Hardy Fin & Fly

Tips For Grayling by Howard Croston

Grayling are probably my favourite freshwater game fish - dare I say it even more so than a big wild Brown Trout although I would never pass up the chance of one of those either. I have chased Grayling and in particular big Grayling for many years on chalk streams Northern Freestone rivers and in many foreign locations as well. Using tactics as diverse as Salmon egg imitations on Northern rivers to size 24 micro nymphs on 0.8 diameter mono when sight fishing below are my top ten tips for targeting the Grayling of a lifetime.

  • Make sure you are actually fishing rivers that hold specimen Grayling - sounds obvious but Grayling are deceptive. Some of the Yorkshire rivers hold long Grayling that have no real weight to them whilst other rivers have very heavy thickset fish that weigh a lot more for their length- digital scales never lie or over exaggerate.
  • Nymphs generally out-fish dries for the very biggest Grayling except on rare occasions - particularly when fishing in the winter months when the Grayling are at their peak.
  • Depth is crucial - Grayling at times will move very freely through the water column to accept a fly that is above them however at times they will remain welded to the stream bed meaning a pod of fish can be easily missed if you are fishing too light - particularly in faster runs.
  • In clear water tippet diameter can be crucial - most anglers obsess over lb's breaking strain - this is the most inaccurate measurement and the fish don't care how strong the tippet is - they're only bothered about if they can see it or not. That said always fish responsibly and do not fish lighter than needed.
  • When sight fishing Grayling the old ‘flared gills and flash of the mouth' statement often applied when Trout fishing to decide if a fish has accepted your fly is not a good indicator with Grayling - Grayling accept and reject a fly almost imperceptibly at times. On these occasions if I can't see the fly I watch the fish's body movement. Look for a pause or a twitch and if in doubt strike. Obviously this is only possible in the clearest of rivers.
  • When fishing blind or searching likely areas try to get out of the common misconception that the only good drift is a ‘dead one'. In recent years the drive has been forevermore natural dead drifts of the fly - leader to hand French Nymphing and various other techniques have driven this. I have to be honest I find this concept to be very counterproductive - If I think I'm over fish I dead drift first for a few runs then I 'Jig' the flies for a few runs. If I'm still sure there are fish that I haven't tempted I sweep the flies by angling across the river and then holding on the dangle and finally I hold on the dangle and allow a foot or two of line to slide before trapping again - this gives a sink and draw effect downstream and can make all the difference.
  • Fly pattern can be important and so can colour - despite all the research regarding colour perception in fish it does appear to make a difference. Ring the changes particularly when fishing to a pod of fish. I have watched Grayling in clear water swerve a natural looking fly as it drifts through the shoal and then devour a Pink shrimp the very next cast - and vice versa - until we find talking fish we will never know the answer to dilemmas like this.
  • Remember Grayling are generally a shoal fish - if you catch one there's usually more so work an area until you are sure you've had them all. My biggest ever Grayling was the last fish to take the fly out of a small pod of 3 or 4 fish.
  • When playing Grayling I always adopt the rod on the side style to keep the fish off the surface and apply side pressure. For big fish I circle downstream and net the fish from behind - this style of hooking playing and landing fish has been honed over many years of competitive fishing and over the year I am sure it averages out as the most reliable way to keep a fish hooked and landed quickly with plenty of energy left for the release.
  • Finally try not to be too set in your ways about where Grayling (and Trout for that matter) will lie. I've seen good anglers instantly dismiss very shallow or very slow deep water as "No Good' - no one tells fish where to lie. I once won a friendly Grayling competition in the depths of winter figure eighting my nymphs across a bottomless back eddy - totally against the normal ‘rules' of Grayling fishing and just this year in The Welsh Dee Grayling international I had three 40cm plus fish from a pool tail that was exactly 7 inches deep behind a single small rock. ‘Always' and ‘never' don't often apply in fishing...