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Fly fishing for grayling

Chill October Days.
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Since body of mine and rainy weather
Have lived on easy terms together. (Coleridge.)

They have no song those sedges dry
And still they sing.
It is within my breast they sing
As I pass by.
Within my breast they touch a string,
They raise a sigh,
'Tis bat the sound of sedges dry,
In me they sing. (Meredith.)

Ranking well behind trout fishing as regards excitement and expense- just as the trout in all these particulars ranks behind the lordly salmon - yet angling for grayling in October and November, with the fly, can bring a pleasure to the man of moderate means who has a capacity for enjoying open air sport, which too many of us are apt to overlook.

With the end of September he as likely as not puts away his fly rod and sighs over the early autumn fire in the evening, regretting that shooting is beyond his means and attainment. Similarly, many who find a subscription to good trout water is annually growing more expensive, quite disregard the fact that a rod on grayling water can be had for a third of the money and will afford them for two months or more a delightful pastime.

As I have already observed, the grayling is a maligned fish: as often as not judged from his appearance either in the early spring or a little later, when he succumbs to the mayfly, and to men too who would at once exclaim at the untairness of estimating the behaviour of a trout when caught on a fly curing, or just after, his spawning season. I can never forget my first experience in this way. A promising rise had attracted my attention, and a small red tag which fell above it was taken immediately, by a fish too which felt heavier than the half pound grayling which had been bobbing up at intervals and teasing my fly. He felt double the weight as he moved away, but there was no life, no rush; nothing but a sluggish wobbling under water occurred, and all the undervaluations of grayling fishing ran through my mind while reeling in something as lifeless as motionless as a played out bream. Netted and upset upon the grass it looked dark and slimy, and it was with almost dismay that I slowly recognised it was a trout. So uncanny was its appearance that ever, unhooking it was distasteful and when put back into the water it ' regained its freedom with a sigh.'

The fact is that trout are not so often seen out of season. Grayling are: and are freely taken more is the pity by anglers who ought to know better. The tyro with his new outfit in mid May frequently finds the trout too much for him. All he can attract are out of season grayling. Well, the October grayling is vastly different; and when hooked in a Test or Itchen shallow on a drawn gut cast can show a prolonged fight equal to and sometimes better than a trout. That from the nature of the tackle he requires far nicer handling to avoid a parting in mid stream is undeniable, owing to the tenderness of his mouth in a great measure. Once let him set up a paddle wheel splashing in sight of the net and unless well hooked through the lip he will be free, perhaps floating away so exhausted by this last successful effort that it is even worth while trying to net him out a yard or so lower down.

In early October grayling may be found on the rise in suitable places almost the whole time, although on a cloudless day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. will probably account for the bulk of your catch. They do not feed as well in the dark as trout, but when they do not only are they heavy fish but are more decided about it than at other times. Anyone more desirous of taking home a full two pounder than of scoring in the matter of quantity, should make up his mind where to go from five to six o'clock. That is a time when larger fish will come close into the bank and take sedges or their imitation with confidence.

Treat them just as you would a September trout by making a careful stalk, expecting the fish to take the first cast. If he does not then wait and try to learn his periodicity - that is to say do not throw just after he has risen, hut just before he is due to rise again. He lies lower down in the water than a trout and consequently is less fitted for that double snap which a hungry trout will occasionally give.

It is best to make up one's mind to use nothing but a dry fly, a tapered cast with a 3 x drawn point, and a nought or two nought hook. It has been said that grayling are more tolerant of drag than trout. So they are - small or moderate sized grayling - but no, not the good ones. During the last seven seasons I have only twice had a grayling of over 1 lb. 7 oz. affix himself or herself to a dragging fly, and 11 each case it was to one which was racing across the stream in a semicircle.

That they do not stipulate for the same neatness or accuracy of casting is true enough If feeding in a shallow however, a bungling cast or a sight of the angler will bring about the same furrowed rush into the open which we all know so well.

When in mid stream as they mostly are, and when rising in two or three feet of water, a grayling approached from below is very k-and to the angler She will sometimes allow him to float all the hundred best patterns over her head without taking the least alarm or offence. A well informed trout would not like this. He would move; and even then not keep his tongue quiet as he went. But grayling continue to rise often at nothing visible to ordinary eyes, and are occasionally hooked foul in the back fin while doing so.

The only way with such fish is to persist; as well as keep on using smaller flies, until one gets down to the tiniest black spider on which I remember catching a fine grayling (2 lbs. 1 oz.) that had given me many walks back into the meadow to disentangle previous patterns. Two flies I have been especially lucky with are the orange-tag and the ruby-wickham: the one in deepish water and the other in shallows immediately above a run or stickle. The latter is so easily drowned owing to its tinsel sheath and its sparse dressing, that it: needs to be well oiled, and kept for a very short time on the surface. Indeed half its efficacy appears to depend upon its impressionism.

