Grayling, no grayling

I think when I wrote Saturday night’s exuberantly excited post I genuinely believed that I would go forth and catch thousands of grayling. Such a rush of enthusiasm I felt, such expectant hope and yearning did I possess. What on earth did I seriously expect? Make a post like that at your peril, for it doth dearly tempt fate.


I got up at a leisurely 7:45am, wolfed down some cereal and bungled an enormous crate of gear into the boot of my car. I was prepared for anything. Spare clothes, spare rods, spare reels, gazillions of spare flies, buckets of excitement to spare, spare copies of the beat map and a spare copy of myself in the back seat. By the power invested in me, I was not going to fail out of a lack of spares. The problem with not going fishing is that the longer you’re away, the more spares you carry on your return. Unnecessarily of course, as what I should have taken were spare fish.snowdrops

I cruised down the road, carefully chosen driving music blaring, eyes gradually narrowing. I put on my ultra-serious camo-stealth polar buff, you know, just to get in the mood. Two CDs worth of tunes later, and I pulled the car up at a bridge. There was someone out already, trotting maggots. At this stage I felt no bitterness, no hint of envy or fascist rage. I quietly got back in the car and slipped off downstream.


Tackling up was like a symphonic performance. As I stepped into my waders I was sure I heard the sound of a distant violin. Was that Beethoven? No, definitely Chopin. Donning those incredibly sexy accessories known as gravel guards I could have sworn I heard the dulcet tones of at least two of the tenors warming up. By the time the grand finale came around, namely slinging a chest pack over my head, I was positively soaring, the chorus of a thousand beautiful young sopranos ringing around the valley.

Surely, surely this was fate. Eons spent away from running water, contemplating the meaning of fishing. The meaning I tell thee. What’s it all about? Hours spent at the vice, secret escape plans laid, all for these few hours alone in the company of grayling. Where was the first 3lber going to come from? Perhaps that nice wee run right there, just behind the tree. Oh yes, I could sense him sitting there, resting after a long night spent in the company of a harem of lady two pounders. Where were they by the way…hmmm… that deep gouge under the far bank looked a possibility. Oh yes, that’ll be it.. looks just right for a harem of 2lbers.


I carefully put up the days outfit. I had brought my old 6 weight Vision out of early retirement. I wasn’t going to be beaten at the last by no mother-sized 4-weight-snapping rod killer of a grayling. This was proper fishing. Err…

I opted for a big bug on the top dropper, about 7 feet from the bright yellow polyleader. About 2 and a half feet further down the line was a smallish black bead headed hare’s ear. From the tail of the bead head I tied the stinger, a tiny size 16 hare’s ear, unweighted, about 8 inches down. I added a couple of split shot at strategic places, anticipating the need to adjust depth according to the run. Finally, I attached a garish American football shaped strike indicator to the end of the polyleader, you know, just to be sure. I knew I’d be out of practice, so any help to detect all those subtle takes was welcome.


Creeping up to the bank, I could feel the electricity again. This is why getting away from fishing for a while is so important. Without a good few months of close season, fishing can become a little stale. Not too long mind, just a couple of months maybe. My own hiatus of what seemed like decades was certainly too long, but the anticipation rewarded now was just wonderful.

I slipped in to the water below a large submerged tree, and paused. I unhooked the tail nymph from the cork butt of the rod. It all felt so new, so exciting, yet at the same time the mechanical familiarity of the whole process was etched strongly into my muscle memory. I found myself manoovering without thinking. The rod swung downstream to stretch out the line on the water. I flicked the rod tip to get the polyleader out the end ring, and a tangle, straight away, before the first cast. Hmm…maybe the muscles had a slight case of memory loss after all.


Low tide at plastic bag bay

When I was eventually sorted out, I paused once again, trying to imagine the grayling I was sure I was about the catch. ‘Remember’, I encouraged myself, ‘try to find an excuse to strike at some point during every drift’. Oh yes, I know what I’m talking about, I’m practically an online expert now, preaching to the masses. My eyes narrowed further.

I flicked the cast upstream. Plop-plop-plu-dop, the nymphs dived into the water. I tracked the rod tip back with the current, helping the polyleader to maintain a slight curve above the water. I saw no take, I felt nothing, I saw nothing. The nymphs wafted around below me, the leader gradually straightening out until the whole cast lay downstream of me. My eyes bulged slightly, I felt the pull of the river against my legs, and the gentle tug of the nymphs getting dragged away by the river. Performing a kind of gasp-come-gulp as I started to breathe again, I looked back upstream. Nothing to be seen, save the sway and gurgle of the river surface. No take, certainly no fish. But I had rediscovered a feeling that has been sorely lacking in recent months. The feeling of questing for something difficult, something elusive and out of my control. Something with a pulse and a quick flash of speed and a set of shining silver scales. I suppose it’s a quest for anticipation and excitement in the end, perhaps not really a fish. But whatever I was questing for, it was good to be back.

