Saturday, 11 July 2009

Grayling on Dry Fly (oh, and a rant)

A typical Teme chub of 4lb

Retiarius casts to rising grayling (pic copyright Barry R. Reef)

First grayling on the dry fly

'Grey duster' with grizzle hackle

'Grey duster' with bleached grizzle hackle

I haven’t been fly fishing for about a year. The reason is tennis elbow. I contracted it first in my right arm and then, after learning to cast left-handed, got it in the left arm too. The doctor (a fly fisherman himself, as it happens) recommended total abstinence from any activity involving prolonged repetitive movement of the wrist and/or elbow. He did so, furthermore, with an entirely straight face.

A year has passed since the doctor’s edict and last week my friend and I found ourselves driving north through the gentle grey fug of a promising dawn towards the Teme for a spot of barbelling; I had also packed my fly gear. This was not, I hasten to add, because I intend to catch barbel on the fly (although it must surely be a matter of time before someone designs a ‘fly’ dressed to look like half a tin of Spam – “…’course, I fly fish for pike nowadays…”. No you don’t, you tie a replica fish with a hook through it, via a wire trace, on to a fly line. “…’course, I fly fish for carp nowadays…”. No you don’t, you tie something that looks like a bit of bread on to a fly line, etc.). No, I took the fly gear because I thought I’d better ease back into it gently (preferably without anyone watching) and, although trout and grayling are present in this part of the river, I’ve often seen sizable chub rising to flies here and fancied a pop at them, if the opportunity arose.

When we arrived at our chosen spot we were disappointed to find a couple of chaps already setting off over the fields towards the river. In the past, when fishing during the week here, one would in all likelihood have the place to oneself: not any more it seems. We walked to the top of the stretch, intending to have a dip in all the likely looking swims on the way back downstream. After an hour I’d caught three chub from my first swim (one baby of 2lb pounds, a couple more over 4lb, see pic) and was about to move on when some pillock dressed from head to toe in realtree cammo (as I believe it’s known) hacked his way noisily down the bank side not fifteen yards downstream of me – to the exact spot where I had been casting, in fact – banged (I mean, actually banged) in a couple of rod rests and cast in two rods with feeders on the size of baked bean cans; unbelievable – and wholly irresponsible: two rods?

No matter, I thought, I was moving anyway. Unfortunately, however, since we’d arrived the entire stretch had become populated with other anglers. Furthermore, It was obvious from the mountains of equipment which surrounded most of them that they were there for the duration and unlikely to move for the rest of the day. This put the kybosh on our plan to rove up and down the stretch in search of the shifting shoals of Barbel.

Now, I know that barbel are the new carp and all that, but this particular group of anglers seemed to personify so much that annoys me about some anglers nowadays that, having reached curmudgeonhood prematurely, I’m going to rant – a bit.

When did fishermen start ignoring the basics? When, and, more importantly, why, did keeping the noise down become unimportant? When were the erstwhile prerequisites of staying off the skyline and keeping vibration to a minimum demoted to the status of irritants to be ignored if you can’t be arsed? And when did consideration for other anglers cease to be a, er…consideration?

When a couple of these twerps came up to converse (and don’t they always want to ensure that, when they’re not catching, neither are others?) they stomped down to where I was fishing without so much as a by-your-leave and ‘spoke’ to me in the manner of a Sgt. Major addressing a parade of squaddies. They,  bemoaned, naturally, the standard of fishing hereabouts. They blamed their failure to catch barbel on anything but themselves - even, can you believe, that otters had eaten all the barbel, (otters, of course, being the new cormorant, Eastern European migrant worker etc. - enter your scapegoat of choice).

The thing that really depresses me is that it’s obvious that these idiots really do think in this way. Not for one second does it occur to them that their lack of river craft, their noisiness, their shouting, their stamping, their visibility to the fish may be the reason for their fishlessness – particularly when in pursuit of barbel; the fish Walton ought to have been describing, let’s be honest, when coining the epiphet “the most fearfulest of fishes”.

OK, rant over. I thought it might make me feel better – it hasn’t. Move on.

After this depressing series of experiences I decided to get out the fly rod and tootle off downstream to where the river is much more shallow and, crucially, deserted. I tied a size 18 grey duster (well...sort of - mine sometimes have grizzle, rather than badger hackles, as here, and tails...sometimes) to my 5wt setup and cast across the flow to where I’d noticed a couple of fish rising to insects which I was unable to identify. All I could see was that they were greyish.

To my surprise a fish rose and took my fly on the fourth or fifth cast and I tightened into a small grayling – which came off. My confidence was boosted by this and I tried again. grayling were rising regularly under a bush on the opposite bank from the shingle beach where I stood (see pic) but now, I noticed, they were taking what looked like yellow may duns. The only yellowish fly in my box was a yellow-bodied F–fly and I tied this on without, for some reason, much expectation of success. It proved a prophetic hunch.

After a while I remembered I’d tied some grey dusters with bleached grizzled hackles– which were a bit yellowish - and which had tails, as did the duns being taken (see pic). I tied one on (size 18) and, after a lot of missed takes, hooked and landed a grayling of, perhaps, a pound – my first on dry fly; on any fly in fact (see pic). For this reason that grayling, which went back, gave me more satisfaction than a mere double figure barbel would have done.

A bit later the largest sea lamprey I’ve ever seen, clearly close to death after spawning, came swimming weakly downstream past us. It was at least two feet long and may have weighed 3 – 4lb – amazing how the otters hadn’t got it really.


JAA said...

Good post. I vibrate in sympathy with the rant. I left a local syndicate as all the others were realtree'd three rod guys and thought fly fishing for carp with fluffy dog biscuits was real fly fishing in some way...I second Putnamsmif's motion above, come and join us. JAA

Buidgie Burgess said...


What a great site youve got mate! Totally agree with your views as well.