Firing blanks

The past couple of weeks have brought a new kind of fishing low. The winter grayling fishing got off to a bad start earlier this month with high water and cold extremities. The fact that my (more experienced) fishing pal blanked as well was possibly a small consolation, but some early damage to the fishing confidence was nevertheless dealt.

Carefully playing down this feat I tried to paint a rosy picture to my brother. Images of crisp winter sunshine, secret pools and massive grayling enticed him down from the north east to spend a few days here. I described short, relaxing days spent prospecting for monsters. The evenings would bring searing hot curry at our favourite joint and a few pints of the best of beers to round things off.


Here are some statistics for you. In four trips for grayling I have:

spent 20 hours chucking bombs into icy rivers
struck 316 times at false takes from snags
spent 5 hours thawing out frozen feet
lost 11 flies
lost 4 complete leader setups
broken the tip of 1 rod (a particularly proud moment)
lost my mind
and… caught no fish

Not since the earliest days of my fishing career have I blanked so impressively: this was truly spectacular failure. I should add that I swore on several occasions, most notably when coming incredibly near to falling in (twice). This is clearly bad form, and generally leads to further bad luck. In case this all sounds a little, um, negative, I did HOOK one fish on the second trip. Actually, it was a damn big fish, probably somewhere north of 2.5lb. Of course it came off. It would almost have been a shame to have ruined a perfectly good bit of blanking with a lunker.

With this kind of success rate, I’m seriously considering a career change to martian exploration. It certainly makes you realise that no amount of obsessing over casting, fly tying or other peripheral matters will make you catch fish if they’re not there. Finding grayling in winter can be soul-destroyingly difficult. Despite this, I think that in general if you get your flies to the fish, they’ll usually take. But something about these trips just felt wrong. I never really felt near a fish.


The dreaded question does inevitably creep up at a time like this: what the HELL is the point?

Well, if I had an answer to that then maybe I’d be rich. More likely I’d have taken up cross-stiching. I think that basically, I don’t like failing. I’m perfectly happy to accept that I’m shit at something, but that doesn’t stop me having a pretty long go at it (my PhD studies are a case in point). For the moment, grayling fishing has got the better of me. It’s time to give it a rest, at least until my toes look a little less blue. There is actually a trip in the works to a secret river in a couple of weeks. It’s supposed to have loads of grayling. If I ever DO catch one, I’m going to kiss it and say thanks for taking pity on a blank-firing angler.



In the interest of fairness, I should further point out that my (again, more experienced 😉 ) pal did actually catch a grayling on one of the trips. This was, it should be even FURTHER pointed out, only after my brother and I painstakingly woke him up with 39 drifts right over his head. Talk about being a gillie.



  1. Alex’s avatar

    “searing hot curry at our favourite joint”

    “spent 5 hours thawing out frozen feet”

    “Finding grayling in winter can be soul-destroyingly difficult”

    “It’s supposed to have loads of grayling.”

    Isn’t it amazing how a simple, noble pleasure pursuit like angling can force upon us such extremes of experience and emotion.

    I admire your tenacity, Mike. Hopefully next month the fishing gods will smile on you once more!


  2. opax’s avatar

    Great post Mike. Two notes:

    – spent 20 hours chucking bombs into icy rivers
    – lost 11 flies

    Are you fishing deep enough? Lost rate could/should be higher.

    broken the tip of 1 rod (a particularly proud moment)

    Not the rod!??!?

  3. Mike’s avatar

    🙂 Thanks for the comments chaps.

    I wonder the same thing myself Alex. It’s bizzare yet still we fish.

    Olli, I actually think I lost more flies than that. But anyway, in general the difference this year has been the strength of my nylon, up to 6.5lb. This seriously reduces the number of lost flies. I’m also an expert at getting out of snags (it happens so much).

    As for depth, well I’m absolutely sure we were fishing deep enough. In fact, on one day a little theory was proposed which made us think we were fishing TOO deep. There was a bit of a midge hatch, and the only fish, caught by my pal, came to the top dropper… makes you wonder.

    Fortunately, it wasn’t The Rod. But it was my ‘speciality’ grayling rod which has yet to catch a fish..

  4. Anonymous’s avatar

    Despite all of these statistics, at least yours don’t include the statistic: “Travelled 400 miles round trip for zero fish.”

    It’s always the truttas which cooperate, even in winter.

    At least I learnt one valuable lesson from all this blanking: Never believe ANY of the advice you give, nor the river-hype spouted about such and such a river and all the millions of greyling there.

    Nice swan picture anyway. There was a lot of scenery to look at whilst failing at the fishing-lark.

  5. Adrian’s avatar

    I can’t tell you how it gladdens my heart to hear that I’m not the only one to suffer this fate.

    Borders on masochism doesn’t it.

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