Myself and John Watson headed down to the Nith today for what will very likely be my last Grayling outing of this winter season. I doubt I will make it to a river now much before the opening of the trout season which is now a mere couple of weeks away.
We were there for a wee fun competition run by the Friars Carse Country House Hotel and Cheshire Fly Fishing, the Ray Gibson Memorial Grayling Competition. I understand that Ray was a regular visitor to the hotel and keen Grayling Angler and on his last visit to the hotel mentioned he fancied organising a competition on the lovely stretch of water that runs through the grounds of the hotel, a section of the River Nith, but sadly never returned before he could make it happen, when he passed away suddenly.
It was a gloriously bright and sunny winters morning as we arrived at the location around 9am but there was a distinct nip in the air. Not a day to underdress. The rules were fairly loose and catch returns were mostly “on trust”, with any method, bait or fly being allowed. I think the split of trotters and fly anglers was probably slightly more fly anglers but it was close and in all there were about a dozen or so anglers. You could either pay a fiver and fish for fun, or pay £20, be counted in the competition and get a light lunch of soup and sandwiches. I wasn’t really bothered for competing but the cold day definitely swayed me towards entering and having the hot soup and a roll to look forward to over a lunchtime break. You could fish wherever you wanted and there was 1.3miles of pristine clear river to choose.
Neither of us knew the river but I had been told about a section as worth a go so thought I might as well head there first. The river was on the whole very easy wading and not too deep or fast but I took my wading stick for the early part of the day. A few people we both knew and spoke to at the tackling up area, said they had fished the river here over the preceding few days and fish were proving very elusive. A lot of blanks, though we were told this is not the norm here. It just seems the fish had gone to ground. But each day s different and you never know.
The first area I fished was lovely water but there turned out to be a rather annoying upstream wind that cut you like a knife. It was so disturbing the water that initially I started thinking I was casting the wrong way….. which way was upstream and which downstream? I could barely tell. Once I worked it out though I found a bit of a rhythm and found a nice deep channel that If fished with my small but fast sinking bugs, but never encountered any fish. John for hs part tried a faster section but soon decided to move on elsewhere.
I worked my way upstream and spent time as I went having a bit of a chat with quite a few of the other anglers as I went. No one was being so competitive that they didn’t have time to stop for a chat which was nice. I fished around an area called the Island but by now the sun was also directly behind me and you were casting a shadow across the river directly in front of you. While Grayling are in general forgiving of your presence, iI doubt they would hang around long is a shadow was to cross them. Eventually, I re-located John, he was fishing in a rather nicely paced run and had managed to extract one fish here, had a couple of strong pulls and had been broken off at a dropper too, though that might have been a salmon.
I joined John in this run and fished it for an hour before lunch. But for one other angler that was really all I had heard of catching, as we went in for lunch. After some rather tasty soup and rolls, and spending a bit time to reorganise my leader which I felt wasn’t optimally set up for the section I was fishing, we returned to this stretch to try again. I fished down about a quarter of this stretch and though I felt I possibly had a couple of very slight touches, I really could not be positive so am probably content to think it was just snags or weed. I stopped and decided to change two of my three flies. On the point, I put on a black bodied red tag, and the top dropper I decided to give a rather drab Soft Touch Shrimp I I had tied for my recent abortive trip tot he Dove. The first cast and as the flies lifted towards the end of the drift, I felt a slight pull and realising I was into a fish thought it was probably something fairly small. However as I tried to steer it in towards the bank side of me in the slower paced water it began to resist much harder and suddenly and sub-optimally, it was on the surface, a really decent sized Grayling. I usually try to keep them on the bottom but I think the fish had taken the top dropper ( the STS) and was not that deep to start with, the swing below had brought it round directly below me. Add to that the take was really pretty gentle, and I was maybe not that well hooked. It came off. Snatching defeat from the jaws of , well second place at least. Disappointing when this Grayling season, but for my first outing when I lost a fair few fish, I have not lost any since. It had to happen today of all days!
Literally minutes later and John hooked into a second rather nice Grayling that he safely netted. At 3pm it was finishing up time. However, John opted for an early bath of another kind. I glanced down river as I fished and seen only a head poking above the water’s surface where John had been a few moments earlier. After a couple of strokes of breaststroke or was it the butterfly, he seemed to stand up when he took a second dive in….. maybe it was the men’s 100metres Medley?
Whatever, he had taken a bit of a dunking, but fortunately, it was finishing time anyway.
Not many fish had been caught. John was top rod with two, and overall champion, one other fly angler I think had one and one bait angler had one. Everyone else had blanked and I think i came closest to being a runner-up having lost one ( good) fish. But it wasn’t to be.
A nice day out though hard going in the conditions but water I will definitely visit again in the next Grayling season and a nice wee hotel that I might give a go for a wee weekend sometime too..