Thursday 22 November 2012

Grayling and Those Irritating Ounces

At this time of year most waters can prove difficult to fish.  The temperature has dropped, along with most of the leaves.  I am torn between loving the leaf fall, and hating it.  Which side I hang probably depends on my proximity to the water at the time.  

My Maple... Minus its Lower Branches
Maple Leaves in the Pond.
I have, in my garden a fairly large Japanese maple.  In the Autumn its leaves turn a deep crimson, and the tree dominates the view from my lounge window quite spectacularly.  Unfortunately its magnificence remains at its best for only two or three days, and the red colour is at most only present for a fortnight. Many of the fallen leaves end up in my pond, where I am again torn between admiring them as they float around in the pond, and rushing to get them out before they sink and decompose.  This tree is, without doubt, my favourite, but it has had its problems.  The branches used to cascade almost to ground level, but I didn't mind weaving my way between them throughout the year, looking forward as I was, to the fireworks display some months later.  But a few years ago my wife's twin sister visited us for a couple of months during the Winter.  She is Asian, and as such would sometimes be seen doing very odd things. So I came home one day to find her hacking off all the lower branches of my precious maple...using our best kitchen knife.  I was horrified, and told her in no uncertain terms, with judicious use, I am afraid, of language that was somewhat alien to her dialect.  It was two, maybe three, days later that I realised what she had been doing: just trying to help with the garden.   In her country there ARE no deciduous trees, and it suddenly hit me that she must have thought the tree to be dead.  Trees in her own garden each lose two or three leaves a day, and any with no leaves at all on it is therefore dead: firewood.  I can only thank God she didn't start to fell the 100+ year old lime trees in the front garden.  Had I arrived home much later I imagine I would have had a list of fallen trees not far short of those that were blown down in the infamous 1987 hurricane. Well, it was a BIG kitchen knife!  But surely she should have noticed that nearly all the trees in the garden, and those in the nearby road, and most trees in the town's parks were "dead"?
But enough of that. At this time of year, late Autumn, fish, of most species, are sluggish and unco-operative.  Lake species, apart from pike are often far more difficult to locate and catch. River fishing can become a nightmare, with countless leaves drifting downstream, giving false bites, accompanied by drifting and dying lengths of streamer weed, perhaps the odd branch, and even full sized trees if the rain has persisted long enough to significantly raise the river level.  Grayling and chub are perhaps the most obliging of the Winter species, but water, coloured by rain can deter them from feeding, or perhaps even from finding the bait. But there had been no rain for some time, and so I set out in search of a grayling or two.  My first  trip to this river had been a couple of months before, and it had given up a dozen of its grayling, and a similar number of trout to my rod.    Most of the grayling were 6-8 ounces, with one outstanding male fish of a pound and eleven ounces, a personal best and on my first trip to the river. So I was hoping for a similar result this second trip.  The river looked sad, as did the surrounding fields and trees.  Everything appeared grey, solid grey cloud cover,  even the grass appearing to have a greyish tinge to it.  The trees were bare, and the venue looked thoroughly unenthusiastic.  But, as every experienced angler knows, such conditions can make the fish feed well. There were no drifting leaves and the grayling fed, but spasmodically so, and only five fish were landed.  Grayling being grayling, another 4 or 5 had shed the hook.   The top jaw of a grayling is very solid, very hard for the point of a hook to penetrate there, and it is inevitable that some fish are lost.  A couple of dace were also added to the total catch.  But another personal best grayling, a female fish of one pound fifteen. Excellent. 
Not Quite Two Pounds

  But what is it with that final irritating ounce or so?  I always seem to have to pass though fish just short of a target weight, before I finally achieve that target.  I had a couple of roach of 1-15, before that first 2 pound plus fish.  A pike of 19-12 preceded my first 20 pound fish.  Tench, barbel, so many species have made me wait  before I hit  the nail properly.  It is uncanny.   Not that there is any more skill needed to catch a bream of 9-15 as opposed to a 10-4.  But try telling something like that to an angler who has just landed his first 30 pound carp!    I tried once. I said that, in a lake containing just two carp, one of 10 pounds, and another of 30 pounds, the bigger fish needed three times as much food to maintain its body weight, and therefore should be three times easier to catch.  I admit I was being a little "poky in his ribs", but he would not have the theory at any cost. Nope: the 30 had to be at least 3 times harder to catch than the smaller fish. 
But again I digress.  I wasted the last 90 minutes of the day chatting to a guy on the bank.  I had seen his split cane rod, and asked to see it.  Carp fishing was discussed, and he remembered my name from the early days of Cheshire carp fishing.  Apparently he had spoken to me once on the bank when he was a teenager. I had taken 30 odd years away from angling completely, rods gathering dust in the attic, and so, for someone to remember my name after one meeting nearly 40 years ago was quite astonishing.

Weed Wrapped Around my Hookbait.
Another week passed, and I was again on the river, looking for that 2 pound plus fish.  No chance!  I knew it had rained a little during the night.   My wife, who sleeps lighter than myself, told me later that the rain came down by the shipload.  I think that is what she said.   So when I arrived I was a little surprised to find the river up a couple of inches, but carrying a large load of leaves and weed.  Fishing was dire, but I stuck it out.  The river continued to rise very slowly over the day, but the debris load increased massively.  Not a total blank if you consider a minnow and three bullheads a catch. A couple of dace also sucked at a maggot, but the day was blighted by masses of drifting weed.   One of the bullhead astonished me by taking two good sized worms on a size 4 hook.  That fish was no more than three inches long.    Bullheads are surprisingly common in many of our rivers, often the second most numerous species after the minnows, and very much a favourite kingfisher food item. Large pectoral fins allow them to "glue" themselves to the riverbed even in very fast water. They spend a lot of time in and about the gravel and are rarely caught by most anglers.  Three in one day, I consider an achievement.  Eventually though the weed beat me, and I retreated.

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