Saturday 8 November 2014

The Pound Shop Swim

About ten or twelve days ago I fished for a little over three hours on one of my regular rivers.  The river was quite low and clear for a winter's day, but I had a really good session.  No shortage of fish, rather a surfeit of them, although a couple of dozen of them were out of season brown trout.   The trout were being a little suicidal.  None were over a pound, most much smaller. But the day was made by 14 grayling.   The grayling in the river this season appear to be in one of two size bands.  Between 8-12 ounces, or over about one pound two ounces.     I might simplistically say that there are two year groups present, the result of two separate, very successful spawning years, but I suspect it is a little more complex than that.    I don't know what sort of ages these fish might be.     The odd scientific paper I have read about grayling relates length to ages, and in that respect do indicate growth rates, but will in any case be specific to the river that the fishery biologists were sampling.   So I don't  really have any idea how old these two groups of fish in my river might be.     That I don't catch any smaller, or many in between these two size groups suggests that spawning is not very successful every year, although the numbers of fish suggest that if spawning is successful in one particular year, then it is very successful.   I read something else that described grayling as prolific breeders.   Maybe floods, or other river conditions largely wipe out the deposited ova in some years.

Of those 14 grayling, the last two were taken in what I have started to call my "Pound Shop Swim". The first time I fished the swim I landed  five grayling, all over a pound in a fairly short session.   I now quite often drop in on the swim on my way home, and it usually gives me a fish or two, and if I do catch, there is always at least one pound plus fish landed.   It is a useful end of day confidence boosting spot.

A couple of other trips elsewhere on the river also produced a few ( far less) fish, but then plans had to be abandoned.  I became ill. Very ill.   So ill that I stopped fishing for 6 days.  I spoke to the lad, who as a qualified doctor said  "Sore throat".  I mean:  5 years of medical school, Over two years as a hospital doctor, and the best he can do is a sore throat?     After my phone conversation things became worse overnight and I was struggling to swallow anything, and the throat was ever more painful, deep pain on swallowing, a prickly sensation on top if I actually succeeded.   So next day: see the GP.      She quickly summoned up all her years of experience and concluded I was not at all well, and prescribed for tonsillitis.   A diagnosis she was forced to revise when I revealed that my tonsils went over half a century ago, and I doubted that I have grown new ones.   But it is a little worrying that a GP, dealing with flue, sore throats, coughs and colds on a daily basis, cannot, even with that modern instrument of torture, the "tongue depressor", is unable to determine that I have no tonsils.  Now even I, as an ex avid consumer of TV cartoons know what tonsils look like: they are those those flappy things that you see in Tom's throat, dangling down and wobbling about frantically when Jerry has just done something else horrible to poor old Tom.   Maybe medical students don't get to watch Tom & Jerry as part of their training these days.  Oh yes: tongue depressor...wooden spatula to you and me.  So it was antibiotics to attack a mass of nasty material blocking my throat.   Except that I could not swallow them, even in liquid form.   Had to visit A&E overnight as, if I could not swallow the medicines, I figured I would not get better.   Additional stuff prescribed and I could then just about swallow the prescribed doses.   Eight days from onset, my throat remains sore, but I have picked up my rod and walked...several times now actually.   So all over bar the shouting....not that I feel my throat is quite up to shouting just yet.

