After a quick check of the weather I formulated a plan for my last day on the rivers. Decided to have one last fix of grayling fishing on the intimate little river in Staffordshire I love so much, but with the option of dropping in somewhere on the way home for a couple of hours for something different.
Dropped in at a tackle shop on the way home from Rothley for the usual pint of "mixed". However, when I got home I found that they'd added dust when I had specifically asked them not to (on previous outings, I had found that dust transferred off wet fingers had gummed up the works of my centrepin). In addition, the measure looked a bit short. Suffice to say, if that had been a pint of beer it would have gone back for a top up! Sieved off as much of the dust as I could whilst wondering how many other times I'd been short-changed. The next morning saw me heading West on the A50. There was already a stiff wind coming from the North-West, which had been a factor in deciding what to do for the day as I knew that the twists and turns and high banks of the little river I was heading for would shelter me from it. Got to the venue to find the parking spot vacant - that's how we like it! Got togged up, left a note on the dashboard for the bailiff and set off across the fields. A glance at the river confirmed that it was low and very clear, the weed beds that had persisted over the winter clearly visible and the stony bed starting to "green up" with algae and moss.
Got to the upstream limit, set up the rod, donned the bait apron and then settled in at the top of the run. On the second or third cast the float shot away and I had my first grayling of the session. Took a couple more from the run before letting the float travel further downstream into deeper water. The sun had come out by now and was making it difficult to see the float. However, I just spotted it disappear at the very end of the pool before striking into a very different animal indeed. Found myself attached to a heavy, powerful fish that put a proper bend in my Drennan Ultralite. Lost track of how long we battled backwards and forwards, but I began to think that I'd hooked one of the mythical 2lb grayling that were supposed to be present. However, the glimpse of a spotty dorsal confirmed what was actually on the end of my line. Eventually he tired and I was able to admire an immaculate, wild brownie of 2lb 6oz in the bottom of my net. A real beast for the size of river and obviously the apex predator in his own little domain judging by the kype and teeth on him.
Popped him back, watched him disappear under some tree roots to sulk and then took a few minutes out myself to recover with a cup of coffee. Carried on working the pool for a bit after that, but only had a couple of fingerling grayling, so moved down the next spot. Followed the same pattern, starting at the head of the run before working the main body of the pool, then finally the tail, altering the float as required. On this occasion I was only taking one or two fish from each spot, possibly due to the level and clarity of the water. In some of the very shallow swims it was amazing to see a previously invisible fish take the bait and then become instantly transformed into mad, gyrating bar of silver when I set the hook. Unfortunately, this probably had the unwanted effect of spooking his mates!
On the plus side, it was more knowledge in the bank being able to find those spots that worked when the river was low and clear like this. There were also a few fish rising, presumably to some early olives. However I couldn't tell whether these were grayling or trout, but there were enough to warrant thinking about returning with a fly rod later in the year.
By mid-afternoon I'd got to the large pool where I'd had a few chub and dace in the past. Took a few more grayling at the head before running the float through the main body. Sure enough it disappeared and I struck into a reasonable fish. Whilst I hoped that it was one of the bigger grayling, I wasn't really surprised when Mr Chub popped up instead. Next trot down the float disappeared in exactly the same spot, but this one was more canny than his mate and headed straight for the far bank and into a tangle of tree roots, breaking me off in the process. Fished one more swim, catching a couple more grayling and taking my total up to 42 for the day. It was now 1500 hrs, so I had to make a decision - fish a previously unseen section of the river or head somewhere else?
In the end I decided to do something completely different for the last knockings of my river season and a couple of hours later I was on the banks of the River Trent with two deadbaits out in the hope of a last gasp zander. As it had been bright and sunny most of the day, I wasn't really surprised that it stayed quiet until it got dark, at which point I had a slow, steady run on the lamprey section on my right hand rod.
Wound down to feel nothing on the end, the bait coming back apparently unmarked. Popped it out again to have the exactly the same thing happen again. Had an inkling of what was responsible, but the next run on the same rod was completely different, the bobbin doing a jerky, staccato dance more typical of the species I was after. Wound down and eventually caught up with the fish, which had run towards me. Felt a decent weight on the end and the tell-tale head-banging of a zed. It came in quite quickly and before I had sorted my head torch out, but I managed to catch sight of a long, pale flank on the surface and got the net ready. Unfortunately, at that point the rod straightened and the lead went flying past my head as the hook pulled out - oh dear, or words to that effect! Re-baited with another lamprey section and put it on the spot once again. However, it was the left hand rod with a roach section that I had positioned off the end of a tree that went next. The Micron beeped a couple of times and the bobbin twitched and dropped off, but there didn't appear to be any line taken. Wound down and had a tentative feel to find something on the end. Switched on the head torch to see a long, thin shape gyrated towards me - yep, a flippin' eel and probably the explanation for the funny runs I'd had earlier. Not that I was surprised as I'd had eels at this time of year from this spot before. Weighed him at 2lb 6oz before popping him back. My end rig had been destroyed in the process and my stomach was complaining, so I called it a day at that point. Just a shame that I couldn't add a "vampire" to the list, but I'v got some closed season plans for them.
