by Simon Young
When the signs of autumn appear with the cooler weather and the trees starting to shed their leaves it is time to prepare ones tackle for some exciting winter grayling fishing. Once regarded as a nuisance by many river keepers in days gone by, the grayling now enjoys a much higher status in the game fishing hall of fame.
The grayling can provide us with some much needed sport during the winter recess from trout or salmon. The months of November right through to mid March are the prime times for nymph fishing, although on days blessed with a weak bit of sunshine after a freezing frosty start I have witnessed a good rise take place to a steady sparse hatch of olives. After a prolonged intensive cold spell grayling will often shoal up in the deeper pools and bends making their locating very easy and it is often possible to take a number of fish from the same place before the sport tails off.
The choice of tackle for winter grayling is very simple, a rod of #5 or #6 weight 9' - 9'6" is ideal, remember that it needs to be able to handle sometimes casting 2 heavy nymphs which can be tricky at the best of times. A WF floating line will manage this fly setup just fine. The choice of leader is straightforward, I tend to use a leader of around 10' made up from 8' of 6lb fluorocarbon with 2' of 5lb water knotted to it, the joint giving a dropper of approx 6"
Grayling seem to have a natural liking for flies with a touch of pink, even that old favourite the Grayling Bug which originally was tied with the now elusive Chadwick's No. 477 wool had a washed out pinkish hue. Czech nymphs with a heavy lead underbody dubbed over with pink fur or SLF would be my first choice. The Peeping Caddis featured in the fly-tying section with its fluorescent pink suede chenille rear will often pick out the better fish. A combination that fishes well is to use the heavier of the two flies on the dropper and the lighter of the two on the point; it can make for some creative casting especially if it's windy.
If this setup is cast upstream and the line kept in good contact with the flies as they start to come square in front of you the current will lift the lighter point fly as it starts to swing downstream, therefore inducing a take.
Do not ignore the dry fly, as I mentioned above don't discount the possibility of a brief hatch if the temperature rises even a little between mid day and about 3 o'clock. Flies such as a dry Red Tag, Witch, Grayling Steel Blue, CDC F flies and Klinkhammers are all worth carrying with you.
Try not to remain in one place too long, if you are not getting takes keep moving. I tend to fish for winter grayling a bit like salmon, a few casts at different angles and distances then a step or two downstream and repeat the exercise. Besides, moving keeps the feet warm when there is thick frost and ice in the rod rings.
Remember, wrap up warm, take a hot flask and enjoy the day.
Editor John Bailey adds...
I love this piece by Simon especially when it comes to his choice of flies. Simon has an expertise there which I can't match and I'm going to push him over the next weeks to develop this intimate knowledge on fly choice for all our favourite species.
Without quibbling about a single word that Simon has written I would like to make just a couple of observations of my own. First, when it comes to describing grayling swims, remember that they're not always the deepest pieces of water. Even large grayling will often opt for quite shallow, quite fast, quite streamy water. What's also interesting, in my experience, is that the very best grayling swims are eternal, or at least go on from year to year unless, or until, serious floods change the topography of the river bed. I've often found specific fish in exactly the same lie (much like you'd expect trout to behave) for two or even three winters in succession.
Nor would I quibble with Simon's choice of tackle. All I would add is that I've thoroughly enjoyed using ten foot or even ten-foot-six four and five weight rods. The Hardy Marksman and the Greys' Streamflex are perfect examples. Both are light, responsive, maintain some steel and are perfect at keeping control of the nymphs.
Simon also talks about a tippet of five pounds breaking strain. I have to say that on many of the educated grayling waters that I fish, a five pound bottom would be on the heavy side. I frequently found it necessary to go down to three or even two pound breaking strain. I make this decision with extreme caution and using longer, slightly lighter rods, I've yet to be seriously broken up. But I agree, it's always right to fish as heavy as you can get away with. There's no merit in fishing light and simply leaving a fly in a fish.
Lastly, Simon makes no mention of that most contentious of subjects - the strike indicator. If I went out fly fishing for grayling without a strike indicator of some description, I'd probably catch about a tenth as many grayling. I'm aware that you don't judge a day's fishing by the number of fish caught alone, but it's still an important point. Of course, on some waters, strike indicators are not allowed and that's that. But on the majority, for grayling at least, strike indicators are allowed and the question has to be addressed. Of course, the strike indicator doesn't necessarily have to be as boldly obvious as a float. There are all manner of dodges that anglers can and do get up to which minimise the crudeness of the approach. For example, I've often utilised bits of twig even to do the job.
Leo, my great Dutch fishing companion, always refers to his strike indicators as levellers. By that he means their primary function is to set the depth at which the nymph or nymphs work and he has a big point here. The deeper the water you fish, the more difficult it is to know exactly where those nymphs are working without using a…hmm…leveller. I don't want to offend anyone out there but perhaps we shouldn't be too sniffy!
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