The Tamar system boasts the most westerly population of grayling in Britain, and can offer sport after the trout fishing has closed at the end of September.
Grayling numbers do not match the huge densities encountered on the chalkstreams, and often winter spates can put the river out of order for long periods, so it is best to phone at short notice.
While a one pound trout on the Tamar is a very good fish, a grayling of that size is not unusual, with fish of one and a half to two pounds perfectly possible. Surprisingly, it is often night sea trout fishers who catch some of these larger grayling, on flies as big as a long-shank size four!
After spawning in early summer, the grayling slowly recover condition and are feeding well by August. At this time of year they respond well to dry flies - anglers should match the hatch and take particular care to avoid drag.
The deep-lying habits of the grayling give the fish a very long view of the fly's drift, and any drag will simply mean a complete refusal. Often grayling can be seen rising with no obvious fly on the water. Look very carefully and it will be seen that they are coming up to tiny gnats or midges which are barely visible in the surface film. Again, match the hatch, using simple cul de canard (CDC) patterns such as an F-Fly, in sizes down to 20 or even smaller.
Grayling are very fast takers and will eject a fly in a split-second, so strike without delay. Unlike brown trout, they are much more tolerant of human intrusion, so if you find a few rising fish they can be approached fairly closely, where a short line will help you to connect with them more quickly.
The dry fly can produce grayling all through the winter, as long as fish are rising, but once the first big winter spates have flushed the river of leaves and algae, nymphing comes into its own.
Typical Tamar Grayling
Standard Czech or Polish style nymphing with a short line and a team of heavy bugs can be very effective in the faster runs. However, in many of the slower pools, a single nymph, fished with some sort of indicator, is the chosen method. The weight of the nymph and the distance to the indicator need to be judged nicely to allow the nymph to fish very close to the riverbed. As with the dry fly, rapid striking is essential.
All standard nymph patterns will work, including old favourites like the Red Tag, better still with a gold bead-head. Hare's Ear and Pheasant Tail nymphs are good, and a variation on Sawyer's Killer Bug, tied with a grey partridge hackle and a gold or copper bead-head, is an absolute must. Pink or orange nymphs are also useful, although in the winter these often take a lot of unseasonable trout.
If you are grayling fishing on the Tamar during the winter, please remember that this is primarily a trout, sea trout and salmon fishery, and avoid wading in areas where these fish will spawn. In other words, keep off the gravels in the pool tails - one step on a salmon or trout redd can kill all of the eggs buried in the gravel. Always use barbless hooks to facilitate safe release of all fish. And as an afterthought, don't use extremely fine nylon. This author has caught two salmon on nymphs intended for grayling!