The chalkstreams of England are the original home of the fly fisher and it is conceivable that more has been written on the art of dry fly fishing on these beautiful and private rivers than any other fishing subject.
This is no coincidence; the skill required to stalk a brown trout in the gin clear waters of the Test, Itchen or Avon and to present a dry fly on the mirrored surface convincingly enough to fool your quarry is one of life’s great rewarding challenges.
All of the rivers in England are totally private which means they are well maintained and hold fantastic numbers of trout and grayling.
As we wait for April 1st to come again and the start of a new trout fishing season in England we can reflect back on what has been a very good but difficult season on our wonderful rivers.
April 2008 saw the season start with fine weather and excellent hatches of Olives and Hawthorn Flies giving the trout their first real chance to rise and sample the spring air. The hatches of flies on the upper River Test was probably the most productive of all with the River Anton being the best of all of the tributaries.
The Anton is a small river that joins the Test just above the Village of Stockbridge probably the most famous fishing village in the world. The gin clear river Anton holds huge stocks of brown trout and grayling that get to an average size of 3lbs for the trout and nearly 1 ˝ lbs for a grayling. The early season on the Anton proved to be a dry fly purists dream as most of the fish seemed to be obliging
As April turned to May all of our trout rivers now open and we were expecting a bumper Mayfly hatch this season. The Avon, Test and Itchen all had record hatches and the fishing should have been simply out of this world. God however had other ideas and it rained for almost the entire month of May. The rivers rose, but as is the way with chalkstreams they still stayed clear. The fish were greedily taking large Mayfly patterns but many anglers were put off by the constant rain.
The middle of the season saw the rain continue with record levels in the Test and Avon Valley’s which did show a noticeable decline in terrestrial and up-winged insects on our rivers, making the brown trout less likely to rise to the fly. Nymph fishing however is allowed after the 1st July on most rivers and this season it really came into its own. Pheasant Tails, Gold Ribbed Hares Ear’s and other traditional patterns work best on the chalkstreams with the trout seeming to dislike modern materials and flies. Like most of the English even our fish seem to be stuck in there ways.
As the season drew to a close the fishing just got better and better. September was a simply amazing month. The weather improved (a little know fact is that we get more sunny days in September in southern England then any other month) and the olives hatched in the hundreds every day on every beat. The trout had a surface feeding frenzy.
Once again the River Anton was probably the best of the lot for dry fly fishing closely followed by the Durnford beats of the River Avon in Wiltshire. The great fishing continued right until the end of the season on 15th October. It is always sad to leave these great rivers for another few months.
It is rare in a modern world to do things in the same way as our ancestors and, despite merciful improvements in rods, lines and reels, nothing has changed in the world of the English chalkstream. The management of the river and in particular weedcutting, have been much the same for hundreds of years, flies although often renamed, are still based on the tried and tested patterns of FM Halford or GEM Skues. The necessity for using cover where possible and remaining invisible to the fish is still as crucial now as it was in the days of our forebears. England offers private access to water that many only dream about and I look forward to seeing you on our wonderful rivers next season.