An Echo on the Wandle - Urban Chalkstream Fly Fishing

Farlows Assistant Retail Manager, Tom Clinton, puts an Echo Small Water Glass rod through its paces on an urban chalkstream.

Growing up in King’s Cross, urban angling has always fascinated me and I have memories of sedentary anglers posted along the Grand Union Canal catching all manner of coarse fish using bait tactics. The slow pace and intermittent bursts of action never really tickled my fancy, but my outlook was to change when I took up fly fishing some six years ago, starting off on the Walthamstow Reservoirs and Thornwood Springs trout fishery in Epping, both great locations for the city angler to escape to and catch a fish or two.

It wasn’t until about two years ago that river-based fly fishing really began to attract me. After researching various places to fish on classic chalkstreams such as the Test and the Itchen in Hampshire, I happened upon some information regarding an altogether different class of river, and one somewhat closer to home.

Tom on the Wandle with an Echo Rod Farlows Assistant Retail Manager, Tom Clinton, on the Wandle with an Echo Rod

The Wandle, despite its urban setting and constant pressure from pollution and fly tipping, is a chalkstream. It flows into the Thames at Wandsworth and offers quite abundant sport on the fly all year round. The wild trout which reside in the river are some of the wiliest I have ever encountered and excellent fun to target during the open season. As soon as the season closes, however, the coarse fish are just as fun to chase.

My first outing to the Wandle was late in the season two summers ago with Jonathon Muir, a good friend and now a colleague at Farlows, and Damon Valentine, a London-based fishing addict who we’d met through social media. The first fish we encountered, and subsequently caught, were some obliging chub (which have since become one of my favourite species to target). It wasn’t until about a year later that Jonny and I managed to hook our first wild Wandle brownies. It became apparent, after losing multiple flies and having to retire several leaders, that my stillwater gear wasn’t going to cut it. Far from the manicured and well-maintained banks of the more famous chalkstreams, I would describe the banks of the Wandle in the same way I would describe myself - scruffy! With this in mind, and with my love for quirky tackle, I invested in a relatively short and super light 7’ 3wt fibreglass fly rod.

 

For the rest of last year, our angling endeavours took us to various other locations around the UK, and the Wandle fell somewhat by the wayside. However, having seen the calibre of some of the trout being caught from this little urban stream, either via social media or being shown photographs by more experienced Wandle anglers, I came to realise that there were much bigger fish to target. This itch needed to be scratched, so I made a conscious decision to spend as much time as possible down there, dodging shopping trolleys and children’s scooters in search of yet more elusive Wandle gold.

Wandle Stunner Wandle gold!

My first outing this year, just after the opening of the trout season, was a blank - I hadn’t spent much time there over the winter scoping out decent lies or spots, so it was more of an exploratory mission. The second trip, a couple of days later, will remain etched in my memory forever.

Fishing alongside Tommy Ashby, an angler from Scotland I had encountered on my first outing, and trying a new Echo Small Water Glass rod in a 6’9” 3wt (with my trusty Redington Zero reel), we wandered towards a section of the river which we have informally dubbed ‘Industrial Alley’, a short stretch which flows alongside a selection of vehicle respray facilities, carpentry workshops and building suppliers.

Echo roll cast in a tight spot Roll cast in a tight spot

The water was murky yet translucent, so my fly choice was large and dark - something to create a fleeting yet tantalising interest when pulled past any resident fish that might be lurking in the vicinity. Being a less than traditional fishery, one can choose to chuck out any fly you like, and sometimes it’s necessary to resort to what might be described as ‘dirty tactics’ to catch a fish. As I rolled a cast out across the river, the leech pattern hit the water and immediately began to sink and swing around in a nice arc, much as you’d expect when fishing a salmon pool.  I tracked the chartreuse head of the fly through the chocolate water to give myself something on which to focus, when suddenly there was a flash of gold and the chartreuse head disappeared. I struck and as I did so it became apparent that I had struck gold.

The Echo rod bent double, each time the fish shook its head I felt the familiar and satisfying elasticity in the fibreglass blank as it absorbed the shock of the movement. After a tense scrap playing the biggest Wandle trout I had ever hooked, Tommy slid the net under it and I let out a yell of excitement - so loud in fact that one of the mechanics from a garage behind us came out to see what all the fuss was about! Two and a half pounds of buttery-yellow wild Wandle muscle, probably the most stunning trout I have ever caught.

Good Trout on the Wandle Probably the most stunning trout I have ever caught.

Since then, I have been spending almost every day off at the river catching many more trout (one of which was bigger than the aforementioned, though not nearly as beautiful). Although I only had the one day to try out the Echo rod, it’s safe to say that it will be one I recommend to anybody that’s after a similar set up to mine. It roll casts bigger/heavier flies with ease and presents the smallest of dries in a beautifully delicate manner, making it a versatile tool for all manner of small, wild rivers where a back cast may not be feasible. Although it may be designed to catch much smaller fish than the one I had - it took the more aggressive fight and heavier weight in its stride with ease. Top stuff!

Ian Welch

A freshwater biologist by training I drifted into angling journalism and am now Farlows Group marketing manager. A hopelessly inadequate fly angler (the team are hoping to put that right.) I have fished all over the world and am now most at home fishing for River Test grayling, River Ebro catfish, Indian mahseer, or battling giant freshwater stingray on the Thai rivers. Away from my rod I do a bit of shooting and a lot of fruit and vegetable growing!