Thursday 12th November 2020
It’s that time of year when the river is full of leaves, the weather is unpredictable and your fishing sessions are curtailed by the failing light. Standing waist-deep in cold water – to a non-angler, you’re a bit weird. Only those that have experienced the indescribable joy of fishing, would ever be able to understand why we do it and moreover, why we’re so obsessive about it…
After enjoying a sustained period of consistent weather and manageable river conditions, I had enjoyed a couple of days raising grayling to a dry fly; klinkhamers and small CDC flies had been working very well when there was no discernible hatch. Today, the river had risen an inch and was still on a gradual incline. Because the levels were rising so slightly, the water remained relatively clear but I wasn’t hopeful that there’d be much by way of a hatch and, therefore, nymphing would likely be the winning method if I was to pick up a fish or two.
Of course, almost as soon as I reached the water, I was made to look a fool as a BWO flew in front of my face. Studying the water I noticed another and then another – a hatch! It was no frenzy, there were relatively small numbers of flies and the rises were even more infrequent but it was an invitation and an opportunity that I would not be passing up. Tying on a small quill & deer hair emerger, I began to cover the rises and target the likely looking spots. It wasn’t long before I’d missed a couple of takes from very small grayling – probably more likely that they’d missed my fly, in truth. The first fish that stuck took a long time to decide – he followed the fly downstream for much of the drift and only decided to take it towards the end of the drift – had he waited any longer, drag would have come into play and surely that would have been that. As it happened, though, he made the right choice for me and the wrong choice for him. Turning down on the fly, it gave me a chance to peel off the inexplicable amount of slack line I had let drift downstream and lift into the take to set the hook. This was a real let-off for some bad angling practice! After a brief battle, the first fish of the day was landed without complication.
After a couple more fish of similar size, I decided to move on to a new pool in search of something a little bigger. By now, the surface activity had slowed down to the occasional rise without any real signs of fly life. I could see that the river level was steadily rising and had probably risen an inch since my arrival. All things considered, it was time to flick some tungsten beads into likely looking runs. My primary concern was being stranded in a rising river – I didn’t know how quickly or how high the river would run and so I’d decided early on that I wouldn’t wade beyond the mid-point of the river – I have been caught in the past!
Reaching a pool further upstream, the flow was more powerful than usual, which was to be expected. In these situations, it’s important to think about where the fish would be holding. Would they be sitting in a fast-flowing current when they could sit just off the current and move in when food passed? Ultimately, it didn’t matter too much because I was going to fish through the eddies and the slacker water before I made my way into the main current. There’s an unwritten rule amongst anglers; ‘the fish are always on the far bank’. But in reality, we know that can’t be true, it’s just a matter of perspective. Fishing the water as you work through can often pay dividends. Too many people will wade through fish holding spots to cast to a rising fish on the far bank – you might take that fish but you’ve ruined your chances of the countless other fish that you dispersed with your clumsy approach. Anyway, back to the fishing…
I stepped into the water and made a few small steps forward – no more than a few feet from the riverbank, I flicked a team of 3 nymphs upstream, testing the depth and flow. It was a simple French leader rig; 4mm bead on the point fly, a hackled gold bead GRHE on each of the middle and top dropper. Taking another couple of steps forward, I was now finding a good drift with my nymphs bouncing along the riverbed. Within a couple of casts, I was into fish.
After the first grayling, it was frenzied! Most drifts produced more than 2 fish – I’d landed over a dozen without moving more than 10 feet from the water’s edge. The vast majority of the grayling were taking one of 2 GRHE variations I was using. One of these patterns was posted in my last blog post – this was the top dropper. The middle dropper was a fly I’d rustled up the previous day; a red tag GRHE, a fly I knew would produce grayling.
Half-way through the short session came one of two real stand-out moments; a double hook-up. My first for a couple of seasons and a sure sign that I was fishing in the right areas or to use the nymphing jargon; the strike zones! The initial take was subtle, as they often can be – the indicator just stopped for a fraction of a second but it was enough to make me lift the rod and feel heavy resistance, followed by the unmistakeable rolling and vigorous head-shaking of a grayling. Suddenly, after a few short seconds, the line became very heavy and still. Had I snagged a dropper on a rock and lost the fish? I lifted the rod, I applied side-strain and all I could feel was a heavy immovable object. I had almost convinced myself that I had lost the fish and snagged when there was a violent tug on the line. The fish was still on but just what had I hooked? My rod was doubled over and still I could not move this fish. My heart skipping a beat or two, I started to dream about a monster grayling – a new PB was almost guaranteed, surely! Mercifully, the fish began to swim upstream – although taking line, I would rather play him upstream than let him sit downstream with his dorsal fin raised against the current! After several runs and hear-stopping thrashes and diving runs, I was reaching for my net. As I saw him breach the surface for the first time, I could see that he’d taken the top dropper but I felt slightly disappointed – I’d have needed him to have been twice the size to even trouble my current PB, so how did he put up such a fight? Sliding the net underneath him, I noticed another, smaller grayling had taken the middle dropper and was following my initial catch into the net. It all made sense now, a double hook-up! Disappointed on one hand because I was expecting a monster but elated on the other hand – who can complain about catching two fish at once!?
Acutely aware that I was fishing good ground, I continued to fish, moving only marginally in between casts, to ensure I covered every bit of water I possible could. It wasn’t long before the second stand-out moment occurred; a perfect hat-trick! Of course, everyone has their own opinion of what a hat-trick would entail. For me, 3 fish in 3 consecutive casts would certainly qualify but today, each fish took a different fly…
The first grayling took my point fly, early in the drift. It was a smaller grayling – similar in size to those I was catching earlier in the day on dry flies. The second, took my top dropper and was a much better fish that fought well and I was relieved to see it in the bottom of my net. Now, in ‘the zone’, I wasn’t even bothering to take photographs, I didn’t want to spend too much time with my nymphs out of the water. Again, the fish was quickly released and my nymphs flicked back into the water after I’d taken a step up and across the river. Again, I felt the snatch of a grayling at my flies and again, another nice fish was in the net within a few seconds. It was only then that I realised I had just landed 3 consecutive fish. I didn’t want to sit around and congratulate myself – the skies were darkening and a cup of tea was calling my name! I fished on for another 15 minutes or so, taking a few final fish. I’d long since lost count of how many fish were landed but if I had to guess, it’d be something close to a score.
I don’t fish for numbers, I don’t particularly chase the big fish but it’s certainly amazing when a day’s fishing comes together as this one did. A double hook-up and a hat-trick in the same day, mean it was a better than average day on the river.
I’m sure my next day on the water will be filled with frustrations, tangles, lost fish and temper tantrums but that’s fishing!