Grayling Fishing - Between Times
Sean Meeghan enjoys a grayling session in the hiatus betwixt autumn and winter and goes on to offer some thought-provoking opinions on how best to target the species.
This time of year is hard for the river angler. Summer has gone and winter is not yet here; we are caught between times. My local rivers have been out of sorts for a while now, with falling water temperatures and high colour and now we have leaves, countless leaves! I suppose I could fish a lake or one of the many nearby canals, but my fishing is defined by running waters, their sounds and their many textures. To me at this time of year, fishing running waters means float fishing for grayling.
The trees on the valley walls are glowing a rich coppery green in the bright sunshine. It's a beautiful autumn day, too good for work so I've taken the afternoon off. The river is at a good level, maybe 6 inches up, but it's very clear and full of leaves. I tackle up well back from the water's edge: a 2 swan Drennan Loafer is threaded on to the 6lb WB Clarke Matchline, a short hook length of 0.13mm Reflo Powerline and a size 16 hook at the business end.
The first swim is an absolute banker grayling swim. A tongue of fast water pushes from the end of a boulder chute, forming elongated triangles of steadier water against each bank. Grayling always hold in the “pocket” at the head of this steadier water and these are often bigger fish. In these clear, bright conditions the fish will spook easily, so I guess the depth, impale a small worm on the hook and drop it carefully just above the pocket. The float travels less than a yard before it catches me by surprise and jags under. I strike too soon and bump a fish. I add a couple of inches to the depth and drop the float in again. Just as it enters the pocket the bait drags on the bottom and the float dips under. I brake the reel slightly and it pops back up, only to jag sharply under again. I pause slightly before lifting the rod tip and playing my first grayling of the day.
The pocket produces two more grayling, a trout and two lost fish. I then increase the length of the trot, concentrating on the crease between the steadier and faster water. I can't hold the float back too much as the leaves catch on the line and drag it under, so I set it just on depth and run it down the crease, braking the reel to bring the float back to the surface if it drags under as the bait trips bottom. I now start to feed a few maggots every cast and after ten minutes I switch to double maggot. This fools a few more grayling, but the trout soon become a nuisance and I decide to move.
I try a couple of deeper glides without success. They will be good cold water swims come winter, but there are no grayling in residence today. My next swim is classic ‘popply’ water, a shallow run, around 2ft deep and floored with fine gravel. As before I explore the swim using a worm and try several lines without success. I can't understand this as swims like this almost invariably contain grayling, so it's just a matter of working out where they are. I pour a cup of tea and whilst I'm drinking I carefully scan the surface of the river looking for any smoother area that signifies slightly deeper water. The water just below the head of the run looks suspiciously smooth so I decide to give it a go.
I raise the float another six inches and creep cautiously into position. Due to the clarity of the water I decide to kneel in order to avoid spooking any resident fish. Kneeling in 18 inches of water in breathable chesties is decidedly cool around the nether regions at this time of year so I hope it will be worth it! The first run through looks promising as the float travels around 12ft before dragging under. I put another few inches on and drop it in again. This time it only travels a short way before dipping sharply under. It's a decent grayling and it gives me the run around in the fast water. I get another grayling on the next trot, but shortly after this I hook a decent trout which trashes the swim before the hook pulls. Time for a move!
The next swim is another fast run, but the smoother surface tells of slightly deeper water and sure enough I'm tripping bottom at just over 3ft. Again I start with the worm and I run the float down the edge of the channel. On my third trot, about 30 yards down the run, I get some quick dips of the float which look suspiciously fishy. I mark the spot for later attention and continue to explore the swim. After ten minutes without any further indication I move about ten yards down the swim. I suspect that there are grayling present, but that the clarity of the water is demanding better presentation than I can deliver with long trotting. I don't want to fine down any further, so it will be a matter of improving presentation as best I can. I'll now split the run into much shorter swims concentrating on a short length at a time and getting bait presentation just right. It's now a matter of running the float through, holding back as much as I dare and tinkering with the depth until I'm just tripping bottom. After half a dozen trots without an indication I'll move a few yards downstream and try again.
After my second move I catch a trout, but then just before I'm about to move again I hook a small grayling. I start to trickle a few maggots in and then switch to double maggot. This gets me three more grayling before I hook something that I just can't get under control. The unseen monster gradually gains more and more line before the rod straightens abruptly. On retrieving I find the hook length is heavily abraded so it looks like whatever it was has gone around a rock. The light is fading and I've caught enough fish for one afternoon, so I decide to call it a day and head for home. It's not been an easy day, but by thinking carefully about presentation and fish location I've had half a dozen grayling and had a really enjoyable time.
Some thoughts on Trotting and Grayling
There has been some discussion on both trotting and grayling fishing on the forums of late, so it might be useful if I outline my own thoughts on the subjects in a bit of detail. Some of this I covered in my article on cold water grayling last winter, but I feel that it will stand repeating.