With time on the rivers rapidly running out and seasonal goals yet to be achieved, it was decision time. What to do, where to go? With a meeting booked in the afternoon down at Rothley, I decided to have the morning off for another go at some River Soar pike on the way. Headed off nice and early, the moon still visible above the horizon, but with the first tinges of dawn visible in my rear view mirror.
Parked up to a big pile of wood at the end of the lane - the remnants of the recent hatchet job done on the willows lining the river. Headed up to my usual starting point at the top of the straight. There'd been a match on the day before and I'd often heard complaints about pike activity from the match boys, so I was hopeful that there would be a few pike still hanging around looking for easy pickings. Gave them two in the way of a joey on the upstream rod and a lamprey section on the downstream rod. Didn't have to wait long for some interest in the mackerel, even better that it was a scraper double of 11lb 1oz. Thought that was going to be the start of some regular action. However, I had nothing else in the next half an hour, so popped one of the baits over to the far margin. The move seemed to do the trick, although the dithering nature of the take suggested a small fish. So it proved - probably the smallest fish I've caught on the section, but already with signs of previous hooking and a gill raker hanging out!
The lady in the house boat opposite had stirred by now and was rattling and thumping around doing her morning routine, so I moved both rods downstream a bit, keeping one over next to the boats and popping the other in front of one of the near bank fishing platforms. Had to wait a bit, but it was the latter eventually went off, the float disappearing with purpose this time. After a bit of a scrap I had a short, fat pike in the net that I thought might scrape into double figures. Didn't quite make it at 9lb 12oz.
By mid-morning a stiff breeze had picked up and a lot of floating debris had appeared out of nowhere, both of which started to make my life difficult with the wind pushing the debris into my bank and fouling my lines.
The action also appeared to have dried up, when eventually I got a take on the near-side rod. Wound into a decent weight and then glanced back at the other rod to see the drop off hit the back rod rest and line start disappearing off the spool. Typical! Bullied the first one into the net and left him in the margins. Picked up the other rod and wound furiously to find the fish still attached, albeit half way to Kegworth! Soon had him in the net alongside his mate, the latter again just missing double figures at 9lb 15oz. Popped them both back, neither the worst for wear for that encounter, although it was disappointing to see that both of them bore the scars of previous capture and poor unhooking. Sorted out the chaos and put two more baits out with renewed enthusiasm. However, I had no further interest in the last hour and it was time to pack up and get to my meeting. The pike on this section look as if they have come in for a bit of pressure this season, so I might have to look for pastures new for next winter. Now just the small matter of what to do on my last day on the rivers.......
Okay, I admit it, I have become addicted to certain websites. You probably know the ones I mean. Not a day goes by without me logging on, drooling with anticipation, to view the latest offerings. Unfortunately, my quest for satisfaction invariably ends with frustration and disappointment. Yes, I'm talking about xcweather and river level information, as yet again my river season has seemed in danger of fizzling out under a constant barrage of weather fronts, gale force winds and yo-yoing river levels! Any glimmer of a window of opportunity, once identified, has therefore been checked and re-checked, usually to see the door slammed by another band of rain sweeping on from the Atlantic.
Eventually a mid-week session looked like it could be on the cards, so I duly booked the day off work. However, overnight rain still sought to throw a spanner in the work. A quick check of the river levels in the morning indicated that the river had indeed come up a bit as a result, but I thought, "bollocks, what the hell!" and headed out regardless. Arrived at the venue for a "piker's dawn" having safely negotiated the track down to the river, which had been turned into a quagmire by the contractors carrying out yet more, drastic-looking tree removal on behalf of the Canal & Rivers Trust. Parked my once-white car on the only bit of dry and relatively solid ground remaining and went for a quick look at the river. Found it was carrying a bit of extra flow and colour, but looked perfectly fishable, so unloaded the car, got togged up and headed upstream.
