Online Fly Fishing Magazine

In the first part of a monthly series fishing on the river, GAIA instructor Phil Ratcliffe looks at how to catch when the river is up and coloured…

I suppose you could say I’m a “Fly Fishing Junkie” with most of my spare time revolving around fly fishing in some shape or form. During the course of the next twelve months A Year On The River will take you through my fly fishing experiences. I will look to focus on the changing tactics required throughout the year on the rivers I fish, namely the mighty River Severn and Welsh Dee.

Catching In Coloured Water

January and February are tough months; the weather can be very unpredictable. It is inevitable that the rivers we fish especially over the coming months will be carrying some colour, but catching grayling in coloured water can be easier than you think. We can be creatures of habit and go into lockdown in the winter periods and all too soon the inevitable cabin fever sets in.  Our thoughts turn to the trout season in early spring and time is spent filling up the fly boxes in readiness for March and April.

Some of the best sport can be had over the next few months’ even if our rivers are not at the ideal level or clarity.  It’s all too easy after a period of rain to go online and check the river gauges and see that they are above normal fishing height and dismiss that anticipated day out.  I am a strong believer in local contacts, it’s always worth that phone call to a local club member to get their opinion of the river condition.  Try and gain as much information as you can before setting off on that long journey.  The level may not be to our liking and clarity not what we perceive as perfect but don’t let that deter you.

I’m certainly not suggesting fishing a river completely in flood, as this would be crazy to do so on all levels from a safety point of view.  Fishing a river as it’s fining down after a heavy bout of rain can be the ideal time to start catching grayling.  A few considerations need to be made when venturing out in high water. Be aware of any gravel shift that may have occurred and it’s advisable to take a wading staff if you’re unsure of the river. Consider also wearing a life vest in a high river, safety is paramount.

When the river’s are up and coloured we can still catch grayling if we get our tactics and techniques right.

Two Metres’ On The Gauge

It was a few days following several heavy downpours that had seen the river come up to nearly two metre’s on the gauge and drop back to below 1.5m.  I made a few calls and the reports were the river was still up and carrying some colour.  Undeterred I headed off into mid Wales and having fished this river for well over three decades I knew the plan of attack.

Having arrived early morning and a peer over the bridge to see for myself, the reports were spot on but none the less a fishable river. Result!

I stuck with the Sage ESN 10ft 2-wt, a long, soft actioned rod coupled with a French leader, using a bi-coloured two-tone indicator to enhance the take detection in the dull light conditions.  Fly selection is all important when fishing coloured rivers and the flow will be stronger than normal.

A selection of Phil’s flies for coloured water.

Flies With Trigger Points And Tungsten

At the business end, my tippet material was made up around six foot of 6lb fluorocarbon. You can go heavier if you wish as the likelihood of snagging is inevitable and stronger tippet will aid you pull your flies out and down.  The big decision is what flies to use?  What you’re looking for in these types of conditions is firstly a fly that is heavy enough to get down fishing at the correct depth; I plumped for the Grayling Bomb Pink and on the dropper a Copperknob Goddard. both available from Fulling Mill.

Both of these utilise tungsten beads and sink rapidly.  Other options would be to use a fly tied on a jig hook on the point, which will reduce the amount of times you snag the bottom. Don’t be afraid to go big, the usual sizes of 16s 18s 20s generally won’t cut the mustard in coloured water. So I go big with anything from size 8’s through to 14’s.  Fishing two or three flies in your team is purely down to personal preference and when fishing three, the debate chamber opens as to where the heaviest fly should be, on the point, or on the middle dropper? I’ll leave that one for another day…

Not only is weight of a fly essential but also its colour. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bright coloured bead, tail or thorax you need something that will stand out in the murky depths and offer a trigger point.  From experience, the majority of flies I have caught on in coloured water have offered a trigger point, and it’s something I feel confident in fishing.  But don’t discount a larger nymph pattern that is very dark or drab as this can also produce just as good results as it can offer a decent silhouette in the coloured conditions.   Both the flies I plumped for have one thing in common, and that is pink.  The Lady Of The Stream adores anything with pink and the Grayling Bomb has that in abundance; the Copperknob, a pink tag.

The Pink Grayling Bomb
The Goddard Copperknob

Methodical Approach

With the river being in the condition it was, the faster-flowing water was going to be a challenge.  Deep wading was out of the question; safety is paramount and no matter how much I adore catching grayling, I didn’t want to wade any deeper than knee depth and risk life and limb for the prize.  But with the heavy nymphs and utilising the French leader fished Czech style, I lobbed the flies upstream into the slightly slacker water just out of the main flow; a typical holding spot for the grayling. Allow your flies to sink and track them through at the pace of the current keeping your indicator visible at all times.  Fish through any back-eddies that you come across or close into the bank, which are also likely holding spots.

I’m always quite methodical in my approach and chopping and changing the set up to suit the variety of depths and speeds.  Break the river down into small sections and don’t be in any rush to move on. I prefer to move down with the river rather than against it in such heavy flows. Fish the same run several times as you’re less likely to spook the fish in coloured water and can continue catching grayling after many runs through. Use a variety of patterns, altering weight, size and colour of flies as you go.  Don’t be in too much of a rush to lift your flies out and position them upstream again.  It pays dividends to let the nymphs’ fish on the dangle at the end of the run with your rod lowered to the water. On many occasions the grayling can take you by surprise before repeating the process and taking that step down and repositioning your flies upstream.

Watching the indicator track down and feeling the nymph bouncing bottom I was anticipating any sudden stop or anything other than an unnatural drift through. After a few trundles down the indicator stopped and I was into my first fish.

Hitting into a fish in such a flow can cause you problems, and the aim is to get it out of the main flow as quick as possible. I put plenty of side strain on and coaxed it out into slacker water, this is where a softer action rod comes into play.  They will do all they can to get you back into the flow using the large sail like dorsal to full advantage.
It had taken the Pink Grayling Bomb on the point and a decent grayling graced the net.  The day continued in the same vein with plenty of nice fish coming to hand. The vast majority on the point fly and others to a variety of dropper patterns.  I was pleased with the results of the day and I seemed to have found that magic formula; well just for today at least.

So don’t despair if you arrive at the river and its coloured, with the right flies and approach you can encounter some of the best days grayling fishing.

Get the fly colour and weight right and target the slacker water and you will be successful if the river is high and holding colour.

What Flies?

Phil recommends these patterns form the Fulling Mill range for coloured water
• Pink Shrimp (2316)
• Shrimper Orange (424)
• Nugget Orange Gold (486)
• Copperknob (Goddard) (1047)
• Grayling Bomb Pink (1181)
• Shrimp Pink (1183)
• Grayling Pink (2450)

Phil Ratcliffe

Currently based in Cheshire, Phil is one of a new breed of up and coming instructors. He holds the highest single and double-handed casting qualifications in the UK and Internationally (APGAI – Advanced Professional Game Angling Instructor) and the Fly Fishers International MCI – (Master Casting Instructor. Phil is endorsed by some of the leading tackle brands representing Fulling Mill as one of their Ambassadors and is an International Pro guide for the Sage,Rio and Redington brands.

About the writer

Phil Ratcliffe is a Sage, Rio and Redington Pro Guide and Fulling Mill Ambassador.

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