John Tyzack describes how he caught a monster grayling from a tiny Swedish stream
5-bead Czech Nymph
Thread: Orange Uni-Thread 6/0; hot orange Roman Moser Powersilk.
Hook: Any strong grub hook, sizes 4 to 6.
Weight: Five tungsten beads (one 3mm, then three 4mm, then one 3mm).
Abdomen: Rust-dyed hare’s fur.
Thorax: Black seal’s fur.
Rib: 8lb clear fluorocarbon.
1. Superglue the five tungsten beads onto the hook in the order specified (invert the hook to make this easier and neater).
2. Encase the beads in a cocoon of thread. Use the Uni-Thread for this step. Ensure that the head and tail are nicely tapered.
3. Whip off and tie back on the shell-back.
4. Catch in the rib and the shell-back.
5. Dub (thinly) the hare’s fur and seal’s fur (a whip finish is a good idea at this point).
6. Bring over the shell-back and rib in wide turns. Whip finish and varnish.
It was a couple of days before the World Fly Fishing championship programme kicked off in 2001. Mid-August, Lycksele, Swedish Lapland. Sportfish Team England’s practice sessions had gone uncommonly well and we felt that we had cracked all the river venues. The lakes would be harder – much harder – and would prove to be a real war of attrition. But as we couldn’t fish them until the two official practice days. Our captain, Chris Ogborne, had agreed that we could have a little fun on this particular afternoon.
Our guide was called Stig and his house backed onto one of the competition venues. His knowledge of the local geography was invaluable, but even he needed a map to find our destination this day. We drove for a good couple of hours along seemingly endless ribbons of tarmac, with only herds of reindeer for company, and where the sight of another car was cause for comment. Then we took a dirt track through the pine forest for several miles before abandoning the cars at a non-descript spot close to a reed-fringed lake.
We tackled up and struggled into chestwaders, still damp from the morning’s practice, before striking out on foot through the undergrowth in a vaguely westerly direction. After a mile or so, the path divided and Stig consulted his map. He chose the right fork and we trudged along behind. We were later to discover that the left fork would have brought us to the river much more quickly ... It was a hot, sticky afternoon and the mosquitoes were out in force. We were sweltering, tired, and slowly being eaten alive.
The ‘fun’ element of the afternoon was yet to begin. We were putting ourselves through all this, so that we would have the opportunity to fish a very special short stretch of river linking two huge lakes. The unpronounceable river was famed – rightly as it turned out – for its big grayling. Two days beforehand, the Finnish team had fished here. Each of them had caught a personal best grayling, all over 50cm in length. In contrast to the UK, it is quite common in Sweden for the grayling to spend much of their lives in the lakes, but they also drop into the river from time to time. Here they are protected and the fishing is strictly catch-and-release, a system which appeared to be quite uncommon in Sweden!
After what seemed like hours (and miles) of sweat and toil, with only ourselves and the mosquitoes for company, a snaking line of straggly trees indicated that we were on the final approach. Hearts beating with the exertion and the anticipation, we poked our heads slowly over the parapet of the rickety bridge which straddled the river. My first impression was not hugely favourable and I could see the rest of the lads were having the same thoughts. For starters, it was tiny – no more than three yards across. The bottom seemed to consist of nothing but sharp, pointed rocks, and it was very shallow. It may even have run dry had the floodwater been absent. Where on earth would a 50cm+ grayling be in this?
Iain Barr and I chose to go downstream where we could see a couple of likely pools above the lower lake. Opting for similar simple set-ups of 10ft rods and short leaders armed with two Bugs, we set about the riffles below the bridge. I was certainly not expecting the violent take I had on the very first cast, which resulted in an angry 12in brownie taking to the air as it tried to throw the hook. Iain worked quickly down the river to what seemed to be the best pool. Situated just above the lake, it had flow, depth, submerged boulders, and even an overhanging tree for cover and shade. It had all the features a grayling could have wanted, and it was therefore no surprise to me when he hit a couple of grayling straight away. Nice fish, but not massive. I’d taken my time in getting into another likely-looking spot. The wading was treacherous. This pool also had depth and flow, but there must have been some sort of snag in it. I lost two teams of flies before breaking my duck on the grayling. Another nice fish, but only 40cm (16in) or so. I was beginning to wonder whether it was all hype, and I decided to go back upstream and to see if I could find the top lake.
