Trotting for grayling on the River Derwent
What an unpredictable year for the weather last year was! With fluctuating water levels, and temperatures which never really stabilised for more than a couple of days, it was hard to know what best to fish for. My annual winter pike campaign was virtually a non-starter, with only a handful of jacks to show for eight or nine sessions! I’d been promising myself a return to a day ticket stretch of the Derbyshire Derwent ever since I last fished it, about three years ago. With my pike fishing being so dismal, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for some time-out, trotting for grayling on a crisp midwinter’s day.
After entering the annual Boxing Day charity raft race on the river at Matlock only two days before, I was a little hesitant at fishing the stretch. I had witnessed first-hand the thrashing of the water with 300 paddles and an incessant hail of eggs & bags of flour; seemingly enough to support a small nation’s grain industry! Indeed, this was still very much evident when I arrived at the river. It was like an eerie, wintry war zone. The streets were very quiet; the river bank was misted white… not with frost… but with spilt flour; bags which had failed to reach their targets hung from tree branches like surrealist plastic fruit; the far-bank wall was peppered with white impact marks. It was a bizarre experience simply arriving at the peg! Still, the stretch has produced consistently for me in the past, I had a 15 foot Fox Envoy stick float rod to test out and some new floating line, so I decided to get on with it, relax and hope for a bite or two.
Before I start, I should mention that I’m by no means an expert at trotting; finesse has never been a strong point of mine! I really enjoy trotting as a method, though, and when you find the fish and they’re feeding well it’s great therapy when you’re otherwise on a run of blanks. I wasn’t doing anything too flashy; two pints of maggots, a loaf of sliced white bread and a bag of liquidised bread made up my bait and loose-feed (Although I did add a dash of ground pellets and fine groundbait to the liquidised bread for extra attraction). I was fishing the aforementioned 15 foot stick float rod accompanied by a small fixed-spool reel which I’d loaded the night before with some 4lb b/s Ultima “Flo-Cast”, which has a hollow core and a unique profile which makes it float superbly. My rig was also simple; a wire-stemmed stick float (I had 4 different sizes of the same float, so that I could adapt to any changing conditions), a micro swivel attaching my 2lb 10oz Ultima “Power Steel” hooklength and a long-shank barbless size 18 hook.
I started off loose-feeding a near-bank run and one mid-river, which was a few inches deeper. The water was running fairly low and clear, so a few inches of extra depth might make all the difference; although after the rafting onslaught of two days prior, I doubted my presence would really be noticed! I alternated trots between each run, fishing a single maggot on the hook and flicking in a few free offerings at the start of the trot. If there were fish in the swim, I would have expected a bite within the first ten or fifteen minutes, but after three-quarters of an hour, I hadn’t seen any sign of a fish. I was considering moving pegs, but before I did, I decided to try bread on the hook. Thank goodness I did, because the float only moved two feet down the swim on the first cast and it disappeared! I connected with a spirited little fish, which soon showed itself to be a grayling. I’d forgotten how well they fought, and as the fish dropped into the net I was grinning profusely! The hook was baited with more bread and, next cast, same result. By the time I’d landed my fourth grayling I was really enjoying myself and getting quite a rhythm going. I was still baiting with maggots, but fishing bread over the top. If I hadn’t had a bite in three casts, I’d switch to maggots; if still no joy, I’d swap back to bread and fish three casts along the farther line, and so on. Every hour or so I’d rest the swim altogether for a few minutes while I had a coffee, spraying in occasional maggots to keep the fish interested. This approach kept the fish coming regularly throughout the session, up until the last hour or so, when the bites dried up.
The only downside to fishing for grayling in Midlands rivers, compared to some Southern & far Northern waters, is size. Up here, a fish of over 1lb is a good fish and a 2lb-plus fish is huge. Although I was aiming for a fish over 1lb, weight wasn’t an issue on this session, I was happy to simply catch fish and relax. I would say the average fish I was caught throughout the day was around 7 ounces and when the larger fish did start to show, they came all at once! In three consecutive casts I caught fish of almost identical size; I weighed the first of the trio, at 13 ounces. These larger fish gave a great account of themselves and kept me guessing whether or not I’d hooked a decent trout. I missed a few bites during the day, but managed to land every fish I hooked! The end result was 16 grayling, 6 wild brown trout and one extremely happy angler. Most of the fish fell to bread, with maybe eight fish taking double maggot. This did make me wonder if all the flour going into the water during the raft race had conditioned the fish to favour bread? The maggot-vs-bread ratio on the venue is usually the other way around!
There’s plenty of sport out there available to all on a day ticket. If you don’t over-complicate things and accept whatever fish come along, you’ll be surprised just how much a few hours trotting for grayling can brighten a dull winter’s day.
Where to fish for grayling in Derbyshire on a day ticket
Derbyshire has some fantastic grayling fishing available – on rivers such as the Derwent, the Dove and even the Goyt – but sadly, for the day ticket coarse angler, many of the stretches are controlled by angling clubs who do not sell day tickets or clubs which only allow fly fishing for grayling. Since I wrote this article, Matlock Angling Club have ceased to offer any day ticket fishing on their waters, so the stretch I fished at Matlock Bath is no longer available to fish on a day ticket. However, there are still a few good grayling stretches which can be fished on day ticket, in & around Derbyshire. If you know of any more I’ve missed, please email me and I will include them here:
Belper & District Angling Club
BDAC control several miles of quality fishing on the Derbyshire Derwent, between Ambergate and Milford, most of which is available to fish on a day ticket. Their stretch is in what I’d class as the “transitional zone”, between the upper Derwent where grayling and trout are the predominant species, and the lower Derwent where coarse species dominate. Therefore there is a good mixture of species, with many areas offering quality grayling fishing plus the chance of catching chub, roach and dace. Further information on the Belper stretch of the Derwent, along with how and where to purchase day tickets (which must be obtained prior to fishing) can be found on their website here: www.belperanglingclub.uk and on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/BelperAC.
The Family Tree at Whatstandwell
There is a short stretch of the Derwent available to fish on a day ticket, between the weir and road bridge, at Whatstandwell. This is a noted grayling venue and also offers the chance of trout & chub, however, this stretch is limited to the Eastern bank only and there are only a small number of pegs. Fishing here is controlled by The Family Tree – a pub/restaurant located by the bridge at DE4 5HG – and tickets must be purchased from here before fishing. You can park very close to the pegs at this venue. Contact information can be found on their website here: www.thefamilytreederbyshire.co.uk and on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/The-Family-Tree-Whatstandwell-618330848202323/.
The Earl of Harrington’s Angling Club
Further downstream, beginning at Darley Abbey, through Derby and as far downstream as Borrowash, The Earl Of Harrington’s water is fishable on day ticket. This would be classed as the lower River Derwent, but grayling are increasingly showing on the lower river, even as far downstream as Derbyshire County AC and The Pride of Derby (which are NOT available on day ticket!) waters. The numbers of barbel, chub and perch increase significantly on the lower Derwent but targeting grayling here is still a realistic – and under-exploited – prospect. For more information on the Earl’s stretch of the Derwent see here: http://www.theearlofharringtonsac.co.uk/river-derwent.html and you can find our how and where to purchase day tickets here: http://www.theearlofharringtonsac.co.uk/day-tickets–rules.html.