I hardly know where to start, so forgive me if this is a bit disjointed. I have never experienced such a spring, fishing mostly on the Lowther and Eden in Cumbria, and the Aa in northern France; probably the most wonderful chalk stream habitat surviving in the world. Here is the Aa at Saint Martin d’Handringhem. Clear water over river water crowfoot.Up-wing hatches with trout and grayling focused on the surface, until September, October, maybe even November… The nymph is a memory of, certainly, a wonderful winter with the grayling, and some enormous grayling; but just that, a memory. Now is the time of the wild brown trout, and dry fly; which really means the plume tip, of course. This is the contemporary incarnation of the generic up-wing representation. With heron herl, or yellow quill – irrelevant really – those twinned CDC plume tips on a size 19 103 BL… Up-wing representation at its best, in an impressionistic sense, and in a pragmatic sense. There is something else now, too; Tom Bell’s (Sunray) micro-diameter fly lines. Fly lines, as we have known them to this point, are stale. French leaders, presentation leaders; these are refinements towards better presentation. The new lines take the very best properties of fly lines and leaders, combining them, and leaving behind those problems of coiling, shine, shadow, poor casting… It is the perfect marriage. The perfect storm of fly lines, for the river, for trout and grayling. This is not marketing. I have no need to market. This is bringing the best fly line for single handed river fly fishing to the fore.
Lowther and Eden have been remarkable, and I think particularly so the Lowther, probably because this major tributary lies entirely in the national park and so is afforded some extra protection from the agricultural abuse that is wrecking the main river. The hatches have been breathtaking, and at the time of writing this, in mid May, one can easily observe six different species of up-wing species, during a day on the river. Danicas are coming off now, though the fish are, typically, ignoring these, except for the juvenile trout. Medium olives and olive uprights are currently the favoured targets. The grannoms came and went, but rarely did I see very much interest in these, except on two occasions locally where there was a flurry. There have always been up-wings on the surface, and these are always preferentially targeted by both trout and grayling. It has been the size of the fish caught this spring, rather than numbers, which have been spectacular. These are fish in the 45-55cm bracket. I have also hooked and lost (with the hook opening) two fish on the Lowther which were both upwards of 60cm.
But it has been the chalk streams of northern France that have completely captivated me, more even than last year. Increasingly more possibilities are coming to light on these numerous streams. Best of all, at least for me, is that these rivers are nearly always more challenging than their English equivalents, being essentially wild and uncultivated, un-commercialised, rivers, in considerably better environmental state than those chalk rivers of southern Britain, or really almost any English river. I am in a state of wonder by these beautiful waters, so reminiscent of my childhood days in southern England, and they haunt me when I am not there. But then, from June onwards I am spending most of the rest of the summer in France, including a trip to the Massif Central, along with lots of visiting fishing friends.
Last week, I enjoyed one of the best fly fishing days of my life, on the Aa, working up from the downstream limit of the section, I covered only 200 metres of river bank in four hours, during which time there was a steady trickle of medium olives. Every single trout I targeted was risen, to the plume tip, other than one which was spooked by drag. The Aa is rather like the Itchen in many respects, or the Kentish Great Stour, except that I was struck, as always, that the magnificent fish it holds are there naturally (mostly). It feels like the wild chalk stream fishing we once enjoyed in southern England, before it all went wrong.