John O’Gaunt’s Lake. King’s Somborne.

………By Graeme Pullen.

Tranquil waters in a serene setting

Choose a time of year for the best of England’s Dry Fly fishing and the majority of anglers would probably go for April, May and June. For most waters that would be a fair gauge of the best surface action, but a little known secret in the South is John O’ Gaunt’s Fishery, near King’s Somborne in West Hampshire offering year-round action. The fishery has been around for years, run efficiently by the owner Keith Purse, and it is his insistence on the very best quality trout that has made this venue top of the list for many discerning fly fisherman. Some of you will never have heard of it, which is fair, as it is not a place for instant big fish. Set in the heart of the Test valley it comes with a pedigree of water quality that many other owners can only marvel at. No more than a couple of hundred yards away lies the mighty River Test, home of the Houghton stretch ,that bastion of the British dry fly history with its quality Browns , Rainbows, Grayling and occasional Salmon. Getting a day on a beat here is pretty much “Dead men’s shoes”, and while I have been fortunate enough to experience a few sessions on the Compton stretch upstream ,they can be counted on both hands. To find that same quality of Chalkstream water in  lakes a few yards from the Houghton stretch can get even the most experienced fly fisherman in a bit of a quiver.


Choose the right dry fly from Sid Knight’s range

    The whole area has superb country scenery with King’s Somborne and the adjoining hamlets of Little Somborne, Up Somborne and Ashley, providing picture postcard scenes. The Roman’s were aware of the significance of the markets, and had a river crossing on the Test, immediately East of Houghton, and three miles south of the main market town of Stockbridge. Recorded in the Domesday Book as Somborne Regis, the gin clear Somborne stream runs through the village before it meanders off through the lush countryside to join the River Test. The access road, “Cow Drove Hill” is part of a road used by those travellers unwilling to pay the toll on the turnpike road to Stockbridge, while the area’s historical importance is confirmed by many flint and chalk built cottages that have beams dating back to the 1400’s.

The two lakes that you see today are born out of gravel extraction, but after a few years, natural springs were hit, and the lakes were formed. Depths initially were down to 15 feet, but gradually these shallowed up, which in turn pushes the trout within the angler’s vision. Although only a bit over five acres, there is every chance of stalking individual fish round the margins. However, the smaller of the two lakes, at a couple of acres is the ultimate in water clarity. I have fished probably sixty odd still waters in search of trout stories over the years, and this water is so painfully clear I fully expect to see a 5lb Bonefish swimming in it!  Over twenty years ago I interviewed Jack Sheppard who blew apart the myth of Mayfly taking two years to establish themselves, when he recorded Mayfly eggs  in the small lake one year, and a superb hatch of Mayfly the next. This tiny water was one of the few where I knew (and caught) wild rainbows that had bred in there. They were just half pounders, but resembled miniature Steelhead. Back then Jack’s dry armoury consisted of Iron Blue Dun, dark Olives and Sedge, plus of course the summertime bonus of windblown Mayfly spinners from the River. Today there may be less of the smaller “naturals”, but the fact is this fishery is just getting better each season for dry fly fishing.


Colour doesn’t spook trout,but outlines do. No sudden movements.

Keith Purse has now been running the fishery for around 23 years, having taken over from Jack Sheppard, and only buys his stock fish from the Houghton Club Fish Farm. These are all bred in running water which makes them extra strong from working against the current, and the condition is something the anglers appreciate. Early in the season Keith stocks triploids, and the lake always has a few beautifully marked browns. The lake record is a little over 10lbs for rainbows, and 6lbs for browns, with an average fish being about 3lbs. In my experience it is rare to get anything of 6lbs or over rising to the fly, and 3lbs is an ideal size for 6 weight fly rods or less.

My own session there was for pictures, but the draw on the sheltered Simms lake proved too much and I took my best ever trout on a dry, close to 5lbs if I recall. My previous best was 4-4 from Avington’s carrier stream. I fished an oversize Mayfly, 5lb Maxima chameleon line as leader, and with not a natural in sight, and probably rose a dozen fish which I avoided hooking before the leviathan rose. The beauty here is that given good light you can stalk your quarry instead of presenting a standard weighted nymph; you cover it with your dry. This gives an excellent opportunity to see the reaction of the trout to your different floating patterns, avoid smaller fish (there aren’t many) and target the larger. I interviewed local expert and bailiff John Green, who has a phenomenal history of the area.