Was soon at my usual starting point and quickly had two, float-legered dead baits, a joey and a lamprey section, out in the margins. After about half an hour with no response, I picked up the upstream rod and gave it a good twitch back along the marginal reed bed. It had only been settled for a couple of minutes before the float showed some signs of interest before waddling off. Wound into the first fish of the session - a jack that had taken the joey, just hooked by the bottom treble. Recast and repeated the same trick with another jack taking the bait, joey again, on the second twitch back. The downstream rod had remained static all this time, so I recast it over to the far margin. However, the extra flow and an increasing downstream wind made presentation a bit tricky, so it was back to the nearside margin again. Cue the upstream rod.
This time the float bobbed a couple of times and then disappeared, usually the sign of a better fish. Wound down to briefly feel a decent weight on the end, before pulling out of the fish, the lamprey coming back wrapped around the bottom treble like a Cumberland sausage - bugger! Popped it back on the same spot, but it wasn't having it a second time, so I moved downstream. Had re-baited and re-positioned one rod and was going to get the other when I happened to glance back to see that the float had already disappeared. Again, felt a better weight that turned out to be a rare double of 10 lb 12 oz - on what must have still been a mackerel lollipop! Same spot and a few minutes later, another jack, this time on the lamprey. The sun had made a few, welcome appearances throughout the morning, taking the edge off the wind and raising my hopes a bit. However, apart from one more jack taken in the middle of one of those sunny spells, it became frustratingly quiet.
By lunchtime the wind was making bite detection increasingly difficult and, if anything, the river looked more coloured than when I started, so I listened to my aching back and rumbling stomach and called it a day. A quick check on the river levels when I got home confirmed that I'd been fishing on a rising river so, whilst it had been a bit of a struggle, I was grateful for what I'd had.
Oh well, fingers crossed for what's left of the season. Goes without saying that I'll be checking out "those" websites right until the bitter end!
Half-term saw us Wales-bound once more and with it my first opportunity to cast a line in saltwater in 2017. I had decided that, despite my obvious handicap of living in the East Midlands and nowhere near the sea, I would join a species hunt this year. Twenty looked a reasonable target, based on what I've caught over the last couple of year plus a few new, targeted species that I've not fished for before, such as flounder, bream and a couple of the other goby and wrasse species. I was also keen to try out my birthday present - an HTO Rock Rover travel rod. I duly joined the World Sea Fishing Forum Species Hunt 2017, printed off my card and was raring to go.
Unfortunately the weather had been cold and wet prior to our arrival, so first trip down to Pembroke Dock for high tide I was met with a murky, coloured sea and another angler's rubbish (there's a tackle bin ten feet from the top of the steps, you knob!). Had set myself a target of five species for this holiday - pollack, coalfish, rock goby. black goby and common blenny - but still saw this as achievable despite the conditions.
Set about seeing what I could winkle out using isome, angleworm and raw prawn fished dropshot-style or on a scaled-down "two up, one down" rig. I was pleasantly surprised to catch a couple of pollack fairly quickly, both on pink isome. However, things were very slow after that and I struggled until a switch to prawn brought a solitary rock goby. Again, I was surprised that there weren't more of these around as come the summer you won't be able to get away from the things!
With the tide starting to run out again, that was first session over. However, it had a sting in the tail because, as I bent down to pick up my tackle box, I felt the all-too familiar stab of pain in my lower back. Don't know whether it was standing in the wind for an hour that did it, but by the time I got home my back was in spasm.
Next morning, suitable reinforced with one of the father-in-law's back braces, but still in pain and hobbling like an old man, I headed to my shanny "hot spot" on the estuary at Lawrenny.
The tide was still flooding in over the top of the old quay, so I waited for it to slacken off before dropping a bit of prawn tight down the side of the wall. Again, in the summer this would have been met with an instant response, but on this occasion I had to wait for a few minutes before the solid tip of the Rock Rover registered any interest from below. However, it was at least the species I had come for.
Only managed to add one more after that. Had a few casts with a Savage Gear sandeel to see if there were any pollack or coalies about, but to no avail, before limping back to the car. Contemplated trying the weedy margins on the way for a common or sand goby with a splitshot rig, but it was too murky to spot anything, so decide to leave that for later in the year.
Following day I hobbled back to Pembroke Dock. The sea looked a bit clearer and it was a bit warmer, so more pleasant for me although it had probably done nothing for the sea temperature. Managed a few more pollack from the off, followed by a couple of rock gobies. However, didn't look as if I was going to add to the species tally when I had a little tremble on the rod tip. Had a nice surprise when a tiny long-spined sea scorpion appeared on the surface. Switched to the sandeel again when the tide started running in the hope of a coalie, but drew a blank. Still, whilst I'd not quite managed to get the exact species I was after, I was off the mark and in the hunt and already looking forward to Easter when I'd be back again!
