Fishing Memories

Photos by Merrill Watson

Since then, he has been working with the armed forces using fly fishing as an alternative means to address PTSD.

Looking at the smooth flow of the River Test, I began to relax too. It was already turning out to be a wonderful day.

After discussing tactics, selecting flies and exchanging competitive jibes, we headed down the grassy bank and flushed a pheasant on the way. Sinclair suggested we begin at the bottom of the beat and work our way upriver to stay behind the fish.

We started with a Red Tag Nymph. It was chilly, so a wet fly was the best option for the morning as a dry fly without a hatch might be suspicious to the ever-wily brown trout, our primary target. We found our spots on the river, and, after a short refresher from Sinclair, started casting. Everyone was a little rusty, and the casts weren’t that smooth, but soon we found a rhythm.

A roll cast was perfect for getting the fly out into the middle of the river. I heard the first cuckoo of the year, always a marker that winter has gone and a good omen for me. I am a fair-weather angler and was happy when the fog cleared and the temperature warmed. Sunshine also made it easier to see fish.

“I’ve got one on,” Ayamé said after her third cast. The fish got away and left a bent fly in its wake. It must have been a brute.

Excitement waned but competitive determination returned as JP hooked a big brown trout minutes later. JP was determined to keep his on the line after witnessing Ayamé lose her fish. After a little bit of back and forth, he landed his fish. I took photos, and my son released his prize.

Suddenly, Ayamé hooked an enormous rainbow. With patience and skill, she brought her fish to Sinclair’s net too. Ayamé’s smile was as wide as her fish was long.

We took three more rainbows—and hooked twice an equal number of tree branches, which brought back memories. The fishing slowed and we headed back to Stockbridge for lunch and retail therapy at Robjent’s. JP and Ayamé emerged with new fishing hats, perfect for collecting the winning flies of the day.

Back on the river, the fish were still not biting. We tried different flies: Yellow Humpy, an Olive; Pheasant Tail Nymphs; a Duracell and a Hare’s Grub. Ayamé hooked a grayling, which has a characteristic red dorsal fin resembling a sail. Anglers call the fish the “lady of the stream.”

“I get corporate people out here using their phones the whole time,” said Sinclair, appreciating our focus. “One guy spent time in the fishing cabin on his laptop.”

What a wasted opportunity, I thought. Our day would have been shorter if we only cared about catching fish. We enjoyed the tranquility and the beauty of the stream. Ayamé claimed catching a big trout was her favorite part of the day. She smiled with a competitive grin, then said, “I enjoyed the sun and the birds too.”

We caught three more rainbows. JP caught a grayling. Then we spotted something different on the river—a pike with a brown trout in its mouth.

“It looks like a dog with a bone,” Ayamé said.

When I booked our trip to share an experience with my son and recreate memories, I had no idea how the day would turn out. We caught fish and lost others. We laughed regardless. Our main takeaway was gaining a greater appreciation of the restorative power of nature through fly fishing. That was the lesson Dad wanted to teach me long ago.

Thanks, Dad.

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Merrill Watson, a native Californian living in the English countryside, fell in love with writing while sending letters home from her hut in Senegal in the 1990s. A freelance writer, she loves to share her passions for outdoor sports, travel and art with her readers and fellow travelers on the ground during tours in England and on the African continent. For more information, contact her at

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