Arriving back at the rickety bridge, I found Simon Gawesworth into a nice grayling. Somewhere in the mid 40cm - things were definitely looking up. I went round a bend in the river, and about 30 yards further upstream, I found the top lake plus Stuart Crofts and Andrew Dixon. Now I was getting really disappointed. One brownie and one grayling were all I had to show for the 400 yards of fishable water below the bridge. And above the bridge there was next to no water and two other anglers! I sat down on a huge rock at the outflow of the upper lake and watched for a while. Andrew was fishing a large dry Sedge down to a pod of rising fish, and Stuart was following him down with lightweight Sedge Pupae.
“Has anyone bugged it through here?” I asked.
“Nah, they’re up on top”, came the reply.
Fair enough, I thought. You could see them. But what was going on down below? I slid gently off my rock and right up to the top of my chestwaders. The water in front of me was even deeper, and flowing very quickly indeed. I selected a heavy Bug. It was basically a Czech Nymph on a size 4 grub hook that incorporated five tungsten beads under the dressing. It was a very heavy Bug. This went on the point and I opted for a size 14 Green Sedge Pupa on the dropper. The first few drifts through produced nothing, but with such little water to go at I was going to be thorough. I worked my way across the current, trying to concentrate on fishing in one-inch strips through the water. A couple of casts later, the leader darted forward and I was into my first really big grayling of the day.
It had taken the Pupa, and at around 50cm (20 inches), measured against my rod, it would have gone about 3lb or so. Certainly larger and heavier than my previous best, which had come from the Teviot over a year ago. Downstream of me, Mick Tinnion struck into a fish of similar proportions, and across on the other bank, I could see Chris and Simon both into good fish. This is what we had come for! I was delighted with my first ever three-pounder, and could have gone back to the hotel, there and then, a very happy man. But we still had half an hour before we needed to pack up, so I fished on.
One of the official World Championships photographers came by and sat down on the rock just above me. He smiled a greeting and wanted to know if there were any decent fish about. There certainly were! Moments later as my flies came down the current again, the leader just stopped dead. Strange to catch the bottom now, I thought, after all the previous snag-free drifts. I struck anyway and all hell let loose. The first thing that happened was my seven-weight bent double, and the tip disappeared a foot under the water. Then my heart stopped beating as I took a step to my left, which resulted in my tripping over a rock and almost falling in. Regaining my balance (if not yet my composure), I leaned into the fish and met solid resistance. Trusting the 8lb fluorocarbon and the hook-hold, I tried to get its head up. Not a chance. It took several minutes of sustained pressure against the deep throbbing kick before I even got a sight of what I’d hooked.
I almost wished I hadn’t seen it. It must have been 2ft long and 5in across the back. It literally dwarfed the previous fish, which for only a few minutes had been my best ever grayling. If I lost this one now I’d be gutted! I made a brief mental pact with God along the lines of promising to be a better person and to go to church more often. And just in case He wasn’t listening, I offered to sell my soul to the Prince of Darkness – anything at all – if only I could land this fish.
The big male used his huge dorsal to full effect. Three times I had him in the slack in front of me, ready – or so I thought – for the net, and three times he made it back into the main current - dorsal erect, stripping off line, the reel screaming. By the fourth time of asking, he was tiring and I slipped my scoop net under him. Luckily, he folded sideways and came to rest, totally covering the bottom of the net. The photographer on my shoulder assured me that he had got it all – from initial strike all the way through to the final moment. He looked even happier than I was! All he could keep saying was “Easily two kilos …”
“And the rest!”, I thought.
After a very quick photograph, I got the fish back into the water straight away and held him steady facing into the current. He must have been shattered. I know I was! It was a good few minutes before his breathing evened out and his strength came slowly back. All the while I was gazing at him in complete awe and wonder. What a fish! Chris and Simon had seen the whole thing from the far bank and were shouting their congratulations, but to be honest, I could hardly hear them. I could feel his muscles quivering and his fins start to pulsate. When he was ready, it took one controlled sweep of his huge tail and he slipped out of view, back into the depths.
I sat down next to the photographer, mainly because my legs were shaking so much. I don’t think I could have stood up for much longer. I was drenched, frozen, and totally knackered - but insanely happy. When we got back to the hotel, the bottom of my net that the grayling had covered totally was measured at 63cm (25.5in). It could have been anywhere between 5lb and 6lb, but I’ll never know, and it really doesn’t matter. It was, without doubt, the grayling of a lifetime.