Fishing the chalkstreams can be something of a roller coaster: one day you are a master of the universe as every fish falls to every fly you tie on. The next all offerings are ignored, however deft your casts and nuanced your fly selection.
All that said there is a cadence to the year as the seasonal hatches come and go, so in my month-by-month advice I have laid out the essential elements as spring turns to summer and thence to autumn.
The quotes for each month are taken from Dermot Wilson’s Fishing the Dry Fly. It was originally published in 1957 with the revised edition issued in 1970 whilst Dermot was living here at Nether Wallop Mill. It remains one of the best books ever written on the topic.
Dermot is pictured here for the cover of The Field on the River Itchen in June 1959.
“When April comes, the chalk-stream season begins …. and it begins with the Large Dark Olive.”
Take your April days as you find them; some will be great, with trout eager to feed after a long winter. Always dress for the worst weather, but hope for the best as April is a dry month. The best fishing will be from 10am-3pm. Click here for more fly and fishing advice.
“The water meadows will be greener and lusher than in April, and there will be yellow king-cups and white ladies’ smocks in them. Although the evening rise has not yet begun, Olives, Iron Blues and Black Gnats will be on the water for long hours during each and every day and spinners may fall in the late afternoon.”
A month of madness for fish, fly and fishermen. Count on the Mayfly hatch in the last two weeks in May and the first week in June. Have some Black Gnats at the ready for when the trout ignore all other offerings. Click here for more fly and fishing advice.
“The evening rise is probably the most regular meal-time the trout have. Even on apparently perfect fishing days flies may not hatch in the morning or afternoon, but there will usually be a rise of some sort in the evening, from mid-June onwards.”
Take little notice of those who believe trout stop eating after the Mayfly. How long could you go without eating, even after a gigantic feast? Just a few days I would venture. Trout are no different, but they certainly won’t be suckered by a size 8 Grey Wulff once the Mayfly hatch is over! Click here for more fly and fishing advice.
“The gentlemen from the cities who came down for easy Mayfly fishing have climbed into their large cars and driven away. The river valleys have an air of luxurious peace and all through the long warm days, however bad the fishing may be, every fisherman can be buoyed up by the thought that the breathless excitement of the evening rise is still ahead.”
Put the distractions of Ascot and Wimbledon behind you and experiment a little with your fishing. A lighter outfit for better presentation, flies so small they drive you mad when tying to tippet or some novel patterns perhaps? Check out the morning cobwebs to see the hatches. Click here for more fly and fishing advice.
“Daytime fishing in high summer is far from hopeless and it can be very enjoyable. There is scarcely a time when it is quite impossible to catch a good trout. The countryside looks lovely during July and August and the banks of well-fished rivers are less crowded.”
Avoid the sun and follow the shade – good advice for fish and fair-skinned fishermen. August is the month that defines sight fishing when stealth, patience, concealment and presentation are at a premium. Click here for more fly and fishing advice.
“September is a good month for fishermen, albeit a sad one in ways. The days are shorter now, and the thought that autumn is waiting impatiently to blow green leaves away makes every hour precious. And, if the spiders are busy and active during September, the trout are no less so. The season is drawing to a close, but gloriously so.”
September is the month the locals go fishing; that in itself is a clue to how good the final full month of the season is. It is you against the wiliest of trout. The ones that have seen countless flies, beating the odds to get this far. But with a slight hint of autumn in the air they know they must feed ahead of the coming winter. That stacks the odds ever so slightly in your favour. Click here for more fly and fishing advice.
“The last evening of the last day has arrived, and we are fishing the evening rise for the very last time There has been plenty of fly, and we have done well, but now it is almost too dark to fish at all. One trout is still rising. He has refused us frequently already. Perhaps one last cast would catch him? No? Then, one more. No? Just a final one, then. No. A flight of duck whistles overhead, and a breath of cold air rustles the reed-tops. The season is over.”
How do you define a fishing season? By the biggest fish or the best bag, perhaps. Probably not. Looking back it will be when nature and man comes together. That glorious brief moment in time when the world shrinks to just you and the river, when time stands still and the rest of the world simply does not exist. Click here for more fly and fishing advice.