Different Fishing Methods for Catching Grayling


Time and again we find angling experts expressing opinions which seem quite opposed. Beginners are often confused about this, and even experienced anglers are provoked into writing cynical letters to the editors of magazines. There is often, however, a very ordinary explanation. In nearly every case of this sort the expert is quite right for the water he fishes and for the conditions he describes. It is not the writers who are at variance but the fish, who may react quite differently even in adjacent portions of the same stream.

Several differing views have been expressed on fly-fishing for grayling. The grayling is said to be particular about which artificial fly it will take; it has also been described as an indiscriminate feeder.

So it seems that grayling vary widely with locations (as indeed do sea-trout). The first thing in grayling fishing, therefore, is to study the fish in its particular setting.


In rivers where grayling do appear to feed erratically I believe the reason is simple. For most of the time they are bottom-feeders, but when conditions of light and temperature change they are able to switch rapidly to surface feeding. On very clear chalk-streams where heavy hatches of fly are commonplace they tend more to surface feeding and in the process no doubt learn to discriminate between one size and colour of fly and another.

The grayling’s rapid change-over from surface rising to mid-water and bottom feeding often baffles anglers. If more fishermen went to the river with both fly tackle and bait-trotting tackle and used either as seemed appropriate to the conditions I believe that heavier bags of grayling would be recorded.

Certainly it is useless to flog the water with fly when grayling are browsing on the bottom muds. The method that seems to capture the best of both worlds, so to speak, is the wet fly. This can be fished just under the surface or deep, at will.

Dry Fly

Grayling, as mentioned earlier, are largely bottom-feeders, and hug the mud. Normally a shoal lies deep, occasionally rising to mid-water. For a grayling to take a floating fly, therefore, it needs to do something in the nature of a slick manoeuvre. When the fly floats within the grayling’s cone of vision the fish must move quickly in order to catch it before it moves out of view. As a preliminary the fish may have to rise through several metres of water, by which time the fly has drifted a few metres below the lie. The grayling therefore will have to swim a few metres downstream before it can get opposite the fly to take it into its mouth.

This delayed-action type of rise must be expected with grayling. This is especially so when the angler knows where the shoal is lying and, rather naturally, hopes for a rise immediately above the spot. Instead the rise may come several metres below.

From the above it is easy to reason that a good deal of slack line needs to be cast in order to prevent drag on the fly while it moves on its comparatively long travel. Slack line coupled with precision in casting has always been hard to achieve. One method is to throw a hard straight line with the fly aimed a few feet beyond the fish. At the limit of the ‘shoot’ the tip of the rod is brought back rather sharply. If all goes well, the fly drops on the desired spot and the line falls slackly on the water. Clumsy presentation, however, will plop the fly on to the water like a stone. Luckily grayling like to forage in the tails of the runs, where the streamy water does, to a certain extent, camouflage imperfections in the angler’s casting.

Wet Fly

The chief secret of successful wet-fly fishing is knowing where the fish are and what they are feeding on. This is a good deal more difficult than catching a fly floating on the surface and identifying it with the aid of a textbook. Grayling may be nosing through weed on the look-out for freshwater shrimps and snails, or they may be busy nymphing in the tails of the runs. Equally, they may be lying on the bottom and rising periodically to floating duns. The wet-fly fisher needs to have a pretty good working knowledge of the stream he is fishing. It is important to acquire this even if it means sacrificing an hour or two of fishing time. Time spent thus is not wasted.

Grayling like brisk-flowing streams with muddy bottoms. Now these requirements are not very common. Most brisk-flowing streams have stony or gravel bottoms; most muddy bottomed rivers are usually sluggish and canal-like. All of this gives certain clues. Since grayling like the type of water described we will probably be able to eliminate at least fifty per cent of a typical river as being unsuitable. A brief examination, by means of wading and sampling the bottom with a stick, will soon establish its nature.

Unlike trout, grayling are shoal fish, and where you catch one you may well catch more, if care is taken to get the hooked fish out of the shoal area as soon as possible. On the other hand they are not quite so sensitive to disturbance as trout. If the water is rested for a few minutes after a fish has been caught it will often be found that the shoal has resumed its position and is still feeding.

