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Grayling fishing

Late October - Cloudless Days and Good Sport - The Finest Gut - An Uncanny Capture.
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The heart is herd in nature and unfit
For human fellowship...
... that is not pleased
With sight of animals enjoying life. (Cowper.)

'Twas in November when fine day are few
And sober suns must set at five o'clock. (Byron.)

In trout fishing it is very commonly said that fish rise all along the river at about the same time, that is, if two men compare notes, they find that between nine and ten neither had risen a fish, and that during the next hour each had enjoyed good sport.

Now with grayling - in season - my experience has been quite the reverse. They will have their favourite times for surface feeding, but at no period of the day can the whole stretch of a four mile water be condemned, so long as the weather conditions are reasonably favourable. Barring storms and floods it is difficult to enjoy that absolute blank which trout will occasionally demand of us.

Sometimes, after wandering up or down half the water, one comes upon a turn or a pool in which a handsome couple are rising enchantingly. If you do not succeed in getting one with the first few casts, they may afford an hour's strenuous sport before they have finished with you. And what is more, if you are thoroughly beaten, there is the added dissatisfaction of knowing that a more suitable fly, or a better style of casting at the right moment, would have turned the tables.

Never leave a pool of rising grayling because you fancy that in some other part of the river there are better fish.

As likely as not you lose the bone for the shadow, and find that the coveted spot has been deserted. If it be November, take what the Gods send you and be thankful, for at any time of the day a nasty cold wind may spring up and handicap your chances badly. An excellent fly to put up thus late in the year is Bradshaw's Fancy; its straggly form seemingly corresponds to the shape of some rare insect whose figure has been disarranged by gusty weather. It is a fly which grayling are more likely to follow a foot or two downstream than any other I know.

Only this last season I had two fortunate week-ends late in October. Nearly everything in the way of tackle was new: a new reel - with no adjustable check: a new double-tapered line which had not lost its stiffness; and above all some new eighteen inch points of so-called 6x gut. I can answer fur their length while as for their other quality they seemed finer than any I have ever used. I had left everything to be put together at the bank side, with the exception of damping the points.

After breakfast I started out under a misty but cloudless sky. The sun, which shone out early in the forenoon, lasted until two o'clock and even reappeared at teatime. I crossed the deep lock and passed up the private water, in which a man on the bank pointed out a jack of perhaps nine pounds lying in full view just below a weed bed. 1 asked about the wiring process, but he adroitly changed the subject owing to modesty in the matter of expert knowledge.

Above this is the island or peninsula opposite the lawn that fronts the large open pool. Two or more grayling were rising with that freedom which comes from the thought that they are out of casting distance from this side and are quite protected by overhanging garden bushes on the other. Then the river narrows and at our opening stile the opposite bank is reachable. While sitting a few yards back I saw two grayling in the faster water, each of them seemingly poised for a venture on the surface, so continued threading my line through the rod rings with one eye upon their movements.

My attention was soon distracted by the very prettiest weasel which slipped out of a large thorn bush and peered round the neighbourhood It stood up, lengthened its body out almost like a cobra and then dropped down again to move forward. As it left a good distance between itself and the bush I thought I could manage something with the landing net by cutting off its retreat, but although it was quite twenty yards beyond the bush on the other side, and I was barely ten on this, he made a dart back like a trout and gained his undergrowth before I had moved a few paces.

Well, the grayling: they continued in view all the time I finished tackling up, never actually coming to the surface although it was easy to see what they were thinking of. The lower one looked up, rather than rose, at a Bradshaw's Fancy which floated down over her. You could see she was sorry to have missed it. The second time too, she made a movement of attraction. The next cast she took it lightly in her lips and turned down. I had to play the fish, or perhaps allow her to play me, right through another man's water; but fortunately met him in the process and explained the position. I felt glad that he accepted the fish (1 lb. 12 oz.) after netting it for me in the still pool above the lock.

Above this is the bend opposite the boat- house, well reputed for its large bath-like pools where a few good grayling are always rising at intervals, but which are so constantly cast over by anglers who put up their rods at the stile that they are almost dry-fly-proof.

