As those wonderful long summer evenings relentlessly draw in, winter arrives all too quickly. However it’s not all doom and gloom. With those dark, cold mornings when breath vaporizes in an instant, comes the grayling season. Despite hating the cold I feel a certain tingling sensation at the thought of chasing those ladies of the stream. Not sexual healing as Marvin would put it but rather a therapeutic endeavour that sends the pulse racing at the thought of a large grayling gracing the net.
A sign of things to come?
The colours of a grayling’s fins and dorsal are quite exquisite, with hints of blue, magenta, red and other exotic hues. They truly are a magnificent fish. They are famed of course for the impressive sail like dorsal which they use to good effect in the fast flowing chalk streams of which they call home.
A decent grayling
A big grayling can test the very best tackle in the pacey flows and often results in heart in the mouth action. Sadly all too often, as you draw the fish to the net, a final head thrash will throw the hook and a monster grayling will sink back into it’s watery home.
I have traveled the length and breadth of the country (well almost) in search of these jewels amongst freshwater fish. The Shire’s have produced well, as have the valleys and mountain streams of Wales. Now we have returned to the southern chalk streams in search of that elusive 3lb grayling. In one or two rivers the grayling have prospered on the quality and biodiversity of their surroundings. A chance of a 3lber is a real possibility and so over the coming winter months, Geoff, Kevin and I (aided and abetted on occasions by Danny) will be targeting these most magnificent of fish in some of the South’s most scenic and unspoilt countryside.
Our first opening gambit saw us tackle the river over a two day period. First up was a stretch that has produced some seriously big grayling and has a reputation as being one of the prime beats on the river. The levels have returned to normal after a great deal of rain over recent weeks, however the colour hasn’t quite dropped out and probably doesn’t over the winter months. This is a fast, generally shallow river with lots of twists and turns. This creates an abundance of fishable glides both deep and shallow and all over pristine gravel. It’s simply mouthwatering. Depths range from 18 inches to around 4 feet, with the odd 6 or 7 foot hole or short run. Personally I don’t like the deeper areas and have rarely succeeded in these swims. For me 2-4ft produce the best results.
We traveled light (well light for us) with a single rod, centrepin, net and an array of floats and odds and sods. I still use my rucksack that I use for my barbel fishing, only because it can accommodate my flask, float tubes, towel, food and a camera. I have just purchased a new trotting tool in the shape of a 15ft Matchpro Ultralight. I have also just treated myself to a new Young’s Purist II but sadly that has yet to be put through its paces. However the rod performed admirably and I’m delighted with it.
On the first day I chopped and changed baits and depths to try and tempt some fish. However the fishing, for me at least, was slow. I covered most of the upper two beats, giving each swim an hour or so to produce. Bites were few and far between and perhaps the first of the heavy frosts had chilled the grayling’s appetite somewhat. So I kept swapping baits with red worms, maggots and corn all getting a workout and altering the depth and speed of the float. Anything was worth a try, just to entice a bite or two.
2 pints of maggots, sweetcorn, worms, spare hooks, shot and still room for more in the Lone Angler Bait Pouch.
Eventually a few fish put in an appearance and I ended the day with 6 grayling to 1lb 4oz and 5 trout. Like me Geoff also found it hard going, whilst Kevin had more success taking 12 grayling and I think 8 trout. I’m not sure what the secret of his success was down to but he certainly finished well ahead of the field. I don’t think any particularly big fished were landed but I lost around 12 fish with 3 being notably big. However their identity remained anonymous as I never actually saw the culprits. Sadly one fish in particular felt like a very big grayling indeed.
Later that night we were treated to a superb meal in the local pub and washed down with perhaps the finest real ale produced in England; Timothy Taylor Landlord! Wow what a pint of ale that is, my absolute favorite. Early the next morning we left the cottage and headed off to our final destination. This section was around a mile long and again abounded with twists and turns and long gravel glides galore.
I achieved early success taking a couple of nice grayling and several big trout including a really big brownie of around 4lbs. I enjoy searching a river and so spent the day swim jumping and trying to cover as much water as possible. This helps to map the stretch and slowly build up a picture of the beat and gain some essential knowledge of depths and likely swims. Grayling do tend to move around a lot, so a swim may produce well in the morning but nothing later on, or vice versa! In fact a brilliant swim one day can be useless another. I find it best to keep exploring and fish several swims in a day. I think it’s worth persevering in a swim if you think it looks like it’s got potential, so give it an hour or so before moving on.
I kept a trickle of maggots going in on every cast and today maggots seemed to produce the most bites. Worms and sweetcorn caught just a couple of fish. By the end of the day I had landed 9 grayling to 1lb 7oz and 6 trout. I lost around 4 or 5 grayling that I saw and a few that I didn’t. Geoff was also struggling a bit but towards the end of the session he came up trumps with a new PB; a grayling of 2lb 5oz. Meanwhile Kevin was yet again top rod, taking 13 grayling and a number of trout. More significantly he manged fish of 1.12, 1.14, 1.14, 1.15 and a beauty of 2.4, five stunning fish. He just seemed to have the knack over the last couple of days and put Geoff and I to shame.
Geoff’s new PB 2lb 5oz
So our time here had come to an end. It certainly showed promise and we are looking forward to many more trips here over the remainder of the season.
Kevin’s 2lb 4oz Grayling