The Grayling (thymallus thymallus) , the lady of the stream once thrown up the bank and considered a pest by the keepers of the Chalk Streams and Trout anglers alike. Thought to be in direct competition with the Brown Trout and not only competing for food but also the best lies in the river. Thankfully that attitude has changed over the years and Grayling are now highly prized by many anglers seeking an alternative in the Trout closed season. A good fish would be in the 2lb bracket or 40-45cm in length but there are bigger Grayling to be had if you know where to look. Fish to 4lb have been taken in this country.
As the nights draw in and the cold winds wrap their tentacles around the back end of October, most self-respecting Trout anglers are packing away their kit for the winter. This is when a hardy breed surface and revel in the prospect of hitting frost covered banks. The Grayling angler makes the most of the shorter days searching the gravel patches on the river looking for the pods of Grayling. Once located and they can be difficult to spot, how to catch them? That’s the million-dollar question! I have fished for Grayling in the South of England predominantly so I will concentrate on that in this article.
The river is a fickle beast and we have all complained that there is too much water, its high and dirty. It’s too low and clear you can’t get near them, fisherman who would have them! Let’s tackle high and dirty first, this can be a bit of a blessing to the Grayling anger. You can no longer sight fish so you have to reason that the fish are going to have some trouble spotting you. This means you can get up close and personal, the Grayling are still there and will be happily feeding away. One item of food that can feature in these conditions will be the earth worm, washed from the side of the banks they become fair game to hungry fish.
Love them or hate them the squirmy wormy is a game changer in these conditions and will often take Grayling when all else is failing. I have found the best way to fish them is with a heavy anchor pattern on the point and the squirmy a foot or so up the cast. I prefer a longer rod for this method 10’ plus is good, 11’ is better. This gives you the reach to fish your flies across a run with perfect control. Depending on the speed of the river you can either fish up or downstream. Grayling are not as spooky as trout and will often come and feed from your boot laces. Some of the biggest fish I have caught came from only a very short distance from me.
When conditions are good Grayling can present you with great sport on the dry fly or even the odd occasion fishing wet flies through a pod can produce the goods. For dry fly fishing I like a shorter rod and a light line 8’6 – 9’ for a #3. Some advocate a heavier set up for coping with the wind but I have never found this to be the case. I usually have a 9’ tapered leader which I have cut down from the tip where I attach a tippet ring. This cuts down the amount of tippet that you can burn through. Fluro Vs Copolymer to be honest if you are fishing .08 diameter tippet as I often do it makes little difference. If I think I am in with a shout of a better fish then copolymer would be my tippet of choice in .12. A green bodied sedge in a size 18 seems to always do me well for the Grayling despite what is coming off in regard to fly life.
By far one of my favourite methods is the delicate Duo or the klink and dink as it is sometime referred to. This involves using a small nymph under a buoyant dry fly such as a balloon caddis or a sedge pattern. My favourite though is a parachute Adams you can vary the post colour to cope with difficult light and it will also take lots of fish. You can fish this right down in size and when the water is low I have fished the dry fly #18 and an unweighted pheasant tail nymph below it #20. This has often been the only way to catch fish when the river is on its bones.
Far superior anglers to me would recommend that you fish the dry on a dropper and this has its merits. My choice though is to suspend the nymph from the bend of the hook, I have tried to use a dropper but always come back to this way of doing my business. This technique has its limitations and some would argue that you are neither fishing the nymph nor the dry fly properly and who am I to disagree. What I can say with some confidence is when conditions dictate this method is hard to beat when it comes to putting fish in the net.
Are these the only ways to catch Grayling, most certainly not. I dare say I have barely scratched the surface. I can heartily recommend spending some time if conditions permit just observing the fish. Much can be learned by just watching the behaviour of the fish, I have often watched as my flies have come through a pod only to be rejected. The first time a fish may come and look the second time through the entire pod ignores the fly. It is as though they have a collective consciousness and have as a group decided that this is not a food item. I find the best way to combat this is to change patterns often until you get a positive reaction.
If you have not tried Grayling fishing on the fly don’t do it! It’s often freezing cold and raining and after a couple of hours you can’t even feel your hands let alone tie on a fly. Just sit at home in front of the fire with your feet up reading the latest fishing mag. Only idiots would venture out in these conditions. I for one am a happy idiot, I have been called much worse.