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.
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, they should always be consulted and complied with. Should you disagree with one or other of them, 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.
Grayling often inhabit 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 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. Aim to disinfect your waders and boots before each trip or, if you can afford to do so, keep specific boots for specific watercourses and use them only in those places. Felt soled boots are very advantageous for grip on rivers with rocky bottoms but are more likely to spread invasive species than the more recently introduced 'sticky' rubber type soles. If you do use felt soled boots be especially meticulous in disinfecting them or keeping them for a particular watercourse. More information on invasive species can be obtained from the Environment Agency website or from Stuart Crofts excellent paper 'Biosecurity for anglers – planning for the future' which can be found on the Riverfly Partnership website. This paper gives excellent advice on how to disinfect your fishing equipment.
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. Whichever method is to be employed, please check and follow the rules ! Give proper consideration to other anglers - don't cut across others fishing, or crowd or obstruct, particularly on the opposite bank, and be prepared to give way after fishing a pool or stretch of river.
It is strongly recommended that anglers use barbless hooks or hooks which have had the barb pinched down. Experience has shown that, providing a fish is played correctly with a tight line, few fish are lost as a direct result of using barbless hooks. Indeed barbless hooks are commonly used in match angling for coarse fish where landing hooked fish is vital and speed in the unhooking of a landed fish is advantageous.
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.
Playing a Grayling
We all know how hard fighting a Grayling can be, especially downstream of you in a strong water flow. It is important to bring the fish to hand as soon as possible within the limits of your terminal tackle. Please play the fish quickly whilst avoiding the possibility of breaking off and leaving a hook in the Grayling. Do not overplay a Grayling for your own amusement.
When handling any fish which is to be returned to the water it is essential to consider it well being. Wet your hands before touching any fish. Dry hands remove the surface 'slime' from the fish which is there to protect it against waterborne parasites and diseases. Try not to handle the fish at all by leaning down and unhooking the fish in the water using forceps, anglers pliers, fingers or a product such as the 'Ketchum Release'. Avoid the temptation to hold a fish up for admiration – it may boost your ego but could harm the fish. Unhooking underwater is the preferred method. Even merely lifting the fishes head out of the water will reduce its chances of survival. If a fish ha swallowed a hook which cannot be easily and quickly removed, cut off the spare nylon and leave the hook. This will ultimately be less stressful than probing inside the fish with forceps or a disgorger because rusting and digestive fluids will eventually break down the hook.
Landed fish are tired, especially after a prolonged fight. Contrary to what one may think a large fish will recover less quickly than a smaller one. When returning any fish hold it carefully in the water facing upstream and keep holding it until it has recovered and is capable of swimming away, perfectly upright, under its own power. Do not hold it with your fingers over the gills - it will drown! Do not move the fish backwards and forward in the water in the belief that this will speed up its recovery – it won't. In fact, this action can reduce it chances of recovery because silt or other foreign bodies may enter the gills.
The traditional knotted mesh is now illegal so all nets should be fitted with a knotless mesh. Whenever a landing net is used it should be submerged and the fish drawn over it before lifting it gently up and out of the water. Unhooking should then be carried out with wet hands and the fish either released or despatched a quickly as possible. Do not put Grayling into keepnets as they suffer badly from stress in this situation.
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 which should not be used.
Grayling were not put in this world for our pleasure. However, we do gain pleasure from catching Grayling and many people enjoy eating them. They are wild creatures and when angling for them we are engaged in a legitimate pursuit. Let us all treat the pursuit of Grayling and the fish itself with the respect this age old tradition deserves.
Anglers are the watch-dogs of the river and its environment. Please report any pollution, or other threat to fish, to a responsible person or agency e.g. fishery manager, club official, Environment Agency.
Like all sports, fishing can be dangerous so, look behind before casting. Wear eye and head protection, particularly in windy condition and remember also that graphite (carbon) rods conduct electricity, so take extra care when fishing near overhead power lines, electric fences and in thunderstorms - when it is advisable to top 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.