Our excellent chalk streams guide Colin Alexander reports:

Recently I guided a valued repeat client, Gordon, on the River Itchen below Winchester. The river was fresh from a weed-cut and had the wonderful clarity expected of a chalk stream. The fish were evident in a few key runs but with very little hatching early in the day they were not giving their position away lightly. On a wading beat it is all too easy to suddenly spook fish from near your feet which could have been your target if you had seen them that fraction earlier.

The first tactic is to seek your fish in these conditions from the bankside cover initially and spend time watching the fish. If they are not rising to hatched or hatching insects it doesn’t mean they are  not feeding. Often the level of activity with the tail will show you whether a fish is feeding or likely to feed on your fly and if you wait long enough you will likely see the trout move to intercept an emerging insect which is seeking to swim to the surface and fly off. Sometimes it is absolutely obvious as the trout will repeat a movement to one side or other and rise a degree in the water as it feeds. Sometimes the feeding is more subtle and spaced between periods of activity. In other words it will feed, have a rest, and then choose it’s next meal at leisure.

In a pool of about four feet deep, in the clear water, Gordon and I could see a trout laying deep and clearly feeding. We targeted the fish initially with the dry fly, hoping for a spectacular rise from the depths, but the fish was not interested. We switched to a Pheasant Tail Nymph, and the tippet was 0.15 diameter fluorocarbon. We covered the fish but no response at all. I then changed the leader to 0.115 fluorocarbon and first cast the trout took the fly and Gordon landed a fine fish of just under  2 lb. To prove the point that the diameter was key, the next cast secured a lovely Grayling (in season), of over a pound and we both agreed that this was no coincidence. 

Later in the day, we waded carefully over some shallow water where Gordon spotted a trout laying in a very small run between weed and again we covered the fish with the dry fly but no takes came.  By watching the fish and considering the next change of tactic we rested the trout who was within fifteen feet of where we stood in the water. Generally, if you approach fish from below and downstream, and treat each step in the water as a slow motion affair as you work upstream, it is very likely you will get far closer to fish than you ever imagined.

We made the final cast to our trout with a PTN again and the take was instant. Gordon can be seen holding his prize before the trout was safely returned.

Gordon with a stalked River Itchen Brownie

We all love to fish the dry fly but sometimes a nymph is the order of the day. Gordon also caught some lovely fish on the dry fly as the rises increased. One tip with the dry fly is to make sure the leader is turning over and fully extending on each cast. A longer leader will catch you more fish as a rule but not if it lands with too many coils in the area of the fly. We want the trout to see minimal leader and ideally that last six inches of tippet will be well degreased and under the surface so just the fly is profiled on the surface for the fish. In chalk streams the presentation is particularly important.

So, in summary, combine stealth, good presentation and plenty of watching time to achieve the best results.