The alarm woke me at 5.15am.
Getting dressed quietly I made my way downstairs and flipped the switch on the kettle. There wasn't much to sort as I'd packed the car the night before. It was just a case of waking myself up with a brew, knock up a flask, then grab my sarnies from the fridge and the bait from the garage.
Ahead lay a two and a half hour drive to just outside Southampton, I was heading down to the Lower Itchen Fisheries in Hampshire to hopefully chase a few grayling with some fellow members of the Osprey Specimen Group, and with only a few weeks left of the river season I was really looking forward to a bit of float fishing!
The journey was uneventful, and even with a 50mph speed restriction for a good few miles on the M3 motorway I arrived just before 8am, the official start time for fishing at this water.
With the middle section being syndicate members only the group had booked the top and bottom sections on the venue, which still gave us plenty of water to have a go at.
Originally I was going to fish with good friend, and Osprey chairman, Bob Hornegold, but it was sod's law that he ended up not feeling too good a few days before and now had to bow out. So now it was more of a personal choice on what to target as Bob had plans to have a go for the pike, with can run to decent sizes here, but not getting too many chances to target grayling I came armed with my centrepin and fancied concentrating on a day's long trotting.
So entering the fishery I headed up towards the top end of the water, a place where there'd been a few reports of big fish coming out, and where I'd hooked a 'big' grayling myself a few seasons back. Not that I landed it, as the grayling had flipped on the surface and slipped the hook, so I was looking to even the score on this visit.
Following the track slowly up alongside the river, which is actually all you can do, one because of your proximity to the water, but mainly because of the large and frequent potholes, that if you're not careful will quite easily modify the underside of your car if you're not careful!
But the leisurely pace did allow me to check out the water and considering we'd had a fair amount of rain recently the river looked in good nick, a bit of colour but not too muddy, and running through at a managable speed where controlling a float shouldn't be to difficult.
Passing a couple of parking spots I soon realised that not many of the guys had arrived yet, and it wasn't until I got to the upper most parking area that I finally saw two vehicles. No one was nearby so I started to sort myself out, getting into my cold weather clobber and then setting up the rod.
I'd brought my 12ft Harrison Interceptor which has a 1lb 10oz TC, so stiff enough to pick up the line on the strike at distance and forgiving enough when playing a grayling under the tip. My reel wasn't anything fancy, a very cheaply priced Marco Cortesi centrepin, which I've had for a few years and it more than does it's job.
After threading the line through the eyes I then picked out my float, and here was my one real indulgence, as I'd used this trip as the excuse to order a set of hand made floats from David Pearce, they're absolutely beautiful, with inlaid feather motifs and stylish whippings, they really look the part. I'll do a full report on the range in the Tackle Update section soon.
Anyway I'd chosen an Avon style pattern for today as these are perfect for flowing water with a strong current, and I soon had it attached to the line with a couple of float rubbers.
My line was Kamasan Bayer Perlon, 4.4lb for the mainline with a 2.6lb hook length, and I joined the two with a micro swivel. Now the swivel was an idea I copied from Ian Welch who reckons it relieves pressure on the hook length when the grayling spins, and also reduces line twist when using double maggot which can be a real pain when long trotting. Right at the business end I went for a size 18 Kamasan Animal hook.
So nearly sorted, I just had to shot up and I was ready to fish... it was then I noticed my mistake.
With grayling fishing you want to be mobile, trying different stretches of water until you locate the fish, so travelling light is a must and where I had packed a small shoulder bag with minimum amounts of tackle I'd very cleverly left out a rather important item, my lead shot!
Oh well, looks like I was going to be on the scrounge then. I lock the car and start to make my way upstream and almost round the first bend I spot one of the lads, and he's already running a float through a nice section. Barry's a good friend and soon lets me have a small box of his mixed shot to finish my set up.
The two most popular shotting patterns are shirt button style, with the shot evenly spaced down the line, or bulk shotting with the shot grouped together about 18" above the hook. I was using the latter, with 5 x BB shot just above the swivel of my hook length, plus a couple of no.6 shot in between just to get the float to sit at a level I was happy with.
Once I'd returned my friends shot box I had a little go where I was, which then turned into quite a social session as more of the group arrived and popped over to say hello. It was good to see them but we all wanted to get fishing so as we parted it was with a promise to meet up at lunch time when we could have a more leisurely natter.
With nothing showing I decided it was time to move on up to the top section as I'd planned. Just before reaching that stretch I passed another Osprey member as he netted a fish. A nice grayling was soon held in Bob's hands and I gladly helped take a quick photo. He and a pal had settled in this area from the start, and had kept the feed going in regularly, and it was now beginning to produce.
