Winter Beginning

You know when Winter is beginning when the Annan Grayling weekends kick off. The first Sunday Grayling day was yesterday ( Sunday) and I was up early ( I will hesitate to say bright and early) as I felt pretty tired heading south in the pitch dark. Though a spectacular sunrise was most welcome as I headed into the Western Borders on the M74. It was a still cold morning, the car gauge showed as low as -4degrees C but it was mostly just below zero for the most part even when leaving home.

My outing was nearly scuppered when I spotted late on Saturday a hole in my rather tatty getting Simms waders. I really can’t complain about their longevity having got them in 2010 for my first Grayling outing on the Dee in Wales. I really wanted to coax them through this one last winter and look to get new ones next year. So out with the Aquasure I plastered it on over the leak and the delaminating goretex but just in case I threw the neoprenes in the back of the car too. ( I cant walk far in these- too heavy on my knees).

I was meeting Radek at the Lockerbie truck stop and we had decided we might fish Cleuchhead. I have fished this beat once before with John Watson and though the water I recall was pretty high at that time we had a reasonably successful day, think I had 6 or 7 and John was about 16 and was top rod on the day.

When I arrived at the truck stop and went into the sign-on area, who was standing front of the queue but old angling acquaintance, Alan (Alby)Scott of Upper Avon AC. He was down on his ‘Jack Jones’ so I invited him to join myself and Radek and we got our tickets for Cleuchhead together.

The Annan at Cleughhead

It was a beautiful start to the day. Photo by Radek Garbarz used with permission

After a quick cup of coffee and Radek’s arrival, we were on our way. Arriving at the parking area there were two vehicles there ahead of us. One vehicle of two or three anglers was just getting ready to start tackling up, but I think they decided it was going to be too busy for them and they decided to go elsewhere. They said someone was already right up at the top of the beat and I think this had kind of scuppered their provisional plans for the day by the sounds of it. After we got tackled up another vehicle of two more arrived. I am not sure what the magnetism of Cleuchhead was this particular day but had everyone who was given a ticket stayed there we would have had at least 8 anglers on the stretch! Makes Abington on the Clyde seem a desolate wilderness of solitude.

Kenny and Alby

Myself and Alan heading onto the river, photo by Radek Garbarz used with permission.

Alan ( Alby) wanted to fish the very top of the beat and myself and Radek were going to try the lower stretch first so we went our ways and agreed to meet up at lunchtime. Alby was murdering maggots under a stick float, ( yeah coarse fishing 🙂 ) while Radek and I were sticking to the “purity” of the bug.

I fished a corner pool and my three bugs were way too heavy for the surprisingly low water and the flow so a quick change was necessary to smaller beaded flies and this got them “rolling” nicely.

Having had nothing here, I moved upstream to another section that looked good. The water was gin clear and this section which I had fished before was a lot easier to access and cover than previously. About halfway down, and not having had anything both to the starting flies and another change to get down a wee bit better in the deeper water, I retired to the bank to swap my tippet from the Stroft ABR I had started with to GTM which I hoped might be better in the clearer water. I also opened up the spacing between the bugs a wee bit and only tied on two flies for now.

As I was returning to fish Radek appeared and told me he had had one small Grayling and had been broken off on what he thought was a salmon, certainly there were a few about, one had been splashing opposite me two or three times while I was here.

Busy spot on the River Annan

Looking busy. Out of shot, Euan was on the left, Radek was just to the right then two other anglers and finally Alan bringing up the rear.

Up to now I had been here alone, but it soon became like Picadilly Circus. First, an angler climbed into the river near where the salmon had been splashing, then two others appeared upstream, soon to be joined by Radek below them, and then Alby appeared above them. I carried on where I was and second lob of my new two bug team and I had my first very small Grayling of the day on a Scruffy nymph. I hoped this new set up maybe was going to prove fruitful but alas no, I never had any more interest and soon the water got too low for bugging and it was time to move.

