How to catch grayling

Grayling caught from the river wye, wales.

Grayling Fly fishing in Wales provides great sport during the winter months when the Trout season is closed. And yes, river fishing can be daunting at the best of times, and especially in the depths of winter. But it really doesn’t have to be that way. In this article you’ll find all the information you need to get out on the river this winter after some grayling.

Grayling: the lady of the stream

Grayling are a true game fish and are often referred to as the lady of the stream. Their silvery scales and distinctive dorsal fin makes them easily identifiable. But unlike other members of the salmonids family they’re spring spawners, opposed to other  game fish which spawn in winter. This means the grayling fishing season runs from June 16th to March 15th. And fortunately, for any angler wishing to target grayling, they will feed in the coldest of temperatures.

How to find Grayling fishing venues

Grayling can be predominantly found in rivers, with only two incidents of lake populations existing in the UK Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake) in Wales and Gouthwaite reservoir in Yorkshire. 

Grayling and Trout share much of the same habitat and both need cool and well oxygenated water to thrive. Trout can and do inhabit rivers and streams with very steep gradients composed mostly of bedrock, boulders and stones. Grayling on the other hand prefer a river or stream with a slightly more gentle gradient, but still steep enough to provide fast-flowing, clean and well oxygenated water over a river bed of gravel and sand.

In short, if you have a trout river close by there is a good chance it will hold grayling too. 

I do 99% of my grayling fishing in Wales, so it would only be right to name drop a few Welsh rivers. All of which can be booked via the Wye and Usk passport scheme. Or if you’re savvy and don’t mind doing some research look for local angling clubs where day tickets can be as little as £10 a day. 

All of the below have been known to produce specimen fish. Especially the upper Wye, this is where I have caught all of my biggest fish.

River Wye

River Ithon 

River Irthon 

River Elan

River Taff

River Dee

How to catch Grayling

Grayling can be caught on all traditional and modern fly fishing techniques, from classic up-stream dry fly fishing to modern euro nymphing techniques. However, if we look at the design of a graylings mouth, this is a mouth which is underslung and through process of evolution has been designed to feed on or close to the river bed.

This means nymph fishing is often the most effective way to target grayling, but this isn’t to say they can’t be caught on dry flies during the winter. While fishing the river Test in November I caught 5 Grayling all on dry flies within an hour.

Dry fly fishing for Grayling

The milder months of the grayling fishing season provide the best opportunity to catch a grayling on a dry fly. A subtle temperature rise during can often be enough to trigger a hatch, and a rise from the fish. To catch Grayling on a dry fly you can approach it in the same way you would a trout. Focus on matching the hatch by size and colour and presenting the fly as naturally as possible. 

To achieve the best presentation possible, you should always approach fish from a downstream position and make your cast at a 45 degree angle, gently landing your dry fly 1-2 meters in front of the fish’s position.

Nymph fishing for grayling

Nymph fishing is the best way to catch winter Grayling. When nymphing in winter I like to fish either an indicator or modern euro nymphing set up. At other times of year fishing the classic upstream nymph can be a great way to target grayling..

Indicator Nymphing

If you’re new to river fishing, or just haven’t tried using the modern euro nymphing techniques, I’d recommend using an indicator set up. 

There are a variety of indicators on the market, I personally like to use the foam fold over type from the fulling mill. I like them because they’re in-expensive, easy to adjust and if I need more buoyancy I just stick another one on top.

An indicator is a device which simply attaches to your leader and works in much the same way as a coarse anglers float, when a grayling takes the fly,  the indicator is pulled under the water. Using an indicator we’re now able to detect the most subtle takes and suspend heavy nymphs close to the river bed. When setting the depth of the indicator I like to take a couple of factors into consideration, depth and speed of flow.

How to rig up an indicator nymphing rig

 As a rule of thumb, I personally like to set the depth a foot or so over and then adjust according to the flow. For example, if I was fishing water which was 3 feet, I’d set the depth to 4 feet to start with. The reason we set the indicator over depth is currents in the top of the water column move at a faster pace than those lower down and we need to ensure our nymphs are getting down to where the fish are. 

Under the indicator I like to use a two fly rig. This gives the fish options and increases our chances of catching. When selecting flies I tend to select one bright and one more natural in colour. 

