The title of this entry is a bit misleading although it says qualifier I could not have cared less, I have abandoned any ambition of making it into a European or World team. Of course that’s a whole other debate though, and as yet no one has asked my opinion so I shan’t offer it here. What entering the qualifier does do is give you access to (in my limited and humble opinion) one of the best stretches of river in the South of England. My river season has been short, in fact, it involved a day out with Del back in April and a couple of days on the Test with William and Adam. To be fair I have not really missed it as the Loch fishing has kept my fishing addiction well fed. I am fortunate enough to be fishing with two great mates and fellow Veterans in the Grayling festival and I owe it to them to at least get some time in on the river. Broadlands is only 45mins from the house and there is a McDonalds on the way….BOOM!
The first day I turned up it was very quiet with only one other angler on the river. We de-conflicted, Les went upstream and I would start at the bottom. The whole stretch of river to yourself, perfect! I drove down to the hut and car park by the bridge and parked up. I couldn’t resist the urge to drop into my favorite spot and quickly extracted a few ladies before e getting back to the task at hand. I started the walk down the well-kept banks noting the vast array of wildlife around me there was a lamentation of swans. A hawk fluttered above on the opposite bank searching out food and not another soul in sight. For the time of year, it was extremely mild and I was probably a little more wrapped up than I should have been. I could not muster the will to walk all the way down to the motorway bridge that marks the end of the beat so decided to just start fishing at the large gravel bars in a particularly wide section of the river. Small Grayling were plentiful but they were proving difficult to get with the double nymph. A change to the Duo and smaller flies produced good numbers of fish in the 20-25cm bracket. I got a little preoccupied enjoying the sport and lingered a little longer than I should on these small fish but they were just terrific fun. I moved up to a bigger and much deeper pool much better suited to the double nymph. In only my second run through the indicator dipped and I lifted into what I thought must have been a log. I made to start into the river to recover my flies when the line started to move in the murky depths I caught a glimmer of a huge tail and immediately thought big Brown…aye, really big Brown!
The fight was unhurried as the fish doggedly stayed deep. I had got all my spare line onto the reel and several times the fish just peeled line off the reel effortlessly. Fishing a 3# rod and 2lb tip I was pretty convinced the fish could flick its tail and smash me to pieces at any point. As I drew it towards the net my excitement grew, it was plain to see this was a Salmon. Jock Royan has spent some considerable time trying to get me into a Salmon on the mighty Spey with double and single handed rods to no avail. I always wondered what all the fuss was about with Salmon fishing and now I was finding out. As the fish approached the net it did not bolt away in fear like a brownie or a rainbow sometimes does. It simply decided not yet and cruised away, I wish I could have seen my own face as I am sure it would have been a picture of joy! After a lengthy fight and a couple of it’s going to snap moments I had the prize in the net. I looked around for a potential photographer but only a couple of swans eyed me with little regard. I did the best I could on my own wary of how long the fight had taken and got the fish back into the water. I dragged myself out the river buzzing…reaching for my phone, I phoned my wife at home excited and thrilled to bits. She was very pleased for me if not a little amused. I thought I would head back to the car and have a spot of lunch.
On the way back upstream I spotted a large shadow through a gap in the vegetation. Retreating a few steps I dropped all my kit keeping a hold of my double nymph rod. I removed the top dropper not wishing to spook the fish. A bow and arrow cast was needed as the fish was under a low tree, the first effort was of poor quality though and the fish would not move the three feet to even look at the fly. The next one was better though and the fish shot forward to engulf the offering. My rod was bent low under the tree and the fish fought hard in the surface before shooting out to the main flow of the river. A little more confident (I had just landed a salmon) in my kit I fought the fish hard and brought it to the net a nice conditioned 3lb trout. What a great end to the morning I thought but the morning had well gone and I was mostly into early afternoon. I sat on the bench by the car and hut not really hungry with thoughts of the salmon running through my head. I could only spare another couple of hours and it was spent picking away at a few Grayling. A fantastic day that will stay with me for a long time roll on Thursday.
The next day at work I felt a bit dicky and by around 1600hrs I could take no more and went home sick. I ended up dozing on the couch for much of the evening than going to bed, fishing looked doubtful the next day. Sure enough, I woke up and felt like I had been pulled through, no fishing today then! When I eventually emerged from my bed I phoned Jon Hall to let him know I would not make it he kindly said I could come the next day. Throughout the day I felt a little better and by about 1500hrs was confident that I would be on the river the next day.
