Posts Tagged ‘Float fishing for grayling’

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening,
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight,
We’re happy tonight.
Walking in a winter wonderland.

Well it may not have snowed but with temperatures down to a rather nippy -4c, for all intents and purposes it looked like the fields and trees were covered in a fine layer of the white stuff.  Looking out across the fields, the heavy frost glistened in the early morning sun. Even the trees sparkled and ice had just about devoured any water that wasn’t flowing.  It truly was a winter wonderland and is one of nature’s most beautiful sights at this time of the year and one of the many reasons we go fishing.  Sometimes it’s very difficult trying to get across to non anglers quite why we do what we do.  For me though, this is one of those reasons that fuels my desire to go fishing.  It is spectacular but by God it’s brass monkeys.  Thankfully the thermals protected the family jewels from frost bite.

Geoff, Dan and I decided to see out 2014 with a couple of days on a beautiful southern chalk stream hoping for some decent grayling.  This particular river has a reputation for producing larger than average fish and perhaps offers a genuine chance of a 3lb+ specimen.   So far all of the fish we’ve caught from here have been exquisite and although not all have been around the 2lb mark, we’ve taken a few that have been.  Grayling are beautiful fish at any size of course but once they reach that magic 2lb mark, they seem to almost metamorphose into something almost mystical.  They become broad and thick set with remarkably big bellies and the dorsal fins are quite extraordinarily large and impressive, with a myriad of colours running through them.

Mad cows and Englishmen!  Apologies to Noël Coward!!

Mad cows and Englishmen! Apologies to Noël Coward!!

There is a strong argument for using feeder tactics in these extreme conditions.  Perhaps when the temperatures are this low the grayling sometimes prefer to forage on the river bed for morsels of food rather than chase them, as they swiftly pass by in the current.  You can of course hold back a float, over shot it and slow it right down but there are times when they just don’t want it like that.  So far I have resisted the urge to adopt the feeder as a tactic, simply because grayling will devour the bait and the hook will end up down in the gut.  Even a barbless hook can be tricky to extricate from this far down without causing any damage.  Having caught quite a few grayling when quiver tipping for roach I find it distressing if I can’t remove the hook.  I seem to recall reading somewhere about the use of artificial maggots which supposedly prevented deep hooking, so this may be worth exploring.

Anyway, in the meantime I’m sticking with long trotting.  I have to say it’s a very rewarding method for catching any fish.  I love seeing that float tip bury as a fish’s mouth engulfs the bait and that exhilarating adrenalin rush as a big, heavy fish thumps away on the end of the line, using the strong current to resist the inexplicable pull from the other end.  To me it’s the main reason for fishing in the winter.  I still love quiver tipping too, particularly for roach and chub but it plays second fiddle to float fishing.

We all knew that this first day was probably going to be tough.  It really was extremely cold first thing and it had only been about the second or third really sharp frost in as many days.  Sometimes I think grayling take a day or two to acclimatise to these harsh conditions.  You will still catch them on the coldest of days and in fact we’ve caught them in Wales when the temperatures have plummeted to -10c!!  So never say never.

Geoff or Dan...no it's just a buzzard not an old one!! :-)

Geoff or Dan…no it’s just a buzzard not an old one!! 🙂

Over the two days we were here I opted for a 3g float and started with the shot strung out.  I will bulk the shot up just underneath the float and then string No’s 4 and 6s out down the line, finishing with a No 6 around 4-6 inches from the hook.  I find that if you want to hold back a little the bait can flutter up more enticingly with this set up and I believe it’s easier for the bait to stay ahead of the float.  Later on though I swapped it over to a bulk shot set up around 18″ from the hook and slowed the passage of the float right down, just easing it through the swim to try and tempt a few bites.  I think this keeps the bait low in the water and near to the river bed and on those days where the grayling don’t want a faster moving bait it slows it right down.  Interestingly both set ups worked and I don’t think one out performed the other.

The lengths some people will go to to get the best swim!

The lengths some people will go to to get the best swim!

