It started at the crack of dawn. Neil picked me up and we zoomed off down the M3 to meet up with the early-birds at Winchester Services.

Will and Jez I knew from fishing on the Kennet, and there was Christian the Chav Professor and a dark and brooding Russian sniper which, despite the lack of visible shoulder parrot, could only be Mr S-Kippy.

A swift fry-up later we were on our way. We met up with Ray Roberts at the venue then were off up the riverbank to the swims. Neil and I took the lead and expected the others to follow us up to the top stretch but when we parked in the top car park, nobody was behind us.

Franks-tree_edited-1.jpgIt was a stunning morning. The frost was the first major one of the year. It painted the fields an astounding icing-sugar white and coated twigs and weeds with that magical quality last seen in a movie about Narnia. Neil and I cut a corner and crossed the field with our boots sometimes crunching through the icy crust into the damp mud beneath. As we approached the river we startled a roe deer which took off, bounding down the riverbank, it’s bob-tail lit up against the warm reds of its hindquarters by the early morning sun.

Leaving Neil to fish the bend, I walked up to the top swims and fished hard for an hour but to no avail. The swims here are usually some of the most productive on the fishery but for some reason they were not producing for me this morning. Maybe the sudden cold had put the fish down.

GMgraylingday1.13.jpgI walked down to fish the bend below where Neil had already taken four fish up to 1lb 13oz. Within a short while I was catching; at first a couple of small grayling then a couple of trout, then a couple of the larger ‘ladies’.

Will phoned me. He’d just had a 17lb+ pike and was a very happy bunny. Whilst I was congratulating him, a Russian sniper was headed my way over the fields, a missing parrot not adorning his shoulder. Already happy with a dozen grayling from downstream, the soviet-style river-pirate had laid plans and tactics designed to pay off. Having allowed Neil and I to pre-bait his swims for him, Mr Skippy went on to successfully empty the river that day, taking more fish than he would care to count and continuing with his habit of hooking a salmon with nobody within shouting distance able to assist with a net. Arr… That’s a Dos vidania then!

Neil and I moved downstream to say hello to more people we hadn’t previously met and found that everyone was having a good time. Ray Roberts had shed his Smeagol costume and was bagging up on a feeder. He broke off fishing for a few minutes to explain that he was catching a serious number of fish – by the end of the day he was complaining that his arm hurt! That’s the kind of complaint I like!

GMgraylingdayWillpike.jpgJeff-the-Jinx Woodhouse had arrived late morning with angling legend Frank Guttfield and Jeff had already broken his duck. Which was a shame I s’pose, but a grown man his age really shouldn’t bring fragile bath-toys fishing with him. Frank was having a bit of trouble with his reel but we finally managed to sort it out and he then showed us how to use it, taking several trout and a shed-load of grayling. I’m not sure exactly how many fish he caught that day but it was a lot.

I found Will Barnard instructing Jezz on the finer arts of pin-fishing on the next bend. All was going well, Jezz already had

several fish and Will still glowing from the big pike capture. Will was targeting the pike deliberately, having recently joined a prolific Test grayling stretch, he didn’t need to catch a grayling.

The Chav Professor turned out to be not a real chav after all, which was a bit of a relief, but a chavender-chaser! (Currently adorning the front page of a weekly with a 6lber) Christian was the name and trotting was the game, something he knew intimately despite these fish being the first grayling he’d ever encountered.. Unfortunately he found out the hard way that the corkscrew fight of a big grayling can sometime result in a fish escaping and Chris is still smarting at the loss of a biggie.

GMgraylingdayFrankG1.jpgI must admit I was slightly under-dressed for the day and after midday, once the wind started to pick up, the cold started to get to me. The arctic conditions were kept at bay thanks to one of Neil’s usual excellent fresh-fried sausage sarnies, cooked up in the clvilised little top car-park hut, out of the cold – and then it was once more into the fray; the War on Grayling, which is probably how the yanks would describe it, had entered it’s closing stages.

Neil and I fished a few other swims and ended up fishing near Christian. We all caught a few more fish and, it must be said, we dropped quite a few as well. We discovered later that Ray kept catching and Skippy was murdering them on the top beat. Frank continued to teach Jeff how it was supposed to be done and Will picked up another pike of about 9lb and a bream – which he said fought like a proper fish in the fast water, but I don’t believe him!

As the daylight faded and the last of the maggots were given swimming lessons, we packed up and, narrowly avoiding hypothermia, we set off for home. Everyone caught fish, with most people catching lots of fish and all the grayling ‘virgins’ were now chewing gum and hanging out on street corners. A great day fishing with some really great company. Thanks chaps!

Geoff Maynard

PS: Next week on Tuesday we have another session on the same venue and still have a couple of places free. PM me if you fancy it!