At the time of my visit the river had enjoyed a considerable period of rest; indeed, so far as I could gather from the keeper, no rod but mine had been out for a fortnight. In spite of it being a public footpath I thought it worth while to sit down on the bank if necessary for half rin hour and think what could be done. I made a resolve to cast very seldom and then only for fish which had already risen several times. The Bradshaw not proving a grayling fancy I watched for the fly on the water and dipped a sample out. ft was a small grey midge not unlike a sparsely dressed blue upright.

By standing in a foot of chalky mud I at last got a comfortable seat on a tussock of rushes and waited. Every now and then a passer by would come, usually downstream, would look at the water, stand and watch a few rises, and then intimate the fact to me by pointing at the grayling with his stick. It was only polite to thank each one in the same vacant manner while continuing to smoke as abstractedly as though I had managed to get out without my keeper. After a time they felt nervous and moved on.

What a feeling of relief it is when this happens, and how short the interval seems between their attentions. Fortunately it is sometimes a female who merely praises one's virtue of patience to her companion in a faint hearted manner as they pass out of earshot.

Towards twelve o'clock there is an hour or more of perfect quiet: the fish are still on the feed and pop up more confidently. The little grey fly is impatient for action, drops on the pool, thanks to the fine points, as softly as thistle down and is so delicately taken that it must be by something very small. But the strike alters all this. A fine run right up the inlet at the head of the' pool carries plenty of line with it, as well as the conviction that the grayling which is ' on ' - for the time being - may be heavier than he seems.

Being a case for gentle treatment I sat down where I was and held up quietly to give him ample time for tiring himself out. Away he went right over to the deeper far side: then ran rapidly down stream, obliging me to get up and follow as the line was got in. In every pool he would stop, turn, and bore down to the bottom. After fully five minutes of this treatment I got the net under him and dipped him out, a game fish of exactly two pounds.

At no time in his life does a large grayling show to better advantage than when he smells the net. Although pretty well worn down, he does not give in just at the last, as a trout will often do, but sets up his great cinereous back fin and always keeps it at right angles to the pressure on his mouth. It therefore becomes the greatest folly for the angler to attempt to pull the fish over the rim of the net; as he does with careless confidence when mayfly fishing for trout. More fine grayling nave been lost in that critical position than at any other period of the playing process.

From the same pool I got three others without moving more than a yard or so up the bank. The still air, the stiff line, and the new fine points favoured long casts, while the small fly- was certainly to their liking. None of the three were equal to the first, but all were over a pound and a half, and all behaved most sportingly. Neither the fly nor the point failed during some two hours of casting. Only one fish got off, from not being struck quickly enough; and he was perhaps the smallest of the lot.

Had I roamed up the meadows in the forenoon I doubt whether I should have obtained anything as good as the two brace which lay on the grass alongside me - for they- were much too pretty to squash into the canvas bag -caught upon the opening sixty yards of water. The sun was hot on my back, the air as still as in a room, and the smoke from a cigar which I found in my pocket had scarcely the energy to move away. I arranged those grayling, and rearranged them, head and tail, opening out their dorsal fins and sprinkling them with water, until they shone mauve and golden in the sunlight. All jealousy of passers-by disappeared: indeed the sight of the fish and the flattering comments as to their size became quite pleasant. 'Did you ketch those out of the river mister? ' asked one lanky youth. ' No, Juggins 'e bought them at the fish shop ' answered his friend, who had a fine taste in sarcasm.

Where does the name thymallus come from? I remember on that occasion trying my best to extract any sniff of thyme from these freshly caught grayling, but with no vestige of conviction. So often does one provoke the odour of thyme by treading on it in the rushes, that the very smell of mint sauce with cold lamb always brings a flash of some grayling day across the cinematograph of memory.

I never mind missing luncheon when out fishing: but to miss tea is quite another matter, so at three o'clock I returned to the inn parlour and ordered the usual tray of good things, which always makes one start out again with hope and confidence. At four o'clock the broad open pool above the hatch stile spread out invitingly, though not a movement broke its surface. The water was so clear that in several openings among the weeds, which were hardly within casting distance, I could see grayling swaying as it seemed from side to side.