Over the years I've used many lines for trotting, but nowadays I've settled on WB Clarke Matchline in 6lb breaking strain. It's the best compromise I've found for the varied conditions I'll come across during my angling year. It floats well, it has low diameter and it sits well on the reel. As with all low diameter lines care must be taken with knots. I've learnt that a 2 turn water knot is best for attaching hook lengths and a grinner knot is best for eyed hooks if I'm fishing straight through.
I now rarely use anything other than a Drennan Loafer for trotting. Much of accepted lore on float selection is actually cobblers, based on supposition and a poor understanding of how floats actually behave in the water. Does an Avon float fished bottom end only behave any differently from a straight waggler taking the same weight? Does the same Avon fished top and bottom behave any differently from a big stick float taking the same weight? If you haven't guessed, the answer is no in both cases. OK a longer float will tangle less when fished top and bottom, but that's the only practical difference. Remember that the stick float was actually developed for fishing the far bank of canals with a slow falling bait, not for fishing running water.
The Loafer has two big advantages. Firstly it is a short float, which helps when fishing shallow water and secondly it has a domed tip, which means it doesn't suffer from blink. What is blink? Well, imagine you are fishing with an Avon float in poor light conditions and it has 2cm of tip showing above the water. This makes the float very visible - until you hold it back. When you do this the tip of the float points back towards you, becomes less visible and appears to blink out of sight. Or have you just had a bite? The domed tip of the Loafer, however, remains roughly the same apparent size no matter what angle it adopts. I'm certainly not suggesting that you should use a Loafer when fishing for bits on a smooth, slow flowing river, but for most fast water fishing it's really the only float that you need.
Rods and Reels
You might have noticed that I was using a cane rod and a centre pin reel in the pictures above. The rod is a 50-year-old 10ft 6in Lucky Strike and the reel is a Rapidex of roughly the same vintage. I use them because I enjoy fishing with them and because they actually work quite well in most situations. If I had to catch a grayling on the float to save my life I'd use an Abu 506 and a 13ft match rod. The Abu, or a small fixed spool if you haven't got a 506, is just so much more effective at fishing a float than a centre pin. Long float rods might work slightly better in some situations, but a 13ft rod is just as good 99% of the time and the shorter rod I was using today will perform just as well on 95% of occasions.
The technique of using a worm to explore a swim before even thinking about using maggot will double your catches of grayling. Firstly because grayling will often take a worm in preference to a maggot and secondly because loose feeding maggots will always attract trout and trout will always get to a bait before a grayling. Once you've caught a few trout and disturbed the swim you can forget about catching grayling.
Ah the romance of long trotting! Unfortunately it just isn't an efficient and effective method of catching fish. Shorter trots make for much more effective line control and much better bait presentation. I'm now quite happy to split a ten yard swim up into two or three swims. In fact, if I can present a bait perfectly over a few feet of a swim then I'll do just that and then adjust my presentation later to fish the rest of the swim well. I now almost always split swims of more than about 20 yards into two or more swims so that I can improve my presentation. In clear water I'm happy to kneel to avoid spooking fish rather than stand and increase the length of the trot, the cold water soon numbs them!
The three swims I described above are, broadly speaking, the main swims you should concentrate on when grayling fishing. The pocket and crease, the scour in popply water and the fast run will all contain grayling. As the water cools the fish will tend to move into deeper water and shoal up more tightly. My article ‘Cold Water Grayling’ goes into a bit more detail if you want to learn more.
Chalk Stream vs Spate River
The North - South divide! Actually, I've fished the Hampshire Avon and the Kennet on many occasions and grayling behave much the same in these rivers as they do in the northern spate rivers. They occupy the same type of swim, behave in the same way and take the same baits as their northern cousins, they just tend to have an easier life as conditions tend to be more stable than in the volatile spate rivers.
Do You Agree?
So there we are. So much of what we take as fact in fishing is actually just opinion. Over my nearly 50 years of angling I've learnt that the more I think about what I do and the more I question why we do what we do, the more successful I am. Most of what I said above is just my opinion, admittedly based on experience, but still opinion. What is your opinion? Am I right or just misguided? Drop me a PM or post a message below and tell me what you think.
By the Same Author
- Book review - Memories of the Yorkshire Fishing Industry
- Winter Fishing – A Wandering Session
- Barbel Fishing - Floodwater Tactics on Big Rivers
- Nash PegOne Tackle ‘n’ Bait Caddy
- Loch Lomond Dreams
- River Fishing - The Last Hurrah
- Cold Water Chub
- Chub Fishing on a Rising River
- Grayling Fishing - Between Times
- Book Review - The Lambton Worm by Pete McParlin