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What Are Chalk Streams – Ideal Trout Fisheries

What Are Chalk Streams

Chalk Streams

Chalk streams are streams coming from chalk which is highly permeable and rain falling onto it soaks straight into it, as into a sponge, rather than simply running off it. As the water sinks down through the chalk it is filtered and then settles into the water table or aquifer. In this section, the aquifer is domed, rather than having a flat surface like a lake. The dome rises and falls through the year in response to rainfall, being at its highest in early spring, after the winter’s downpours, and at its lowest towards the end of the summer. Throughout its time in the aquifer, the water is absorbing salts from the chalk and becoming increasingly fertile.

As the dome rises, its edge reaches points of weakness in the ground and the water pours out, running away as a stream. Not unnaturally, the springs lowest in the water table are the earliest to break and the last to fail. Some, below the point to which the top of the water table never falls, never fail. Others, high up, break late and always fail by July or August. Streams fed by such predictably fallible springs are termed ‘winterbournes’.

Ideal Trout Fisheries

Rivers fed by chalk springs make ideal trout fisheries. Their water is clear, which enables us to see the fish. They rise and fall very little in response to rain because the water tends to soak into the chalk, rather than run straight off it, which means that the rivers remain fishable almost regardless of the weather. And they are extremely fertile and therefore sustain large quantities of weed, which in turn sustains a vast wealth of insect life, which in turn produces big, healthy fish – and some problems.

Weed Cutting

Weed cutting is hard work for river keepers, and to cut weed properly is a considerable craft. The objects are to provide open lies for the fish and fishable water for the fisherman, and to maintain the flow of the water while at the same time leaving sufficient weed to provide prolific larders for the trout. It is also important that damaging weed like starwort, which encourages silting, should be removed and that good weeds like ranunculus and water celery, which provide excellent shelter for the creatures trout eat and do not accumulate mud, should just be given judicious haircuts.

On major chalk streams like the Test, the Itchen, the Kennet and the Wylye, and the Driffield Beck in Yorkshire, the river keepers agree weedcutting dates before the season opens and all cut their weed at the same time. With great rafts of weed floating down on their currents, the rivers are effectively unfishable on weed-cutting days and for a day or so thereafter, and a well publicized programme enables anglers to avoid the irritation thus caused. On small chalk brooks, like the Ebble and the Piddle, it is usually possible to run a net from bank to bank, cut a stretch immediately upstream of it and then haul the weed out. This obviates the need for a co-ordinated programme on those rivers where the job is usually done by busy riparian owners, rather than by full-time professional keepers.

Garden Hackles and NightCrawlers

Garden Hackles NightCrawlers

Garden Hackles

Basic, run-of-the-mill earthworms (also known as “garden hackle“) continue to catch trout, but more so at higher elevation waters than at lower, municipal reservoirs. The best way to fish these is using just one or two on the hook, making certain to cover the point and the shank. Rig the worms through the sex collar, using a #8 to #12 bait-holder hook. For still-fishing from the bank, a more subtle offering of just one or two instead of an entire “gob” is preferred. This presumably looks more natural to the trout.

Nightcrawlers present another situation all together. Fish the ‘crawler with a #6 to #10 longshank bronze baitholder hook. Run the hook through the sex collar and then back through, re-embedding it into the ‘crawler, creating a weedless effect.

Another option is to do the same thing only this time fill the nightcrawler full of air with a worm blower (basically a crude syringe sold at tackle stores). This will force the bait to float off the bottom depending upon the length of the leader line.

Both red worms and nightcrawlers can be still-fished with the traditional sliding egg sinker rigs. However, with nightcrawlers, you might consider using a 4 pound test leader. Bigger trout chomp on these jumbo worms and are often not that particular about the diameter of the leader material. Hence, the heavy leader will give you a little more leverage against larger fish. But, if the 4 pound test doesn’t get bit, go back to fishing the ‘crawler on 2 to 3 pound test.

Be sure to inspect the bait before you leave the tackle shop. Most stores allow you to empty the contents into a metal or cardboard trough to determine that the bait is alive and represented in the proper amount.