It was a tough couple of days.  Bites were few and far between.  Dan’s first fish was a cracker at 2lb 1oz but was not only his only fish, it was his only bite.  Mind you not a bad result really although a bit disappointing perhaps to not end up with a least a couple more.  Geoff had a good first day taking 5 grayling but sadly loosing 6 or 7 and his best fish was literally a smidgen under 2lbs, so again a fair result.  I only managed 3 fish and lost 1 but was fortunate to get a 2lb 5oz cracker.  Maggots seemed to produce the best results but I dabbled with corn and red worms but to no avail.

2lb 5oz

2lb 5oz

The second day saw us on an alternative stretch and completely new to us, so this could well prove to be quite challenging and indeed it was!  We walked a fair bit of the stretch and found some really magic swims.  Sadly though the fish didn’t seem to be in much of a feeding mood.  Most of the swims failed to produce so much as a bite but every now and then a fish was tempted.  I’m glad I had decided to wear my waders as this gave me access to some spots that would have been un-fishable otherwise and this was borne out by the results.  I didn’t do particularly well but at least managed 7 grayling and lost around 7.  None of the fish were big, probably a couple around 1lb. Dan sadly never had a bite and Geoff had just the one fish and I think lost one.  So a tough couple of days but at least we have explored more of this delightful chalk stream and garnered lots of useful info from the other anglers we met on the banks.

So until next time a very Happy New Year to you all and I hope 2015 turns out to be the best yet.

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No, that’s not a reference to Middle Earth and Bilbo Baggins but very much one of England’s fine chalk streams in the Shires.  Geoff, Kevin and I ventured to a new river to try our hand at the stocks of grayling.  It was a bitterly cold day, with a keen wind that could cut through granite.  The temperatures remained sub zero pretty much all day, with a wind chill factor well into the minuses.

We arrived at our venue mid morning and walked the length of the stretch.  It was a lovely, narrow chalk stream.  There was an abundance of cover from the trees and bushes and plenty of features in the river itself.  Riffles, deep gravel runs, groins and depressions all looked likely to offer some exciting fishing prospects.

Must be mad

Fortunately we had all worn chest waders and without these we couldn’t have accessed some of the best spots.  Anyway we started at the top and worked our way back down the stretch.  I must say chalk streams often look remarkably shallow, that is until you decide to go in all ‘John Wayne’ style and find yourself in over 3 feet of icy cold water.  Not only does it make you shiver, it makes you ‘shrink’ pretty damn quick too!  Gin clear water and gravel are very deceptive.  What appears to be a foot or two is often much deeper.

So after that shock I tried the swim for about 15 minutes without a bite.  I decided it was a little too deep for the grayling so moved downstream.  After a short distance I found an area that narrowed up quite considerably, creating a really nice flow over clean gravel and then it dropped into a deep run under a weeping willow.  It looked perfect.  Set-up was the usual affair: 2.6lb mainline, 16 barbless hook and a 5bb stick.  Bait was double maggot either red, bronze or a combination of both.

A few trots through sorted out the depth and I eased the baited float through by holding back fairly hard.  I missed a couple of bites and bumped a fish off but then as the float dipped out of sight I stuck into a much better fish.  After a hair-raising fight (well OK not on my head but there are other places……) I finally managed to net the culprit. It was a fine grayling that weighed 1lb 7oz and was just stunning to look at.  The colours on these fish were quite exceptional.  I took a few more fish from here including several more over a pound.

1lb 7oz

This continued on and off all day in all of the swims that I tried.  Some swims produced better than others but always with the best ones being with a good flow over clean gravel, even in fairly shallow water.  Kevin was having a similar day, although he didn’t seem to get in amongst the bigger fish.  Saying that, he still had a good few over the pound mark.  Geoff, as ever, was having a field day.  He moved into one particular swim that gave him about two dozen grayling and each subsequent move produced a few more for him.

Geoff ended the days proceedings with 48 grayling with approximately 15 or 16 over a pound and up to around 1lb 8oz.  I ended on the same number as Kevin, which was 34.  I had around 12-14 over the pound mark with numerous of those between 1lb 4oz and about 1lb 8oz.  All the fish were pretty much taken on maggot, with the exception of maybe one or two to corn.  They were also in mint condition and perhaps the nicest coloured grayling we have seen.

Considering it was our first effort here, we were delighted at the results.  Another visit should see an improvement in those catch statistics.  One thing that surprised me was how much the grayling seem to totally ignore you in the water.  This is something I have encountered before but I walked upstream through a couple of reasonably deep runs too and then trotted back down through them, catching good fish almost immediately.  It just shows that once you are in their home, they seem a lot less bothered by the angler, than they would if they spotted you on the bank.

