Sunday 11th October. It's my first outing since the end of the trout season and the session of mixed blessings, where I bagged a couple of monster trout and then promptly erased all the pics I'd taken of them. I'd been gutted. Anyhoo, Johnny (Colemans) had been in touch to see if I fancied a fishing session somewhere and I suggested Milldale as I reckoned that some of the other local rivers may still be out of sorts with the rain that we'd had of late. So, at 10.30 sharp, we met up at Milldale, tackled up, had a brew and a natter, then made our way down to the Dove.
The weather was a little dull and there was a fair mist of drizzle, but the weather man had declared that by 1pm, things should start to improve. It wasn't wet enough to bother us, and it certainly wouldn't do the river any harm, given that it was as low as I've ever seen it and could have done with a little bit of colour.
I decided to rig up with a duo setup. I've been pretty successful of late with this method and confidence is riding high. I had a few casts into the first couple of pools and caught a brace of wee Grayling and dropped one too...all was looking good.
Johnny and I made our way down to Doveholes where we had lunch in the caves and chatted about angling, football and various other things that blokes chat about, and we devised a plan as to how we'd fish the rest of the day out.
We decided to walk straight down to Ilam rock, resisting the temptation to stop to fish en route. I had a good look for fly life on the way, and there didn't seem to be a great lot going on. Rises were very few and far between, all in all, everything was pretty quiet. We crossed the footbridge at Ilam rock and couldn't even see the monster Grayling that chill out there. We made our way up the Staffordshire bank of the Dove from the bridge, an area that I've never fished before, and in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the LADFFA stretch at Dovedale. Here you can get away from it all. Few folk walk up that way and the main footpath on the other bank is far enough away for its users not to bother you. The walkers, dogs, horses and day trippers never bother me at Dovedale, no matter how busy it gets. I enjoy the odd chat with some of them, it often forces you to take a break and to move on to a more promising swim. Sometimes though, you just want a bit of peace...and this is where you can find it, along with some cracking fishing.
It's much more like a stream up there. I'd say it's about 10ft wide and there are lots of riffles. The water hurries along over the lush green weed beds, and here and there, a dark patch winks it's fishy eyes at you and beckons you to cast, whilst the spindly branches of the trees on the far bank reach down to tickle the surface of the water and await your tippet and flies with glee.
I lost many, many flies..and it's become clear that I need a new rod for up there. My 8ft 4wt is about 2 foot too long as I need only to drop a fly in to the river right in front of me to have a chance of a take from an unsuspecting fish.
I cast into a dark hole about 6 foot in front of me. Each time I cast, I only had about 5 foot for the balloon caddis to travel before I would have to perform a quick flick to avoid a huge tangle with weed and debris. The caddis disappeared, I struck, well, lifted and a fish was on, bam, bam, bam, and then off. I cast again, 1 foot, 2 foot, gone, and the fish was on. A lovely, although accidental wild Brown Trout of just under a pound.
Monday 12th October. It was cold in the night. Certainly the coldest we've had since summer.
When I woke this morning and looked out of the window, the weather was beautiful, the sun was casting long dark shadows from the trees in the orchard, but in between them was betrayed the sparkle of the first frost of the autumn. I couldn't resist supplying my fly box with reinforcements to compensate for yesterday's numerate casualties, grabbing my rod, reel and waders, throwing them into the car, and racing down to my favourite Dovedale...just to see how this sharp change in the weather might affect things...science really, a bit of an experiment if you like.
I love the view towards Dovedale as you drive down through Blore Pastures. The entrance to the valley reminds me of a portal into a different world, a lost world almost reminiscent of those remote places in Africa, where explorers have reported sightings of creatures reported to have become extinct years ago. I find the dramatic change of scenery incredible, the second you leave the car park and walk up the valley. It's a place that, despite the millions of visitors that it receives each year, has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. It's magical.
I fished the pools on the way up to the stepping stones but it was way to cold, the frost had obviously had a detrimental affect on the fish and so I decided to walk all the way up to the little pool that I'd been fishing yesterday beyond Ilam rock. That way, I'd have walked the whole stretch between the two days. I arrived at the wee pool and started to cast. Yesterday, I must have found the perfect spot to fish from, as I never got into a tangle once and I was very relaxed with my fishing. Today, however, I couldn't stop getting into a mess, losing flies and swearing, most of the time at the top of my voice, and it was just not working, just not right. It was a cold walk up to there too. I'd put my warm hat and gloves on, and I was togged up to the eyeballs, as were the walkers that I saw and said hello to on the way up the path.
I decided to turn around and to head back. All the while, the sun was starting to creep into the valley and things were warming up pretty quickly. The air temperature was rising very quickly and I noticed that loads of fly life was starting to appear, it was clear that there were multiple, localised olive hatches going on...and the fish started to switch on.
I can honestly say that I've never seen so many rises all year so far, and none so violent. These were mostly trout, and I got the impression that the cold snap had given them a sharp reminder of what to expect in the near future, urging them to feed up for the winter months.
Eventually I arrived at the pool where I had had great success in my fishing session with Matt last week. I cast into the riffle at the head of the pool, into fast flowing water a maximum of 6 inches deep, with my balloon caddis and pheasant tail nymph duo setup.
Suddenly there was a huge explosion of water, I never saw the caddis disappear, I just jumped at the sudden, violent activity. It was clear I had a right scrap on my hands and the fish gave me the right old run around. I'd accidentally hooked a big 2lb wild Brownie, and it was livid.
I played him into shallow water, unhooked him (he'd taken the caddis) and quickly let him go. I had a cast in the spot where Matt had hooked into a massive fish last week, that sadly got away. Suddenly it happened again, there was a huge splash and flashes of silver and a good fish was on, twisting this way and that and darting up and down the swim at speed. By this time, a good half a dozen or so walkers had stopped to watch me so the pressure was really on.
I was desperate not to drop this one...what a start to my winter Grayling fishing, and what a confidence booster this would be if I managed to land him.
I would say that this was a minimum of 2lb and what we now know as a Proper Lunker. It's the biggest Grayling I've caught...ever..and I was chuffed to bits. If this is what Grayling fishing has to offer...bring it on..I'm loving it.
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