I have just returned from a week in France, with Lawrence and Neil, fishing the chalk streams of l’Artois region, mainly l’Aa itself, which has overwhelmed me. L’Aa is a classic chalk stream in every way, running clear even after very prolonged heavy rain (which we experienced); a sign of a vast, undamaged chalk plateau. This river, in common with all in the region, is generally very challenging. Considerable environmental work is being undertaken, in a program running from 2007-2016, on the river and its environs, and this is entirely focussed on improving the habitat for the natural diversity of species present, including brown trout and grayling, and not for the direct benefit the fisherman. The banks are largely crowded with trees – alder, willow, poplar – and the fly fisher is usually frustrated by these in the never-ending search for a clear cast. Wading is allowed in some sections, at some times of the season, although it is usually best to keep out of the water and seek cover on the bank.
In three sessions on different sections of the Aa, at Renty, Fauquembergues and Ouve Wirquin, I caught six trout, three on plume tips and three on various nymphs. The trout ranged from 30cm to 45cm, the latter of which was over two pounds in weight. They were all magnificent fish. Lawrence caught a single trout in the last session and this fish was among the most beautiful chalk stream fish we have seen and somewhere around two and a half pounds in weight. We experienced hatches of various up-wings, dominated by a pale watery species, although dry fly was hugely disadvantaged by the omnipresent downstream wind we endured.
There are grayling in the Aa, revered locally, although we did not catch any. Neil saw a large one on the Renty water, but it was, typically, in an ‘impossible’ lie and he spooked it while attempting a cast. One of the fish I rose and pricked might also have been a grayling, but in any case, les ombres remain elusive to me, although with the exceptional, and enormously demanding trout, the region, and particularly this river, has become my favourite place in the fishing world. It has absolutely everything I adore about fly fishing, on a large scale of river variety, among a fishing fraternity that is so proud of the conservation work being accomplished. And I have still barely scratched the surface of possibilities. My friends and I feel like pioneering pecheurs avec les mouches.