By trade, Dermot Wilson was an adman; but all during the English trout season, while seated behind his desk at J. Walter Thompson's London office, he yearned to be out beside one of the classic Hampshire chalk streams. Two years ago, at the age of 44, he left his job, bought a 15th-century millhouse straddling Wallop Brook, a tributary of the Test, and began building a maze of interlocking business enterprises all based on fly fishing.
Today, at Nether Wallop Mill, Stock-bridge, Hampshire, he runs a unique mail-order tackle service that lets you try rods, reels and lines—and send them back if you don't like the feel of them. He's written a 20,000-word booklet called The Truth about Tackle, that sets out in detail the basic principles of choosing a fly rod, reel and line. Moreover, he and his partner, Lord Leslie, give fly-fishing lessons on their well-stocked stream at $7.50 an hour. For entertainment, the two anglers have set up on the ground floor of the mill a series of fish tanks fed by a pipe direct from the chalk stream, so that the insect larvae arrive and hatch as they would in nature and the trout can be observed rising to them. "We get some very good hatches of Blue-winged Olives in this very building," Wilson says.
But, most important of all to the touring fisherman, Wilson is able to provide a piscatorial treat not available anywhere else in this sacred area—actual fishing, by the day, on historic waters. (Most landowners lease their fishing by the season.) His price ($70 to $100 a day) includes all necessary equipment, and covers hotel accommodation in nearby Stockbridge or Winchester, breakfast, fishing lunch and the services of a dry-fly expert to advise and help.
By arrangement with local landowners, Wilson has available a first-class stretch of the Test, the water that Frederic Halford, the father of the dry-fly mystique, fished while he evolved his theories of exact imitation of floating insects. The riverbanks are scythed clear of tiresome weeds; waterside wooden seats allow the angler to spend hours brooding over a problem fish, deciding whether the right fly would be an Iron Blue Dun or a Sherry Spinner.
"On a typical visit," says Wilson, "you arrive the afternoon before and get fitted out. After dining at your hotel, you come and fish the evening rise on our tributary. In the morning you are accompanied by a retired colonel called Phil Pardoe, who's an expert on these chalk streams. After the midday rise, while things are dull in the heat of the afternoon, you can laze on the riverbank, see the sights in Winchester or Salisbury, or come back and watch the life in the fish-tanks and get a close look at the insects you are trying to imitate.
"Then, that brings you round to dinner, and the evening rise. In the event of total failure, you could of course have a go in the pond at the back of the mill, where I have a number of four-year-old rainbows."
Part of the Mill overlooks this pond, and when entertaining guests there the Wilsons are usually armed with a slingshot: a few feed pellets projected into the water bring huge fish boiling to the surface in a most satisfactory way. Sadly, this is about the closest contact the ex-adman has with trout nowadays: "I'm so busy I don't have much time to fish," he says.