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How to catch more Grayling this Winter

Published: 10th January 2020 | Author: Phil Ratcliffe

We are well into the winter months and although some anglers have battened down the hatches and tying flies in readiness for the trout season to begin. Others are still out there getting that fix on the winter grayling. So, we asked Phil Ratcliffe, Fulling Mill Ambassador to help us catch more grayling this winter.

Several blog posts have been written both by myself and other ambassadors on the tried and tested methods on how to catch more grayling during the winter months and this piece will look into the intricacies surrounding fly fishing for winter grayling. It’s without doubt that fishing with the nymphs will be the first port of call. Fishing it Czech style (close quarter) or adopting a “euro nymph” or “French Leader” approach. A number of terms are banded about so to clarify here’s an excerpt from one of my previous blog post;

“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 later 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.

Follow these tips to catch more grayling like this.

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.”

Let’s not dwell too much on this as you can find many Fulling Mill blog posts relating to the subjects. But as I say we need to hone in on how and what to look for and flies to use on the method adopted.

French Nymphing for Grayling
French Nymphing a hole on the river Itchen during early Autumn

Reading The River

It’s essential even if you’ve fished the same river for many years to take your time and read the water, look out particularly after any winter flood if the gravel has shifted, trees or debris that have been washed down. Runs that have produced fish in the past may no longer be the same and the grayling may well have found a new sanctuary. 

Key points to consider…

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. Don’t discount the slower water, Kieron Jenkins’s blog post covers this in more detail.

A Stealth Box loaded with grayling flies.

Leader Length & Fly Choice

Once we assessed the water we believe to hold the grayling, dependent on depth and current pace the appropriate length of tippet material (Fulling Mill Masterclass) needs to be selected. I tend to go to a heavier tippet during the winter months, as I find it easier to pull through any snags that inevitably you’ll find when fishing the heavy nymphs.

My leader set up generally consists of a selection of three flies, with the heaviest on the point, slightly lighter on the middle dropper and smaller and lighter on the top dropper. As long as my point fly is touching bottom then I know I’m in the zone. Droppers about 10-15 inches apart but that’s my personal preference and I will chop and change the set up accordingly.

A team of three nymphs is an effective way to target grayling.

Recommended Flies To Help You Catch More Grayling

Heaviest Fly on the Point of a Euro Nymph Set up

Recommend Point Flies For Grayling (1)

Recommended Middle Dropper Flies For Grayling (2)

Recommended Top Dropper Flies For Grayling (3)

Changing your heaviest fly to the middle dropper can also prove to be advantageous. Allowing the two lighter (point & top dropper) flies to fish slightly higher in the water. I have experimented over the years on shifting the heaviest fly from point to middle dropper with equaled success.

Heaviest Fly on the middle dropper of a Euro Nymph Set up

Recommended Point Flies for Grayling (2)

Recommended Middle Dropper Flies for Grayling (1)

Recommended Top Dropper Flies for Grayling (3)

These are just a few variations from the Fulling Mill Range, feel free to browse the website and put your own team of flies together.

Understanding the taking zones will help you catch more grayling…

Now that we have read the river, selected the appropriate leader length and flies for the given run, it’s all about understanding the position of your flies in the water.  This one is probably easier to explain when adopting a shorter line nymphing approach. I’ve broken this down into four basic sections.

Grayling taking zones in a river

Section 1

Lob or pitch your team of flies upstream from your position, length of line can be adjusted accordingly to suit your own ability. The angle at which you choose to do this is up to you but work methodically through the run altering the angle with each cast. As the flies sink into the fishing zone it’s important that any slack is taken out lifting your rod and adjusting the slack with your none rod had so you’re in contact with the flies from the moment they hit the water. The indicator section just touching the water’s surface. Removing slack will enable you to detect any takes as the flies drop.

If your flies are too light then the current will quickly pick them up and the depth will not be achieved and you’re out of the fishing zone. It’s a fine balance having a heavy enough point fly to trundle along the bottom and not too heavy so that it doesn’t move at all.

Section 2 & 3

I like to call this the “fishing zone” and this zone accounts for the vast majority of all takes. Here the flies are fishing at their optimum pace and depth, always leading the team through at current pace or slightly quicker if necessary. Your rod should always be in front of the line/indicator section as the current takes the flies through the zone. Here you can lift the flies slightly to alter the fishing depth and angle but trying to present them as naturally as possible.

Look out here for a stop in the indictor section or any unnatural movement, takes can be subtle so a slight flick with the rod is enough to set the hook. Quickly lifting the rod and setting the hook will help you catch more grayling… and trout in the summer.

Lubos Roza World Champion Euro Nymphing
Former World Champion Lubos Roza Euro Nymphing

Section 4

This is one of the most underestimated areas of the entire four sections, here the flies have left the main fishing zone and are being swept up by the current. The mistake that a lot of anglers fall into is to reset back almost immediately into section 1. Here I will try and keep the flies in the zone for as long as possible by stretching my arm and turning slightly downstream and lowering the rod. Eventually, the flies will be forced upwards but don’t be in too much of a rush to reset.

I have accounted for a good number of fish taking the flies on the “dangle” and letting your flies swing can certainly help you catch more grayling. Grayling can be inquisitive and if they are not hard on the bottom they will certainly chase a snack. As the flies are on the dangle impart a little movement by pulling back and fore on your rod once or twice as you would if your salmon fishing, then reset. You’ll be surprised by the response and the number of takes your likely to encounter.

A cracking grayling.

Once you have fished the section of water several times, then take a step down or up river, or even a step back or forth. In other words, change the angle of approach to catch more grayling. Don’t get lead feet and stick to the same spot. Not only do you need to keep changing the angle of approach, but also a regular change of flies. It’s adapting to change and finding what works on the day. Don’t become complacent with your method and approach, as we know river conditions and the graylings whereabouts can change quickly. Having said that adopt and adapt the basics covered and I’m sure you’ll improve your catch rate, but most of all enjoy your time on the water.

Phil Ratcliffe
Fulling Mill Ambassador
Sage, Rio, Redington Pro Guide

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