Keep a dry fly handy for guzzling grayling

This is the perfect time of the year to go grayling fishing.

This is the perfect time of the year to go grayling fishing. It is the ideal antidote to reservoir or lake fishing if you're tired of that; and it gets you back in the mood for being on the river bank until the trout season opens again. (Of course if you're lucky enough to be near an early-opening salmon river, the little grayling will have a hard time getting your attention.)

Methods for fishing for grayling are much debated. For a good long while the 'fashion' – if fly fishing for grayling – has been to use long rods, heavyweight tungsten beaded flies, multiple droppers and fluorescent bite indicators. I've never gone in for this, partly because I am spectacularly lazy about fancy rigs – I try to use my 9ft rod with 6-weight line for almost everything, I'd even use it for salmon fishing if I could get away with it – and also I'm a bit of a purist as far as fishing is concerned. If it has to get that complicated it starts to cross over into coarse fishing for me (nothing wrong with that, but if that's what I'm going to do then I'd like a fold- up chair and a bag of crisps please). I say if you're fly fishing for the species because for many years the approved and very effective method was to fish for them long trotting with a gilt head worm; basically 'trotting' a worm just off the bottom. Gilt head worms are renowned for being very wriggly in the water unlike some that quite understandably are very still at cold temperatures.

Back to fly-fishing, I've heard mumblings of a simpler approach, using lighter patterns on smaller hooks. However, at this time of year when it's cold I'm afraid that a weighted nymph (I always think this sounds like such an oxymoron) is pretty essential as the grayling are feeding mostly (but not always) off the bottom.

Don't be tempted to go too heavy – and what this is depends on your rod and line – because I've seen people crack the top of their rods off casting out a very heavy nymph. Furthermore, in order to stay in touch with the fly as it drops through the water – they can bite before it hits the bottom – you need to keep your leader short. Because grayling don't always feed off the bottom some people like to put droppers on. Droppers, for those that don't know, are usually two or three extra short bits of line tied towards the bottom portion of your line, like branches off the main tree. Each extra 'branch' has another fly of varying weights and patterns tied on and then you'd have the heaviest fly of all at the end of the line to anchor the whole outfit.

This increases your chances of a bite with each cast – because you're covering various depths – but if, like me, you don't get on with droppers, then it's not the end of the world. There's little point having three droppers on if, each time you cast, you get into such a mess that your fly is never in the water. Sometimes, even in winter, grayling surprise you, so always keep a dry fly on hand for the 15 minutes a day or so they decide to feed off the surface. I can heartily recommend the Klinkhammer Special or my personal favourite: the parachute black gnat. There's something very satisfying about being able to fish the dry fly in January.

In my experience grayling move around a lot more than trout, one day you can visit a river and there can be a whole shoal of them and the next day they've moved on. If you do get over a shoal it can be huge fun, but ultimately become insane. This is one of the attractions of grayling fishing, to pick off the choicest fish of a shoal one by one without totally freaking out the whole shoal. You certainly have plenty chance to do this usually – quite unlike trout – as unless you're very splashy you can catch grayling after grayling without the rest of the shoal being at all spooked.

The great thing about grayling fishing for me, aside from the great winter scenery that tends to accompany it, was that I could afford to fish bits of water that would otherwise be out of bounds for me. Posh stretches of trout water that are hundreds of pounds a day to fish during the trout season, would often let a grayling fisherman on to the banks for £15 or so; which I considered a bargain. Sadly, this seems to be changing. I rang up to enquire about fishing on a few favourite stretches the other day, only to find that prices have almost doubled, taking them out of my league. I really hope that grayling fishing won't go the way of trout or salmon and become ever more elitist.

Grayling don't exist in the Southern Hemisphere, which brings me neatly to my next point. I'm busy researching fish in the Antarctic (I am currently obsessed with Antarctica) so if anyone out there has been or, swoon, is actually there (well you never know) please, please get in touch.

a.barbieri@independent.co.uk

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