The Chalkstream Diaries - Return of the Lady
In his second column for the new Chalkstream Diaries slot on the Fly Fishing Forums, Alex Jardine has wasted no time in moving on from trouting to sample the early autumn delight of fly fishing for the grayling, also known as the Lady of the Stream.
Alex is currently based in the heart of chalkstream country, living in Winchester near the Itchen and working at the well-known Robjent's country pursuits store in Stockbridge, Hampshire in the heart of the Test valley . He will be sharing his local fly fishing adventures as well as a few further afield with us on a regular basis, looking at seasonal trends, favourite fly tying patterns to match the local hatches and offering some hints and tips that will apply to our own fishing wherever we may be.
Return of the Lady
by Alex Jardine
It is fair to say that winter is now fast approaching; October has seen the impact of autumn with the leaves disappearing and the steady decline in air temperature. With this change in seasons has also come a change in the chalkstream quarry. We have moved away from the brown trout and on to the shoals of grayling with their sail-like dorsal fin and vibrant colours, aptly nicknamed ‘The Lady of the Stream’. Grayling however are not the only fish to be targeted in these harsher conditions, there is also the far more aggressive pike that can be fished for on some sections of river.
Grayling have a fundamental difference to trout that should be known by the angler, they have a down-turned mouth which makes them perfectly suited to feeding amongst the river bed. Although they are naturally designed as nymph feeders they are also free rising, usually giving themselves away by leaving a trademark bubble on the surface after their rise. As for equipping yourself to target grayling, personally I like to fish fairly light using a 9 foot #3 or #4 for dry-fly fishing, and a 10 foot #4 for nymph fishing.
Terminal tackle can be a complex topic nowadays with the trend of various ‘European nymphing’ methods becoming increasingly popular (see the Fishing on the Frontier column by Jeremy Lucas for details - Ed), but to be successful you don’t have to make things complicated for yourself. When dry-fly fishing a 9-12ft leader is adequate with tippet of generally 6x/3lb, as for fly selection; because of the shape of the grayling’s mouth they tend to require soft dries. At the present time hatches are still present but tend to be for short periods of time and these hatches can be imitated with size 16/18 olive parachutes and emergers. As for nymph fishing, successful methods include the ‘New Zealand dropper’ or ‘dry-fly – nymph’ set up or fishing with a small indicator, this will allow for detection of takes, particularly as the low angle of the winter light increases the amount of glare on the surface of the water. Selecting the right nymph depends on the water being fished; currently the River Test and its tributaries are still running very low and I have found that size 18 and 20 natural coloured nymphs have been key. On the Itchen my experiences was slightly different, fishing deeper more coloured water, I found that the fish preferred a pink beaded fly in either a size 12 or 14.
Accessing grayling fishing on the chalkstreams through the winter can sometimes be somewhat of a challenge with the majority of estates closing for varying reasons. Over the next few installments of this column though I hope to provide you with some available waters or you can always call us at the Robjent's store (contact details below). One of the places that I was fortunate enough to fish this month was the River Anton (available through Famous Fishing), a stunning tributary of the River Test just north of Stockbridge. The stretch that I fished epitomised a chalkstream beat. Exceptionally pretty, a thatched fishing hut, kingfishers and best of all lots of grayling, although they proved incredibly challenging to catch. I arrived to the river bank to the odd grayling rising, and small shoals all the way up the stretch I was on, I therefore set up one dry-fly rod with a size 18 olive CDC emerger on the end of a 12ft tapered leader. I also set the other rod up as a nymphing set-up with a size 18 orange collared hare’s ear with a tungsten bead again on a 12ft leader for those fish unwilling to come to the surface.
Whilst setting up I kept a watchful eye on the water ahead of me and I was able to identify a couple of shoals of fish to target. I started out with the dry-fly set-up and I was able to entice a couple of small grayling to the emerger but it was evident that the bigger fish were more focused on tumbling nymphs, proving so by darting forward and sending up plumes of sediment every now and again. On observing this I switched rods to the nymph set-up proving an immediate success! A lovely hard-fighting fish of just under 2lbs, a sign of things to come. After this I stuck to the more successful method of nymphing, using a good pair of polarised sunglasses to watch the fish’s movements. It was a hugely enjoyable days fishing and a venue highly recommended for those wanting a good but challenging days fishing.
As for the end of October we have seen storms blown in, causing flooding around the country but the chalkstreams are still open, not flooded, fishing well, and the grayling are fighting extraordinarily well this season. I round up with the anticipation of more grayling fishing in November and a couple of pike outings too. I have a feeling that thermal layers and waterproofs will be a must in the coming month or two!
Alex Jardine works at Robjent's, a well-known country pursuits store located in Stockbridge in the heart of the Test Valley and a mecca for local and visiting fly anglers.
They stock a diverse range of high quality fly fishing tackle, shooting equipment, clothing and accessories as well as the providing the latest information on fly fishing and the most popular fly patterns in the area.
See www.robjents.co.uk for further information, or call +44 (0) 1264 810829.
Robjent's, Halfway House, High Street, Stockbridge, Hampshire, SO20 6EX
Articles by the same author
- Iceland, A Return to Northern Latitudes
- Robjent's Chalkstream Diaries - Spring has Sprung...
- Robjent's Chalkstream Diaries - An Early Season Look
- Robjent's Chalkstream Diaries - The Grayling Season
- Chalkstream Diaries - Grayling and Pike on the Fly
- The Chalkstream Diaries - Do The Fish Really Outsmart Us?
- Robjent's Chalkstream Diaries - Autumn Colour
- Robjent's Chalkstream Diaries - Season Round Up
- Robjent's Chalkstream Diary - Sawyer Nymphing
- Robjent's Chalkstream Diaries - Summer Success