A Guide to Winter Nymphing for Grayling

Ever since the style of Czech nymphing achieved global recognition at the world championships in Wales, 1990, the competition scene has been the driving force behind new techniques and developments.  The Czech style using standard fly line was the go-to method, this however was refined and developed even further over the years.  The French style of nymphing was born probably about a decade or so ago and is now more popular than ever.  It seems the go to set up for most river anglers and it was refined and developed by the French and Belgian anglers alike.

The method was specifically used to fish shallow, clear water and target spooky fish, and over time has been tweaked to adapt to a variety of river conditions not only to fish at distance but also at close quarters.

The French style utilises a very long tapered leader with an indicator section attached, a length of tippet material dependent on the depth of the river is then used below the indicator.  I generally use three nymphs but I’ll leave that up to your own personal preference if you wish to fish just two flies.  For the shallow skinny water, nymphs need to be lighter and changed as the depth increases.  The French leader allows you to present the flies with virtually no drag at a variety of ranges. Casting the leaders can be difficult so it’s better to adopt a flick or lob of the nymphs, water tension can be utilised when presenting the flies at distance.

Nymphing for Grayling

Equipment used when Nymphing for Grayling

Rod choice is based on the size of the river, but more importantly, a longer rod aids in control of the nymphing for grayling through your desired run. I use the Sage ESN 10ft #2, other rods are also available at similar length and the softer action is generally ideal for control of the leader and cushioning the finer tippet during the fight generally used in clear waters. The choice of the French leader can come in many forms, I initially chose to use a 15ft salmon tapered leader with an indicator section attached.  This has now been developed and although there are many on the market such as the Hends Camou French Leader, I have tended to stick with the Fox tapered camo leader.

The indicator section attached to the tip of the leader is again down to you, it can be attached using either tippet rings or straight onto the French leader. Having experimented with a large number of indicators, I now use the Rio two-tone indicator tippet.  This two-tone indicator enables me to detect bites in the dullest of conditions and aids perfectly with the turnover of the flies.  Not only that the indicator can easily be made into a spiral indicator for those finicky bite indications.

When nymphing for grayling, the indicator section is extremely important as it allows you to detect the slightest of bites. Once you have positioned the flies upstream of the likely looking run, the rod can be lifted and tracked back at current pace keeping an eye on the indicator which is generally positioned just touching the water’s surface. Watch out for any stop or unnatural movement, if it does stop or twitch it could be caught on the bottom or a fish taking your nymph, either way, a short strike or lift of the rod will let you know.  After the flies have fished through and are downstream of you on the dangle, don’t be in rush to lift and repeat the process, leave the flies on the dangle and as you would when salmon fishing, pull the rod back and forth two or three times imparting movement into the flies.  I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve done this and a grayling has taken the flies on the dangle.  After two or three casts take one or two steps down or upstream and repeat the process covering as much water as possible.  I tend to move in a zig zag pattern allowing me to cover a variety of the water in a given run.

Nymphing for grayling at distance is also possible, utilising water tension to load the road and the heavier nymphs aid in the turnover as casting conventionally can be awkward. If you are fishing at distance a good tip would be to dress your indicator with Dry Sauce to aid better detection if your indicator is to be laid on the water’s surface.  Another option would be to use a Fulling Mill Strike Indicator particularly in the slower water, Kieron Jenkins’s recent blog post covers this in more detail.

Nymphing for Grayling

Tippet & Flies to use when Nymphing for Grayling

A variety of nymphs can be used when nymphing for grayling, again it’s your personal preference. In the crystal clear waters of the chalk streams or further afield finer tippet down to 0.09mm can be utilised with small micro nymphs. Wherever you find shallower or skinny sections of the river, it will pay dividends to reduce the weight of the nymph and even tippet particularly when the Grayling can be spooked easily.  Length of tippet and diameter is dictated by the water depth and clarity.  Fishing your larger rivers and heavier flies, it’s time to up the ante, don’t be afraid to step up to the 5x, 6x in the Masterclass Flurocarbon range. You may need to pull your flies through some unwanted debris on the trundle through and heavier tippet will reduce the likelihood of lost flies.  It’s a fine balance that can only be resolved when you’re in the water and in the thick of the action.

The introduction of tungsten beads for grayling has been a god send in my opinion, they sink a lot quicker than a standard bead and smaller flies can be fished at a greater depth.  A fly on the point of the cast featuring a jig hook will aid in minimising the number of times your flies get stuck on the bottom of the river.  I usually fish with three flies, the heaviest on the point and a variety of patterns on the middle and top dropper.  Much debate surrounds the merits of where the heaviest nymph is to be placed on the three fly set up. I prefer it to be on the point as I can feel it touching bottom and sense I have better control. You can by all means place the heaviest fly in the middle, it’s worth experimenting with the two to see what suits.

Suggested Winter Nymph Patterns from the Fulling Mill Range

  1. SR Grayling Special
  2. KJ CDC Red Tag
  3. Jardine Orange Shrimp
  4. Pink Tag
  5. Jardine Pink Shrimp 
  6. KJ Pinkie
  7. Duracell
  8. SR Hare’s Ear Special
  9. SR Spanish Bullet
  10. Micro Pheasant Tail

Nymphing for Grayling

Key points when Nymphing for Grayling

  • Read the water – Assess the run, grayling tend to lie just off the main current in the slacker water. Don’t dismiss faster water, but work methodically up or down and break the desired run up into sections. Take into account pace, depth and any features that may hold fish. Chop and change the weight of flies to suit.
  • Dead drift – Fishing short line Czech style or Longer French leader it’s important to have your nymphs fishing at current pace. You want them to appear as natural as possible.  In the slacker water you can drift the team of nymphs through slightly quicker than current pace, which can induce a take. Bouncing the point nymph along the bottom if the current is not sufficient to do it for you can also be used to devastating effect in some quarters.
  • Ring the changes – Vary your approach, change flies, weight and the depth you fish them with regular occurrence. Don’t dismiss a run that doesn’t produce fish on the first run through. Use a variety of nymphs with trigger points, coloured tails, beads, collars.
  • Stick with it – winter days are cold and short, always revisit a less productive run from the morning again in early or mid-afternoon. The slight increase hopefully in temperature can be just the thing to spark the Grayling into feeding mode. The Grayling tend shoal up in the winter months, so stick to your run after your first fish inevitably there will be more around.
  • Play quick, Rest & Revisit – With any Grayling shoal that is if your lucky enough to encounter one this winter, try and play the first few fish as quickly as possible out of the swim, reducing the disturbance. Take your time, rest the swim if the takes slow down and if at all possible fish elsewhere and revisit later in the day. The Grayling will re-group and be more confident in feeding when you return.

Whatever your approach this winter for Grayling, I hope that a few of the basic steps outlined will be of benefit in your search for the Grayling (Thymallus Thymallus)

Finding what works for you on your rivers is key, having the French leader in your armory will most defiantly aid in increasing your catch rate and targeting those fish in the most unlikely of runs.

Phil Ratcliffe
Fulling Mill Ambassador
Sage, Rio, Redington Pro Guide
www.philratcliffeflyfishing.co.uk

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