I can't seem to get enough of grayling at the moment. The pursuit of pike and zander hasn't grabbed me yet, particularly as the weather and river levels have been all over the place. Also, more often that not, the tributaries have been fishable when the main rivers haven't been and I've been in a position to profit. Take today, which I'd booked off as flexi-time last week with a view to keeping an eye on conditions. As it happened, this coincided with my favourite tributary of the River Dove fining down to perfect level.
The weather forecast wasn't quite as kind, with a Easterly wind and temperatures near freezing. However, I put the thermals on, loaded the gear and racked up the heating in the car. Arrived 30 minutes later feeling nice and toasty and quickly got the neoprenes, fleece and coat on. Was soon trudging across the still-waterlogged fields through the gloom to the upper limit of the club section.
Had a cup of coffee and got some feeling back in my fingers before moving on downstream, dropping in on the usual spots and trying some new ones. Picked up fish in ones and twos, including a nice male, before I got to the swim where I'd lost a big fish last trip. Gave this a good going over but just had a couple of small ones. Had to stop and clean the Speedia at this stage as it started to sound like a bag of spanners and started catching. I put this down to the maggot dust, which was sticking to my wet gloves every time I dipped into my bait pouch and was then being transferred to the reel. Note to self - no maggot dust next time! Whilst I was beginning to feel the cold, it didn't seem to put off the wildlife as there was plenty to see as I was trotting away, including a noisy bunch of long-tailed tits, wrens, a treecreeper, a robin that came and mopped up some stray maggots, and a couple of buzzards. The wild garlic had also just started to push up through the leaf litter and there was even a random clump of snowdrops.
Was just thinking how it would be nice to see the sun when it started snowing - well, more like dandruff falling from the sky, but still snow! Carried on downstream trying more spots, some giving up a fish or two, others not. Came across a pod of fish in the "dead calf swim (although the dead calf is now gone, removed by the floods), so lingered there for a bit and was eventually rewarded by what felt like a much better fish. Unfortunately, after thinking I had the better of it, it made a dive for the near bank, everything went solid and I found myself attached to a branch instead of a fish! "Oh well", or words to that effect. Made up for it partly by taking several fish out of a fast, knee-deep run that I'd not tried before, again by shallowing up and holding the float back hard. I always find it amazing how hard grayling fight given a bit flow to help them, so I'm not surprised or disappointed to lose a few to hook pulls in those situations, as was the case today.
Time was getting on for four o'clock by now and I'd had well over fifty grayling. Came to a longer, deeper section where it was possible to do some longer trotting, so decided to stay there for the last hour. Whilst I'd had the odd chub and dace from the swim in the past, it was just yet more grayling until the float dipped right at the bottom of the trot and a nice fat dace came to hand.
Had two more of his pigeon-chested mates before it was back to the grayling. Packed up just after 5 o'clock when it was too dark to see the float properly. Finished with sixty-one "ladies" and the three last-gasp dace. Certainly worth dragging myself out on a cold, grey day in Staffordshire.
One of the redeeming features of my job is that I work flexi-time and get to exchange my extra hours for 13 flexi days a year. Most of these get taken up with family holidays, but a few always get squirrelled away for when I need to relieve the pressure with a day out on the bike or on the bank. The plan today was for the latter, but it didn't look that promising on two fronts. Firstly, according to the level graph, the river had still some way to go before it was at "normal" level.
Secondly, the weather was looking distinctly miserable - cold, grey, overcast and with a fine drizzle. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained! Headed west in the gloom with my fingers crossed. Arrived to find nobody in the car park, so togged up and squelched my way across the field for my first look at the river. As suspected, it was quite a bit higher than on my last visit but, most importantly, it was clear!
Walked upstream to the upper limit of the fishery, the flood debris on the trees and standing water in the fields an indication of high the river had been just a couple of days ago. Whilst the river was now only a few centimetres above normal level, the extra flow was enough to turn my usual first swim into a pacey, boiling, turbulent mess. However, I knew from previous experience that, under these conditions, the fish would be sitting in quiet pockets and gentle eddies off the main flow.
Rather than conventionally trotting through, it was just a question of dropping the float into these pockets and letting it wander about. Had ten grayling from the first spot doing this before moving on downstream to the next swim. Again, I let the float search out the quieter margins, picking off a few more grayling in the process. Next swim down the extra water had created a fishable run over what was normally a very shallow, gravelly riffle. Still had to hold the float back quite hard, but first trot down the float shot away, accompanied by a clonk on the rod tip as the fish hooked itself.
