08-11 Sept 2018 Interservice Competition (Grafham Water)

Interservice is an annual competition held by the Army, RN/RM and the RAF usually held on Rutland Water! This year though the needs of the few outweighed that of the many and we were all going to Grafham! Not a bad thing if it was not for the fact that the A1 was shut all weekend and the team and I spent a not so pleasant time commuting back and forth from RAF Wittering. Not only did they shut a section of the road completely but there was also road works on a good stretch of the road. I dare say we will be back on Rutland next year. The troops had been on the water for some time before I arrived having fished a match against EFFA (England Fly Fishing Association). Having seen the results from the match I was really looking forwards to going.

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I was given a quick back brief from the match and an area to go and check Zone 4, after three hours I felt it should have been called the dead zone! One take between two boats after the swap over things did improve a little and Gurung and I got into some sport at last. No, some is a stretch I managed to get one and Gurung managed two one coming on the reel in just before lunch. I had been fishing the method that had scored so well on the EFFA Match but was failing miserably today. After a bit of a ging gang with the rest of the team we looked to start finding new methods. I switched to a floater with some wets and my day picked up a little, two more fish to the boat. Not exactly a fish fest but something to build on.

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After the day Sean our Vice-Captain was running around looking for some flies he had misplaced. It was the team’s top ten flies so he was a little concerned, I assured him any self-respecting individual would return the flies or at least ask around as to who they belonged to. I mean you would have to be lower than a snake’s belly to not return a fellow anglers flies! We had plenty to discuss at the team meeting and there were a few flies to tie after all we were down some. We ruled out some areas and came up with a plan for the next day. The fishing had not been easy but most of the guys had managed one or two fish.

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I was to share a boat with Arron and we were given what was generally perceived as the best area. With conditions overcast and a good ripple on the water I opted to start with a floater. Third cast in I took a fish straight of the top, things were looking up the next drift Aron managed a fish and another shortly after. Perhaps it was coming on……lol. The lunch time meeting was a sombre affair the odd fish had been caught but it was pretty hard going. There seemed to be no consistency to the methods or the fly patterns. We were not alone both the RAF and the Navy reported the same thing. It was so bad the Captain let us come off the water early.

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The meeting that evening was good and we had a plan and a couple of methods. Everyone knew that numbers were going to be low and it would be pure work ethic and concentration that would make the difference. After a compassionate case for one of the Navy Associates there was a little confusion on the morning of the match but this was swiftly sorted out by Paul Calvert. I was to fish with Ian Whiteside, we have fished together on a few occasions and it has always been a grand day. Ian gave up the engine having a back injury he did not want to compound the problem. He was not to bothered where we went so we headed (with the rest of the boats) over to the North shore.

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It was tough going opportunities were few and far between, Ian took the first fish and I have to admit I had a feeling it may well be the only fish we would see today. I was working my little socks off trying to will a fish onto my cast. The thing of it was if I was to describe conditions for a great fishing day this would be it. My efforts eventually paid off and I managed a fish on the hang, I played it like it was going to be my only fish, funny that. When I got it into the boat I was chuffed I had saved my blushes but disappointed that it would not have fed a small child. It weighed in at 1lb 4oz but it was a fish, there were other opportunities as well. I had a small Perch and had a hook straightened out by a fish. Ian to had his mix of luck. While scratching his head (we both did a lot of that) his rod buckled over but he lost that fish. Later he hooked another that failed to make it to the boat.

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Looking around everyone was struggling but the guys were working incredibly hard and I thought we were doing quite well. There was some great communication between the team and everyone passed on what little information there was available. I saw Andy Everett and he was doing amazingly well and had managed six fish. It was a bugger of a day and catches were low, Keith Jones had the top bag with eight fish a phenomenal effort a couple of sixes followed that then the odd ones and twos. The good news was it was going to be a bit windier the next day, oh wait that’s not good news!