Euan Martin

Euan sorting out his flies on the far bank

It was then I realised the angler opposite me on the far bank, and who had been up to the top of the beat earlier was none other than Scotland Internationalist, Euan Martin. He was fishing like a man possessed, a Whirling Dervish of an angling machine…. He was saying he had got four in rapid succession from his first casts up the top then hadn’t touched a thing since.

I decided it was time for a break and after meeting up with Alan headed back to the car, Radek stopped to fish some more water. At this stage with the corpses of several thousand bluebottle larvae having been sacrificed to the fishing Gods, Alan had I think a couple of small Grayling for the slaughter. The fishing Gods were obviously ambivalent to the deaths of many.

Radek bugging at Cleughhead

Radek running a bug through the lower section of the beat

We had a rather pleasant break, I made some bacon rolls, Alan made do with his sandwiches and Radek never turned up until the rolls were all gone. Oh dear, how sad. He had though brought some rather nice Chocolate Brownies along with him and these went down nicely too before we started fishing operations. Myself and Radek opted to fish near the cars for a spell, then I was going to go to the top of the beat. Alan was heading to the corner pool. The water was pretty deep where Radek and myself tried and I decided it was time to head upstream. Radek was going to be leaving us soon so was staying nearby so we said our goodbyes and I trudged off.

There is some broken shallow fast water and I thought the recommended crossing point was just above here-a diagonal route had been mentioned to me and I could see a clear diagonal across the river. I waded out working upstream and was a good three-quarter of the way across, the water was barely more than ankle depth. There was a disturbance upstream of me and initially, I thought it was a Duck just flapping in that way they do to move away from a threat but without taking off. But then the disturbance continued coming back nearer to me. I really couldn’t make it out. For a few moments, I thought it was an otter chasing a fish. Clearly, something was being pursued. Then I finally had a clear view, it was one of these fish catching  Goosander’s and it had a reasonably sized Grayling in its beak. Certainly, I would have been happy to have caught it, and it was interesting to see where it had caught it from. Once I was across to the other side I knew where I wanted to try. However the Grayling I think was able to escape as the Goosander appeared to drop it as it realised how close I was and made its escape.

Alan Scott trotting

A man happy in his environment ( despite the cries of terror of his captive grubs) 🙂

The last quarter of the river proved much harder to cross. It wasn’t desperately deep but it was quite uneven and very fast about thigh deep. I got so far and started to think this really wasn’t wise but turning back seemed more hazardous and the far bank was not far away. I kept going worried I would fall in with my camera in my rucksack but thankfully I made it to the other side. There was a lot of nice depth and good paced water accessible from upstream and I spent a good hour or so fishing it all, in most places you could wade almost the entire width of the river and I worked out a few routes that would make for an easier wade back later.

However fish were hard to come by and once again after a fly change I picked up a second Grayling , a very odd long thin fish, much longer than the usual 10-12cm,  “this years” fish but not a lot broader. It had taken a small PTN with an Orange collar bead.

Alan with his best Grayling

Sorry about the picture quality, I had not quite focussed the camera before Alby released the fish.

Eventually as light was dimming I made my way across with my gear and trudged back to where Alby was still plugging away at the corner pool and his trotting gear. He had had a couple of small fish and a few pulls but was confident there were fish here, they just weren’t playing. Eventually he said to me “this is my second last cast”, and finally he got a half decent Grayling that had taken a plain green looking Czech nymph type pattern that he was trotting under a maggot.

That was our sum total for the day, I think Euan who had long since departed had a few more but he was going through some pretty athletic feats to get his fish, something that was way beyond my physical capabilities and I heard he had a nice fish in the 2lb class right at the end though he admitted to Alby it was still tough going even for him.

Still, a pleasant most civilised way to spend a cold late autumnal, early winters day in good company. In point of fact it ended up quite mild and I actually felt slightly overdressed by the end of the day and a little too warm! And finally, my waders held out just fine ready for another Grayling outing maybe this side of the Xmas break all being well.