Considering All Possibilities by Martin Stewart
The Brown Trout season has just passed and the Grayling Season is now well underway. The fishing this year on the River Tweed has been challenging at times but for anglers prepared to think outside the box and look closely at what tactics and techniques suited the river conditions best at that given time then it was possible to enjoy some fantastic sport on both dry fly and nymphs.
I would like to echo this message with Grayling fishing. The feeling I get from the general public is that they want to go out to their favourite spots on the river use their favourite method and catch loads of fish. In an ideal world this would be great but it doesn't always happen like that.
My question to the seasoned angler is "What happens when you don't catch anything in your favourite spot or you turn up to see it already occupied?" "What happens if the method that usually works for you doesn't and you are left pondering and are thinking about heading off home?"
Well hopefully you ‘think outside the box' and look at all the possible variables of why you aren't catching. You have to take into consideration the water clarity the pace of the river current features that hold fish weather conditions i.e. sunlight fly life for that particular month and the depth that your flies are fishing at. The latter for me is the most important when fishing for Grayling.
You also have to look at your set up for the type of river that you are fishing. I tend to fish with the Greys XF2 Streamflex Plus 10ft #3 on most rivers. This way I can change to my bugging set up to fishing duo or bung tactics very quickly. I don't really want to be carrying two rods with me during the winter. I also love to double nymph / French nymph using the 9ft #2 XF2 Streamflex Rod on smaller rivers or streams where there are a lot more obstructions which call for a shorter rod. The 9ft #2 is an absolute gem of a rod that can provide excellent sport and can handle fish in the region of 40-50cm no problem at all.
The next thing you have to consider is the depth and pace of the water flow in the stream or run that you are going to fish. You then have to decide on a weighted fly that will suit the conditions at that given time. My advice in these situations is to use the lightest fly that you can get away with. If you are still not getting fish in fishy looking areas of that run keep changing your point fly to a heavier fly until you start getting some interest.
In terms of fly choice itself keep things simple. Grayling have four main food items throughout the winter: Caddis Larva freshwater Shrimps Baetis nymphs and Salmon eggs depending on what river you intend to fish. I like to fish a three fly cast for my nymphing set up that covers all areas. I tend to start with a heavy Caddis pattern on the point to get me down to the correct depth I then have a dark olive or tan shrimp on my first dropper accompanied by a PTN with a bit of flash or hotspot for my top dropper.
If you hit a pod of fish and the takes suddenly stop after catching a few or several do not move off the pod without changing your top dropper. A change of fly from your PTN patterns to say a red or pink tag can often get the Graylings interest back. Another crucial tip is to cross the river in the shallows above the run that you have been catching in and fish back into them from the other side. Sometimes this can bring them back on the feed with the loose bits of gravel that you have disturbed which holds small Shrimp and Caddis Larva. Be careful though if you are fishing during spawning time not to disturb any Salmon or Trout reds.
If you are fishing a river that has a Salmon run during autumn and winter then why not try an egg fly on your point? The correct way to fish the egg fly is to tie on the egg to say 20cm of nylon attached to the bend of the hook of your point fly. This way it ensures that you are fishing it at the correct depth along the river bank.
The next thing to think about is the water clarity especially in low river conditions. If the water clarity is such that you can see right into the middle of the river from the bank then you should be wary of your approach to the river and tactics. Although more tolerable than Trout Grayling are not much different and will be spooked if you crash into the water with heavy flies and lines bugging downstream in gin clear water.
Ideal tactics in these conditions would be to use an upstream long nymph approach i.e. the bung / trio or duo on a normal fly line with a long leader from your dry fly to your nymph. This means that you are fishing at a greater distance between you and your quarry.
Once you've fished a run through with this method and hopefully catching a few fish I would then suggest to move further into the river and change to your normal double nymph / bugging method and fish out the normal likely looking areas. When you have fished a whole run through move on. It is very important to keep on the move when Grayling fishing and fish likely looking runs until you find the fish. Remember Grayling tend to shoal up during the winter.
If you are still not catching fish then the last thing to look at is the diameter of your nylon. My go to diameter of nylon on the business end for dry fly and nymph fishing is always 0.12mm monofilament. If I'm not catching fish after looking at all the other variables I shall change down to 0.10mm and finally 0.8mm in extreme circumstances.
My main message to anglers out on the river during the winter is to never give up especially when the going gets tough which can often be the case. Grayling are a very awkward fish sometimes but you never really know what's just round the corner - it could be a massive shoal of Grayling or a UK record. If you give up you'll never know. Even if you don't catch anything don't beat yourself up about it the fish are there you just have to go home and think about your tactics and what you can change or do better to connect with fish on your next outing.
Don't miss my favourite Grayling pattern to use throughout the winter season in Fin & Fly's Fly of the Issue.
ProTeam member Martin Stewart is a well renowned game angling enthusiast who lives and breathes fly fishing in the Scottish Borders. As well as guiding for Trout and Grayling Martin ghillies on the South Wark beat of the River Tweed from August to November during the back end and prime time of the Salmon season.
A keen fly fishing competitor Martin has represented Scotland at European Level and will be competing at the Home River Internationals in Ireland in 2015.
When not guiding Martin is found fishing or taking photographs on one of the many beautiful rivers that the Scottish Borders has to offer. His passion is small stream fishing with light rods such as the Greys Streamflex XF2 9ft 2 weight which is his all-time favourite rod.
For those interested in fishing in the Scottish Borders for Salmon Trout or Grayling Martin can arrange tailored fishing packages to suit your needs through River Tweed Guiding.