Our friends had just announced they were selling their house immediately and moving down to the New Forest. They had just received a 'phone call informing them of a residential bungalow vacancy and were they prepared to accept?
It was to be quite some time before we saw Les and Helen again but our curiosity had got the better of us and we just had to find out what was so special about this place that had not only claimed our friends but her parents to the area as well!
We decided upon a short five day break in September to investigate the fishing on site, as well as nearby in the locality, covering coarse, sea and game.
We left at 11am and within an hour were crawling along, not in a traffic jam but in an effort to avoid the New Forest ponies which were wandering along and across the road leading to our destination. We arrived just after 12 o clock and drove into the permanent resident's area to be greeted by our friends.
After a cup of tea and chat we remained on site for lunch at the Woodside Inn Family Pub. As the name suggests this is a comfortably furnished pub serving an extensive menu of good quality meals, to eat in or take away, as well as providing evening entertainment for all the family. Having finished an excellent lunch Les and Helen showed us around the nearby chocolate box assortment of amenities which included; a Leisure Centre with indoor and outdoor pools, gym, toning tables, dance studio and beauty therapist. At the back of the Leisure Centre is an adventure playground whilst opposite is an Activity Centre with games room and Toddlers Wood soft play area.
If you want to explore further afield, bicycle hire or the Arniss Stables with it's hacking, riding lessons and livery are available. Situated next door to the Activity Centre is a well stocked Spar shop with wine and beer, in-store bakery, fresh produce, camping equipment and clothes. (If you have forgotten any of your fishing tackle, just visit the gift shop not far away at the main entrance.) However it was now time for Viginia's very first massage which had been booked in advance.
Once Virginia had finished her relaxing yet revitalising massage it was time to move into our timber forest lodge. This top quality, spotlessly clean accommodation had been well thought out and equipped with everything necessary including satellite TV and power shower. Unlike some other sites we have visited, the varied accommodation was not set out row upon row but has been carefully designed so that it is impossible to see other holiday homes more than 100 yards in any one direction creating an impression of space and privacy.
After unpacking and settling in, Les arrived to take us down the hill through the extensive woods to Sandy Balls' own section of the Hampshire Avon which holds the biggest recorded barbel from the river at over 161bs. Les himself has caught barbel to well over 121bs and chub to 5lb 10oz from this water. This in-form section also yields monstrous roach to over 3lb. However, that was not to be the case this particular evening when we legered flavoured meats for a couple of hours. After a spectacular sunset the events of the day caught up with us and we decided to pack up, ready for fishing the following day.
At 8 a.m. we were ready to meet Les and Helen for the ten minute journey to the New Forest Water Park where we fished the main 19 Acre Lake. We were fishing the bank opposite the club house with about 5ft of water. We set up with 13ft waggler rods with fixed spool reels loaded with 3.5lb b.s. line to fish a crow quill insert waggler about three rod lengths out. Bait was banded hair rigged trout pellets on size ten hooks. Ten minutes later after firing out the trout pellet loose-feed, we started catching a mixture of nice roach to well over the pound with several late season tench. Considering the time of the year this all year round coarse fishery certainly deserved its reputation.
The lake holds carp to 32lb, roach to 3lbs, rudd to 2lb and tench well into double figures. In the summer it has produced some terrific bags of big tench and specimen carp, so naturally we hope to return to discover the lake's full potential next year. The day ticket prices are £6 (9am to dusk) early starts by prior arrangement. A 24 hour ticket costs £15 bookable in advance. Further details on 01425 656868.
The next day saw us in the Woodside Inn for a hearty breakfast before setting off for Christchurch Quay. We hired a good sized flat-bottomed dinghy from Lovely Leisure Trips Ltd (07719 690949) having purchased our Christchurch Angling Club Harbour day ticket from nearby Davis Angling. In the past I have fished this section fairly regularly during the long summer holidays and enjoyed myself catching grey mullet to 5lb 2oz, roach to 2lb 3oz, tonking dace, sea trout, flounders and bass. However this was a very different kettle of fish, being a very windy cold day which was not going to help matters.
This time we set up with 12ft all through-actioned rods with centre pins loaded with 3lb line, to fish 5BB swan necked balsa floats with maggot hook baits. On my third cast the float flew under. I struck into a late season hard-fighting grey mullet that, after a long fight, threw the hook as it was about to be netted. This turned out to be the only mullet of the day but we were not to be cheated as we bagged up with roach and dace a cast as the tide turned, giving a combined bag of pushing 40lb. These lower Avon dace are real stonkers, running up to 12oz, providing good winter sport. The grey mullet are normally only found in the river during the summer months, migrating to sea as the temperature drops.
Our game venue was again very close at hand. After a superb mid-day meal at Rockbourne's Rose and Thistle pub we drove up the road to our destination. Rockbourne Trout Fishery at Sandleheath (01725 518603) is a well established picturesque site with six top-flight spring-fed lakes, each with its own unique character. I started off on Spring Lake which is the most sheltered of all the lakes. I set up with an 8.5ft AFTM No5 rod with a weight forward 5 floater with a 10ft leader to a size 14 gold bead gold-ribbed hair's ear. The water was gin clear and we could see some very nicely marked trout lurking in the depths. Action was not slow as a beautifully conditioned rainbow of about 41b hit the nymph and was soon swelling the net.
Walking round, I saw one of the local regulars stalk out a superb brown trout pushing 4lb on a Sawyer's Bug when the owner turned up and invited us to walk through and look into the small chalk stream at the rear of the lake. Naturally we accepted his offer and to our amazement found ourselves looking at several big roach in a shoal of wild brown trout. Evidently there is such a strong flow from the nearby spring that it was sufficient to power a mill up until 1739. The accent would be definitely on stealth and light tackle to fish this stream. The stream is only available by prior arrangement and all browns must be returned.
As we returned to fish Alder Lake we met a very excited Les, having taken his first ever fly-caught rainbow trout from Pine Tree Lake. Alder lake has slightly more colour so I decided to change to a brighter, more visible fly. I tied on a size 14 Pheasant Tail nymph with an orange thorax to work my way down the far bank. Spotting a rise by the side of some reeds, I made a long cast to cover the fish, which took instantly. After a spirited fight I held the fish to be photographed. Having completed my two fish limit we started to pack up when Les appeared, triumphantly carrying his limit.
To round off our break in style we decided to pay a visit to Valencio's Italian Pizza and Pasta Restaurant on site near the main entrance. This proved a fitting choice with its friendly atmosphere and marvellous Italian food to eat in or take away.
In conclusion, Virginia and I both thought this was a superior venue, providing excellent accommodation and amenities including their own section of the Hampshire Avon. The site itself is situated in an area not only of outstanding natural beauty but is also in close proximity of so many different types of fisheries, we felt virtually every type of angler would be catered for. In four days we realised we had only scratched the surface and would certainly be returning!
By the way, the unusual name Sandy Balls is derived from a geological phenomena of sand-capped gravel outcrops - when the gravel rolls down it picks up particles of sand forming sandy balls at the bottom of Good Friday Hill and Giants Grave.
To find out more about Sandy Balls click onto