The River 'River'
Chalk streams; the very words conjure images of beauty. Bowling green-like mown riverbanks, reeds and grasses ever so gently leaning into the water, gently flowing Ranunculus, and a legion of invertebrates either climbing up onto the overhanging flora or breaking the waters surface and filling the air with their newly emerged adulthoods.
Civility, manners, and the rule of the single and upstream dry fly; these are the waters where our history was written.
These hallowed waters, home to the revered and legendary ‘fathers of fly fishing’ (Halford, Skues, Sawyer, et al), seem a world apart from my small, but equally as beautiful, Welsh free-stoners that I call my own. Back home the streams tend to be rocky (as their name/class of river suggests), are slightly acidic, and have usually spent hundreds to thousands of years cutting their way, ever downwards, through Welsh granite.
Here, and on these Southern chalk streams however, the waters are so clear that ‘crystal’ has taken on a new meaning. Gravel bottomed, they cut their way through chalk which, acting as a filter, both purifies and nutrifies the rain water for months before, eventually, releasing it back into the rivers. This process of purification and nutrification gives these rich and Southern waters a high alkaline level which, realistically speaking should kill things. Instead, the waters team with thousands upon thousands of invertebrates which are known to the larger and much more interesting inhabitants of these streams, as ‘food’.
The Longest Day
It’s 8am, a Friday morning, and late in August. I’m currently stuck behind my desk, half-heartedly adding a new web service to an existing web application, my thoughts firmly fixed on the weekend that is due to start in just seven and a half hours. My fishing gear sits enticingly in the corner of my office, seemingly attempting to push me out of the door, into the car, and south bound towards my goal.
All of this excitement is due to the fact that I’ll be visiting a good friend down in the county of Wiltshire. Once there, and over the course of the weekend, my generous host will be showing me a few of the hallowed chalk streams of Southern England, all within a stone’s throw of his home.
With the torturously long working day completed (and after three hours travelling south on the eye-sore that is the M4) I arrive at Dan’s beautiful Southern-English town, just north of Salisbury. To be a gent I’m not going to name any of the rivers or streams, so you’ll just have to make do with the fact that I’ve given you a county to play with. Anyway, the clue is in the title…
After a few hour journey I eventually rolled up on Dan’s drive, and after a few minutes of greetings and ‘hellos’, the first beer was cracked open. The driving done, it was time to relax.
Let the weekend begin.
Saturday: Chalk Stream ‘X’
There’s something rather special about starting a day’s fishing with an early rise and a fried breakfast. The majority of the local inhabitants are still yet to wake and the town seems eerily calm, yet the café we sit in seems, not busy, but not quiet. It may also just me, but there is an excitement in the air. It probably is me, but then it’s probably slightly due to the fact that Dan is happily describing what I am to expect throughout the day.
As he cuts his bacon and leisurely scoops on some beans, he reminisces to me the joys or the stream we are to fish, his enthusiasm contagious.
Eventually, breakfasts are finished, coffees are downed, and we are at the river.
The chalk streams are so different from the free stone rivers I’m used to. Water clarity is crystal clear, and the heavy amount of Ranunculus was, truthfully, quite shocking at first. In the early morning haze, this sparkling river looked simply magical.
Starting on a section of water where no wading is allowed I was happy to watch the water for a few moments, huge shoals of grayling happily sitting in the current, and probably quite aware of my nosey gaze.
It was in one such ‘No Wading’ area that I caught my first chalk stream fish. Not a large fish by anyone’s reckoning, but my first.
Throughout the day Dan and I worked our way up a few miles of river, both spotting fish and casting a dry fly out over them or, and more so in my case, spotting a shoal of fish only to have them dart past me, well and truly spooked.
Generally, a cast to a rise, to the side of an outcrop of Ranunculus, or beside any exposed roots would result in a rise.
We both managed to catch a good number of fish between us but Dan proved himself as the experienced guide by hooking into a steam engine of a trout.
Spotting a small shoal of fish a mere few feet below a partly submerged bush/tree, it was unspokenly acknowledged between Dan and I that the biggest fish would be sitting at the head of that shoal. A tight-looped, and accurate cast later, and Dan’s world erupted with a toothed mouth and spade-like tail.
Set on a course which could only take the trout into the bush, Dan had no choice but to apply as much side-strain as possible to steer the trout away from it’s shelter. Sadly though, and a pain Dan is still feeling no doubt, the tippet snapped, and the fish swam free. That fish was big, very big.
The day was warm, the sun was bright, and fishing conditions were generally ‘not perfect’, but we caught consistently throughout the day, and I must say, in almost magical surroundings.
It was a shame to leave such a beautiful piece of water, but after a full days fishing, we were shattered, so home we went.
That evening, my hosts produced an amazing meal, and after a few more beers it was time to call it a day.
Day #1 down. They always go too quick.
Sunday: Chalk Stream ‘Y’
I’ve dreamt of fishing chalk stream ‘Y’ for many years now. I’ve read about it, day dreamed about it, and gazed at it in photos, but I’m happy to say that I was still surprised by its beauty; a true small stream, but again, not like back home.
Anyone who knows me, or has fished with me, knows I am firmly routed in fishing small streams. They are, generally, all I think about. The fact that these waters are usually off the beaten track and are more secluded than most of the larger waters suit me just fine.
Fishing a small ‘chalk stream’ was something I was hugely looking forward to, and today, that chance came.
We had breakfast in that morning and was made, as per the previous evening’s meal, by my host’s ‘better-half’, and again, was fantastic (the quality of the fishing and cooking over the weekend was enough to make anyone want to run away from home and attempt to become a permanent visitor!).
Conditions seemed a little worse off in comparison to the previous day’s sun and warmth, and instead, we were accompanied all day with a chilly wind and fine drizzle. Both Dan and I had, resourcefully, decided against taking jackets. Well, those are for girls aren’t they?
Today’s water was a small stream, quite confined in places with overhanging tunnels of trees, high bank side foliage, where side and roll casts are the chosen delivery methods; just my style of fishing.
The day started with a large fish within the first few minutes of stepping into the stream, and followed by my first ever roach to the fly an hour or so later.
Dan and I fished together throughout the day, either taking it in turns to fish a particular run or pool, or where the width of the stream allowed, we would fish side by side.
Again, another fantastic and tiring day’s fishing, but the results, the experience, and the waters seen were oh so worth it.
Back to base, a coffee, a chat, and it was time to call time on the weekend; my journey home soon to begin.
I guess all that’s left to say is a huge thank you to my hosts for a superb weekend. The fishing, the hospitality, and the company couldn’t have been better. Thank you so much. I hope to return the favour very soon.
Thanks again D&B; a fantastic weekend.
To see more images from the weekend, please see the relevant photo gallery by clicking here.