Sunday, December 15, 2013

Values reassessed

A strange thing has happened: somehow over the past few weeks I have become altogether more enthused with winter grayling fishing. Maybe it's the mild weather we have been having; maybe having the chance to fish once more after a period of enforced lay-off has made me keener than usual to get to the river than I otherwise would be at this time of year. Whichever way, I have enjoyed a handful of afternoons tossing nymphs around, and have a further handful planned over the coming holiday weeks. I'm quite excited about the whole thing, which is a revelation in itself!

It's not like I've landed a huge fish, or enjoyed exceptional fishing or anything; but a couple of recent sessions reminded me of everything that is good about river fly fishing, whatever the season or target species. And for the second time in recent years, I was introduced to a fly pattern from north of the border which is stunningly effective; a pattern which had me ordering the requisite bits and bobs for its tying almost as soon as I had got through the front door home.

Back in late November, I had the great pleasure of fishing with Stuart Minnikin of Yorkshire Dales Fly Fishing. Regular visitors here will know that I have a great respect for Stuart's blog and excellent sets of photos on Flickr.  We had met at the annual Malham Tarn research seminar and tied up shortly after for a day that involved a whole lot of chinwagging, somewhat less fishing, and absolutely no grayling whatsoever.

But despite its graylingless nature, I enjoyed the session immensely. Stuart is an angler of the highest calibre, having plied his trade at international level. I enjoyed listening to his descriptions of the workings of river competition fishing and it occurred to me later how rewarding it must be to compete against and discuss tactics with anglers of such technical ability. It was certainly a great experience for me to watch Stuart as he picked his way with precision up one pool using a French leader setup, his delivery and line control showing my own up to be the horrific mess that it undoubtedly is!

SM showing how it should be done.

A few days later, I again had the pleasure of fishing with friends when I made an all too rare foray up into Scotland to tackle the legendary grayling of the River Nith with Davie Walker and Craig McDonald. My two companions for the day have been making this pilgrimage for a few years now, every December when the salmon season closes and the river becomes available to the winter grayling fisher, and each time I listen with envy to Davie's reports of impressive numbers of large fish. This time I was able to take up the offer and tag along.

On the day, the fishing was steady if unspectacular. A ridiculously mild start to the winter (which a month on, persists still), has meant the conditions may have been pleasant, but the fish remain well spread and sometimes difficult to locate with any consistency. I had found it on my preceding couple of sessions and I found it too on the Nith. Davie and Craigie confirmed as much, bemoaning the fact that the grayling had not yet become concentrated in certain pools -  a scenario which can lead to real red letter days when the hard work of fish location is rewarded by fantastic sport.

As it happened, we tended to find them in the sorts of spots you would more normally associate with early autumn fishing. I got off the mark quickly with three fish inside the first 40 minutes, from a bouldery run averaging 2' deep. Fine grayling they were too, all around the 1lb 8oz mark - an average size which held up throughout the entire day, with only an odd smaller one caught. I admit, I then got a bit carried away by the shallow pockets in which I'd had sport and wasted a couple of hours targeting similar water at the expense of more 'graylingy' stuff. But later on, things got back on track and by that time my two mates were well into the fish too, with French nymph proving most effective tactic. At the end of the day, a respectable number of fish had been returned, and although the really big girls proved elusive (one I returned, a little over 2lb was about the best), the average size  - and strength - of these fine grayling was remarkable.

To say the Nith is a river designed with grayling in mind, would be an understatement. I was absolutely amazed by the sheer quantity of likely holding water. The beat we fished would be well over two miles long and the vast majority consisted of the finest gravel you will find anywhere - small, loose stuff which shifts and crunches under your boots. And the general depth and evenness of flow, the length of the runs and current seams, back eddies and pots: it all just screams grayling. There is no doubt whatsoever that persistence here would be rewarded in the form of some special sport indeed. I'll certainly not forget the strength of those superb fish, flexing and twisting in the clear currents.....