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The team meeting was a little subdued the RAF had put in a big shift and their team had averaged three fish a man. We were about fourteen fish of the mark, not unsurmountable but with the wind getting up the next day it was a big ask. I was going to share a boat with Colin Fairs, again we have fished together a few times and up until today always had a great day with lots of fish and lots of laughs. Colin was happy to go on the point, he also has a bad back. It seems like all the RAF boys have bad backs I think it may be due to them being on them most of their careers…..lol mostly in five star hotels. He was content that we were going to hit the North shore the wind did not look too bad.

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Ready for the big one!

We were kidding ourselves on though, don’t get me wrong if the fish are in the washing machine then I am all over it. The conditions were borderline dangerous though and after one drift that lasted about five minutes we made our way back across the water. I had to leave as Colin was crying like a small girl, Colin had not even bothered casting a line but had at least managed to put his rod together. We set up a drift at the Seat it was like a different water and we were encouraged when we saw a few fish moving. After a couple of drifts, I caught one, I don’t know who was more surprised Colin, me or the fish! Anyway, it was a much better-looking fish than the sprat from the day before. That put us on an even number in the Associates competition. We were both getting a bit of interest and felt like we were fishing properly.

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After drifting nearly half way Colin declared that we had come too far and said “I will just rip this in and we can go back”. Boom, the line tightened up and Colin was into a lump of a fish. He played it well and it soon was in the net, a cracker and what a tail. We saw some fish being taken further out and again we had little bit of interest here and there but nothing to hang our hats on. The wind was dying and I suggested going back to the Tower on the North shore. It was perfect and some wind lanes were starting to form. For the first time in four days the fish started to behave normally they were in the edges of the wind lanes and Colin took two fish one after the other on one drift.

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Time was getting short now as we were coming off the water at 1600 but the fishing was actually starting to pick up. We were both getting a fair amount of interest now with follows and takes, converting them was a different matter though. Colin mentioned that he saw a flattening of a ripple and cast towards it, his line straightened and a fish splashed on the surface. I launched my flies in the same direction while watching Colin play the fish while whispering fall off, fall off under my breath. If he landed this Eric (my fellow associate) and I would be sunk. Concurrently my line locked up and now we were both playing fish, I started muttering stay on, stay on under my breath….lol. We both landed our fish and were trying to get as many casts as possible in before the end both knowing that if it stayed the same it would come down to the scales Eric had fished superbly and managed three fish while his partner was on a donut. It was going to be close, I had enjoyed a great day out with Colin and we spent most of the day laughing, just how it should be.

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When we came in it was heartening that all the team had caught at least one fish it was well deserved after such a hard few days. The RAF had put in another solid performance though and their retrieval of the Interservice Trophy seemed assured. It’s always disappointing losing such a hotly contested competition but the guys took it well. I was not very confident that we would win the associate match after catching such a small fish the day before but Eric and I would have to wait and see. It was back for a scrub up and dress up for dinner at the Normanton Hotel.

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The meal was very good and the company was excellent we had such a laugh on our table and really made a night of it. Before the final results were announced there were a few new colours handed out to RAF rods we had done ours in the morning. Another point of note was Paul Calvert handing over his Captaincy to Sean Hanlon to take the team into 2019. Also, the RAF said an emotional goodbye to Phil Thomas after his 20thInterservice competition. Phil is one of the real gentlemen on the circuit he has been at the pinnacle of services fly fishing competing for the Fish Hawks and the Welsh lochstyle team on a regular basis he will be sorely missed by the RAF and warmly welcomed to the RAF Grey Lags.

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The results of the Associate competition came as a bit of a surprise to me anyway. Eric and I had managed to win it at the scales. Condolences to Colin and Ian, the main event was won easily by the RAF. That’s unfair to say really as they had to work incredibly hard to get fish but they stuck to their guns fishing some very familiar patterns and consistently caught fish over the two days. A big well done to them, the Army followed up in second place with the Navy retaining the wooden spoon.  

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The RAF had it so sorted Phil wore all his hats!

Grafham is a water on the very edge of exploding into action. It showed a glimmer of potential in the last hour of our match. I hope it comes to life for all those fishing in the English National this weekend. If it does I think you can expect some great top of the water sport. Good luck to all those competing as for me my attention will be turning to focus on the lady of the stream. This is a lochstyle season I am glad to see the back off.