Since I started frequenting less than idyllic spots in search of winter grayling, I've had to quickly learn to deal with the strange looks and smartarse comments of passers by. Granted it's not everyday you see a sweaty bloke ambling down the street in neoprene waders, but the 'won't catch much here mate' wisecracks can get a bit wearing after a while. One more notable encounter came a few weeks ago when I rounded a street corner to see a pair of teenage girls across the road pointing at my head and shouting 'OI......FLAT CAP!' repeatedly. I quickened my pace, but was unable to escape the damning mantra. The verdict rained down on me even as I sat on the lip of my car boot, stripping off my waders. Comes with the territory I guess.
Still, I'm a glutton for punishment and was back again recently, the law of diminishing grayling returns not yet having kicked in for me. Every session hereabouts seems to reveal something new and the fishing keeps getting better and better. On this occasion, a whole bunch of nymph-caught grayling was supplemented by half a dozen taken on para emerger patterns when in mid afternoon, a sparse trickle of Large Dark Olives momentarily turned into something resembling a proper hatch.
It was a splendid moment. Earlier in the day I had noticed my first spray of new hawthorn foliage in a roadside hedge and a little later, a solitary blackthorn bush tentatively broken into blossom. It might have been coincidence, but for me it felt like the death of winter and the beginning of something great. The air was still and warm, the sunlight soft and diffuse. It smelled like just the right moment to be extending a long tapered leader and dry fly over a rising fish....and so later on, when the opportunity arose to do just that, the day was complete.
Having said that, as I stood at the tail of a quiet pool, watching long, crimson dorsal fins cut the surface repeatedly, it was almost with reluctance that I stripped off the French nymph leader and fumbled around in my vest pocket for last season's dry fly leader. I thought of all the things which could go wrong: a snagged back cast, hideous tippet drag, and if I did manage to get the fly on the water with something like decent presentation, the inevitably miss-timed lift.
After weeks of tuning myself in to the sub-surface world, this sudden rise of fish - half anticipated though it was - caught me completely off guard. As I prepared to cast, the leader felt way too long, the 0.12mm tippet, worryingly fine. Everything felt wrong, and as I shot a few yards of fly line from the tip of the rod for the first time in months, I was sure this dry fly enterprise was doomed to fail. Luckily, early spring fish rising to a LDO hatch are usually pretty forgiving of the rusty angler's imperfections and my first delivery was met with an instantaneous response - a 12" grayling was hooked and suddenly the world - even this malodorous, sootstained world - looked a beautiful place.
Five more like-sized fish followed before the pool was done, and although I continued to see a sparse trickle of duns and midge through the subsequent water I fished, nothing rose to eat them.
What was apparent though, was just how actively the fish (grayling and trout), were on the feed. My nymphs (see the brightly coloured shrimps at the bottom of this post), needed to be fished lightly and at slightly longer range than winter fishing often demands if they were to elicit the best response, takes usually coming within seconds of the flies touching the surface. It was definitely a case of fish being 'on the fin', of sport belonging to spring rather than winter. That in itself made me a very happy man.
The day had one final twist in store. As I headed back along the riverside footpath, emerging out onto the busy street I was met once more by the same two girls who had goaded me previously. The day was a mild one and I'd left my flattie in the car; it didn't matter, they recognised me straight away. Chants of 'YOU BALD BASTARD!!!!' rang out behind me as I completed the last fifty yards to car. It truly was a 'walk of shame'.