The casting routine as described for TROUT is used for presenting a fly or a team of flies. Personally, I usually start at the surface of the water and work downwards if fish are not showing. If the air is very cold and dry, however, a sunk fly or lightly leaded nymph would be first choice.

In winter it is often necessary to dredge the bottom. Some anglers dislike this way of fishing, but it is often the only one that will give results.

Nymph patterns dressed on small double hooks are used on the Clyde and elsewhere. Some anglers prefer singles weighted with lead or copper wire. Unweighted wet flies can be sunk deep by using a self-sinking fly-line. Sawyer’s Killer Bug is deadly.

Striking and Playing

Striking presents no special problems. The grayling has rather a small mouth, which is one reason why some anglers insist on small flies. I have never found these fish particularly hard to hook.

Angling hares are started all too easily and are often pursued down the years until we regard their phantom existence as fact. It seems to have been Izaac Walton who first ‘discoursed’ on the grayling’s tender mouth. Walton was a poet rather than a scientist and all poets are allowed a little licence. But the wretched hare had been started and anglers are still chasing it three centuries later.

Half the trouble, I think, is caused by faulty playing. On being hooked, a grayling likes to lie sideways to the current, its big dorsal erected, so that it can exert maximum resistance against the rod. It is quite useless to try and pull a grayling against a stream that is running at all strongly. If you try to do so you will simply lose your fly. Some anglers who make this mistake go away complaining that grayling have tender mouths but it would be truer to say that some anglers are ham-fisted.

The correct way to net a grayling — indeed any river fish — is to get below it in the stream and drift it over the net. If this is impossible owing to the nature of the banks the fish should be drifted into slack water and ‘walked’ up-river.

The smaller the fly in use, the less pressure you dare exert. With a small trout fly it is unwise to pull a fish against even a weak current, because you may well lose it in so doing. If you look for it there is always a safer way.

Bait-fishing — Trotting

Since grayling are bottom-feeders for most of their lives and are in season during winter it follows that bait-fishing is quite appropriate to their capture.

The maggot is the usual bait for grayling, although some anglers prefer small redworms. The best rod to use is one of 3 or 3.6 m (10 or 12 ft). A light roach rod of fibre-glass tip has been recommended for grayling trotting but I know anglers who use 3 m (10 ft) split-cane fly-rods and count these none too powerful when pitted against winter currents. So-called `trotting reels’ — which were, in fact, free-running centre-pin reels — have now been largely superseded by the fixed-spool reel. This seems to me a pity, for a well-made centre-pin is not only pleasanter to use, but is, I fancy, a better tool for the job. I have trotted baits for hundreds of hours with both fixed-spool and centre-pin reels and, personally, I prefer the latter every time. It is smoother in operation and gives one more intimate contact with the bait and, after hooking, with the fish. Centre-pins, too, are kinder on the line, which fixed-spool reels tend alternately to twist and unwind. Also, soft-plaited Terylene lines can be used; on fixed-spool reels, with their tiny drums, these tend to coil-cling.

Whatever reel is used it should be loaded with 90 m (100 yds) of 2 kg (4 lb) line. The cast should be tied direct to the line. Some anglers use a yard cast as fine as 1 kg (2 lb) b.s., but in the high waters of winter this may spell breakages.

A bob-float is needed. A pike pilot-float can be easily adapted for grayling trotting. Some anglers like to shot the line; others prefer to shot the float itself. Some again like several biggish shots immediately below the float and one or two dust shots near the bait. I prefer my shots to be spaced down the line with the lowest not nearer than a foot to the hook. An unshotted line is not easily controlled in a fast stream and the bait is often carried towards the surface. If I want to fish shallow, I prefer to do so by lowering the float. The bob-float, by the way, should have a lick of orange fluorescent paint to make it easily visible.

If the water is not too cold, wading is in order. This enables you to command all the best swims, which otherwise would have to be attacked from the bank. In any case, a 3.6 m (12 ft) rod permits a reasonable command of the water, especially on smaller rivers.

