Autumn Grayling And The Dry Fly

As the trout season draws to a close and the riverscape begins to find its autumnal hues, I gradually turn my attention to grayling fishing. There is that wonderful period through late September and into October when the grayling increasingly begins to show throughout the river. Pools and runs where golden bellied trout once held station are now it seems, somehow solely occupied by grayling. It is a glorious time to be out with a fly rod in Upper Wharfedale. The first harsh frosts are hopefully still some many weeks away, and the grayling continue to rise to a delicately cast, minuscule dry fly.

Grayling in the hand!

My old “Wheatley” is sparsely populated at this time of year, with only a smattering of patterns contained within its increasingly opaque compartments. Old favourites such as the Red Tag, Smoke Fly and Treacle Parkin hold sway along with an escalating number of Griffith’s Gnats. A diminutive number of Aphid and F-Flies cling on to the increasingly frayed woollen lining of the lid, and my fly box’s increasing spareness matches the onward drift of the seasons.

Though many grayling anglers in Wharfedale head straight to the famous “Loup Scar” in search of their prize. I find it plays well in the early Autumn months to concentrate on the shallower runs below these “Dubs”, as the grayling have yet to seek the shelter of these deep black pools. It’s in these reaches that you can find an excellent sport with brief flurries of surface activity, as small squads of grayling greedily rise to a host of drifting insects.

Grayling are of course monkeys to catch on a dry fly. I have never been convinced about the rapidity of their take of a fly and am now of the belief that missed takes are a symptom of the grayling’s mouth bumping the fly at its point of taking. This gives me the comfort blanket of blaming the grayling rather than my own missed timing! Whatever the reason, I once counted my success rate with grayling rising to the dry fly at around 7 to 1. And whilst some may point to my lack of success as a symptom of poor angling skills, I prefer to look on these odds as an indication of my fondness for the art of fishing, rather than a compulsion to be catching.

Typical Wharfedale Grayling

Family tradition dictates that the Hare’s Lug and Plover always gets a few casts for October grayling, and nevertheless even after all these years, I am still surprised when the old pattern raises a grayling to the take. Twenty years ago, shortly after the death of my father. I fished a long-time favourite beat of ours on the Wharfe, and fittingly had tremendous sport with the Hare’s Lug. During intermittent bursts of sunshine, a few sedges fluttered along the bankside and my singularly and delicately cast spider did the trick with unerring regularity. So much so, that a fellow angler fishing downstream of me wandered up to ask what fly I was fishing. His face was a picture of incredulity when I informed him of the pattern, “what a wet fly fished upstream?” was his astonished reply. I could almost sense both my father and W.C. Stewart turning over in their respective graves.

But even despite their fondness for the Hare’s Lug & Plover, dry fly fishing for autumnal grayling is one of my season’s magic periods. At this time of year, the dales landscape and rivers look at their majestic best with the fish seemingly to be more obliging. I don’t have to repeat the mistakes of the trout season, by overthinking my fly selection. The grayling are unapologetic in their fly preference, and readily accept most of my offerings as long as they are small and dumpy. Which is the main reason why many of my fly patterns at this time of year resemble aphid, beetle and terrestrial. Two of my favourite and little known grayling patterns are Carter Platts’ dressings of  Brunton’s Fancy and Walbran’s Gold Tag both of which have nice dumpy peacock herl bodies, and just the right amount of flash in the dressings to seduce inquisitive grayling.

Brunton’s Fancy

Hook: Size 16 Partridge SUD2
Body: Green peacock herl
Tag: Three turns of fine gold braid
Hackle: Badger
Tail: Scarlet Wool

Gold Tag

Hook: Size 16 Partridge SUD2
Body: Bright green peacock herl
Hackle: Blood red
Tag: Gold Tinsel

As October drifts into November, my opportunities for a full day sport with the dry fly will start to recede with the onset of higher water levels and frequent frosts. And although grayling still rise to the odd flurry of surface activity, the window of opportunity has diminished for the use of the dry fly. Instead I turn to nymph and wet fly fishing if the river levels allow, but increasingly find the process of chucking weighted teams of nymphs to be a tedious chore. There is a grace to be found in fly casting, its rhythm is the very heartbeat of our sport. Once you take away that rhythm of the fly cast, you take away its heart.

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