Swedish version

Urban Grayling
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 grayling.

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 80’s, 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 1960’s 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 it’s 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 always found.

  Eventually and 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 90’s, 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




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