by Graham Wilkinson
Imagine a high, creamy stone wall
behind you, set with a roaring air conditioning fan; a metal spiked fence set on the top
of the opposite bank with rows of cars awaiting service behind; towering factories and
mills crowding the river up and downstream; a river bed consisting of slabs of concreted
slag from long gone riverside furnaces and river bed and banks littered with industrial
detritus. Amongst all this imagine a 5 weight rod bending to the pull of a 12 inch
The R. Holme, 500m from Huddersfield town
hall. The car workshops are directly ahead and the bacon packing factory is the high wall
on the left.
I could say that I
have caught grayling within ear-shot of the town hall clock, except Huddersfield town hall
does not have a clock. What I can claim is that my friends and I regularly catch grayling
at the back of the bacon packing factory! Who would have dared to predict, back in the 70s
and 80s, that grayling would be found in such situations. Surely the grayling
belongs in bucolic surroundings?
Of course the grayling
knows only that the water is clean and that it supports the life forms on
which it feeds. That the shapes and structures above the surface and around which it swims
constitute an eyesore is quite irrelevant to this otherwise discriminating fish.
The bed of the river - concreted slag from
casting foundries (long gone).
The river systems
of Yorkshire are one of the original home systems to the grayling and back in the 20th
century those in pursuit of the grayling would make for the Wharfe and Ure, perhaps
crossing over the heavily polluted urban stretches further downstream. I have lived with
these stretches of river since the 1960s and, like you reader, I can never pass any
river without gazing over into the water. Even water coloured by the dye from the woollen
mills had a fascination in its movement and the fact that no life could exists
beneath the polluted surface would not prevent me from looking, wondering and wishing.
When the waters were not coloured and the water ran clear the grey slime could be seen
everywhere and the smell of lanolin and other unsavoury industrial miasmas rose from below
and forced the watcher to move on.
Then the woollen industry declined
and the pollution decreased The (then) NRA seized the opportunity to monitor and aid the
recovery and life returned to the rivers.
The "creamy stone walls"': the
remains of 200 year old woolen mills. Cars waiting for service behind the fence. The pool
in the corner is a productive swim.
One day in 1989 I
was crossing a footbridge over the little river Colne, one mile upstream of Huddersfield
and saw the unmistakeable rise of a fish, then another and another etc.!!! Stocking by the
clubs and the NRA upstream had made their way to town.
They were trout, but, one cannot
have everything one wishes for all at once!
Then a disaster happened which had
an indirect benefit to the river Colne:
A pollution incident occurred. I
witnessed some of the consequences - I found the remains of dead and dying trout, chub,
pike and minnow and one, very large(!) grayling in a back eddy of a weir pool. As a result
of this a prosecution followed and the guilty party had to finance a restocking in the
club waters further up the valley. Part of this restocking was the re-introduction of
grayling, which it was assumed had been absent previously.
Approaching a 'hotspot'. Upstream from the
big willow, close into the far bank, both trout and grayling of a very good size are
inevitably I was catching grayling in that same swim where I first had seen the rise forms
of trout. They were very evenly sized grayling at first and then, one day in the mid
90s, a fingerling; evidence of breeding. During this period of improvement the fly
life drifted down stream into the newly clean water: large darks, BWO, pale watery, sedge.
The shrimp also appeared.
The same was happening in other
Yorkshire urban rivers. The club match fishermen grumbled and moaned and then moved on, in
search of dirty water. The rivers are now left to the trout and grayling lovers (and
occasionally those seeking the chub).
A 30 cm grayling. This took my s18 Griffiths
Gnat as it dropped from a bush onto the water (A deliberate technique...honestly!).
The picture today
is rosy. There are shoals of grayling of all sizes and some very decently sized trout. The
fishing can be had for very little cost on an annual basis. Day ticket water is hard to
find but there are stretches which are public access and free. The surroundings are
occasionally grim but the hard lines of industrial estates and steel fences are broken by
waterside trees and banks of vegetation. Starwort waves in the clear streamy water.
Kingfisher, dipper, wagtail and heron brighten the waterside but, be careful, that 15in
grayling may go to ground inside a stray supermarket trolley!
By Graham Wilkinson © 2004