After a quick check of the weather I formulated a plan for my last day on the rivers. Decided to have one last fix of grayling fishing on the intimate little river in Staffordshire I love so much, but with the option of dropping in somewhere on the way home for a couple of hours for something different.
Dropped in at a tackle shop on the way home from Rothley for the usual pint of "mixed". However, when I got home I found that they'd added dust when I had specifically asked them not to (on previous outings, I had found that dust transferred off wet fingers had gummed up the works of my centrepin). In addition, the measure looked a bit short. Suffice to say, if that had been a pint of beer it would have gone back for a top up! Sieved off as much of the dust as I could whilst wondering how many other times I'd been short-changed. The next morning saw me heading West on the A50. There was already a stiff wind coming from the North-West, which had been a factor in deciding what to do for the day as I knew that the twists and turns and high banks of the little river I was heading for would shelter me from it. Got to the venue to find the parking spot vacant - that's how we like it! Got togged up, left a note on the dashboard for the bailiff and set off across the fields. A glance at the river confirmed that it was low and very clear, the weed beds that had persisted over the winter clearly visible and the stony bed starting to "green up" with algae and moss.
Got to the upstream limit, set up the rod, donned the bait apron and then settled in at the top of the run. On the second or third cast the float shot away and I had my first grayling of the session. Took a couple more from the run before letting the float travel further downstream into deeper water. The sun had come out by now and was making it difficult to see the float. However, I just spotted it disappear at the very end of the pool before striking into a very different animal indeed. Found myself attached to a heavy, powerful fish that put a proper bend in my Drennan Ultralite. Lost track of how long we battled backwards and forwards, but I began to think that I'd hooked one of the mythical 2lb grayling that were supposed to be present. However, the glimpse of a spotty dorsal confirmed what was actually on the end of my line. Eventually he tired and I was able to admire an immaculate, wild brownie of 2lb 6oz in the bottom of my net. A real beast for the size of river and obviously the apex predator in his own little domain judging by the kype and teeth on him.
Popped him back, watched him disappear under some tree roots to sulk and then took a few minutes out myself to recover with a cup of coffee. Carried on working the pool for a bit after that, but only had a couple of fingerling grayling, so moved down the next spot. Followed the same pattern, starting at the head of the run before working the main body of the pool, then finally the tail, altering the float as required. On this occasion I was only taking one or two fish from each spot, possibly due to the level and clarity of the water. In some of the very shallow swims it was amazing to see a previously invisible fish take the bait and then become instantly transformed into mad, gyrating bar of silver when I set the hook. Unfortunately, this probably had the unwanted effect of spooking his mates!
On the plus side, it was more knowledge in the bank being able to find those spots that worked when the river was low and clear like this. There were also a few fish rising, presumably to some early olives. However I couldn't tell whether these were grayling or trout, but there were enough to warrant thinking about returning with a fly rod later in the year.
By mid-afternoon I'd got to the large pool where I'd had a few chub and dace in the past. Took a few more grayling at the head before running the float through the main body. Sure enough it disappeared and I struck into a reasonable fish. Whilst I hoped that it was one of the bigger grayling, I wasn't really surprised when Mr Chub popped up instead. Next trot down the float disappeared in exactly the same spot, but this one was more canny than his mate and headed straight for the far bank and into a tangle of tree roots, breaking me off in the process. Fished one more swim, catching a couple more grayling and taking my total up to 42 for the day. It was now 1500 hrs, so I had to make a decision - fish a previously unseen section of the river or head somewhere else?
In the end I decided to do something completely different for the last knockings of my river season and a couple of hours later I was on the banks of the River Trent with two deadbaits out in the hope of a last gasp zander. As it had been bright and sunny most of the day, I wasn't really surprised that it stayed quiet until it got dark, at which point I had a slow, steady run on the lamprey section on my right hand rod.
Wound down to feel nothing on the end, the bait coming back apparently unmarked. Popped it out again to have the exactly the same thing happen again. Had an inkling of what was responsible, but the next run on the same rod was completely different, the bobbin doing a jerky, staccato dance more typical of the species I was after. Wound down and eventually caught up with the fish, which had run towards me. Felt a decent weight on the end and the tell-tale head-banging of a zed. It came in quite quickly and before I had sorted my head torch out, but I managed to catch sight of a long, pale flank on the surface and got the net ready. Unfortunately, at that point the rod straightened and the lead went flying past my head as the hook pulled out - oh dear, or words to that effect! Re-baited with another lamprey section and put it on the spot once again. However, it was the left hand rod with a roach section that I had positioned off the end of a tree that went next. The Micron beeped a couple of times and the bobbin twitched and dropped off, but there didn't appear to be any line taken. Wound down and had a tentative feel to find something on the end. Switched on the head torch to see a long, thin shape gyrated towards me - yep, a flippin' eel and probably the explanation for the funny runs I'd had earlier. Not that I was surprised as I'd had eels at this time of year from this spot before. Weighed him at 2lb 6oz before popping him back. My end rig had been destroyed in the process and my stomach was complaining, so I called it a day at that point. Just a shame that I couldn't add a "vampire" to the list, but I'v got some closed season plans for them.
With time on the rivers rapidly running out and seasonal goals yet to be achieved, it was decision time. What to do, where to go? With a meeting booked in the afternoon down at Rothley, I decided to have the morning off for another go at some River Soar pike on the way. Headed off nice and early, the moon still visible above the horizon, but with the first tinges of dawn visible in my rear view mirror.
