Go, Get A Grayling This Winter

J

John Bailey

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This is NOT another potboiler by a writer trying to sell an article. This is a plea from the heart that if you love wild fish and if you relish rivers, then you are simply bonkers if you do not consider some grayling action this winter. Me, personally, I honestly can’t think of anything not to like about them. They live in our most glorious rivers. They are not hard to catch, generally. They fight way over their weight and they look gobsmacking. You can catch them trotting, which is lovely with float rod and pin if you are going to do it right! You can catch them on feeder – but we won’t talk about that. But you can catch them on fly, on Czech nymphing and this really is the easiest way into fluff chucking there is.


But before I go on with this, a MASSIVE word of caution. Grayling are our most delicate, fragile, vulnerable species. They fight to within an inch of their life, literally. I’ve rarely netted a single one that has not been exhausted by the end. So, if you want a trophy shot make it quick. The best way to return them is to let them rest on top of water covered reeds, rushes or weed in the margins of the river. Don’t keep holding them upright because your touch stresses them further. Let them lie for as long as it takes with water brushing over them, their gills especially. You can fish on but check them every 5 minutes till they move off under their own steam. I’ve tried a hundred ways to return grayling and this was taught me by Slovenian maestros and is the best method for sure. I’d be failing the fish if I did not make a BIG thing of this issue so thank you for sticking with me.

I could talk about the glories of being out in valley and dale in the frosts and mists but you know all that. I’ll get on with POINTS TO PONDER – which seem to me a good way of focusing on the best ways to approach any fishing situation.


  • James Buckley on the Test

  • John Bailey

Geography

Southern Scotland, Northumberland, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Wales, Lincolnshire, Herefordshire, the entire swathe of counties that make up Wessex. There really are grayling nationwide, apart from East Anglia where they finally died out in the 1980s. So, apart from an unlucky few anglers, there are grayling in a river near you. Big fish are all about Post Codes. If there are three pounders in your river, fine, but remember a one-pounder is a fish to be proud of and a two on any river is something special.

Cost

You can pay £60 or £70 per day on some of the southern chalk streams and as little as £50 per season on some Tees beats. Many rivers are in between and not out of reach financially. If you are trotting, you have the float gear and two pints of maggots will do you for a short winter’s day. If you decide to nymph fish – and you should – a complete outfit, with flies, should not set you back more than £150 if you shop around. Look for a 10ft 4wt rod with reel and floating line to match. A few nylon leaders and a pot of floating putty for a strike indicator and you are set. It could not be easier. I’ll add chest waders are very useful on rivers where you are allowed to wade.

If you decide to try the fly, it is never a bad idea to buy a day’s tuition to start you off. In the North, I can’t recommend Olly Shepherd of Fly Fishing Yorkshire too highly, even though he is a bit of a good-natured upstream grayling purist. You’ll have a great day, be inspired and never look back. In the South, Simon Cooper at Fishing Breaks is a great guy who will have ideas…albeit slightly costly ones. We are talking the Stockbridge area after all where a bottle of cider costs £12!
Talking dosh…I did mention a modern 10-foot fly rod can be picked up cheaply, but good built cane is hard to beat. It has an easy action that just suits Czech nymphing so if you are looking for an excuse to splash out on a vintage Hardy, I’ve just given it to you on a plate!



Swims

Grayling will live anywhere down a stretch. Personally, I look for steady runs over nice clean beds of sand, chalk or gravel. Grayling do not like boiling water or dirty riverbeds. Water between 3 and 6 feet deep I think is perfect. Don’t overlook the obvious places like weir pools and always look for grayling rising and giving away their location.


Trotting

My kit would be a 14 foot rod, pin loaded with 4 pound line and a size 16 hook with two maggots as bait. The stick float size will depend on flow and depth of course. I like to go light but heavier water is an issue and you need to see the float at distance. I have seen grayling caught at 70 yards but you and I are doing well to pick them up at 50, I’d say. I feed moderately and I move slowly down the run until a shoal is located. You can catch a clutch of fish till the group spooks and disappears. This whole approach depends on travelling light. This is not really box/chair work. A little bag with spares and a pouch around your waist for maggots and you are free to roam.