20-Bait Fishing

Finally, keep nightcrawlers chilled for best results. You can store them in an insulated “Bait Canteen” or buy an inexpensive styrofoam ice chest with a lid containing coolant solution that you can freeze. You can keep ‘crawlers alive in this chest all day even through the hottest summer months.

Grasshoppers and Crickets

In some areas grasshoppers and crickets produce fantastic results when more conventional offerings fail. Some bait shops sell crickets in little cages. As for grasshoppers, you can easily catch your own. Take a woman’s nylon stocking and stretch it over a wire coat hanger frame. Attach a broom handle and you have a simple grasshopper net.

Hook live ‘hoppers and crickets right under the collar again, using light leaders and #6 to #10 baitholders. Large browns and ‘bows seldom see these morsels and jump on them like a rare treat. So be prepared for possibly tangling with a larger-class trout when you use either live grasshoppers or crickets!

Other Bait for Trout Streams

There are some subtle tricks that help catch trout with bait when stream fishing. Locally collected baits can be deadly on rivers and creeks.


As with all forms of troutin’, bait fishermen must be willing to “mix it up” as far as presentations are concerned. Sometimes, just when it seems that the fish are annihilating one bait, the bite shuts off and you have to switch to another. In our highly pressured California streams and lakes, light, delicate leaders and small hooks are a must when soaking baits. Western trout can be super finicky, so be certain to take the time to discretely hide the hook in the bait.

Effective Trout Bait of Salmon Eggs, Nightcrawlers, Christmas Trees and Crickets

Effective Trout Bait of Salmon Eggs, Nightcrawlers, Christmas Trees and Crickets

Effective Trout Bait

There is an amazing array of baits — both prepared and live — that can be tossed to catch trout in the Golden State. Let’s start with the most common offerings and then later talk about some of the more esoteric choices available.

Effective Trout Bait of Salmon Eggs, Nightcrawlers, Christmas Trees and Crickets

Effective Trout Bait of Salmon Eggs

Day in and day out, you can always count on salmon eggs as a effective trout bait. The biggest mistake trouters make in fishing this bait comes not so much from their presentation but from their selection off the shelf. Novice anglers sometimes see all salmon eggs as practically the same and hence opt for purchasing the cheapest jars available.

Cheap eggs are usually a waste of money and more often than not will result in an unproductive day of fishing. Better grade salmon eggs are cured longer. Some are typically larger and firmer; others are made to ’milk” more in the water. The “milking” aspect is an important feature, especially if you still fish with eggs. You want the egg to slowly soften up underwater, but not totally dissolve off the hook. As it softens up, it discharges its contents, creating a film or milky cloud in the water that “calls” the trout in for a look. Cheaper salmon eggs do not milk that well, are often overly soft, and dissolve too quickly. Super firm, premium eggs are not necessarily larger, but are made for faster currents such as rivers and streams so they stay on the hook longer.

16-Bait Fishing

Pautzke’s has become the generic name for salmon eggs in California. Even this brand has a series of grades available. The “Green Label” is their basic spread and is very suitable for most Western trouting. The “Premium” label is Pautzke’s best with a larger, firmer egg. Other equally viable salmon eggs are marketed under the Cossack, Mike’s, Uncle Josh, and Atlas brand names. Take the time to inspect the contents of the jar before you purchase it and try to buy the best-looking, firmest eggs available.

As for colors, fluorescent red is still overwhelmingly your best choice in salmon eggs. There are times however — for whatever reason — that a whitish or cheese-yellow egg is the hot ticket. Interestingly, cutthroats often prefer an orange egg. But also, changes in water action, weather, and/or light conditions can often have the effect of “turning the fish off” to one color of egg and “on” to another. You might consider carrying a jar of one of the more exotic colors for such situations. You can also combine these lighter colors with the red versions or with other baits such as marshmallows to field your own unique creations. Similarly, many brands are now manufactured with scent added such as cheese, garlic, or corn.

Small gold salmon egg hooks with the short shank and pronounced curve hooks are the most popular ways to fish this bait. Using a size 10 to 16, you can embed the small hook into a single egg, or sometimes through two smaller eggs. Often, the one large egg is preferred over two smaller ones.

