I spent some considerable time preparing for the National final with a trip two weeks previous that did not provide much more than a promise of some difficult fishing. My next trip to Grafham was the practice for the AMFC group 1 and 4 with the Soldier Palmers. With six boats on the water surely some worthwhile information would tumble out, and sure enough this was the case. As well as that I managed to catch a rather large Bream which took a fair bit of getting into the net. We had identified two main fish concentrations, we had also found a couple of patterns that seemed to work well, a cormorant and the ever-faithful orange blob. Both our teams knew it was not going to be an easy matter but we were all confident that work rate and perseverance would produce a favorable result for us. I was very fortunate drawing Al Owen as a boat partner, I have fished with Al before and really enjoyed his company.
We decided that the Gaines Cove, South side of the Dam would be our best area. Many other boats thought the same but it was all very civilized and there was plenty of room for all. Our first few drifts produced nothing and we noted that not many of the rods around us were bending. We had known before the start that it was going to be tough so we buckled down and waited for an opportunity. Al was the first to see action as a spritely fish tore into his tequila blob. While he played the fish, the rod was almost wrestled from my grip I hung on the fish did not bugger! Al landed his fish and immediately gave me one of the successful patterns, what a gent. I attached it to my top dropper and fished on Al again had some action but the fish were a little shy and coming short Al could not hang on to his quarry and the line went slack. This was to be the way of things today, fish came and went Al lost five fish in play and a couple of those at the net, I myself lost two one of which ran straight into the drogue of another boat. When the flies pinged back in my direction they arrived unceremoniously on my boat seat in a huge ball of tippet material and flies. After setting up again we persevered for three fish each which was to be the rod average for the day. We were both a little unlucky not to do better but there you go. The team had not faired well and after the results were revealed we had come last, making the next match very important, I wish the guys the very best of luck with that one!
There was to be a group of five of us practicing for the final, Peter was going to come on the Friday only and share a boat with one of the other anglers without a practice partner. I was sharing with Del Spry and Paul Lee and Dean Rudd were paired together, we mostly went around in the same areas chatting now and again. Del and I were getting the odd fish but it was clear that the going was tough we witnessed the odd fish being caught but nothing to write home about. The situation was not helped by a lack of wind and we spent much of that first day spinning around in circles.
The next day dawned and there was a little more wind, we all decided to give the S buoy area a go as we had not really looked at it since the AMFC the week before. Paul and Dean got right into the bank, Del and I stopped just shy of the buoy as it looked very busy and drifted out from there. It was not long before I was playing my first fish that had taken a nymph as the flies had hit the water. The next fish came shortly after and all this well away from the fleet of boats behind us, many of the boats were getting to the buoy then turning around. We continued to see fish out in the middle and I caught another that spat the hook. We went down to have a quick chat with Dean and Paul they had also taken a couple of fish close in. This looked like a really viable option as a start point for the match! Del and I moved up to the tower and again I landed a super fish of around 3lb. As we bounced up the north shore paul took a fish at B buoy as we neared G Buoy Del and I managed three more to the boat. The practice was going really well, most people I had spoken with were finding it really tough. We gave the Dam a very hard looking at for nothing, not even a pull. The day was wearing on so we moved into Gaynes Cove in near flat calm conditions for one fish even a change to dries failed to produce sport. To finish up Del and I wanted to look at L buoy and that produced fish for us both almost immediately. Content we returned to the boat dock and awaited the draw. As luck would have it I drew Paul Lee, I was well chuffed Peter had drawn Steve Cullen last year’s National Champion, Dean had drawn Dave Newing from the RAF and Del had got Bewl angler, Mick Priest. We were all fairly content with our partners and the stage was set.
The morning of the match dawned and there was a good blow coming straight into the boat dock. I was unconcerned as Paul and I had already decided to go across and fish the S buoy area, it is well sheltered from the wind and we had found plenty of fish there. The boat split was interesting with the bulk of the fleet heading straight down to the south side of the dam. S buoy had attracted only thirteen boats, as Paul turned the boat I spotted a fish turning in the area where the calm water meets the ripple. A quick cast and a strip produced a huge bow wave behind the flies, I have seen these countless times and waited anticipating the take…….it never came, oh well not bad just got here and had a follow. As we drifted through we noted that hardly any rods were bending, we had expected this as the fishing had been hard. Some little ways up the drift I spotted some fish on the surface and cast to them with immediate action I felt a strong pull then nothing then line tightened up. I played the fish gingerly as you do with the first one and got it into the net, the fish was attached to my top dropper the remainder of my cast was touring Grafham attached to another fish. Anyway, of the mark, the other boats started to drift away until at one point we had the area to ourselves. We moved in close to where Paul had started to see some fish moving. I was retrieving my line when I locked onto another good fish, it fought hard and trashed my cast in the process. As I was drawing it towards the waiting net Paul cast and his fly knocked off the end of my rod and fish and fly parted company, I was a little disappointed but that’s fishing. Before I had finished cursing my misfortune Paul played and landed his first fish. We persevered with the area loads of follows the odd take but nothing concrete Paul managed another but it was slow going.
Peter and Steve came past Peter was sat pretty on two and Steve reported a blank, he did say that some anglers had bagged up by the dam. Note to self when I read this back remember numbskull if you’re not catching and you have heard there is a better area FFS go and have a look! Paul and I persevered for not a lot and decided to have a go at L buoy first cast and I had doubled my total. A few more drifts saw Dean come in and catch one on his first drift, three more drifts for nothing. Back to S buoy, time was wearing on but we were undeterred how many times has the fish suddenly switched on and you catch four or five in no time. This, however, was not one of those occasions, more than a little deflated we made our way back to the boat dock. Reports of several bags and big bags of sevens and sixes from the Dam and the Seat made it clear that we had chosen the wrong area and this was compounded by not moving from an area in the belief that the fishing would be just as hard elsewhere.
To top my day off my wife had called to report my youngest daughter had jammed her fingers in the door and was hysterical. I said goodbye to my friends who had all had mediocre results and drove down the road to console my little one. I was very disappointed not to have produced a better result not only for myself but my teammates as well. I did learn a valuable lesson though if it’s not working you have to do something to change that. For those that qualified to fish for England next year I wholeheartedly congratulate you it is a fantastic experience and one which I hope to repeat again in the future. The loch style kit will be cleaned and stored and I will be turning my attention to the Lady of the Stream.