When the going gets tough

Iffy, unsettled conditions can make the fishing hard for the best of us at times. So what can we do when the going gets difficult? Dom Garnett reports on a couple of tricky recent sessions for grayling and pike with the Turrall team, along with some fly fishing tips for hard days on the bank…

“Did you ever get the feeling you were up against it when out fishing? We all have those days when the conditions seem wrong or the fish just won’t play ball. This autumn has been especially tough so far, for whatever reason. Unsettled or unseasonable weather? Bright skies and low water? Or just bad timing?

In a funny way, I quite like the testing days. You could probably argue that they teach us more than the good times. And when the conditions do change and the fish are really back on it, those little lessons stay with you, making your successes even more satisfying.

Grayling Fly Fishing at Timsbury, River Test

River Test grayling fishing Timsbury winterOne of the great pleasures of winter fishing is the prospect of grayling on the fly, with several famous chalkstreams offering access at a more affordable rate than usual. £25 is great value for a day ticket at Timsbury (timsburyfishing.co.uk) , where I joined Simon Jefferies and Gary Pearson for a session.

From the off, I suspected it might be challenging. Low, clear water and sunny skies are often a tough combination, but if anyone could win a few takes it had to be Gary, who has international experience across plenty of hard waters. Hence I was keen to capture a few shots and see how he might overcome the odds.

The first thing you noticed was just how carefully he approached each spot. We hit the smaller carrier stream first, with Gary really ducking and creeping into each position. It’s no use standing bolt upright or getting too close to the fish when visibility is so high; you will simply spook the fish.

Fly rods for nymph fishing
Also in evidence was Gary’s use of two rods. Part of the reason for this was that he wanted to give the new 10ft 6″ 3wt Cortland Competition Series a run out, but he often sets up another rod where the fishing could be tough. On one he set up with a duo of heavier nymphs, with a size 12 on point, while the other rod used lighter nymphs. Indeed it was the lighter patterns, right down to PTNs and beaded bugs in an 18, that made the real difference in the low, painfully-clear water. Long leaders were also a must.

Turrall grayling nymphs in various sizes, including Pink Shrimp, Juicy Bugs and our off-weight nymphs (top row) to be released in early 2018.

What became especially apparent in the low flows was how much less the smaller nymphs spooked fish. It’s not even necessarily the size of flies in the water, but the splash as they enter (and we saw fish visibly spook at any pronounced plop). With rarely any more than three feet of water in the carrier stream, “point up” jig style nymphs also proved handy to trip the bottom without snagging, and Turrall will be selling these handy designs in early 2018.

The grayling weren’t big on average, but very welcome on a tough day. The best spots were anywhere with a little extra depth on the carrier stream, and often the first sign of a fish would be on the take. These fish are certainly tricky to spot when inactive, as the old English name of “Umbre” (meaning “shadow”) testifies.

Simon Jefferies Turrall Fly fishing
Not to be outdone, Simon was fishing New Zealand style in the shallow water and also keeping a low profile, both with small flies and a careful, crouched approach. After a few early nudges on the wet fly, however, the fish seemed to show more interest in the dry.

The higher the sun got, the more the grayling began to rise- and we were amazed at the amount of fly life coming off the water for late October. The real star of the show was a CDC Dark Dun Sedge in a size 18 (above): very simple, very subtle and convincing on the water.

I often find that sunny days are better for photography than for fishing. I certainly struggled to find a single pike with a couple of hours on the nine weight, while fellow predator angler Matt Healey fared little better. Hence I needed little invitation to rejoin the party on the main river as the afternoon encouraged a few smaller fish to rise.

Little CDC dries remained the way to go and we had a hilarious last hour, striking (and usually missing!) at a whole pack of mostly tiny grayling that were rising over the gravel to midges. They were lightning quick and every fumbled strike led to laughter and jeers as we took turns. Simon’s sardine-sized beastie here was fairly typical- not big, but a good sign for the future to see these in good numbers.