Carried on in this vein, picking up fish a few at a time out of each likely-looking spot, until I came to another fast run upstream of a sharp left-hand bend. Let the float trundle down to the bottom of the swim, where it promptly disappeared. Hit a heavy fish that immediately tried to head off downstream around the corner. Managed to stop it twice before entering into a bit of a stalemate with it hanging in the flow on the end of a taut line. Eventually it got moving and slowly plodded past me. Dropped the net in behind it and lifted the rod to get it up onto the surface and.....the hook pulled out under the pressure! Briefly saw a big, dark tail that could have been anything - chub, grayling or trout - disappear out of sight. Had a cup of coffee to calm the nerves then carried on. A couple more grayling and decent brownie went some way to getting over the disappointment of that lost fish before I moved on again.
A bit further downstream a tree had fallen in the river since my last visit on what was normally a straight, shallow run. Wading past it I found that the flow had already scoured out a knee deep depression alongside it, with a similar looking hole immediately downstream. Dropped the float in, held it back and was rewarded immediately with a fish! Not only that, the next four casts produced fish as well - all out of a spot as big as my bath. Up to this point the light had been pretty ropey all day. However, once past about 3 o'clock it soon started to deteriorate. Had a couple more grayling from another new swim right at the downstream end of the section before calling it a day.
Squelched back to the car again and finished off the coffee, reflecting on a pretty decent day given the circumstances. Ended up with 36 grayling to just over a pound and that solitary brownie. However, I'll be back for that lost "monster"!
With an unsettled, windy weather forecast casting doubt on a planned day off next week, I managed to get a pass out for a few hours this weekend instead for another go at the grayling. Sunday duly saw me heading West on the A50 in the darkness of the early morning. Thought I'd try a section of the River Dove near Tutbury that I'd neglected for a while, a decision that nearly back-fired on me. Arrived to find a car park devoid of life, apart from the scattered remains of several Saturday night fast food meals. Squeezed into the neoprenes (first time after Christmas!) and then stomped across the meadows through the fog up to the weir at the top end of the section. Had fancied the run off the main weir pool for a grayling or two, but had never got around to fishing it last season. Had the rod set up in a jiffy and was soon running a float downstream with two, juicy maggots tripping the bottom beneath it.
The fog decided to descend at this point so the light quality actually got worse before it got better, so initially I was struggling to see the float in the broken water beyond about 25 metres. Didn't actually see the first bite, just felt the fish when I lifted the rod at the end of the trot! However, the size 16 Drennan widegape did it's job and I had the first grayling of the session in the net - not big, but the first one is always welcome. Bumped off a bigger fish, then had a couple more before I noticed several folks in identical, resplendent black and blue outfits pushing trollies, heavily laden with fishing tackle, across the meadow towards me. Turned out that the whole section had been booked out for a match and I was getting booted off - just as I had started building up a swim! Wasn't happy, but I suppose it was my own fault for not checking the club website. Went from bad to worse when I found out that they were pegged from the weir all the way downstream of Hatton bridge, with another section at Marston on Dove. Walked all the way back downstream to the car park fuming to myself and trying to formulate a plan.
Luckily I had the book for the club on the opposite bank, so two minutes in the car later I was off again. Was going to head all the way upstream of the weir and out of the way, but noticed a big gap between two of the far bank pegs that coincided with a nice, 3 feet deep run on the near side, so dropped in 75 metres above the chap downstream of me and 100 metres downstream of the chap above me.
Didn't stop the chap downstream shouting up to me, "Oi, there's a match on!", but as I politely pointed out, I was well out of his way, fishing a different bank belonging to a different club. What made it even sweeter was that, three trots later, the float disappeared and my strike hit into a solid lump. Turned out to be a fat, well-conditioned chub of 3lb 15oz, which had my friend twisting 'round on his seatbox.
Carried on trotting away, building up the swim with a few maggots each cast, and didn't have to wait that long before the grayling started making an appearance. First few were like peas in a pod, madly banging and twisting all the way to the net. However, eventually struck into one that felt a bit more weighty than bonkers - 1lb 5oz to be exact.
Added a few more, including another one over the pound mark at 1lb 4oz. Matey downstream had also caught a couple of fish by now, despite talking on his phone (probably about me!), losing at least one feeder and two float rigs to snags and all the time twisting 'round to watch what I was doing. Briefly stopped to talk to a chap walking along the bank, but when I started trotting again the fish had either switched off or had gone as I didn't get another sniff. Sat down and had a drink and snack bar before deciding that lunch was probably a good idea and called it a day. Finished with 14 grayling and that bonus chub, which after chatting to several, fishless matchmen on the way back to the car, was a pretty good result!