Chalk stream fishing

One of the most romantic fishing images is that of expert fly-fishermen working chalk streams with consummate delicacy; with a little care and confidence you can join their company.

During the middle of the 19th century the great traditions of dry fly fishing developed on the chalk streams of England, particularly on such world famous rivers as the Test, Itchen and Kennet, in the Southern Counties. Fortunately for the modern angler the purism associated with the use of the dry-fly-only rule to a large extent disappeared when nymph fishing was in-g troduced in the early 1900s. Today, . On many of our chalk streams, I nymph fishing is only allowed after p 1 July. This is a sensible rule, as hat- ches of surface fly during the height of summer are often minimal, and so the use of a nymph during this period at least provides the angler with some interesting and demanding fishing.

Fly fishing in a river
Image via Wikipedia

During the past 20 years fly fishing has developed enormously. Today, there are many thousands of anglers, proficient at casting a fly, who regularly fish on lakes and reservoirs. Many would undoubtedly love to fish a chalk stream but probably feel they are not sufficiently experienced. This is nonsense. If you can cast a fly delicately on to the water, the art of dry fly or nymph fishing on chalk streams can be quickly acquired.

Slow, stealthy approach

The angler must appreciate that he will be fishing in very clear water, which means the trout can see him from a considerable distance, so that the fly fisherman tramping along the bank looking for trout will scare more trout than he catches. A slow, stealthy approach to the water is essential and at times it may even be necessary to crawl and cast from a kneeling position to fish successfully from an open section of bank.

Of equal importance is the actual presentation of the dry fly or the nymph. Use as light a line as you can handle proficiently, plus a fine leader. Nothing will scare trout more than to have a fly line landing on the water within its field of view, or even the fly or nymph itself if it should land heavily.

When you have the choice of using either a dry fly or a nymph, it is best to decide beforehand which method you are going to employ on any given stretch of water. When fishing with a dry fly you should concentrate cm looking for rise forms on the surface, but when using a nymph you should be looking into the water for feeding fish. It is not possible to combine the two successfully. Try to cast the fly so that it lands delicately, to one side of the fish or rise, or better still well upstream (although this will depend on your position relative to the trout).

When fishing the dry fly, delicate presentation is essential. With practice you will soon learn to roll the fly line and leader out so that the fly lands as light as thistledown on the surface. Try to ensure that your fly lands well upstream of the rising trout – 2-3ft outside the edge of its 338 window of vision is the ideal position. The direction of current should also be taken into account, as it is necessary to position your fly so that it floats down over the trout. Chalk streams are notorious for their varying speeds of currents within relatively small areas, and these can create problems as your dry fly will often start to drag just as it is about to float over a trout. To overcome this it is essential to learn to cast the line so it alights on the surface full of curves and wiggles.

To achieve this, imagine you are going to cast well beyond the spot at which you are aiming and then sharply arrest the flight of the line and fly in the air, so that it recoils slightly before falling on to the surface. The correct presentation of a nymph should be projected so that it pierces the surface sharply in advance of the leader alighting. This will ensure that it sinks quickly down to the level at which the trout is feeding. A rod specially developed for nymph fishing will help you achieve this, and the old type of built cane rods with their relatively slow action are to be recommended.

A good general pattern

Many fly fishermen think that it is essential to have considerable knowledge of the natural flies that the trout may be rising to, so that a matching artificial may be used to deceive them. This is not strictlv true; while it may be necessary for a particularly wary or difficult trout, a large proportion of fish will succumb to a good general pattern. These include ‘Kites Imperial’, ‘Rough Olive’, or ‘Black Gnat’ during the day, or as dusk approaches, a ‘Lunns Particular’ or ‘Red Sedge’.

During the latter half of the season, when hatches of surface fly are sparse and few trout are rising, it is necessary to use a nymph. This is because trout are feeding below the surface. In chalk streams the main underwater diet of trout is various species of olive nymph, although some trout may be observed searching the bottom or probing weed for shrimps. In these conditions offer an unweighted nymph to fish feeding just below the surface, or a weighted ‘Pheasant Tail’ or ‘PVC Nymph’ to deeper feeding trout. Where trout feed on shrimps in deep water a heavy-leaded shrimp pattern may be used. Weighted nymphs should be cast well upstream of a feeding trout to drift downstream.

It is often difficult to see the nymph underwater so watch for the flash of the fish as it turns to take the bait, or the wink of white as he opens his mouth, and strike immediately.

Should the trout consistently refuse your offering, try the ‘induced take’ technique. When the nymph has appeared within the visual field of the trout, slowly raise the rod tip. This will make the nymph rise towards the surface – which most trout find irresistible.

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