I’ve been fly fishing for God knows how long – 25 years maybe? – but have never before set out to target grayling in the autumn and winter. There’s been no particular reason for this; I suppose I tend to think that fly fishing season is the trout season. Autumn and winter is for bait. Anyway, I resolved to give it a go this year.
So yesterday I took myself down to our lowest beat on the River Seven in North Yorkshire to have a bash. I’ve caught the odd small grayling on this stretch during the trout season so was reasonably confident that fish do occupy the water here, even if I couldn’t catch one.
I’ve heard a lot recently about fishing with the so-called French leader system, so thought I’d try an approximation of what I understand it to be. The received wisdom seems to suggest that the ideal rod is a 10ft 3wt. Well, I haven’t got one of those and even if I had there’s a fair bit of overgrowth on what is in places a narrow stretch of river, so I’m not certain I’d be able to handle a rod of that length without spending a lot of my time tickling branches and swearing. So I took my 9ft 4wt Hardy Ultralite instead.
You need an indicator apparently (something I have never used), so I read up on that as well and rummaged around the dead tackle pile at the bottom of the cupboard to find some braided orange backing, from which I fashioned a short length with a loop at either end, striping it with a black marker pen:
Reasoning that I’d generally be fishing in 2-3 ft of water I inserted the indicator into the leader about 4ft from the fly, a size 16 hare’s ear weighted with a 2mm gold tungsten bead.
It was not too cold when I got to the river, 14C according to the car thermometer. But there was an annoying swirling breeze, albeit generally coming from behind me.
The water here is straight and relatively featureless, but with some stretches fairly overgrown:
I got into the water at the start of the beat and plopped the fly in here and there, holding the rod tip up as I had seen in various videos. There were two main problems however. Firstly I don’t know what I am doing, have never tried this before and have little confidence. Secondly the wind was playing merry hell with the exposed leader, pulling it all over the place. It looked more like a dapping line: the nymph must have resembled a break dancer under the water. After a fruitless half hour I decided that this was not going to work so I reverted to the more conventional system of simply casting in front of me with the line lying on the water’s surface. I moved the indicator to the junction of the fly line and leader.
I came to a more open stretch of water where I could see some small, dibbly rises:
I’ve come across these, in pretty much this bit of water, when trouting and they have indeed turned out to be grayling, albeit extremely picky grayling if my memory serves me. I could see tiny spent black gnats on the surface of the water, probably equivalent to about a size 28. I toyed with the idea of trying to find a small fly in the box, but decided that as today was supposed to be a nymphing day, that’s what I’d stick with.
I cast a number of times over the rising fish to no avail. It always strikes me as a bit odd that fish feeding on the top won’t take something under the water. Is food really so abundant that they can be so fussy? Perhaps it’s a bit like someone who’s tucking into a packet of salt and vinegar crisps: if you suddenly present him with a fat wedge of chocolate gateau he might reasonably decline.
Anyway, three or four casts later I hooked and lost a small fish (trout? grayling?), but then a couple of casts later the indicator twitched fractionally and I struck. Hoorah, nice little grayling!
A few moments later and I had a second one on. It shook the hook just as I put my hand on it. That counts as far as I’m concerned. Then hooked a couple of small off-season browns (wouldn’t it be really useful if trout understood when the season had ended?) so decided to vacate that stretch and head upstream to an outfall that has produced grayling for me in the past while trouting:
I put the goldhead into the slower water at the end of the outflow and hooked a small trout. Go away! But next cast produced a good take and this time it was a small Lady, maybe 10″. I used the net as a precaution – they don’t half squirm in the hand. She gave me a nice display of her dorsal fin:
I moved up to the weir pool but only managed a couple of trout (one was quite good – make mental note for next season) so decided to call it a day. Well, three bright little grayling on a day when I had fully anticipated a blank. I’ll take that. Will give it another go a bit further upstream in the coming weeks.