Rain water filters through the layers of chalk strata, becomes purified in the process and collects in aquifers deep below the surface of the chalky regions of Hampshire and Wiltshire. Natural springs release the water – now clear, stable in temperature and rich in calcium and nitrates.
The key to a good trout habitat is fertile water — in many ways it can be compared to soil in that, if nutrients aren’t there, crops won’t grow well. The waters in this part of southern England are well known for their prolific weed, insects and crustaceans.
Reading the clear water
Ex-gravel pit turned trout fishery, Langford seethes with aquatic insects in its rich waters. The fishery has many features to make it interesting but not intimidating to the newcomer.
Depth is often overlooked, even though it affects the fertility of a water. From the island on the western side of the lake the depth is only about 75cm (2½ ft). It gradually increases as you go eastwards. Despite being a gravel pit at one time, the deepest part of the large lake is only 3-3.6m (10-12ft) on the eastern side . This means that it is a very fertile water.
Light penetrates such shallow water, stimulating plant growth (both algae and rooted plants) and starting the whole food chain in motion. Insects use plants for food, oxygen and cover.
The wind easily mixes the shallow water, warming or cooling it quickly, depending on the time of the year. In the early season the water warms quickly in periods of mild weather – and vice versa in the autumn.
A deep, steep-sided gravel pit without ample shallows is no more than an open pool. It has little plant and insect life because the light can’t penetrate the depths sufficiently to support rooted plants – key oxygen producers during the day. Aerators near the cages oxygenate the water when the levels are low in mid summer. On hot, sunny days the water can become so warm that it cannot hold enough dissolved oxygen to keep the trout happy.
That’s when they retreat into deeper water or leap distractedly, refusing to feed until the cool of evening. In such conditions the oxygenated water near the aerators draws fish from all over the lake. But you’ll need the boat to fish these areas. The underwater springs at Langford also attract trout all year round because the water flowing in is stable in temperature. Brown trout which have evaded capture and acclimatized often he near the springs throughout the year. During the day in hot summers you’ll find the great majority of the fish shoaled up over the springs. Though they probably won’t be in a feeding mood, you can sometimes tempt them to hit large, bright lures. Work the flies back quickly and erratically to annoy the trout into striking.
The cages Being reared in the water, the trout seem to acclimatize much faster than stockies brought in from outside which shoal up tightly and mill about aimlessly for the first few days. You usually find a few fish living near the cages, picking off the pellets that their confined, well-fed counterparts miss. Here, lures or nymphs fished slowly may just tempt a hefty specimen.
Peter recommends a prominent point on the eastern side of the lake – it juts out and creates two bays . For about 1.8m (6ft) the water shelves off gently. You can easily see the chalk stones, looking like submerged yellowing golf balls. There’s a Up, and then about 3m (10ft) from the bank the bottom drops steeply to the deepest part of the lake. The deepest water at Langford is easily within the casting range of even a novice fly fisherman.
The bottom is slightly undulating, providing small gullies for the trout to he in and move to and fro. Fronds of delicate weed rise up from the bottom, hiding many species of insects – from midges in the deep water to damsels in the shallows.
On the day in early May when Peter met us at Langford, there was some cloud and a southwesterly wind was gusting straight into the point. This was the first place he headed for. With the wind piling into this bay the fish have got to be in there with all the accumulated food.
Midge pupae rise from the bottom to the surface to hatch. By virtue of the surface drift and strong winds, they concentrate at this section of the lake. Fishing into the wind isn’t the most pleasant experience, but you should never look just for the easiest place to fish.
In previous matches at Langford in the early season, says Peter, I used a two fly set-up with a Black Pennell on the dropper because of the enormous buzzer hatches. I know it’s an old-fashioned fly, but it certainly works.
But even at this recommended spot, Peter advises that if you’re not catching and you’ve tried a variety of techniques, covering all depths, it’s best to move on. It isn’t feasible to set up camp in one spot and just hope for the trout to come to you — unless it is for specific reasons (such as when the fish are concentrated near the springs during hot summers).
A cruise around
In late spring, late summer and early autumn, the water is comfortably cool and well-oxygenated, and insect activity is quite high. These are the times of year when the trout are most active in hunting for food.
The rainbows and recently stocked browns are very nomadic at these times -searching the weeds for food and mounting cyclical patrols in the mini wind lanes for hatching midges. On the other hand, browns which manage to evade capture and acclimatize can become territorial, and you have to go to them.
Shallow plains, extending eastwards from the island for about 30m (33yd), are an excellent place in the early and late season for cruising trout. It’s best to fish over them with an anchored boat, floating line and emerging midge imitations – though bank anglers too can score using a team of emerg-ers placed well out.
In the heat of summer not many trout are here during the day because of the warm water and bright sunlight, but come evening the fish move in – emerging midge and damsel imitations are hard to beat.
In the summer months, says Peter, it’s very much a damselfiy water because of the high alkalinity and weed growth. You get enormous numbers of them.
Several species of coarse fish – roach, tench, sticklebacks – five and spawn in the shallow waters. Fry bashing comes into its own in autumn.
Tactics set in stone?
Relying merely on the advice of others to guide you through the season won’t make you a better angler. Peter beheves in the importance of being practical. Think in the present tense. Don’t sit in one spot all day if it’s not fishing well. ‘The thing to stress is always to be observant, he says. Keep your eyes open at all times for surface activity which may be quite limited and quite defined. You must always, always be ready to change position, change flies and change tactics. Never be too dogmatic about fly fishing and finding trout. but also depth and security and not too much turbulence. Where you find a combination of these features is probably the best spot for locating the most catchable fish. But there are no hard and fast rules. If you can’t see fish, concentrate on covering deeper pockets and obvious food channels.
As you move upstream casting here and there, it’s important to keep quiet and out of sight of any fish that might be near. The wild brown trout in these parts are beady-eyed and skittish. If you do see any fish it’s often a vague flash as one pelts off having seen you first.