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Posts Tagged ‘Winter grayling fishing’


I’m not sure if the ‘dazzlers’ are the Dorset grayling or Geoff, Kevin and myself, although I think I know the answer!

A three day trip to the Dorset Frome had been planned and the forecast a day or two before indicated pretty favorable weather conditions, however it turned out to be tougher than expected. So the three Musketeers headed off in search of those legendary Frome monsters.  As usual we stayed with John Aplin at the Dairy House.  He looks after us really well and having the annexe gives us plenty of room.  There’s even a tackle shed where you can store your wet gear if needs be.

The sitting room has a lovely open fire

The sitting room has a lovely open fire

The first day of our adventure saw light winds and a reasonably overcast day.  The temperature was mild and conditions seemed ideal.  The river is still a little low and could probably do with a good flush through.  That should clear some of the remaining weed and push the levels up a little for the winter.

I opted to fish several swims, rotating them frequently throughout the day.  First up was a nice bend ending with a shallow riffle.  The depth was around 3 feet and all gravel.  There appeared to be very little weed here.  A few trots through determined the depth and I opted for a 2g wire stemmed Avon.  They have a nice bulbous tip which can still be seen clearly at 20-30 yards. I decided to fish the shot in groups of 2 spaced out up the line with a No 6 dropper shot 6-8 inches from the hook.  The hook was a size 14 Kamasan B983 and is a great grayling hook.  Bait was a mixture of bronze and red maggots with sweetcorn as a backup.

After a few trots through the float buried and a nice pound grayling came to the net.  A few more followed but nothing big.  I went for a recce upstream and soon found a swim I really fancied trying.  I would have to wade to be able to fish it due to the towering waterside reeds here.  I managed to slip into the water and was wading in around 2 1/2 feet.  I was trotting down the reeds in maybe 3 feet of water.  The float soon buried and a really good fight ensued.  The fish was twisting and turning and the gun metal grey flank indicated it was a grayling.  After a couple more sightings of the fish during the fight I could see it was a reasonable fish.  After a few heart stopping moments I eventually landed my prize. It was a lovely 2lb 2oz fish.  Another smaller fish followed and then after a short rest I landed another fine grayling of 2lb 4oz.  The swim died after that and by now the wind had really picked up and made fishing here very difficult.

2lb 2oz

2lb 2oz

Due to the strengthening wind I chose to fish below the road bridge.  Again wading provided me with the best opportunity to fish this swim and I was soon into another grayling.  The fish here were not big, averaging 10-12oz but there were plenty of them.  There was also a good head of dace too and some right little crackers; probably a few were around the 6-7oz mark.  I ended the day with two dozen grayling and maybe 8-10 dace plus a few trout.  All in all a pretty good day.  Geoff had managed 15 grayling and Kevin 12 but nothing particularly big.

2lb-grayling

2lb-grayling

Day two saw 40mph winds and some spells of heavy rain.  We managed a handful of fish between us but it was a testing day and I was glad when it was over.  We enjoyed a great meal and a pint of ‘Proper Job’ at the Wise Man in West Stafford that night, which helped improve our moods!

Some of the locals

Some of the locals

The last day was also rather testing with high winds and the occasional blustery shower.  Not too many fish found the net today however I did manage to find and tame another 2lb grayling and also had a right old tussle with a salmon which looked around 5-6lb.  I think I had 3-4 grayling, a few trout and the salmon.  We packed up early with Kevin being the top rod today with 8 grayling.

It was a tough few days in Dorset but it did produce some lovely fish and I’m sure we’ll be back soon chasing those legendary monster grayling.

The best brace of the trip - courtesy of John Aplin!

The best brace of the trip – courtesy of John Aplin!

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The Itchen Valley offers the chalk stream angler some of the best grayling and trout fishing in the country.  The run of salmon may not be what it once used to be but they do still show in reasonable numbers.  The Itchen starts it’s life in Mid Hampshire near the village of Cheriton before heading north and then south through the historic city of Winchester.  Winchester dates back to certainly the 1st century BC.  It became a Roman settlement and later fortifications were added and Winchester’s importance was set in stone, if you’ll pardon the pun!  The cathedral grew in significance and the city later became the home of one of England’s most famous kings; Alfred the Great.

