I have known of this comp for some time and would have jumped at the chance to fish it. It is oversubscribed though and it seemed unlikely I would get the opportunity. My good friend Graham Lumsdon has fished this on a number of occasions making a guest appearance last year for the Isle of Man team. This year Graham managed to get us an invite to the competition. So the team would be Graham Lumsdon, Del Spry and I went along to make up the numbers. I like the Dee, I really like the Dee! It has in winters past produced some huge Grayling for me and the Hawaiian Burger from the Bridge End in Llangollen is cannae like. Graham was supplying the accommodation in the form of the breaking bad camper van and had located a nice campsite just outside Corwen. Del managed to escape a bit earlier than me to join Graham on a Tuesday night. Due to work commitments I had to leave around 1000hrs on Wednesday, I was hopeful of getting an hour or so in before it got dark. I arrived at about 1400hrs by the time I got tackled up and made my way down to the golf course where I found Del and Graham fishing away. I joined them getting in downstream from them both, only three casts in and I was playing my first grayling of the trip bonza! Graham had reported a little sport on the dry fly earlier in the day, at the back end of November who would have known. The light was fading pretty fast and I did not get much more fishing in but it was nice to dip my toes so to speak. We retired to the campsite and time to heat up the homemade bolognaise kindly donated by much better half, much to the disgust of my kids who love it. There was enough to feed four grown men but not Graham who horsed down the first portion and was back for seconds. This was followed by pudding which was several nips of fine malt.
The next day we were heading for the Crogan stretch of the river this is up near the Bala water that I fished in the Summer. It was £10 for a day ticket and worth every penny. I thought back on the number of huge grayling caught on the Bala stretch in the beat up to the English National. We found the parking spot and the Isle of Man crew were out and ready to go. Parking was a bit tight so we moved on a bit and parked further up the road. Kitted up we moved down to the river and scoped out several sections to fish. Graham was first into fish finding an obliging pod and making hay, I could see Del above me catching a mix of out of season Brownies and a few Grayling. I was starting to twitch with not even the smallest of offerings, Del took pity on me and indicated for me to move up and fish in below him. A couple of chucks later I was into a big fish in the high forties, fantastic start to my day. Moments later I saw Del’s rod buckle over in to what I thought was a brownie as it careered around the pool taking to the air at one point. I scrabbled for the camera and moved up to catch a photo of the old lady, cracking! Not to be outdone Graham also took a stunning fish just downstream of us. We moved up the river finding fish in the deeper slower runs. Some of the water we past you would have bet your eye teeth on there being Grayling in produced nothing. Eventually we reached a part of the river I recognised from the summer and Del hooked into another trophy fish and all this before lunch! I say this but lunch was a packet of shortbread and a cup of coffee, well there’s not much light this time of year. We returned to the main parking spot and made out across the fields catching up with the Isle of Man boys, Davie proudly showed us a photo of a big Grayling which was accurately measured to 49cm, monster! Graham knew this stretch of water well and took us straight to the sweet spot. A long slow run, I fished heavy trio and managed a few fish but then the odd one started to stick its head up. The sun had come out for the shortest of time but it was the only encouragement the Grayling needed. Graham kindly offered me his dry fly rod and rig and three grayling came in short order with another missed through bad angling. As the sun dipped behind the hills the temperature went with it and as it was nearly impossible to see anything we headed back to the car in the half-light. What a fantastic days sport and the promise of a pub meal and a few drams afterwards.
On Friday Graham opted for beat D and more specifically the Pipe Pool a long slow stretch of the river where we thought there might be a few fish. We parked in the woods car park and worked our way down to the river. We knew a few holes that had held Grayling in the summer and thought to give them a go. It was a bit slow to be fair and the wading a bit treacherous. Graham a bit bored or in a fit of depression decided to take his first free swim at this point. After he pulled himself out of the river and to his credit he just hardened the *u** up and got on with it. We abandoned the awful wading and moved down to the Pipe Pool much more civilized and much more fish. We were getting some pretty consistent sport and with the joy of it, all Graham decided another dip was in order……PMSL missed the chance to get a photo but one of these days. They make them hardy in the North even after his second dip he was still fishing fair play. It always helps when your catching fish, and we were all getting some. I was a little behind the others so pushed up the bank a little. I spotted a likely looking lie and Del informed me there was not much there and Graham didn’t fancy my chances either. First cast a muckle big horse get in! Del came down and got a snap for me I was well chuffed.
I moved up still fishing behind Del and Graham when del informed me that a couple had been moving to my right. I cast my nymphs across and took two fish one after the other. We had always planned to have a short day on Friday but the prospect of Graham going down with hypothermia speeded up the process. We headed into Llangollen to register for the comp then back to the digs to get scrubbed up for the Captain's brief and the Hawaiian Burger from the Bridge End. It was great to catch up with so many fellow anglers in the Hand Hotel many were staying there and had been practicing for several days, some were just arriving. There was a fairly big field and it was great to see some old hands and meet some new folks as well. After the Captain's brief and the burger, of course, it was back to the van for a bit of tying and a bit of malt, happy days.
