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.
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.