While some of us have cleaned and put away our fly gear until 2020, one of the UK’s quintessential river species, the Grayling (Thymallus thymallus), is open for business throughout the winter months. Often referred to as the lady of the river, the European grayling proper is distinguished from the similar Arctic grayling (T. arcticus arcticus) by the presence of 5–8 dorsal and 3–4 anal spines, which are absent in the other species. The large dorsal fin of the male Grayling not only gives it beauty but also an amount of power in holding in current, translated into a powerful fight once hooked.
During my travels, I have been extremely blessed to catch Grayling in the Dalarna region of Sweden and the chalk streams of southern England. Fly fishing tactics employed vary to suit the conditions. Nothing beats catching a Grayling on a dry fly in a river on a beautiful summer’s day, but European style nymphing can be a blast on a winter’s day.
Grayling are generally less wary than brown trout, but caution always pays better dividends. Being a shoal fish they can be found amongst trout, but often favour the gravel, sandy areas of the river bed.
For a dry fly set up, consider an Orvis Superfine three weight 7’6” rod for s small stream, or in rivers a 4 weight outfit (e.g. 8”), coupled with a size II Battenkill disc reel. Tie (or loop to loop) a 9-foot leader at the end of a Hydros Double Taper (DT) line to suit the rod rating. I would start with a Superstrong Plus 5X tapered leader with a size 16 black Klinkhammer. Depending on the conditions, and size of the resident Grayling, you may need to change not only to match the emerging hatch, but also the strength of a decent sized grayling in a strong current. Other successful dry flies may include small muddler patterns and white gnats can be deadly into twilight hours on a humid evening. You may need going down to a size 20 micro fly to match the hatch on bright, cold days.
Another option, which is perhaps more suited to a slightly longer rod such as an 8’6” Clearwater , uses a Klinkhammer dry fly suspended above a nymph – this is often referred to as a Klink and Dink method. Orvis’ Rivers Fly collection includes a size 12 SR Klink Duo – a Klinkhammer that has an inbuilt loop at the bend to quickly attach a nymph to. Orvis Regent Street’s fly fishing Manager, David Dinsdale, had good success recently using a size 16 nymph with a pink head as a single point nymph attached to a Klinkhammer with 6x fluorocarbon tippet, and four feet of 3x mono leader from the dry to the fly line.
Check out ORVIS – Advanced Nymphing Tactics – Fishing Deep Nymphs video on YouTube for a very easy method of allowing the point fly to search various depths without having to re-tie the dry fly (or edit the tippet length etc.).
A European style leader can be employed in deep pockets of a river to tempt a Grayling. It can be a deadly tactic where the nymphs suffer minimal drag and a technique known as high sticking is utilised. This is simply a long tapered leader used on a long, soft action rod (eg a 10ft Recon 3 wt is ideal), and at the end of the leader two or three jig head nymphs are attached, with the heaviest of the duo or trio on the point (tippet end of the leader). Light, modern reels such as the Mirage LT in a size IV are light and with a large spool to aid the unfurling of the leading with minimum memory (leaders can be 40 feet or longer). Casting a long leader (and not a fly line) takes some getting used to, but remember that it is the weight of the flies, coupled with the tension caused as the flies’ drift past a tall rod to the end of the drift, giving enough compression to aid turn over back to the start of a drift. Always maintain a tight line, lip your flies downstream to allow the line to tighten, then flick them up over the top of your rod tip on a tight line at your target. As they land, lift the rod tip to give you control, and tighten up.
Flies with Tungsten heads have gained popularity as they are small and dense. A favourite point fly is a pink bug, however this might not be the best colour choice in pressured areas. In such cases a dull or green jig head nymph might be a better option. Strike at any change of direction or abruption of the leader from the norm, and try to ensure you feel the bump of the point fly on the bottom as you go through your relatively drag free drift. If you are not feeling the bottom, then use a heavier point fly. Control the flies slightly slower than the pace of the flow with the indicator showing to give you a sighter.
Orvis’ Tactical Nymph Leader is a ready-made end set up with an in-built red/orange sighter indicator. All you need to do is tie in your tippet containing the nymphs (each spread a foot apart) whilst the other end attaches to your longer tapered mono leader or your fly line. Your tippet length from the split ring to the point fly must be such that the point fly bounces on the bottom and that the orange/red sighter is just above the water. Therefore, should that sighter disappear, or go static, or suddenly shift direction during the drift, strike upwards to set the hook.
If you are new to Grayling on the fly contact your nearest Orvis store to arrange for a 101 or 201 lesson – they are free! Our fishing Associates are always keen to talk about the lady.
Tight lines and Merry Christmas.
By Neville Broad