Chalking Up Numbers
On Saturday 2nd July I managed to fish a different sort of stream to the ones here locally and in Wales, chalk stream fishing is something I’ve only done once or twice before and I do have to admit to usually preferring my river fishing in wilder locations, so a trip eastward in pursuit of adventure was a little out of character. In years gone by I used to travel to London often for work, so retracing the familiar route that I used to embark on as part of a commuting regime for a leisure trip on a Saturday morning had a confused feeling about it, the pace of life we’ve settled into in our tucked away spot is my preferred sanctuary these days. The difference of pace is something we relish, we’re lucky to live in the country and work fairly locally, so getting onto the motorway heading towards London was not the most natural thing to do. I nipped down the M5 onto the M4, even though it was early in the weekend somehow I found myself jockeying for position, getting washed along in a hectic 3 lane cavalcade of traffic pushing on frenetically towards the capital. This was not the relaxed pace I would usually experience when heading in other directions, it felt like I was heading the wrong way but I buried this thought, turned up Sounds of the Sixties on Radio 2 and went with the flow. Taking in the rolling scenery along the M4 corridor and given the pace everyone was traveling I soon passed the junctions for Bath and then Swindon, plus a couple of motorway service stations, before beginning to concentrate on homing in on the destination. I had planned to do this via exiting a junction earlier than necessary and approaching the west side of the town via a B road; covering the last few miles at a slower pace was a purposeful decision, allowing me to re-tune the mental frequencies and soak up the lie of the land more easily. Sean is a good fellow and heaps of fun, so despite the odd feeling of heading towards increased urbanity to go fishing I was still feeling positive, ready to look for the best in whatever was on offer; he had invited me to tackle a little gem of chalk stream that he’d found somewhere within his local patch but hadn’t offered many more details. As I neared the end of the journey I began to wonder what was in store. Knowing Sean he wouldn’t have suggested a place that involved a bit of a trek unless the prospects were good and he would be wary that I am spoilt for choice living where I do, knowing full well what is available to me within an equivalent radius of the distance covered to meet him. I could have travelled to the Taff, crossing notable rivers like the Wye & Usk, or I would have been able to reach streams on Exmoor, or the Monnow System, to name just a few possibilities.
After slipping off the motorway I drove directly to the rendezvous point on the outskirts of town; my SatNav was in action just to be sure but this was unnecessary as the destination was clearly sign posted. Checking the time I realised I was far too early, so stopped to buy some provisions and fill the car up to use up some of the excess but even after doing this there was still half an hour to spare; luckily Sean arrived soon after I did. We had a brief chat about the various fishing available locally and concluded that the already bright conditions and rapidly warming temperatures suggested it would be a scorcher, so we opted to fish somewhere with some shade. Sean knew just the right spot some 5 minutes drive away, so we moved off in convoy, hopping round the outskirts of the town and parking up in a residential street nearby. The suburban setting was a little different to what I’m used to but this wasn’t an issue, as I’d already spotted the stream when crossing a bridge a few hundred yards back and it was now trickling past right next to us looking idyllic. We had a brief walk and with just a few strides we were soon tucked away among foliage on a bank side footpath, with fish clearly visible throughout the length of the beat. After a few minutes I commented that I’d seen enough to know that I should be holding a fishing rod and not heading further from the car without one, so we returned to the vehicles and tackled up.
We had parked at the upstream extent of the beat, so we needed to wander down stream again to get access to the fishing. Rather than being strict with ourselves and getting to the logical start point, we couldn’t resist having a go at the fish we could see en route, either casting from the bank side or dropping into the edge of the stream at suitable access points. I soon managed a couple of small Grayling, although the bigger fish were trickier to coax using this method but we continued leap frogging past each other downstream chancing our luck. This isn’t a technique I would usually use on the rivers I fish, as the colour and depth don’t often make this a practical method and of course, you also risk spooking the fish, but as we were in a relaxed mood it was nice to just dabble, soaking in the pleasant morning and giving the fish every chance to avoid us. Sometimes it’s nice to not get too het up with maximising the number of fish brought to hand and we were having great fun watching the fish in action. Sometimes they would turn their head just a touch before rejecting the fly, sometimes moving fast to inspect it, sometimes slow, or they might follow it back down stream some distance, or lurch up stream to check it out early; most of the time they were wise to us but just occasionally they would give in to the urge to take the fly. The fish in this particular stream are used to passers by, as the public footpath runs right next to the water (on both sides in places) and they don’t seem to associate the presence of people with getting caught all that much, although they are more than a little wary and careful to check out their actual food source before feeding. Nevertheless, the morning session saw a good few fish, although we were sidetracked by chatting more than fishing but a sociable day out is as good as anything, so there was no problem there.
