Where to start…. Thank you to Simon Lucas who secured this stretch of river last year for a qualifier which was a huge success. This year saw that change rewarded with a massive turn out of anglers on the match day. I was always only going to enter this qualifier, not with any ambition of going to the final again but simply to get access to what is arguably the best grayling fishing in the country. A bold statement given the fantastic rivers we have in the UK, but for size and quality of fish, I think you would be hard-pressed to find better. However, if you think you have somewhere better I would be more than happy to come and give it a go ;-).
I was going to share my two practice days with my good friends Graham Lumsdon and Del Spry. Graham freshly returned from Portugal had already traveled South and was staying in Arborfield. Del was going to get up early and drive down from Carlisle, mad for it! I picked Graham up and the day was warm enough but with a dark sky. We were surprised that there were no other anglers around, so we tackled up and headed downstream. Del was going to give us a bell when he arrived. We started at a spot I had fished last year and it was not long before the sport began. After four or five casts the first grayling of the trip was safely in the net. Graham had moved upstream a little and was beginning his campaign in fine fashion taking some nice fish from a hole behind the island. We had not fished long before the call had come in from Del, so we popped back to collect him. We had managed seventeen between us by this point and Del was keen to get started. After setting up we set off back downstream and took about fifty yards of water each. It was not long before Del was off the mark. Bringing his first fish to the net, it was not long before many more followed. The fish were of a reasonable size but not as big as some of the beasts that had showed themselves the year before. We stopped for a cup of coffee and some lunch kindly provided by Graham. After this Graham gave Del a little coaching session on the Froggie method and it must have done some good as Del pulled out several fish in short order. I was struggling a bit myself and had lost two good fish in heavy water, both times the fish pinged the hooks which ended their service in a tree. The boys eventually pulled themselves away from the fish and daundered up the bank to see how I was going. Not so good was my cry, never mind.
The boys eventually pulled themselves away from the fish and daundered up the bank to see how I was going. Not so good was my cry, never mind let's go up the top. The top of the beat had produced a huge bag of fish for Ben Bangham the previous year and not much had changed. The sport was frantic……for Del and Graham! I for the life of me I could not even buy a take. It took a little time but eventually, I started to catch a few fish, not for the first time today the boys come trotting up regaling me with stories of loads of fish, bastards! Oh well might be my turn next time, we were going to give the top a longer look the next day so we wandered back down for another roll and cuppa. It is always grand to catch up and we chewed the fat a bit before wandering downstream to show Del a bit more of the river. I wanted to try the opposite bank to where I had begun my day; I was fairly convinced there would be a few fish there for me. Del was just above me and Graham had dropped in below. I had luckily got into the prime spot and fish came quickly good quality 30-35cm grayling and within twenty minutes I had taken eleven to the net and bumped several others. I also hooked what I think was either a good brown or possibly a salmon which tore line from my reel before ejecting the hook. A nice way to finish up for the day, it had grown very dark and was difficult to fish. So we set off for home, Del and Graham to Arborfield and myself back to Camberley. Only an hour in good traffic, this was not too bad.
I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed looking forward to another days sport. On the way to the fishery in a world of my own, I missed the M27 junction, I do despair of myself at times, little did I know this was the tip of the iceberg! I have always been a little OCD about timmings so I had left the house so early that even after my tour of the Southampton docks I was still at the fishery gates by 0730hrs. I had planned to get a couple of nice landscape pics but the light was rubbish so I just started to sort through a few flies for the day. I was wandered up and set up as Graham and Del arrived. I had already been chatting to the organiser Simon, who was asking my opinion on the rule changes he had implemented. Be careful what you ask for, I don’t like to offer my opinion as I often don’t know when to stop! Anyway enough of that, it wasn’t long before the boys were ready and we hiked up the road to the top of the beat. I fished the left-hand bank opposite Del and Graham dropped below. It was not long before I watched Del hook into a substantial fish, no grayling this a salmon to be sure his three weight rod buckled over under the strain. The fight went on for some minutes and after much thrashing about near the net, I saw Del hanging his head in disgust. The fish had snapped the leader and took his flies to boot. It was hard to feel sorry for Del though as once he had re-rigged he proceeded to rip grayling out of the water hand over fist. Graham was having a good time below me and I heard the shout for the camera!
Graham had caught his first ever salmon on the fly, that’s still one more than me buddy. It was a stunning fish its spots nearly disappeared. I wandered back up to my rods and fishless run yes again I was catching the square route of f**k all. I abandoned the area and moved down the bank on the other side where I had started to get into fish the previous day. Over an hour later and I had still not caught a fish! This is a river that if you threw a stone into the water you are liable to knock a grayling on the head. Several admin disasters later flies in trees missed opportunities and I was threaders. I got out of the river and decided to re-rig and go and try somewhere else. I had not walked twenty yards and thought I would try a cast from one of the many platforms into a deep run, doing all the wrong things standing directly above the fish I did not even bother to get on my knees. Pretty thin, I know so you can imagine how surprised I was when the rod went over and a nice plump grayling came to the net, off the mark super! The next dozen casts produced
seven good fish one of which was in the 45cm bracket. So my frown was turned the other way up and all was well with the world again. I walked down the bank trying the other platforms for not much the odd one here and there. I had wandered down to the island when I noticed a few fish rising. Time to give the duo a bash, the results came quick and in no time I had three fish to the net. Graham and Del had come down the other bank and were indicating it was time for lunch. After a bite to eat we headed to other bits of the water to see if we could extend our options so to speak. The fishing was outstanding in the afternoon and the whole river seemed to fish its head off even in areas you would not expect. So a cracking day in the end and the match to look forward to on Saturday. I had worked on Friday so would have little time for tying or prep, luckily the afternoon was a bit slow and I had the opportunity to sort out my kit ready to go for the next day, you know the thing checking your reels and leaders sorting flies into a short list so you don't waste time. That done I was able to relax at home with the family, I had stuck my kit in the car all ready for the next day…….or so I thought.
