As many an angler will testify, there are few fish as impressive as a big grayling. But while most of us feel blessed with a fish of two pounds, Simon Ellis made history in 2019 with an incredible fish of 4lbs 8oz to set a new British record. Angling Trust blogger Dominic Garnett caught up with him to find out more about this amazing fish and to glean a few tips for any hopeful specimen hunter looking for the “Lady of the Stream” this winter.
It’s not every angler who can say they hold a British Record. How does it feel?
Very special! I fished hard in the mid to late 80s chasing record barbel, roach and chub. I was fortunate to live in Dorset at the time and had access to two great rivers that could have, and did, throw up barbel and roach records. I guess I always dreamed of a ‘record’ fish but never imagined that it would be a graying on the fly!
Were you actively seeking out a record, or was it more of happy coincidence?
To be honest, no. I was asked by my lifelong friend and fishing partner, Dave Prevett, if I would like to join him for a day’s guided fishing with John Bailey on the river, to celebrate his birthday. So it wasn’t planned but to share it with my mate was brilliant.
What do you remember most vividly about the capture itself? Could you quite believe it?
What I remember is two things. Firstly, it was a cold, frosty day and we had fished hard from early on with no indication that they were feeding and my thoughts were turning to the journey home, some 150 miles!
Secondly, Dave and I had walked upstream looking for good-looking water and we had identified two likely spots. Dave suggested that I fished the downstream area whilst he went upstream a couple of hundred yards to a bit he fancied, so I have a lot to thank him for. The water was very coloured so there was no way of knowing if anything was in front of us. It just looked right; a deep glide which shallowed up at the tail.
What I remember about the capture itself was seeing the line just hesitate, which was enough for me to just tighten up, and then thinking I had hooked the bottom (again!) until it moved! My Sage SLT 4wt at this point was bent through to the cork, but the fish had not shot downstream so I was reasonably confident it wasn’t a big trout. My thoughts then started turning to a big grayling – but how big? I knew I was in a ‘big fish’ area but this fish was holding in the current like no other grayling I had hooked before! Slowly I bullied it towards me by which time my fishing partner had come to my aid and then we had the discussion as to which one of us would be on net duty. Dave was happy to take the responsibility until the fish rolled on the surface in front of us! At this point, I remember making some reference to a “horse” and Dave looked suitably worried but manfully kept the net and did a beautiful job of slipping it under this magnificent fish as it glided across the surface. In it went first time, and I just stood there, mouth open, gazing at a truly huge Grayling. I knew at that time it would go close or even beat the British Record, but had to wait for John Bailey to turn up to weigh and witness the fish.
Grayling of any size are beautiful fish. That huge fish must have been quite something! Could you believe it?
Funnily enough, I have caught many prettier Grayling. This fish was very dark and had a split dorsal. It had been around for a while I’m sure. However, its sheer size and breadth of shoulders made this fish breathtaking!
Do you think your record is safe, or is there another twist in store?
Very few records are safe these days with the possible exceptions of Georgina Ballantine’s Salmon, but look what is happening in the Barbel scene at the moment. Also I think it is good to chase these fish and challenge yourself. Personally, my goals have changed generally – I fish for peace and quiet, in beautiful surroundings, with a couple of mates I have fished with for over 40 years. If a big fish comes along, that’s great but if I catch small fish, then that is great too. Provided I have fished well, I’m happy.
Grayling are notoriously quite short lived and fast growing. Any idea how old your fish was?
No – I didn’t take a scale sample as I was concerned about getting it back in the river as quickly as possible to minimize the distress. The welfare of the fish must be a priority.
What advice would you give anyone trying to catch their dream grayling?
I’m not big on offering advice to other anglers, most of your readers will know how to get grayling and there are lots of great books and articles out there. I think it is important to have goals but I have seen too many anglers burn out and leave the sport after chasing dreams. My thoughts would be:-
- If big fish are your aim or even records, fish in the right areas. You can’t catch what isn’t there. Among the very best rivers in the country are the Dorset Frome and the River Irfon in Wales- although Scottish rivers such as the Nith now produces some huge grayling, too.
- Rivercraft is a vital skill – learn to read the water in front of you. For coarse anglers, one important lesson is not being afraid of the current. Grayling love a good, steady “walking pace” water. Any creases or areas where shallow water deepens off are especially likely.
- Keep it simple! Grayling don’t tend to need very complicated tackle. Much of the battle in the winter is in presenting your fly or bait at the right depth- so try changing this before changing your offering. A lot of the best these days are caught on long rod and “tight- line” tactics.
- Keep it fun. While it’s lovely to catch a specimen fish, never let this diminish the enjoyment of your fishing. If you fish well and learn to read the water, sooner or later you will get that better stamp of fish. There’s no substitute for experience and time on the water.
Further record fish reading!
For further specimen fishing tips and amazing stories from the British Record Fish list, make sure you check out our previous blog posts. These include a mini species special and the incredible tale of Britain’s biggest barbel, as well as some wise words from the BRFC’s own Nick Simmonds who has some great tips for targeting bigger fish and recording them accurately.