Recent trends in grayling fishing have focused on flies with tags, flash, bling and pink! Wychwood consultant Carl Nixon goes back to black, much to the liking of the ‘lady of the stream’.
Is it a forgotten colour? Do we choose black when all else fails or when certain conditions present themselves to us? As anglers we are obsessed with the newest fad in colour, material or fly pattern! When it comes to river patterns, and especially during late autumn and early winter, where we target grayling we become unconsciously obsessed with tags, pink shrimps and the much loved Squirmy, along with the many variants that can be whittled up while sat at the vice during those long winter nights.
When the phenomenon of the Squirmy was brought from the US and cast into the UK waters in 2012, two good friends used it to win a few stillwater bank matches. A few months later, the secret was out. Only a few years ago the red variant was all that was available and was being put to use by river anglers far and wide. Then, as you can imagine, the fly-tying fraternity, and in particular David Hise in the US, started producing all manner of colours – pinks, green, orange and black. These soon arrived in the UK!
I was kindly given two sample colours to try in 2013; candy pink and black. Not thinking much of the black, I put it in the drawer and forgot about it. Obviously the candy pink worked on stillwaters, picking up a few bank wins for me, along with a cracking session on the River Don where I annihilated both trout and grayling.
Back To Black
Having a recent rummage through the Squirmy drawer I stumbled upon the black. Not being my first choice material to work with I had a go and tied a few jig patterns. The trick to using Squirmy is to use a multi-strand floss and always lay a bed of thread on the shank first. This stops it spinning as you tie it in.
Taking these flies down to my local stream, I was amazed at how effective they were. Typically only tying three of them, they didn't last very long; it never helps when you stick one in a tree! So returning to the vice, I decided to tie quite a few more up with different weights and coloured beads. Carrying on with the black theme I tied a few more flies – Pheasant Tails, Flashback Nymphs and a few Squirmy variants.
Carl's main line of attack for grayling is a 10ft 3-wt; ideal for a range of nymphing techniques
Heading south to the River Calder and contemplating what would greet me as I arrived, the mission, should the fish choose to accept it, was to see if the Yorkshire grayling were as keen on the black flies as much as their northern counterparts. There's no reason why they shouldn't be, but starting off with black flies instead of the usual choice of something bright and flashy may prove to be a big mistake.
Using a fine-diameter fluorocarbon with files spaced 40 centimetres apart ensures that you can get your flies down quickly to cover the depths
Setting up the Wychwood River & Stream 10ft, 3-wt along with the new River Nympher super-thin fly fine, the day looked like it was set to be a good. Attached to my line I constructed a tapered leader made up of smoke blue monofilament and lengths of Camo Mode monofilament, ending in a 35 to 40-centimetre length of Two Tone indicator in 0.25mm terminated with a 2mm micro ring. Attached to this I used 3lb Ghost Mode fluorocarbon, with 90 centimetres to the dropper, approximately 40 to my middle dropper and a further 40 to my point fly. Rather than go for anything with a tag or obnoxious and in your face, I stuck to the plan and selected three black patterns. I planned to avoid the temptation of something with colour and intended to stick with these throughout the day
The All Blacks
The Black Squirmy and Flashback Nymph, two black patterns that the grayling couldn't resist.
I attached the black Squirmy on the point, black Flashback Nymph in the middle and a simple black nymph on the point, all tied on size 14 Hanak 450BLs. The water was quite low as I made my way to an obvious pool just upstream of an abandoned bridge. Trying not to scare every fish within 100 yards of me, I crouched down and fished the seam on the inside bank, just in case any fish were lurking nearby. Looking at the pool it was apparent that the conveyor belt of food on the surface was running about two feet off the far bank. My suspicions were confirmed when a grayling broke rank and took something as it floated by. As I worked downstream along the inside bank, I made my way out and across, splitting the water into a grid and covering it methodically. As I reached the tail of the pool I connected with my first fish of the day, helping itself to the Flashback Nymph on the middle dropper. The small but welcome grayling was quickly netted and returned. I concentrated my efforts on the far bank, casting upstream at 45 degrees and tracking the flies downstream. I was soon rewarded with two more grayling.
Weight For A Change
Moving upstream trying to cover as much water as possible, I made my way towards a nice dogleg pool with an almost natural weir created by the urban landscaping. Obviously, the pace and depth of this spot was somewhat slower than the previous pool; a change of weight was needed to reach the fish hugging the bottom. I opted for a 3.5mm gold beaded Squirmy, this time for the point fly. I was instantly rewarded with a grayling on the black Squirmy as the flies tracked downstream in front of me. This variant has a collar of Glo-Brite No2 as a trigger point. It’s not strictly an all black pattern but it takes its fair share of ladies from the pool. Working slowly towards the natural weir the water dropped away in front of me. The pace here had quickened and the interest for the next few casts slowed a little so I began working my way back down the pool.
"As I lifted again a grayling kindly took hold and headed for the reeds on the far bank"
As I worked the water in front of me I cast straight into the heart of the pool and let the flies swing directly downstream and across. Here I got a good solid rattle from an inquisitive fish. I've found this method gets some interest on tough days and can account for a bonus fish. It’s a great way of helping you search a pool.
After covering the inside line it's time to do the same to the middle and far bank. Doing this methodically should bring more fish to the net.
Knowing that there were still fish in the pool I carefully waded through the deep water back downstream and worked the area, concentrating on the slower-paced water. As the flies tracked past I gently lifted the rod tip trying to induce a response. As I lifted I was met with some resistance and a nice sized brown trout revealed its hiding spot and bravely fought back. I quickly unhooked him in the water because he was out of season and he shot back to his spot in the river.
Noticing the weather was about to turn for the worse we quickly headed for a pool that I was given the heads up about. Again I changed the weight of the flies because the pool was a little faster and shallower than before.
Casting the team of three black flies into the riffle I was met with a gentle twitch on the indicator. There was nothing there so I quickly cast back into the pool and allowed the flies to dead drift. As I lifted again a grayling kindly took hold and headed for the reeds on the far bank. This is when it began to rain and it was time for home!
Hold fire with the bright flashy patterns and give those black flies a go this Autumn...
I'd be inclined to say the mission was a success, and I'll certainly be keeping stock of the black Squirmy for any further trips! Why not try reaching for the black stuff next time you're out and give the bright tags and shrimps a rest? You may be pleasantly surprised.
Hook: Hanak 450BL, size 12-16
Bead: Match your bead with hook size to your river
Thread: Flybox Ultrafloss, black
Tail and body: Black Squirmy worm
Collar: Glo-Brite No2
Hook: Hanak 450BL or 470BL Wave Jig, size 12- 14
Bead: 3mm metallic purple
Tail: Medium Pardo Coq de Leon
Body: Hends Spectra shade 46
Flashback: Medium purple holographic tinsel
Rib: Medium black wire
Black Jack Nymph:
Hook: Hank 450BL or Hends 154, size 14-16
Bead: Plain tungsten 2.5 to 3.5mm to match hook size
Tail: Medium Pardo Coq de Leon
Body: Argentinean hare, black
Collar: Hends Spectra 96