Berkley Strikes

Take some Berkley Strike in the trout scent and add a few prominent drops to this cluster before you cast it out. The combination of the Strike dissolving and the eggs milking creates a sort of “vapor trail” under water that seduces trout even in the toughest conditions.

No matter how you fish salmon eggs, it is critical to always keep the hook embedded so it is hidden in the egg. It is truly amazing how even the basic Stocker trout in put’n take waters will shy off from the egg if the tiniest hint of hook is exposed. So, take the time to carefully cover the hook as cleanly as possible before casting.

Effective Trout Bait Velveeta Cheese

Velveeta Cheese

The Kraft people probably never realized that they would have such a satellite market for their processed cheese when they first introduced it. But, when you talk about fishing for trout with cheese, Kraft Velveeta is what comes to mind. You can buy it in small boxes with the cheese conveniently wrapped in foil at almost any supermarket.

The Velveeta is soft and fishes best when molded onto a treble hook as an effective trout bait. It is recommend that a size 12 to 18 depending upon how large and how touchy the trout are in the waters you are fishing. You might also try that little trick with the Berkley Strike, adding a drop or two on a gob of cheese.

Floating Baits & Cheese Concoctions

Like Pautzke’s for salmon eggs, and Kraft for cheese, Zeke’s has become the hallmark for floating baits. These preparations are whipped into a variety of flavors and allow you to fish bait off the bottom. This is done for two reasons:

  1. Sometimes the trout suspend off the bottom, feeding in a particular strike zone and,
  2. Getting the bait off the bottom lets it stand out from rocks, weeds, and similar obstructions.

Zeke’s is available in the original (anise scented) flavor, garlic, salmon egg, and corn-scents. It has observed on numerous occasions that the trout will go into a frenzy for one flavor and will pass on the others. A few hours later, they switch preferences and key into yet another scent. So it is best to carry at least 2 or 3 jars of this prepared floating bait with you if you are going to do some serious bait dunking. We might add that you can also mix the flavors together, creating a marbled effect that sometimes works amazingly well. Mold the floating bait onto a #12 to #18 treble hook.

The Targhee brand of processed cheese bait is another alternative to consider. It is similar to Velveeta in texture, but comes in flavors more closely resembling Zeke’s. There are times, particularly in stained water and lakes with bland muddy bottoms, where the Targhee spread really works.

Effective Trout Bait Marshmallows


As with cheese, Kraft found still another avenue for sales of marshmallows to the California trout fishing community as effective trout bait. Using Kraft Miniature marshmallows, West Coast anglers invented a simple floating bait before commercial compounds were ever sold. For a long time, trouters would impale a small white marshmallow onto a treble hook for some really hot results. Later, the marshmallow fad evolved into using the more exotic colored versions. Sometimes anglers put a white with a pink or yellow marshmallow on the same hook for an interesting twist on this bait.

Christmas Trees, “Shasta Flies”, and Other Combos

Working with a base stock of salmon eggs, Velveeta, floating cheese and marshmallows, trouters in the Golden State have devised some rather “bizarre” combinations that often produce striking results because they are effective trout bait!

One popular combo is called the “Christmas Tree“. Take three quality salmon eggs and plant them on each point of the treble hook. Now, using either Velveeta, Targhee, or Zeke’s, mold it over the eggs to cover the remainder of the hook. Use a variety of the “toppings” to determine what the trout prefer that day.

A variation of this theme is to run a small #14 to #18 treble hook all the way through a miniature marshmallow. Temporarily slide the marshmallow above the bare hook. Next, put a single red salmon egg on each of the three hook points. Then slide the marshmallow back down, molding it above the eggs. This is humorously known as the “Shasta Fly“.

Another very unusual combination is to thread a miniature marshmallow onto a long shank #8 bait holder hook. Then lace a live meal worm onto the tip of the hook. The marshmallow floats the “mealie” and it must present one heck of an edible package to the trout — because it really works!