Parked up to a big pile of wood at the end of the lane - the remnants of the recent hatchet job done on the willows lining the river. Headed up to my usual starting point at the top of the straight. There'd been a match on the day before and I'd often heard complaints about pike activity from the match boys, so I was hopeful that there would be a few pike still hanging around looking for easy pickings. Gave them two in the way of a joey on the upstream rod and a lamprey section on the downstream rod. Didn't have to wait long for some interest in the mackerel, even better that it was a scraper double of 11lb 1oz. Thought that was going to be the start of some regular action. However, I had nothing else in the next half an hour, so popped one of the baits over to the far margin. The move seemed to do the trick, although the dithering nature of the take suggested a small fish. So it proved - probably the smallest fish I've caught on the section, but already with signs of previous hooking and a gill raker hanging out!
The lady in the house boat opposite had stirred by now and was rattling and thumping around doing her morning routine, so I moved both rods downstream a bit, keeping one over next to the boats and popping the other in front of one of the near bank fishing platforms. Had to wait a bit, but it was the latter eventually went off, the float disappearing with purpose this time. After a bit of a scrap I had a short, fat pike in the net that I thought might scrape into double figures. Didn't quite make it at 9lb 12oz.
By mid-morning a stiff breeze had picked up and a lot of floating debris had appeared out of nowhere, both of which started to make my life difficult with the wind pushing the debris into my bank and fouling my lines.
The action also appeared to have dried up, when eventually I got a take on the near-side rod. Wound into a decent weight and then glanced back at the other rod to see the drop off hit the back rod rest and line start disappearing off the spool. Typical! Bullied the first one into the net and left him in the margins. Picked up the other rod and wound furiously to find the fish still attached, albeit half way to Kegworth! Soon had him in the net alongside his mate, the latter again just missing double figures at 9lb 15oz. Popped them both back, neither the worst for wear for that encounter, although it was disappointing to see that both of them bore the scars of previous capture and poor unhooking. Sorted out the chaos and put two more baits out with renewed enthusiasm. However, I had no further interest in the last hour and it was time to pack up and get to my meeting. The pike on this section look as if they have come in for a bit of pressure this season, so I might have to look for pastures new for next winter. Now just the small matter of what to do on my last day on the rivers.......
Okay, I admit it, I have become addicted to certain websites. You probably know the ones I mean. Not a day goes by without me logging on, drooling with anticipation, to view the latest offerings. Unfortunately, my quest for satisfaction invariably ends with frustration and disappointment. Yes, I'm talking about xcweather and river level information, as yet again my river season has seemed in danger of fizzling out under a constant barrage of weather fronts, gale force winds and yo-yoing river levels! Any glimmer of a window of opportunity, once identified, has therefore been checked and re-checked, usually to see the door slammed by another band of rain sweeping on from the Atlantic.
Eventually a mid-week session looked like it could be on the cards, so I duly booked the day off work. However, overnight rain still sought to throw a spanner in the work. A quick check of the river levels in the morning indicated that the river had indeed come up a bit as a result, but I thought, "bollocks, what the hell!" and headed out regardless. Arrived at the venue for a "piker's dawn" having safely negotiated the track down to the river, which had been turned into a quagmire by the contractors carrying out yet more, drastic-looking tree removal on behalf of the Canal & Rivers Trust. Parked my once-white car on the only bit of dry and relatively solid ground remaining and went for a quick look at the river. Found it was carrying a bit of extra flow and colour, but looked perfectly fishable, so unloaded the car, got togged up and headed upstream.
Was soon at my usual starting point and quickly had two, float-legered dead baits, a joey and a lamprey section, out in the margins. After about half an hour with no response, I picked up the upstream rod and gave it a good twitch back along the marginal reed bed. It had only been settled for a couple of minutes before the float showed some signs of interest before waddling off. Wound into the first fish of the session - a jack that had taken the joey, just hooked by the bottom treble. Recast and repeated the same trick with another jack taking the bait, joey again, on the second twitch back. The downstream rod had remained static all this time, so I recast it over to the far margin. However, the extra flow and an increasing downstream wind made presentation a bit tricky, so it was back to the nearside margin again. Cue the upstream rod.
This time the float bobbed a couple of times and then disappeared, usually the sign of a better fish. Wound down to briefly feel a decent weight on the end, before pulling out of the fish, the lamprey coming back wrapped around the bottom treble like a Cumberland sausage - bugger! Popped it back on the same spot, but it wasn't having it a second time, so I moved downstream. Had re-baited and re-positioned one rod and was going to get the other when I happened to glance back to see that the float had already disappeared. Again, felt a better weight that turned out to be a rare double of 10 lb 12 oz - on what must have still been a mackerel lollipop! Same spot and a few minutes later, another jack, this time on the lamprey. The sun had made a few, welcome appearances throughout the morning, taking the edge off the wind and raising my hopes a bit. However, apart from one more jack taken in the middle of one of those sunny spells, it became frustratingly quiet.
By lunchtime the wind was making bite detection increasingly difficult and, if anything, the river looked more coloured than when I started, so I listened to my aching back and rumbling stomach and called it a day. A quick check on the river levels when I got home confirmed that I'd been fishing on a rising river so, whilst it had been a bit of a struggle, I was grateful for what I'd had.
Oh well, fingers crossed for what's left of the season. Goes without saying that I'll be checking out "those" websites right until the bitter end!