The Grayling Festival needs no introduction if you fish for Grayling you will most certainly have heard of this competition. With the sad passing of Ken Bathers in September it was great to see others step up and continue to run such a prestigious competition. Hywel Morgan, whom I am sure has become a little greyer after this weekend and all the guys from the various clubs deserve a huge shout out. Unfortunately, these boys don’t dictate the river levels and we were to be in for a tough time of it. I drove up to join the rest of my team on the Wednesday evening through some pretty heavy rain.
Thursday morning the rain was still coming Graham Lumsdon (our standing team Captain) decided our time would be best spent walking the beats that we had no experience on. Del Spry and I concurred so we spent the day out in heavy wind and rain looking at a river on the rise and running at around 900. Despite the high level we identified a number of areas that fish may be grinded out. Time in reconnaissance is seldom wasted, this was really helpful but quite difficult the high winds had blown the beat markers from the posts. Using the map, we did manage to muddle through. Once dark fell we made our way back to the cottage for a slap-up meal and a few drams.
A few drams turned into a few to many drams, we had a great laugh tying up some flies and recounting old fishing tales. The next morning, we had a latish start the river had not fallen much though and was due to rise again. A bit more beat walking was on the cards for us and it was a much nicer day with a lot less wind and definitely less rain. It was good to be out in the fresh air to help clear our heads and we did dither whether or not to have a cast in the afternoon but decided seeing the water was more important. We jammed in as much as we could with the available light before heading to the Hand for the team Captains brief. The last few years we have taken turns at attending the meeting and this year it was Grahams turn. Del and I enjoyed some refreshments and a catch up with some old pals while we awaited our fate in regards beats.
Graham was a long time coming back even after I watched several other Captains return to their teams. The anticipation was exciting, a lot depends on the beats you draw and will dictate if you have the potential to do well. When Graham came back he seemed pretty pleased, its hard to tell he is from Northumberland it’s like trying to read Charles Bronson! The long and the short of it was we had good water and would be in the mix. Graham tied down our controllers and the team we would be controlling to come up with a travel plan. No detail escapes Graham and his planning and preparation are second to none. Before we left the Hand, he had contact telephone numbers for The Irish boys and the Belgium guys that would be controlling us.
Our first bit of water was A10 and Graham and I were to get the campaign started we were to be controlled by Chris Ringsietter. Anyone that feeds you a hipper full of Laphroaig Four Oak before you kick off your first session is a winner in my book. Chris was an American who lived in Germany but was fishing for Belgium Team 2 ……go figure! He was a real gentleman friendly, helpful and keen to learn. I hoped Graham and I would be able to show him a thing or two. The water at A10 looked peachy in fact we were rather spoilt for choice as to where to start. We had plenty of time though and decided a plan A, B and C.
Graham was into fish pretty quickly and had taken two fish to the bank in quick order. His progress was slowed though as he lost three fish in play on the bounce. I was mightily relieved to get my first fish it just settles the nerves a little and allows you to get into your stride. Graham and I worked hard and fish were coming fairly steady. We bounced down the plans we had agreed with only twenty minutes left we decided to split up Graham stayed in a little run while I returned to one of the other areas. I had half an eye on Graham and could see him bang out four fish in quick succession. Just as Chris was about to call time I struck into my last fish and knew it was decent. I ran downstream as best I could to get below the fish and let out a cry of relief when it slipped over the brim of my net. It was the biggest of the session for me at 41cm. A total of 16 Grayling was on the card but it could easily have been twenty with both of us losing fish in play. That’s fishing though, Chris did a grand job of controlling and we were both grateful to him for his efforts.