Czech Nymphing

Let me say at once that you can catch grayling on dries (floating flies) but fishing artificial nymphs down the flow is more reliable in winter. There are purists who look down on the method because it is easy to make a start on…but much harder to become expert at. I talked about a strike indicator earlier and these are essential if you are to see the lightning quick takes. But a strike indicator is nothing more than a tiny float placed up the line from the fly. You are in effect trotting with fly gear. Set the indicator at about the depth of the swim, just as you would with a float and maggot set up and you are in business.


Wading to your knees is useful if allowed. Pull a bit of line off the reel and flick the strike indicator and nymph upstream five yards or so. There is no real, traditional casting as such. It is more like a short roll cast when you just turn the rod tip over and the line “rolls” out. Easy, honest. And you will very soon get better. Follow the indicator down with the rod tip and when it gets to its limit downstream, simply lift off and repeat the process. Move slowly down the swim so you are covering water and looking for the grayling as you go. Strike if the indicator goes under, stops, moves across or upstream. Set the indicator so the nymph bounces bottom so you will get false bites, just as you do with normal float work.

You can use teams of one, two or three flies. Even after thirty years of doing this, I still prefer a single fly on the end of the mono leader. You get no tangles and you stand less chance of a big fish finding a snag. Most grayling flies are lead weighted and often tied to resemble shrimps with a dash of pink or red. Buy a selection of a few patterns on hook sizes 16 or 14.

My Record Grayling


JB and Simon Ellis with record grayling

Well, it wasn’t actually mine but I was guiding Simon Ellis in February 2019 when he caught all 4 pounds 8 ounces of it on a bright afternoon on a Wessex chalk stream. I’m finishing with this fish because it was caught on a nymph from a long, smooth run down which we had float fished maggots the previous three days. You see, the disturbance caused by a biggish float had spooked that mammoth fish but when Simon crept in with a tiny indicator and single fly, it took with supreme confidence.


Simon Ellis and historic fly

The Lesson? Do not think bait is always best because it is not. A real point to ponder.

The post Go, Get A Grayling This Winter first appeared on FishingMagic Magazine.

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grayson

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I love winter grayling and I am privileged to fish some lovely rivers in Yorkshire for them . As JB says , you can only catch what's there , and although I caught my first grayling in 1980 , my PB remained at a modest 1-12 until 2005 , on a new river - not a Pennine one but a Moors river . (One which the jungle telegraph suggests JB or one of his crew may have visited for a forthcoming TV series of Whitehouse and Mortimer). Anyway, since 2005 I have had over 50 two plus fish from it , to 2-13 , so far. Like many good grayling rivers it is permissible to trot , but only with worms . That necessitates a more roving technique , akin to fly , and for various reasons, much more robust gear than you might use for maggots.

I fish a 12'Harrison float rod with a good 'pin, and use robust 5.9 lb mainline with a hook length of 0.13 Reflo , or .015 mm in heavy water . As the current is powerful and highly variable I use a 3-4 AA plus Loafer float , Kamasan B983 hooks in 12 or 14 and a whole or section of dendrobena . Hook choice is important as grayling are just buggers for falling off , and the chances of that happening are higher when the fish is below you, as it will be when trotting (but not for the Klink and Dink and nymphing fly techniques I also use) . Final hint - don't think grayling all live in those 3 -4 ft deep glides , even in mid winter . You'd be amazed how many you pick up in fast water only a foot deep , or even less, on float . They can be
tackle shy on chalkstreams , and/or hardfished waters but they are very reluctant to spook on my rivers. I've had some under the rod top when fly fishing .