Fly Fishing Tips: Dry Flies


When neophyte anglers think about “fly fishing“, the image of the lure they usually have in mind is a small dry fly softly dancing upon the water’s surface. Dry flies are designed to imitate mature, hatched insects that have either floated to the surface or have landed upon it. In either case, the dry fly is presented to the fish on the surface of the water where it presumably stays “dry“. Hence the term “dry” fly.

Fly fishing tips: Dry flies and hackle

Fly Fishing Tips: Dry Flies

The hackle on a dry fly is commonly made from the neck feathers of a roaster. They are tied and spread around the head or tail section of the fly to imitate the legs of an insect. The hackle feathers also help to keep the dry fly afloat. Some dry fly patterns are constructed with very delicate hackles, sparsely tied to the bottom. These are best fished in clear water conditions where the trout can closely scrutinize the lure. Dry flies with bulkier, more prominent hackle feathers can be fished in stained water or overcast and dim light conditions. Patterns with the “bushy” effect will also float best when a surface presentation is paramount to getting the trout to strike.

Important considerations

Perhaps the most critical consideration for successful dry fly fishing is learning to match the fly to the corresponding size of the natural insects that are landing on the water. Proper coloration and pattern matching to the specie of insect are obviously important, too. But many expert fly fishermen agree that above all, it is most important to present a silhouette that most closely resembles the natural insect’s size and shape.

Dry flies are tied in larger #12 sizes down to tiny #26 patterns. For most California conditions, the beginner can usually get by with a light assortment in size #14 with some #16’s for super clear water. Popular patterns for our waters include the Adams, Black Gnat, Caddis, Cahill, California Mosquito, Coachman, Dusty Miller, Ginger Quill, Gray Hackle, Humpy, Light Cahill, Peacock, Renegade, Royal Wolff, and Royal Coachman. Another style to keep handy, especially when grasshoppers fill the mountain meadows is Joe’s Hopper — a larger specimen that fishes great as a dry fly.

Best time to use Dry Flies

Obviously, the best time to fish dry flies is when the trout are “rising” to the surface and feeding on the insect hatch. Interestingly though, a rise on the water does not always mean that the trout are actually feeding on the surface.

Quite often the fish are chasing emergent larvae floating up or hatching from the bottom. This gives the angler the illusion of surface-feeding trout. Under these circumstances, it might be better to fish a nymph or a wet fly rather than a dry fly.

Soft Bait Storage

soft bait storage

The first prerequisite of the angler who would like to keep his bait fresh and alive is a refrigerator. An old kitchen model kept in the garage or outhouse is ideal. Bait tends to smell and may upset other members of the household, so be warned about trying to keep bait in a refrigerator intended for food storage in the kitchen. You can pick up an old fridge for very little money. The best types for soft bait storage are those with both refrigerator and freezer compartments. Obviously they are more economical should you wish to freeze bait as well as keep it alive.


Lugworm keeps well in clean newspaper for three to four days. For longer periods, use a shallow cat-litter-type tray with just enough water in it to keep the worms wet, stored inside the fridge. Submerging worms in water allows bacteria to travel from one to the other, and may spread diseases that will kill them all.


For ragworm, especially white ragworm, use coral sand in a cat-litter tray. King ragworm will stay alive for up to a week in damp peat; for longer periods, use the same method as for lugworms.

Peeler Crabs

Peeler crabs can be kept alive by covering them with damp newspaper or hessian sacking in a wooden box inside the fridge. Be careful that the crabs do not dry out by using a garden spray bottle containing seawater to damp them down regularly.

Other Live Baits

Many live baits – sandeel, prawns, edible crabs and small pout, for example – will need to be kept in a tank of seawater which is oxygenated using an aquarium pump and air stone.

Frozen Baits Storage

All baits that are to be frozen should be washed first and stored inside small plastic bags. Only store enough in each bag for a single trip, so you do not have to thaw out an unduly large quantity just to get at a handful of bait. Label the bags with details of their contents and the date on which they were frozen so that you can use them in order of freshness.

Crabs, clams and shrimps can be peeled or removed from their shell and frozen separately, either wrapped in foil or cling film. Use only fresh live bait and freeze it as quickly as possible. Also rotate your supplies and don’t freeze large amounts together. Freezing baits in small batches prevents the need to defrost them all to access just a few.