Generally, the upper reaches of a river hold brown trout and the lower reaches coarse fish – but the upper and middle lengths are known as the ‘grayling zone’.
Grayling rivers are invariably good trout waters too. Because grayling aren’t that common in British rivers, it is possible to have a trout river without grayling but never a grayling river without trout.
Of all the fish in Britain, grayling are the most sensitive to pollution. If there are grayling in a river, the water is clean.
Itinerant shoal fish
Grayling are nomadic, travelling up and down a river in search of ideal lies. Probably spawning and remain that way until just before spawning. Hundreds – or even thousands — of fry form large shoals in the shallows in late summer and autumn.
Depending on the size of the river and the grayling stocks, groups of year old and older grayling may number anything from two to seventy or eighty fish. First find a shoal, and then you may catch many fish.
There are two main types of grayling river: the chalk stream and the freestone (rain fed) river. Compared with the scores of freestone rivers, there are relatively few chalk streams. The principal grayling rivers are on the eastern side of England and
Scotland, but other main waters are in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Derbyshire and the Welsh border rivers. You can find grayling in only three still waters: Gouthwaite Reservoir (North Yorkshire), Lake Bala (North Wales) and in a privately owned Hampshire lake.
The grayling season corresponds to the coarse fish season (summer through to late winter). Grayling caught in mid summer are still recovering from spawning and are often poor fighters. This is especially true of chalk stream fish. On many freestone rivers, however, grayling regain their fitness by the middle of August and are well worth fishing for.
Grayling find excellent summer lies where the water begins to shallow and speed up at the run-off before the next stretch of broken water or riffle. This is an excellent dry fly area as well as being a very good place to fish a wet fly across the current.
You can often find mid-summer grayling at the heads of riffles in fast water. By September and continuing well into late autumn, their favoured habitat is a steady, medium-paced glide of regular depth.
Grayling remain close to the bottom and take most oftheir food from the lower zones of the river. An ideal river bed consists of sand, small stones and gravel.
In summer, however, when there is increased fly activity, they take more food off the surface of the water and are willing to rise to duns, sedges and smuts all year. Even in winter when smuts and the occasional dun hatch, grayling surface-feed in the steady glides and the slower pools.
After a grayling rises, it returns immediately to the stream bed, not adopting positions in mid-water or near the surface as trout sometimes do. On both types of river grayling feed on mayfly and stonefly nymphs, caddis larvae and shrimps from the stream bed.
With the long, cold nights come hard frosts, and grayling search out the deeper, warmer water of pools. Fly fishing under these conditions can be difficult unless you use a heavy nymph or Killer Bug right down at their level. Anything above them will probably be ignored. If there is some insect activity, they’ll rise in the slow, deep pools for flies too small for the angler to see.
In these situations the grayling rise very gently, some barely disturbing the smooth surface of the slow water. You need very small dry flies or tiny wet ones. It isn’t unusual to use size 20 or 22 dry flies. Even big grayling take flies with tiny sipping rises, so don’t be deterred by what appear to be the rises of small fish.
Bait fishing with maggots or small red worms is effective. Perhaps the best time is after a night or two of frost when the river is running clear. Even when snow lies deep along the banks, the fishing can be excel- lent. In winter, when the shoals are tightly packed over a small area deep in the pools. it is a matter of searching the likely pools with a heavy bug or bait until you find a shoal. Sometimes you can go on to take twenty or thirty fish from the shoal. In the slow, deep pools of 1.5m (5ft) or more a leg-ered brandling or small red worm is very productive.
If you can fish a clear chalk stream, then it may be possible to see the grayling shoals ir pools or between weed beds. With brighl sunlight, you’ll be able to see fish in deep water. In autumn and winter, though, ever the clearest rivers become opaque, and fist spotting is more difficult. They are by nc means an easy fish to see. The French cal them Vombre – the shadow – with good rea son.
In early autumn you can still find man} smaller fish in the fast shallows. These an one to two year olds, and there might be hundreds of them. The bigger fish are ir deeper water. The three and four year olds of about 8oz (224g) to over 1lb (0.45kg), maj also be found in great numbers – scores o fish in a single pool. If the water is weedy smaller groups are found in the runs between the weeds. The biggest fish an always in the deepest water, and unlesi they are surface-feeding, you have to fisl with a heavy fly right down at their level.
It’s important to find out if the river yoi intend fishing has any method restriction: (ie: upstream fishing only).