1: Winter view; back across the fields to the river.
2: North Hill rises above the mist.
3: The pool where the salmon splashed.
4: A likely looking snag.
5: Dead salmon.
I'd been here yesterday: but, mindful of those pillocks who call late night phone-ins on Five Live (after days of warnings of bad weather) demanding to know why they're stuck on motorways at midnight, and why aren't the emergency services, government, army, God, etc. doing something about it, I returned homeward after a brief walk along the bank.
I had delayed leaving home until it looked like the predicted snow wasn't going to show after all. Inevitably though, three quarters of the way through the 30 mile journey to the river the flakes began to fall. By the time I got there the stuff was pillowing down with a vengeance. The water looked good. The level was a tad high and there was the merest touch of colour; ideal, I thought, for a bit of trotting for grayling and chub. It broke my heart to leave but, discretion being the better part of valour, and all that...
I awoke the next day expecting deep, set snow. However, to my delight, there was none. Furthermore, the roads were wet - unfrozen. I packed the gear into the car and set off with hope recharged. Worryingly, the closer I got to the river the more the snow lay round about; not exactly deep and crisp and even, but there was enough of it on the roads to start me thinking about getting back safely, once the temperature dropped towards evening. For now though, the car's display told me the external temperature was 2 degrees. I parked in a lay-by up on the main road and trudged through the snow down the steep track and across the fields to the river.
The last time I was here was just after Christmas. It was a cold day then too - colder than today. I fished all day for one bite and landed the 3lb chub responsible. It was a lot of effort and discomfort for one fish. But, of course, the day had other things to offer. In the morning I had been fishing a swim for an hour or so before I noticed a grilse (see pic) lying upside down in the shallow water a few yards downstream. It was not long dead from the looks of it; neither had the considerable contingent of local otters yet discovered it. It was the first evidence of salmon I've seen here although I'd always assumed there was a run; it's a tributary of Big River after all. Later that afternoon I was fruitlessly trotting flake under some rafts of debris further upstream when, in the periphery of my vision I saw or, rather, sensed a large fish half leave the water and splash back down below the surface. It must, I feel sure, have been a salmon. It was the only fish I saw moving all day, apart from that silly chub. It broke the surface a few more times in the next ten minutes, while I watched. I was unable to get a 100% positive identification, but no self respecting river denizen would have acted so preposterously on such a day.
Today I was hoping for grayling. The river was clear - clearer than yesterday - and just right for long trotting. I'd tried a couple of favourite swims without so much as a nibble before arriving at what, I suppose, is my 'banker' grayling swim here. After an hour, though, nowt. Despondent, I put down the float rod and began to trundle legered bread, then worm, through the swim: still nothing. At this point I had one of those strange intuitions that we fishermen get from time to time. Many angling writers have waxed lyrical about the the weird 'advance warning' sometimes experienced before catching a decent fish, or when fish are about begin feeding, not least that most pragmatic of anglers, Richard Walker (see previous post). None though (in my opinion) has written about the phenomenon as eloquently as Hugh Falkus in his incomparable tome Sea Trout Fishing. Among other musings on this intriguing subject, Falkus suggests:
"the only explanation I can offer is that it may be due to a subconscious assessment of some change in conditions the conscious senses have not become fully aware of. A change so slight as to be almost imperceptible, but which is sufficient to bring a fish into a 'taking' mood."
I can state categorically that I did not consciously sense any change in the conditions. It was still very cold, that's all I can say for certain. However, I very definitely felt compelled, as opposed to having chosen, to pick up the float rod and recommence trotting; and I did so with an unexplainable resurgence of confidence.
Within the next few minutes I caught three grayling - one of them a very decent fish indeed. Maybe I did perceive a change in conditions, or perhaps a shoal of grayling just happened to roam through my swim at that particular time - who knows? Suffice to say that those fish felt special because of the certainty of success I'd experienced before catching them.
I fished into dusk with no further joy, before walking back across the fields to begin the fraught journey home along rapidly freezing roads.
Sea Trout Fishing (2nd edition), 1977, Hugh Falkus, H.F & G Witherby Ltd, 1977 ISBN 0 85493 115 5.
(I recommend this very well written book, if you haven't already read/bought it. It provides insights that apply to all aspects of fishing, not just sea trout angling.)