Once considered to be vermin in many parts, grayling are now well on their way to adopting their rightful mantle as one of the most sporting of our truly wild fishes, offering as they do a real challenge on bait, fly, and even ultralight lure tactics.

Nowhere is this more true than in the Scottish borders where the sad demise of once-magnificent salmon fishing has caused many clubs to consider alternative means of attracting anglers to their waters – and of course, income to their coffers! As a consequence, over the last few years increasing numbers of anglers have taken advantage of the improved availability of the fishing, often to be had merely for the price of a day ticket. The reported results have been outstanding, and tales of 3lb fish are legion – there have even been whispers of fish far, far exceeding that!

Now, despite this apparently being grayling sport way beyond my Yorkshire experience, until recently I’d not actually sampled it. Call it lethargy, call it ennui, call it plain, honest to goodness sloth, but I had yet to stir my bones and make the trek north. Maybe there was even a touch of cynicism there – surely the fishing couldn’t be THAT good – could it?

rbbg2.jpgAll that changed one night with a note posted to the Internet Angling Club (IAC) mailing list. At the time we were having one of our regular discussions on the merits of various centrepin reels, and David Deane was simply reporting on the previous day’s trip when he’d tested out a recent purchase. At the end of his note, he very casually mentioned that in the course of the day he’d taken a few grayling. The sizes of these grayling impressed me mightily. In a 7-fish bag, his smallest fish of 1-8 just about matched my biggest! The others were all around the 2-8 mark. Clearly the bag also impressed others on the list, for the flurry of congratulatory and admiring emails before long resulted in arrangements being made for an IAC northern fish-in.

As the day grew nearer, plans were made, flies were tied, pins were serviced, rods were cleaned, bait was bought .…… and mere days before we went, foot and mouth was discovered on a farm in the Borders area. Fearing a long but fruitless journey, a few last-minute phone calls and emails gave us the all-clear but, as the situation was rapidly developing, it was with a sense of some trepidation that I set off on the Friday-evening drive north. Luckily, come Saturday no restrictions had been put in place and we were able to feast our eyes on the river.

Ah yes, the river. Very cold, very clear, and at a lower level than it had been for several months. Combined with clear skies, bright sun and low temperatures, conditions were not particularly conducive, but what the hell, you have to play the cards you’re dealt. It was obvious that the grayling would be in the slower, deeper water, so it was with that in mind that we selected our beat for the morning.

rbbg3.jpgWide, steady and mostly deep, the stretch looked a dead cert for grayling, provided we could locate them. I decided to spend a little time searching the water on the fly, and put on a team of heavily leaded Czech nymphs. Although always something of a chance on unknown water, I fancied the essentially mobile tactic would allow me to search out one or two spots upon which I could later concentrate with bait tactics. The others opted for float fishing tactics, a decision that ultimately proved to be far more sensible! After 4 hours of covering many likely looking spots, all I had to show was 2 or 3 possible takes and several lost nymphs. My colleagues had fared better, although only just, with a few bites and one or two lost fish to maggot and/or sweetcorn. Clearly a change was necessary, and a move to a different beat proved to be the stimulus required, although a change in the weather and lowering light levels may have had more than a little to so with it! This new beat was much narrower, shallower, and streamier – more obvious grayling water, but still no pushover in such difficult conditions. Conversations with anglers who’d been on the beat all morning confirmed this – 5 anglers had taken the grand total of 1 fish.

An upstream walk saw us select and settle into varied swims. Having fished one of these for some 45 minutes, I’d just taken and returned a guesstimated 3lb brownie (or it may have been a sea trout – whatever, it went like stink!) when Phil appeared. Right on cue, my float buried and I took a 1-11 grayling. Not huge, but certainly very welcome in such difficult conditions. Whilst we chatted and tried to determine what, if anything, we were doing wrong, I had a phone call from Duncan. He’d got a b-i-g fish in the net to be weighed and photographed, was “only 1/4 of a mile upstream” and would we like to see it. You bet your sweet bippy we would!

rbbg4.jpgAfter a rapid and increasingly sweaty walk of at least a mile (thanks Duncan!), Phil and I finally spotted him on the next bend. At that very moment the most incredible snowstorm hit us, with visibility reducing from horizon to a few yards in about 1 minute – I exaggerate not, it was very seriously snowing. The weighing and photographing of the fish was made particularly difficult by the extremely strong wind blasting snow into eyes, cameras, and clothing. However, Duncan’s fish was duly logged at an incredible 2-12. A few brief moments of congratulation was followed by Phil and I laughingly telling Duncan to show us how it was done.

He cast out, the float buried and 5 minutes later, he landed a fish of 3-2.

What a fish A dark, iridescent violet-grey with a sail of a dorsal, a mouth like a chub, & that characteristic squirming action, never had any of us before seen a grayling of such magnificent proportions.

Suitably inspired by such sights, I went scuttling back to my swim (to blank!) whilst Duncan & Phil proceeded to share the swim for the remaining couple of daylight hours. Their efforts were rewarded by five more 2lb fish and a series of smiles that would not disappear for days!

Elsewhere on the river, other IAC members had similar tales to tell. Some anglers struggled, whilst others excelled. One had two fish around 2lb, another took 6 fish to 2-10, & a third had an incredible 14 fish – topped out by a 3-1!!

rbbg5.jpgIncredible results in difficult and challenging conditions, this was still grayling fishing the likes of which none of us had ever previously experienced. The following few days were alive with emails making tentative arrangements for a return visit before season’s close. Sadly this was not to materialise. But have no doubt – we’ll be back!

Richard Bartlett