Sunday 1 December 2013

Pretty Ladies, Shame About the Barbel.

A few days ago I had  a trip chasing the grayling of a very difficult river.  I had earlier challenged myself to try and catch a grayling on each trip to the stream.  This was my seventh trip, after I had failed on trip 6 to keep up the winning streak.  Each of those seven trips had also produced out of season trout.  To catch one grayling from this river is a pleasing achievement, and to succeed on 6 out of 7 trips was totally unexpected, although most of the days were to produce just a single grey lady.  But there is only so much self sacrifice one can make, and no matter how satisfying it is to catch fish under very difficult circumstances, sooner or later something has to give.  So yesterday, another destination was planned, another river, one where grayling are known to be present in much larger numbers. I still have not caught my two pound fish, and it was time to change the odds and up  my chances a bit.

The swim I chose is one I last fished a couple of years ago, just the one trip then, with chub the target species. I caught nothing that day, but always thought that the swim held great promise.  Reaching the swim involves a good half mile walk, along a narrow twisty path through a thick beech wood, occasionally bordering a tiny stream into which it would be quite easy to fall like a nocturnal Red Bull cliff diver from the narrow track into the shallow water below.   This was a path I had taken just once before, during daylight.   But yesterday it was still completely dark as, headtorch fitted, I tried to remember the route taken by the path.     Oppressively thick dark clouds overhead filtered out what little light the moon and stars might have otherwise provided.  I had not gone far before a loud cawing and croaking broke out to my right.  I had disturbed a large roost of crows, rooks or perhaps jackdaws.    Probably crows, and they made it well known that my presence in the wood was not fully appreciated by the locals.  Other than listening awhile, I ignored them.   I couldn't see them, and all they could see of me was the headlight.  The path was also more or less invisible; little used, it is just a narrow stretch of  soil, its grass removed by the tread of booted feet.   Autumn, and high winds overnight had almost completely hidden the path.  Masses of beech leaves, mixed with a few from oaks and sycamores were completely masking the route. The whole floor of the wood was coated by leaf fall. Instinct and good luck were all that was keeping me on track.   I disturbed a large bird above me, and it clattered off into the dark.   I would like to think it was an owl, but an owl would have flown off without betraying its presence to me.  Completely silent.  

After venturing into a couple of boggy areas, I eventually reached the river, and my swim.   The first rays of light were leaking through the cloud cover as I tackled up.   For a late November early morning it was quite warm, but those light rays revealed that the river was covered with floating leaves. The leaf cover was maintained by constant heavy winds of maybe 30 or 40 mph, new leaves being added by the thousands. They made float fishing impossible, the line lying atop them on every cast.   As the light increased I could see that almost as many were drifting down below the surface.    Fishing looked as if it was going to be difficult.    I was totally wrong with that assessment, and my very first cast produced a grayling.  I weighed it at 1-8.  A good start.  After a quick photograph  I returned it, and nursed it back to full strength, before seeing it swim off powerfully.   Grayling so very often exhaust themselves during the scrap, and not caring for their proper return would see some of them floating downstream, belly up.  It is always worth taking the time to return these gorgeous fish carefully, even if, as I did, you get your feet wet.

The second and third casts also produced grayling.  All three fish were as peas in the pod.  None would
The Second Pea From the Left
have differed from the others by more than an ounce.  I would have liked a photograph of all three together, but I do not own, nor do I want, a keepnet, and all my fish are returned as quickly as I can.

The fourth cast hit into another fish, one I felt might be a little bigger, and I had already prepared the camera to try and get a shot of the dorsal fin as it came into the shallows.  Nice thought, but the fish proved to be a chunky chub, maybe a smidgeon under three pounds. It too, was returned into the same swim, which may well be a significant factor in the day's equation.    For I was to catch no more chub and no more grayling, despite about three hours of working hard at the problem.   Four casts, four bites, four fish.    The grayling were obviously from the same shoal, but did they comprise the whole shoal? Had I caught them all?    Were the others scared away?   Or did they simply move on?   The pool was quite a large one, and they could easily have gone as much as 50 yards away.   Was my error that of not returning them 15 or twenty yards away?

As I pondered the answers, which remain as elusive as the origins of the Big Bang, a dabchick, in its Winter
Dabchick in Winter
plumage, dived and dithered near the tree roots on the far bank.   A tiny little grebe, it slowly worked its way upstream and disappeared around the bend.  I had thought that the first splash it made, right under the bank, was caused by a fish, but it was too close to the bank for me to risk a cast at it, which is fortunate.   I have seen a dabchick surface with very obvious red maggots in its bill, and I would have hated to have hooked one.