The reason always given me for graving preferring the shallow water in mid stream is that they are well away from jack. Certainly the ones in the position I mention are there from year to year, in all seasons; and what is more, they are usually quite disposed to rise for many hours at a time, sometimes in the morning, sometimes only during midday, and sometimes just at about sunset. They are the most knowing, perverse, and attractive coterie of grayling 1 have ever met, unless it be a small group near the tea house in Dovedale. Report says there is a syndicate at Hungerford of two pounders who have also passed a resolution barring artificial fly from their menu.

After waiting for half an hour I derided to move on to a nice glide under the left bank, where large, fish are often taken at this time of the evening. Almost before I reached the place I saw a rise - so close to me that I had to stoop and back into the rushes. The very moment the fly touched the water it was taken. The strike suggested that it was a heavy fish but a sluggish one. Had not the river been very free from weeds just here the gut could not have held, for after a desperate splashing on the surface, I netted out a large trout of perhaps two pounds and a quarter, seemingly in good yellow condition, very fat and I suppose full of spawn.

I am ashamed to say I do not know the one sex from the other. Anyhow I did not detain him or her, for long. The hook had caused no pain or inconvenience; and he -sailed back into mid stream as though none the worse for the adventure. A poor grayling caught out of season often receives different treatment.

After wandering higher up to a turn in the river which we called ' duffer's corner ' and only catching one insignificant fish, I came slowly back to the hatch stile, wondering ail the way down what sort of luck a man would have who was allowed to ' swim the worm ' or the maggot, as he walked down stream Not that I had the slightest desire to do so; for, apart from never being able to put a worm on to a hook, I should not fancy handling or eating the fish that came to so distasteful a bait. It is merely a case of what the eye does not see. Grayling may dote on gentles of course, as a nice looking girl may on stout or onions, but there are times when it is not pleasant to think of. During the next three days I had very similar sport, including one grayling which I shall always remember with apprehension. It was at the extreme upper boundary of our water, where a small ditch and post marks the line across which we must not step. Needless to say, I ended by leaning against the post and gazing upstream, like the donkey in Bewick's woodcut who thinks the grass on the other side of the hurdles is better than his own field. Close under the steep bank there was a rise. A bubble floating down suggested a feeding fish.

However, one or two rising below me looked equally attractive; so I dropped back and cast for them, getting two or three but none of any size. For a long time I tried to break myself of the idea of casting into water above our boundary, arguing jesuitically that so long as my feet were not trespassing there was nothing illegal in it. Strictly speaking (1 murmured) the law does not allow a man, who owns one bank, to throw for fish beyond the middle of the stream; yet everybody makes a speciality of the opposite bank whenever and wherever he fishes.

Once again I was up with my hip against the post; and again a large dark fin broke the surface - but so high up that it seemed quite out of casting distance. That of course decided it. Vanity and the devil conquered. If the fly could not reach the rise there was no harm in throwing just for practice; as wild horses would not have dragged me to put a footprint on the other side of the dividing ditch.

Gradually the line was got out; loop after loop added yards to the false casts without any suspicion of a hitch up behind. There were still two loops of heavy line in my left hand as I made the throw, and never did they slip through the rings more glibly, or shoot out in a more perfect manner. The fly pitched a full foot above the last rise - and, to my terror, it was taken.

As I struck, the grayling jumped clear out of the water - higher and more vigorously than ever one did before or has done since - made a swift semicircle across to the opposite side, far away under the rushes of the broad pool, and then went down stream. As I stood and wound up the coils of slack line, I honestly prayed that he was not on. But he was. Hurrying round the bend, I got him on a very short line and began to walk down the bank, feeling so guilty that I longed each moment for a parting to be naturally brought about, yet all the Lime treating him so judiciously that it did not occur. Into every deep pool and current he dived and wriggled: then lost ground, swam down stream, and turned again to worry.

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