I have reined in my competition fishing quite a bit the last few years but the AW is a bit special and I was very pleased to be selected to fish for the Soldier Palmers in this the first round. An early heat promises of plenty sport were greatly anticipated. We were going mob handed to this event and the Federation decided to enter two teams and it was decided that we would work together and pool our shared knowledge. The weather looked pretty reasonable for the time of year so everything was set and it couldn’t hurt that it was only two weeks away from the Kit Kat cup!
We were taking two days practice to help build a rounded picture of how the water was fishing. The first day I was to fish with Jamie Nairn who I have had the pleasure of fishing with in the past. We had been given the task of checking out the main basin, my personnel favourite! After a couple of hours of not so much sport and being caught by a squall from out of the blue we were a little discouraged with our lot. That’s team fishing though you get a job and you have to crack on. The other boat that was helping us in the basin that contained Peter Harrop and Ben Worley had fared much better. After we watched them desperately pushing themselves of the dam (lol) we managed a quick chat. They had done pretty well which was good to hear, we managed a few more drifts before realising we were late for lunch and the team half time talk. With only six or seven fish to the boat Jamie and I were not exactly cock a hoop. When we eventually got to our flotilla the numbers that were being banded around of fish catches seemed more than a little exaggerated. They must have been using secret flies or fancy new lines surely, but no. Using the same or nearly the same shit as us they were catching fish for fun. As it was quite a late lunch there were only a couple of fishing hours left and Jamie and I were given free rein to go and catch some fish. We decided to head up the North as far as Barnsdale Road end then just bounce down the bank. This is what Rutland should be like this time of year, brilliant! At one point once you cast out you couldn’t get your flies back without a hungry trout engulfing them. Wading through Brown trout fun though it was not going to cut it on match day though. Motoring back in at least Jamie and I had gotten a shot of moral down our throats and were keen to get back on it the next day.
Practice day two saw me in the boat with my old mucker Del Spry more used to fishing for exotic fish abroad of late this must have seemed a bit ho hum. We were asked to go check some of the far reaches of the water and were both pleasantly surprised to find a rather large head of fish. They were a mixed bunch with Brown trout and Rainbows all in the mix. It was however uncanny that Del would catch only Rainbows and I could only get hold of the Brown Trout! We spent the morning doing the various tasks we had been given by the Captain dropping into various areas some good some not so much. Then it was back to the dock for some lunch and a quick catch up with the rest of the troops. The afternoon saw the wind decline to a near flat calm and we were given weapon’s free to go where we liked. We had both rigged up floaters and teams of buzzers and what an afternoon we had. The takes were just superb, the fish were slamming the flies so hard that I marvelled why I had not been snapped off more. It would have been tempting to stay out and enjoy the fishing more but we both knew that we would be wanting these fish the next day.
The match day weather forecast looked good light winds to start but get a bit windier later. There were some top teams on show and when signing in I recognised many of the anglers on the sheet. It was going to be a tall order getting through this level of competition our old rivals the Fishhawks were there, like us with two teams entered. Also, Ian Barr’s Team Costa had brought along another team to support the heat. I have seen competition participation dwindle over the years for one reason or another so supporting the likes of the AW has become even more important.
I had drawn a fellow Scot, Murray Hunter from the Costa B Team, he had drawn the engine so I waited in the pointy end for him to arrive. Before I could clap eyes on him though our team capt wanted a last-minute chat before going out and after that Jon Marshall was ready to give the match brief. The rules were to be a four fish kill which could include one Brown trout. After this ten, Rainbows could be caught and released on barbless or de-barbed hooks. A fourteen-fish bag was a big target but the fishery was in top form so well achievable. As we motored out into the harbour Murray and I discussed where we were going to fish, Murray was keen to head down the Normanton bank but I knew options down there would be limited and we finally agreed at a trip up the North arm. A lot of boats headed in this direction and I was more than a little surprised when almost all of them kept going and left Ernies point. This had been a real hot spot the previous two days and it would be rude not to give it some attention. I had started off on a pulling rig but as the wind was so low it was very quickly replaced with a floater with four buzzers. The change brought almost instant success. The first fish was quickly to the boat and I watched Si Gaines boating fish just a little down from me. We went back around and again the line was ripped from my hand as I yanked line into the bottom of the boat the fish was having none of it and bolted for the middle of the basin. I exclaimed that I must have a double shooter (two fish on the same cast) in the hope Murray would help out if I was fortunate enough to get the fish back to the boat. It was so strong that it towed the boat around on the drogue. After what seemed like a long time I eventually got the fish to the net it was a cracker, a Rainbow of what I thought was around the 4lb mark.
A great start to the day more fish followed unfortunately some fell off but still forty-five minutes in and sitting on three fish, not too bad. So, I thought until Del motored by me indicating that he had managed six! I also caught up with Jamie who was on eight. A change was in order back to the pulling and the change brought the required result and I was getting back on track. As the day moved on I had built a steady bag and by about 1240 I was sitting well poised on eight fish. I looked to my left and saw Jamie Thomas still getting into the fish. It was only going to be a matter of time, the follows and takes were still coming but I failed to convert my chances. Almost an hour later I looked across to watch Jamie net his last fish, good angling. I confirmed that he had not changed his method and went around again. I worked the area for longer than I should have and by the time it had dawned on me to move we were the only boat left. A schoolboy error on my part, as the time grew short I was wracking my brains what to do next! We had a trip across to the other bank in a bid to fish buzzers but the wind had us every which way. Desperation was setting in I had been stuck on eight fish for about three hours.
A move down the bank and I met up with our team Captain Sean Hanlon. He was in the same boat as me but he did give me the good news that one of our comrades Ronnie Christie had also finished. This spurred me on and after a couple of attempted drifts of the bank that were doomed due to the wind we moved to the front of the Peninsular for the last hour. I had gotten into a bit of a state with my cast and tied on my spare trace. Change of trace change of luck I took two fish really quickly but time was running out. I was back in the groove now though and I brought fish to the boat regularly but they failed to take the flies the ones that did were on only for a moment before coming off. Time was up for Murray and I and we called it a day and started to head back to the dock. In the normal run of things, I would have been overjoyed with ten fish but I knew I had dropped the ball and hope that my team mates had done enough to pick up the slack. When I got back we had managed four limits a ten and eleven a great effort. It was going to be close though as a few teams had managed the full house. As the results were announced I was mighty relieved that my errors had not punished the team. We had scraped in in 5th spot, so onto the Northern final! Rutland can be a cruel mistress sometimes but it had been extraordinarily kind to us the last three days are some of the most memorable fishing I have had at Rutland at this time of year. Let’s hope it’s the herald to a fantastic season ahead.