by Guide Blog


Feeding Habits

The most successful way to catch grayling is with weighted flies fished deep in the water column, at times right on the riverbed. After all, this is where they do the vast majority of they’re feeding. Take a look at a grayling, that underslung mouth is a dead giveaway, it’s designed for hoovering up insects that are right on the deck. In fact, at times, you can see these fantastic fish investigate the riverbed by rooting around near weed and gravel, looking for nymphs, larvae and shrimps (their favourite food). Quite a sight, I can tell you! Fishing for grayling isn’t that difficult, but you really need to get the basics correct to catch consistently. The two issues when it comes to targeting them are getting our flies into the feeding zone and take detection.

Hit The Deck

To get your flies down on the bottom so that the grayling has a chance to see them, you need weight in your patterns. This additional weight will allow you to get the flies down quickly and efficiently. We can use many things on our flies to help us with this, from lead wire, lead sheet and pre-loaded hooks to tungsten beads. I tie all my shrimps with lead wire, it gives a great profile and keeps the fly slim, I don’t tend to use beads on this style of fly, flies that look like larvae, yes, but shrimps, lead wire or sheet.

Beads now come in a whole host of colours and size’s, to start id use the following.

  • Silver
  • Copper
  • Black
  • Metallic Pink
  • Fire Orange

What’s far more critical than bead colour is size and weight. There’s no use trying to fish for grayling that are holding station in four foot of steady water with flies that have no way of getting down to them. Look to carry flies that allow you to fish in all water conditions, incorporating beads in sizes 2mm to 4.5mm. Trust me there are times when I’ve had 3 x 4mm beads on a sacrificial fly and still struggled to hit the riverbed!

Leader length

Altering the length of the leader will help when it comes to getting the flies deep down. The longer the leader, the more chance your flies have of getting down where it matters. Cast length too, the further you can cast upstream (and still stay in control) the deeper you can fish those nymphs. You can alternate between, flies, leader length and the cast to suit the water conditions you face on any given stretch. But always make sure that you’re in contact!  If you can’t feel the bottom when you’re fishing then you’re flies are not getting deep enough, so change to heavier ones

Proven Patterns

It’s worth mentioning here that I tend to favour a handful of flies, try not to overcomplicate stuff. As mentioned in the previous article, variants of Hare’s Ears and Pheasant Tails are ideal. I have three flies that I have complete in utter faith in when it comes to fishing for grayling in the depths of winter.

One’s a Pink Shrimp, any tying as long as it’s pink. I tie this in size 8 down to 16, I never go too small in winter, unless I’m on a chalk stream. A little grub thing my own version of a friend’s pattern. Olive green fur and black thorax with a gold bead, simple! And finally, a nymph tied on a jig hook, again, super simple, Coq De Leon tail, squirrel body, and black fur thorax with a black bead.You can see for yourself; they are nothing fancy. With grayling you are often better keeping your fly choice simple, don’t get bogged down too much in the intricacies of the fly. You’re looking for shape, either a nymph (straight hook) or pupa (curved hook) profile. Drab works pretty much all the time, but it pays to have one fly with colour on the middle dropper position.

I never fail to catch on these super-simple flies, probably because I use them to the exclusion of everything else? Who knows, but they work for me, all the time! If you would like to create your own grayling fly, then you can see a full tying tutorial below for a fly I have more faith in than any other. It seems to work wherever I fish with it, praise indeed for such a simple little pattern.

Grayling Water

Grayling often tend to prefer water which has an even flow. They are not fans of fast, powerful water and massively fluctuating currents. You shouldn’t expect, despite what you may read, them to be hugging the banks or positioned at the tail of the pool. Grayling are found ANYWHERE where the flow suits them! But pay special attention to even, gravely bottoms and of course where there are ‘seams’ where two differing currents converge and finally where there’s a change of depth. The holy grail is where you find all three together, gravel bottom, change of depth and a seam!

  • Gravel Bottoms – food, it’s where most underwater invertebrates are to be found
  • Seams – a natural conveyor belt of food on the faster current coming to the fish holding in slower water
  • Depth – safety, they can drop down deep away from predators

A point to note in winter though, the colder the day, the deeper they’ll go!

