As I have said previously, I find myself in Musselburgh about two times a year, and one of those times typically is around the early part of the season. However, dates seem to have slipped and my due date fell today. I like to wet a line in the river I fished as a youth ( without success) though it has to be said at the time it was still a very Industrial River, the waters of the Esk being used for who knew what roles as they were abstracted, “processed” and returned as some sort of thick yellow foamy substance that collected in every nook and cranny of the river. Yet the river still had a run of Sea Trout as I recall having hooked into a big one at 14 year old and getting such a fright I dropped the rod tip and well…. lost it.
That’s been my story of the Esk since, I have turned, hooked and lost a fair few fish but not one has made it to the net. In recent years on one early season visit I think maybe 2 years back I hooked into a Grayling, fairly decent it seemed too but again it thrashed before I was fully hooked up and off it went.
It isn’t to be I fear. The problem with my infrequent visits to my hometown is that I don’t really have any “say” in determining if that day would be worthwhile giving the river a visit, I am there so I go. Take it as I find it. The River has changed a lot since my youth and the last few times I have been it’s gin clear and the manky silty bottom and thick foamy waste have all vanished. In many ways its one of the cleanest rivers I know and seems to now have a healthy population of Grayling. How they came to be there is something of a mystery, to me at least, clearly they were put in by someone, but a welcome addition they are in my book.
So having picked up my day ticket at the bike shop ( I was asked if I was over 60 today!) I was a little disappointed when arriving on the banks of the river up at The Grove to see it was carrying a fair bit colour. And not the typical colour our rivers tend to be after a small amount of rain but a kind of pale grey/white slightly opaque look. Most odd it was as it was reminiscent of the type of thing you see on waters with high mineral deposits carried in ice melt or, maybe clay not the usual Tea coloured or red soil runoff we get up here.
Also circumstances had conspired to make things hard for myself. I left my most essential items, my cap magnifiers, and my polaroids in the house in my haste to get over to Musselburgh for my early appointment. Add to this the river was low and there was a very strong gusty ( at times totally unfishable) downstream wind. A challenge you might say.
I accessed the river below Inveresk Kirk and went right down tot he riverside. The bank here is high steep and the vegetation isn’t something you want to run bare hands through, stinging nettles, poisonous “rhubarb” ( Giant Hogweed) and spiky brambles and other wader killers. The area used to have a lot of Giant Hogweed when I was a child and is much improved since then though it does persist in areas) . Right under my position a fish rose. I could not see it and had no way I could see to get down to the river level and fish upstream at the position. So I tied on a couple of small nymphs to the end of a fairly short tapered leader and simply lobbed it out from the high bank.
What I hadn’t considered was the glare coming off the water and I really couldn’t see the flies or leader that well as it drifted by my high position. This was to be a problem and I think I hit a fish but I never had enough tension on my line nor could I see clear enough and it was off. I “think” it was a modest trout in the half pound class, judging by the flash of gold I did see, though I guess will never know. Back in with the line I searched around my kit and found my indicator wax. Have I said how much I love this stuff?
A couple of long smears and I had a viable indicator. I fished through a few more times and then disaster snagged in some of the bankside vegetation below me and in trying to release it, pinged off the entire tippet. I could see it but couldn’t get anywhere near it. It looked like my first loss of the day but on wandering upstream about 20 yards I found a way in. The water was low here and fish were rising in some very shallow runs but I was pretty sure they were just small. I fished the bottom few metres and a fish chased and turned at some of my flies and I was near as sure as I could be, in the strange visibility, that it was a wee Grayling. Having fished it, I waded down to where I lost my flies and recovered them all. Yaay!
I gradually worked my way up, fishing every deeper area I could detect ( not easy in the conditions) I went on to using a floating indicator as straight-lining or short line nymphing was picking up loads of interference from the wind , the indicator was allowing me ( I felt) a more consistent drag free drift).
I was sure I had a few knocks and the indicator went under a few times but nothing to show for it and I stopped to watch a shallow weedy channel and have a bite to eat and drink. From my high vantage point I saw a fish move downstream of me then it moved up into a narrow channel beside some marginal weed and a weed-covered rock. A modest half pound Brownie It was not rising consistently and was sitting very shallow. I needed to work out how I could get into any sort of position to fish for it.
The bank was maybe 10 feet above the water and all I could see was a rough section of broken soil just marginally downstream of the fish. I stayed low as I could and tried to edge into position. Whether I spooked it or caught its attention I don’t know but by the time I was down to the riverside and in any position to cast I couldn’t see it. I am pretty sure I couldn’t have stayed any more stealthy than I tried to be. Nonetheless, I tried to cast a few times in the area but nothing took and the water was probably less than 9″ deep so a bit of a snag-fest.
Keep going…. I went further up again and fished both above and below a stony beach and finally hooked a very small Grayling in some shallow water above a fallen tree. Yeah, it was small, it took the small orange beaded nymph, and I think the river is full of small Grayling (hence probably why a pair of Goosanders were lurking around all day too) but it was the first fish I have ever got to hand off the river in my entire life! So small victories!
The weather turned wet and windier for a while and I wandered upstream as far as a nice channel that always looks like it should hold fish and to keep some distance I set up the 4 weight rod for a klink and dink approach. I hadn’t seen anything move as I made my first few casts but fan casting as I went tried to cover every area, though the left side ahead of me was very shallow. A fish rose to the side of the main bubble line right ahead of me and I cast right ahead and instantly the klink vanished under as another small Grayling took the nymph. That was all I had to show here before I lost my flies irretrievably on some flattened poisonous rhubarb, so moved back downstream fishing all the channels I could find.
One thing I was happy with today was the balance of my set up which meant my accuracy, dead drift and retrieve of my flies looked to be good. I was getting under overhanging trees and round rocks really well just not getting in contact with any meaningful fish which I have to say surprised me.
I had one more small grayling on a bug fished hard on the bottom in a fast deep channel. By the back of five though, the conditions were getting the better of me with strong gusty winds and though the rin managed to stay off for most of the period after 2pm, the river definitely clouded up more. As I say not sure why it is this way, the soil underfoot when you wade is clearly red as you can see looking back at the silt you disturbed. Still enjoyable if not a red letter day.