And be careful , as wading powerful flows can be hairy . I paid tribute to the great Yorkshire angler Francis Walbran the other day , visiting his grave at West Tanfield church. It's yards from the Ure , where poor Walbran drowned while grayling fishing in February... So think on.
 

itsfishingnotcatching

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Methinks a "Fish-in" needs to be sorted when (or if) this lock down finishes, done the Itchen a few times, don't mind a trip up North if anyone's got any suggestions. There's grayling in the Teme locally but I've not had anything of real consequence.
 

sam vimes

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Don't forget poor old County Durham and Cumbria. Often overlooked counties, but both have plenty of grayling.
Sadly, the Swale doesn't seem to be anywhere near as prolific for grayling as it once was. Something that I suspect might be true of many of the Dales rivers. However, I don't recall fish over 2lb ever being a common thing. I've had no grayling over 1lb 12oz from a main river in at least a couple of decades. The biggest I've had in a similar time frame is 1lb 15oz from a small beck tributary.

I know of two Yorkshire rivers that I'd fancy my chances of a 2lb grayling. One is the river I'd suspect that grayson is talking about. The other is the only chalk stream outside of southern England.
 

grayson

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Mine is the Rye , I wont be coy . But I'd rate the Seven and Seph very highly too . Driffield Beck, of course too. But at a gazillion quid a day for hammered fish (on the only day ticket water I know ) my enthusiasm is well in check !
 

theartist

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There's plenty of free stretches of Grayling fishing in the South and Southwest too if you don't want to pay a pretty penny, the fishing is generally harder and the fish are smaller but my pb came from a free stretch. It's proper grayling fishing and you have to work for it, we shouldn't rock up expecting 2lb fish, we don't do that with roach or perch after all.

I've had grayling out of these and didn't pay a penny
Frome, Rother, Itchen, Avon, Allen, Tone, Little Avon, Lugg, Kennet, Lambourn, Lea and Teme. There's also some on cheap day tickets like Rea Brook and Windrush plus there's still a few more free ones on the 'Still to do' list
 
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Peter Jacobs

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I guess I am pretty lucky as my house is right across the road from the Hampshire Avon where there are plenty of grayling although 1½lbs is a very good fish indeed locally.

Almost any stretch of that river, above Salisbury, will contain grayling and trout of varying sizes.
 

dalesman

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Grayling is my number one fish, there's nothing better than roving with a small bag for bits and bobs plus a flask and butty. One 14' or 15' rod with a pin and a net.
 

itsfishingnotcatching

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There's plenty of free stretches of Grayling fishing in the South and Southwest too if you don't want to pay a pretty penny, the fishing is generally harder and the fish are smaller but my pb came from a free stretch. It's proper grayling fishing and you have to work for it, we shouldn't rock up expecting 2lb fish, we don't do that with roach or perch after all.

I've had them out of these and didn't pay a penny
Frome, Rother, Itchen, Avon, Allen, Tone, Little Avon, Lugg, Kennet, Lambourn, Lea and Teme. There's also some on cheap day tickets like Rea Brook and Windrush plus there's still a few more free ones on the 'Still to do' list
Was it a BAA stretch of the Lugg Rob?
 

grayson

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They seem to thrive in cold weather, and are in their best condition in winter . But the main reason is that share habitat with trout , and when trout breed in late Autumn (and are obviously not fished for) , grayling become a prime species to target . To prove a point , I once trotted for grayling in minus 8C - and caught several , though iced rod rings were a problem ....
 

sam vimes

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I mainly catch grayling in the winter because I largely take a break from the rivers during the coarse closed season and the early part of the new season. Once my tench fishing tails off, I'm back to the rivers but the grayling are a little thin on the ground and catches are dominated by dace, chub and trout. As Autumn arrives, the chub and dace largely migrate downstream to be replaced by grayling in increasing numbers. The fact that grayling can be positively obliging, even in the coldest conditions, are at peak condition and don't fight to total exhaustion, are the reasons I have for fishing for them in the colder months. I'd really rather avoid catching them in the summer.
 

