Winter Grayling fishing during Autumn and winter is prime time to target this beautiful species. However getting perfect river conditions from Oct to late January February are rare.
Running a busy fishing guiding company in Scotland, keeps me busy till end of October, therefore, Grayling are a special fish for me. My free time falls during the Grayling season, and a chance to enjoy some well earned “me” time. Any opportunity I can find to spend on the river, I will grab. Often this means fishing when the conditions aren’t perfect. Planning these trips are preceded by intense studying of river levels and lots of hope.
So what to do when the rivers are high? The is often the most common scenario. I decided to write this article to share some insights and thoughts on targeting Grayling in high water. Perhaps dispel some myths and share some techniques which have worked for me and enabled me to enjoy sport on seemingly impossible days.
Key Winter Grayling fishing tactic – Know your water
There are of course beats on the rivers that fish better in high water, and having an understanding of a beat you are familiar with, is vitally important. For example, let’s consider a pool I fish regularly on the River Tweed. Firstly in normal conditions you will catch fish on the left bank in deeper, oxygenated water running about 4-6 ft deep. Rocks scattered throughout this 100 yards pool create slacker water and seams, and fish tend to occupy the same areas.
In high water however, the left bank becomes fruitless, as the flow is too intense to sustain fish. They move to the opposite side(right bank) of the pool. This water is normally canal-like, slow and unproductive, but in high water, has a lovely flow, steady and true over gravel. It also offers a safe haven for fish to occupy during a spate.
Over the years, the best Grayling I have had has been in pools that offer a worthy “Plan B” when water is in spate. This can be a deep eddy, a slack deep run, or a deeper pool created by a large boiler or fallen tree trunk. These spots offer somewhere for Grayling to hunker down when the river is in full flow.
Winter Grayling fishing Tactics in High Water
The combination of tippet size, number of flies and weight and profile of flies is something you experiment with and varies greatly with conditions.
Generally I fish 5X in heavy water, as often salmon, or big trout are taken on nymphs when targeting Grayling.
Recently Ive taken to fishing with 35ft length of black and white (7lb) Rio Indicator tippet as my main running line,. I then connect via a 3 turn water knot to a 12’ section of multicolour indicator tippet. Finally a 3 turn water knot to my main tippet of 5X at the business end. I don’t use tippet rings anymore, they add drag and often weaken the knot in my opinion.
Tippet rings, are they a good idea?
If you were to examine these tippet rings under a microscope, you’d see they are rather rough on the surface. If in a snag, I’d rather lose one tail fly that the whole cast broken at the tippet ring. The tragedy of this scenario is littering the river with a length of tippet. A risk to birds, and fish and other river dwellers.
I favour 3 flies, with the heavier at the point. I want the the tail fly to dance on the river bed rather than clunk and catch. If you find that fishing a 4mm bead your fly stops every few seconds and you have to tickle it to get the flies drifting again you are too heavy.
Switching to a lighter bead and you might find that allows your nymphs to drift more naturally whilst still staying close to the river bed. You are after all, trying to imitate an insect getting washed at the same tempo as the flow.
The first dropper is the proverbial Erin Haaland of your cast. It will catch most fish. So choose a pattern you have upmost confidence in and keep your droppers short I.e. 3-4 inches in length to minimised tangles.
What Grayling fishing tackle is best for high water
I normally fish a Sage ESN 10ft 2weight which is my all time favourite rod, but in bigger water, I go with the 10ft 6” 3 weight ESN. These are both superb Euronymphing rods. I like the extra reach of the 10ft 6 in high water, and power for fighting fish in a bigger flow. Often in high water I’m just fishing close to the riverbank. So the 10ft 6 offers that bit extra reach.
Other notable rods, are the Redington Strike, and Vision Nymphmaniac.
What Grayling flies work best in High water?
The choice of fly depends on the water clarity, colour and time of year. If salmon are spawning egg patterns can be lethal. In coloured water, my go to pattern is a hare ear jig nymph with orange bead head. Generally pink and orange beads do well in high water. I’ve caught hundreds of Grayling in dirty water on these patterns. I hate to confess, and descend to the dark side, but a Squirmy Wormy works well too, though I hate fishing them.
The size depends in the depth..bit usually, in high water, I start with a 4mm or 4.5mm on the point weighing about 0.75 to 1 gram. Two size 14s on the droppers.
I always fish barbless jigs, to allow easy release of fish and minimise damage.
Do Grayling feeding coloured water?
You bet they do, some of my best days have been in spate conditions or a rising river. Don’t be put off by coloured water, as long as there is a degree of clarity, you’re in the game.
- Know your river
- Be flexible and try any water that flows at a moderate rate away from the frantic flow.
- Fish close to the bank – Many grayling taken less than a rod length from the shore.
- Stay safe and don’t wade unless you know the water intimately.
- Wear a PFD – it could save your life
- Don’t be phased by a big river. Remember the fish can only swim in the softer flow runs away from the main flow.
Article written By Stewart Collingswood, Founder/ MD Alba Game Fishing Ltd