The whole point and purpose of trotting is to present the bait to the fish in advance of the float. That is to say, the float should be periodically retarded in its drift so that the current, acting on the line, will swing the bait forward and upwards. The amount of swing of course will depend on the strength of the current and the amount of shot on the line.

All this sounds simple, but in practice it takes some concentration and delicacy of touch to manage a bait neatly in currents of varying speed. Too much retarding will cause the bait to eddy around uselessly; too little will permit the float to overrun the bait and haul it through the water.

Natural Grasshopper

One of the most curious pieces of grayling lore is the trend towards fishing natural grasshoppers. Why grayling in particular should be associated with grasshoppers I don’t know, for you can catch many sorts of fish on these lively insects, especially trout.

Grasshoppers being to appear in quantity around mid- summer. They can be captured in the early morning, when they may be observed sheltering around grass-roots waiting for the sun to come out. Although they are strong insects, their limbs are brittle and are easily destroyed by rough handling. They are best kept in a bottle, the mouth covered with gauze or perforated plastic. A wine-bottle with a long neck makes a good container.

Live grasshoppers are quite deadly if fished on the surface, where the vigorous kicking of their hind-legs quickly attracts fish from a distance. Unfortunately they soon drown, and the energetic display is brought to an untimely end. This means that one needs a good supply of the insects for an evening’s fishing.

Grasshoppers are a fairly big bait and I find that a tiny Stewart tackle is the best mount for fishing them. A hook fixed in the fibre on the shoulders and another near the tail is the most humane way of securing them. Careless hooking will soon kill them.

There are several possible ways of fishing the live insect. No sort of real force can be used when casting, so the trotting outfit already described may be pressed into service, but without the shots and with the length running down to the hook greased. One can use McMillan’s self-floating monofil for this job.

The floating, kicking ‘hopper is then trotted down the slack water at the edges of pools, the float being retarded only enough to keep float and bait well separated. A fish that comes at a live grasshopper is not easily discouraged, and if it fails to seize it the first time it will try again and again.

Some anglers use an artificial grasshopper, a sort of hybrid between a wet fly and a lure. These creations are fished subsurface and are said to do well on occasion.

Weather Grayling seem to be much more tolerant of weather changes than most game fish. On cold days their feeding periods seem to extend over a longer time than do those of trout. Grayling fishing seems to be best on chill days when the sky is not too bright and the stream is full but not flooded. In these conditions, in late autumn, a dry fly often does surprisingly well. Like most fish, however, grayling do like a measure of stability in the weather and it is not suggested they will take no matter how stormy the conditions. A glass that rises and falls at short intervals — owing to the arrival of succeeding depression fronts — is likely to put every fish in the stream off its feed. The only exception to this that I have ever discovered is the common eel.

Autumn is the best time for grayling, especially during a spell of Indian summer, with its warm days and tangy nights. Unfortunately on tree-lined streams one usually gets a fall of leaf and this can make fly-fishing quite hopeless. Oak leaves seem to be exceptionally bad for fishing.


Grayling are a betwixt-and-between fish. Although classed among the coarse fishes for purposes of River Board legislation they are tolerated — if that is the word — as a member of the Salmonidae. Few anglers fish for grayling specifically except as a sort of stop-gap during the trout closed season. This is clearly a natural reaction. One generally takes the best that is available, and when we fish for grayling during the winter the feeling that we are slumming in the piscatorial sense is inescapable, although rather tough on the grayling.

Probably many trout fishers underrate the grayling’s fighting qualities. They hook grayling during the spring and summer, while trout fishing, when the fish has hardly recovered from spawning, and a spent fish can scarcely be expected to put up a lively struggle. On rivers where grayling are quite overshadowed by other game-fish, there is often no provision at all for catching them when they are in condition — that is to say, during the late autumn and winter. On these rivers — the Teifi for example — it is impossible for an angler to catch a grayling when it is fit simply because, at that time, no angler has the legal right to be fishing.

18. July 2011 by admin
Categories: Fish, Game Fishing, Grayling | Tags: , | Comments Off on Different Fishing Methods for Catching Grayling


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