How to Fly Fish for Grayling in Scotland
In recent years grayling fly fishing in Scotland has seen a huge rise in popularity in the U.K. As a result, many newcomers to the sport are wondering about how they can fly fish for Grayling in Scotland!
I remember when I caught my first-ever Grayling. At the time, I was sporting a very trendy streaked mullet and fly fishing vest adorned with Troutmasters badges for the added credibility (I’m definitely cooler now…). This fish took a simple hares ear nymph fished under a Klinkhammer. What a fight this fish had. I remember shouting up at my friend whilst he lazily waded downstream to help me land it–without a net!
Now, as a full time guide, I rarely get time during the season to cast a line. First there’s trout, then salmon. The first frosts and the end of the Salmon fishing season coincides with our tourist season. This signals one major thing: it’s grayling time! As a passionate angler I have sacrificed the health of my toes and fingers, in harsh Scottish winter conditions to pursue this fish for over 16 years and simply love it!
Our aim is to share our knowledge and experience to encourage more newcomers to this ever-growing winter passion. Here we will answer the common questions!
What Tackle do I need to fly fish for Grayling?
Let’s break it all down!
The main technique we employ to catch Grayling is Euro-Nymphing. This is a high sticking style to present nymphs with no fly line outside the rod tip, just leader and only the tippet on or in the water.
For this reason you will want a softer actioned rod 10 to 11 foot in length, weighted for a #2-4 line.The additional length aids control when trying to present the nymphs on a drag free drift. In addition, the softer action is to help the flies load the rod as well as absorb the impact of those nasty head shakes and turns that Grayling make once hooked.
They are dogged, determined fighters with soft mouths. This makes for long distance releases if you are fishing with strong tackle!
Nowadays I do not even fish with a fly line on my grayling set up! I simply use more backing! Yes, I’m also a frugal Scot…
Attached to the extra backing (or a fly line if you prefer) I now use monofilament carp shock leaders for my nymphing leader. Buy good quality brands and they have almost zero memory and come in a variety of colours. I prefer high-vis to aid visual bite detection. Also in various lightings it’s much easier for my clients to locate once cast.
Fulling Mill Masterclass Fluorocarbon is superb in the 4 & 5lb sizes! With a thin diameter and reliable knot strength, it is my go to tippet material for Grayling fishing. Thinner diameter tippet not only aid presentation, it will also cut through the waters drag and help your team of flies achieve the desired depths.
I generally fish with three nymphs spaced 18 inches – 3ft feet apart depending on the river depth and clarity. A simple rule of thumb is: The clearer and lower the water, the bigger the distance between flies and smaller the flies. The higher and less clarity in the water, the bigger the flies tied closer together to concentrate the weight and help achieve the depth.
To tie my droppers I use the simple three turn water knot and to tie flies an improve clinch or fishermans knot.
For indicators I use the Fulling Mill Tactical Sighter attached to my tapered nymphing leader. These just further aid visual bite detection.
I like a reel with a smooth drag so when I hook up with bigger specimens in fast or high water and they decide to take of quickly I can rely on a nice smooth release of line.
What clothes should I wear to fly fish for Grayling?
- Socks. Good merino wooly socks are essential!
- Base layer such as followed by a good mid layer such as Loop Onka Pants and Jacket or Patagonia nano puff pants and jackets which keep warm once wet also incase you get any leaks.
- A merino wool or fleece Buff/snood, wool hat & fingerless gloves are the finishing touches to lock in some warmth!
What type of pools and water types will I find Grayling in?
A lot of this depends on water heights. In low or warmer water conditions Grayling can push right up into the necks of the pools where you will find more oxygenated water. However, they can also be found resting in the slower parts in low water, you just have to find them on the day by fishing both areas really!
Never discount a second run down a pool with a change of fly pattern or angle of attack. For me, the key point in Grayling fishing is getting down to them and finding them. Cover the water!
In higher/dirty water conditions the grayling will start to come out the main flow of the run and can be found in the creases or further down the pool. In high and dirty water they are often right under your feet, tight to the bank! Seams or creases we often refer to are areas where two currents/flows meet and create an obvious seam between the two different flow speeds. These are prime areas for most species of fish, particularly Grayling! Fish can stay just out the main flow picking up the food items easily intercepting into the faster water while expending less energy.
In the rivers we fish here in the Scottish lowlands we typically find the Grayling in thigh depth and deeper. I will personally always look for a reasonable depth of water. As faster runs start to slow into a steady flow and deepen, this is always a safe bet to find a few Grayling.
Gravel & Pebble bottoms. This is the classic looking bottom for Grayling and what they will tend to favour. However, there are some rockier rivers where they lie amongst bigger and rockier terrain.
Where can I fish for Grayling in Scotland?
There are a host of rivers in Scotland that now have healthy populations of Grayling. These are mostly found along the central belt and Borders of Scotland.
The main rivers for Grayling fishing in Scotland are the River Annan, River Clyde, River Earn, River Nith, River Tay, River Tummel, River Teith, River Teviot and last but certainly not least, the River Tweed. There are a host of other smaller tributaries too!
What techniques do I need to catch Grayling?
There are a few techniques to catch Grayling. One close look at a Grayling will reveal an underslung mouth. This has evolved to aid with feeding from the bottom of the riverbed. With that in mind we fish 2-3 nymphs with added weight to get down as quick as possible.
This is the most efficient way to present your flies on a drag free drift. Without the use of fly line on the water it is very effective and beginner friendly.
This method takes a lot of skills to fish effectively. You must learn to mend efficiently to keep the flies on a drag free presentation throughout the drift.
What flies do I need to catch Grayling?
Bugs – Bugs, bugs and more bugs!! But what are bugs? Bugs are nymph style flies tied with weighted underbodies or weight added via tungsten beads. Like so:
The usual nymph patterns and variants will always work. Hares ears, PTN’s, Peeping Caddis, French Nymphs etc. They do tend to favour a hotspot or a hint of flash and colour. Pink or purple is good in winter and red and orange at any time!
In dirty water conditions I prefer to fish with brighter patterns or with fluorescent beads to help the fish locate the flies. A squirmy wormy in dirty water can be devastating at times!
Don’t forget the surface too. We just haven’t caught them often ourselves on dries but have heard of many anglers having occasional success!
What size do Grayling get?
Grayling in Scotland can get up to 4lb size with 3lb fish caught frequently every year in Scotland. These are special, special size Grayling and fish of a lifetime for many anglers.
I truly hope this article inspires you to get out there and participate in Winter Grayling.
To read more on Grayling, check out this recent piece by Kieron Jenkins.
For those interested in guided fishing in Scotland for Grayling, packages include experienced, qualified SGAIC instructors, full equipment, lunch and photography. Callum Conner can be contacted at www.scotiafishing.com