Czech Nymphing / Bugging

In the wintertime, this is the method that should be the go-to! It’s simple and effective in most rivers you’ll encounter. It offers better ‘contact’ than any other method because you’re fishing so close to your body. You can use two or three flies; I prefer three when bugging, with the heaviest going on the point. I tend to fish my flies 50cm apart, although when they are right on the bottom in cold weather move everything closer together.

It’s a super-easy way to fish, a single diameter, level leader, with three flies, an overall length of around 5ft. Pitch the flies upstream of your position and then track them downstream. It’s essential to lead the flies, try and make them move ever so slightly faster than the current, that way you’re always in touch with what’s happening. I like to pick a bubble on the surface and move the rod tip ahead of its position all the time.

Most often the taking point is when the flies draw level with your body and the again as the start to rose below you as the current lifts them up under tension. ALWAYS, strike, just a flick of the wrist as the flies end the drift and rise up in the water; it’s another crucial ‘taking’ point. As the flies lift, the grayling will be induced into taking, best to strike into nothing than miss a fish. The strike also brings the flies up and out of the water ready to re-cast.

There are no indicators, watch the end of the fly line as it’ll flick if a fish takes or you will feel the fish on the line, in fact on most occasions, the fish will hook themselves! Easy stuff but ever so effective!

French / Euro Nymphing

We shall look at this in length in the next blog, but the basics are simple enough. This style of fishing is often done with a single, long, level length of line; however, some anglers prefer a leader which tapers for more accuracy. These leaders allow your nymphs a pretty much drag-free drift, deadly! There’s no fly line to be caught in fluctuating currents as your leader is held OFF the water, so no drag.

A coloured indicator section (two-foot) is used to detect takes and is placed between leader and tippet. It’s bright and easily visible against all backgrounds. It should be held off the water as you track the flies back, if it moves, strike as it’s either a fish or the riverbed. If you are catching the riverbed all the time, your point fly is too heavy, change it!

The advantage of this method is that your nymphs are presented in the most natural way possible.

Playing and Landing Grayling

When it comes to the fight, there are a few things you should think about when you hook a grayling. These things pull, big ones are a real challenge, especially in strong currents as they put up that huge dorsal and kite in the strong flow, but there’s a way of playing them that should help.

Often, unlike trout which tend to go airborne as soon as they’re hooked, grayling do this weird spinney thing underwater. Once hooked they loop round and round underwater and for a first-timer it just feels weird. Personally, as soon as I hook a grayling, I sweep my rod to my right-hand side, I’m right-handed, and this keeps the grayling underwater rather than pulling them up to the surface, at the same time pulling them away from the shoal. By doing this, the fish will cause far less disturbance, and the shoal should stay in one place without them spooking.

I then try to get the fish downstream of me, in my ‘slipstream’ so it can’t use the current as much. When it’s tired, its head will come to the surface, and I turn my body, so I’m downstream of it and let the current bring it into my net. Fighting and netting the grayling in this way means far less lost fish.  

So, as you can see, fishing for grayling isn’t a mythical art. In the most basic form, for me, Czech Nymphing, it’s a doddle and can be picked up with very little effort. Just make sure you have the right gear as outlined in part 1. Be warned though; there’s a reason so many anglers fish for grayling, they are addictive. Sometimes they so easy to catch it’s embarrassing, but at other times, they are the toughest of nuts to crack.

I love them, and I love fishing for them, I hope you will too!

Top Tips

  • ALWAYS wear polarized glasses, tungsten and sharp hooks can do severe damage. You’ll be able to see the riverbed too, so safer wading. If you’re lucky, you’ll see your quarry also!
  • Flies with a touch of colour can often be a great addition to your team of three, try pink, orange, and red.
  • When you catch one, pay close attention to that area, they are shoaling fish, so more will be in that area.
  • In really cold conditions place the heaviest fly on the middle dropper, this pulls the other flies down closer to the riverbed where the grayling will be feeding.
  • In coloured water, try flies like Eggs and Squirmies, these are often a great bet when the river is thinning down after a flood.
  • Have some sacrificial flies, these are flies that are loaded with weight, and often won’t catch, but they are needed to get the others down deep in powerful flows. Tie these on thin wire dry fly hooks, they straighten, and you’ll get the fly back. Tied on proper hooks, the tippet would snap before the hook point bent out.

Steven Cullen

Steve Cullen Fly Fishing

Steve Cullen YouTube Channel

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