John Bailey: I’m loving the relationship with Ladies of the Stream

John Bailey with one of his huge Ladies of the Stream ... the glorious grayling. Picture: John Baile

John Bailey with one of his huge Ladies of the Stream ... the glorious grayling. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

I don't know why grayling have been referred to as the Ladies of the Stream throughout angling literature. It's true they're sleek and breathtakingly beautiful, but they also fight like they want to mug you, to snap your arm off.

I've just returned from my annual grayling jaunt, several hundred miles away from East Anglia, but I'm back now with a head whirling with images, memories and thoughts.

Once again, upmost amongst these is the question of why we don't have grayling in Norfolk or Suffolk any more. Once, not that long ago, the Wensum was one of the country's prime grayling rivers and it wouldn't take that much, surely, to reintroduce them in the upper reaches. There is strong opposition to bringing back non-indigenous fish, I know, but, very probably, grayling swam some of our rivers centuries if not millennia back. I think most of us would welcome their return.

It's true that we lost a handful of very big grayling this time round. But, as a guide, I'm always aware that big fish of any species can come unstuck, especially if your reel isn't up to the job. That's how it was on our grayling river. A couple of my guys kicked off using veteran closed face reels which just were too cranky to control big, hard-fighting 'ladies' on light gear. Those reels were ditched after they'd lost a fish or two. One very large grayling was lost by an elderly fixed spool reel seizing up under pressure. This happens just so often. I see it all the time.

The answer is either to use centrepins for river fishing or for close-in stillwater fishing or to make sure that your fixed spool reel is absolutely tip-top, 100pc up to the job. The trouble is if there is anything wrong with the gearing or the clutch setting, it will get found out a critical stage in a crucial battle. The great thing about the centrepin in my book is that it is all down to you and the control you exert through your thumb on the rim of the reel. There is no gearing, there is no engineering to go wrong, it's just you and your fish playing the battle out, centre stage.

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It's been a week for angling dilemmas. Grayling are uniquely sensitive to angling pressure. All the guys with me were aware they had to be handled sensitively and returned with the utmost care after a minimum of time on the bank. We also moved swims frequently, never taking more than a couple of fish from each. Furthermore, we fly fished from time to time to alleviate the pressure that bait fishing can cause. I think we did our utmost to leave the river in the pristine state we found it.

Back in Norfolk, however, I had to kill a jack pike whilst out on a guiding trip. The fish, a five-pounder, had taken a dead bait down in a twinkling of an eye and there was no other humane course of action. I tried to explain to the visibly upset angler that accidents like this do happen but you keep them to a minimum by using barbless hooks or even singles and making sure that you strike at the first and the slightest sign of a pick-up.

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I also stressed that putting back a bleeding pike is the worst thing you can do. Almost certainly that jack would have died a lingering death, probably in the jaws of its grandmother.

Perhaps my client needed this lesson. Perhaps now he will never leave a rod unattended, will always make sure that his bite detection is perfect and will always strike immediately a take is registered.

As I write, ferociously cold weather is just about to bite, that is if the weather forecasters are right for once. If it is as horrendous as they are saying, you have three options. You stay in, in front of the fire or woodburner perhaps. Or you might decide to fish for dace, always a willing customer if you can find them. Or perhaps you might do what I am considering.

There's a stretch of river that is incredibly difficult and which I have always ignored. I know the potential rewards could be high and this might be the time to go for it. Two hours each day on the point of darkness might just produce one bite, one red letter fish. If you're going to suffer, if you're going to struggle, you might as well ensure the reward is worth the pain.

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