One species I always look forward to targeting each winter is the grayling, no matter how cold the weather they are reliable feeders plus they give me the opportunity to do some trotting which is a method that I love but rarely use for any other species.
I'm quite fortunate in that I have a couple of Derbyshire rivers within an hour of home that hold a good stock of grayling and I always make time for two or three visits each year. Typically, the fish are in the 6oz to 10oz range with a spattering of fish over a pound, my biggest being a fish of 1lb 14oz that I had caught on my first ever day targeting the species. Although I do know of very rare bigger fish the odds are somewhat stacked against you.
Last winter I had the opportunity to fish a couple of southern chalk streams, namely Timsbury on the Test and the Lower Itchen Fishery, both beautiful rivers and archetypal grayling fisheries. Both are available to fish on a day ticket which is quite rare in what is predominantly trout and salmon territory, I would certainly recommend a visit to anyone wanting to sample some great grayling fishing. Both waters produce fish in excess of 2lb's and did so to other anglers on my previous visits, though I managed to avoid the bigger fish.
Last week I received a message from a friend offering the chance of a day on a normally exclusive stretch of chalk stream with the chance of a monster grayling and although I had only just returned to work after a month off due to Xmas and a fortnight's holiday abroad it was an offer I couldn't refuse!
I was due to meet Steve at his place at 5am so the alarm was set for 4 o'clock. I woke up needing to go to the loo and after a quick glance at the time decided that it was almost time to get up anyway, it wasn't until I flicked the kitchen light on that I realised that it was actually 2.45am, woops! There was no hope of getting back to sleep by that stage, it was going to be a long day, thankfully Steve had offered to drive.
Finally arriving on the bank at 9.30 I tackled up my waggler rod with 4lb main line and a 4 swan shot chubber down to a size 10 Korum Specialist hook to which I would attach three maggots. This seems and looks far too big a hook for the bait but grayling aren't usually particularly tackle shy, and as they are renowned for throwing the hook due to their bony mouths and twisting fight, it makes sense to put the odds in your favour if you can get away with it. You can always scale down if you feel it is required.
We started at the top end of the fishery and on my first cast the float dipped away and a little grayling of 4oz was swung in. A couple of casts later the float sank from sight again and this time the rod took on a very healthy curve as something much more substantial plowed around in the turbulent current before slipping into the net against some submerged roots. This was by far the biggest grayling I had ever set my eyes upon and at 2lb 11ozs a new personal best by a country mile!
We leapfrogged each other down the stretch as the day progressed each taking a number of smaller grayling plus a cracking fish of 2lb 5oz to Steve. A number of trout always showed including a sea trout of around 5lbs which put my float rod to the test as it ran me ragged, I initially thought I'd hooked a salmon.
My around 3pm I was at the bottom end of one bank of the beat in a swim that I didn't really fancy too much to be honest. These chalk streams are very different to the rivers I'm used to fishing and it takes some coming to terms with. Spots that I would ignore as too shallow or turbulent on other rivers can be cracking fish holding swims. This swim was a very shallow bay backed by a fast streamy run of only a couple of feet deep and if it wasn't the last swim I may well have ignored it.
On my first run through the float vanished and I could see a sizeable fish spinning in the fast water before it dropped downstream into the bay allowing me to net it easily. I was certainly glad that I didn't walk on by as this was a stunning looking grayling and at 2lb 7oz's another cracker. Incredibly the next cast gave me another fish way above my old pb at 2lb 5oz's. Was it worth getting up so early? You bet!