But the chub was not the end of the angling action: an hour or so later I struck into another fish.  My thoughts went:  "good grayling....perhaps not, must be a chub...hmm, a damn good chub". I even thought it could be five or six pounds.  It took a few more moments before reality dawned.   A heavy fish that was sticking close to the bottom, and quite slowly forcing its way upstream.   My four pound line was not bothering it very much.  It was not long after I belatedly sussed that the fish had to be one of the river's barbel, and probably a very good one, that the end tackle came flying back at me, and the fish was off.    The earlier chub and grayling dulled the pain a little but the disappointment remains.  I hate losing fish unseen.   Was it a double?  Would it have been my best from the river?  Could I have kept it out of that snag? All sorts of questions.

The weather was getting worse, the wind strengthening yet more, and occasional showers, some heavy were blasting away at me.   My small umbrella did not fare too well.   It was not blown inside out, but was collapsed by the wind into a half circle, the rib ties being broken.   Repairable, but not good, for the rain was falling more or less horizontally at the time.  It did stop after about twenty minutes, and I found I was not too damp.

Only two further fish were to take my bait, both out of season brown trout in superb condition.  The largest maybe a pound.   The swim was very dead from then on, and although I had a few exploratory casts in other swims, I felt that the best of the day was done, and soon made my way back through the woods to the car.  I resolved to return to the river, in a different swim, early the next day.  A day which was very different.  the sky had cleared overnight, which allowed an early light frost.  The wind had disappeared entirely, and once it dawned, the sun shone steadily and illuminated the remaining leaves from a low angle.  Quite pretty.   the events of the day were to be very different too.   Wildlife which had been hiding from the weather yesterday, now emerged. A splashing to my left proved to be a cormorant, which having seen me, was flapping its way downstream, low over the water.  Several more were to pass me heading both up and downstream during the day. Four mallards chased a goosander downstream.  A large bird emerged from the trees opposite, and headed upriver.   It was a buzzard, almost certainly the one I heard the day before. It probably resented having to flap its thermals today. Next to pass was a dipper, flashing low over the water upstream.  It splash landed about 100 yards above me, near to some protruding rocks. Ideal dipper habitat.  
A pair of Dippers I Photographed on This River a While Ago.

A Bullhead, A Fairly Rare Capture of a Very Common Fish.
As dawn broke, I had reeled in to re-bait.  Snagged!   Yet another feeder lost, but the hook remained, surrounded by a tiny bullhead.   It had taken 4 maggots on a size 12 hook.    The insides of a bullhead are very much like the Tardis.  On another river a year or so ago, I had caught one that had somehow taken two lobworms on an appropriate sized worm hook.  Open up a bullhead and you will probably find all sorts of stuff, 17mm halibut pellets, half a dozen maggot feeders, that missing sock.  
The still and bright conditions made it very easy to spot any slight movements, and a small white dot that moved opposite proved to be a rabbit, which mooched about directly opposite me.   That white tail seemed to completely invalidate otherwise excellent camouflage.  What purpose does it have to make it worthwhile to override its blatant visibility? The buzzard returned, from the other direction, landing in a tree, the high bank shielding the rabbit from its sight.   But moments later the bird repeated its upriver flight path.  The rabbit must have seen it pass over, for it froze, becoming totally immobile for over a minute.  Three jays were to fly over, separated by thirty minute intervals, quite high, and all along the same flight path,  as if they were planning to land on Runway One at the airport.  A pair of nuthatches did not alert me by their movements. Instead I heard some shrill peeping whistles above me, and on looking up saw them scuttling along an oak tree branch  above me. There were quite a lot of nuthatches flitting about.

Here's Four Nuthatch Pictures I Took Earlier. Crazy Birds.
The fishing remained difficult, the expected additions to yesterday's catches was not happening.  Only when I cast well away from the hotspot, did I finally get a bite.    Another grayling, and apparently from the same pea-pod as those yesterday.  Exactly the same size.   It was one very cold fish.  Despite further searching, it was to be the only bite.  The cold overnight had maybe put the fish off and my hands were now turning blue.    I stopped just long enough to see a heron flying downstream towards me.  Of course it saw me, did a U-turn and diverted its way back on the other side of the far bank trees. Day two had proved very different to day one.
But a good couple of days' grayling fishing on a far easier stream than that I have fished of late.  Still looking for that two pound fish, but four grayling for six pounds was an excellent result.   But the question remains:  a) with so many fish around 1-8, do I fish on expecting a two pounder.   or
b) with all the fish "one size fits all", do I have no chance of a two, at least from that swim?

Oh and....Shame about the barbel.

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