Grayling - Thymallus Thymallus

About the Grayling.
It has not been easy to categorise the grayling or the "lady of the stream" as she is also referred to. On the one hand, the presence of an adipose fin is a characteristic of the salmonidae group, which includes salmon, trout and chars; whilst on the other, grayling spawn at the same time as coarse fish, which lead some people to consider them so.

The grayling is a game fish and belongs to the salmonidae subfamily - Thymallinae. It may spawn during the late spring months as all coarse fish do, yet the small adipose fin located just before the forked caudal fin confirms its status as a true salmonid.

Grayling Identification

The grayling is a stunning fish with an array of vibrant colours on its flanks and fins that make it stand out from other species. Its most unique and distinguishing feature is its sail-like dorsal fin, which measures almost the same height as its actual body. The fin is a colourful mixture of purple, orange, red and metallic blue, which it raises either when panicked or when courting a female.

The grayling's body is nicely streamlined with rough scales, silvery flanks and back that are dotted with random black spots. The parr are silver with a greenish hue and have greenish blue markings along their side, typical of their age. These parr markings disappear as they mature.

The adipose fin, characteristic of a salmonid, is small, fleshy and a mixture of grey and blue with a brown tip.

The body of the grayling narrows just before the caudal fin, which is large and forked. The tail is a blue - grey shade that darkens around the edges. The anal fin is fairly large and positioned under the adipose fin. It is also a steely-blue colour.

In contrast to the bluish grey shades of the fish, the pectoral and pelvic fins are a brownish orange shade and are both convex in shape.

The head is small, as is the mouth. It has a protruding top lip, common to all bottom feeders, and both jaws contain a small set of teeth.

The grayling has quite distinguishing eyes that are fairly large with a bright golden iris and an egg-shaped pupil.

Grayling Habitat

Out of all the fish common to UK waters, the grayling is most susceptible to temperature changes and levels of pollution. For this reason, this fish will only be found in the cleanest of waters.

Grayling love fast-flowing, clean, well-oxygenated, cool streams and are most commonly found in the upper and middle courses of a river but never in its lower course.

Grayling are only found in a handful of still water systems in the UK; Lake Bala in North Wales being one of the very few.

This fish also favours beds with gravel, small stones or sandy bottoms. During the summer months you will find grayling in the fast-paced shallow streams where they are able to intersect insects as they travel downstream on the fast-flowing current.

When the weather changes and the temperature begins to drop, grayling, who usually travel in large shoals, will move to deeper waters such as pools where the temperature is warmer. During this part of the year they very rarely venture to the surface and if they do they don't stay there for very long.

Grayling are always found in rivers such as the Test or Severn where there are brown trout present and favour chalk and limestone streams as well as freestone rivers.

Grayling are located all over Europe, mainly in the mountainous regions, with huge species being found in the Scandinavian countries. They are found in river systems up and down England and Wales with fewer in Scotland and none in Ireland.

Natural Grayling Food

The young grayling starts out feeding on the remains of its yolk sac for approximately the first month of its life. It then graduates to plankton and small invertebrates that it can find nearby on the bottom of the gravel bed.

Grayling grow rapidly and for this to be possible they have to feed constantly.

Their favourite food is cadis larvae and other aquatic and terrestrial insects and larvae. They are also keen on shrimps, mayfly, nymphs, worms, crustaceans, molluscs, and just about anything else that they can find on the river floor, although during the summer months they will rise to the surface to pluck hatching flies.

Large specimens of this species are known to feed on small fish and fry.

Grayling Reproduction

Although the grayling is a salmonid, it does not spawn at the same time as other members of this family. The spawning period for the grayling is in sync with coarse fish species such as chub or roach, although it varies depending on location and water temperature.

In rivers situated in the north of England grayling may begin to reproduce as late as May or early June, however further down south, this procedure can start as early as February or March.

As with other members of the salmon family, grayling dig nests called "redds" in which they deposit numerous eggs that are then fertilised by accompanying males, who by this point are parading around with their dorsal fin sky-high.

The eggs will hatch within a month and the fry stay in their nests for the first month feeding off their yolk sac.

By the first year a grayling parr has often reached a length of between 4 and 5 inches (10 - 13cm). By the age of 3 it is mature enough to spawn.

The Grayling's Vital Statistics

  • Average weight: 7oz - 10oz (198g - 284g)
  • Average length: 12 inches (30cm)
  • Specimen weight: anything over 2lb (0.9kg)
  • Life-span: approximately 6 years although can live much longer in the wild
  • Current UK record: 4lb 4oz 8 drams (River Frome, Dorset)

Rivers with big grayling include:

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