Pike fly fishing on the canal

If you thought catching rising fish on dries was a bridge too far by this time of year, surely pike should have been more obliging? Usually, yes, but they really hadn’t read the script for our earlier session on the canal, out in the sticks not too far from the Devon and Somerset border. Along with Simon, I met with Westcountry Angling Passport manager Bruno Vincent, who was keen to add to his pike tally.


The weed and bankside vegetation were still quite prolific, so I encouraged them to get stuck in, even in tight spots. A lot of anglers only fish the gaps, which I think is a bit of a mistake because the pike really like the awkward spots.

What a tough day it turned out to be though.  We saw several fish in the clear water, but few could be persuaded to follow and even fewer to actually bite. And even when they did so, the takes were very gentle, the fish just mouthing and not hooking themselves.

The moral of the story here is to strike low and hard if you are in any doubt! If you’ve spent the summer trout fishing, it’s against your instinct to give it some wellie on the take. You would obviously risk smashing light tippets with a heavy strike on light line- but with a pike set up (mine is 25lbs fluorocarbon to 20lbs wire) you can really give it some! Given their bony mouths and gentle takes on the day, this was essential.

It’s always great fun pike spotting on very clear waters, but could we fool them?

It was hardly electric then, but we eked out a few chances in the end. My usually successful pint-sized smaller flies got little interest for some reason, so we beefed up and used much bigger 2/0 or even 4/0 flies in shocking pink or yellow (patterns I’m perfecting for the Turrall range next year!). I think these annoy pike into striking at times, even when they’re not ravenously hungry. Whatever the logic, a change of size or colour can sometimes earn a take.


Every chance counts when it’s slow, and we eventually struck into some jacks to put a bend in our rods. We tried various tactics, but a slower retrieve with a few sudden twitches seemed best. I would always try a few casts with a vigorous retrieve just to test things, but when they’re not in the mood you can definitely fish a pike fly too fast. Bruno was first off the mark with a beautiful young fish of two pounds or so (above), but the best of them came in more bizarre circumstances.

I had seen a better fish on the walk back to the car for lunch, sitting right under the bank. It turned lazily and seemed to watch the fly for an age as I gently wafted it along. Cautiously and ever so slowly, the pike looked again,  finally opening wide and inhaling the fly as if to say “I really shouldn’t… oh, go on then.”

It was a skinny fish, with one of its eyes visibly clouded over. Could it be blind on one side? It didn’t seem to have any trouble finding the fly. Had it been plump and well-fed it could have been seven or eight pounds, but I would guestimate it at nearer to five. Very welcome nonetheless. I quickly released it and hoped it might find a good square meal soon.

Apart from one more jack and the odd follow, it was not much easier in the afternoon either. Like our grayling trip, that’s fishing I guess! You can fish well below your best on some days and catch a hatful, while the next trip will take all your skill and focus just to make one or two chances. Curiously, it’s not necessarily the big catches but this frustration and process of tinkering that makes fishing so fascinating.

One final tip to relay from both sessions is how important timing can be. If you have a choice of periods to fish, settled and overcast conditions tend to be easier. If it’s clear and bright, pike often feed best in the first hour or two of light, while grayling may only switch on a bit later, especially if the night has been cold.

I hope your next trip proves to be less testing than ours anyway. The pike were certainly livelier on another session as I fished a friendly fly vs lure head to head recently (and you can read a bit more about this and other recent adventures on my blog at DG Fishing HERE). Every day on the bank is certainly different and every session brings new hope. Here’s wishing you some good sport in the weeks ahead, regardless of what you’re fishing for.”

Further news, tips and more…

Don’t forget to keep an eye on the Turrall Facebook Page for current news, tips, catches and much more, including the chance to win exclusive prizes! This month we’ll be giving away some new fly patterns designed for us by Peter Cockwill, perfect for stalking big fish on stillwaters!

