Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Floodwater Grayling.

I doubt many UK anglers would have cause to disagree with me saying that the weather so far this winter has been shit, even by the standards of our drizzle-blighted little island.

It's as if winter hasn't even arrived yet. Temperatures remain warm at around 5-7 degrees most days, and with the unseasonal mildness has come endless rain and a howling, bone-rattling wind. The rivers rise and fall at an alarming rate and always seem to be carrying colour, and the lack of any lengthy periods of cold weather and frost has left the grayling dispersed far wider than is normal for the time of year.

The weather patterns have been particularly frustrating for me as, having not wet a line since September, I was rather hoping to spend as much time chasing the 'ladies' of the Wharfe as possible in the short window I had back home. Well, it appears that was not to be! Every time in the last week or two I've so much as picked up a float and looked at it, all the rivers in the area have burst their banks simultaneously. I would've probably seen the funny side of it normally, but in the back of my mind lurked the awful thought that I might not fish until April should I miss this window - not an easy pill to swallow for a fish-head. So, driven to near panic by that prospect I was determined to hit the river on Saturday come hell or high water, or suffer a mental breakdown (something I could really do without in my final Uni year).

Boils and swirls in a normally calm pool.

I'd like to give some epic rendition of how I battled the elements like Captain Ahab, roaring defiantly at the heavens as I battered every inch of water to oblivion in search of my prize... but in all honesty it really wasn't that bad. In fact is was absolutely fine. There was of course a nasty wind and constant drizzle, interspersed by the odd bit of 'proper rain' - nothing a good pair of waterproofs couldn't handle. The real issue was the extra foot or two of water the river was carrying. Still, trotting with worms has landed me fish in worse conditions, so I rigged up my centrepin setup (with a loafer float capable of carrying plenty of shot to get the bait down to the bottom) still fairly confident of at least tempting a fish.

Float rod sporting the centrepin reel... I should really put a little more effort into my photographs.

The current was pushing hard in a number of normally sedate 'banker' swims, which made life awkward as I struggled to find creases and back eddies where the grayling could be sheltering. Nevertheless, I managed to search out a welcome fish in the first twenty minutes. It had been sitting tight to the bank where a young willow trunk bowed abruptly outwards, creating a narrow channel of slack water, and accepted my worm gladly once I managed a successful trot downstream without being pulled into the main flow. Predictably, that's exactly where the unsuspecting fish decided to bolt, and I was subjected to the agonising process of having to gradually ease it upstream against the weight of the current before it could be steered into the net. Anyone who has fished for grayling will know just how much pressure they can put on a hook hold, using their huge dorsals to catch the current. Multiple hook pulls are par for the course, but in this case I was lucky, and after summarily admiring the fish's pewter flanks and stately sail-like fin it was slipped back to relocate its refuge.

Relief: first contact for almost four months.

Celebratory tea and fag time! Pressure off, blank avoided. I carried on fishing the run for another half hour with no further interest before moving on. I searched a number of other swims for the next couple of hours with no reward other than snags, lost gear and one fine branch - not the best of the year, but not far off (well, if you're going to come into contact with river-junk now and then you might as well make a game of it). Stumped for ideas I headed back to the original spot and fed a handful of chopped worms before trying again. After a few trots down the float dipped again and I hooked into another fish which held its own, stubbornly hugging the bottom for a while before yielding - a better grayling around the pound mark. Not a monster by any standards but a worthy catch, and good enough for me.

A respectable example of Thymallus thymallus.

This success was followed by a series of missed bobs,dips and stolen baits - odd considering the river's seething hoards of minnows tend to vanish through the colder months, and shoals of small coarse fish such as dace and roach are notable in the upper Wharfe by their absence. I changed to a smaller piece of worm and was immediately rewarded with what turned out to be a tiny grayling skittering along the surface towards me. Another slightly larger one around six inches was swung to hand within a couple of casts. Perhaps this wasn't the stamp of fish I was looking for, but it's certainly an encouraging sign for the future of the river that the juveniles are present.

It would seem there were quite a few of these tiny fellas present. Embarrassing to catch, encouraging to see.

The nabbing, pecking bites ceased as abruptly as they had started, leading me to think something was afoot. Sure enough, ten minutes later the next disappearance of the float was followed by an eruption of spray as an out of season brownie launched itself all over the swim in its manic attempts to shake the hook. Not a bad fish at around a pound and in excellent condition for the time of year, it was slipped back with the minimum of fuss so as to cause minimum disruption to its off-season relaxation. Whilst it would have been a very welcome fish in September, trout are a downright nuisance to the winter grayling angler. Once they sniff out loose bait or detect feeding activity they can move in quickly and often muscle out the more reserved grayling. Add to this their no-holds-barred maniacal efforts to escape once hooked, and they can soon clear a pool of any fish with an ounce of common sense if not swiftly subdued. Having contemplated on this, after a few more token casts I decided to quit while I was ahead. After all, it hadn't been a bad few hours sport. Enough to cure the cabin fever at least.

I'm still faced with the fact that I probably won't be able to wet a line now until springtime, but a few hours chasing ladies was a perfect antidote to the stress of the last few months. Hopefully the memory will be enough to drag me through the even worse months to come!