Winchester Cathedral - Courtesy of Wikipedia

Winchester Cathedral – Courtesy of Wikipedia

After Winchester the river flows south to join the Southampton Water below the Itchen Bridge in Southampton.  Between Woodmill and the upper reaches the fresh water provides some exciting opportunities for the coarse angler.  Pretty much all species can and are caught from these crystal clear waters; barbel, chub, pike, perch, roach and of course grayling.  The roach grow to exceptional sizes and I’ve seen chub to over 6lbs caught and barbel well into double figures.  All in all its a great place to while away a few hours trotting a float.

An Itchen Roach

A 2lb+ Itchen Roach

Geoff and I have been fishing the middle Itchen on and off over the last few weeks.  Sadly due to the exceptionally wet and windy conditions these trips have been few and far between.  Luckily the Itchen copes quite well with heavy rain and both the levels and colour improve very quickly, although it does have to stop raining at some point for it to do so.

These recent trips have provided plenty of action as always.  It would be almost impossible to blank here I think.  Often we end up with a really good bag of grayling and trout.  Our latest 2 trips couldn’t have been more different though.  The first saw us tackle our usual stretch from around 10.30am.  We always start with a cooked breakfast in a very nice local cafe that has a roaring wood burner to keep you toasty on those cold frosty mornings.  The river was up and quite coloured and we know that will be more challenging.  Still we explored the mile or so section of river from one end to the other.

The water was pushing through quite hard and so a big bolo style float seemed appropriate.  I ended up using a 3g one straight through to a 16 hook.  Bait was the faithful maggot or sweetcorn, lightly nicked on.  Both of these have been tremendously successful here in coloured and clear conditions.  It’s remarkable that in one swim you’ll only catch on maggot and yet in another only on sweetcorn.  Also as the day passes, again a change from one bait to the other seems to make a marked difference.

On this particular day the fish were hard to come by.  I think that was mainly down to the heavy, tea like colouration.   Grayling are sight feeders and therefore harder to come by in these conditions.  Still we persevered.  By constant bait changing and a mobile approach, we ended up with quite a few between us although mainly on the smaller side.  I think the biggest was perhaps a pound.  We had to cover a lot of ground to keep catching and all in all managed to see most of the mile plus stretch of river.  I can’t remember the actual numbers of fish caught but it was well down on what we would normally expect.  I seem to recall around 10-15 grayling between us but it could easily be more.  The old grey matter is not what it once was I’m afraid!

The second trip this week saw improved conditions.  The river was still higher than normal but a lot of the colour had dropped out.  Earlier in the day (after breakfast of course!) we took the opportunity to check out another stretch, which sadly proved to be not so good.  We finally arrived at the river around noon.  The flow had lessened and the river was looking damn good.  I opted for a slightly smaller float; an Avon with 5bb shot and a 16 hook.  I started off in a favourite spot with double bronze maggot.  The results came after about 5 minutes of trickling bait in.  A really hard fighting and heavy fish used the flow to its full advantage.  They turn sideways into the flow and feel incredibly heavy in the conditions.  Initially I wasn’t sure what the fish was but soon that magnificent sail like dorsal cut through the surface film and gave its presence away.  This looked a good fish and after a heart in the mouth fight we netted a really decent fish.  It looked every bit 2lbs but looks can be deceptive.  It weighed 1lb 12oz and is certainly up there with the biggest specimens we have caught from here.  I followed that up with another similar sized fish but probably a few ounces smaller.

1lb 12oz Itchen Grayling

1lb 12oz Itchen Grayling

The afternoon proved to be most enjoyable.  The sun was out and it was a typical cold, frosty winter’s day.  The sort we are more used to at this time of the year.  There was a slight wind but not enough to make it unpleasant in the winter sunshine.  The water was cold though and wading almost waist deep at times had a certain time-span.  After around 20 minutes the cold got into my bones and I would have to get out and try and warm up.  I love days like these.  To me it’s what winter fishing is all about.

Geoff and I covered around half of the beat during the afternoon and some really good quality grayling came our way.  I ended up with 19 nice fish and probably a similar number of trout.  Not bad for around 4 1/2 hours fishing.  At one point I hooked a proper zoo creature.  I couldn’t budge it off the bottom and it just headed wherever it wanted.  It powered upstream until it got bored and then decided to head off towards Southampton with me in tow, chasing it down the bank until I could go no further.  Something had to give and it turned out to be the line at the hook knot.  I never saw the fish but suspect it was a decent sized salmon.  A little later on Geoff hooked something similar and the fish came out of the water like an Exocet missile,  It was indeed a salmon of around 10lbs, so my leviathan was likely to be the same.

