Friday, 13 January 2017

Grayling – The one species you can rely on when it gets really cold. Part one – The basics.

Grayling – The one species you can rely on when it gets really cold.
Part one – The basics.

For years I thought that Grayling were of the radar, a species cursed by the game angler and rarely targeted by the coarse angler, yet I was wrong as the expensive game chalk streams beats realised that by opening the banks up during their close season they could not only bring in an income during this usual lean period but by keeping the banks busy keep predation down to a minimum.

It’s a win-win situation for everyone and for a few pound anglers can now visit these beats and enjoy non-stop action from not just the game fish but also from the ‘Lady of the Stream’ the grayling. What’s even better is grayling are far from difficult to catch, in fact their aggressive feeding nature means that anyone that can get a float moving downstream should be able to tempt a few of these hard fighting fish. Even better is when the weather has, ‘catch-nothing’ written all over it usually means the grayling will be crawling up your rods as unlike all other species, when its freezing, atmospherics are sky high, skies are cloudless and blue, the rivers cold and clear and even when the moon phases are completely wrong, grayling will willingly feed. The only things to watch out for is if the rivers up and coloured then grayling will be generally difficult to tempt as they are sight feeders. If it’s windy as well then controlling a float down the river will be difficult, so keep those mild overcast windy winter days when the rivers rising to barbel. 
Probably the two most well known game beats that offer grayling
fishing to the coarse angler are The Lower Itchen Fishery and Timsbury on the Test. Both limit the amount of anglers on each day, so you will have plenty of room to move around, the only problem is that you will need to book in advance which makes getting that perfect day difficult. I tend to leave things to around four days before and then book up as the weather forecast is usually fairly reliable, the only downside is that there may be no spaces left. Fortunately the more you fish this type of river the more stretches you become aware off. I have at least half a dozen others that I can fall back on if needed. The Test and Itchen does offer the chance of a two-pounder, a specimen in the grayling world, and should be the target for any angler visiting these beats, however they don’t come along every day, so initially just enjoy the reliable sport, hone in your trotting skills, catch as many fish as you can and that specimen should one day show. There are other species that will fall on these beats such as the ever greedy trout along with other residents that are slightly more challenging to tempt such as chub, roach, dace and barbel, all which grow to specimen size. Also expect the unexpected such as salmon, carp and bream. In fact last time I fished the Test I caught nine different species in a day, all on sweet corn which included, roach to 1lb 12oz, dace to 10oz, chub to 3lb 8oz, grayling, salmon par, sea trout, bream, roach bream hybrids and brown trout (sea and brown trout can be classified as the same species, so eight species to some). Although both rivers do produce massive grayling, if there is one river that reigns supreme over both for constantly producing record nudging specimens it’s the Dorset Frome, again a river that is accessible by what I would call, the everyday angler simply by joining one of the many clubs that take control of the game beats during the close season. If you want to find out more about the Frome then give Deano at Perbeck Angling a call.
So you have decided to book up and need some help in catching? Well relax as you don’t need to go and buy a new rod or reel as you should have something that will get you started. A 13ft match rod is good enough along with a small fixed spool reel loaded with 4lb mainline, yet as for stick floats then you
may not find any in your local tackle shop anymore and if you do then they probably won’t be big enough. My advice is to take a look at the Dave Harrell range as this brilliant float angler has covered every situation and each pattern has a description on how and where to use them. I would recommend getting a couple of the following – No1 Alloy Stem Avon’s in 2g and 3g, Alloy Stem No2 in sizes 6xno4 to 8no4 and some Alloy Stem Shoulder Sticks in 6no4 to 10no4. In most cases its best to use a bulk shot around eight to ten inches from the hook. It’s up to you if you use split-shot but I get really irritated with shot either falling off or moving so now use an in-line Olivette, Drennan do these along with a couple of

dropper shots, usually size 8 Stotz. You don’t even have to shot the float right down as grayling are bold bitters and the float will simply just disappear when a grayling takes the bait. 0.11mm (3lb 6oz) Reflo Power is a great hooklink and as for hooks then you can’t beat size 14 Kamasan B525 eyed whisker barb (if allowed) as you can easily swap between corn and maggot hookbaits. Some use a small swivel to attach the hooklink (which can be used as a bulk shot as well) but I don’t as although this may reduce line twist, knots create weaknesses, especially pre-stretches line knots on swivels. I simply attach my hooklink to the mainline by means of two loop to loop knots, far more reliable! A word of warning here – if you have read articles telling you to use small hooks and tie in elasticated shock absorbers into your set up then ignore these, it’s just anglers trying to get technical with a species that just need to be targeted with simplicity. My advice to any angler that’s loosing fish is to up the size of their hook and when you stop catching in a swim that has been productive, move on!
Once you have visited the river for a couple of times (most anglers plan a couple of days each winter to enjoy this type of fishing)
you will probably want to purchase either a centrepin or closed face reel and maybe a slightly longer rod, I use a Preston Carbonactive 15ft float rod, both of which will give you superior control over a 13ft rod and fixed spool reel.
Another great point about grayling is that they will move up in the water for a meal; however it’s usually the smaller, fitter fish that do this, so try and get the bait down close to the bottom if you want a better stamp of fish. I simply guess the depth of the swim, run a float through a few times, adding depth all the time until the float gets dragged under due to the hook catching the bottom. Reduce the depth a couple of inches; place a piece of corn or a couple of maggots onto the hook and then strike every time the float disappears. Sounds simple but it’s probably the one area most anglers ignore. Attention to detail will catch you more and bigger fish! One other top tip is to use four rubbers to attach the float to the mainline, spread evenly down the length of the float, as this will stop the float moving once the depth has been found or on constant striking. 