Krang

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So I'm no more likely to catch one from a trout stream in winter than at any other time of year? It seems strange that they mostly get caught during winter, given how often streams are fished for trout during the trout season. I'd expect that they'd most often be caught when the streams are most often fished. Unless people use different flies/lures to target them, or they become more active in the cold, or something. :unsure:

I'm wondering if the stretches of stream I fish for trout have grayling. I've never fished them in winter before but given that I've never caught a grayling during trout season it seems unlikely they're there?
 
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sam vimes

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So I'm no more likely to catch one from a trout stream in winter than at any other time of year? It seems strange that they mostly get caught during winter, given how often streams are fished for trout during the trout season. I'd expect that they'd most often be caught when the streams are most often fished. Unless people use different flies/lures to target them, or they become more active in the cold, or something. :unsure:

I'm wondering if the stretches of stream I fish for trout have grayling. I've never fished them in winter before but given that I've never caught a grayling during trout season it seems unlikely they're there?
Trout aren't necessarily a good indicator of the presence of grayling. There are plenty of rivers (and stretches of rivers) where trout are abundant and grayling are rare or don't exist at all. There are also quite a few rivers where grayling are present but aren't believed to be indigenous. Quite a few rivers have had unsuccessful stockings attempted. Chances are that water temperatures, water quality and poor spawning habitat have been responsible for the demise of such failed stockings.

Grayling are cold water fish and are more active in colder water than most other common fish species. It also means that they tend to migrate upstream to colder water in the summer. They also require fairly high levels of oxygenation which may not be so common on slower rivers or at higher temperatures. Even in places they don't migrate away from in summer, other species are likely to outcompete them in warmer conditions. On the parts of the rivers I fish, there are fewer grayling about and those that remain are generally beaten to the punch by trout, minnows and similarly transitory chub and dace. If I actually want to catch them in summer, I can either travel further upstream or fish just below areas of really fast broken water.

From my time in Oxfordshire, I seem to recall watching grayling in the Windrush in the Standlake, Witney and Burford areas. I left that part of the world after three years. By that time, I was seeing none around Standlake, the odd one around Witney and just a few around Burford. It's possible that you could be fishing places that don't hold grayling in the summer, but there might be some in the winter.

https://www.wildtrout.org/content/grayling-trout
 

Krang

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Trout aren't necessarily a good indicator of the presence of grayling. There are plenty of rivers (and stretches of rivers) where trout are abundant and grayling are rare or don't exist at all. There are also quite a few rivers where grayling are present but aren't believed to be indigenous. Quite a few rivers have had unsuccessful stockings attempted. Chances are that water temperatures, water quality and poor spawning habitat have been responsible for the demise of such failed stockings.

Grayling are cold water fish and are more active in colder water than most other common fish species. It also means that they tend to migrate upstream to colder water in the summer. They also require fairly high levels of oxygenation which may not be so common on slower rivers or at higher temperatures. Even in places they don't migrate away from in summer, other species are likely to outcompete them in warmer conditions. On the parts of the rivers I fish, there are fewer grayling about and those that remain are generally beaten to the punch by trout, minnows and similarly transitory chub and dace. If I actually want to catch them in summer, I can either travel further upstream or fish just below areas of really fast broken water.

From my time in Oxfordshire, I seem to recall watching grayling in the Windrush in the Standlake, Witney and Burford areas. I left that part of the world after three years. By that time, I was seeing none around Standlake, the odd one around Witney and just a few around Burford. It's possible that you could be fishing places that don't hold grayling in the summer, but there might be some in the winter.

https://www.wildtrout.org/content/grayling-trout
Thanks for the insights! I'm going to give grayling fishing a go this winter. It's the only common UK predator that has thus far eluded me. I'm thinking I might try the Kennet in Newbury over a weekend. Already looking at hotels.
 

Philip

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Surely, one of the prettiest fish …they have an Aston Martin DB9 look about them :)

Not a fish I often cross paths with and I keep meaning to have a more concentrated crack at them but never got round to it. The point about catching the big one with a tiny indicator & fly is interesting. I wonder if something similar could work for fish such as pressured Roach, Dace and even Chub that may be spooking off the disturbance from a float. Keep the tiny indicator & swap the fly for a single maggot…
 
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