Bakewell bombshell has got me thinking of winter wonderland

Norfolk’'s Neill Stephen with a 3.5 grayling. Imagine catching a stunning fish like this in our Norf

Norfolk’'s Neill Stephen with a 3.5 grayling. Imagine catching a stunning fish like this in our Norfolk winter! - Credit: Archant

I find it alarming that I left teaching so long ago. It seems like weeks since I left the Norwich School and walked out of The Close but, of course, it's 25 years now.

At that time, I didn't hang up the gown – yes, we used to wear them in those days – to become a full-time angler, but that is how life has worked out for me. I'm quite content with an angling job that includes writing, photography, consultancy, guiding, filming, product testing, fishery management and a desire to learn more and more about this extraordinary sport of ours. For example, just the other day, I accepted an invitation to talk at the Derbyshire branch of the Grayling Society in beautiful Bakewell. There was a fine and appreciative audience that had braved the so-called Weather Bomb for which I was hugely grateful.

There is little more depressing in life than travelling for three and a half hours to speak to a lot of empty seats.

It was the question and answer session that was rather unexpected. I mentioned grayling in Norfolk, along the Wensum especially, fish reasonably common when I was a kid. Thanks to dear friend Tim Aldis, who years ago showed me the books of a long defunct Wensum fishery organisation, I was able then to piece together the facts of the Wensum grayling golden age, roughly between 1890 and 1920.

In that halcyon period, it was probably the greatest grayling river in the country before the war and the subsequent agricultural depression led to less stocking and poorer river management.


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But what amazed me was the fact that one of the members in my audience that night had actually caught grayling from around the Elsing area as late as the mid-1990s. That completely threw me, my last grayling coming some time during the '80s, or late '70s.

I mention this today in the EDP because, of course, grayling are the most sparkling addition to the winter river scene. Grayling come alive in the cold months and trotting a float along the streamy glides for these beautiful fish is just about as good as it gets on a clear, bright, frosty morning.

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Thanks to the sterling work of the Environment Agency, NACA, the Bintry Flyfishers and so many other groups, the Wensum now is a river really fit to receive more consignments of these stunning fish. Purists will argue that the grayling is not indigenous to the Wensum, but, are we quite sure about that? Who is to tell with minute accuracy what swam this and other Norfolk rivers back in 1600, for example, or even before that?

And we do have proof that for at least 30 or 40 glorious years, grayling made the Wensum one of their most treasured homes. We're not afraid to stock with barbel.

Surely, we should think about stocking with these beautiful ladies of the stream, too?

The self-same gentlemen in Bakewell also mentioned in passing that he'd taken a true one pound dace from the same stretch of river some 20 years ago. Wow and double wow. Ask dear friend Jimmy Hendry about one pound dace! Anyone who thinks these fabulous fish are rather like overgrown herrings is talking complete and utter boilies. I've had plenty of one pound Norfolk dace over the years, but back in the time there wasn't a single streak of grey hair on my head.

Thanks to the work done on the river habitat, though, I'm rather feeling that my dace records could be getting something of a shot in the arm soon. Once again, as this winter pulls in, I'm doing more trotting, again along the glides and I'm seeing increasing numbers of hefty, pigeon-chested, beautiful dace.

I have weighed a couple of 11-ouncers and one at 12 and a bit this winter already. You can't call these River Monsters and they're hardly going to batter a stray heifer to death, but in my book, these are big and desirable fish. Add another four or five ounces and they are truly fish of a lifetime.

A bright, frosty morning. A stretch of quick, babbling river. A couple of pints of white maggots. A 14-foot float rod, centrepin loaded with three-pound line, a pert float and a size 16 or 18 hook with a dace on its point and you are really in winter wonderland. Yep, we all want two-pound roach this winter, or six- or seven-pound chub, or 20lb pike, or four-pound bristling perch, but a 14oz dace is well up there with these specimens, believe me.

Santa, old mate – a one pound dace swim. That's all I want for Christmas!

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