More heavy rain early in the week followed by two dry days, the river level is about where you would expect for this time of the year, and clearing a little towards the end of the week. I have received a few phone calls from regular Grayling fishermen about the prospects for the coming weeks. Normally we limit Grayling fishing to a five to six week period in October and early November, calling it to a halt at the first sign of spawning activity amongst the resident Brown Trout population. Occasionally if we have had a dry December and January we will allow some Grayling fishing in February, provided the river and banks are in reasonable condition.
Normal winter weather usually results in one of my main late winter tasks of moving on any silt that has been deposited by the increased flows; this turns the river the colour of chocolate and renders it unfishable. On this particular stretch of the Dever I am quite lucky in that I am able to wade the vast majority of the stretch, making silt removal a simple, if laborious process. Starting at the top of the beat I use large sheets of corrugated tin held in place by six foot long steel pins to temporarily divert the main channel flow into areas where silt may have accumulated. After twenty-four hours the silted area has been washed and it is necessary to move the sheets of tin down stream to the next silted area. This involves jumping in the river banging the steel pins into the riverbed and moving the sheets of tin downstream to rest against them. On shallower reaches it is possible to rest a sheet of tin on your toes while facing up stream, this leaves a narrow gap under the sheet of tin, the water forces its way under the tin, beautifully cleaning the top layer of gravel and promoting early season weed growth. I will have four sheets of tin in the river at any one time moving them daily. To get from the top of my stretch to the bottom can take anything between four and eight weeks, longer if the winter is dry and the river low. Some would argue that it is wrong to move as much silt as this on during this period, suggesting that it has a detrimental effect on hatches of Mayfly and survival of salmonid fry in the river. Despite my diligence not all of the silt is removed, year on year we have good hatches of Mayfly and have a background stock of fish that were born and raised in this river.
With the river clearing over the past few days it has also become apparent that the Pike are moving around and showing forethought towards spawning. Unlike Salmonids – Trout and Salmon who spawn in early winter, Coarse fish such as Pike Carp and Roach spawn in the spring. The one exception being the Grayling which belongs in a class of its own, possessing an adipose fin unique to the salmonid it spawns in the spring. In the weeks preceding spawning Pike become increasingly conspicuous in the river, targeting back waters and spring holes as spawning areas these usually solitary creatures come together for their annual sojourn to the spring hole, getting all loved up before falling out, returning to their sinister solitary lifestyle while threatening to eat anything that passes including their own kith and kin. I have fished for Pike in many parts of this country and indeed continent, and can confidently say that the most beautiful looking Pike with the most vivid colours and markings come from clear water, their condition and taste enhanced if they have lived on a diet of trout. Someone I knew once caught a trout from a lake bordering the Rugby Cement Works, proudly presenting it to his mother who cooked and served the toughest piece of fish that tasted of cement. I have twice fished on Lough Ree and Lough Derg in Ireland, and encountered numbers of French and German anglers who were filling their boots with sweet tasting Pike from the gin clear water of these two huge Irish Loughs.In my time here the biggest Pike that I have caught is twelve pounds, it is not really Pike water and we only see them when they are seeking out the spring holes for spawning. The middle and lower Test contain some monsters, Twenty-pound Pike are not that uncommon, and I know of one of twenty-two pounds that was caught on a mayfly. The biggest that I have seen from the river is thirty four pounds, taken while electro fishing in October around Twenty years ago, it would have been significantly bigger during the spring when full of spawn. Several of my friends looking after stretches of the middle Test are now fly-fishing for Pike. Using reservoir rods and bone fish lures it is a sport that has taken off in the last few years, and I am convinced is a contributor to the increase in number of facial piercings seen on the streets of Britain today.