Graeme’s largest Rainbow on a dry fly.Quite a catch.

  A veteran of the River Test, he was brought up in the area, and knows more about the what, when, where of the insect world, than most of the visiting anglers. He confirmed his favoured approach was the dry fly, simply because it spreads your catch rate throughout the day, making for more enjoyment, and offers a bit more challenge. All the locals at the lake, and many who fish the rivers, request patterns from him, and his favourites are a size 10 Grey Wulff, which is without doubt, the best catching dry right through the year. Second place goes to a size 10 Dry Daddylonglegs, which he actually activates by a few tweaks as a trout gets near. This “activation” may seem strange to many dry anglers, but I recall seeing it done thirty years ago at Leominstead fishery in the New Forest. It was rammed with anglers, but an American long distance fly caster made us all look silly by taking a double limit of rainbows on a huge dry that he figure-of-eighted across the surface from a floating island. I confess to trying it on the small lake, but drew only limited response. What I did find was you could tweak a dry as a trout got close and they would definitely turn off course to look at it. If I kept retrieving they eventually turned away. But “tweak-and-leave” got me the rises.


Throw a slight snake in the flyline to allow for drift.

Third place in the dry pattern popularity list is a bulked up pattern of the American “Adams” fly, on a size 12 hook. Bulky dry flies are the order of the day according to John. Last but not least is the trusty Mayfly, which seems to catch on every month as well as May. John’s tackle consists of Grand Riverge 6lb fluorocarbon leader which he can still use on size 12 and 14 fly hooks. He uses only 9 foot leaders, dispelling all thoughts on 20 and 30 foot leaders for correct dry prentation.He uses no grease on the fluorocarbon and still finds it presents on the surface film properly. His fly line is a triangular taper Lee Wulff, size 6, forward taper. Long distance is rarely needed, but the ability to pick up and put down again with a single fast cast to cover a moving trout is of paramount importance. Don’t wait for the trout to turn round and patrol back, it might not do that. Cover it as many times as you can unless you detect a fin-bristling “spook”, in which case rest it. Another tip with dry is when you have made a couple of casts, there’s no response and the trout is moving away. Try to change position along the bank so you are not casting from behind the trout, which would enable it to see the leader before the fly. Fluorocarbon is good, but not that good!!


A rainbow cruises through a gravel clearing.I deal spotting territory.

John’s theory is that many of the hawthorn terrestrials are on the lee side of the lake, so are actually blown away from the water. But there are grasshopper, other terrestrials, and of course buzzers. If you get trout “sipping” in the surface film go down to something like a Tup’s Indispensable. While John is an avid dry fly enthusiast, another angler, Bill Cuthbertson, fishes dry and has caught on them in every month of the year. To confirm that John O’ Gaunt’s is a year-round floater haven I spoke to the “Saturday” bailiff John Stephens. He has the experience of fishing dries on the lake for the last 25 years .His belief is that the only change in the lakes has been the slight colouration caused by the Rudd population, and with these eating a lot of the insects means the trout have to move around in search food more more, and that means up near the surface. In autumn and winter the larger lake does clear more and even changing from two to four feet visibility gives the trout a better chance of spotting your dry. While John favours any Mayfly patterns his Grey Wulff is what he describes as his “speculating” pattern. He uses Drennan double strength 6lb leader, with an intermediate Airflo poly leader, around five feet long, which gives a better taper, and thereby rollover. Other than Mayfly patterns, John favours a red bodied Daddy, and there can be lots of Damsels, overspills from the nearby Test. On breezy days he has had good success on a retrieved dry, pulled across, or into the ripples. He uses a G&H Sedge pattern on a size 10 for this style.A couple of final tips from him was to try a Red Sedge with a red butt or size 16 Hare’s Ear early in the morning. He also favours Ginger and Claret Hoppers. The Regulars and locals know that just because winter has arrived there is no need to reach for the lure box. Given a mild day the browns and rainbows of John O’Gaunt’s will usually oblige with a few rises, even it is for a shorter period in the colder months. Professional fly tyer Sid Knight reckons he has seen an increase in enquiries for dry patterns, and has had his customers reporting great success on his “Deadly Daddy”. Here are his flies, and pattern dressings for you to follow if you fancy a trip down to the best dry fly lakes in Hampshire.