The next session I was to fish with Del on Beat B1, again as luck would have it we had plenty of time to look at our beat. It was a sweet beat and when we walked the river this was one of the ones on the wish list. I believe if the water was a little lower this may well have been one of the best beats on the river. In the high water though as soon as you got in you were up to your belly in river. It was a slow start for us and I was mightily pleased to see Del in at the bank getting his first fish measured. Our controller for this session was Oliver Degeorge a really friendly angler, no whisky on offer mind, Oliver if you are reading this do better next year ;-). Time was stretching on and Del and I were struggling a little I had caught my first fish but lost it in play in the heavy flow. The last thing I wanted to do was let Graham and Del down, I swear I willed the fish onto my hook and was so relieved to have not blanked. Del’s back must be killing him from carrying me this year. It took a while but Del eventually concluded that we had been standing where we should have been fishing. His insight made all the difference. Del fished his socks off and managed to take several more fish, I chipped in a little and we finished with eleven fish. More than a little disappointed considering the water we had.
The mood was a little sombre in the cottage and we speculated that we maybe in the top ten but probably just outside. When the results came out on FB we were chuffed that we were sitting in a strong position in 3rdplace. The top team (Belgium Spiders 3 place points) were a couple of points clear and we were equal on points with England Dunkeld with 5 place points. After that teams were out to eight points, we knew we had a reasonable beat for the last session. With our two strongest anglers fishing I was convinced we could hold onto 3rdplace. I was to control Ireland Micro Nymphs Tom O’Connor and Damian Walsh on the beat downstream. I walked up with my guys to their beat and had a look at the water, the word envy did not even cross my mind! The beat was hard to access and it looked like tough water. I could not have wished our fate to be in any more capable hands than Del and Graham though so I wished them good luck and went on my way downstream to meet Tom and Damian.
The Irish were in fine form and we had a right good laugh before the kick off. The boys were at each other with some ferocious banter and I had no problem joining in. Damian had rigged up with a Cortland rod 10’ 6” for a #3 it felt really nice. Tom was set up with a bigger stick that I would have been happy to use on Rutland…..lol. The beat may have been long but the boys only had about 100 yards of fishable water. It struck me very quickly after the start that these boys knew their business, both taking a fish in the first ten minutes. The sport was not fast and furious though and there were long periods of inactivity. Both guys lost fish in the strong current and there were a few words being uttered that my delicate ears are unaccustomed to hearing. Tom was getting a bit of success but around mid-day the water started to come up again and colour. They were sitting on nine fish with half an hour left, Tom was determined to get into double figures. There was a big smile on his face when he handed over fish number ten. With only minutes left Damian changed flies and managed another fish. I had just finished recording it when I looked at my watch just as Damian shouted he had another which he safely landed. Twelve fish was remarkable considering the conditions. I could only hope Del and Graham had fished a blinder.
We got back to the cars and Tom Davies who had controlled the boys came past and said thirteen. I was chuffed they had beaten the Irish boys but how had everyone else on the beat faired. The guys were a long time coming back exhausted from their efforts and the long trek back to the car. They clarified that they had only managed twelve fish and handed me the score card. The quickest of looks told me that the Irish had caught bigger fish and would have taken points from us. I could tell Del and Graham were really disappointed and it was a fairly quite drive back to the hand. The water had definitely come up and Graham told me that they were on twelve after an hour and a half. The other two hours despite every effort no more fish were added to the total, that’s tough to take.
We were probably one of the last teams to return to the hand and most had de-kitted and were standing in groups chatting away. It didn’t seem five minutes before we were being chased in for the buffet. I was not sure where we were going to finish but I would have been over the moon with top five. As the results were being read out third place was England Dunkelds’ Howard, Davie and Edgardo went up to receive their medals. I had been a bit spaced out and the next thing I knew Graham was telling me to get up. For a split second I thought it was a wind up and was more than a little surprised we had come second from 39 teams from across Europe. The Belgium Spiders had deservedly taken the top spot after fishing a out their skins, well done to them and all those that came to compete.
I count myself very lucky to have fished with Del and Graham and am well aware that I am the leg iron of the team. They have elevated me to do better and I am proud to call them team mates but more importantly friends. I hope that I made a few new friends over the weekend and it was great to catch up with some of the old ones too. Hywel, if you are up for doing this next year I hear that Grecian 2000 is much better nowadays ;-)