Trouble at 'mill? Not on this occasion; in a happy coming together of circumstance I found myself in a position to sneak away from gale and downpour blighted Lancashire and across the Pennines to find sanctuary in the rain shadow, and a very special little urban stream. I only had a couple of hours to spare before the incoming weather front caught up with me and brought an abrupt end to proceedings, but nevertheless the grayling played ball and some tremendous sport was enjoyed before rain - and a rising river - stopped play.
I've learned a few things about grayling this winter. You might recall last back end, a post of mine where I stated that 'the lady' and I don't really get on. Soon after writing that, I decided that it was a pretty shoddy state of affairs and that I really ought to do something about my lack of understanding in the grayling department. There was a time several years ago when I felt I had got to grips with the winter tactics required for this enigmatic game fish, but just as soon as the knowing came, it went again when the birth of our children forced me to reassess certain priorities. Of course, fishing still lingered toward the upper end of that list - for pathetically obsessed individuals like me, it always does - but when required to pare down my angling activities, it wasn't a difficult decision: the whole 'standing bollock-deep in freezing cold water' business had to go.
Fast forward half a dozen years and it's fair to say that the only thing stopping me having at least an occasional waft of the fly rod through winter, is my own reticence. I've attempted to address that over the last few months, and although our spate streams here in the north west of England have been in an almost constant state of flood, at least the winter has been mild. So when the rivers have dropped back to something like a fishable level I've been all over the situation like a cheap suit.
Key in this little renaissance of mine, has been my introduction to small urban river grayling fishing. The thankless task of locating pods of fish on large rivers like the middle Eden has sometimes proved beyond me in the past, and conditioned me into a mindset of blind searching, crosswise, back and forth through the big pools with a shortline, heavy bug set up.
What I have recently learned is that not all rivers are such like; that some smaller streams harbour large numbers of grayling in tiny pockets and seams, where fish can be picked off at close quarters using relatively light nymphing set-ups.....a bloody obvious statement I know, but a revelation to me nonetheless.
After three or four visits to my new found grayling mecca, I'm finally getting a real feel for where to find the little blighters in number, starting to recognise the sometimes minute pots and holes in the fast currents where a fish or two, or even three are likely wedged - slight scoops in the river bed which would be deserted on my normal big river haunts at this time of year, but which offer as much feature as is necessary on a little fast flowing beck.
I capitalised on this discovery with relish, searching the water, dropping in and out of the river at every likely looking spot, picking up fish on a regular basis. The method was simplicity itself - a French leader set up with a brace of small nymphs. Pitched short into the holding areas, the braid indicator tapped forward so often I had to pinch myself to recall that this was actually winter fishing and not the early summer festival of plenty. By the time the rain came and telltale bits of debris started to appear in the current, I had returned nearly 30 fish. Half a dozen were trout; the rest were pristine grayling in the 10-14 inch size class. Magical stuff all told, and ample vindication of my decision to engage once more with winter flyfishing.
Am I now a grayling fisher then? It's looking that way. I've had more fun over this winter period than for some years now. The trout season looms large on the horizon and although I am anticipating the start with customary relish, maybe this year it will be with a tinge of sadness that I bid farewell to the shortest days and beautiful streaks of silver and magenta holding station in the milky current.