So it was time to try yet another river. I chose one that I have fished very little.   As a kid my parents took me to picnic near it, and between banana sandwiches I fished for big minnows, one a cast...brilliant!    But then one day I tried a lump of cheese and was astounded to catch a decent chub.   Later as a teenager I fished it three or four times, catching bags of roach, dace and plenty of gudgeon.  There may have been some chublets in the keepnet too...cannot really remember.  So it is at least 50 years since I fished it.    
Male Pheasant
Nostalgia cut in deeply, and so I decided to fish near to where I had caught that chub.   As I walked down towards the river, I disturbed a couple of pheasants in the undergrowth, the flurry of wing beats being as diagnostic as their croaking calls. I didn't see them though.  In summer their croak is always followed by a short wing flutter, but I have no idea why they do it.  Maybe either linked to mating or territory I suppose.   The chub swim gave up no bites, and I hadn't really expected it to do so.  Even at the time, all those years ago,  I was surprised to find a chub there.  So I moved higher upstream, to a deeper spot just below a shallow rapids run, and was quickly rewarded with a decent gudgeon, and a couple of tiny dace.  Pleasing to see some of the  gudgeon remain despite cormorants, goosanders, mink, and if I am informed correctly, the odd otter.
A little later, another fish, silver with black mottled spots.  It was, as I was swinging the fish to hand, looking like another gudgeon, but no: a small grayling.  Grayling of an ounce or so could easily be confused with gudgeon...but only until you get a closer look at them in your hand.    Later I was to catch an even smaller fish, no more than 4 inches long.  A silver sliver of a fish.  And it was a dace until in my hand ...when the typical grayling snout and therefore the true identity of the fish was revealed.  Nice to see all these small grayling as it demonstrates good breeding success.   My usual river never produces any grayling for me of less than about 7 or 8  ounces.  Why it doesn't is an unanswered question, but suggests that in some years breeding success is minimal.  The day continued, with several more grayling...eight in total and four inevitable trout.   The trout all looked a
Small Grayling....Gudgeon Sized.
little thin, a surprise after a long summer, and so near the breeding season, although one was nevertheless well over two pounds.  Conversely many of the grayling had quite portly stomachs.  Back the next half day for more of the same, and as the grayling total for the two days reached 15, with no fish over about twelve ounces, I started to think I was again on the wrong river.   But yet another swim change produced five more grayling, each of them being a pound plus, three in the first three casts.  Maybe I have found another pound shop swim?   Somewhere else to drop a float in as I walk back to the car.     Two more half days, and two different stretches of the same river and my total grayling count was 43, with 6 of them over the pound.  Some of the grayling came from very shallow water under some overhanging
A Dark, Thin Spotty About to go Back.
trees.  Another similar swim gave up the largest trout.  Out of season but a very dark and heavily spotted thin fish, that looked as if it needed a good plate of fish and chips.  A couple or few more trout, and a solitary three pound chub completed the list for the four short sessions.   Very nice indeed.  
But it is not all about the fishing, especially when the weather has turned cold overnight.  But a welcome gang of a dozen long tailed tits, marauding up and down the banks of the stream, stopped to forage in a very nearby willow.  Some were as close as 6 feet away from me, their pink, black and white plumage very much on display as they acrobatically hung from the branches. 
My Wallace casting was briefly on display...luckily there was no audience.  Most of the time I was managing without any major tangles around the reel, and I had no need to cast any distance.   My first attempt though was nearly a significant disaster.  Having travelled light, I was seated on a small folding stool, and the cast unbalanced me.  I was heading towards the water. And as the old joke says: it was deep too.    But, calling on my skills as a unicyclist, namely a precarious sense of balance and blind panic, definitely not in that order, I regained my seat and remained dry.   But it was quite a close call.  The cold water of a river in winter has never seemed quite so near.
I had kept moving over those four sessions, having found that a few fish taken put the rest down...or maybe I had caught all that were there?   In one swim, I cast in, but then saw, in the overhanging trees on the far bank, a long dead bird. Probably a sparrowhawk.   It had become entangled.  I could not see any fishing line, but I am sure it was the cause.   Now I am not going to cast the first stone here, for I feel that the line was simply the result of a bad cast...actually a very bad cast given the location of the bird in the middle of the tree.   But tell me the angler that has never lost a float, nor a lead, in a far bank tree and I will show you an angler who never takes any risk, never tries for that bigger fish that just might be lurking in that little barely accessible corner, I will show you an angler who has far less fun.  But seeing the stricken bird does make me wonder whether I should continue to make all those risky casts.  Only the other day, I pulled a length of line from a bankside tree.  On winding it up into a ball for safe disposal, I found it had a small fly on the end of it.  A green colour.  Fly anglers also get caught up in the trees. Not sure what fly imitation it was but I'll call it a Greenwell's Glory.   One of few fly names I can remember from way back. Others were the Muddler Minnow, and the Hairy Mary.  I do wonder whether Hairy Mary was ever a suitable name for a fly, and just what materials it might actually have been made from?   But I don't wonder for long.
On seeing the dead sprawk, I was unable to fish that swim.  Too upsetting to see the bird hanging in
A Buzzard
front of me, so I moved twenty yards upstream.  A plaintive call high above improved my mood no end.   There were no less than five buzzards circling above me.   Five that the gamekeeper in today's news had not poisoned.    I know what sort of suspended sentence I myself might have given him,
and it would not be anything like the suspended sentence the judge gave out.  Late in the day I had a very unusual catch: a stone, a smooth pebble.  My hook had somehow slid into a caddis fly larva's case, and the caddis was attached sufficiently well as to lift the stone, remaining attached as I reeled in.
Late evening and a flight of cormorants in "V" formation passed over. Don't know where they were headed.  Some years ago I saw a flight of an estimated 3 or 4 hundred of them flying over Stockport.  I don't know where they were  headed either, but they would be trouble for some angling club or other.  

A Flight of Cormorants in V Formation.       ET   Eat Your Heart Out!
....and then the rains came.



  1. Cracking read Jay. I really enjoyed it. You should ask Mike Duddy to put a link on the SFA website.

  2. Thanks for that Mike. As I don't really fish any of the SFA waters much at all, the link would be a bit out of place, so I would rather people just find the blog and read it if they want to.