Grayling are a very inquisitive fish and will not hesitate to check out a brightly coloured fly.  

I can’t stress enough how important it is that your nymphs are fishing close to the bottom. Unlike a trout, grayling are much less likely to move up the water column to interspect your nymphs. Especially, when temperatures drop close to freezing and fish become increasingly lethargic.

Euro nymphing for Grayling

French nymphing, Czech nymphing, Polish rolled nymphs or Spanish nymphing. Whatever you choose to call it, there is no doubt that European style nymphing is a highly effective way to catch grayling. 

European style nymphing uses little to no fly line and instead relies on the weight of the flies to load the rod and cast. When I say cast, it’s a lot more like a lob. It can take some getting used to, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Czech nymphing

If you’re a beginner Czech nymphing is probably the easiest form of euro nymphing to get your head round. When faced with a river which is high or carrying some colour this is my go to method. 

Rigging up the Czech nymphing rig is fairly easy. All we need to do is rig up a leader of 9-12 feet and tie three droppers. You can also include some form of in line indicator here as well or simply use the braided loop on your fly line. 

On each dropper you’ll tie on a heavy Czech or euro style nymph. When fishing this method we need to get our flies to the river bed quickly as we only have a short time to drift the flies.

To fish this method you will only have one to two feet of fly line outside of the rod tip. Lob the heavy flies into the current with an outstretched hand and keep in contact with the flies by keeping the rod tip just ahead of the drift. Watch the braided loop here like a hawk and strike at any indication.

Track the flies past your position and then allow the flies to rise up through the current and dangle. At this point it is important we pause and let the flies rise up through the water completely. Fish often follow the flies through the drift and it’s at this point they often take. When the flies rise through the water it suggests they’re escaping and triggers a predatory response in any following fish. 

If no take occurs, take one or two steps up stream and use the tension of the current to load the road and lob your flies up stream and begin the next drift. As a rule this method works best in water with some decent pace to carry the flies and hide you from the fish.

Don’t be concerned about spooking grayling while using this method. Grayling are very tolerant of a wading angler especially when the flow is fast.

Watercraft: How to find grayling in the river

Finding where the grayling are on any given day is half the battle, like most other forms of river fishing it pays to keep mobile. Although, river and weather conditions can give us a few clues to where the lady of the stream may be residing. 

Pool features: Grayling prefer areas of the river which have a swift current flowing over gravel, pebbles or sand. Gradual drop offs and areas of slack water are key areas where grayling might like to lie and conserve energy while being close to food sources. 

Fast water: Riffles or broken water are hotspots for grayling as they provide easy access to food which is washed down by the flow. 

Cold weather: If it’s a particularly cold spell then we would expect the fish to be more bunched up and in parts of the river which are deeper. Look for a pool with a swift flow or broken water in the head and then deepens into a glide. We would expect to find Grayling where the river changes pace and deepens. 

Pool tails: The tail of a pool where the river bed begins to shallow and current speed increase are also Grayling hotspots. 

High water: When the river is high or in flood look for areas where grayling can conserve energy. With the main flow being so fast grayling will be pushed into the margins. When fishing in these conditions it pays to concentrate on fishing seams where slow and fast water meet. 

The best way to increase success on the river is to fish hard, covering a lot of water. Once you have caught a fish look for other areas which have similar characteristics, as they could be preferring these sorts of spots on the day. 

Grayling are shoal fish so when located there are normally a few others close by.

Tackle needed

There isn’t any need to buy specialist tackle to target grayling. If you’re coming from a still-water background don’t hesitate to use the same tackle when you’re starting out.

Small rivers: Rods from foot in a 3wt or 4wt would be suited 

Medium rivers: Rods from 8.6 – 9 foot 3wt to 5wt.

Large rivers: Rods from 9 – 11 foot 4wt-6wt  

Nymphing rods: Modern nymph techniques often call for long 10 – 11 foot rods in a 2wt or 3wt. While the extra length helps, these methods can still be employed on a standard fly rod so don’t be put off from giving euro nymphing a go because you don’t have the specialised tackle. I learnt to euro nymph using my 9’6 foot 6wt rod before I made the switch to a 11 foot 3wt.  

The above is only meant as a guide, in my youth I only had access to a 7 foot rod and I still caught plenty of fish.

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