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The Chalkstream Diaries - Do The Fish Really Outsmart Us?

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November was a wet month on the chalkstreams as it was everywhere else! November was a wet month on the chalkstreams as it was everywhere else!

November, a month known for shorter days, the onset of winter, and the growing of facial hair for charity! November 2012 on the other hand will be remembered as an incredibly wet month, a time when we even saw our southern Chalkstreams unfishable on occasions!

At this time of year I usually decide to venture to the southern Stillwaters but this year it was a necessity for those who wanted to actually get out fishing.

The lakes of this chalk area are incredibly clear and offer fantastic stalking opportunities but as we move into the winter months and the narrowing angle of the sun the fisherman is disadvantaged. I love this seasonal test; it enhances the skills of the fly fisherman as the fish are harder to spot and their habits change from the warmer months.

Stillwater troutAs fisherman when we fail to catch a fish we like to think it is because they have outsmarted us, this is sometimes the case but most often it is because we have failed to appeal to their animal instincts. For example, the cold months of winter a fish’s metabolism slows down so they don’t need to eat as much and the oxygen levels in the water are higher so they therefore don’t need to swim around as much. Considering this, the idea of attaching a large lure and stripping it at Mach 10 may not be the best method although it can still work. The angler that considers these facts may tie on a small bloodworm (or other small fly) and fish it static or with a slow retrieve, therefore a small and slow meal for a not so hungry and lethargic trout.

For the regular river angler a visit to a stillwater does not necessarily mean you need a completely different set of flies. I will be the first to admit that when I go lake fishing I take my Lake Boxes and when I’m on the rivers I take my River Boxes, but actually these flies are interchangeable. A trip to a local Stillwater this month I found that conditions were slow with ice spreading out from the bank, the fishing was tough. It was noticeable that one guy was doing better than most; keen to find out how he was doing so well I got speaking to him.

November troutThe guy, a regular River Frome fisherman, had ventured to the stillwaters as a back-up to the swollen river waters. He was fishing very differently from others on the lake, fishing tight against the bank and hanging flies for a long pause at the end of each retrieve. This guy had decided to fish his usual river flies, the fly of choice was a shrimp imitation with a green tinge and was proving deadly. As well as the rivers in the South being full of shrimp (Gamarus) so are the lakes, and the same goes for mayfly (ephemera species) and other fly life.

He fished his shrimp imitation on a standard floating line and 12-15ft leader. The fly was retrieved using a slow figure of eight (hand-twist) retrieve; the fish were following up from deeper water and being enticed into taking when the fly was hung in the margins. Sure enough, as soon as I switched to this method I immediate started having interest from the trout.

This month has tested many abilities; firstly, am I worthy/thinking enough to catch that fish, secondly is my clothing really waterproof and, for the last couple of weeks, does my clothing keep me warm. For December I think I will stock up on Buffs to wear around my neck, warm gloves suitable for fishing in, thermal base layers and the most waterproof garment the world has ever created! I am not one to be deterred from venturing to the water, hopefully back out on the rivers in December too.

River Test

Alex Jardine
Alex Jardine

Alex Jardine works for international fly fishing specialists Aardvark McLeod where you can contact him at alex@aardvarkmcleod.com

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