When trouting is over, and autumn is here,
The days growing shorter and shorter,
The grayling will steer
For my fly with a mere
Little hint of a wink under water.
G. E. M. Skues (The Way of a Trout with a Fly)
For many trout fishermen October 1st is day of withdrawal and emptiness. It is the dark day that signals the start of the closed season and a fallow period of isolation and longing. The inevitability of next season’s opening is too far in the distance to offer some any real consolation. And so as the first day of October dawns, rods, reels and lines are found condemned to idleness. Past absorptions restrained in tubes, cases and bags, then confined to the dark recesses of sheds and garages. Prime beats that were once eagerly sought and handed out like royal patronage, are now denuded of trout fishers. The waters broadleaf margins a mosaic of autumnal hues as the season of mists start to unfurl over rivers and streams.
However, I don’t lament the passing of the trout season. I view the 1st October as an emancipation, a time to rejoice. I am you see, a grayling angler. One of those happy souls who reveals in the ending of the trout season, and feels a warming of the heart as the increasing autumn leaves float downstream.
Last October was for me, a copious month of grayling and the first day – somewhat of a red letter day. The cessation of the trout season had left the famous old beat devoid of its usual members and guests, and the winding river called with a freedom to roam. Ambling down the slope from the farmhouse, the afternoon’s light drizzle lifted allowing the watery sun’s rays to splash across the mowed pastures. The Wharfe meandered before me, reflecting autumn’s splendour of colours as I started to contemplate the likely looking spots. To the trout angler locked away from his home rivers this first day of October must be a burden, devoid of stimulation and colour. However, the grayling angler reveals in this day of new colours and moods. The swift change of thought from trout to grayling enables us view our home waters differently. We walk, talk and think differently, the mental switch has been flicked somewhere deep within the brain. Perceptive to this change of mind-set, I strolled upstream looking for the signs of a few rising fish. Regular haunts were by-passed, a pool tail that days earlier had offered a superb couple of hour’s trouting was skirted in favour of deeper glide shaded by a canopy of trees. Here the low hanging branches brushed the rivers surface as it slid on its way. And a line of small dimples exposed the presence of a cluster of grayling.
Tradition dictates that my first autumnal grayling day is made up wholly of a single pattern, the Hare’s Lug & Plover. An irrational tradition and homage, born out of my late father’s fondness for this pattern and grayling. Junior days often spent looking upstream to see the old man’s rod bent double, followed by the inevitable and knowledgeable shout of “Hare’s Lug!” are what drives my day of tradition. A self-imposition that on occasion exasperates, especially when the days are cold and grayling forsake the top layers. Standing thigh deep uncoiling a short length of tippet from its slim spool, I thought of my father’s fondness for grayling and the shortening of days. Images of clerical collar and jumper encased behind a layer of waxed cotton, are always entwined in my formative angling memories. Tightly drawing the leader and tippet into a snug knot, I snipped off the tag end and positioned the traditional Hare’s Lug on the point.
Within easy casting distance, I marked each individual rise and counted the timings of each. Sparsely dubbed and hackled around a light-wire hook, the fly would offer a good few shots before slipping too deep into the depths. You need confidence to fish a solitary spider when all rational dictates the use of a diminutive dry fly. However, a single spider can be a devastating adjunct when grayling are sipping at the surface. Flicking my first short cast into the finger of trailing branches I waited for an undulation on the surface to reveal the take of a fish. Within seconds the upward snap of wrist and elbow had me steering a large grayling away from the dangers of trailing roots and branches. Its jarring fight reminding me of a dog tugging at a stick. Tempering slightly, before resuming again with full force, the grayling twisted and rolled deep under the river’s surface. Sudden jolts and bangs had my rod at times surging forwards as the grayling dropped down into deeper water and finally hung there as a solemn weight. Slowly I coaxed and influenced the grayling upstream and arched backwards to haul the inflexible fish over the face of my submerged net. The first grayling of the autumn season and a reminder of the coming months promise. After several more grayling were both netted and missed, I finally slipped from the river’s margins as the waning sun started to disappear behind the western hills. Thoughtful of the delights of the coming months, I ambled back along the riverbank’s narrow path, slanting shadows of bankside willows lengthened and imperceptibly grew into the approaching gloaming and the lights of the farmhouse twinkled their warm hospitality from the hillside.
Hare’s Lug & Plover
Hook – Light wire, Size 14,16 & 18
Silk – Yellow
Body – The poll fur taken from between a hares ear
Tag & Rib- Fine gold tinsel or wire
Hackle – Golden plover overcovert
First Published in Trout & Salmon Magazine
©The Sliding Stream