I am too ashamed to tell what ridiculously early hour I woke, suffice to say the fox was still rifling through my bins when I left the house. I had a leisurely drive down the M3 stopping for a costa packet and a nose round the magazines in WH Smith to kill the time. Eventually I got to the barrier at the fishery at around 0730hrs. I thought I would set my rods up early so I could have a blether with my fellow competitors and thats when I found out I was a monkey’s arse. No tackle bag I looked in the back seat in case I had put it there, nope, was it behind my wet box nope! The full impact was still yet to dawn on me as I often stick my comp pouch in my wet box but no I had packed that neatly into my tackle bag. It was too late to return home and retrieve it, so I phoned Graham who was on route with Del and he assured me we could muddle through. I literally had my waders, rod and a net but I was offered kit from fellow anglers to get me through the day. A special thanks to Rob Brown, Del Spry and Graham Lumsdon who had tied me a couple of killers to be going on with and lent me various bits and bobs to muddle through. Del had drawn an afternoon session so was happy to lend me his reel. I was content just to set up the one rod and resigned to the fact that it was going to be up hill from here. I had Stephen Caeser as my controller, new to comp fishing, my first pearl of wisdom…..don’t forget your kit! Stephen was not so much interested in comp fishing but wanted to simply improve as an angler. So why Simon gave him to me is a mystery! There was plenty time in the morning so we strolled downstream at a leisurely pace chatting about Stephens trip to the Czech Republic. All to soon it was time to make a start. It took me a little time to get used to the set up I was fishing with and I was a little surprised that I had not had a take after ten minutes. I was commenting as much when with little participation from me the rod buckled over and in no time I had my first fish in the net 45.5cm grayling outstanding! More followed and I started to get into the groove at the hour mark I was pleased with ten fish on the card. Time to leave the run and give it a rest, and this is where it all goes wrong. I moved down to another pool only to find another angler in the swim. I moved up stream to another good run, occupied, when I had got back to where I was two other competitors’ were in my swim. A knew there was another spot that was good for a few fish and made my way round to try and capture them. First cast straight in ya dancer they were still here. Very next cast bust up bugger, after re-rigging no more fish were forthcoming so back round to see what the situation was like where I started. It was clear so I got back in and was immediately rewarded with a fish. Time was running out for me and a wanted to be in a certain place to finish off. My controller had signalled that no one was there and I moved up to my end game area. I was a little dismayed to see an angler get in very close to me and quite literally ending my session. This is the nature of the beast though, if I thought I had been in contention I may have made more of a protest but with just fifteen fish it did not seem worth the effort. I finished on fifteen not bad considering, Stephen and I headed back up towards the hut and reports that big numbers had been caught were no surprise, well done to Ben and Julian on their first and second places respectively. Graham had done well with twenty four fish, controlled by Adam Stafford who I was to have a busy old afternoon controlling.
I had handed back all the borrowed gear to the various owners and went to meet Adam. He had a plan and was read
to go we were going to hit the top of the beat, I knew there were a lot of fish there as Del had given them a good shoeing in practice. From the car park, it’s a reasonable trek to the top but we were out the gates quick and were first up the bank. Another angler had hot footed it up the opposite bank and with yet another angler hot on our heels with just ten minutes to go Adam made the call to go back down. It was to prove an inspirational choice, the top was heavily congested. So back down at pace and over the bridge onto the other bank, thankfully we did not have to march much further and Adam stopped just in time for the kickoff. A bow and arrow cast from the bank to pick up any unsuspecting fish close at the bank produced nothing. So into the water and a nervy start saw Adam lose his flies on the bottom the first fish was tiny but surprisingly made the measure 15cm is not very big! What was to follow was a masterful exhibition of quality angling fish after fish came to the net and I was convinced that Adam was on his way to winning the session. It’s easy to say that when you’re just watching, keeping your catch rate up in a match is very difficult. Adam kept his nerve and most importantly stayed on the fish, he hardly moved fifty yards the entire match and managed an impressive afternoon total of 33 fish. It could have been more several knocks went unanswered and a few fought their way to freedom before visiting the net, which must have been the Scottish ones ;-) By the end, enough anglers had walked by with smaller numbers to give an indication that Adam had fished extremely well. I had offered him a pint if he reached 35, unlucky, you would have been the first to get a drink out of me in a while……lol. When we had returned to the hut it was evident that the 33 fish Adam had netted was enough to clinch the session win with Rob Brown coming second with 23 fish. Well done to all the anglers that fished it was great to meet some new faces and catch up with some old ones. See you all next year J