We had decided that Graham and I would hit the first beat and Del would control the very able Bulgarian Otters on the beat below. We looked at the entire beat which was by a bridge so easy access. There seemed to be two main areas to concentrate on a large slow pool at the bottom of the beat and another at the top. The stuff in-between was less attractive and bearing in mind you have two and a half hours its best to fish what you think is the most productive water. We were under the watchful gaze of river wizard Howard Croston as our controller. Not one to usually suffer nerves I have to admit to feeling the little twinge this time, new format and an audience! When the start came I fished the water in front of me before moving a little further out. I did not have long to wait and was quickly into my first fish, safely netted I moved to the bank and Howard took the fish from me for an easy measure. That settled me down a bit and I returned to the spot and cracked on. Graham who was fishing up from me had reached the edge of where he could wade (short arse) and had decided to move round a large tree effectively splitting us up.
I carried on and managed four more fish before moving round to join Graham on the other side of the tree. He had taken some fish and I moved in behind him discarding my heavy trio set up in favor of double nymphs. I was conscious of time wearing on and thought it may be time to move to the top section of our beat. Graham was moving back towards me and said three more casts. On my last cast, another measure came to the net so a few more casts then. No more Grayling were forthcoming so a quick scoot up to the end of the beat. Graham was first to get into some sport and took a fish fairly quickly. I was not far behind and was very pleased to stick a 47cm Grayling into my net, outstanding! I caught another fish and due to where we were catching it was a long trudge through hip deep water back to the controller, I was gonna need another burger after this! The takes dried up for us both and it was time to take stock, Graham decided we could grind out another couple of fish from where we started and I agreed. So a dash back down to the bottom of the beat. There was a good 40 minutes of the session left and I was confident of another fish. I saw Graham catch and move to Howard for it to be measured, we were on 13 our target before hand had been 10 so not to bad. No more fish for me but pretty happy with how I had fished. Graham and I asked Howard for some feed back on our performance and he told us we were shite, OK in a few more words than that. His points were well taken and very much appreciated. When getting advice from an angler of Howard’s class you’d best take it on board.
Our next session was to be fished by Del and Graham just a short way down the river and ideally right by our campsite, bonus. We had a bit of lunch bumped into Adam Stafford who had been swimming again, but thoroughly enjoying the experience of the comp. I met my anglers for the afternoon, Terry and Stan. Graham and Del were off to walk their beat and I stood around chewing the fat with Terry and Stan there was loads of time before the kickoff. Terry and Stan walked their beat and opted to fish a likely looking stretch with a reasonable depth and flow. I was surprised how close together they fished and how well they were really fishing as a team. This was one of the points Howard had picked up Graham and me for. The water had already given up 21 fish in the morning so finding a few fresh fish would not be easy. Terry despite having a really bad shoulder fished hard to the end, Stan had pulled out a couple of 40+ fish and the boys finished with a grand total of ten, not too shabby. When I met back up with Graham and Del they had managed nine great effort. They reported losing a few fish and Del in particular lost a very good fish on the session. The lessons from the first session were taken on board and the guys fished better as a team and reaped the benefits of this. The boys walked back to the campsite and I took the car back around, scrub up time and a visit to the pub.
The last session was left to Del and I and we were both right up for it. We had hoped for a top half finish and it was within our grasp just as long as we got a few fish. The beat we had drawn had only produced one fish the previous afternoon so we knew it was going to be tough. As we approached the beat the water looked pretty decent to be fair. It was a short beat with lots of features, Del and I walked the beat and I noted some otter track at the top my first clue! We decided to start at the bottom of the beat and the first run through produced some takes but no fish. Another run through and Del got one to the net. We worked the area hard for nothing and moved to the top where we produced nothing. Dropping into the middle of the beat Del hooked into a good fish which peeled free before reaching the net. I then lost a fish, try as we might nothing was forthcoming. Back to where we started and where most of the action was coming from with the theory if we work hard, we might be able to grind a few more out. First run through Del caught and released four or five brown trout and a sea trout, where were the Grayling. They were there but they were coming short or refused to stay on the hook. We kept at it both feeling the strain and watching our top half finish slipping away. With forty minutes to go and only two fish on the card, we were both tiring. Del went down and I had visions of his cap floating down the river remarkably he stayed pretty dry. Another fish soon fell to my nymph and we were on three, Del decided as he had failed to get wet the first time round he would try again, he succeeded. With around twenty minutes left and doing nothing different (other than being wet) the Grayling decided to join in, several chances came and went but Del managed to keep two of them both notably over 40cm. Five fish between us a disappointing total but we had fished as hard as we could utilizing all the lessons learned from the previous two sessions. It was what it was Eddie and Italian international angler offered some pointers and agreed with our assessment that it was a poor beat. So where would we end up, good enough for top half?
When we got back to the car we heard the Czech team had managed over 30 fish, good angling. A bit dismayed we headed back towards Llangollen. Graham had controlled the Otters and they had managed an impressive 15, other teams had faired less well though and all in all, I think Del and I had done a decent job. We all met in the Hand arriving just in time to see the winners get their prize. I would like to take this opportunity to say well done to those that took the trophies. This was certainly a great learning experience for me and a very enjoyable one. It was great to be fishing with a group of great guys and fantastic anglers and I am sure The Veterans will return next year to see if we can do better.