Fishing for Grayling

I’ve always liked catching Grayling. They’re beautiful fish to look at and fight like demons, especially on the float.

The Lower Itchen fishery and Timsbury Manor on the River Test allow coarse fishing for Grayling fromI’ve always liked catching Grayling. They’re beautiful fish to look at and fight like demons, especially on the float. The problem is that many of the rivers in our area do not contain any Grayling. In the south of England there are only a few rivers that contain them … all of them chalkstreams and nearly all of them fly-only fisheries (The Test, Itchen, Kennet, Lambourn, Avon, etc.).
There is a solution to the lack of Grayling … 3 fisheries on the Test, Itchen and Kennet open their doors to coarse anglers wishing to fish for Grayling from October to March. 

October 1st until March 15th for £20 and £18/day respectively. Timsbury Manor also allows you to fly fish in addition to the normal coarse fishing tactics. The Kennet at Barton Court, Kintbury allows the same sort of deal (£15).

You can catch other species (especially Trout), the Itchen has a reasonable head of chub (which can run to over 5lb), the Test has some nice Roach and the Kennet has decent Roach, Perch and Pike. These fisheries are taking a far more enlightened view of Grayling and coarse fish these days … they’ve realised that allowing day ticket anglers to fish for Grayling brings in a nice revenue stream outside the normal Trout season.

Tactics Fly Fishing

You can fly fish for Grayling on both the Itchen and Test. However, you have to pay extra to fly fish (£35/day) on the Itchen but you do get an entirely different section of river to fish. Timsbury Manor allows any method Grayling fishing. Barton Court allows normal coarse fishing tactics. There’s plenty of information out there about flies for Grayling. Red Tag dry flies, klinkhamers, ‘F’ Flies, pink shrimps, beadhead nymphs or nymphs with a red tag work well.

Float Fishing
The most common, and in my opinion the most fun method, is to trot a couple of maggots, a worm or some corn underneath a Chubber-style float (a 3AAA+ is ideal) with most of the shot as bulk 12 inches from the hook with a No.1 or No. 4 as a dropper shot 6 inches away. Connect this to a 3lb hooklength (I use Drennan Double Strength) with a Size 16 (Drennan Carbon Chub) and you have your rig.

It’s not the most sophisticated rig but it seems to work. There’s no messing around with the bites … even the smallest Grayling and Trout (and Chub) pull the float down with enthusiasm! No worries about seeing the bites! If you notice with the rig I use, the bulk shot is a string of 7 x BB shot … I’m not sure if this helps stabilise the bait down in the water but I think it’s neater than 3 x AAA (and they’re less likely to come off the lighter line).

On my latest trip to the Itchen I dusted off my old centrepin (it’s a Grice & Young Avon Royal Supreme for the collectors out there) and used that (I now use a newly-purchased Okuma Aventa Pro 1002 – one of the best centrepins out there!).

I’ve used fixed spool reels (both open and closed face) for trotting but, in my opinion, you can’t beat a centrepin for control and sheer fun for catching fish. They’re limited when it comes to fishing beyond 2-3 rod lengths out (although that could be my short-comings) but within this range (which covers the Loddon and Blackwater) they’re perfect ... and also great fun to play fish on.

I use a Daiwa Aqualite 14 foot match rod … you get a 2lb trout or 1lb grayling on this and you’re in for an excellent fight … you can’t bully them but it is great fun on such balanced tackle. So far on this rod I’ve landed such fish as a 4½lb Brown Trout and a 4lb14oz Chub (from the Loddon).

You could leger on these rivers it seems criminal to not trot a float. However, that’s not to say that you won’t catch anything on the leger. The lower half of the Itchen is deeper and slower as it approaches the Mill. This is where the Chub, Barbel and Roach hang out (plus the odd Carp to 10lbs+).

The main river of Timsbury Manor would respond to the leger better as it’s quite wide and not as fast flowing as the Itchen or the carrier stream. The Kennet has a great mixture of main river and side carriers, some of which would respond to light legering with breadflake.

Most of these rivers are really quite fast flowing and shallow, so wouldn’t really respond to legering as I think you’d need quite a bit of weight to hold bottom. It’s always worth taking a leger rod with you, and using it in the slower and deeper sections in the last hour or so as the light fades.

On the Itchen I’ve found that the Grayling are in the top half of the fishery in the fast water and this is rarely deeper than 3 foot. The Itchen has a lovely little carrier stream (which seems rarely fished) which reminds me of sections of the Blackwater, except it’s a little bit smaller. The Test is a much wider river but it is generally about 4 feet deep. It has a very fast carrier stream which resembles the Itchen and similar tactics pay off on all these rivers. The Kennet Grayling seem to stay in the fast side carrier called the Dog Kennel.

Because these fisheries are predominantly fly fisheries (for salmon and trout), the weed is cut totally differently. It’s very difficult to trip bottom as the weed is cut off (much like mowing a lawn) rather then cutting out a chunk of weed (which is the norm on mainly coarse fishing chalk streams like the Hampshire Avon and Dorset Stour).  
Due to the style of weed-cutting, it’s pretty difficult to fish tripping bottom as you pick up a lot of weed strands. Therefore, I’ve found the best approach is to start very shallow (about 12 inches) and then steadily deepen off on successive trots down until you start snagging on weed. Then change the depth to a couple of inches shallower and then you won’t pick up too much weed. You need to feed constantly and quite heavily … not little and often, more a fair bit and often!

I personally like moving swims on a regular basis but it is possible to build up a swim over a couple of hours and you can get the bigger fish. Adopting a roving technique means just carrying a rod, landing net, bait apron and a rucksack with your terminal tackle (and a flask of tea!). This is pretty much how I like fishing the Swallowfield waters. You can leave your other stuff in the car and go and visit the car if you feel the need to change tactics (i.e. go from float fishing to legering).

Generally the fish are quite easy to get a bite from, but they can be difficult to land. I’ve lost as many Grayling as I landed as I bumped quite a few off on the strike. Some of this is down to my incompetence but some of it is due to the Grayling’s fight. They’re like Dace except they squirm even more! Be careful when putting them back as they sometimes have a tendency to go belly-up … they’re OK but, like Barbel, they sometimes require a rest period.

But when you land one … they are, along with Perch, the most stunning looking of the native fish in our rivers.

The Lower Itchen Fishery:

Timsbury Manor, River Test:

Barton Court, River Kennet: