Fly Fishing in Europe – Winter Grayling Sport


Cold Water Takes; Winter Grayling Sport by Laurent Guillermin

Found in all regions of Europe, the grayling is equally at home in small streams and big rivers. With its distinctive sailfish-like dorsal fin, the grayling is perhaps the most striking winter game fish.

Feeding primarily on insects, “the lady of the stream”, the name commonly given to grayling, offers one of the finest dry and nymph fly-fishing opportunities! As grayling prefer unpolluted waters that are clear, cold and well oxygenated, rapid waters produce some of the very best grayling fishing spots. Grayling remain active throughout the winter, and fly-fishing becomes easier when the weather is cold as the fish congregate into larger shoals.

river_and_snow_489689364.jpgThe lady of the stream provides a good challenge for the angler using light tackle. French grayling are usually dark on the back and have bronze or silver-hued sides. Its spectacular purplish-blue dorsal fin is larger than any other cold-water fish. Grayling have large scales with brown or black spots on the body behind the head. Another means of identifying a grayling is the black line in the fold under the mouth. However, unlike trout, grayling run in schools. Therefore, if you find one grayling, there is usually a bunch of them. French anglers revere them for their beauty and fighting ability.

Grayling feed almost exclusively on insects, so are quick to take a fly, but will also jump and fight when hooked. Keep in mind that in nymph fishing, especially when dealing with educated grayling, presentation is the key. When the line arrives in front of you, the nymph must be at the correct depth. Focus your attention on the fish movements and you will achieve success!

Grayling commonly choose different streams for spawning, feeding and wintering. In winter, hungry grayling will search for food below and above the surface, but if you are looking for the very big ones, fishing with nymphs is by far the best way to catch one or two because they mainly eat aquatic insects in big holes. Of course, they will inspect anything floating on the surface and you have always a good chance of a hatch around midday! According to my experience water visibility, is a prime factor. Very murky or muddy water is usually non-productive.

the_author_and_a_50cm_specimen_900140411.jpgConcerning the tackle, the delicacy of the water to be fished and the behaviour of the fish must be taken into consideration. For French fishing, the selection is usually between a 4 or 5 weight outfit. The 5 weight would probably be the most common choice. If you only could afford one rod, then a 5 weight would enable you to fish the biggest rivers. The leader you have chosen is the part of the fly line that is supposed to be invisible or at least less visible. The longer the buffer between your very-visible fly line and your fly, the sneakier you can be. Different situations call for different lengths of leader. In France, fishing the surface of very clear waters may require 20 feet of leader and tippet on the end of that. This line has to be made of “stiffer” material with no memory, and ideally is tapered. The leader stiffness plays an important role in more easily casting light nymphs, as well as guaranteeing better contact with the flies, which must form a straight line with the leader.

Tippets used by the French anglers are often characteristically extremely fine. Even a 0.12 mm tippet can spook fish sometimes, though usually a diameter from 0.10 to 0.14 mm is used. The choice of tippet is often determined not just by what the fish can see but also by the rod used (the finer and softer the rod, the finer the tippet that can be used) as well as the size of the flies. When you are fishing with very small nymphs, try to cast a long tippet of at least 3 or 4 feet of nylon or fluorocarbon. Then you will see the difference from a shorter one. A long tippet will give time to the nymph to reach the bottom of the river and will give it a nice drift, closer to the truth!

My fishing tackle for winter grayling:
Airflo Streamtec Nantec rod 10’ line 4/5
Enigma M3 4/6 reel.
Airflo Ridge Supple Technical WF5
Airflo Whizz Lube



Laurent Guillermin

Laurent Guillermin is a French reporter and photographer. Laurent’s images and articles have appeared in a great number of fishing magazines in France and Europe. He’s also well-known in the small fly tying “world” and has commercial patterns tied by Easy Fly. He has traveled all over the world as a reporter and is considered as an expert fly fisher for trout, grayling, pike, carp, sea bass, bonefish and permit. “Every time you go out fishing you can have a different experience. That’s what it’s all about!”

You can contact him on

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