The Grayling Classic is still in its infancy, this being the third year it has run. A good format is employed for this competition which sees you fish with your buddy you hopefully catch and measure your first fish. After you have measured one fish you simply show your controller that you have a grayling in your net and release it back into the water. This is much better for fish welfare as they are not being stressed out being measured in a trough. The week leading up to the event you can practice Mon - Thu with Friday being a rest day for the river. At £25 a day I doubt you will find better Grayling fishing anywhere in the country. My partner for the event was Del Spry who I had fished with the previous year. He was making the long trip down from Carlisle but was unable to practice on the Wednesday.
Del may well have made a long trip but it paled compared with Andy Crouchers trip, all the way from Norway. He was to partner my long-time river mentor Graham Lumsdon in the upcoming match but was only flying in on the Friday night then leaving again on the Sunday. Now that’s dedication! Graham and I decided that we would practice from the fishing hut and fish upstream to the top of the beat. It was a slow start but it can be a bit like that on this river, we were picking away and Graham had managed one or two but I had no luck. I saw Simon Lucas fishing just up from me so walked past that water and into a little hole that usually holds a few fish. It’s a relatively small hole and I was pleased to get a couple of good fish to get me off the mark. They just kept coming and before moving my feet I had taken ten fish, bonza!
Graham and I wandered up looking with the odd speculative cast and taking fish fairly steadily. The one thing to note was a lack of smaller fish. I don’t think either of us had a fish under 25cm with some of them getting near the 40cm mark. We bumped into Ben Bangham who runs the competition and it was pleasing to hear that the fishery was to be at capacity for the match days with many teams in reserve. This meant that the whole river would have to be utilised, this worried me a little as some of the long canal like sections looked less than perfect. Graham and I fished it and both crossed our fingers we could avoid it in the beat draw. Once at the top carpark though normal service was resumed and Graham and I filled our boots. Most fish fell to double nymph tactics but we did take other fish using Duo and straight dry. There was a superb hatch of Pale Wateries coming down and a few fish were up and at them.
By the time we had reached the top of the beat we were content with the areas and the type of water the Grayling were living in. We walked back downstream towards the fishing hut and realised that we had not eaten or drank anything all day. Both of us were hanging out by 1630hrs and with another day’s practice ahead of us we called it a day. I headed back home to meet up with Del who was coming to overnight at the house. He arrived quite late but there was still enough time for a wee dram and a blether about our day on the river. We were up bright and early to get down and meet Graham for day two of practice. Having spoken to some of the other anglers who had fished the previous day they had noted that the size of the fish downstream was much bigger than upstream. The prospect was very exciting, I suspect that there are some really huge Grayling on this river and having spoken to Ben I think that a 50cm fish may well be caught over the next few days.
We got to the bottom of the beat and split up to cover what was effectively going to be peg 1. I was right at the bottom and while on the bank it was all I could do to stop drooling the water looked pristine. Classic gravel runs and clear water only dissipating when the holes became too deep and that my friends is where the big ladies live. I was fishing two fairly drab hares ear bugs that were heavy and first cast the rod buckled over. Initially I thought I had hooked a trout. As a huge fish bolted for the M3 bridge, perhaps it had ordered an Uber! My leader was being peeled of the reel and it took some time to get the fish back and safely in the net. A 43cm fish in perfect condition, having spent a bit of time recovering the fish in the shallow water I went back to the spot and trotted my nymphs through again same result and a similar sized fish. This happened another four times with the smallest of the fish still a respectable 35cm.
I had shouted Graham down to have a go in the hole and pushed up stream a little. I could see Del ahead of me slaying fish and watched as his rod was buckled over double playing a fish. I was a good distance away but it looked huge. He told me later that it was a large female fish that had popped its dorsal fin up in the sunlight and looked spectacular. I had decided to fish a quicker run and was rewarded with a feisty Brown Trout that led me a merry dance. It was landed and safely returned. The rest of the day continued in the same vein and sport was nothing short of spectacular! Not just the numbers which we all like but the quality and size of the fish were just a different level. We eventually made our way back up to the hut where a few anglers were shooting the breeze and having a bit of a giggle.
I was going to have a little go in front of the lodge while Adam Sinclair was kindly making a brew for me. Ben Beckworth was just tackling up and Ben said jokingly (I hope) Ben was about to fish that run. I said I would just have one cast and wouldn’t you know it first chuck and a big spottie trashed the run. It gave a good account of itself but was soon in the net and safely released. Having delivered my master class to the onlookers I got out and told Ben it was all his…..lol. There was talk of a wee bet with Ben but best not record that here. Graham and Del had wandered up the other bank but I was happy enough to have a hot drink and a crack on with the lads. Tom had brought a little shop with him selling all the best of gear from waders to woollen hats. If the weather forecast was correct then woollen hats may well be the order of the day for the match.