The Lady of the Stream
Grayling are among the most beautiful and most respected freshwater fishes in the northern hemisphere.
Their beauty; their habit of testing almost anything - including the angler - on the surface of the water; their shoaling instinct; the tendency to 'corkscrew' when hooked and fight seemingly forever make them a truly attractive and sporting fish.
Grayling differ from trout in their feeding behaviour and reactions to fly patterns. Their habitat is generally similar to trout, as is their diet. However, whereas trout operate at most levels in the river system, the grayling tends to favour nymphs, caddis larvae and shrimps before surface feeding.
As one of nature's sublime contradictions, however, you can bet your boots that on a day when there is not a trout rise in sight the grayling will be pushing their nebs up to take surface fly like there was no tomorrow.
Grayling often glide up from considerable depths to intercept a floating fly. Because they come from so deep and their mouth is much lower down the jaw than that of a trout, a surface fly is taken by the grayling in a near vertical position, quite unlike the trout which generally just raises its position in the stream without changing its orientation.
A True Game Fish
Grayling have a tendency to shoal, so although they're not always easy to locate, once you've found one, you've found several, at least for a while. They are generally a more popular angler's fish in the autumn and winter.
A grayling hooked in, say, November is usually a stronger opponent than one caught in July. However, do not be mislead into thinking grayling are only worth fishing for after the trout season.
A summer grayling is still an excellent hard fighting and challenging fish and, whenever you catch one you can be sure it will fight in a more dogged manner than a trout and use the currents and downstream pressure of the water to resist you.
There are fancy flies by the legion which will take grayling such as Red Tag, Treacle Parkin, Bradshaw's Fancy, Grayling Steel Blue etc. But just about every artificial that was ever made for brown trout will equally deceive a grayling.
From the magnificent Northern spider wets to the Southern 'Halfordian' exact imitation dry flies and more modern dries such as the Supa Pupa and the, amazingly successful, Klinkhammer, through to the 'soggy' nymphs of Skues and the weighted Pheasant Tails of Sawyer - all catch grayling.
More recently the use of heavily weighted nymphs has become popular with the woven bodied or shell backed nymphs popularised by the Poles and Czechs demanding their own upstream short line fishing technique. Other nymph patterns such as the Cased Caddis, Peeping Caddis, Pink Shrimp, Sawyer Killer Bug, Goldheads of every description, size and colour, can all be very successful.
People often think there is some special tackle required for grayling fishing. But, whatever you use for river trouting will be right for grayling. Rods from 8 to 9' for number 4 or 5 weight lines are usually ideal, with whatever action suits you best.
When Polish or Czech nymphing anglers often use slightly longer, more tip actioned rods, to enable them to control the fly better. Similarly wet fly anglers often use longer rods to gain more leverage when mending the line. New ideas such as the use of long French Leaders and the Japanese Tenkara approach have their fans and are, undoubtedly, successful.
As the season advances and the surface fly becomes scarce, so the grayling starts to shoal; slips back into its more natural bottom feeding pattern and drops down into the deeper pools.
Trotting bait on a winter's day can be a delightful experience and more likely to be productive for grayling when the water temperature has dropped and colour is in the river. Bait fishing for grayling is worthy of the attention of all but the most hide-bound and narrow-minded purist.
A trotting rod of around 10 to 11' with a powerful butt and fast tip; a centre pin or fixed spool reel, an Avon type float, or a Righyni float (both available from the Society), some spare hooks, weights, a disgorger and forceps, a landing net and a bait pouch with small red worms, maggots or even sweetcorn - and the trotting angler can roam as much as a fly fisherman.
How to Fish for Arctic Grayling
In this eight-minute video, April Behr, a fisheries biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, shows how to fish for Arctic grayling. She goes over the tackle and techniques for using both spin fishing and fly fishing gear. She also points out good spots to fish for grayling in a river, and describes their feeding habits. Finally, she shows how to successfully land and release grayling. Features underwater videography of grayling.
Produced by Erik Anderson – ADF&G Sport Fish Division Region III. Copyright 2014 ADF&G.
For more information, visit the Arctic grayling Species Profile page: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=arcticgrayling.main
Grayling Angling Code
The aims of the Grayling Society are “to promote awareness, conservation and angling for Grayling”.
This Grayling Angling Code has been prepared to help us all ﬁsh for Grayling in a manner that shows respect for the ﬁsh and contributes to its conservation and welfare.
Grayling Society members are expected to engage in good practice wherever they fish. Educating by example, they should be courteous and considerate to fellow anglers and others using the water amenity; park wisely; close all gates; treat hedges and walls as barriers not sporting obstacles and observe the Country Code. Never leave nylon or other litter on the river bank. Discarded hooks and nylon endangers wildlife.
Rules of the River
Valid permission to fish should be obtained before fishing, supported, where applicable, with a rod licence. Local rules can vary widely, even on adjacent beats, and they should always be consulted and complied with. Should you disagree with local rules, don't turn a blind eye and do it your way. If you feel strongly about it, a reasoned and courteous letter to the club or proprietor may prove a catalyst for future change. Constructive feedback is usually appreciated.
