Saturday, October 27, 2012
Last week's pleasant outing in the leaf-littered countryside of the Eden valley was meant to be my farewell to the angling year and as I turned my back on the setting sun and walked back up the pasture to the car, it had felt like the right time to turn my back on fly fishing too, at least for a while. I made my peace with the inhabitants of the river and the shocking summer that prevented our meeting on far too many occasions, and bade them a safe winter before stripping off my waders for the last time.
Winter grayling fishing is for me, an activity which ends before winter really begins. I long since lost the inclination to toss tungsten about in the milky blue currents of the shortest days, in the name of scratching a fisher's itch. Over time the act of fly fishing, the gentle beauty of it, has become more important to me than the act of catching fish itself; eventually after several years of continuing to fish through the dark winter, I came to a point where I was finally ready to admit to myself that the dour search for bottom-hugging grayling held little appeal.....and I felt a little better - liberated to go and do something else without the nagging doubt we time-strapped fly fishers sometimes get, that we are missing out on something important. These days I stash my rods under the stairs with purposeful determination and patiently await the phoenix-like rebirth of my local trout streams in early spring. What happens out there between now and then, feels like none of my business.
Sure enough, the end of this week saw a sudden transition from quiet, mild autumn weather to bitterly cold midwinter stuff blasting in on the back of a cruel north-westerly; and that for me, from a fishing point of view, was pretty much that. With a free day at my disposal, I eschewed running water and headed into the hills for some much needed exercise. Later that morning when I came down from Bannerdale Crags with a wind-burnt face, aching calves and a hard-earned sense of wellbeing, I knew I had made the right decision........except that my route home would take me past the River Eden. And didn't I still have my fishing gear in the boot? I would have been rude not to at least take a look......
With the air temperature at 5C and a bright sun doing little to counteract a frigid breeze, I wasn't hopeful of finding much fishy activity, but to my surprise and delight, when I parked up at a nearby bridge and popped my head over the parapet, there below me was a posse of schoolie grayling mopping up aphids amongst the jostling leaves of the current seams. I had a pool in mind, one which I know holds some good grayling; so I motored off downstream to have a look.
By the time I got there a substantial hatch was underway. Gone were the late season blue-winged olives of last week, and the frustrations that sometimes accompany them. In place today were dozens of second generation large dark olives, swirling the currents and accumulating in the eddies in impressive numbers. It was a sight to behold - in the brassy sunlight, the little upwings peppered the surface like so many flakes of soot - and there they more or less stayed, anchored to the surface in the chilly air. It was a sight to lift the heart of even the most jaded fisherman and in some ways, just the fact that the olives were there and in such numbers, was good enough for me. It was difficult to imagine how such a proliferation of surface food could fail to incite a rise, but the duns continued to emerge, continued to cluster, and were more or less ignored by trout and grayling alike.
A little way downstream however, I finally found what I was really looking for: three fish in an almost perfect line were ambushing the LDOs as they pirouetted in off the adjacent foam lane. The breeze may have been northerly and bitter, but it was also blowing upstream; the low sun was into my right shoulder, casting a long shadow up the bank behind me; and 8yds behind and to one side the lowest of the three fish was a big boulder, its top submerged by about a foot of water - a perfect spot to kneel on and keep my profile low. Suddenly, after this dire summer of crap weather and aborted visits, of mayhem at work and stress and worry and frustration; suddenly as I knelt down into the cold amber waters of the middle Eden, I remembered why I love the act of fly fishing so much.
I took my time and the fish obliged. The first was an unexpected trout of about 12 inches, but the second and third were super grayling weighing 2lb 4oz and 2lb 6oz respectively. Both took the stackwing cdc dun as if it were the most natural thing in the world, arcing up and onto the fly in a flourish of lilac-red, scything tail fins splitting the current lazily. The were big, dark grayling and I was reminded of how impressive these fish can be. I have yet to catch a 3lb-er - that must be a hell of a fish and I hope someday I get to see one.
In the meantime, the memory of those two unexpected big girls will see me through the winter. The rods have been stowed, the waders hung, and the club catch returns completed. It is time to go into semi-hibernation.
Thanks to those of you who have stopped by here occasionally - your visits and comments are greatly appreciated. I hope you all had a decent season.