From dawn to dark

Si­mon Cooper in­vites you to take on the ul­ti­mate chalk­stream chal­lenge

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - FIRST CAST -

IF YOU EVER FELT IN­CLINED TO TACKLE a Mac­nab on the chalk­streams, Septem­ber is un­doubt­edly the month to do it. The sal­mon are run­ning. The sea-trout are reg­u­lar com­muters be­tween ocean and river. Grayling are back to their prime af­ter post-spawn­ing tor­por. Brown trout are in an au­tum­nal feed­ing frenzy. The orig­i­nal Mac­nab in the John Buchan tale was to poach a sal­mon and stag un­de­tected, though more re­cently it has been le­git­imised into a brace of grouse, plus a sal­mon and stag. But I think our game-fish four are chal­lenge enough with­out re­sort­ing to field or air. Where and when should you start? Well, bear­ing in mind you have 24 hours, let us say dawn and grayling. They are most ac­tive just af­ter sun­rise when they head for shal­low gravel, us­ing their noses to rid­dle the stones for sleepy-eyed shrimps. That shouldn’t be too hard, should it? By break­fast, on to the brown trout. The short­en­ing days are a trig­ger to them: eat now or waste away through the win­ter. If we are be­ing purists, then a Cin­na­mon Sedge or some­thing sim­i­lar is a fill­ing of­fer­ing. If we are go­ing to the dark side, Sawyer’s Pheas­ant Tail will in­duce most nymph­ing fish. By 10am, you are half­way. What next: sal­mon or sea-trout? By my rea­son­ing our At­lantic ar­rival was al­ways go­ing to be the tough­est so let’s fo­cus on that, hold­ing the dark­ness in re­serve for the sea-trout. You could, of course, do the wet-fly sal­mon thing, down and across, fish­ing a likely pool. But re­ally you need a net­work of ea­gle-eyed keep­ers to give you the call. Our chalk­stream sal­mon are crea­tures of great habit, oc­cu­py­ing the same hold­ing spots, of­ten tiny and shal­low, year af­ter year. They are sur­pris­ingly will­ing and un­so­phis­ti­cated; I would not tie on any­thing other than a bead-head Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear, which has worked for me by ac­ci­dent and on pur­pose. Light tackle. A con­fined river. Late-sum­mer weedbeds. A chalk­stream sal­mon is quite the chal­lenge to land, let alone hook. So, fi­nally, to the sea-trout. Here you need lo­cal knowl­edge above skill. The best sea-trout spots on the chalk­streams are known to a very few. Your prime win­dow of op­por­tu­nity is short. Those min­utes in the gloam­ing when dusk turns to dark, the phos­pho­res­cence of the fly (any tra­di­tional seatrout pat­tern will do) light­ing up the river as it cuts across the cur­rent. All sea-trout takes are elec­tric. If it com­pletes your Mac­nab in dou­ble-quick time, it is in­fin­itely more so. If not, you have the com­fort of an­other eight hours to com­plete the task and I prom­ise, with three in the bag, so to speak, you will not leave un­til the new dawn calls time.

Hatch­ing this month

The finest en­to­mo­log­i­cal tip I was ever given pointed me in the di­rec­tion of spi­ders’ webs: there is noth­ing bet­ter than in­sect corpses to tell you what has been hatch­ing. In the month of Keats’ “sea­son of mists and mel­low fruit­ful­ness” these dew-laden traps are an open book. The flies this month are tra­di­tional: Kite’s Im­pe­rial mim­ics the dark olive. Tups In­dis­pens­able the pale wa­tery. The Caperer, with its dis­tinc­tive yel­low belly band that sug­gests an egg sac, is a favourite sedge pat­tern. Nymphs are pop­u­lar with fish and fish­ers with the trio of the PVC Nymph, Pheas­ant Tail and Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear al­ways stand­ing you in good stead. But mostly, let Mother Na­ture be your guide, es­pe­cially when stay­ing late.

The keeper’s f ly

Born into a South York­shire min­ing vil­lage, then a teenage ap­pren­tice mo­tor me­chanic, Garry Allen did not take a usual route to be­com­ing a river keeper. His in­ter­est in shoot­ing led him to for­sake the greasy rag for a sport­ing es­tate in Northum­ber­land, which in turn led him south to Berk­shire in the early 1990s and his cur­rent job at the Ben­ham Es­tate, which has about six miles of the River Ken­net, car­ri­ers and side streams. Though Gary loves his shoot­ing he be­seeches his reg­u­lars not to lay down the rod in favour of the gun too early – don’t ig­nore Septem­ber, he says, with its pro­lif­er­a­tion of dif­fer­ent hatches and greedy fish feed­ing up ahead of win­ter. He was on the horns of a dilemma when I pushed him for his favoured fly: Dad­dies, Sedges and Klinkhamers all get a con­sid­er­a­tion but, in the end, it was the every­day Parachute Adams that got the nod. It is, he says sagely, the fly that “rep­re­sents noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar but every­thing as well”, es­pe­cially to those fish that don’t ex­actly rise, but snake and twist just be­low the sur­face, tail and dor­sal fin most ev­i­dent. It is good to keep it sim­ple some­times.

Parachute Adams. n Si­mon Cooper is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Fish­ing Breaks, the chalk­stream fish­ing spe­cial­ists (fish­ing­ He is the au­thor of two books: Life of a Chalk­stream and The Ot­ters’ Tale.

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