One of the best matches of the year was upon us. The Grayling Festival has been going for several years now and this was to be my third foray with the Veterans. The couple of times I have fished were with Graham Lumsdon and Del Spry. This year though Graham was taking a gap year travelling so we needed to bring in a sub and how lucky were we that we could tempt Andy Croucher over from Norway to compete with Del and I. Andy was arriving late on the Friday night flying in after work and staying with his parents. I had booked Del and me into a twin room in the Royal Hotel in the middle of Llangollen. We met up on the Thursday night and made the short walk round to the Hand to see who was about. Several pints and a few drams later we were woken by the dulcet tone of the town clock, dong, dong I could go on but you get the idea. The breakfast was top notch and we were set for a practice session down by the golf course.
We were more than a little surprised to find the car park empty bar one car. Not to worry we got rigged up and sauntered along the small stream towards the river. Although it seemed to have dropped away it was still pushing through and was fairly high. We passed a couple of other anglers who had made it to the river before us. It was slow going unable to wade out much more than a rods length from the bank. The water was waist deep at best and mostly we were up to our chest packs. We managed to catch a few fish over the few hours we were there but it was hard work so we called it a day fairly early and returned for a clean-up and something to eat before the Captains meeting at 1900hrs.
Nobody wants to be the Captain, you get to sit in a long tedious meeting while your team mates are out having a pint and a craik with the other anglers. So we rotate the honour and this year it was the Turn of Del Spry, don’t worry Graham it’s your turn next year….lol. We received our beats and from what we can remember they seemed to be OK, we drew B9, C11 and A1. For those that know the river well you can see the area on the map in the picture. The first two beats were mediocre but A1 is usually a bumper. We decided that Del and I would fish the first session to give Andy a chance to re-acquaint himself with the river. Del and I had kept of the sauce and that was our first mistake the town clock woke us every hour on the hour! WTF why does the clock have to chime all the way through the night? Anyway we had organised an early breakfast which again could not be faulted.
We arrived at the designated parking for our beat and just about had enough time to rig up two rods and have a look at the river. As we walked along the short beat there were only three areas with access to the river the rest of the bank was tree lined. The sections you could get in were deep and still pushing through. The opposite bank looked a much better option, still we were here and ready to go. We were to be controlled by a French angler Eric Batisse, his English was limited but much better than our French. Stepping into the most obvious area we were both immediately up to our chests only able to get three to five feet from the bank. It was tough going and Del had a grim start just not settling and getting into a world of hurt with the nearby trees. I followed not far behind Del and after what seemed like a large chunk of time eventually got off the mark with a Grayling. Another followed shortly after and I thought that we may be into them. Wrong, Del managed to start picking the odd fish up right on the edge of where he could wade. It was dire and we decided to move down stream to some slacker water. This proved to be a good choice and Del managed another few fish, I eventually caught my third fish and made my way to the waiting controller. That’s when I tripped over a tree and in an attempt to recover went backwards and into the water I drifted downstream for a bit before finally righting myself only to find my prize had taken flight in the confusion of me back stroking downstream. It’s not a pleasant feeling losing a fish when they are so difficult to come by. Del was pulling it out the bag though and was building a steady total. I managed another fish this time I took much more care getting to Eric. I was watching where I was putting my feet failing to notice that my fly line was in a tree. As I neared the controller I could see both him and Del pointing and heard there muffled shouts. The point fly had caught in the net and as the line tightened on the tree my small but measurable Grayling was hanging out over the river. Thankfully I managed to flip it back into the net. A session I was glad to see the back off, Del had fished hard for seven and I only managed the three not even at the races!
While Del and Andy went to tackle C11 I was to control Team Hanak and specifically Gary Hedges and Sandro on C12. The water looked not to bad and as we moved towards the top of the beat the odd fish could be seen rising. Gary who knows the river well but it was a slow start for him, Sandro who had set up with dries got off the mark really quickly taking his first fish casting from the bank. Despite the poor light he persevered with the dries for a while and did miss a few offers but the rises had all but stopped as the temperature headed south. As the session progressed the boys started to build a steady total but the going was tough. Gary was looking in a bad old way with the cold and I was a little worried that hypothermia may have been taking a hold, I think another half hour and he may have been in trouble. By the end of the session they had managed to scrape into double figures but I felt they were pretty disappointed from their efforts. It was a tough beat and I thought they could not have done more. Andy and Del had worked really hard for sixteen which was good going from the beat.
So not the best first day for the Veterans but we were on beat A1 for the final session. We stood to improve our lot considerably with a good showing here. A1 is a top beat the parking is virtually on the river and with the Belgium anglers retiring early the beat had been well rested. Andy and I tackled up two rods one with double nymph the other with a bung rig. As we waited for our controller (Andy Cliffe) to arrive we discussed the plan of attack double nymph seemed to be the way ahead. As Andy gave us the nod to begin I was sure I was going to get a fish first cast it looked so good. After an hour and half Andy and I were stood looking at each other scratching our heads with only one fish a piece. It was time to resort to what can only be described as stick float fishing. So we got shoulder to shoulder and began to fish downstream. I felt a little dirty but needs must, even employing this somewhat dubious technique it was not like shelling peas. We had a little flurry initially both netting a few fish. We continued to fish like this for the rest of the session and did manage to get to eighteen which we were both pretty disappointed with considering the water we had. Some pretty hard lessons learned this year after making the top ten in our previous outings we had fallen a long way this year finishing 25th. Lesson one if you want to compete you have to employ every method at your disposal to catch the fish regardless of how you feel about said method. Lesson two, know the river The Wet Your Knot boys who fished a blinder and came third and had B9 the same as Del and I but fished it from the other bank taking eighteen fish. Out the box thinking and rewarded with a great result well done to them. Lesson three get accommodation away from the *u*king town clock sleep deprivation is torture!
Still, results aside I had a fantastic weekend in fine company we missed our old pal Graham Lumsdon this year but it was really good of Andy to make the huge commitment to come over from Norway and fill the slot. It’s always great to catch up with pals old and new and to watch some top anglers in action. A fairly large amount of money was raised to help out fellow angler Terry Bromwell who is in desperate need of an operation on his eyes. Thanks to the generosity of John Emerson who donated a Hanak rod for raffle. As well as this each team was given a brown envelope to donate some cash to the cause. Please have a look here if you think you can help with this or indeed bid on some of the auction lots. You can also just donate what you can to the just giving page jacked up by Rob Bending. This is a great example of how close the angling community is and the willingness to help a fellow angler is admirable and as at writing this blog update £7,624 has been raised. From the festival alone £1,785.00 was raised, fantastic effort.
Well done to the organisers’ Ken Bathers and his team, Hywel Morgan who no doubt got his steps in pegging the beats. Hanak for the kind sponsorship of the event and last but not least all the anglers who travelled from all over Europe to compete this has got to be one of the best dates in the calendar and I am already looking forward to next years event!