For many fly fishermen the thought of fishing an English chalk stream often sits well and truly in their bucket list of fishing adventures. There are those lucky few who can experience this pleasure on a near daily basis through membership of a syndicate with access to one of these beautiful meandering waterways. For the rest of us, it’s just one of those rare opportunities that befall us more often than not through a lucky encounter. I’ve been fortunate twice. I once fished the River Test and more recently the River Avon.
What is it that makes chalk streams so special? Well first of all, there are only about 200 chalk streams in the world with the vast majority of them being found in Southern England. Thats special in itself! Secondly, the water is normally crystal clear which provides the angler the opportunity to stalk a fish by sight. I was able to do this on my recent Avon excursion and its incredibly exciting. I had spied the 2lb brown trout feeding about mid depth and only 1 metre from the near bank when conducting my first inspection. I dropped an olive dry fly upstream a few times and watched it as it passed over the head of this wily trout. I left it to its own devices as I continued my exploration. Later in the day I returned and was surprised to see the fish sat in the same place. I carefully entered the water downstream and set up a pattern with a small weighted nymph suspended at about 1 ft under a klinkhammer (i.e. the klink and dink method). I made about 6 casts before noticing a second fish join the first. On the next cast the late arrival didn’t need a second invitation and took the nymph. It wasn’t the fish I was after but a beautiful 1 1/2 lb brownie none the less. Better still, and to my absolute amazement the first fish had ignored his friends capture and remained on station throughout. After releasing the first (and praying he wouldn’t go and alert his friend!) I changed the nymph to a smaller version with a hint of purple behind a white bead head. It only took one cast and my target was hooked straight through the scissors. Wonderful.
There is a reason the water is so clear and it brings many more benefits than simply aiding a distinctly average fisherman like myself. The land around chalk stream has a chalk composition which is permeable. As a result the water is filtered through the chalk and rises up into the stream from below and not running into it from above. With little organic matter and sediment to ‘muddy the water’ therefore it remains clear. An additional benefit of this habitat is its attraction to a variety of iconic species including otters, kingfisher, and water voles as well as grayling, brown trout, and salmon. I admit I have seen nearly all of these on other waters, less the grayling, but I think the added feature of the clarity of the water as it rushes over its flint gravel bed is just something magical to behold.
As with all good things there is often an accompanying bad. Chalk streams are no exception. Urban development has negatively impacted the level and quality of the water in some chalk streams, and the detritus cast aside by the ignorant is increasingly visible as it litters the bed. Why people constantly ignore the value of our natural world is something I really can’t understand. Personal momentary priorities, combined with ignorance in this ever increasingly materialistic world, caters to the transient nature of our existence. It’s easy to sit on the side lines and complain when its too late so it’s left to those of us who love the countryside to protect it. Whilst it might be hard to join one of the privileged syndicates who now control these valuable waterways at least we know they will likely provide good guardianship to maintain, and hopefully improve, the natural habitat they create. I can live with that even if it means my access to fish these magical streams is very much limited as a result.