Despite technically being a coarse fish, in reality grayling is more of a game fish. It is closely related to the trout, and as such, it lives in the same waters and can be caught using fly tackle. It provides sport to many trout fishermen once the trout season has ended.
Grayling (Thymallus thymallus)
Under optimal conditions, grayling can grow to impressive weights, with some going above 4 lbs (1.6 kg).
In the UK the average grayling is between 8-11 inches (20-30 cm) in length and weighs between 6oz-1 lb (0.15-0.5 kg). A good catch would be in the region of 2 lbs (0.9 kg).
LC – Least Concern
A Note On Spawning
Grayling are spring spawners, typically spawning in early March when water temperatures reach 8°C.(although this may differ the further North you go). The females lay their eggs in the shallows of rivers with fine gravel and a moderate current. The fry which emerge can sometimes be seen swimming in shoals close to the bank in quieter waters.
Known as the ‘lady of the stream’, grayling are long, slim bodied fish with small heads and comparatively large eyes, they have tender lips, of which the top overhangs the bottom.
Mature grayling have grey-green backs with silver flanks and a white underbelly. They also have black spots across their bodies and their fins are red/orange. Young grayling have a slightly different complexion, they are light silver in colour with a green tint and bluish spots across their sides.
Grayling can be easily identified through their characteristically large sail-shaped dorsal fin, the top and rear half of which has a red tint. In addition to this, they also have an unusual adipose fin, which is a very small fin found on the fish’s back, between its dorsal fin and tail.
So how do we catch one?
The natural diet of the grayling is made up of aquatic insects, shrimps, snails and small fish. Baits which work particularly well for grayling include brandling worms, maggots and wasp grubs.
Whilst grayling can be found throughout the UK, they are most abundant in clean, oxygenated waters, usually fast flowing, gravel bottomed rivers and streams.
Favourite Feeding Places
Grayling are often found lurking in the deeper reaches of the rivers that they inhabit, when feeding they glide upwards and ambush their prey from below. They also tend to exist in shoals, so catching one means that if you stick around you’re likely to land another at least.
You can catch grayling by float fishing for them, but trotting with a stick float is one of the most effective techniques. When trotting for grayling, use a 12-15’ rod paired with a centre pin or close face reel, alternatively, you can use a fixed spool reel. A mainline of around 3 lb with a 2 lb hook link works well and use a size 16-18 hook, preferably not barbed.
Before diving in with bait on the hook, determine the depth that you are working with, by running the stick float through the swim a few times and set the float to run through the swim with the bait just off the bottom. Make sure to hold the float back for a couple of seconds every now and again, this will lift the bait off the bottom which can make it more attractive to grayling. Once at the end of the swim, hold back for a second or two before winding back in.
Try different shotting patterns for your float set up if you are not getting any bites. You’ll be surprised how a seemingly dead swim can burst into life from simply moving your shot around. See the image below.
Three different shotting patterns
If it’s one of those frustrating days where you are getting bites, but are unable to hit them, try a ledger. Reduce the length of the hooklink to around 6 inches so as to prevent the fish from spitting out the hook before feeling the lead.
Fly Fishing for Grayling
Grayling will also take both dry (floating) and wet (sinking) flies, making fly fishing a popular choice for catching grayling. If you are already fly fishing for trout, then you will have pretty much everything that you need to fly fish for grayling. A 10’ rod with soft action is recommended and investing in some waders and gloves is pretty much required.
September to December make for the months of the year to fly fish for grayling, as they are very active and feed throughout the day. Many fly fishermen swear by cold but dry winter days being the perfect conditions for grayling fishing.
In early autumn, dry flies are the way to go and grayling will rise to a fly just as well as a trout. However, be prepared to move a dry fly very quickly, as winter hatches are fast and finish after just a couple of minutes of activity. A sighted or rising fish will respond well to an upstream presentation of the fly, give the Grayling Witch and Red Tag patterns a go in these situations.
In December, as the colder weather sets in, grayling move towards the bottom of the river where they will bottom feed. At this time of year, sinking flies work well, providing that the grayling are willing to move up off the bottom. A wet fly fished within the top 12 inches of water will be very effective. Use a method that will present your flies so that they move along with the current, as their natural food would. Upstream casts, square across or a reach cast (if fishing downstream) will achieve just this. You can fish wet flies as a team or singularly.
Grayling are not easily put off by poor casting, unlike trout. Fishing for grayling is a great option for beginners as it teaches the value of tightening the line instead of striking hard. Grayling have particularly soft mouths, a hard strike will cause the hook to be pulled away and the fish to be lost. Sadly, this does happen and when it does, part of the fish’s lip will be left on the hook, meaning that a damaged fish is in the water. This fish is more susceptible to disease which can then spread to all the fish in the water.
When out hunting grayling, you should fish the swim and cast with the smallest shot closest to the hook, this will cause the current to lift the bait up and down, meaning that you are covering a wider range of depths. In addition, the movement that this gives to the bait is extremely attractive to grayling. Keep your tackle light throughout, fish with a long line and you’ll have grayling biting in no time.