Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Targeting Grayling

I have been asked by a few anglers recently how you target grayling once the trout season has ended. In other words how do we avoid catching out of season trout? Or to put it another way, how do we identify typical 'grayling water'? What follows is a rough overview of grayling fishing...

Now that the trout season is over for another year it's time to turn our attention to grayling and let the brown trout get on with what they have to do to ensure our future sport. Despite being 'in season' for 9 months of the year, it is the period from when the trout season closes at the end of September, to approximately the end of November, when grayling are in their prime and fishing for them is most enjoyable. This is because in that 8 week period there are usually a few naturals around, including, aphids, midges, various upwing species, sedges and stoneflies. So we can still use all our favourite flyfishing techniques: dries, wets and nymphs presented in a variety of ways. Once we get into December and the depths of winter, the hatches are as good as over until spring and grayling fishing is mostly confined to deep fished nymphs, which can get a bit monotonous.

Before I go any further I must add that you will always pick up a few trout whilst grayling fishing, even on the coldest of winter days. It is unavoidable and they should be swiftly brought to the net and released. Salmon are also a problem on some rivers and I have hooked a good few in the past on Czech Nymphs. If there are lots of salmon where you are fishing for grayling, or you are catching trout with regularity, then move to another pool and leave them in peace.

Of course, for us to catch grayling in numbers, the river we are fishing must hold good numbers. Unfortunately, many, if not all of the Yorkshire Dales rivers, have suffered a massive collapse in grayling stocks over, say, the last 10 years. The River Ure is the best example of this, where until 10 years ago there were pools where you could catch 20-30 grayling on a simple upstream Klinkhamer from October to the New Year without moving your feet. Now you'd be hard pressed to catch that number in a day of thorough searching! The same can be said of the River Wharfe, though I think the Wharfe has suffered a more long term decline as opposed to the Ure's sudden decline. The purpose of this piece is not to discuss reasons for the decline, but the most obvious reasons (in no particular order) are; stocking of trout, signal crayfish, cormorants and flash summer floods. It would be easy to read an old book (e.g. Reg Righyni's Grayling) or magazine articles describing the grayling fishing on these rivers and think you were doing something wrong when you failed to connect with grayling in numbers. When in fact the golden days of good grayling stocks are well and truly over. Let's hope that one day in the near future they return!

So given that the river you fish does hold good stocks of grayling, where do you fish to maximise your success and eliminate trout as much as possible from your catches. Well first of all, if it's a river you fish year round, you should have built up a mental picture of the areas/pools where you have caught most grayling. If it isn't a river you know then a bit of research should point you in the right direction, e.g, internet searches, phone calls to club officials, magazines, etc. OK so you've done all that and arrive at the river knowing that you are in the right area, but which pools will hold grayling. How are you going to maximise your chances of success?

I think you can roughly divide 'grayling water' into 3 types as follows:

'Grayling water' just downstream of the pool head marked by the dotted border. The water upstream & to either side is more likely to hold trout than grayling.
Picture showing 'grayling water'
just downstream of the pool head,
marked by the dotted border.
The water upstream and to either
side is more likely to hold
trout than grayling.
Click to enlarge.
1. Medium paced water just below the pool neck - This is probably the most productive water for grayling fishing. The fast, shallow, water at the head of the pool should be avoided as this is most likely where the trout will be holding up. In summer it will often hold grayling, but in autumn they will have dropped downstream into slightly deeper and slower water. The water I'm talking about is just as the current starts to slow down, as the water changes from ankle to knee depth, to knee to waist depth. This water can extend right across the river in the best grayling pools and for some distance downstream. It should have enough flow to carry nymphs without snagging constantly, but still be slow enough to fish a dry quite easily. Find a pool with this sort of water and you can often fill your boots. We want to avoid those pools with a central, narrow band of fast water, where the water immediately either side is virtually stationary.

A typical grayling flat - a long smooth glide below a fast pool neck.
A typical grayling flat - a long
smooth glide below a fast pool neck.
Click to enlarge.
2. Long smooth glides The water described above can often give way to a long glide of smooth water right the way down to the pool tail. These glides can hold masses of grayling and given something to bring them up, grayling will often rise to take naturals all day. Grayling give their presence away by rising, sometimes obvious boiling rises, at other times they can be the gentlest little sips. This is dry fly water, or maybe a fly in or just under the film, such as a North Country Spider or lightweight nymph.

An example of a long featureless pool with good depth and decent flow. This is the River Annan.
An example of a long featureless
pool with good depth and
decent flow. This is the River
Annan. Click to enlarge
3. Long featureless pools with good depth and decent flow - This type of water is generally only found on larger rivers such as the Tweed, Annan, Tay, Lower Eden, Welsh Dee, etc. - large salmon rivers. They usually hold large numbers of grayling and fish of specimen size are regularly caught. The water type I am trying to describe lacks any notable features, has a gravel bottom and is often above waist depth, but due to the large size of the river it still maintains good flow despite increased depth. It is this flow which makes it possible (or necessary) to fish with nymphs and bugs, often using a sacrificial 'bomb' on the point to get the other flies down. The Junction Pool on the River Tweed would be a good example of the water I am describing here. Grayling can be found anywhere in these pools and I find it impossible to read this water such is the uniformity of the surface. Where it is possible to wade, taking into account of depth and flow, I often fish by zig zagging back and forth across the pool, moving diagonally downstream on each crossing. You can of course fish by taking a line downstream and repeating a little further out each time. The gravel bed allows the heavy point fly to 'bounce' along the bottom without constantly snagging.

The river level on any given day may change the features described above, so that in effect they move up or down the river. For example, if the river is above normal level following rain, the faster water at the pool head will extend further down the pool, causing the grayling to drop downstream into medium paced water (1 above). Likewise, the smooth glide on a small river (2 above) may turn into the "long featureless pool with good depth and decent flow" usually found on bigger rivers (3 above), meaning it now needs tackling with nymphs rather than dries.

You will still pick up trout no matter how hard you try not to. One way to avoid catching out of season trout is to stay clear of the thin, fast water, at the pool heads. Start your searching a little way down the pool where it starts to deepen, as described above. Pocket water is another area of the river where you will only encounter trout, not just in autumn and winter, but throughout the trout season. There are many other places where grayling will take up station durung autumn and winter, but the 3 types of 'grayling water' described above will provide you with all the sport you need, and should, as much as is possible, reduce the chances of catching out of season trout.

Tight lines.


  1. Hi Stuart

    Thanks for a very informative guidance note, I will take your comments on board. I must admit I was concerned about catching brownies so hopefully I can reduce the risk of doing so.

    I note also your point on stocked fish being one of the reasons for the reduction in grayling numbers, well I know it is early days but it does appear that grayling have returned to the beat I fish, that is the Ribble at Settle. This is possibly and hopefully as a result of the no-stocking policy introduced earlier this year.

    Kind regards

    Dave Roberts

    1. Hi Dave - I'm pleased you liked the blog post. I too am a member of Settle Anglers and I voted to stop stocking with trout last year. I think it is early days to see any results, as it is the stocked trout feeding on young grayling that is the problem, but it's got to be good for the river.



  2. Hi Stuart.

    So sad the stocks are in decline, when the fish reproduce so well when given the right circumstances. In days gone by river keepers would have to remove grayling to ''improve'' the river for trout? What does it say about the rivers of today?

    Nice blog, thanks.