So even in such Arctic conditions we ended up having a really good day and look forward to a return visit before the end of the season, time permitting.

A good grayling

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Geoff, Kevin and I decided to take a break from blanking er I mean barbel fishing and spend a day trotting for whatever came along.  We were hoping for some decent grayling but would be happy with a few decent dace or chub.  So it was that we headed to Barton Court on the upper Kennet near Hungerford.

This is a day ticket venue and was once renowned for the quality of its fishing.  It regularly produced very big dace, roach and grayling.  Today it’s a mere shadow of its former self.  The big roach seem to have vanished and the big dace are less in numbers.  Grayling still show and it’s rumoured there are still a few big fish in there.  Quite where, is another matter.

Barton Court

It a stunning venue though.  A mixture of the old river and numerous off-shoots and carriers.  There is a lot of water to fish.  Some areas are fast runs, others deeper and slower.  Numerous small weirs and pools offer enticing opportunities for a stick float fished with maggots.  There was little weed to speak of, which is handy when trotting.  Sadly though the river is desperately low.  In fact one of the locals said they had lived in the area for nearly 20 years and this was the lowest she had ever seen it. Quite worrying. It did at least have a touch of colour, although that doesn’t suit grayling generally.

Still we set about trying to catch a few fish.  I set-up my Drennan Matchpro, 3.2lb mainline, 2.6lb hooklink and 16 hook.  The float was a small 5bb stick float.  It was just right for the conditions: windy and with a pacey flow.  I could easily swap hook sizes depending on bait choice.  To start with I opted for the old favourite, a couple of red maggots.  I had wandered down to a particularly well-known spot by the arched bridge.  There was a nice deep run on the right hand side, which then swept towards and under the beautiful stone bridge.  Almost immediately I hooked into a decent fish.  Sadly it came adrift.  A few more trots through and the float buried.  A nice dace of about 7oz.  This was followed by several small dace and a grayling of around 7-8oz.  Then the minnows appeared.  After about half an hour of catching them, I decided it was time to move.

Upper Kennet

I wandered along the bank admiring the sights and sounds of the countryside.  I watched a couple of Red Kites for a few minutes and then a buzzard, before finding a nice deep run on a bend.  First trot through gave me a decent grayling of about a pound.  Then several nice perch and a few dace, shortly followed by another grayling.  Then, yet again, the minnows moved in.  By now it was almost lunchtime.  At this point I heard a wonderful choo, choo sound coming from the direction of the rail line.  I then heard the chuff-chuff of a steam engine.  Suddenly, a magnificent steam engine burst into sight, with white puffs of smoke billowing out of the funnel.  It was the Orient Express, with numerous luxurious Pullman Coaches behind.  What a grand sight, so terribly nostalgic (said of course, with my best Noel Coward voice!)

By now it was lunchtime.  Some hot soup and sandwiches filled a hole and a coffee to finish.  By God, this fishing lark ain’t too bad really.  Geoff and Kev had done reasonably well and it wasn’t long before we were off again.  This time I decided to head off below the stone bridge.  The river widens a little here.  It’s a bit weedier and generally fairly shallow.  We managed to find a couple of nice spots and I managed a few roach.  Kevin found a lovely pool right at the end of the fishery boundary.  Each cast produced a bite.  Pretty much all dace, with one or two half decent ones. Kevin also had the fish of the day.  A big dace going 12oz+, but we all caught a few decent dace throughout the day.

We kept moving and trying different spots.  The pools provided us with a few decent brownies up to about 3.8lbs.  The grayling were a little scarce.  I think we ended up with about a dozen between us.  Overall we caught a lot of fish.  I think Kevin said all in all he had about 70.  Not a bad days fishing.  As the sun started to sink down below the horizon, we heard that evocative choo, choo again.  A few seconds later the steam engine puffed into view and flew past at an incredible speed. Pretty much made the day for me.

We finished the day with loads of nice fish.  A really mixed bag of dace, roach, grayling, perch and gudgeon.  A wonderful day in beautiful surroundings where the wildlife is abundant and very distracting and that’s how it should be.

Ah, so that's how you do it.

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