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John Bailey's Hunt for the Grayling - Part 1

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John Bailey wouldn't profess himself an expert when it comes to grayling but he likes to think he's a bit nifty. Time to eat humble pie!

Late November. An excellent weather forecast. A prime three and a half mile stretch of the Kennet booked. Water conditions, as confirmed by Bob Bailey, the fisher manager, perfect. All the gear assembled. All the knowledge of thirty years' grayling fishing behind me. Can't go wrong you'd think. Well, we'll see…

Bob was quite right. The Kennet just looked stunning flanked by rows of golden poplars and willows. Slightly tinged, a perfect level and basking under three days of late autumnal sunshine. I was in no hurry and did what every good angler should do - take his time, walk the beat and make some plans.

This is grayling water straight from paradise I soon realised. Here an intriguing little bend. There an enchanting little ripple. Little weirs, trundling four feet deep runs everywhere. Lots of gravel and still some weed hovering in the current. Hard to imagine a more satisfying grayling scenario and easy to understand why my fingers trembled just that little as I put up the rod.

I'm going to cut short the story of that first day - though it would make a shortish book in itself. I fished in enchantment. I fished reasonably well I thought, the Czech nymph technique, with a couple of flies bouncing the gravel in at least a dozen recommended grayling swims. And I got bites. Oh yes, daylong I got bites. Eight perch, fourteen dace and six goodly roach. Fine fish all but not quite what I was expecting. Or wanting.

Day two dawned with skies just a little greyer which, I pondered over breakfast, had to be a good thing. This, too, was confirmed by Bob at the waterside and he directed me to pastures anew in front of the grand house. This, too, proved to be an exquisite choice. Here, a carrier wound its way through pheasant woods and tinkled under tiny bridges on its way back to the main watercourse. And, yes, there were fish. Fish everywhere. I ended the day with fifty of them. All dace, roach and four, fine, fat perch!

Back at the hotel, I'll admit I sulked a little over a bottle of delightful red. None of it quite made sense. I'd fished at the very least adequately in a number of recommended spots. I changed flies repeatedly and experimented with depths and presentation. I'd kept my eyes open for any rises and once spotted, they were covered and invariably produced a dace. What to do?

Day three dawned once again with perfect conditions and the eternal hope that all true anglers feel as buoyant as ever. Today, Bob advised me to go to the far side of the fishery where I was sure to run into the Lady of the Stream. And sure enough, the first flick down on the most glorious glide imaginable produced a large, deep-fighting fish. That proved to be a roach of perhaps two and a quarter pounds. I simply sat upon a bench and wept. What? Wept over a fine fish like this? I thought back to a conversation with perhaps the greatest sea trout fisherman who has ever lived, Hugh Falkus. It took place years ago in his salmon hut when he roundly condemned an angler for criticising a roach. "You, sir, are an idiot," Hugh had stormed. "A roach is a pearl of nature every bit as much as a salmon. Every fish that swims has its own virtues. If you don't learn anything from this course, man, learn that!"

And how could I have forgotten advice like that myself? The day took on a new glow. My step took on an extra spring. I targeted the perch this time in the deeper holes next to the rushes. I caught a fish perhaps three pounds even and it was splendid. Those great deep bars, that prehistoric, bristling fin, the shades of green and black and gold vivid on its fins. Falkus was right, as he always was. Another pearl of nature.

Another perch, slightly smaller but God, how it fought, how magnificent it looked against the russet sedges. A prime dace followed. A beautiful fish. All silver, bronze and pigeon-chested. Its brother came next cast. Some kingfishers were fighting for territory. A wren whistled from a bush. The holly bush was flecked with berries. A buzzard mewed. Two gorgeous girls rode past on horses. And to think, two hours before, I'd been a sad, sour, whinging man!

I got back to the fishing hut as the light was fading fast and Bob was there too. I felt a little apprehension. How had the grayling been, on this my final day? Not a single one I exclaimed. "Well, that's the way of it often here," he said. "I promise there are lots of grayling in but sometimes you just wouldn't know it. They're capricious. They move here and there. Sometimes they won't feed for days…"

"Stop, stop," I cried. "No need. I've had a blinding time, I promise. What a place. What a fishery. I tell you, Bob, I've never had so much fun."

And I've booked up for February. Just can't get me enough of those perch!

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