Leaving the familiarity of the South Wales rivers behind, Kieron Jenkins heads to Scotland in search of that 3lb-plus grayling.
When it comes to grayling fishing, those of us in South Wales are blessed with what we have on our doorsteps. Within an hour’s drive there are numerous grayling rivers holding insane amounts of fish. For those who have fished around this area, they’ll know that 40 or so grayling a day is the norm, with red letter days being in excess of 100 fish – and yes, to one rod! But with such populations of fish in these relatively small rivers, and with recent increases in cormorant and goosander numbers to put pressure on the fish too, it’s inevitable that most of the grayling don’t grow much larger than 1lb 6oz. The River Taff and River Wye, though, do hold their fair share of 2lb fish; and the River Severn, although slightly further afield, produces the odd three-pounder each year.
The Search Begins
As December approached, I needed a big fish fix. We all get them; the urge to hook and land a ‘horse’. There’s nothing better than a possible ‘personal best’ gracing your net. So I set about searching for likely rivers, the kind that doesn’t get that much angling pressure (are there any left?!) and have a reputation for big grayling…
I don’t mind a few hours’ travelling, so set my sights to Scotland. Over the years I’ve fished the Tweed, Teviot, Tay and Tummel for grayling, but never the Annan, and with the prospects of a possible 3lb lady it was an obvious choice.
After speaking with a good friend of mine, Tony Donnelly, who is the Fisheries Director of the Annan Fisheries Board, I was set. Digs booked, fishing sorted and a great selection of flies tied (just in case). Tony mentioned that the fishing wasn’t going to be easy; long days traipsing the river banks in search of small pods of fish, and with the river being high for a number of weeks beforehand, finding their lays could be tricky. Simply heaven to my ears!
Bunging Big Fish Water
Our first stop was a fairly featureless section of river, much like the top end of the River Severn around Caersws. A steady pace with the odd deep channel, and a likely looking big fish water to say the least!
My approach on such water is to cover as much of the river as possible, but not quickly. I often see anglers rushing through pools, flicking their flies willy-nilly here and there, missing a lot of potentially productive water. My chosen method was to fish the bung. It allows anglers to cast as far as they want covering water that’s inaccessible by wading. With the use of a good floating fly line, you can mend the bung at distance (as well as close range) and basically ‘trot’ your flies downstream up to 30 yards away – essential on large rivers with deep water. Although it’s often looked down upon by many, it’s probably one of the most effective methods on such water.
My setup for the bung is a 9ft 6in, 5-wt Wychwood Drift XL. The rod is simply superb for casting a bung, with a deep, soft blank that allows for accurate roll casting – ideal for covering a lot of water with little back cast. The indicator is a Fulling Mill Foam Bung, a fly that easily holds up 4mm and 3mm tungsten bugs, tied to a Floating Airflo Trout Polyleader for turn-over.
The first day was over in a blink of an eye. Low and bright winter sun with freezing temperatures and strong winds seemingly put the fish off. Tony assured me we were fishing over big fish, but with very little fly life and activity, only a handful of 10-inch grayling graced our nets. For the next day, we set our sights on shallower, fast water.
Day Two After Grayling On The River Annan
The next day was calm and overcast, a 100% improvement on the day before. Tony took us to water slightly lower down the Annan system where the river opened up and become more like the River Tay, though thankfully without the volume of water. The water here was of a more uniform depth, around 3-5ft with obvious fish-holding spots from defined runs and pots.
I was under no illusions that it was going to be easy, big fish don’t come painlessly. Time, effort and patience are key. I strung up my French Leader setup with a three-fly cast, with the flies roughly 18in apart. To cover as many options as possible, I like to fish my heaviest fly on the point, with two lighter-weight patterns on the droppers. This allows you to comb the bottom of the river bed as well as the layers higher in the water – fishing every inch possible.
Within just a couple of casts I’d hooked into a good fish, my 3-wt Wychwood Drift XL bending right to the butt. The fish held deep, tell-tail signs of a big grayling, before briefly breaking the surface revealing its true size. The fish had taken the point fly, a Caddis pattern tied on the new size 10 Fulling Mill Jig Force hook paired with a 5.5mm tungsten bead – extreme for the conditions but the only way to ensure you’re constantly bumping the bottom. After manoeuvring the fish to slower water, I was able to get close and slip the net under my first big Annan grayling – a 2lb 12oz lady!
Time To Move
We fished another three pools for a handful of small fish before Tony suggested a move to a pool he’d recently caught a magnificent 2lb 14oz grayling. It was a fair walk so we upped sticks and headed for this previously productive run. The top end was wide and shallow, only a foot or two in depth, with a long, deep channel narrowing the back end of the pool.
I immediately started to fish the deep channel hoping a large fish might be conserving its energy in the slack water. Two runs through with nothing but a few lost flies, I decided to have another run through before heading back. One thing I noticed with every place we fished on the River Annan was the sheer number of tiny cased caddis present. Each cast the heaviest fly would pick up a number of these caddis, so I decided to scale down in fly size. On the droppers, I put two size 16 Jig Caddis patterns, keeping the 5.5mm on the point for depth.
Flicking my flies close to a patch of ranunculus, I gently jigged the flies back through the shallow water, each cast repeating the same method. The jigging effect often provokes a reaction, and a couple of casts in the rod wrenched forward and I was on. At first, with such a powerful take, I thought I’d hooked a trout. The fish kept deep close to the bottom, which arose suspicion. Keeping as much pressure as I dare on the 3lb tippet eventually the fish turned and headed into the shallow water. I could see it was a grayling, and a big one at that. Wading into the pool, Tony suggested he’d net it, and soon enough my first 3lb Annan grayling had been photographed and released back into the pool.
Over three full days fishing I’d managed to land five fish over 2lb with one an ounce over 3lb. Fishing the fast, shallow water was key, as this was where plentiful tiny cased caddis were residing, bringing the grayling out of the pools to feed. Working pools methodically ensuring every inch of river bed was covered was important too – these big fish don’t come easy and you get back what you put in.
Born and raised on the rivers and lakes of south Wales, Kieron Jenkins has become one of the leading competition anglers of our time. With multiple ‘Brown Bowls’ under his belt, along with a creditable fourth position at World level, fly fishing and fly tying has become his life, passion and obsession for Fulling Mill’s Digital Marketing Manager.