Chris McCully


February grayling Grayling are one of my favourite fish: above all, I think they're beautiful. I also like the intricacies and all the changes of method grayling fishing can involve, from dry-fly fishing with tiny film-fished artificials to long-trotting in the dark, drear cold (and short) days at and after the turn of the year. I caught my first grayling in 1972 (in North Yorkshire) and have been lucky enough to fish in many parts of the UK and in some places in mainland Europe, such as Sweden and Denmark, for these lovely creatures. At present I'm sporadically though persistently trying to work out how the grayling spread historically through river systems in the UK and spend some time each autumn and winter fishing for them, on waters as varied as those in Hampshire and Wessex, the Scottish Borders and Galloway, and North and East Yorkshire.

Mythical Nomads of the Tides: Fishing for Irish Sea-Trout (Medlar, 2013), which I wrote and worked on with Ken Whelan and James Sadler, examines Irish sea-trout fishing past and present. It was a massive book (488pp.) and sometimes Medlar and I talk about bringing out a smaller, more portable edition...although we haven't done so yet. It seems unlikely now that I'll travel quite as often to Ireland and other parts of Europe to fish for sea-trout, but I hope in coming seasons to fish more in England and other parts of the UK for these nomads.

I think if I were obliged, God forbid, to fish just for one fish for the rest of my life I would fairly unhesitatingly choose sea-trout...though wild brown trout and grayling w­ould run them close.­­

Dales In 2022 we relocated to Yorkshire and I've returned gratefully to the angling I did so often in my youth and younger adulthood - to fishing for brown trout and grayling in the Dales and North York Moors rivers. While I very much enjoyed (and learnt a great deal from) the angling I did in Essex and Suffolk for chub, dace, roach, winter pike, autumn perch and summer tench, I find that as I get older I feel more settled when I'm fishing for species I can in principle eat (though I return almost all of what I catch these days) and doing so in land- and waterscapes whose features and ecology I can name and understand. I suppose that's a form of nostalgia. It also includes deep and abiding friendships. The image here, for instance, shows a dear old friend netting a trout from a Dales river in April 2022. I find it reassuring to spend time with old friends on the river banks; sometimes, after exchanging symptoms, family news and our aghast understandings of academic/other working life and geopolitics, we barely fish at all. There's a depth and even a precarious contentment in that process I hadn't expected.

Arc of beauty ­Perhaps it's one of those angling obsessions which I'm beginning to outlive, but on the rare occasions I now engage with it, I enjoy autumn and winter pike fishing and relish all the changes of method pike fishing involves: streamers and poppers, plugs, soft-baits, jerkbaits, spinners, spoons.... I've learnt from that variety, and have come to have a great respec­t for the pike over the years.

I've also loved fishing some the of Irish loughs for pike. Fly-fishing for Irish pike from a boat or float-tube is one of life's great experiences, and I've hooked (though not landed) some improbably massive fish in Ireland on the fly-rods. I lost one giant of a pike on the fly on a small lough in Leitrim - I had it on for a good ten minutes, and saw it just before the barbless hook pulled away - and that dwarfed my largest pike to date (118cm). The lost fish was quite a handful, even on a 10-weight. I wrote about that pike in Fishing and Pike Lures (2009) and about another magnificent fish lost on Lough Derg in 'The pike of the storm', which appeared in Waterlog many years ago and was reproduced in Sketches with Fishing Rods (2008).

No Text Another form of angling I've greatly enjoyed since returning to England in 2013 is stillwater trout fishing. I spent much of the 1980s and 90s fishing stillwaters of various kinds for brown and rainbow trout and I'm delighted to become re-acquainted, particularly since days out in the boat also give me the chance to catch up with old friends as well as to re-learn buzzer, sedge and fry tactics. Over the past few years I've particularly enjoyed fishing the Orkney lochs (on visits in 2020 and 2021) and more regularly, the angling on Grafham and Rutland, though I rarely find any of it altogether easy. (But when have I ever found fishing easy? And would I value it quite so much if I did?)

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