Finally getting to my chosen stretch it was bag down, out with the bait box, and pop a single red maggot on the hook. Then the idea is to take a pinch of bait, about a dozen maggots, and throw them into the water on your chosen line, enticing the grayling to feed on them and then hunt for more. At which point you flick out your hook bait on that same line allowing it to drift along with the current, and hopefully, into the waiting fish.
You end up getting into a nice rhythm of feeding, casting, trotting, and then retrieving, which obviously keeps a steady stream of offerings trickling down through your swim. As the day brightened I stood there all alone immersed in my own little world, with the sounds of the birds in the nearby trees and the water trickling past... talk about chilling!
But after half an hour I'd had no bites and was soon on the move again, this time to the very top boundary of the fishery. There was a small section to run a float through and I gave it 15-20 minutes, before feeling it was a little bit too tight and not worth wasting any more time there.
Grabbing the gear once again I retraced my footsteps back to where I'd been and thought I'd give it one last go before venturing further down the river.
Chucking in a few maggots I then lowered the float into the nearside flow for a change, and watched the current carry it away, never more than a couple of feet from my bank. Near the end of the run the river bends and as the float starts to turn it suddenly disappears.
Tightening my grip on the reel I pull the rod up and instantly feel the tug of a fish. It's then into that fraught, but exciting, few minutes as you play the fish back against the current as it darts back and forth. Eventually it's in the net and I have my first grayling of the day, I'm not weighing it but I reckon it's around the pound mark, perhaps a little more.
A quick photo in the net and then I release it, being careful to make sure it's fully recovered in the net before letting it swim off into the flow.
Over the next hour I have four more grayling, two at the bottom of the run and one about half way down, they're all of the same stamp. So with a pre-arranged lunchtime get together coming ever closer I keep the feed going in and I'm soon rewarded with a slightly better fish, it goes 1lb 6ozs, and I get Bob who's not that far away to take a proper picture.
Interestingly that grayling came from the very top of the run, only about two rod lengths down from me, so I wonder if the fish are following the feed back up to where I'm putting it in? And half an hour later another bite from around that spot gets me what looks like another reasonable fish, when just at the net it rolls and slips the hook.
How annoying! But with six runs and only one getting off I can't be too dissappointed, and a couple of casts later I'm into a stronger feeling fish which pushes the scales round a little bit further at 1lb 8 and a half ounces, and will end up being my biggest of the day.
It's always the way isn't it, that as the swim starts to fish well you have to go. That doesn't stop me snatching one last grayling from there, even though it's a smaller one, and then I'm packing my bag and heading for the fishing hut near the middle of the venue.
Slowly the others arrive and the flasks and packed lunches are taken out, while some of the lads fire up their cookers and warm up some soup. It's still pretty cold out and over the morning the clouds have thickened considerably and now we're getting the odd spot of rain, it seems someone hasn't oganised the best weather for the day!
Many of us haven't bumped into one another for a while now, even though we keep in touch on the Osprey website, so it's good to see the guys and find out what they've been up to, and where they've been fishing. Once everyone has turned up, and most of the guys have a bit of food down their necks I have to put my official hat on as secretary of the group and make an announcement.
I'm presenting Gardner Tackle's Mike Lyddon, a long time member of the group, with the Osprey Salver for banking some fantastic specimens throughout the past year, with 23lb+ pike, 17lb+ bream, 16lb+ barbel, and perch to 3.10, he was a runaway winner as voted for by members of the group.
Mike has been fishing on the bottom stretch of the river this morning, and has really put the icing on the cake by landing a 12lb 3oz barbel on the float. Still using his centrepin, waggler rod, 8lb mainline with 4lb hooklink, and a size 14 hook, as he puts it 'Proper barbel gear!'
But as we get a few photo's the rain starts to come down and the wind picks up, suddenly the kettles are being put on again and no ones in such a hurry to get back out there. For almost an hour we enjoy each others company before some of the more hardy (or silly?) lads zip up the coats, pull the hats down a little lower, and head out to catch a few more grayling.
A fair number of us head for the bottom stretch, some to fish under the cover of the motorway which crosses the river there, others to the lower car park where we grab our brollies and set up back on the river and run-offs that sit near to the entrance of the fishery.
There's Osprey boys dotted all around, doing their best in the now dire conditions, but we're still catching as Sam bags a nice brown trout, Daz brings in the second barbel of the day at 8lb 14ozs, and myself and fellow member Steve now try a bit of feeder fishing and put half a dozen more grayling on the bank, a few roach, and I even have a small salmon parr.
All in all a great day's fishing, with great company, and even the rain couldn't put us off!