22- 10 Top Winter Grayling Fishing Tips

10 Top Winter Grayling Fishing Tips 

Beautiful to behold, not to mention available to catch right up until mid March, grayling are many a fly angler’s favourite winter species. When the temperature drops or conditions are dicey, however, they can present a challenge. Here are some excellent tips to help you catch grayling on the fly this winter, from Gary Pearson and Dom Garnett.  

The grayling is a firm winter favourite for the fly angler


Go with the flow
As with any species, location is key to success. So, where do you find grayling on a typical river? They like a reasonable current and in normal conditions the first place to look is any steady glide of water. Find walking pace current with two to four feet of water and you’re highly likely to find them. Always take polarising glasses to see if you can spot your quarry, too. That said, they are shadowy in appearance and quite tricky to see- and you’ll often only locate them when they move! 


Steady, oxygen rich water in a weirpool- a likely spot for winter grayling


…or seek out holes and bends

Of course, while grayling like steady flows, winter conditions can quickly alter their preferred lies. If the river is high and coloured, those steady glides can quickly become rushing torrents. In these circumstances, look for bends, creases and any areas where there is a little more depth. The grayling are likely to still be near the flow, but will avoid the fiercest of it. Any “crease” (where faster and slower currents meet) is worth a look. Cover can also be useful, as this slows the flow and gives grayling sanctuary. 


Go bright (but not necessarily pink!) 

As has often been observed, grayling like flies with a dash of colour in winter. Patterns like the Pink Shrimp are always worth a try. However, you might also mix things up with other colours. One of the most underrated is yellow! Coarse anglers find that grayling love sweetcorn, for example, so there must be something about this colour they like.


Brilliant Off Bead Nymphs!
Obviously there are loads of flies for grayling that work; many of your standard nymphs such as the Hare’s Ear or any beaded bugs are ideal. However, if there is one type of wet fly that has really taken off in the last decade, it’s the jig style nymph. Flies that fish “point up” are ideal for fishing deeper. Many experts are convinced that you’ll not only snag the bottom less but hook more fish on the strike! Our Off Bead Nymphs are unbeatable for this sort of fishing- and great value too.  

Our special nymphs (above) are superb for grayling. Or those who tie their own could simply order a pack of our Off Beads (above right) to convert your standard hooks and fly patterns into “point up” specials.

Bug standard??
Once upon a time, virtually all of us used a simple indicator and nymph combo to catch grayling. This is still a good tactic on its day- especially on small streams or in very clear water, when it is difficult to get close to the fish without spooking them. The set up couldn’t be simpler- just start out with a weighted nymph underneath a suitable strike indicator and experiment till you find the right depth.

Gary Pearson fishes long leader tactics on a tempting river bend. With a little more depth and less current, these spots can be good when levels are higher than usual.

Learn to use long rod and long leader tactics
As for the best way of all to catch grayling, the supreme method these days is a long rod and long leader of 15ft or more. This is a topic in its own right, but with a long, sensitive rod and short casts, “high sticking” with two or even three flies is deadly.

For those who are new to the method, we can’t pretend to make you a master in a few lines! It’s worth doing your homework here (Jonathan White’s Nymphing – The New Way book is well worth a look, besides various YouTube videos and articles). Or, best of all, why not treat yourself to a guided day? It could save you a lot of time and frustration. 


Fluorocarbon is best 

With the best will in the world tangles can occur, especially with heavy pairs or trios of flies. You don’t want to use very thick line, however, which could make your flies look stiff and unconvincing. The best tippet and dropper material is undoubtedly quality fluorocarbon-such as the remarkable Cortland Ultra Premium. Not the cheapest, but those final inches really count! 

Be thorough 

River trout will often react quickly to a fly and, if you’re lucky, sometimes move several feet to grab it. Winter grayling are a different beast altogether, especially when it’s bitterly cold. They are less energetic for one thing. They are also less spooky than trout, however, and you’ll tend to get closer to them than you might with their spotty neighbours. You might need to cover an area very thoroughly to win that decisive bite or two- and that means taking your time. Try to fish methodically, covering different “lines” in each spot; you could even try a grid style approach to really cover a likely swim. 


Change depth before you change flies

If bites are scarce, it’s easy to imagine that flies regularly need changing. Granted, the right pattern can be important; but generally not as important as the depth! Rather than going through the whole fly box, try altering this if you are struggling. Fishing your nymphs as deep as possible makes sense if it’s very cold- sometimes actually tapping across the gravel is ideal. Those jig style or off-bead nymphs with tungsten heads really come into their own here. 


Grayling are delicate; release with care.


Happy returns

Last but not least, grayling are a delicate species. We are privileged to catch these wonderful fish, so it is up to us to ensure they go back safely. Often, they will need a few seconds or even minutes to recover. Never simply launch them back into the current, but always support them upright, nose into the flow. It’s often safer to do this in gentler currents, too, away from the main swell of the river where a tired fish risks getting tossed about. Take your time and release with care, making sure every fish swims off safely. That half pounder could be tomorrow’s specimen grayling for you or another angler, so be kind. 





If you’re looking to get into river fly fishing, we have some truly excellent starter outfits from Cortland to offer. The Fairplay series has an amazing value 9ft 4/5 weight setup that includes rod, reel, fly line and leader for just £79.99! Even with a spool of tippet and a selection of our quality fly patterns, you could still tackle up for under £100.