Peter Cockwill fly fishing Turrall

 

 

 

Grayling Fly Fishing Tips and Tactics

As the trout season draws to an end, river fly anglers turn their eyes to the Grayling. Chris Ogborne offers some top tips on how to tackle this enigmatic and beautiful fish.
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“Grayling were probably designed to keep fanatical anglers like me sane in the winter months.  The trout season seems a fading memory as we head for winter, but with winter fly fishing for grayling available all over the UK there’s absolutely no need to put the river gear into mothballs just yet.

Grayling fin detail close upGrayling add a dash of beauty to the ugliest winter day.

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.

So let’s dispel some more of the myth and mystique.  Here are my top tips on how to get started and for getting the best out of winter Grayling:

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1. Don’t write off dry flies

Start with 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.

Kilinkhamer Grayling fishing turrall

2. Try the deadly suspended nymph

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!

3. Watch the water

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.  Polarising glasses are essential

wales_river_irfon Ben Garnett fishes the River Irfon, one of the UK’s best grayling waters.

4. Pecking order

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

5. Weighted nymphs

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.

Beads, hooks graylingFor keen tyers, our range of brass and tungsten beads provide critical mass at great value.

6. Leader materials.

I use fluorocarbon for 90% of my grayling fishing. On occasion you may need to go fine if they’re being fussy, but for most of the time I’m happy on 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.

7. Downstream spiders

For some strange reason, spider fishing seems to have gone out of fashion these days (although we have an exclusive blog on tying and fishing these classic flies on the way in the coming weeks!). This is a shame because it’s a fascinating and absorbing method.

Spiders for Grayling fishing

Downstream spider fishing is delicate, non-intrusive, and can help you reach pools that are unavailable with a more conventional cast.  Don’t be afraid to fish a team of spiders; it’s not uncommon for me to use three or even four on a cast, with the heaviest fly on point.

8. Wading is a must

As a general rule, I like to wade when I’m grayling fishing.  This avoids any skylining, because while not always the case they can be the ultimate in spooky fish on some days. But the real essence is that it puts you right down in the angling environment with them.

9. Don’t be a drag

Talking of wading, it can be hugely advantageous to position yourself so that flies track true and fairly straight between angler and fish. By this, we mean giving the flies a natural drift in the current, with plenty of time to sink to the optimum depth. The more awkward the cast and the more the flies are inclined to drag across the flow, the more reluctant the grayling will be to take.

10. Never fear the cold

Don’t let the weather put you off! Some of the best grayling fishing I’ve had has been on days when most sensible anglers have stayed at home!  They don’t mind the cold, they can positively relish rainy days, and I’ve taken loads of them when the snow has been lying on the ground.

River Itchen GraylingFortune favours the cold! This River Itchen fish took in spite of bitter easterly winds

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Turrall have a superb range of flies for all the methods outlined above, whether you pick and choose individual flies or go for a superb FlyPod or boxed collection of grayling specials (find them at quality fly stockists or order from one of our recommended online retailers)

bam02_grayling_selection

One last thing I’d stress is to take care of your catch, because grayling deserve respect. Crimping down your barbs and going barbless if at all possible makes total sense, as you’ll be releasing all the fish you catch.  Do also release them carefully, especially where they have fought hard. Support them in the water and be patient if they need a few seconds to recover and swim off. Do also note that while they provide great sport right through the winter, the grayling fishing season ends on March 16 in most areas; should you accidentally catch a fish in the spring when trout fishing, do release it quickly and carefully because it could be quite close to spawning.

For anyone who misses river fishing in the cooler months though, these fish are a godsend. If you haven’t yet been tempted to try the grayling, make a resolution to have a go this year.  Once you’ve caught one of theses lovely fish I guarantee that you’ll be hooked and it will re-define your thinking on what constitutes the closed season!”

Chris Ogborne
October 2016

(Additional images: Dominic Garnett)