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Winter Grayling Fishing in Scotland

Introduction to Grayling Fishing in Scotland

In Scotland, we have 30,000 lochs filled with wild brown trout and hundreds of salmon rivers, including The River Spey, River Tay, River Tweed, and River Dee. There is, however, another jewel in the Scottish Angling Crown and this is the exciting Grayling.

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Decisions, decisions….Picking the right Grayling Fly – not as important as depth!

This is the story of a fishing guide in Scotland, who relishes the end of the fishing season and onset of cold weather, to brave the elements and target the Lady of the Stream. The Grayling, and believe it or not, Scotland has some of the finest Grayling rivers in Europe.

What do Fishing Guides in Scotland do in the Winter?

As a fishing guide, Winter is a time of year when firstly I get a chance to unwind and secondly, my thoughts always turn to the rivers and the quest to catch Grayling. There are two main rivers we target. The River Annan in South West Scotland and The River Tweed in The Scottish Borders region. Both of these rivers hold massive stocks of wild Grayling and are within easy reach of my hometown of Edinburgh.

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Grayling in Scotland

I caught my first Grayling when I was 11 years old. That was 44 years ago. I was a skinny wee lad, standing on a bridge on a tributary of The River Tweed, called the Leader Water. I spotted a huge trout moving upstream.

I was new to fly-fishing. I inherited my Uncle Jimmy’s 11ft 6inch Daiwa Whisker fly rod. The Whisker was too heavy for trout and designed for sea trout and small salmon rivers. I loved it nonetheless, and its length proved useful when flicking bugs and nymphs into awkward spots, as little casting was required. I had a secondhand Leeda LC100 fly reel, bought from F&D Simpson tackle shop in Edinburgh, with money I had saved from washing cars. A small plastic 35mm film case was my fly box, and it was filled with home tied weighted shrimps, all very crude, but highly effective.

Here I was now staring down at that trout, watching it move slowly upstream. I ran down to the riverbank and positioned myself upstream. I began to work my way down to where I thought the fish might be and within no time I connected and was playing a very big fish. After a hard battle, I was delighted and surprised to see a huge Grayling shimmering in the net. This magnificent silver and olive fish, out of his element, huge dorsal, remains a memory that will stay with me forever and laid foundations of a lifetime fascination. It weighed a few ounces under 3lb. A specimen when you consider the UK record is 4lb 4oz.

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Safely in The Net

Techniques For Grayling Fishing

The Grayling is soft mouthed and it pays to play them carefully. They fight doggedly and with great determination, and are adept at shaking the hook.

A 10-11ft rod 3 or 4-weight rod is ideal. You are upstream nymphing, using tungsten-weighted bugs, and fishing a close distance. Wading carefully upstream and pitching the nymphs upstream and letting them float down on a dead drift. As the nymphs drift downstream you try to maintain “zero-drag” for as long as possible and this is where a longer rod is useful. Keeping the rod high minimizes the amount of line in contact with the water, and this too restricts drag and helps to control the depth of the nymph.

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Time is precious, choose your flies carefully

One, Two or Three Flies when fishing for Winter Grayling?

I prefer two flies in winter.  I would space them about 8 inches apart from the dropper to the tail fly. A simple three turn water knot will suffice and my preference go-to tippet is Orvis Mirage 5X. Naturally the greater the diameter of the tippet, the more drag in the current and therefore the more difficulty in getting the flies to sink, so sometimes it pays to drop down to 6X which measure in at a paltry 0.13mm diameter. A heavy tungsten jig head goes on the point and the dropper is lighter. A shrimp pattern or nymph works well. These Grayling stay close to the bottom in the winter, so fly choice is not as important as depth. If your fly isn’t heavy enough and bouncing along the gravel bed, you’re not in the game.

I also use a New Zealand style sight indicator. This is because I’m 55 and my eyesight deserves some help. Obviously fishing weighted jigs; you need to give the indicator yarn a good gink, to avoid it being pulled under by the nymph and resistance from the bottom.

Waders, Boots, and Clothing

You need to travel light. A front pack is ideal and all you really need is tippet, flies and spare indicators.

Many Grayling anglers swear by neoprene waders for winter fishing. I prefer lightweight waders and good thermal leggings. This gives you greater movement when walking to the next pool. I cannot see past the PosiGrip Tungsten studs on wading boots with Vibram soles. You need to be surefooted in the Winter months, as a dip can be a tad unpleasant!

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Not so easy to cast when the rings freeze up!

It’s rare when fishing in Scotland for Grayling to see another angler in your day. There is an abundance of water and the fish are spread throughout the river. Take a look at the photo below and your probably looking at ideal Grayling habitat. In an even current like this, these Grayling can use their dorsal fin in the current and put up a hard fight.

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Playing a Good Grayling
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First Grayling of the day, third cast on a shrimp pattern

Grayling will shoal, so when you connect with the first fish it pays to cajole it downstream quickly with as little fuss to avoid disturbing the shoal. Look at the photo above, a retired FBI agent from the USA was fishing with me last winter and lost a potential record-breaking fish at this very lie. I’ve not seen it since but keep trying.

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River Tweed Grayling – The Lady of The Stream

Winter in Scotland can be a dark and dreary affair. The devastating effect Christmas has on your wallet, the weather, the suffering of in-laws during the festivities…I could go on. The Salmon season comes to an end, fishermen, gillies, and guides hang up their waders and try to avoid the misery caused by lack of sunlight.

Take my advice, get out in a Scottish Winter and fish for grayling it’s good for your soul!

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Written by Stewart Collingswood founder and Head Guide of Alba Game Fishing

Alba deliver fishing trips and bespoke fishing vacations throughout Scotland for the last 14 years.