Britain’s landscape is criss-crossed with streams and tiny becks – waterways which seem too small to fish but are in fact full of trout up to half a pound (0.23kg), as well as the odd monster. In many places, these streams are narrow enough to jump, while elsewhere they can be several yards wide (though usually only a few inches deep). Trout belong in these habitats, which have pure, highly oxygenated water, and their shape is ideal to cope with the current. British streams can be roughly divided into four types, each containing its own population of trout. The differences in environment provided by each of the types accounts for the variations in the trout which live in them. Chalk streams are confined to an area from Dorset to Kent on the South coast of England, and Hertfordshire, Norfolk and North Humberside in the East. They tend to have thickly overgrown banks, to be slow-moving and very rich in nutrients. The trout that live in them are therefore fat and well fed. Lowland streams are also slow-moving, overgrown and often shallow. They do not share many of the unique features of the other types, being more like narrow rivers. Highland streams are found in Scotland, Wales and Cumbria. They are steep and fast-flowing, with deep gullies and pools cut into hard rock. The banks are bare with peaty, acidic, nutrient-poor water. The trout are small, slim and greedy feeders. Moorland streams are common on the high-lying moors found throughout the
British Isles. Dartmoor and Exmoor are typical examples. They are fed by rainfall on the nearby mountains and can be acidic or alkaline, as well as quite fast-flowing. The banks have some vegetation but not usually many trees. The trout populations in these are lean but perhaps not as hungry as their cousins from the highlands.
Each type of water has its own unique features which provide the resident trout with different challenges and opportunities for feeding. The experienced angler can spot the clues which lead him to hungry fish in each. For those less experienced, the best type to start with is the moorland stream which is accessible to most and does not cost the earth to fish, as many chalk streams can do.
At first sight, there doesn’t seem much room for anything other than a stickleback or two from a water you can jump over, but appearances are deceptive. There are many holes where a trout can hide, out of the main current, waiting to pounce on anything resembling food that is swept down to them.
Most of the trout in a moorland stream live and feed in the pools, with the shallower areas only really fishable when the stream is in spate. Even then, the fish only move from a pool if there are no sheltered areas left in it, and if the flooding has produced new calm areas where there were once riffles and rapids.
Even if you concentrate your fishing time on the pools, you could still be missing out on the best trout. Look for the biggest fish in the best lies – polarized glasses are very useful here. A good lie is one that is protected from the full force of the current and, at the same time, is well placed for intercepting food carried in the current. It is also often close to a source of aeration, such as a waterfall.
A boulder in mid-stream divides the current, and creates an area of slack water in its wake. Where the water passes the boulder it speeds up, causing turbulence which in turn helps to oxygenate the water. Any trout taking advantage of this oxygen-rich shelter also has easy access to the stream on either side and any food it carries. This is an ideal trout lie.
Undercut banks, usually found on the outsides of bends, also provide shelter and access to food. Approach quietly though, or you’ll scare away any trout hiding there. Tree roots, where they are exposed under water at the bankside, can be an even better place to seek a fat brownie. They not only offer secure shelter, but also the chance of some fat grubs or worms from around the root system.
A protruding bank or boulder at the side of a stream causes an eddy which naturally draws in food and slows down the current. While it is not as attractive as a mid-stream boulder, you often find big fish in this quiet water close in to the bank. Small waterfalls obviously aerate the water, and they sometimes wear small, deep basins in which food particles can accumulate. Dropping your baited hook into the water at the top of such a waterfall, and allowing it to follow the current, can often produce a bonus fish.
Fishing moorland streams
You can fish these streams with either fly or worm. You won’t need to cast far so a 7ft (2.1m) fly rod, reel filled with 2 lb (0.9kg) monofilament, and a couple of split shot are all you need to swing either a small fly or size 14 hook and worm into any trout-holding nook or cranny.
Whichever method you choose, you must approach the water quietly and stealthily, remembering that there is little or no cover at the bankside. Fish from the downstream end of your chosen stretch, flicking your hook upstream into any trouty lies you might find. That way you are least likely to frighten feeding trout since they face upstream into the current, waiting for food to be swept down to them.
If possible, choose a windless, overcast (or rainy) day. Don’t be put off if the stream is in spate — they often fish very well in these conditions. Fishing downstream is usually more effective and easier in a flood.
There are many thousands of these small waterways all around Britain, most of them not under the control of any particular fishing club. They do, however, run across someone’s land and it is important that you ask the owner’s permission before setting off after his trout.