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Posts Tagged ‘Float fishing a river’


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?

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 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.

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

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

Kevin’s 2lb 4oz Grayling

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The best laid plans of mice and men and all that.  Geoff and I had arranged an early morning start, well more like the middle of the night actually.  We headed off at 3am with our sights firmly fixed on arriving at our chosen destination before anyone else.  The reason was so I could do a bit of trotting in one particular spot.  Now that’s always a dangerous thing to do.  Firstly you pin all of your hopes on one swim and if it doesn’t work your scuppered and secondly if there’s already someone in situ when you get there, then yes your scuppered! Still it was a one off, we’re not normally too fussed if we can’t get into this particular swim as there are other areas that will produce chub and roach.  However this specific spot really does suit trotting and is probably the best on this section of river for barbel, hence it’s so very popular.  Anyway we arrived at out chosen destination at 4.45am and yes you’ve guessed it….someone was already in the car park.  Several expletives later and we decided that if someone was that keen, then good luck to em…the filthy, dirty bas….!

The Lea

The Lea

So it was plan B.  The only problem was we didn’t have a plan B!  Still we plumped on a couple of other swims and hoped for the best.  I had a selection of rods with me.  As explained my primary reason for coming here was to trot for barbel.  The reason for that was to try out some new baits I’d received from Pallatrax, that I think will be ideal for this type of fishing.  I have mentioned them before; they are small dried snails that once rehydrated in water return to their natural state.  They can then be fished on a small hook (14 or 16) and offer a high protein and very natural bait.  So I had my Drennan Power Float set-up for barbel, the Drennan Ultralight for chub and roach and my Torrix for fishing bottom baits, if the other method failed to produce.

As the light slowly broke through the gloom of dawn it was time to run a float through the swim.  The flow was much less than I expected, especially following some of the heavy rain of recent days.  Also the flow sharply angled from the far to near bank after just a few yards, which made presentation a little tricky.  Still if the float was started tight to the reeds opposite I could get a decent trot down before the float headed to the nearside bank and disappeared from view.  I had sprayed the bronze maggots with some Winter Almond spray the night before and they had a delightful (well almost) cherry bakewell aroma.  I loose fed a few maggots every cast to get the swim going.  If the fish started to respond then I would be using a selection of baits but maggots would be my opening gambit.

After an hour I’d had one small perch and a nice roach of about 8oz.  No signs of barbel.  I popped down to see Geoff and on my return thought I’d give the Ultralight a go.  First trot through and yes, typical, a barbel was hooked.  The fish plodded off powerfully downstream.  Gentle, steady pressure stopped the fish advancing any further and a tug of war ensued.  The barbel sat under the reeds sulking whilst I kept the pressure up.  Then it was gone.  The hook to nylon had parted close to the spade end of the hook.  I’m not a fan of hooks to nylon for this very reason.  They seem to fail on big fish a lot and I much prefer to tie my own.  Today though I thought they’d be OK for roach and dace but they are not man enough generally for barbel, in my opinion.

The Baits

The Baits

The barbel float rod was employed again for about an hour or so but failed to produce and so the lighter outfit was put through it’s paces once again.  Typically first trot through and another barbel was hooked.  I had this one almost ready for netting when the HTN parted again close to the spade end.  I decided to change the line on the power float rod and reduce it to a mainline of 0.15mm (5.14lb) and use a 5lb hooklink.  It could be that the heavier set-up was spooking the barbel.   This also allowed me to use a smaller float.  I had been alternating between bulk shotting and shirt button style and today the shirt button style seemed to be producing the goods.  Sadly though the flow seemed to keep changing and by now the wind had picked up considerably making float presentation almost impossible.  That was a shame because it can be such a rewarding method but there are times when its just not practical.

A typical Lea barbel

A typical Lea barbel

So it was to the Torrix Barbel Rod that my hopes were now pinned.  I was using around 3′ of Pallatrax Steamlink for my hooklink, a size 10 ‘The Hook’, a flying backlead to make sure it all stayed pinned down and a medium sized Stonze weight.  It all looked very good in the margins and the Steamlink, which had been passed through the steam of a kettle, stayed nice and straight.    For bait I was using the new Winter Almond squabs.  They are a nice size and not rock hard either.  I like slightly softer baits for my river fishing.  These Winter Almond baits smell just like cherry bakewell.  I think if I’d of had some custard with me I would of ended up tucking into a bowl full!  Watch out Mr Kipling there’s a new kid on the block and Pallatrax make exceedingly good baits!!  Anyway I digress, I used the squabs with either paste or dipped into the thickest glug I’ve ever used and then rolled around in the maggot box to create an enticing cocktail.  Then additionally around the Stonze weight I moulded a ball of the Bloodworm and Maggot Crush Groundbait.  Keeping it slightly over damp ensured it stayed on well and allowed for a slow break down process, gradually releasing all of those nutritious little morsels for the fish to hone in on.

Pallatrax Stonze

Pallatrax Stonze

I was fishing to a deep area just where the flow diverted and right next to the reeds.  A few knocks and the rod tip hammered round.  There’s nothing quite like a 3 foot twitch to get the adrenaline pumping that’s for sure.  The culprit was a small but perfectly formed barbel.  As always it put up a tremendous fight and I’m pleased to say there were more to follow.  The time was now around 2pm and the skies had darkened quite considerably.  Heavy rain was forecast for later in the day and the wind was howling across the fields.  Still all the while is stayed dry we decided to persevere.

Out went the bait and a short while later round went the rod tip.  Another feisty barbel resulted.  In fact throughout the remainder of the afternoon numerous barbel followed and I lost just one fish.  It seems it’s not just me with a sweet tooth then, these Lea fish like a bit of barbel bakewell too!  I was suffering with man-flu and the wind was beginning to get to me.  We decided to finish at 4.30 before it got too cold.  By now I’d had 6 barbel to 6lb 3oz and Geoff had caught around 10 reasonable chub and one barbel.  It was great to see the rod top whack round so often for a change and one of the  highlights of the day was seeing a stunning red kite glide past, which I’ve only seen here once before.

Recovering Nicely

Recovering Nicely

In case I don’t post again before Christmas, I’d like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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