09 - Grayling on the Fly

Grayling on the Fly: Patterns and Tactics for Autumn Fishing

With busy lives, not to mention a summer of weird weather, it’s not always easy to get as much time on the river as you’d like. What a godsend grayling are, therefore, to take fly fishing into “extra time” on running waters everywhere!

Contrary to popular belief, the prolific grayling is also far from being confined to the aristocratic chalk-streams of Hampshire and Wiltshire. They abound in rivers as diverse as the Tamar in Cornwall, the Welsh Dee, and as far away as the most Northerly waters of Yorkshire and over the border into Scotland.  It’s also far from being expensive and it’s easy to find a days fishing at a good less than you’d pay for a bank ticket on many stillwaters.

There’s a surprisingly good selection of rivers where you can find grayling. Not all are private, “members only” water. For example, the excellent Westcountry Angling Passport scheme provides excellent fishing from as little as £6 a day.

Finding Fish

With rivers still so low, our initial challenge will be simply locating fish. If the shallows are looking bare and bereft of current, it seems a safe bet that the fish are less evenly spread out than usual. It is a likely bet that the deeper, faster water is the place to be when going after grayling in reduced water conditions.

It goes without saying that if you want to suss out how to catch grayling consistently, watercraft is as vital as with any fish. But it also pays to be aware of how and where they feed.  Grayling are shoal fish, so where you find one you’ll almost certainly find another. Walk the banks with caution and ALWAYS have your eyes on the water.

Keep an eye out for the tributaries coming into rivers as well. The confluence of the two looks especially tempting for fishing. There’s usually a lovey seam where the coloured main river and clearer stream water meet. It’s usually a bit deeper in the current where the waters join.

Within the pools and runs you can usually find the bigger fish at the front of the shoal, at which point they have first choice on food items brought down in the flow.  There’s a very obvious pecking order!  So, make sure you have a good look in the pool rather than just casting blind, as this could give you a shot at a specimen fish.

Rods and Leaders

While long rods and even longer leaders are all the rage these days for grayling, there is something to be said for using shorter rods and the classic New Zealand duo or nymph plus indicator route.

There’s a definite argument for mixing and matching tackle and this will largely depend on the type of water you are fishing. You may find yourself in a mixed water, with tributaries where dense vegetation can crowd you or more open rivers. A 7.5ft 4 weight should do for the former, while longer rods are ideal for the latter.

Try fluorocarbon for your grayling fishing. On occasion you may need to go fine if they’re being fussy, but for most of the time a 5X for dries and most light nymph work, and maybe 4X for deep nymphs. In many of our smaller West Country rivers, you would struggle to work with much more than 10 feet of leader. On larger waters, however, French leaders are well worth trying in order to achieve greater depths and finer presentations.

Nymphs for Grayling

Grayling will often hold in deep water so you’ll need some heavyweight nymphs to reach them.  In basic terms, you need to get the fly down to the fish so plenty of upstream ‘forward lead’ is called for.  A good tip to remember is that in clear water the fish are almost ALWAYS deeper than they look. If you’re struggling it can often pay to change the depth rather than changing your flies.

With reduced flows, a lighter bead nymph is a good pick, coupled with a soft hackle fly on a dropper. With weaker flows, heavier flies just wouldn’t move through the swim freely enough.

Indeed, the weight of flies you use is important; in deep rushing water you might find two dense bead heads best, but in low flows you require less mass. Using a 10ft 2wt Cortland Competition series, with an extra long leader (around 20ft) with a section of indicator mono to help spot bites would be a good set up.

Areas with a more substantial flow and wider river allow for a longer cast- and the combination of a pink-tailed off bead nymph and an indicator set at around three feet seem will work well.

The modern Off bead Nymphs give a jig-style presentation to the fly, getting them right down to the take zone without snagging up every other cast. A great type of fly to be using.

Dry Fly for Grayling

Try dry flies for grayling, simply for the pleasure of it!  Grayling will respond to the sparsest of hatches and are always looking ‘up’ for their food.  They will rise even in appalling conditions and there are a host of stories of them coming up for snowflakes in mid winter.  If nothing is showing, try a bit of general prospecting with a Black Gnat, Red Tag or any dark up-wing pattern, but otherwise it’s a case of match the hatch with your nearest imitation.

Using CDC dries down to 18s and 20s may get delicate-yet-positive rises. If you do intend to try for some dry fly fishing, though, it certainly seems that afternoon is the time to try, as this is a good time for activity on the surface.

TIP - This method is an absolute banker.  Use a big dry fly almost as a float and suspend your nymph beneath it.  The leader length obviously depends on the depth of water you’re fishing, but this method works even in very deep runs and holes. Crucially, it sharpens up your reaction time and turns plucks into takes!


For an experienced nymph angler “high sticking” is instinctive. If you are new to this there are some tips to watch out for. You may feel like casting more line out, but this isn’t the right idea. Instead, the fly line stays in the guides and a short, curt flip forward delivers the flies.

By holding the rod up and out, with the tip high and the angler really pivoting and reaching (the sequence below gives a better sense), you can cover a surprising amount of water with each cast.

Getting this right is about good habits and watching an expert always helps. Don’t be tempted to lift the flies out too quickly when they’re heading downstream; leave them for longer, you’ll be surprised how close to your waders you can catch fish- and how many fish come across the current or even a bit below you. Obviously careful wading helps- and grayling tend not to be as spooky as trout.

Sometimes the best bites happen right at the end of a delivery, as the flies start to lift. Again, holding on that extra second, when the flies have passed us, takes a bit of reprograming for those taught the logic of “upstream good, downstream bad”. It’s not rocket science, but it takes poise and control.

Four flies for Grayling

DF8 - Black Gnat (size 14) £0.50

7647 - Pink CDC Jig (size 14) £1.30


OB07 - B&P SIlver Off Bead Nymph (size 14) £1.30

OB04 - Silver Partridge Off Bead Nymph (size 12) £1.30