Another hint I remember giving myself was ' dark flies in the morning, light flies in the afternoon.' But no one can be dogmatic who has fished for grayling long; and it may well be that some angler's diary contains the same formula with the two adjectives transposed. We are all inclined to form hasty rules from a particular run of luck at fishing as at whist.

A tiny red ant with semi invisible split wings - a Halford pattern fly bought at the Civil Service Stores - once effected a remarkable change upon a whole shallow full of medium sized grayling that I and a few others had thrown over until we were all tired Silting on the hatch stile for a leisurely smoke after 2 o'clock one Sunday, I noticed a small pale red fly fluttering on the water, and although he had not been taken by anything, but disappeared under the fringe of floating weed which dammed itself against the hatchhole, I looked in my box to match it, and found the one described. The iron had a very distinct side bend, was desperately sharp, and in some way or other either the fly or the atmosphere resuscitated a feeling of confidence.

One specially dour fish, which had spurned everybody's Fancy and anybody's Glory, was still to be seen in a chalky opening between two long peninsulas of weed. I felt sure he would take it - and he did. The gut was liner than ever: the fly so small it seemed scarcely able to keep a secure hold. As he ran up took the opportunity of crossing the stile and moving down to where the bank projected into a sort of cape, thus obtaining a straight course for him to come without troubling to call in at the dam of floating-weed. He was a long time on while the line was out to the taper at the reel end, but nervousness as to the gut and the small fly saved the situation. He was cajoled down with gentleness and persuasion and landed, a game and handsome fish of 1 lb. 9 oz.

I lost the next two, neither of them much over a pound, and then got one of a pound and a quarter before the fly snapped off It was a pretty hour's sport because with the two lost fish one could see them rise, turn, follow the fly and reject it time after time, always the moment it dragged- Yet they ended moth like in singeing their wings.

On wide and shallow stretches of grayling water where the fish can he seen rising at frequent intervals for hours at a time on a bright October or November day, one will usually find that this tempting prospect is tempered by a steady downstream wind. I said some time back that I had never seen grayling fished for downstream This is a mistake, as in the very place described, I watched two rods one morning doing everything they could to circumvent these fish and all in vain. After they had gone i tried, with the same result, until I was sufficiently snubbed and was forced to retire to the hatch-stile and watch them through field glasses.

Seven or eight good fish could be located which at intervals of about half a minute came up in an easy manner, took a fly in a whisper, and then popped down again. One could see them lying above the grey bottom, evidently scanning the surface from its under side most carefully. From the hours - I might say weeks - spent upon that stile I became convinced that the sight of the angler is the sole reason for the grayling rejecting the artificial fly, and that, so long as their caution is not thus aroused, their mere sense of discrimination between the natural and imitation insect can be deceived Since then I have always treated them as carefully as the shiest trout and have been amply rewarded.

On these days of a persistent downstream wind, when the fish appeared to feel themselves secure, the plan I found best was to approach the place from below upon a morning when no preliminary casting over them had taken place, and then make up one's mind either to counteract the wind and the drag of the long line, or else to leave them alone. With much high grass behind it is almost impossible; but in the place referred to the water meadows were smooth and close cropped.

It is important to vaseline the line well, not only the taper end but all the centre thick portion, as this enables it to fly through the rings easily.

Then uncoil a sufficient quantity to effect a cast of a full twenty yards - say the length of a cricket pitch. Indeed this is all I found I could manage without a hitch up in the grass behind. By coiling a portion of the line on the ground just at one's feet, and retaining another five or six loops in the left hand it s easy enough to begin making false casts upstream against a quiet wind, each line increasing the length of the line. By the time three quarters of the necessary line is in the air you are ready for the fish you have spotted.

Continue to throw so that the heavy portion of the line will fail upon the water upstream in a curve well above the fly; then, just while the line is travelling towards the desired place, let go the loops from your left hand which will slip through the rings with quite a rush and effect exactly what you want, namely a curve with its convex presented to both wind and current. The wind has retarded your fly, which has pitched above the rising fish, while the loop of line has time, first to straighten, and then to curve downstream, before it begins to drag the fly. Draw in the line with your left hand in loops of a few feet while this is taking place.

During the process the grayling will rise, look at the fly, and take it.

Day after day in such places they will reward a successful cast when there is a soft down stream wind, and when they have not seen an angler.

The whole thing is a little trouble of course - flies snap off et cet - but I don't know anything that is not a trouble - that is if you look upon it as a trouble. Regarded as a sport requiring a favourable day, and then good planning and good casting, I have of late never found it to fail altogether, but have on several occasions hooked, lost, or landed two and even three brace within as many hours.

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