Del Spry arrived after an emotional drive from Carlisle, little did we know that folks would be travelling a lot further than that to fish the Grayling Classic. I can’t for the life of me think why you wouldn’t it’s the river Test after all. As a mere mortal not blessed with the big bucks fishing the Test is only possible through the Grayling fishing and the good will of others for me anyway. I had been looking forward to this for some time and it was great to be competing with Del. This is the first year it has been run as a pairs competition and the format was simple enough. There were six sessions the first being one hour thirty minutes and the remainder two hour sessions. From the six sessions, you fish three and control fellow competitors for the other three. The first fish is measured after that it’s a case of showing your controller that you have caught a Grayling and then release it back into the water, simples.
As Del had travelled a long way he was keen to cram it all in so the Thursday was spent hitting our favourite spots on the Test. It was a slow start but the day was not long in picking up and we caught nearly fifty fish between us. I fish for Grayling a lot on the Avon but the difference in the size of Grayling is significant. From the fish, we took in practice a good dozen were over 40cm. On the Avon, these kind of Grayling are rare on the beats I fish. Suffice to say Del and I were buzzing after our day on Broadlands. When we arrived home, Jayne had made us pie and mash and we both destroyed the meal in short order. A couple of drams and an early night it was all to be done again on the Avon the next day.
I have gotten to know the Amesbury beat very well and wanted to show Del as much of it as possible. You won’t be catching Moby Dick in these waters but there are plenty of Grayling in the 25-30cm bracket. Del set out to catch all of them and he nearly succeeded I think, we had nearly one hundred Grayling between us and had a ball. We finished up early to head back across to Romsey for the draw, I had to prise Del out the river with a crowbar. The organisers and sponsors had booked a local golf club for the occasion and this was ideal. The food that was laid on was very good and the draw was not a long drawn out affair you simply went up and picked a pack from the table that held all the details you needed for the next day. It was great to see so many people I knew, the Grayling guys are a friendly bunch and the banter though ferocious at times was a great fun.
So, to the meat of the thing Del and I were pretty happy with our beats and were to fish the first session. We had beat 7 in front of the fishing hut not too shabby, what was not so good was the weather. Storm Brian was a complete ****** !!! I don’t mind a bit of wind nor even a little rain, it’s all good but when the rain is like a monsoon and coming at you sideways not so much. When trees are coming down into the river next to anglers and that did happen you get the picture conditions were tough. The first session though not a complete disaster did not go as well as it might and we managed six fish between us but both felt we should have done better. I controlled Tim Wood in the second session and he pulled out a great result taking 12 Grayling in pretty horrific conditions.
After a spot of lunch, we were to control Spain 1 yep two teams had travelled from Spain to fish the comp. I was gutted for them to have come all this way and fish in less than ideal conditions. I met Juan Vazquez and spent the first five minutes trying to pronounce his name. He spoke little English and I spoke even less Spanish but I could tell by the way he was kitted out he was a serious angler. He fished a combination of double nymph and delicate duo the latter being somewhat challenging in the conditions. I did try to tell him that he was fishing too light for the wind but he persevered. It was a pleasure to watch him fish a very accomplished angler but inevitably the conditions undone him and he only managed one Grayling. His partner had taken several fish though and it is a team event so it was all good.
Del and I had practiced on this section on the Thursday and were pretty chuffed with it. We had a game plan on where to fish it and were hopeful of ten each for the session. I was to fish the high bank on the road side which had produced decent numbers on the Thursday. With no shelter and the wind still howling it was not easy to control the French leader. I watched as Del opened our account on the far bank taking two good Grayling. I was a bit surprised not to take a fish on my first run through. I changed to heavier flies and went through again for nothing. The beat had seen six other anglers that day and it must have taken its toll. Surely there would still be a few around willing to take a fly? It seemed not, for me anyway Del was holding the team up though with a superb performance. I was feeling the pressure and made for a hole that had produced a lot of fish on the Thursday. Nothing, nada, zip after wrapping my entire cast around a tree branch I had to withdraw to re-rig. After calming down I went back to a run I had fished through already. Miraculously I managed to hook a good Grayling not two foot from my feet to save my blushes.
Anyone that does competition fishing with teams will know the gut sickening knot you get in your stomach when you feel you have let your team down or in this case partner. I felt like a one-legged man in an arse kicking competition! Del reassured me that it was nothing to worry about and tomorrow was another day we had managed ten for the team and as it was we were sat in 10th place after the first day not bad from 28 teams. We were not quite sure how we could have been so high up but hey we’ll take it. When we got home, Jayne had laid on a full roast chicken dinner and we devoured it probably a little too fast……lol.
The Sunday was going to be a much more relaxed affair with only two sessions left to fish. We had drawn the last session and would have the benefit of watching another team fish the water. Del and I were to control two young Welsh lads Lee and Scott we met them at the beat and they rigged up ready to go. This was a great beat and even with the pressure from the previous day we expected decent numbers. The weather in the morning was lovely not so much wind and the Sun even put in an appearance. I was to control Scott and they began their session. Close together on the double nymph Lee was into a fish fairly quickly and this was soon followed by an out of season Brown trout which after a quick photo was safely released. The two hours went by so slowly, I think it always does when your controlling maybe different when you’re in the water. Scott fished extremely hard and was unlucky not to pick up a fish in his session.
Again, Del and I put our heads together and came up with a loose game plan. Del was going to target the small fish on the gravel and I was to cross the river to fish the water that had been untouched by Scott and Lee. We felt that ten each was a good target. Before I had even reached my spot Del was handing a fish to his controller. I got into the river at a spot that would produce a decent fish for the measure. Unfortunately, the first fish of the day was only 20cm it was the smallest fish I was to catch that day. The fish that followed though not huge were of a better stamp and I managed to land nine, Del had taken fifteen. Twenty-four for the team not too bad we thought we may have climbed a couple of places up the leader board. We headed back to the hut for a most welcome hog roast and a bit of craik with the rest of the boys the atmosphere was excellent plenty of fishy stories and funny antidotes about the weekend. It did not take too long for the results to be calculated and they were read out to the assembled masses. Ben Bangham and Adam Sinclair had won having stepped in at short notice when a team dropped out well done to them well deserved. Also of note were the Grayling Dreamers Hector and Cameron showing their quality with consistent performances across the three sessions. In third place were the dynamic duo who are Wet Your Knot, Adam and Julian great result and really chuffed for them. For our part Del and I had managed to retain our tenth place and we were happyish with that. More importantly we had enjoyed a fantastic four days of fishing, is that not what it’s all about?
Comp fishing is seeing a bit of decline in this country for various reasons that I won’t go into now. This kind of Comp fishing may turn that around, I hope so. It’s not my job to promote these guys and I am not one for blowing smoke up peoples’ arses but these folks have put a huge amount of effort into pulling this all together and I am sure I am not alone when I say I am deeply grateful for all the effort. In no particular order, Jon Hall, Adam Sinclair, Ben Bangham for the organising. The sponsors of the comp Costa (Ben Bangham), Funky Fly Tying (Toby Merigan) and Hunts Original (Tom Hunt). If I have missed some people please accept my apologies. Off course it would be nothing without the anglers who turned up and laughed their way through the bad weather and invariably caught a bucket load of fish.
This competition is going to get bigger and better every year and will soon be on the same level as the Grayling festival on the Welsh Dee. I would humbly suggest that if you want a fantastic weekend of Grayling fishing look for the dates of next year’s comp, grab a mate and get on the bus. In years to come this will have a list of people waiting to get on it!