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Glory at Grassholme

Discovering the key to the Co Durham rainbow trout water

At last! Success!
At last! Success!

To an angler more accustomed to rivers, Grassholme Reservoir seems huge. With four miles of banking, it’s difficult to know where to start. But it’s not just the size; the reservoir is intimidating for other reasons too. Everyone who goes there seems to be filling their boots. A few years ago, a grandfather was prosecuted for stealing trout after being caught with a dozen fish in his bag. A dozen?!

The news report was particularly disheartening because in my three visits to the same water I had caught precisely… nothing. Blanking is one thing, but blanking when everyone else is catching is difficult to bear. The closest I came was a take on a Shipman’s Buzzer, which was such a surprise I yanked the fly from the fish’s mouth. And just to top off that particular day of misery, a swarm of midges ate my head. It was the final straw. Stamping all the way back to the car, I quietly swore never to return.

But time (and Savlon) is a great healer. It was the last weekend of October and what looked like the final warm spell of the year. I parked at the west end of the reservoir and began walking along the bank, making the occasional speculative cast, more in hope than expectation. Then I came to a broad bay where a stream flowed under a small bridge before entering the reservoir. This bay felt more like the rivers I’m used to; it could easily be a pool of the Tees or Swale. Here and there, its calm surface was disturbed by bubbles that could – just possibly – be caused by fish rooting around on the lake bed. Since there was little else to go on, I decided to believe that they were indeed caused by fish. As I peered into the fly box, the size ten Orange Fritz Booby seemed to stand out in the way only an Orange Fritz Booby can. Perhaps it would catch a trout’s eye just as it had caught mine. Casting as far as possible across the mouth of the bay, I began a quick–quick–slow retrieve. For the first time at Grassholme, it felt like I was fishing properly.

A few minutes later, as I waited for the Booby to sink closer to the bottom before beginning another retrieve, the floating fly line went from perfectly straight to lying on the surface in coils, like a collapsed cast. Dismissing it as a trick of the current (an undertow caused by the stream flowing into the reservoir?), I started to gather in the line when it tightened and then began to pulse and thump with the unmistakable feel of a heavy fish-twisting and turning. Then the pulsing and thumping changed to a steady pull as the fish set course for the high seas at the mouth of the bay, slowly but inexorably gathering speed and momentum.

My five–weight rod was bent double before there was enough resistance to turn him, line leaving the reel in short shrieks, but he had no sooner arrived back in the bay when he slowly turned again towards the open water, still pulling steadily and strongly. He made five or six similar runs, each a little shorter than the last, until finally he tired and came to the surface with his head up, sliding over the rim of my new scoop-net (the old one went missing when the car was in for a service – but that’s another story).

Once out of the water, the fish was so big I couldn’t support him properly with one hand while photographing him with the other, so none of the pictures do him justice – without a hand in the shot, it’s difficult to appreciate his size. In fact, I decided, he was far too big to have been stocked this year. He must be from a previous year; a survivor that had grown on, becoming much smarter and harder to catch...in fact, not really a stockie at all. Isn’t it wonderful how a single fish can completely repair the ego!

But back to reality: starting out with low expectations, I bought a sporting catch–and–release day ticket, so instead of returning home with a trophy fish, I had to watch it swim away. It had munched the Orange Fritz Booby to a pulp, but now that I know they are the key to unlocking Grassholme, I will be tying a few more  in the coming weeks. A dozen should be enough…

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