Grayling fishing in Scotland has and still is developing into a branch of fly fishing in its own right as opposed to the days when many anglers fished occasionally for grayling during the close season of other game species such as salmon and trout. The river Annan as well as many of the other border rivers is gaining a reputation, not only as a good grayling fishery, but also as a fishery where specimen grayling over 2lb are fairly common with a good chance of catching a 19 inch plus (or 3lb plus) fish which for many anglers is the pinnacle of grayling fishing.
Grayling are not native to the Clyde but they are certainly thriving after their introduction in the late 1800's and despite periods of persecution from anglers and older fishery management practices the current stocks of fish are very good with regular reports of fish over 3lb as well as the occasional fish of 21 inch plus (or 4lb plus).
Grayling are present on all beats throughout the main river . Winter grayling fishing is not accessible on all beats but the majority of the river is available on a day ticket basis covering a good selection of beats on the lower, middle and upper river. See the Find Fishing link.
Where to fish and when
The choice of where to fish is dictated by personal preference as to the size of river and also the size of fish. The lower and middle river have much larger shoals of grayling represented in multiple year classes and once located good numbers of fish can be caught without moving too far within a pool whereas on the upper river the grayling are more distributed and the shoals are much smaller but often contain larger fish which represents the best chance of catching a specimen.
The other main difference between the upper and lower river is the water flow and height and obviously, being primarily a winter sport, rivers tend to carry extra water and are often in flood during the winter grayling season. During 'ideal' grayling conditions where we have cold dry weather resulting in hard frosts the river levels drop and the water clears giving perfect conditions for the usually flooded and fast flowing lower beats.
It is in these conditions that food becomes harder to locate for the grayling and at this point in the depths of winter they will shoal up to form much larger shoals of fish meaning several fish can be caught from a pool in a short space of time without moving.
During more unsettled conditions the upper beats will be carrying more water and unlike the lower and middle river which can often run coloured for weeks during winter rain, the upper river tends to run off and clear quickly whilst maintaining a good height allowing anglers to fish.
The traditional method for winter grayling fishing involved fishing either worm or maggot on a stick float to present a bait on or very close to the bottom where during the colder weather the grayling are likely to be feeding. These days there are a number of techniques using heavily weighted flies or 'bugs' presented on or near the bottom under a form of indicator either cast upstream and slightly across the flow and allowed to drift down and past the angler or fished 'Czech nymph' style almost under the rod tip, again fished upstream and allowed to drift downstream and past the angler.
Flies used for this method are designed to represent the many invertebrates that live in our rivers which provide the majority of the food for grayling and other fish species. Many of these species can be found living hard on the river bed during the cold winter months but slight rises in air and water temperature will prompt a change in behaviour as larvae and pupae ascend in the water column so it also pays to fish at varied depths.
Heavy cased caddis patterns are a good option for grayling.
Grayling are free rising fish and during milder weather in the autumn and spring (and occasionally during winter) there will at times be hatches of flies. Even on a day that to us feels bitterly cold, a slight rise in air temperature can result in a hatch of flies and grayling will take them readily.
During the winter there are often hatches of midge which grayling will happily take but it is during early spring and late autumn when the more consistent hatches of small and large dark olives (spring) and pale wateries (autumn) ascend and hatch during the late morning and early afternoon. This is when the grayling become most active near the surface.