River Master - Grayling - Part 1

River Master Series The Grayling. Ok, so we are going to start this series of articles on the Grayling by describing what the fish is, what it looks like, where it lives and what type of water it prefers to live in. This first part is a little bit heavy on the factual side, but we thought that to do the subject justice, we really wanted to give the best background we can and hope that this will set the standard for future articles.

The Grayling

The grayling (Thymallus) is a species of freshwater fish in the salmon family Salmonidae. It is the only species of the genus Thymallus (the graylings) native to Europe, where it is widespread from the United Kingdom and France to the Ural Mountains in Eastern Russia. The generic name Thymallus derives from the Greek θύμαλλος, "thyme smell", derived from the smell of thyme that freshly caught Grayling smell similar to. The European Grayling (Thymallus thymallus) is the type species of its genus.

There are 6 commonly known species of Grayling:

  • European Grayling - Thymallus thymallus
  • Arctic Grayling - Thymallus arcticus
  • Baikal Grayling – Thymallus baicalensis
  • Kosogol Grayling - Thymallus nigrescens
  • Mongolian Grayling - Thymallus brevirostris
  • Amur Grayling - Thymallus grubii grubii

The grayling we will concentrate on in this series of articles is the European Grayling (Thymallus thymallus) and in all future text we will refer to this just as the Grayling.

The Grayling is a slender silver fish with a large "sail-like" dorsal fin and a relatively small mouth. A grayling's upper jaw projects slightly beyond the lower jaw. It prefers cold, clean, running water (but can be found in brackish waters in far Northern Europe). Technically the Grayling is identified as follows:

“The Grayling has four to five rows of red and black spots on an iridescent background on its large dorsal fin. The presence of 5–8 dorsal spines and 3–4 anal spines, which are absent in the other species.”

Grayling are distributed throughout the UK and Europe, they reached British rivers when it was connected to continental Europe. Their native distribution and genetics reflect dispersal from continental Europe at a time when the rivers on the east coast of England flowed into the Rhine. Some of the best Grayling fishing in the UK can be found on the river Clyde in Scotland, where they were introduced in 1855.

Facts & Figures

As far as facts and figures go, in the UK the grayling generally grows to a maximum length of around 60 cm and a maximum recorded weight in the UK of 2kg (roughly 4lb 8oz), the current UK record is held by Simon Ellis at 4lb 8oz and was caught on 18th Feb 2019 in the River Frome. Grayling have been recorded as living for up to 14 years.

Habitat and Food

The Grayling likes well-oxygenated water with a neutral or slightly alkaline PH value, this makes the limestone and chalk streams of England an ideal environment for them.

The Grayling is an omnivore and feeds on vegetable matter, as well as small shrimps/scuds, insects and spiders, zooplankton, and smaller fishes, such as minnows. Having an upper jaw which protrudes over the lower means the Grayling is ideally suited to bottom feeding and this is where 99% of their food is taken from.

Grayling spawn from March to early May, this may be one reason they are generally not associated with the traditional game fish, they really come into peak condition in the Autumn and Winter months. The Grayling grows very rapidly in its first few years as can be seen from this chart (taken from the excellent book on the Grayling by William Carter Platts):

  Average Weight (oz) Average Length (inches)
First Year 2 6.25
Second Year 9 11.25
Third Year 17.5 14
Fourth Year 23 15.25
Fifth Year 27 16.25
Sixth Year 30 17


Grayling are generally a shoal fish and seem to enjoy each other’s company; this only changes during the warmer months when they disperse around the river system.


Despite being a member of the salmonid family the grayling was persecuted for many years by riverkeepers in the mistaken thought that they competed with native species to their detriment i.e. Trout and Salmon. The Grayling Society (www.graylingsociety.net) was formed to promote and conserve the Grayling as a true, wild, game fish.


  • The Grayling Society (www.graylingsociety.net)
  • Grayling Fishing by William Carter Platts