The Itchen Valley

The Itchen Valley

This was one of those rare occasions when I managed to catch more grayling than Geoff.  That’s two consecutive sessions I’ve managed to outdo him.  It’s so rare for the maestro to be bested, I thought it worthy of inclusion here!

 

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Another Richard and Jane full Welsh breakfast saw us fully sated and ready for action, well a snooze really.  We didn’t have time for further rest and so it was to the banks of the Wye to see if we could tempt a few final grayling between now and our last few hours on the bank the following day.

There was a bitterly cold wind blowing upstream and within 10 or 15 minutes of being in the water the cold seemed to seep in to our very bones.  I had to get out every so often and do a highland jig on the banks in an effort to generate some heat into the partially frozen flesh.  Despite the numerous loose layers of clothing that one needs at this time of the year, a strong wind seems to make a mockery out the theory of warm and windproof!

The Wye

The Wye

Dan fished a swim that we know produces well.  There is a crease that runs from almost the near bank diagonally across the river to about mid way, where a feeder stream enters the river from the opposite bank.  Its reasonably deep and seems to hold large numbers of fish during the late winter months.  Its an easy spot to fish, just drop the float in and ease it along the crease.  After a short period of feeding, the fish can be pulled in quite close, almost taking the bait from under your feet.  Fish can be caught at pretty much any distance along the long line of the crease and of varying sizes.  This area has produced the odd 2lb fish but generally most of the fish are a pound plus and plenty in the 1lb 8oz – 1lb 12oz range.

It didn’t take long for Dan to get into a nice grayling and he continued to catch up until lunchtime.  He fed with a small bait dropper and this kept the grayling quite close to his bank.  I fished 30 yards above him and trotted down quite close to the bank, where there was a visible drop off in the gravel bottom.  I kept a small amount of feed going in every cast and soon I too started to catch.  I had several nice grayling and then sadly lost a very big fish which I could not move.  I waded downstream and kept the fish under pressure.  Still it refused to budge and the rod was almost creaking at the strain and the line sung in the wind.  Eventually the fish boiled on the surface and I caught a glimpse of a big dorsal, then the fish plunged down and the hook popped out!  I may have said “damn” or something at this point.  If it was a grayling (and I was certain it was) it was a very big fish.

Town Bridge

Town Bridge

A cup of coffee always helps to relieve the pain and it at least gave me the opportunity to warm up.  By now I’d had grayling to 1lb 14oz and was much happier than I was over the first three days of our trip.  Dan and I swapped places and I think Dan had caught about 10-12 fish.  I jumped in and caught on and off for the remainder of the afternoon.  Just feeding pretty much every cast kept the swim alive, however the area was fishing much slower than in previous visits.  Despite this I caught some nice grayling and a few trout.  I think I ended the day with 22 or 23 to just under 2lbs.  Dan finished a little behind me on maybe 16 or 17, so for us two it had been a turnaround of fortunes at long last.  Kevin and Geoff had fished the opposite bank both down by the town bridge and then further upstream and almost opposite Dan and I.  They also had a brief visit to another section of the Irfon but with very little to show for their efforts.  I think they ended up with a couple of grayling each.

It was our last night at the cottage so we decided to head out for a meal and a pint.  We would have to be up fairly early to pack the car prior to going fishing for a few hours and then heading home mid afternoon.  So after saying farewell to our wonderful hosts, we headed back to the town stretch of the Wye.  We felt it fair to rotate the main productive areas and then try a few odd swims further upstream. The exploration of one swim proved most rewarding and enlightening.

