10 Grayling Tips
By Hardy Pro, Stuart Minnikin
1. Have Patience - don't worry if you are fishing through the winter months and aren't catching. Firstly, Grayling are often tightly packed in just the odd pool and finding these dense shoals can take time with lots of water to cover. Once you do hook into your first Grayling you'll usually get a good few out of the shoal. Secondly, Grayling often just don't feed and despite 'knowing' you are fishing through fish, in all the usual hotspots, they just don't take. Keep trying, because they will invariably switch on at some point and you will start catching.
2. Don't Play Grayling Too Hard - they have soft mouths and the hook will just pull out. One of the most difficult fish to land is a big grayling hooked in fast water in a big river. Don't believe a word when people tell you Grayling are poor fighters, because a decent winter Gayling will slug it out with you for ages! All you can do is give it line, follow if possible and take your time.
3. Avoid Drag And Micro Drag - if you get chance to fish dry flies (which I have in huge hatches of Large Dark Olives in January and February). Grayling are far more discerning than Brown Trout and simply will not take a dragging fly.
4. When Nymphing Strike Everything - One of my most often used words when guiding is "strike!". Despite telling everyone to strike anything, the number of people that don't is one of my biggest frustrations. Their usual reply is, "I thought it was bottom", to which my reply is along the lines of "How can you possibly tell?", "A fish closing its mouth on your fly can look no different to it snagging bottom - it simply stops!" Yes often there is additional movement which makes it obvious, but not always.
5. Try A Worm - One of my most successful winter patterns is an imitation of a worm in various forms. I have long used a big, bright red worm, particularly in high water, with an amazing success rate. There are now many more to choose from, including the very much in vogue Squirmy Wormy, which works even in low water. When I'm doing my kick samples on the river aquatic worms are nearly always present so there's no reason not to tie one on your leader.
6. Make Sure Your Flies Are Hitting The Bottom - where the Grayling will be lying. Grayling in a cold winter river are not going to move far to take your fly so you have to put it on their noses. In the bigger rivers this will mean piling on the weight using big tungsten bead nymphs. Putting this on the point position of your leader with lighter flies above, particularly a Worm (see above), works well. If you aren't snagging bottom occasionally you aren't fishing heavy/deep enough. You've got to accept you're going to lose a few flies though!
7. Weigh Your Grayling (carefully) - Grayling are very light fish and their weight is often overestimated by well-meaning anglers. So many people post pictures of "specimen" grayling that, to the trained eye, clearly just don't weigh what they say. The only way is to weigh your fish using a scale or weigh net - try it with your next 'big' Grayling and I think you'll be surprised (maybe disappointed) just how light it is!
8. Revive Grayling Fully Before Releasing - A summer Grayling can takes ages to revive to the point where it will swim strongly away from your hands. Repeated attempts at premature releasing only result in the Grayling turning over and having to re-net it. Although winter grayling revive much quicker they can still take a while to swim away confidently; not great when the water is freezing cold, but it must be done to be sure of the fish's wellbeing. Allowing the Grayling to recover in your net for a while will save your hands some discomfort from the biting cold water.
9. Strike At The End Of Each Drift When Czech Nymphing - Winter Grayling fishing is mostly about fishing deep nymphs, often in the Czech style, short lining, with typically only about a meter of line outside the rod. The idea is that they are cast upstream and by the time they are passing you they are in the fishing zone near the bottom of the river. You follow them downstream with your rod tip, prolonging the dead-drift as long as possible, before allowing them to swing into the bank below you. Before re-casting or moving always give a little tap or sideways strike with the rod tip, you will be surprised how often this results in a bonus fish that you didn't even know was there.
10. Don't Be Afraid To Use Colour In Your Flies - Although virtually everything a grayling feeds on is naturally coloured and camouflaged it has long been recognised that grayling have a distinct liking for colourful flies. Reds and pinks have been the go-to choice for many years but now purple and flies incorporating UV materials are being used to good effect. I have had sessions where Grayling have singled out a nymph incorporating a pink hotspot. I even experimented by moving to it different positions on my leader but that was the only fly they'd take.