And so finally to that fly I mentioned earlier. It is a pattern of Craig McDonald's devising and one which is about to become part of the Fulling Mill range in the new year, under the name of - don't quote me on this - the McDonald's Killer. A small tungsten bodied bug, it looks pretty unassuming, but believe me, it's a winner. Craig had enjoyed spectacular success with it in the Czech Republic, and it has since proved equally effective on home waters. The size 14 job which Craig passed me to try, accounted for every one of the half dozen fish I caught, despite moving it about on the leader and swapping and changing the other flies for all sorts of other stuff from my box.

I'm sure that a large part of its appeal rests in the superbly dense little tungsten 'jig backs' which are used in its construction. Similar to the popular 'Bidoz bodies' which I've been using for a while, but a bit more compact and easier to use, they lend themselves to being encased in a wrapping of nymph skin. And that's basically what Craig's flies are - jig back, nymph skin, marker pen and a coating of UV resin. In sizes 14 and 16 there is more than enough density there to get a brace down to grayling level, very quickly indeed. I was mighty impressed with how they fished and having stocked up on the necessary materials, intend to give them a good trial over the coming weeks. A pair of my efforts can be seen below - the finished fly waiting for a coat or two of resin. Craig's originals are somewhat neater!

How times change, and how quickly! Just a few years ago I was a mad keen winter grayling fisher and you would find me on the river in all weather, fishing heavily weighted bugs, short lined under the rod tip - sometimes using braid instead of flyline. Now, after a hiatus where I decided I was too soft to venture out unless the birds were singing and the temperature was in double figures; now, I find myself bitten by the bug once more...only this time the fishing is being done with a brace of small nymphs and a very long tapered leader - altogether more civilised if you ask me. Isn't it strange how we sometimes become so entrenched in the fashions of the moment that we lose sight of the fact that other options might be viable?

Watch this space, I have a few more sessions planned; and in the meantime, thanks to all who visited for dropping by this year and following my journey. I hope you have a very happy Christmas!

Matt Eastham


Flyfisherman. Richard. said...


Understand if your too busy but a ''how to of the above fly'' would be welcome.


Anonymous said...

Lovely write up Matt. Was about to text and ask if you had writers block!

I will forward the link to your blog onto that beat owner-I forgot to let him know how we got on. Oops.


George said...

Good to see you still enjoyed yourself with the lads up in Scotland especially after all the carry on around that day.

john rodmell said...

At last ,i was getting worried about you!

It's just good to be out and about especially after a stressful week in the construction industry

ssj said...

Could you explain the difference between trout season and grayling season (besides the obvious) for those us who don't live in the UK? Is it illegal to fish for trout ? Is it unethical to fish for trout? What do you do if you catch a trout out of season?

Matthew Eastham said...

Thanks for your comments Gents, and yes Richard I may well get around to posting an SBS of Craigie's magic little fly.

ssj, brown trout are deemed out of season here from 1st October to 14th March each year (although grayling can be fished for during this time as they are deemed out of season from 15th March to 15th June). During this time it is illegal to deliberately fish for trout. However, as you can imagine it is inevitable that out of season trout will occasionally be encountered and a grayling angler catching one would not be considered to be breaking the law as such provided the fish is handled with the usual care and returned unharmed immediately.

The question of ethics is touchy. Some people consider it unethical to photograph an out of season fish they have caught....although if the fish has been caught, I personally can't see what difference this makes. I tend not to mention out of season fish caught on this blog, for no other reason than I don't count them in my returns......if you're interested, none of us encountered any trout on our day on the Nith, although a few days before fishing with Stuart, I did return a brace of small trout.

Thanks for the question.

ssj said...

Thanks. That has mystified me a bit.

Here (eastern slope of the Colorado Rockies) there are few (if any) grayling but the season for trout lasts all year. Of course, 0 degrees F makes fishing less fun than it can be so the trout get a break from all but the most fanatic anglers.