Useless video clip containing no fish, but nice sounds:

I continued flicking nymphs upstream for the next four hours. I eventually found a lovely run, deep and swift and screaming of grayling. As I waded in a salmon jumped right in front of me, which I took to be a good sign. Grayling and salmon very often seem to inhabit the same bits of the river in winter. Well, I say very often… not that I’ve really got that much experience of actually catching grayling from salmon runs. I suppose that’s my imagination again. Imagination and reading too many expert articles.


I fished that run very hard indeed, up and down, with a variety of different shotting setups. Eventually I got so frustrated, and my feet so cold, that I stepped out of the river and loaded the line with an awesome array of BB shots. The canon method I’m calling it. Feels like you’ve got a fish on even before you cast. I got back in at the head of the run and started blasting the cast upstream. Woooshh, cabluuush, cashooomm! That’s more like it, empty the damn river if you need to.


The salmon rose again, obviously taking the piss this time. It was the middle of February for crying out loud, old sexy-timey time isn’t for another ten months. There was little chance of me catching the salmon of course, unless he was lying flat on the bottom, and possibly even under the rocks, between his outbursts. In the end I caught nothing from that run either, but I did however get wonderfully cold feet. It’s amazing what an impression of a wild west cowboy-walk one makes after a few hours grayling fishing.


Spooky animals.. If anyone knows what these tracks are, I’d love to know. I’m guessing one set is bird-like, and the other might be a pawed mammal.

As I packed up my not inconsiderable array of spare gear back into the car, another fly angler pulled his car up and enquired how I’d got on. He’d also blanked, though he had travelled for considerably fewer hours than me to do so. My mind drifted back up to the bridge and the maggot trotter. I didn’t bother going to ask.

Despite the day’s fishless outcome, I was in an uncommonly good mood as I drove back up the road. Most grand returns turn out badly, and I hadn’t even fallen in. I had rediscovered a bit of the excitement, and had a wee taste of that wonderful zen-concentration that comes along with obsessive fishing. It wasn’t yet dark, and as I looked out the window a flood of golden light was washing across the moors. I was left with the unmistakable certainty, should I ever need reminding of it, that it’s always good to go fishing.


  1. The Trout Underground’s avatar

    Perhaps there was too much gear — too much preparation. After all, bringing a net practically guarantees the absence of fish big enough to need the thing; leaving it in the car improves your odds tremendously.

    Next time, try bringing the wrong fly box, the leaky waders, and a garage-sale fly rod.

    Yours in excellent fishing,
    Trout Underground

  2. mike’s avatar

    I’ll keep your advice in mind Tom. Clearly, you’ve got prior experience…

  3. Simon’s avatar

    What, you mean you didn’t go THERE? I suppose not catching grayling where you went is the same as not catching grayling where you should have gone.

  4. alan atkins’s avatar

    Mike, hows things? Alex and i have had quite a few outings for the grayling this winter with 3 very successful trips and only 2 blank days. We were out on sunday for the last outing of the season and the fish are definately much thinner on the ground now, but we still managed abrace apiece of fish around the 1.25lbs mark. Our best session this season must have seen us bank at least 30 between us! Sio, next season , you must come and sample the magic of the river we fish. Also, i would be delighted to take you to the rive rwhere i’m a season ticket holder for sea trout. Any time after mid May will produce the goods and all within an hour of the big city!!

  5. mike’s avatar

    Hi Simon, long time no see 🙂 Hope you’re getting some time on the water. I was fishing on the Holy day you see, a problem on many rivers in this fair land.. Otherwise, THERE would have been HERE, and I’d have obviously caught fish. I’m still going to try and get out THERE before the end of February..

    Hi Alan, things are good. I’m looking forward to more sea trout this year! Sound like you and Alex have been hauling them in. It’s very kind of you to offer those fishings, I’d be delighted to sample the grayling with you next year. As for sea trout, well, I’m thirsty Alan, positively thirsty for some action! After last years various plips and plops in the night…I’m hooked. Just need to catch one of the blighters now.

  6. alan atkins’s avatar

    Mike, you’ll be most welcome when the fish are in , whicg can be any time after mid -may. There really were’nt any fish in the river when we were up last year, but a week later and the river was stuffed. My son had his first grilse and 3 sea trout all in one day. We’ll definately get you into a fish this year on the local river. I tokk Alex up last season and he had 4 on his first night sea trouting !!

  7. David’s avatar

    I suspect the mammal footprints are mink … four visible toes, rather than the five you can usually see with otters. Mink do have five toes, but only four usually show. Can’t be sure without a size marker …

  8. mike’s avatar

    Hi David,

    Thanks very much for taking the time to post that.. very interesting indeed. As far as I remember, the mink is a non-native species and a bit of a pest..? Ironically so are the grayling in a way.. except for the pest part of course.

    If it’s any help, I reckon the prints were about 3″ front to back.

  9. mike’s avatar

    Hi Alan,

    sounds like Alex did his usual trick, catching all the ruddy fish…

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