Angling with Autism

18th June 2021
BY Paul Lewthwaite, Head of Sculpture and a Community Service don

One of the many excellent resources available at Winchester College is the site itself. The managed grounds mix with areas of wild rural charm, creating a stunning environment in which to explore and learn. Running through all of this is the Itchen, the world-renowned chalk stream river, rich with wildlife and full of brown trout. These skittish, shadowy creatures thrive in the purity of the naturally filtered waters.

A highlight of the year is inviting students from Osborne School, Winchester, to visit our historic angling beat, and enjoy some time fly fishing in mayfly season. The students have learning disabilities, primarily autism, and this opportunity provides a deeply rewarding experience. Spending time on the bankside, being a part of the life of the river, with all its natural sights, smells and sounds, is a joyous occasion for all.

Under the expert tutelage of Steve Batten, the highly regarded angling coach, students learn the tricky art of casting a tiny artificial fly to land just on the surface of the water, in order to tantalise a hungry trout. My Community Service team of Winchester College men are a constant presence, assisting with the retrieval of flies stuck in hedges, untangling lines and developing fishing skills alongside our guests. Everybody gets involved with real enthusiasm. Wonderful staff members from Osborne School are on hand to provide friendly and patient support.

Occasionally, something happens to astonish all and break the serenity of the afternoon. A trout takes the fly! In a flash, all is activity as a rod is lifted and the landing net is deployed. This sudden excitement can often lead to the fish breaking free, but now and again our whole group gathers together to see a glistening trout which then ends up as supper back at Osborne School.

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