Kev and Nathan on the Wye

Kev and Nathan on the Wye

All four of us caught a few fish but the fishing was very slow.  It was just an odd fish here and there and the cold was almost crippling.  Dan fished a lovely swim some way upstream and managed to catch several nice grayling when it was his turn to have a go in the ‘banker’ swim.  I had pretty much had enough and so wandered up to see Kevin who was now fishing Dan’s first swim.  It was a perfect looking spot.  The river straightened after a bend and then the shallow water dropped into a deep run, where a crease created a lovely smooth glide.  After a couple of test runs with the float, Kevin made a few adjustments and the float was gently wafting downstream when it disappeared.  Kevin stuck into a very nice fish.  It fought well and evaded capture for a while before I finally slipped the net under a fine grayling.  It had big thick set shoulders and a lovely bright dorsal fin.  It looked about 2 1/4lbs and my estimate wasn’t far off, it weighed 2lb 3oz.  There was a small v shaped scar just below its dorsal fin where a cormorant or some other predator had grabbed it at some point and a single scar on the other side.  Kevin was over the moon and we photographed the fish and put her back.

Kev's 2lb 3oz Grayling

Kev’s 2lb 3oz Grayling

After sorting his camera out and re-baiting the hook, Kevin dropped the float in to the same spot again.  His reel tangled whilst his float sat almost motionless in the swim.  The float then seemed to drag under and I informed Kevin that his float had been pulled under.  He lifted the rod tip to dislodge the float from what appeared to be the riverbed, when he found another good grayling attached to the hook!  Incredibly, despite the lack of a strike, the fish stayed on.  It fought for a while but soon gave up and I could see it was another ‘2’.  As the fish slipped into the waiting landing net I saw a familiar scar!  Er it was the same fish again.  The scar matched and so did the weight.  Well who would have believed it, the same fish in two casts.  That was nothing believe me.

Nathan's 2lb 3oz Grayling

Nathan’s 2lb 3oz Grayling

We returned the fish slightly upstream and again Kevin sorted his float and bait out and after a few minutes in went the baited rig again.  Once again the float appeared to snag bottom and just slowly sank out of sight.  Kevin flicked the rod tip and a heavy weight was felt on the end.  For a while he thought he had caught the bottom when up popped another good grayling.  How bizarre but surely this couldn’t be the same fish?  Well it was.  Three casts and the same fish three times.  Kevin decided to have a cup of tea and we couldn’t quite believe what had just happened.  Perhaps this is more common than we realise.  Luckily this fish was easily identifiable so we knew it was a recapture, with other grayling it would be far more difficult to tell.

I had a go in the swim whilst Kevin watched.  The float gently drifted downstream when it appeared to snag bottom.  I stuck and felt what seemed like a dead weight on the other end.  Of course we both knew what it was and we weren’t wrong.  It was the same grayling yet again.  Four casts and four times it appeared.  This seemed remarkable.  The fish was returned again and as with the previous 3 occasions rested for a short while before gliding off silently into the bright waters of the Wye.  Well it was certainly a talking point.

Looks familiar

Looks familiar

By now Geoff was bored so he too wandered up.  We told him what had happened and he could hardly believe it.  Both Kevin and I certainly didn’t want to fish the swim again, just in case.  It seemed unfair on the fish so we left.   Never in a million years did we think that fish would be caught again, that was impossible.  Geoff fished the swim for a while and Kevin watched.  After sometime nothing had happened and it seemed that perhaps that had been the only fish in the swim.  Geoff continued and after may 15-20 minutes the float appeared to snag bottom.  Geoff of course lifted the rod and felt a dead weight.  “Bugger, caught on the bottom” exclaims Geoff.  “Oh no” says Kevin, “That’s the grayling” and indeed it was.  Again the fish rested, as all big grayling do, and then slowly swam back into the waters and no doubt back to its favourite spot.  Still we wouldn’t find out because that was enough for us.  We decided to call it a day and head home.

Danny Collins

Danny Collins

Dan finished top rod with 7 or 8 grayling to upper 1s and our friend was like the proverbial bus, you weight for ages and several turn up at once, well five times in this case.  Anyway I hope our friend moves on and has a peaceful retirement.  So our Welsh odyssey finished on a rather unusual note and we all look forward to our return here next winter.

Geoff in Action

Geoff in Action

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On days two and three of this trip we had access to a private stretch of the Irfon and had arranged for access on to another Wye tributary, the Ithon.  First up was the Ithon and you couldn’t imagine a wilder or more isolated river if you tried.  It looked for all intents and purposes completely unfished and untrodden by man.  It was more of a lowland river than the likes of the upper Wye or Irfon and as such cut through thick woods where access was, well, tricky.  The banks were heavily tree-lined and thick foliage choked the banks.  The margins appeared quite deep in most places and also thick silt meant that an unwary boot could quite easily disappear down to the knee.  However despite this there were plenty of areas where gravel was quite apparent and with some lovely shallow gravel runs and riffles plus a few long glides, things looked pretty good.