As for bait, some fisheries don’t allow maggots as this will catch salmon par that need to be protected and almost all forbid the use of worms as this will catch bigger salmon. If maggots are allowed, as they are at Timsbury and The Lower Itchen Fishery then reds are best but the problem with maggots is that they will catch all sizes of fish from a tiny minnow right through to a mighty salmon. My best salmon of 12lb 2oz fell to double red maggot! Corn will supply a much better stamp of fish and will slow the amount of trout down so if it’s a specimen grayling you are after then corn will often score as it reduces the amount of fish caught, which reduces the amount of commotion through the swim which in turn increases the chances of a bigger fish taking the bait before the shoal is spooked. A standard swim will act like this. Whilst finding the depth, feed a few grains of corn or some maggots. If there are numbers of fish in the swim expect a bite first run through. The action will be constant for a while before the fish become wary and eventually refuse any offering that goes through the swim. When you stop getting bites or bites are reduced to say one in every six trots through move on and try the swim later in the day on the way back to the car.
Feeder fishing for grayling! Now you are swearing at me, well almost. I have to admit that feeder fishing for grayling is a really productive method but the problem is grayling bites on the feeder can be very slight and if not struck will see the hook out of sight and down its throat. Grayling are very fragile so after a hard fight and if a hook is either left down its throat or a disgorger is prodded around too much will lead to a dead grayling. If you are feeder fishing then my advice if you are deep hooking is to pay more attention to the rod tip and strike at the slightest movement along with reducing the length of your hooklink. I cringe when I see so many Frome anglers feeder fishing, as many are using rods that would be more suitable for pike. Why are there fewer big grayling on our chalk streams, you now have the answer! Do I feeder fish for grayling? Yes. But I use the feeder as a fish finding tool. Cast it into a swim, get a bite then swap to the float. If I can’t get a bite on the float, I will cast a feeder back into the swim and if I get another bite then its back on the float as I know they are there, I just need to find how they want it.

Another top tip is if you hook what feels like a big grayling then instead of trying to play it up the swim through the fast flow, walk down stream until you are adjacent to it as this will stack the odds in your favour of landing that fish of your dreams.

Duncan Charman is sponsored by Nash Tackle and Bait and has his own website  He regularly contributes to top weekly, Anglers Mail magazine.
He is also an angling guide and can be booked on a daily basis for most species including carp, pike, perch, zander, chub, catfish, barbel, bream, grass carp, crucians, roach, rudd, grayling, tench and golden orfe. For more information and prices email him at or give him a call 07928 617006 / 01252 315271.
He’s also written a book called Evolution of an Angler which is available from

Timsbury – 07759 331385
Lower Itchen Fishery – 07477 790210
Purbeck Angling – 01929 550770
Dave Harrell –

If you have been thinking of booking a guided trip then it might be worth getting a date sorted with me soon as the fishing on the Frome ends at the end of Feb and the Itchen and Test just two weeks later.

Images –
1 – First cast at Timsbury when the temperature was -5, moments later Rod my customer was playing a fish!
2 – The Frome when it was -7, did we catch fish, yes!
3 – The biggest grayling I’ve seen from The Lower Itchen Fishery for many years, 2lb 7oz to my customer Barrie.
4 – A flooded Frome on a frosty morning, not ideal but the grayling still wanted to feed.
5 – What other species can you catch when it’s this cold? Graeme with a personal best Frome grayling.
6 – Fixed spool, closed face or centrepin?
7 – A selection of stick floats ideal for grayling fishing.
8 – Inline olivettes, reflow hooklink, Stotz droppers and Kamasan hooks, not exactly rocket science.
9 – Maggots and sweet corn is all you will need.
10 – A bait apron will make feeding easier.
11 – Maggots will catch the smallest fish such as this juvenile grayling!
12 – Maggots will catch you big fish as well like this Frome 8lb 2oz brownie.
13 – A specimen from the Frome on a typical winter’s grayling day.

14 – ‘Evolution of an Angler’ has loads of grayling fishing sessions within.

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