Chalkstream spring tactics

Words by Gilly Bate, Guideline UK Ambassador. Images by Gilly Bate & Alvaro G. Santillan.

The Hampshire chalk streams usually open their doors from around Mid April with most estates adhering to the historical dry fly only rule until after the first weed cut in mid June. Nymphs are usually then allowed on the majority of beats but not all, so please check your rules before fishing. With crystal clear water, no angler activity and eager trout looking to put on weight after the winter months, the trout make good use of any hatches and surface fishing can be at its best. At this time of year, the weather can still be unpredictable so it is important to have a set up which can cope with windy days, high and fast water and present a fly with ease. With minimal vegetation early season, make sure that you use good stalking skills and dress in muted tones to blend into the background. It can still be cold so a warm lightweight jacket will be perfect for those early mornings. The Loft Jacket hits the brief perfectly.

Traditionally, the majority of fishermen start the season using a 9ft 5 weight but usually have to change mid season to something lighter as the water height drops and the fish become angler aware. So it’s great to have a new choice of rod with its extra length allowing easy coverage of the river. I really like a rod which is easy to cast for a beginner but with a crispness that allows you to putout lovely loops and send the line direct to its target. It’s light in the hand but with enough strength to cut it in the wind. Super smooth, super responsive and extremely user friendly.With the river often running at speed early season, this rod makes light of adding in mends and presentation casts to counteract drag. I cannot emphasize the importance of eliminating drag when fishing on these rivers, it’s a necessary essential if you want to fool a fish to taking your fly. Another advantage is the perfect balance in the tip section, allowing that all important cushioning of light tippets when playing larger fish.

The Guideline Fario LW is such a pretty fly reel and looks beautiful on the Tactical rod but looks aside, it’s strong and light with an easy adjustment for varying degrees of drag depending on need. The design incorporates a large spool diameter and with plenty of space for backing, it makes retrieval effortless. All important when you catch you PB trout of the season. For the fly line I simply love the Fario CDC WF line for a multitude of reasons:It has a low diameter so it slices through the wind with ease and it has no problem in turning overlong leaders with precision. It is so important to have a line that lifts of the water with as little disturbance as possible. I’m looking for clean and quiet and this fly line delivers.I also want it to keep it’s momentum without any sag in the lower leg during the cast so that I can add aerial mends and present the fly accurately. The combination of the tapers from the belly to the back taper help to keep the loops running side by side. A rod and line should work in perfect harmony and if you love the joy of casting as much as catching fish, the LPX and CDC WF are a heavenly set up for any chalk stream fishing.

Leader design should have a profile that will continue to turn over your fly but slowly dissipate some of that energy as they unroll towards the target. The Power Strike 9’ are perfect for early season and they are deliberately constructed to allow you to tie on tippet. I would use the 4X leader with 5 X tippet for the majority of my early season flies. You can use tippet rings but I usually opt for a surgeon’s knot, it’s easy to tie and has a high knot strength. The lighter tippet helps with adding in a bit of that all important slack to counteract drag and gives you greater distance between the fly and fly line. Tippet length depends on what you are trying to achieve but try adding a couple of feet to gain confidence and then increasing length if it’s going to give you more of an advantage depending on conditions.

There are several important flies early season which I’ll be looking out for. Our main terrestrial in the spring usually appears late April and is known as St Mark’s fly due to the fact that it emerges from the vegetation around St Mark’s day on 25th April but it’s more commonly known as the Hawthorn Fly. Bibio Marci can hatch from early April right thought to the end of May, usually at the same time as the hawthorn bush comes into flower. It’s easily recognizable as it bobs around mid air on a warm day with its black body and long, dangly, fuzzy legs. Luckily for the trout, it’s a poor flier and is easily blown onto the water. There is no rush with the take as the fish seem to know that they are going nowhere and you see lovely slow rises when they are on the water. There will be also be a variety of upwings from the Baetis family and I would be hoping to see some large dark olives in mid April still but they may be medium or small olives around with sporadic hatches mid day. Don’t worry If you’re unsure of exact identification, look at size and color when you are picking an imitation. From a fish’s perspective, emerging flies are always easy pickings so try emerger patterns as a first choice. If it’s a overcast day, then use flies with apost to make them easy to see.

My favorite hatch though is the Grannom or to give them their proper name, Brachycentrussubnublis. Historically, the grannom hatch was considered more important than the mayfly hatch and fishermen would jump on the train to hot foot it out of London when they were on the wing. These small dark sedges are the smallest ones around early season so they are easily identifiable. They emerge with a green and black body but this darkens up during flight with the wings becoming mottled grey/brown. The best of the hatch tends to be in the morning with lighter hatches later in the day so it’s one of the few times when it pays to start early on the river. They are very quick to ascend to the surface with the fish seizing any opportunity to take them as they emerge and later return to feeding on them when laying eggs and patterns usually have a green butt to represent the egg sac. They usually hatch on mass so try using a slightly larger size fly to make your imitation stand out amongst the naturals.

Take your time in observation of the water, fish behavior and any insects in flight.Don’t rush to make that first cast. Watch and see how the trout are rising and if prepared to move to the fly. Look at the current between you and the fish and decide on what cast will work best to minimize drag. Always check out what’s behind you before casting. There’s nothing worse than losing flies up trees. Limit false casting to the fish, the more you cast the more likely it will see you.With the grannom, casts need to be closer to the fish as they are taking off quickly and the fish don’t expect them to drift for long. The opposite is true of duns taking off or spents travelling in the current so put in a decent amount of drift with the fly.Don’t be afraid to try much longer leaders and most of all, enjoy the challenge of dry fly fishing in the early season.

Tight lines and thanks for reading! Gilly Bate, Guideline UK Ambassador.

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