Hanak European Grayling Festival River Dee 02 – 04 Dec 2016

Was looking forward to this one from well out. Having been unable to attend last year after the dates being moved several times I felt I had missed out. This year’s lack of rain and the weather forecast promised the river was going to be in top nick. I had booked the Cambrian House for accommodation for the team a single and a twin for £315 which included breakfast, good value. It was a pity that the twin was opposite the central post office which insured a bright and breezy start on the Friday and Saturday. Graham Lumsdon and I had travelled up and met Del Spry there, a pretty decent run up to be fair which is a rarity these days. We had a wee dram and chatted through our options for practice. Graham has the most experience of the river and advised that we go to the golf course. It was close to Llangollen and we could maximise the little daylight there would be.

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We started the Friday with a cracking fry up cooked to order, just what you need for a cold day waist deep in the Dee. The golf course section was not so busy and we were fortunate enough to get straight into fish. It’s a wee bit strange getting used to fishing so close together but great fun for a number of reasons. There is always someone near to take photos and you can rip the pi** out of each other. Grahams waders were leaking quite badly and he was not long getting soaked. He toughed it out though unwilling to show any sign of weakness, Del and I on standby to tell him to harden the **** up! We managed to make our way as far as the sewage pipe and almost everywhere we dipped in we would take good numbers of Grayling. With confidence high we decided to call it a day at 1500hrs. The boys wanted to get some bits from Llangollen so we headed back into town. Graham wanted to pick up some loom bands to secure his droppers. I was more than a little uncomfortable, three blokes trawling toy shops looking for loon bands. As nobody seems to want them any more Graham struck a deal and got a lifetimes supply for about a pound. It was still fairly early so we thought to nip to the Hand hotel to see if John Emerson (Unique Flies) or Toby Merigan (Funky Fly Tying) had set up their shops. Unfortunately, they had not it was only 1600hrs.

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What to do, what to do, might as well have a pint….. well one led to another and so on and so forth. The Wet Your Knot team joined us early on minus Adam Stafford who had been relieved of his man card and was in his room talking to God on the big white telephone. After a couple of beers, we decided to move to the Bridge End for an evening meal before the Captains meeting. You get a really good feed here and it is decent quality and very good value for money, I can heartily recommend it. I was relieved of my man card when I only ordered the lady burger (read Hawaiian burger). The rest of the boys had opted for the not insignificant belly buster. Graham, our Captain had spooned me to attend the Captains meeting he has done it in previous years so I was happy enough to oblige. All the teams received a pack explaining the competition. For those not familiar with the Festival you basically have two anglers fishing at any one time and one angler controlling another team. It’s a great format and there is the chance to meet new folks and of course learn new techniques. There are often some pretty handy anglers attend this event. The rest of the evening was spent catching up with old and new pals before heading off for a good nights rest and to dream of Grayling.

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We were to kick off with Del and I and were off to fish the Dee at Corwen. We parked on the end of the bridge and had arrived in good time. The kick off time was 0900hrs so we had about fifty minutes to rig up and get to our start point. As we were setting up a couple walked by it seemed to be a guy with his sister or girlfriend or both! They were both brandishing a tin of Carlsberg, well I suppose if Carlsberg did couples. They asked if we were after the Salmon, Del replied eh no the Salmon are not in season. The young lady chipped in with how lucky we were to come to Wales and fish because everywhere else must be rubbish. They tootled off and Del and I exchanged a look that would translate to did that just happen! Anyway I digress, we had rigged up four rods two for double nymph, a dry fly rod and a rod with heavy trio. We had made the short walk to the beat and surveyed what we had in front of us it looked pretty good to be fair. As 0855 approached there was still no sign of a controller, a bit worrying. Two minutes to go and our controller turned up a little flustered we got into the river and started our session. The water was very similar to the depth and flow we were fishing the previous day and we were hopeful that we would do OK. Del lost a fish fairly quickly which did give us a boost but after nearly thirty minutes with no further action it was time for a move. We pushed down to the bottom of the beat, strangely the beat finished right in the middle of a decent looking run. Only a few feet from the bank both of us were in up to our chests. Del hooked a lump of a Grayling and did well to keep his composure in the deep water and land our first fish. We picked away for a bit but it was a fool’s errand. So back to the type of water that we thought would produce the best chance. I won’t lie it was tough going the Grayling were just not joining in. I had managed to winkle out three more fish but it was not easy. Our controller mentioned that there was a small stretch at the top of the beat that we might try, nothing to lose we moved up for a look. The water looked a bit quick but what the hey we were here now might as well give it a go. There was about forty five minutes left and between us we managed to grind out another four. Eight fish for the session we were both a bit disappointed but agreed that we did the best with what we had in front of us.

