I was visiting relatives down south a few weekends ago and as I have in the past I met up with my good friend Peter , he of the old walks and fishes blog. It is an excellent friendship which results in shared days fishing for him on my wonderful freestone rivers when he visits the grim north where I reside and for me copping a day on a posh chalkstream when I join him down south. Of late Pete has been bemoaning the lack of variation of chalk stream fishing and to some extent I can relate to his malady. The rivers are of course beautiful, they are well manicured and also well stocked, actually too well stocked . We are now well past the end of the trout season and there was trout in the small river of biblical proportions left over from the summer . I had one on for a while until a combination of giving slack line and letting it get into the weed enabled it to be released. There was no way it was going to be landed I estimated it at between 5 and 6 pounds.
Adding fish that size to a small chalkstream from my point of view is all wrong, but sadly it is a policy that is driven by the financial pressures of providing expensive fishing that will result in a guaranteed catch of a substantial fish. I guess the logic is the more expensive and exclusive the fishing the bigger the fish should be. I guess it is exactly the result from the stocking policies that we see in more and more rivers across the country. The surroundings really are idylic , the water is as the old saying goes say clear as gin and twice the price. We were only a short distance from Stockbridge , signs for the Houghton water on the test were not far away , I was treading the banks that the good and great had trod in the past names like Skues and Halford had probably fished these very waters
However away from my petty moaning and whining , I had a lovely day . Despite the fact that the river was very low there has been little or no rain in the area virtually all summer and the stream was running about a foot below normal levels. very big grayling were there to be seen but were less easily captured . Despite trying nymphs down to size 24 drifted past their nose they didn't want to know. I fished the morning until lunch mainly with the dry fly, the shallow water and thick weed combined with fish that were rising occasionally was a combination that given I was on a posh chalk stream it seemed like the right thing to do. My host and I met up shortly after lunch . he had started at the downstream end and I started about half way up . For the afternoon we would swap over so we had both had undisturbed water to start. In the afternoon I fished French leader and a tiny nymph . I was covering deeper slower water with no surface activity. The switch brought marginally more fish but generally of a smaller size, but I was covering water Pete had already fished through. French leader fishing is no doubt an effective method but I have two problems with it. Firstly its hard work lots of "casting" and secondly . Well its not really fly fishing is it? . No fly line , no gratification on even a fishless day from making a well formed cast.
Since giving up my membership last year of the Yorkshire stream this is the first time I have been on a chalkstream. The sight fishing was great the size of the fish a little OTT. Especially the brownies that were loitering , but have to say that given my choice if I had to fish just one river to the end of my days it would be a northern free stone spate stream. Yes Ill take a golden bellied red spotted wild fish from a northern stream over any fat chalk stream trout. There is no doubt that the mystique and history around chalk streams produces an itch that has to be scratched , Combined with the works of Halford and Skues it produces rivers with a certain aura. But the Northern rivers especially the dales rivers have their own history . Edmonds and Lee , Stewart et al have just as significant a part in English trout fishing. .
As northern freestone rivers go the Ure up in Wenslydale (The dale of the cheese fame and the only Dale not named after its river ) is one of my personal favourites and it was here just a week after fishing the chalk that I went chasing grayling again, the river was just fining down after a recent rise , again so typical of the spate streams where the levels can rise and fall within a week , unlike the chalkstreams where the aquifer fed streams provide a constant environment. The day was less than ideal . A salmon angler was the only other angler out apart from myself and my guest Peter ( a different one ) We both caught fish Peter seemed to be attracting the Brownies that day. I found a few Grayling although it was only a brief lunchtime hatch the betrayed their position in the river.
Not sure if I will get back in the Dales before next summer , I tend to stick to my local rivers the Derwent and Yorkshire Dove during the winter. But I will be happy to visit it again in the spring . Something special about fishing here in the spring with a team of spiders.
As I was leaving the river I glimpsed down stream through the trees. That day and at that moment was really the day when I realised that Autumn was really upon us.