Article about grayling fishing on the Welsh river Dee.
I am often asked the question “why are there no grayling in Ireland?” and “how come they were never introduced?’ Unfortunately, it is one of many species that never made it to our shores, the so-called Lady of the Stream. They are, however, found throughout the UK and while they are largely inactive throughout the summer months this river beauty can give winter anglers an abundance of sport on the rivers it inhabits. What I have learned over the years, through research, is that they were in fact introduced on a trial basis to selected Irish waters but failed to thrive in the acidic waters... In any case, grayling are a fragile fish in their makeup and in order to introduce them would take a considerable, large-scale effort, or perhaps the right strain of fish would have to be sought from similar waters to our own. Alas, it is almost certainly something we will never see or catch in our Irish rivers.
However, all is not lost for the grayling lovers or intrigued anglers as just a short hop across the water can put you in grayling heaven. Wales – yes, Wales - actually boasts some of Europe’s finest wild winter grayling fishing! Of course, you can either fly or drive to reach this location and there is a variety of rivers that accommodate anglers who wish to bare the cold Welsh winter weather in search of the ladies - you won’t be disappointed.
Where & how
I am not long home from one of my winter trips to fish the fabulous River Dee in the nearby towns of Llangollen and Corwen, in north Wales. I have had some cracking winter sport on this venue over the last number of years and if you were ever thinking of going fishing for another species to pass the cold, closed months on Irish rivers then this fabulous place would be well worth considering. It was way back in 2000 when I first wet a fly on the River Dee. I had the pleasure of staying with Gwilym Hughes in Corwen and it was he that first introduced me to upstream nymphing. Gwilym travelled that same year to the World Championships in Sweden with the Irish team and after his mentoring for those two weeks I was well and truly hooked on nymphing for both grayling and trout. Much of the way I fish today is grounded in the approaches and thinking that Gyilym passed on to me over this period.
We normally do a two-day trip, flying at 6am from Dublin to Manchester with Ryanair, booking the car with Avis or Dollar Thrifty at the airport before the one-hour drive to the hotel where we normally stay, which is The Hand Hotel in Llangollen. There are other options for accommodation also if you are looking for something a little cheaper. After some breakfast we pick up our permits in the local hardware shop located just around the corner from our accommodation and we are on the river for half ten that morning, just a matter of hours after leaving the house! As with all UK waters, it is a must that you have local and national permits to fish these rivers. The national rod licence can be easily obtained online in a matter of minutes at www.gov.uk/get-a-fishing-licence and will cost you just £30 for a whole year! Daily and weekly licences are also available.
On our most recent trip we began, as normal, on the Golf Course beat just outside the town and a five minute drive away, one we know quite well and which has always produced good numbers of grayling for us. It has some great water and a lot of quality fish can be found here, too. We normally stay around this location for the majority of the first day as there is an abundance of water to explore, and the days this time of year are short so fishing till 4pm is usually all the cold you can stick. But, on your local permits there are beat maps and if you wish to venture to other areas then you can do so.
After a bite to eat and a few beers by the fire in the hotel we get some rest. The cold water and cutting breezes will knock the stuffing out of you in no time. Normally on the second day we travel the 10 miles or so down the road to Corwen and get our day tickets in the local newsagents, just in the square of the town for a very reasonable £20. You also have the option of driving on a little further to Bala (just into the beautiful Snowdonia National Park) where there is a nice tackle shop on the main street for a walk around and a chat. Here you can pick up your local permits and gather some good reliable local knowledge of where fishing is good at the time.
After we are finished fishing on the second day we usually pack up the rental car and set off for Manchester airport to fly back home, stopping for some dinner on the way. The flight normally leaves at 10pm and I would normally be back in my house around 00.45, although depending on where you live this will obviously vary. On average the trip (outside the evening meal and a few beers) will cost around €120-150 all-in for the flights, car, permits, and hotel; this is travelling mid-week and of course the weekends will have higher rates. This makes it roughly equivalent to, or even cheaper than, many Irish weekend trips away fishing! You also have the option of going on a one day trip, flying out in the morning from Dublin and flying back later that night. We have done this trip a few times and although enjoyable there’s nothing like getting into a warm hotel in the evening and having a few beers and a chat about the day. It’s this that really makes these trips into lasting memories, as I’m sure you’ll agree.
The other option you have is going via ferry. On our first couple of trips we travelled this way and found it convenient to be able to drive your own car and load it up with a heap of stuff you won’t need! To be honest it is a bit more expensive this way, not very time friendly and if the seas are rough - which happens regularly during the winter on the Irish Sea- you could find yourself cancelling more trips than you actually go on.
Fishing in these winter and heavy rivers for me the set-up is quite simple. I use my 10ft #2 weight Syndicate nymphing rod with a Rio euro nymphing line and a 14-15ft tapered leader that I make myself. From here I usually have around five foot of tippet; the diameter is normally 0.10 to 0.14mm depending on how heavy the river is at the time. I usually fish two or three nymphs, again depending on the water levels and normally they are quite heavy.
Our preferred method for the grayling on the Dee is downstream nymphing, using a heavy weighted nymph on the point and following it with two shrimps; we normally find orange and pink to be the best colours. We have found that Gammarus nymphs work well, too, and as soon as the nymphs swing around in the current and you begin to lift them off the bottom the fish will attack. We have also found on occasions that if the first lift of the nymph off the bottom fails to produce a take, dropping it back down again and repeating can often bring a hook-up. This method needs some adjusting during the different months of the winter and depending on fish behaviour. As we have discovered, the grayling in December seem to sit closer to the angler than in January which means you have to discover the distance they are in front of you in order to put your nymphs in the take zone. Standard upstream nymphing will also produce good numbers of fish. Our most productive nymph over the years is a simple Hare’s ear nymph tied on a size 10 or 12 grub hook, with a copper rib and a pinch of orange in the thorax, along with a 4mm or 3.5mm copper tungsten bead head.
Wading rivers during the winter months is a little more difficult than summer time and I would advise all anglers to carry a wading staff at all times. Also, some very warm clothing is required especially on your legs as when you are in the cold water for any length of time your legs don’t quite work as well as the normally do. Regular walks up and down the banks of the river will keep the blood flowing. Some good fingerless gloves can be an asset to for the angler as when the cold sets into your fingers, changing flies or untangling tippets is almost impossible. This will save an annoying walk back to the car in the middle of the day to warm up just to set up your rod again.
A big regret I have is that over the last 17 years since I first visited this fabulous river it has only been in the last few seasons that I have gone back, when it should have been a regular occurrence over the winter months. But thankfully I do plan to make it here a few times every winter for years to come. It is a cost effective, easy and very worthwhile trip. I would recommend this venue to any angler that is looking for something a bit different for the winter months rather than the normal trek to the rainbow fisheries. Once you have made the initial trip, you will be hooked on the Ladies of the stream.
If you would like any information in relation to fishing the Dee then look no further than the following club websites. You can get all in information needed in relation to fishing, permits, beats and current water levels. I would advise you to make sure and look at your beat maps and allocated fishing waters as quite a bit of this river is private and you don’t want to stray to somewhere you are not supposed to be.