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I was to fish the next session with Graham on B10 and we had a bit of a drive to get to the beat car park. It was grand to have a lad on the road in a high viz vest waving you down towards the car park. Otherwise I think we may have driven up and down the road looking for the turning. As we chatted to others that had fished the A section first off we kind of got the feeling we had been average in the previous session. Graham geared up and I quickly re-rigged my double nymph rig and we set of with our controller Kevin, the beat was a fair distance away and we were keen to get there in good time. As we reached the start of our beat we immediately discounted the first quarter as it was shallow tumbling quick water. As we strolled up further though we were greeted with what looked like prime Grayling water. Near the top of our beat was an exquisite run that showed a nice bar of gravel running down the centre. We had bags of time and as Graham set up I chewed the fat with Kevin about destination fishing we had both been to a few of the same rivers in Europe and where having a good craik. The Santa Express (Steam Train from Llangollen) was choo chooing past and we waved to the kids who looked to be having a ball. Once Graham had sorted himself out we thought to have a more detailed look at the beat. Our initial thoughts confirmed it was time to head back and make final preparations. Graham stopped in his tracks and exclaimed that he needed an immediate download with ten minutes to go FFS! I left him to it and as I wandered back images of the Santa Express going past to the sight of a pink arse hanging off a tree flashed through my mind. Would we see the session out or would the local police be along to lift us? As I was making my way across the river to the gravel bar ready to start Graham came trotting up looking a lot happier and lighter just in time to start. Again a very slow and nervy start from both of us. Fish were not forthcoming and we were in the prime water. As we moved down the beat I picked up a couple of what I would call random fish from areas I would not have expected the Grayling to be. Not quite clicking on we were both scratching our heads wondering what to do. Eventually it dawned on us that the Grayling were sitting in uncharacteristic water. The bottom was a hard rocky bottom with very slippy small and large boulders. The wading was difficult and made more so by the fact that I had elected to discard my wading staff. Grayling never cease to amaze they were there and they had tentatively started to join in. We were a bit late to get settled but managed a few fish. Graham fishing about twenty yards behind shouted down that he had lost a good fish. I replied as you do with one-word WANKER, we laughed and cracked on. Just near the end I caught a cracking fish that shot downstream, my drag was too tight and the fish peeled away from the hook. I was greeted to a cry of WANKER from Graham and Kevin who had joined in the banter. The session finished up and we had managed a grand total of twelve not too shabby.

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Graham had been soaked to the skin within minutes of getting into the water and was gibbering by the end of the session. A forced march back to the car and some dry kit ensured we did not have a man down. We got back to the digs all of us pooped a combination of the previous evenings merriment and fishing our socks off all day saw us all knackered. A quick scrub up and it was back to the Bridge End for another bang up scoff. A bit more sensible this evening just a couple of beers then back for a quick night cap. Tucked up in bed by 2130….Rock and Roll. With the later start and it being a Sunday we had a leisurely start to the day getting a good fry up down before the morning ahead.

We had tried to work out where the boys were going to fish using google earth. Graham thought he recognised the water as being a bit of a nightmare, solid bed rock with ice rink characteristics. I felt for them and was glad I would be a mere spectator for the final session. I was to control Robbie Winrams team, I know Robbie from the Rutland shop and it was grand to catch up with him. His partner in crime was a Welsh lad called Rob Evans, I knew we were going to have a laugh as they were both realistic about the beat they had drawn. It had produced eight fish for Franta Hanak the previous day. So Robbie was hopeful of at least a couple of fish. The only bit of water that looked fishable was where they set their start point. The wading was treacherous and I feared one or both of them may have been paddling before long. After an hour Rob had managed to tempt a couple of small Brown trout but no Grayling in sight. Half way through the three-and-a-half-hour session a chap appeared telling me to get off the river and that this was a private stretch. We had a polite exchange of words and he was off to speak to the owner and anyone else that would listen. Robbie had opted to return to the bank to try and get some warmth back into his body. There was the tiniest bit of water at the very bottom of the beat that would just about squeeze two anglers in so he shouted over to Rob and we moved down. It was not much to go at but better than nothing. Robbie fished hard and was rewarded with a couple of nice fish. I was also really pleased to see Rob net a fish and have it measured. A really tough session for the lads in a technically challenging beat.

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We returned to the car where before long Graham and Del came wandering up. I feared the worst having just seen the kind of water that Rob and Robbie had just fished. The guys though had pulled out all the stops and managed twenty-one fish, a top performance from both guys. At the start we had set our sights on a top ten finish and were hopeful that this last session would take us there. We got back to Llangollen and went straight for a hot brew and a bit of a reflection of the last few days. It had again been a great comp and we had all enjoyed it immensely. The fishing had been superb with some big fish putting in an appearance. After strolling back to the hand we chatted with a few of the boys catching up and regaling each other with stories of the weekend. Before long though we were called into the room for the results. 1000 fish had been caught and released in the competition which is phenomenal and speaks volumes to the quality of the river and indeed the anglers in the field. The winners over the two days of competition were the Ireland Iron Blues, who also had the top rod Peter Driver. In second place was my old pal Steve Cullen who fished with Scotty Nellins and Hywel Morgan as part of the Welsh Ospreys. Not for the first time the Poland Polish Nymphs made a strong showing in third place. The Veterans managed a very credible seventh and I know that we were all very pleased with the result.

My sincere thanks to Ken Bathers, Gary Hedges and Hywel Morgan for the organisation, I am sure many others were involved also but these are the catalogue boys for this event. Thanks also to Franta Hanak who sponsors the event with trophies and prizes. This is a unique event in this country and it epitomises everything that is good about competition river fly fishing. The comradery and craik are second to none and I can’t wait to be involved again next year.