Although many of us are familiar with grayling and perhaps some of the techniques employed in order to catch them on the fly, there will be many more that have not.
Perhaps you've never had opportunity or felt you had the skills or tackle required in order to go out and catch one? It's not that difficult.
Catching grayling throughout the winter months is far easier than you'd think, you don't need a whole load of new tackle and the flies used are pretty basic, nothing overly complicated or fancy.
Many anglers are aware of the term 'Czech Nymphing, this is a generic 'catch all' for fishing a relatively short and weighty flies. Many heavyweight fly patterns which feature lead underbodies or beads fall under the heading of Czech Nymphs or Bugs, as we like to refer to them here in UK.
Czech Nymphing, or Bugging, is the number one method for targeting grayling in the colder months, and it involves fishing with very little and at times no fly line out of the tip ring. Then casting, more like lobbing, our team of three, sometime two flies, upstream allowing the current to push the flies past our position in the river. Mostly you'll be fishing faster more powerful currents and often in water three to four feet deep. If you were to fish with a longer line then you'd lose all control over your flies. The short line allows you to stay in touch, and to feel every little bump and tap as the flies trundle downstream.
No matter what the condition are the majority of the grayling's food is on or very near the riverbed, the key to consistent success is to ensure that your fly patterns get down and stays down, in the fish's field of vision.
You can easily expect to go out an catch grayling with your reservoir gear, let's be honest we are not having to cast any distance, BUT, these heavier 10ft 7-wt rods are overkill on grayling.
They are too heavy, so you're arm, shoulder and back will get sore fishing with one all day. They are stiff too, you will often pull the hook out a grayling's mouth because of this, you will not enjoy the fish's fighting qualities as much with a rod lie this either.
A longer rod will help massively when it comes to line control and for that reason a10ft model is ideal, although shorter rods do work fine 9ft 6in, 9ft and even an eight footer, but the that extra length of the 10ft one counts for a lot when on the water.
Look to use lighter outfits though, rods should be matched up to 3 to 5-wt lines, these are ideal. Even though we won't use the line, not really, the lighter set up makes it far easier to fish in this manner all day long.
For tippet, just use straight through breaking strain, the flies are heavy so turnover is not a problem, bear in mind your flies are going to be close to the riverbed, and therefore you'll get snagged a few times, so try 5lb. At least that way you'll be able to get some of those snagged flies back!
If you're fishing in an area where you know that you're less likely to encounter any structure, try 4lb, as it will allow your flies to act much more naturally. You may use fluorocarbon or copolymer, fluoro sinks fast, yet copolymer is far softer and allows the flies to behave properly, each has their plus points.
Don't use too long a leader either, we'd prefer to use 8ft to 10ft, again it's all about control. Often the best methods is to place the heaviest fly on the point, lighter one on the dropper and the lightest on eon the top dropper. This set up is not set in stone, you can chop and change to varying water conditions. If you're not comfortable fishing with three flies the drop down to two, they can be equally as effective.
Putting It All Together
By fishing your flies close together, you'll be able to get them down deep straight away and fishing from the off.
So, with a foot or two of fly line out of the tip ring you then pitch the flies upstream, in shallower water you can fish this method up and across the current. Once they land, there are two methods that can be employed which will allow the flies to fish effectively.
Once the flies are at the optimum depth you then track them down stream, just a little slower than the current. A good way to do this, with precision, is to let your rod tip follow a bubble but at a slower rate. You'll often be fishing in a bubble line, tracking one, albeit it at a slower pace will ensure that flies will fish a little slower, and hopefully deeper, giving the fish a chance to see them.
Another method that can work really well in faster water, is to put a really heavy bug on the point, one that would surely snag the bottom if left to it's own devices, but to fish it far faster. Again pick a bubble and allow the rod tip to speed ahead of it, not too fast but quicker than the current. By fishing this way, if a fish does take, nine times out of ten the thing's hooked well and will not be coming off.
At the end of each 'trundle' through, given the speed of the current and the angle of your rod the flies will start to rise up and off the riverbed. This is a crucial apart of the cast and one that you must pay particular attention to. After a few runs through you'll get and idea of exactly when they start to lift, let them rise a foot or two and strike. It's on this strike that you'll often find yourself attached to a grayling that you had no idea was there. If not then it's just case of following up the strike with a lift and lob to get the flies back upstream and fishing again.
Always, always strike, lift then lob, it'll become one continuous movement.
Once you've fished the water directly above, in front and below simply take a step down the pool or run and repeat the process until the pools fished out.
You may not get a take first time through the pool, BUT, do not move on just yet. Once you've walked down it, you'll have stirred up the bottom and this in turn can switch the grayling on to the feed, so ensure that you fish down a pool two or even three times.
Playing the Fish
When you do hook a grayling, you'll notice straight away that they will fight in a manner totally different from trout. They use the current to their advantage by lifting their large dorsal and trying to catch the powerful flow to take off downstream. They are also very bad for twisting and flexing, spinning their bodies at times, going round and round like a whirling dervish in their attempt to throw the hook.
This is why the softer, lighter rod is the best choice, as it will absorb all the lunges of these acrobatic fish during this energetic and erratic behaviour.
When you do hook a grayling, try and turn your body, and in turn the pull the rod tip round. This does two things to help you with your fishing. Firstly, it will immediately knock the grayling off its bearing and take it away from the faster current. We are normally standing at the edge of a fast seam and letting our bugs fish down it. We have taken it out of the current and into the slacker water when we can let it thrash until it's tired enough to be brought to the net.
Another good point with this way of playing them is that it will pull it away from the rest of the shoal. Get the fish away from the shoal fast and then there's always the chance of you being able to go back in. After you've released that fish, you on and catch another. By fishing in this manner you could take grayling from the same area before they realise what's going on and move off or stop feeding.
More and more angler are targeting grayling come the winter months, it keeps them fishing all year round. Once you get the basics right, these fish are relatively easy fish to catch, try it and once you find success, you'll be hooked on the lady of the stream too!
If you enjoyed the grayling fishing on the River Dove feature in the show on the 13th December you can find out more about Steve Cullen via his website - flyfisherguide.co.uk or you can follow him on Twitter @Totalflyfisher.
He was a guest of Beresford Fishery and Derbyshire County Angling Club: DCAC have the lease on the river in Wolfscotedale, which along with the Grayling is also an excellent Wild Brown Trout Fishery. This is just one of 26 waters enjoyed by DCAC members. If viewers are interested in fishing Wolfscotedale, membership of the club is very reasonably priced and more information is available here.