Follow good practice wherever you fish. Educate by example, be courteous and considerate to others using the water, and observe the Country Code. Give proper consideration to other anglers. Never leave litter, especially hooks and nylon, which can endanger wildlife.
Grayling often inhabit trout and salmon rivers, so if your ticket permits you to wade do so with great care as it is a criminal offence to disturb redds and spawning fish. The Society supports trout and salmon interests in denouncing 'shuffling' (attracting grayling by shufﬂing your feet to release insects from the riverbed), for not only can redds be disturbed, but it can have an adverse impact on fry and other aquatic life. It can also lead to wading being banned or even access being denied, so please don't do it. For your own safety you should wear waders suitable for the conditions prevailing, use common sense over where you wade, and when deep wading employ a wading staff and a buoyancy aid, especially in unfamiliar water. Be particularly conscious of the need to prevent the spread of invasive species into our waters and adhere to the Check-Clean-Dry disinfection procedure:
Check - All clothing and equipment should be thoroughly inspected and any visible debris (mud, plant or animal matter) should be removed and left at the water body where it was found. Particular attention must be paid to the seams and seals of boots and waders. Any pockets of pooled water should be emptied.
Clean - Equipment should be hosed down or pressure-washed on site. If facilities are not available equipment should be carefully contained, e.g. in plastic bags, until they can be found. Washings should be left at the water body where the equipment was used, or contained and not allowed to enter any other watercourse or drainage system (i.e. do not put them down the drain or sink). Where possible, clean equipment should be dipped in disinfectant solution (e.g. Virkon) to kill diseases, but note this is unlikely to kill non-native species.
Dry - Thoroughly drying is the best method for disinfecting clothing and equipment. Boots and nets should be hung-up to dry. Equipment should be thoroughly dry for 48 hours before it is used elsewhere. Some non-native species can survive for as many as 15 days in damp conditions and up to 2 days in dry conditions, so the drying process must be thorough.
More information on invasive species and the can be obtained from the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat website:
Stuart Crofts excellent paper Biosecurity for anglers - planning for the future gives excellent advice on how to disinfect your fishing equipment. It can be found on the Riverfly Partnership website:
The Grayling Society is not a fly fishing club. Many anglers do use the fly, but bait fishing is widely practised, particularly in the winter months, and is sometimes essential if fish are to be caught. Please be aware that certain baits may not be allowed at specific times of year or on certain rivers/beats. Whichever method is to be employed, please check and follow the rules.
Catch & Release
Grayling are an important natural resource and the Grayling Society advocates catch and release. The following hints and tips will help in returning Grayling fit and healthy. Further information can be found on the KEEPEMWET® website: http://www.keepemwet.org
Use barbless hooks or hooks with the barb flattened.
Nets with knotted mesh are illegal, please use fish-friendly nets. Never keep grayling in keep nets, as they quickly become stressed.
Play your grayling firmly and bring it to hand quickly - never over play grayling.
Keep the fish in the water as much as possible. Unhook and release the fish as quickly as you can and with the minimum of handling.
If you want to photograph your fish, keep the stress to a minimum. Photograph fish in the water; never place them on the bank. Keep the fish as close to the water as possible and fully submerge it between pictures to give the fish a quick breather. Ideally, let the photographer call the shots - 1, 2, 3... raise the fish... and click. Help grayling, especially large grayling, to recover before releasing them. Hold the fish, in the net, facing upstream in a reasonable flow until it is capable of swimming on balance and under its own power. Never move any fish back and forth in the water - it can cause serious damage.
Please be aware, when fishing in England or Wales, that there is a National Bye Law regarding the taking of Grayling. Only 2 ﬁsh may be taken each day and these must be between 30 and 38 cm.
If a fish is to be kept, then please despatch it quickly using a priest. Stones, pieces of wood or the butt of your rod are crude and disrespectful alternatives and should not be used.
Anglers are the watch-dogs of the river and its environment. If you witness a pollution event, the first thing to do is to contact the Environment Agency (EA) Pollution Hotline. It's important to register it first with the EA so there is an official record of the event. The EA will go and check for any suspected water pollution. Once you have reported an incident they MUST investigate it. Environment Agency Hotline - 0800 80 70 60.
Like all sports, fishing can be dangerous so:
- look behind before casting,
- wear eye and head protection, particularly in windy conditions,
- take extra care when ﬁshing near overhead power lines, electric fences, and in thunderstorms, when it is advisable to stop fishing altogether.
The Society was born out of enthusiasm for the Grayling. Like the Grayling it is special, and has the respect of many in the world of angling and conservation. Let's all keep it that way by observing this Code and encouraging people concerned with angling everywhere to be committed to our cause and to our lovely fish.
Whenever and wherever you are fishing for Grayling enjoy yourself!
Go forth and angle
In summary, if you are looking for the most sporting and beautiful game fish in the country then look no further than the Lady of the Stream! Many waters offer day ticket fishing especially after the trout/salmon seasons have ended.
There are even places in the South where you can fish the top chalkstreams for a fraction of the cost you would pay during the trout season. And in the Midlands, Wales, North of England and Scotland there are many reasonably priced day ticket waters.
Joining the Society is a good way to gain access to day ticket waters. Each new member receives a Grayling Angler's Guide with over 120 waters listed.