The Ithon

The Ithon

We thought we had found paradise to be honest.  As the river cut through the surrounding countryside, we marvelled at the unkempt look and a feeling of a true wilderness.  We were soon to realise we were not the only ones who thought this was untouched by man.  After fishing for a couple of hours and not a single bite between 4 of us we started to wonder what was wrong.  Then Kevin spotted 5 otters swimming together and almost immediately I spotted two more as they fizzed through my swim and then surfaced like nuclear submarines just downstream of me.  It is always a delight to see nature raw and in the flesh and that’s one of the great joys of angling.  You see so much incredible wildlife up close and personal.  However otters in this quantity on such a small river seems too much and almost unnatural.  I always thought otters had quite a big territory but obviously not.

012

Despite exploring most of the length of this 4 mile stretch we never had a single bite.  Still I thoroughly enjoyed the walk and the views.  At one point the land climbed sharply upwards and the track led me to a heavily wooded section.  I climbed over the fence and followed the path through the thick pine forest.  As I entered the dark gloom of the trees I could almost sense the darkness enveloping me, such was its aphotic nature. I was by now about 50 feet above the river on a very narrow path that had a sheer drop to the rapids below.  It was a scene reminiscent of something out of the movie Deliverance.  I just didn’t want to have to squeal like a pig!  The view was simply stunning and if the track hadn’t been so narrow I would have taken a few shots with the camera, however a fear of heights prevented me from even contemplating that.

Ithon

Ithon

So yet again we returned to the cottage a tad disappointed and a little despondent.  We just hoped that the following day would prove better.  So we headed off the following morning to a private stretch of the Irfon.  It was in an area we had fished before however from the opposite bank and this beat ran further upstream by some distance to an area unexplored by any of us.

Once again the river looked spot on.  This part of the river runs through heavily treelined countryside and you get the feeling it is largely unfished and even uninhabited.   You really do feel like your the first person to walk these banks in years, which makes it all rather special.  As with much of the Irfon its a mixture of gravel and bedrock.  The bedrock is very awkward to wade on in places and the right foot wear is imperative.  Once again lots of gravel runs, pools, riffles and glides to choose from and once again the same result as yesterday; not a single bite between us.  I fished numerous gorgeous looking swims and just couldn’t muster a bite.

Nathan on the Irfon

Nathan on the Irfon

It may be a coincidence but we found lots of otter tracks and even the partial remains of half eaten fish.  However as I have said before February can be a bit tricky, so this may be why we were struggling so much.  Nevertheless it was a stunning section and gave us the opportunity to explore even more of the glorious Welsh countryside.  Wildlife abounds of course and we saw Kites and Buzzards plus dippers which hurtle along the river’s course just above the water at breakneck speed, very much like the Kingfisher.  So far I have not seen any deer in Wales which really surprises me as it looks ideal due to the remoteness of many of these venues.  The only thing missing were the grayling!

The Ithon

The Ithon

Later on in the afternoon we took the decision to move onto the Wye and fish the town section.  We have found this can fish well during February and it seems this is one of the areas that the fish like to shoal up.  So we hedged our bets and made a move.  It turned out to be the right decision too.  Dan and I fished one side, whilst Geoff and Kevin opted for an area that had produced large numbers of grayling for us previously.

I fished down towards the town bridge and soon had a fish attached.  It was a miracle!  It turned out to be a nice grayling and I decided to move downstream and wade out a bit.  The river was a little shallower here and I fished in about 2’6″ of water.  Soon the float buried again and a nice grayling turned against the flow and fought like a tiger.  Eventually I landed it and weighed her in at 1lb 10oz.  Another of a similar size followed and I bumped a few off.

Dan was still biteless and by now the temperature had dropped even more and there was a raw easterly wind coming straight at us from the opposite bank, which cut straight through us.  We had just about had enough.  Both Dan and I decided to contact Geoff and say lets call it a day.  However both Geoff and Kevin were catching from the regular spot and both ended up with 17 or 18 grayling to upper 1s.  However they too were pretty chilly and so enough was enough and once again we headed back to the warm and comforting security of the cottage.  Dinner beckoned.

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