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The Urbantrout Diaries: Spinners in South London

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The Urbantrout Diaries: Spinners in South London

Flyfishing.co.uk is delighted to welcome Theo Pike to our regular writing team. Theo, founding editor of Urbantrout.net - a website dedicated to the urban fly-fishing and river restoration - will be taking an occasional look at his exploits with trout in those less than ‘usual’ places...


Over the past couple of months I’ve been fishing almost regularly on a stretch of the River Wandle I’ve known for years - but often walked past in search of better-looking water.

At first glance it’s an utterly unprepossessing stretch of urban riverAt first glance it’s an utterly unprepossessing stretch of urban river: straight, shallow, lined with concrete banks, often littered with rubbish from semi-derelict housing estates. But maybe what saves this one is the broken shade that allows a few weed beds to flourish - and the pocket water created by the years of discarded builders’ waste fly-tipped into the channel. (If you tried hard enough, you could probably collect enough to reconstruct the hard-working mills and grand Victorian villas which occupied these ancient cotton-bleaching grounds until they were finally demolished in the 1960s). 

Throughout most hours of daylight, gin-clear and spooky don’t begin to describe it: this river still flows from the chalk springs that once forced Frederic Halford to learn how to fish a dry fly like the locals. But as I’ve discovered this blue-winged olive season, for a few moments some evenings between daylight and lamplight, you may get a chance to put your fly in front of a trout you’ll remember for the rest of the year.

Make your approach too early, and there’s still too much ambient light, even when you think you’re safely sheltered by the deep shade of the trees. Too late, and the street lamps on the paths through the estate will silhouette you as a looming black shadow against a sulphur glare - or spotlight every movement as if you’re a POW caught in the act of busting out of Stalag Luft III.

But when you get everything just right...Either way, the whole river’s surface will rock with the departure of something enormous in this tiny stream. The hairs prickle on the back of your neck, and you’re suddenly almost glad not to be tangling with whatever that was, alone in the yellow dark, armed with nothing more than your pathetic little stick of carbon fibre.

But when you get everything just right, you’ll come upon a pod of fish feeding heavily on a blue-winged spinner fall - swinging from side to side in the current, swirling oily rise rings sideways into the concrete walls and trailing ivy stems. Drop your little dry spinner pattern somewhere into those rings, and hang on for the detonation, while Labrinth and Lady Gaga rip up the night from the tower blocks above.

Urban fly-fishing… this is it




Theo is a freelance marketing, fly-fishing and environmental writer. He’s also Chairman of Trustees of the Wandle Trust, and founding editor of Urbantrout.net a website dedicated to the urban fly-fishing and river restoration improvements.


Theo’s trailblazing book Trout in Dirty Places: 50 rivers to fly-fish for trout and grayling in the UK’s town and city centres was published by Merlin Unwin Books in 2012. His new book on invasive non-native species is due in April 2014. 


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Comments (9 posted):

Theo on 02/09/2013 12:28:37
Hi all - For anyone who may be interested, I'm running this promotion on Urbantrout eco-branded hoodies this week ;) Thanks everyone! Theo
keiths on 02/09/2013 16:45:35
Oh the Wandle, I remember in the 50's running along by the Wandle in Wandsworth, so I could get away from the smell. But we did catch (coarse) where the Wandle joined the Thames. I know it's always a knife edge, but keep up the good work. Keith Peacock
Theo on 03/09/2013 17:36:49
Cheers Keith! "Knife edge" is all too close to the bone as a description, but we're doing our best. The 50s must have smelt pretty grim along the Wandle... you still get the occasional whiff of what Charles R-W calls "seven times through the kidneys treated sewage" but it's generally nothing short of fragrant compared to what it was! At least the trout seem to agree ;) Theo
Simmo on 03/09/2013 18:14:03
Nice article enjoyed it very much.:thumbs:
Theo on 06/09/2013 08:47:28
Many thanks, Simmo... hopefully more where that came from ;) Theo
richardw on 06/09/2013 09:30:45
Splendid article! :thumbs: richard
Theo on 07/09/2013 09:29:54
Thanks Richard - very much appreciated! Theo
ant77 on 07/09/2013 11:08:40
Great stuff Theo! Sums it all up perfectly - the 'yellow dark' is something I know very well. All the best Ant
Theo on 10/09/2013 07:57:17
Cheers Ant! It's getting noticeably earlier and earlier too - where has this season gone so far? Downstream, I guess, as somebody else (Leeson?) wrote... Theo
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