The next day not a 100% but fit enough I made my way back to the river. I met up with Adam and Sean who were the first to arrive. We had a chinwag about the river and life in general, Adam and Sean wanted to look down I was intent on having a look upstream. As I left anglers were starting to arrive in numbers I quickly said some hellos and was off up to the top end. I have never done particularly well up to this end but thought I would give it a go. I parked up and strolled up the left-hand bank stopping when I spotted a number of fish in the margins. I eased into the water downstream of them they were only in around a foot or so of water and the Duo was the method of choice. Not big fish but very obliging the sport was thick and fast. I paused for a bit as Simon was showing Howard the beat we exchanged pleasantries and I cracked on having taken 7-10 fish in fairly short order I decided to move on. Everywhere you would think there would be Grayling there were, I dipped in here and there and would catch good numbers of measurable fish. I usually always just go and fish downstream from the fishing hut but I was coming round to the idea of going up this year. As I reached the upper limit of the beat I crossed the bridge and met Simon who had been working the other bank. He reported good numbers of better quality fish whereas I had only been getting the small stuff. I resolved to have a couple of casts where we stood talking and was rewarded with some truly exceptional ladies with a couple of the six or seven fish measuring well into the 40cm bracket. Not wanting to give them too much of a shoeing I left them be and moved downstream a bit. I was gutted to find another angler stood where I wanted to fish next, Malcolm was on the phone though and I hoped he might move through quickly and miss any hidden bounty that may be there. Unfortunately, he took three while on the phone and when he had finished his call stayed and really punished the shoal. My mind was pretty made up after that and I resolved to start there and have the fish at the bridge as my second spot. A plan made I walked back down mostly looking around with the occasional dabble here and there. I spotted Howard in the water where I had started and he reported great numbers of fish. Considering the boy could catch fish in a bucket with a hole in that means us mere mortals might get a few! I met Adam and Sean who had moved up from the bottom end they had not fared so well. I gave my report of the top end and we then all went back to the cars for a general chin wag and a bite to eat. It was grand to catch up and it is this part of the comp fishing that I still enjoy. Ben Bangham arrived from downstream obviously nursing his European hangover from long nights spent hard on the ale….PMSL Ben was in great form and we had a laugh catching up and getting our years mixed up time flies! I decided to spend my last hour down at the island and was surprised to have to go down to tiny dries to catch rather smaller than usual fish. This pretty much cemented my plan to go up stream the next day for the qualifier.
I got to the fishery bright and early already the car park was filling up. A lot more anglers than I was expecting had shown up a lot of the usual suspects from previous years had come. I was drawn in the morning with Mark Withyman as my controller. Perfect we drove up to the upstream car park and was first out the gates to get to my start point closely followed by a number of other anglers hot on my heels. How unfit have I got over the last few months….knackered I arrived at nearly the start of where I wanted to fish. One angler went fifty feet past me and set up their stall and the other one set his stall out fifty feet below me, boxed in and done up like a kipper! Well, at least I had 10’ of prime water to go at before I would have to move. It took a little while to settle but eventually, I found a little pod of really nice quality Grayling and took five or six out pretty quickly. Having little water to go at I decided to move up to the fish I had found the previous day passing three other anglers in the river my spot was just about OK to get in and not interfere with the other anglers. It was rather disappointing when I could not even tempt one fish from the stretch. So back to the start spot which was still free, I managed another one here. Before abandoning the lot and heading back down stream to look for some of the smaller fish. I moved back to the spot I had in mind fairly leisurely chatting with Mark as we walked down. As I recall we chatted through most of the session very relaxed and the whole event felt quite relaxed. I arrived at the new spot relieved not to see another pair of boots in my intended spot. I fished Duo through this are and managed to pick up another three fish to bring my total to 10. I missed a couple of offers and dropped a couple of fish but I was pretty pleased with how I had fished. When we returned to the lodge Cameron Craig had made hay in the morning session with a very impressive 28 good angling!
In the afternoon I had drawn Andrew Green we have controlled each other before on the Lower Itchen a few years back. On a day that was completely and utterly miserable fishing a chocolate brown river in the pouring rain. Today was a much better day though and I was sure Andrew would pull a few out. He opted to go downstream and after a slow-ish start, he did start to get the odd fish. The fish Andrew was catching were of a great stamp with a couple in the 40+ bracket. The sport was slow though and Andrew to his credit stuck to the task at hand only moving inside the last hour. He had moved up to an area that I have often started in the past and managed three decent fish in the last 30 minutes. After returning to the lodge I returned the score sheet and trough and said my hurried goodbyes to a few folks including Simon for his help with the organising. I had to be home and back out the door by 1830hrs for a family meal or suffer the pain of death.
I had seen the results on Sunday and was unsurprised that Howard had amassed a huge number of fish to win the event well done to Howard and Cameron on their success. I wish them both all the best for the final where ever that may be!