian’s comment after catching three salmon in Russia: this isn’t proper fishing; proper fishing is Scotland where you don’t catch anything. But the tropical saltwater fly fishing looked spectacular. To go tropical saltwater fly fishing became a burning ambition, and catching a torpedo like bonefish in particular.
I looked at various websites, did some research and then saw an advertisement for a bonefishing school in Crooked Island in the Bahamas organised by Go Fishing Worldwide and hosted by Dave Grove and Fly Fishing & Fly Tying’s Mark Bowler. Supported and encouraged by my wife, in November last year I found myself on a plane to Crooked Island and experienced six days of exhilarating fly fishing for bonefish. I had satisfied a burning ambition.
What now? It was back to Meon Springs, where the journey began; fly fishing, learning to tie flies courtesy of the monthly sessions run by Mark Roberts of Lost Lake Fly, having a cup of coffee and an obligatory Kitkat and catching up with Greg and the team. Crooked Island still beckons for another day…