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Clint Walker: A Morning on the River

I fully intended to visit a commercial match type venue this week, hoping to put some new Spotted Fin baits to the test, but bought a pint of maggots, from the tackle shop, just in case… It was a good job I did. After overnight temperatures of -10c, the lakes I wanted to fish were frozen solid, so it left only one viable option; the river.

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I had awoken to a message telling me that the fishery was closed, and in truth, as I lay snug in bed, mug of tea to hand, and watched the clock spin up towards 8am, I was struggling to find the motivation to get up and go fishing. The ground outside was liberally covered with snow, with plenty of ice underfoot, and the air temperature wasn’t forecast to rise above -6c for most of the day, so a session on the river was going to be hard work. Thankfully, at this time of year, pike, chub, roach, perch and grayling are all potential targets, so I decided to try a swim on the River Dove which I know usually produces; my only worry was getting back off the car park in the snow!

Surprisingly, the roads were clear, so the trip to the river took less than thirty minutes, and as expected, I was the only angler to be seen. I could see where others had been the day before, boot prints in the snow were an easy giveaway, so I knew some bait had been going in. I’d taken only maggots and bread with me, but plummeting temperatures overnight had frozen some of my gentiles, despite being swaddled in a padded unhooking mat, so I wasn’t hugely confident, but I hoped a couple of hours might not be completely be wasted...

It was foot crushingly cold; the kind of cold that we up north call ‘long sleeve weather’, and as I trudged across the frosted field to the riverside, my breath hung in the air like a hipster’s vaper trail before dispersing; it was absolutely bitter! Thankfully, I still own a pair of ancient sea-boot socks, remnants of my time in the Navy, thick woollen sheaths which, over the top of a pair of cotton socks, usually prevents frostbite, but I could still feel the chill seeping up my legs as I sat down and contemplated the brown tinged, freezing river…

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I quickly pieced together a feeder rod, opting for my Sonik S4, inserted a 2oz tip, and ran the line through the rod rings. As it was so cold, I knew that the rings would freeze, so each of the top four eyes got a liberal smear of household glycerine to prevent ice forming. I slid on a small maggot feeder, carefully taped to slow down the release of bait, and nicked on a couple of very lethargic grubs, before casting into the edge of the flow. The feeder bounced downstream and settled, I tightened up to put a gentle curve in the tip, and sat back to make a much needed cup of tea!

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Within a minute or so, the familiar nodding started as river debris bounced off the line; a slow pull around denoting a leaf, sharp taps indicating small twigs or other rubbish, and then a series of rasping rattles, much like a violin bow grating the line, alerted me to my first bite. Unsurprisingly, my first fish of the day was a pristine river grayling, a fine fish of less than a pound, but it was a fish; I hadn’t blanked! I love the way that grayling use their huge dorsal fin to try and aid their escape, kiting across the flow in a way designed to put maximum strain on my hook link, but to no avail; this one was netted, and rested in the net before return.

By now, the sun had started to peep over the hills, bathing sections of the river in a fantastic winter glow, causing the cold waters to steam in the sunlight. It’s a sight I always appreciate, the beauty of nature is perhaps most apparent in winter, and as I enjoyed a little reflected warmth, the rod tip continued to rattle as a stream of grayling picked off the baits. I was hoping for chub, but anything was welcome on such a day! My next bite was different, a sharp tap, then the rod hooped over as a better fish tried to shed the hook. This one was a trout, one of four or five which was to trip up during the morning, and at a little over two pounds, a fish to behold in glorious winter colours. I love the variation in trout hues, bright red spots, brown smudges, silvery flanks, all appeal, and although the capture was unintended, they were a joy to catch!

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After a couple of hours, the sun had lit the water fully, slanting under the bridge to erase the shadows, and as a result, the fish retreated to other cover. I had fewer bites as the minutes passed, so decided that after a dozen fine grayling, and some itinerant trout, I’d had enough. I didn’t fancy moving to a different swim, so quickly packed up to return home. Despite my initial misgivings and laziness, I was glad I’d made the effort to fish in the snow. I’d happily spent a few minutes feeding a friendly robin, one which always seem to appear whenever I use maggots, waiting expectantly for a freebie, and I witnessed a pair of kingfishers, a barn owl, rabbits, and even an Environment Agency Bailiff as I sat by a beautiful winter river. If you ‘can’t’ fish because your lake has a lid on, then I can certainly recommend a morning by the river… try it, you may be pleasantly surprised!

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