It's been a long time coming, but I finally got out again. It's been over three months since I last fished running water, but today was worth waiting for - a stunningly beautiful mid-winter day in Lancashire's Ribble Valley.
All day an ethereal mist has clung to the fields and a watery sun has provided a little much-needed warmth, melting the hoar frost from bare branches after midday. Later in the afternoon, a single, large dark olive sailed downstream past me, looking incongruous against the leaden, lifeless water upon which it rode. I briefly hoped that some of his friends, or some midges might appear, bringing the grayling up on the flats as sometimes happens at dusk on quiet days in winter, but it was not to be. My efforts were restricted to the more usual weighted nymphing methods and results were very interesting, if somewhat patchy.
The Ribble was in perfect nick, probably 150mm above summer level and running clear. I searched the lower half of the club water with a brace of tungsten bodied bugs, fighting a mental battle against freezing toe ends which was only won with the help of my malt filled hip flask.
It was well after lunch when at last I contacted a fish, but it was not the grayling I was hoping for. After a brief and lazy fight, I slipped the hook out of an old, battle scarred cock salmon.
It always makes me sad to see such a magnificent creature reduced to a tired, diseased, living corpse. I hope he had managed to successfully spawn, so that his struggles will not have been in vain.
My next take followed a few minutes later, alongside a large mid-stream boulder. Amazingly this again turned out to be a cock salmon, a much bigger one. Fortunately, the hook fell out after a minute or so and a prolonged fight was avoided.
It's not altogether unusual to encounter the odd salmon whilst heavy nymphing. Most grayling fishers have their own stories to tell, sometimes of really huge fish, more often of well mended kelts. I've had a few now and they always provide a shock - this was the first time I've ever hooked two in one day though and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever contact a grayling.
As it turned out, I needn't have worried. In the next pool up, the line ticked sideways slightly and a firm lift was met by the charactaristic kick and twist of a decent grayling. A few seconds later and a fit hen fish of around 14 oz was in the net. A tiny size 18 hare's ear nymph had proved her downfall.
I hoped she was part of a shoal, but no further fish were forthcoming and I retired to the car for a hot coffee as darkness fell - a really enjoyable day!