I love this time of year, but it also inevitably heralds a period of frustration. With evening fishing long gone and the year's holiday allocation all but spent, my opportunities to spend time on the riverbank are limited to say the least. Which is a shame, as quiet autumn days spent in the company of delicately sipping grayling, are surely amongst the fly fisherman's greatest pleasures.
It's true that autumn can throw some pretty nasty weather into the mix at times - a bitter foretaste of the long winter months to come - but the days I dream about are the gentle, misty ones where the leaves fall spiralling into the water, separated from the branches seemingly by gravity alone. Thistle heads hang heavy by the waterside and the air is filled with an oppressive stillness, nearby chimney smoke from the season's first woodfires rising almost vertically, a gentle curve against the white sky.
And down on the long flats, the shoal grayling will be rising in the pool tails; tiny rings betraying their presence as they delicately rise to the myriad tiny insects trapped in the surface film.
A glance at the water's surface will reveal very little and closer examination is required in order to establish what is on the menu. Even waist deep in the water, it might not be immediately apparent.....but hold a small, white bug net just sub surface and you will see them: tiny beetles, weevils, aphids both green and grey-black, spiders and centipedes; a conveyor belt of minute creepy crawlies carried along on the foam lanes. They got there when they inadvertently hitched a ride on a falling leaf....and if you wander upstream and examine the undersides of some bankside sycamore leaves, you will likely see just why there is such a profusion of insect on the water.
This is the time for some really small imitations. Hook sizes 20 down to 24 come into their own when the grayling are feeding on back end terrestrials. I find a black paradun works well, or a tiny grey duster. And when aphids are at large, I reach for something like this:
Hook: micro dry #22
Abdomen: gliss 'n glow, caddis green
Thorax dubbing: fine green
Wing: a few strands of light dun zelon
Hackle: grizzle cock, clipped flush underneath
All of which is academic of course. I am no more likely to get to the river over the coming weeks than I am to participate in a lunar landing, which is disappointing but - as previous years have taught me - very much par for the course.
Never mind, there's always the fly fair to look forward to. A fortnight today, the BFFI rolls into Trentham Gardens and with it the opportunity to watch top class tyers at work, hobnob with fishing buddies and throw a silly amount of cash at all sorts of fly tying goodies. I'll be there. If you see a thirtysomething bloke at the Cookshill stand, stroking feathers with a worryingly manic look in his eyes, that will probably be me.