The trout river season is now over, but for fly anglers looking to extend their sport on flowing water then grayling fishing really comes into it’s own at this time of year!
This Fishtec blog article explores the fly fishing tackle and tactics you need to pursue graying on the fly this autumn and winter.
How grayling behave
Catching grayling can be a fairly straightforward process, provided you fish in the correct way and understand their behavior. Grayling, unlike trout are much less skittish and you can often get quite near to them whilst wading, provided you are fairly stealthy. They also have a tendency to shoal up tightly, especially in colder water temperatures. So if you catch one grayling, keep on fishing in the same spot, there are sure to be more there. Grayling love to hug the bottom tightly, something to consider when presenting your flies.
Location, location, location..
It pays to look for grayling in riffles, runs, pool heads and tail outs, with a depth of typically 1 to 4 feet. Grayling seem to prefer areas like these. They are seldom found in really deep water, and often in surprising shallow spots that can be easily passed by. Basically look for where water is broken and not that deep – it is in seams and creases you are most likely to find them.
You can sometimes find grayling in deeper pool bodies and slack water, but usually this is much more common in the warmer months and early autumn, where the fish tend to be far more spread out than mid-Winter.
Short Line Nymphing
The principle winter method used for targeting graying is short line nymphing. This method allows heavy nymphs to be presented on or near the river bed, in the graylings preferred taking zone.
When using this method no real fly casting is actually employed – in fact the weight of the flies help the ‘cast’ go out and turnover. The technique is to flick a team of heavily weighted nymphs across and slightly upstream, often not more than a rod length or two away.
A standard fly line can be used, however it wont be as anywhere near effective as using a monofilament French leader, or the purpose designed Airflo SLN euro line. These are both more sensitive and easier to use cast with ultra heavy flies; being much thinner in diameter, drag is reduced and line control improved immensely.
Once a ‘cast’ is made (typically from 2 to 6 meters) the flies are allowed to settle to the river bed and then the drift is tracked through in a nice arc with the rod held high, followed by a lift at the final position almost directly down stream.
Line control and a drag free drift are key, so ensure you track through and keep in contact with the flies. Takes can come at any time, but more so on the final lift. The indicator or junction between the tippet material and leader is watched closely for any hesitation or movement.
In the case of the Airflo SLN line the orange tip and non-stretch core really help you spot and connect to hesitant strikes in an instant. You can make an indicator out of a 6 inch piece of coloured mono easily enough for use with a French leader.
To facilitate short line nymphing a long soft actioned fly fishing rod is ideal – for example the 10 foot #3 weight Greys Streamflex GR70, or the Airflo Streamtec 10′ #3/4. Reel choice is not so important, but look to balance the length of your rod in order to reduce arm fatigue – you may be making hundreds of short flicks each session!
Although not essential, an Airflo castaid is a handy addition when grayling fishing – it not only helps combat arm tiredness and prevents your wrist aching the day after, it also improves accuracy and power of your delivery significantly by stopping your wrist breaking.
For your leader don’t make the mistake of going too light. When fishing heavy weight nymphs in winter it’s better to have abrasion resistance so you don’t loose your flies on the bottom. Our choice is the Airflo G5 fluorcarbon in 5.5lb or G3 in 6lb. Both are supple enough to give your flies natural movement but also have a low diameter and reliable knot strength.
If you are not hooking and bumping the bottom occasionally then you are simply not fishing deep enough; for this reason carry a hook sharpener with you, as a blunted fly is useless.
In regards to the flies fishing a team of two or three works best – usually a heavier jig pattern with a tungsten bead on the point, and a lighter more imitative pattern on the dropper. We stock some ideal smaller more imitative grayling fly patterns from Fulling mill, which are simply ideal for your droppers.
For real bottom dredging flies, it is often better to tie these yourself, to ensure they have enough weigh to get down in strong flows. The Fulling Mill barbless jig and czech nymph hooks combined with funky fly tying tungsten beads are a great match. Wrap the fly body in glister dubbing and finish with a wire rib and you will have a fly will catch grayling all year long.
Experiment with bead size and colour combinations – generally pink, red and peacock black are the most lethal colours for grayling. Don’t forget to add red tags to some of your bugs, as this can sometimes make all the difference.
Make sure your fly box is well stocked with nymphs with varying bead heads for different flow regimes. In regards to fly weight here’s a tip which many anglers over look – take some coarse fishing split shots with you. You can then quickly adjust your weight, depth, and presentation by simply pinching a shot on your line.
Fishing with strike Indicators
Another grayling nymphing method is using a strike indicator, with your flies suspended beneath. Attach an indicator above your flies, at a position approximately the depth of the water you are fishing. Cast slightly upstream and dead drift down and past you – throwing some slack into the line to avoid drag. You can carry the drift on downstream if necessary with a shake of the rod to let line out.
This method is most effective on deep gutters, long glides, flats and deeper pools. With an indicator we usually fish a two fly rig, with a heavy bug to act as an anchor with a dropper a foot above. Any dip or hesitation on your drift strike!
A bung like the Air-Lok is simply perfect for long line drifting – it’s ease of attachment and adjustment on the leader make it a winner. It’s also ultra buoyant so it will suspend the heaviest of bugs without going under. The Fulling Mill fish pimp indicator is another one to try.
The video below shows the use of an Airlock Strike indicator, notice how quick and easy it is to attach. In this case it is simply added onto a french leader.
In this second video on a far larger river an indicator was attached to an Airflo SLN line and drifted across and down at range. Some of the takes were coming at over 25 yards downriver, in water to deep to wade.
The Dry Fly and Duo
The third method is the dry fly/duo combination – a great option for searching water, especially with milder weather or with surface insect activity. It’s not usually a first line approach, but it’s well worth taking suitable flies with you a you may come across some brief winter surface activity in the mid-day slot.
Simply use a Kilnkhammer special or similar buoyant dry fly with a trailing nymph tied to the hook bend – a copper john is our favourite trailing fly, but any reasonably small nymph will do. Tippet length from hook bend to nymph is typically 18 to 24 inches depending on river depth. For the leader material use a tapered leader and co-polymer, rather than fluorocarbon.
Sometimes the grayling can switch onto an upwing fly hatch, so you can snip off the trailing nymph and fish just the dry fly. Surface action doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does, it’s probably the best graying fishing experience out there – nothing beats a grayling nailing a dry fly in the middle of a freezing cold January day.
Fishtec’s Grayling fishing tackle check list:
- Breathable waders.
- Thermal underwear suit.
- Wading boots with felt soles and studs.
- Warm head and neck wear.
- Long, Slower action fly rod e.g 10 #3/4
- Fly reel to balance rod.
- Line suitable for short line nymphing – e.g French leader, SLN Euro, or shooting head running line.
- Standard fly line on spare spool for dry fly/duo.
- Selection of nymphs tied with various tungsten bead heads.
- Strong enough tippet material for winter flows and snags.
- Hook sharpener.
- Set of strike indicators – Airlock or Fish pimps.
- Split shot.
- Waterproof phone case.