An angler’s eye view of a John O’Gaunt’s Rainbow


Professional fly tyer SID KNIGHT’S….”TOP TIES for John O’ Gaunt’s”

All the Rainbows are in great condition.


1)-Grey Wulff -good all-round and very reliable fly throughout the season. The cream variation is deadly in Mayfly time in sizes10/12/14.

Hook-Kamasan B400 size 10/12. Thread-Black.Uni size 8. Tail-Grey squirrel tail hairs. Body-Grey Muskrat or grey mink under fur or cream seal fur. Wings-Grey squirrel tail tied on in a bunch and then split to form wings. Hackle-Natural grey genetic.


2)-Special-Dry detached body (realistic) Daddy Longlegs.

Hook-Kamasan B400.Size-12.Thread-Brown or camel Uni size 8. Det Body-White braid toned with marker pen. Thorax Cover-Hen Pheasant Centre tail. Thorax-Hare under fur. Legs-Knotted cock pheasant tail fibres. Wings-Dyed medium blue Dun cock hackle tips. Hackle-Ginger genetic cock hackle.


3)-Weighted Green ass Daddy Longlegs. This new Daddy has been a killer throughout the season. Tied in such a way, on the retrieve, the legs and wings work. Hook-Kamasan B830 L/S 10 or L/s 12.Thread-Brown or Camel Uni size 8.Tag-Ultra pearly material. Rib-Copper wire.Butt-fluo green antron wool. Body-Cock Pheasant centre tail. Thorax cover-Cock Pheasant centre tail. Thorax –Hare under fur. Legs-knotted cock pheasant centre tail fibres. Wings-pale cree.Hackle-Soft medium brown Chinese hackle.(When tying this pattern, so as to make the wings and legs work on the retrieve, you must dub right up to the base of both wings and legs. This makes them slightly stick out, but when you retrieve, the legs and wings fold back ands work through the water.


4-Dry Raffia Daddy Longlegs-The Goldhead version works all season.

Graeme sidestrains a good rainbow


Hook-Kamasan B830 size 10/12. Thread-Brown or camel Uni size 8. Rib-Brown thread. Body-natural raffia. Thorax Cover Cock pheasant centre tail. Thorax-Hare grey under fur. Legs-Knotted cock pheasant centre tail fibres. Wings-Dyed medium blue Dun cock hackle tips. Hackle-Light Brown genetic cock hackle. (The preference for genetic cock hackles is that they float better).


5- Dry Adams-A famous and reliable dry tied in all its versions-Hackled, winged or parachute.

Hook-Kamasan B400 sizes 10 to 16.Tail-Mixed red/brown and ginger cock hackle fibres .Thread-Black Uni 8.Rib-clear 4lb mono.Body-Grey fur, muskrat or grey mink. Wings-Two grizzle hackle tips. Hackle-Mixed as tail. Red/brown and grizzle genetic hackle. The hackle remains the same on hackled or parachute versions.


DIRECTIONS- Take the A3057 (Stockbridge Road) to King’s Somborne before turning on to Cow Drove Hill. At the top of the hill turn left until it turns into a track. Continue on the track bearing round to the right when you can go between two gate posts and on to a gravel track. Continue on this until you can go no further (in a car) where you will see the entrance to the lakes on your left hand side. The nearest train stations are at Winchester and Romsey.

FACILITIES- Portaloo Toilet. Weigh room.Office.Tuition available. Corporate days are catered for.

ACCOMODATIONGrosvenor Hotel. High Street.Stockbridge.Hants. SO20 6EU.Tel-01264-810606.Restaurant, Bar, 26 en suite rooms.

The White Hart Hotel. High Street.Stockbridge.Hants.SO20 6HF.Tel-01264-810663. (4 star) Restaurant, bar, 14 rooms.

PRICES & CONTACTHalf Day (2 fish ticket) £21 Full day (4 fish ticket) £40-00(Subject to changes)

Open daily from 9am, 1st February to 30th November. Then from December 1st to January 31st the lakes are open on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Lake office-01794-388130.Main office-02380-252268 .Email-eldeanos@sky.com  There is also a tab on their website for local weather covering the Stockbridge area.

COPYRIGHT: Graeme Pullen.All Rights Reserved.