Hardy Fin & Fly

The Grayling Mega Weeks Are Here by John Bailey

If we look at a big majority of record lists that concern themselves with very large Grayling then we will all notice that a lot of these fish came in the months of February and March right up to the end of the coarse season on the 14th. The next month is mega time for big Grayling with no doubt whatsoever and there is barely a finer wilder fish that swims in any of our rivers. I adore my wild Brown Trout but a big Grayling and I mean two or three pounds is right up there with the best.

I get out after these mega Grayling only too rarely these days and when I am on the bank for them I want to make one hundred percent use of the time especially if the day ticket is an expensive one. As a result I'm only talking about stuff that has worked for me and has worked well for me for many years. I'm not therefore going to talk about the dry fly at this time of the year. It's true you might find fish coming up periodically but I don't believe better fish are looking to the surface at all. I won't even bother.

It's often put about that cloudy water is the kiss of death but I'm not completely convinced about this. Location is essential and that's what makes clear water fishing so productive. If you know where the fish are however a tinge of colour doesn't half disguise what you're at. If I've got a day booked and if I've paid for a ticket then I'm not going to let a bit of colour put me off.

I was introduced to the Czech nymph technique in the Czech Republic back in 1994 exactly twenty years ago. I was stunned by its efficiency then and I'm stunned by its efficiency today. There's a hell of a lot to be learned with Czech nymphing believe me and it's all too easy to run the method down just because a relative beginner can put out a team of flies. There's nothing wrong in that. We need everybody we can get into the sport.

I'm not taking any credit for adapting the Czech nymph technique at all because many far better anglers than me have worked at it from their own angle. However what I would say is that I frequently don't use a team of nymphs like I was taught those years back and like I've often used since. I found when I started fishing for Barbel Czech nymph style but more than one fly was a positive handicap. When a big fish runs the other nymphs all too frequently get caught up amongst stones or weed and all manner of problems can occur. It's much the same with a big Grayling. They fight harder than you can imagine. If I'm lucky enough to hook into a three pounder and it literally bores its way downstream I don't want lots of other hooks swinging around asking for trouble and hang-ups.

We get onto the subject of strike indicators. Of course if they're not allowed on your water or if you have a moral objection to them then you obviously forget them. What I will say for my own part strike indicators have completely changed my Grayling fishing around. Pre 1994 I struggled. I reckoned I was missing nineteen sip-ins out of twenty. The strike indicator revolutionised my catches and I think there are many times that you'll simply never suss a Grayling take without one. I know you can watch the fish I know you can watch the leader I know you can watch the fly line itself. You can watch these like a Hawk and still miss a taking Grayling. And if you fished all day for one single take and you never even know you've triumphed that to me is a day and a ticket cost wasted.

It's now that we come to what for me is the interesting bit - the fish themselves. I think that you can forget your Brown Trout or your Rainbows. In my experience big Grayling don't act quite like any other river species not Trout not Roach not Dace not Chub. If there's anything they're a fraction like it's possibly Barbel but it's only a passing resemblance believe me.

All Grayling are wild and that necessarily means that they're spooky and can be scared by pretty much anything. I can think of groups of fish that have driven me wild over one or two days and I've barely been able to get a cast to them. However in the main these tended to be smaller very flitty fish often in extremely shallow water. I'm looking for bigger individuals in runs that are just a bit more substantial.

This is why clear water obviously gives you a heads-up. You can see the fish or at least you can see the type of lie that they tend to favour. My experience of very big Grayling tends to lead me to believe that they are territorial. Of course they will move according to weather conditions water heights and as spawning approaches but you will often find a big Grayling in the same run session upon session.
This is interesting. You can frequently move two or three big Grayling a few yards up or down a lie but very frequently they will just shift out of the way and then drift back to where they want to be. It's almost as though they know they're lords (and ladies) of their domain.

You'll often find them in those deeper runs of water that stand out in the winter often dark green or blue or brown depending on the light. If you look incredibly carefully and you're incredibly lucky you might well see big Grayling moving two three or four feet down. Often all you will really see is a shadow a hint of a fish rather than a sighting of startling clarity. Sometimes you've got to go with a gut instinct that the fish are there.

Another interesting aspect of these big Grayling is the way that you can drift a fly over them again and again and at last when really you're in the deepest throes of desperation one might just take. There's no rhyme or reason to it. It's probable that fish has seen that fly over and over but suddenly out of nothing changes its mind and sips it in. It's a truly exhilarating moment.

I hasten to admit that my best Grayling days petered out over the last few years. Through the ‘80s ‘90s and well into earlier years of this century I was obsessed with them. I guess I've taken good Grayling from at least twenty-odd rivers and I'm all fired up to start once more. This is largely because of the work done by great friend Neill Stephen. It's not in any way my place to tell you where Neill has been fishing or what Neill's been catching that is his prerogative. All I will say is that I've enjoyed talking to him about his experiences his triumphs and his failures. I think it's magnificent when I celebrity coarse angler can turn his hand to fly fishing and do it so magnificently successfully. And find so much fascination in it.

For now Neill has at least consented to show just one or two of his photographs. If these don't inspire you to get after Grayling in the next few weeks then I just don't know what on earth will. Enjoy and let us know how you fair.

Images in article courtesy of Neill Stephen.