After a stop for lunch and a cup of tea, we eventually got back to the river in a more serious mood; even so, we gave in again and did a bit more sight fishing before heading off to the start of the section. We were just about to tackle the stream ‘properly’ when unfortunately Sean was interrupted by the sound of his mobile phone and after a little debate he was called away on a domestic errand. I was left to tackle the afternoon session on my own, an unexpected outcome and a little unfortunate for Sean but it did allow me to concentrate on the task in hand and see what the stream really had to offer.
After saying our good byes I got into the river just in front of a road bridge; road noises, passing ambulances and the rowdy conversation from a nearby pub garden soon dissolved into the background as I focussed on fishing. I could still see fish to target upstream but this time I also worked on prospecting through the promising lies. Not many fish were rising, so I had opted to use the nymph only, with the addition of a small piece of Strike Out yarn that helps as an indicator in the faster water, allowing me to explore the deeper lies for the hidden treasure. I was soon into a good Grayling and then another … and another … and another … the fish were everywhere, I could do no wrong, they just kept on coming and I proceeded to catch fish after fish, taking three or four out of each lie for a solid few hours, I was really in the zone and my world became one based solely on fish predation. I’d lost track of time spending an age working up a deeply foliaged section and only noticed the outside world again when I emerged into a clearer spot. The sun seamed to have shifted to a lower angle in the sky at an escalated rate and it dawned on me how fast the time had gone. Thoughts of home comforts and the distance of the return journey entered my mind, after such intensive fishing I was suddenly struck by how tired I was. I had worked my way half way up the section to where we’d been fishing previously and was reminded of how long I’d been out. I checked the time, it was nearly 5pm and upon realising this my focus lagged away entirely. You can have too much of a good thing, I hadn’t noticed fatigue creeping up on me with all the intense activity; fishing in a crouched position for hours on end without taking a break certainly takes it out of you. A niggling back pain had crept in and some stiffness across the shoulders were signs from a body requesting a break and asking to go home, so as I had more than filled my boots it felt like the right time to call it a day. I had already gone well past the point of quitting whilst ahead a while back, as the numbers of fish had to be into the late thirties. The pictures below represent only a portion of the days events, I didn’t bother taking pictures of really small fish and the odd fumbled unhooking accounted for a few more than recorded, not to mention the number of missed takes and long-range catch and releases.
So despite my initial mixed feelings, it had transpired to be a great days fishing after all, many thanks to Sean. What remains up most in my mind is the positive effects of the habitat work that has been done on the river; I haven’t determined if the EA or Local Authority (or both) were the instigators yet but it’s clear a lot of positive effort has been put into forming gravel beds and shaping the bank sides, along with timber posted retainers / planted areas and in stream flow deflectors; these work together all along the stretch and combine to create a well conceived whole, shaping the river into a flowing serpentine form. The scheme has created lots of pockets paired with well oxygenated riffles and the habitat is obviously allowing the fish to thrive; I don’t know what it was like before of course but I can’t imagine it would have been so productive. I am told that the work began in 2006 and has been formed over a few years, so it’s still early days yet, as the fish population is likely to still be developing – the predominant fish were Grayling but there were also a fair number of Trout; I suspect the proportions of the catch would have been more Trout orientated if I were to visit again to fish dry fly only in the evening but I’m not complaining, as catching Grayling is just as much fun as anything and boy did I have a lot of fun on the day; it’s an outstanding stream and I have witnessed some exceptional improvement works first hand so it was well worth the trip; I hope to return to the area to see what else is on offer soon.
Tight Lines, Splash