When is a Grayling not a Grayling?

You may have noticed that Graylings have been in the news lately … but did you realise that the Environment Agency stocked the nearby River Irwell with 3,000 specimens of the fish Grayling (Thymallus thymallus) on 18th July 2018? 

The Environmental Agency supports British rivers when the fish stocks need a regular boost by restocking them with fish. Unfortunately the River Irwell sadly seems to suffer from more pollution incidents than most and so its fish stocks need a regular boost.

The only slight problem is that that Natural History researcher Malcolm Greenhalgh has uncovered that the idea that there were Graylings were once found in the River Irwell seems to have been based on a historical confusion.

The evidence that Grayling lived in the river Irwell in the Victorian period comes from J. Corbett’s 1907 book ‘The River Irwell: pleasant reminiscences of the nineteenth century and suggestions for improvement’.  In this book J. Corbett quotes from a lecture his father Edward Corbett gave to the Manchester Anglers’ Association on 14 October 1879:

“Of course I was converted to fly-fishing, and pursued my way, with or without one or more of my companions, as far as Ringley Weirhole. There we generally caught some fish, and at sundry places on the way we had more or less success; often bringing home ten or twelve fine fish, either grayling, chub, or dace; occasionally only gudgeons and minnows.”

Unfortunately Natural History researcher Malcolm Greenhalgh has since discovered this is actually a misquote of Edward Corbett’s lecture because Edward Corbett’s original lecture was actually published in a book called ‘Anglers’ Evenings’. In this book Edward is quoted as saying “often bringing home ten or twelve fine fish, either graining, chub, or dace”. 

So it appears that Graining and not Grayling used to be found in the River Irwell. So what is a Graining?

Interestingly one of the first mentions of a Graining is from 18th century near Warrington. In his 1774 book ‘A Tour in Scotland, and Voyage to the Hebrides 1772′  Thomas Pennant (1726 – 1798) writes:

“in the Mersey, near Warrington, and in the river Alt, which runs by Sephton, Lancashire, into the Mersey near Formby, a fish called Graining is taken…”’

While it is initially described as a separate species of fish the Graining (Leuciscus lancastriensis) is now identified as a local Lancastrian variation of the fish known as a Common Dace (Leuciscus leuciscus).

Edward Corbett himself describes them thus:

They are a fine fish of good flavour, like a herring in size, form, and colour, and not so broad as a dace, nor so thick as a chub. They are described in Webster’s Dictionary as ‘Graining (Leuciscus Lancastriensis), a small fish found in England and Switzerland.” We caught them in the rapids generally….”

So, in answer to the question “when is a Grayling not a Grayling?” – a Grayling is a Grayling except when it’s a Graining … which is actually a variety of Dace.

The above article was summarised from Malcolm Greenhalgh’s ‘GRAYLING AND THE RIVER IRWELL’.