First of I would like to thank the folks that made this possible as you might get bored and not read to the end. So firstly the sponsors that makes the event accessible to all Techmodal and Deloitte, specifically Martin and Steve, my sincere thanks. I am sure all in the Federation appreciate your support. The Chairman (Richard Thorpe) and the Secretary Si Elson without whose work and commitment Army fly fishing would not exist.
Now to the event itself, Draycote needs no introduction it is amongst the most popular fisheries in the country and has recently become home to the autumn meeting. Having done a fair whack of river fishing of late I was looking forward to getting back in a boat. The prospect of catching up with a number of the old and bold members added to the anticipation. Not so many boys were available for practice but I think we still managed a few boats on the water. I was to spend my day with John Gamon and we started off in fine style with a big feed at the Willoughby café. When we arrived at the water it looks fantastic a good breeze which seemed a little stronger than forecast and overhead cloud. The staff at Draycote are a friendly bunch and always willing to help with a word of advice on where to kick off. Al had pointed me in the direction of Toft to start, so after tackling up we headed straight there. We started our drift fairly well back but already I could see the banks at Toft were lined with anglers. They were doing exceptionally well and we witnessed a number of fish being caught. As we drifted a healthy distance from the bankies it was becoming more and more obvious that you needed to be nearly on the bank. Not so much as a stickleback on the first drift.
It was time to get the big guns out so out came the fast glass and on went a pink snake. Action was almost instant as I rolly pollied the snake back at speed it locked up. I was rewarded with a top quality Rainbow not huge but a very fit two and half pounds. We had another drift and I was getting the very odd rattle on the snake but hooking up was problematic. We decided to have a look up the other end of the water. The ripple here was very gentle and I changed back to my floater. John fishing in a similar way picked up a nice fish but it was not what you would call on fire. We searched along down the dam wall and along to the tower but it was tough going. I managed to draw a big fish up to the boat but it turned away from my offering. We moved down towards Biggins again there were a few bank anglers doing very well for themselves. We had to get closer to the bank so we moved up to an area that was unoccupied and made a drift in. John picked up another fish and I had a couple of offers and dropped a fish. A little bolstered we moved on and found ourselves not far from the pontoon. It’s here that most of our success came and we also picked up some very nice fish. Not wanting to over reach and having just taken a fish that towed the boat round in a circle we decided to call it a day.
Accommodation was at the Draycote Hotel a ten minute drive from the fishery. As I arrived I noted a wedding in full swing and prayed my room would not be above it! After a quick scrub up and a few drinks in the bar it was an early night for me and thankfully I was that knackered I heard nothing of the wedding. The first day was to be a match with the serving soldiers and officers against the associate members. As there were four more serving than there was Army they decided that they would just take the bottom four rods from the Armies total. I believe Man U is fielding 15 this weekend and just not counting the players that were a bit shit! A bit more thought next year me thinks. Anyways enough bitching from me and onto the fishing, I had drawn James Bond to share my day with. Yes I know we get all the high profile boys fishing with us, but this was not the James of 007 fame. He has however qualified to fish for Wales next year so a big well done to him. James very kindly gave me the engine and we were both amiable about the fishing. Jim had made much more of his practice than I and was confident set up on a fast glass with blobs and boobies straight from Q. I had gone with a midge tip and a washing line approach. As we glided across the big mirror that was Draycote I hoped that a breeze might pick up later. As it was there was not a breath of wind to be seen anywhere on the water. Our first stop proved fruitless so it was round the corner to Jim’s spot. His approach paid dividends and in no time he quickly boated three fish. I should mention at this point that it was kill your first two fish then release as many as you can get. I had changed to my fast glass and was desperately trying to get back in touch. It was pretty exhausting though and before long I went back to twiddling. Jim’s work ethic was impressive and his method was encouraging plenty of sport with plenty of action in the way of takes and follows. Jim had reached a very respectable total of five before I eventually managed to take my first fish.
It had gone rather quiet and a move back to our starting area was a good one and Jim picked up another fish. I had also started a small come back getting a bit more action and managing another couple of fish. It was evident from the other boats that it was pretty tough going with only ones and twos in many boats. With half an hour to go Jim had a little purple patch taking his total for the day to nine, good angling and well deserved after a hard days graft. Just a quick straw poll of asking how folks had gotten on insured that it was going to be very close. The weigh in was efficient and quick so that we could get back to change into the glad rags for the evenings dinner.
The dinner was outstanding I was very privileged to share a table with some of the old and bold and the crack around the table was outstanding not least from Steve Cranston who had us all in stitches with his tales. The meal was well received by all and Si Elson was on hand to remind everyone what they had ordered. At the end of the meal the Chairman thanked the sponsor’s and announced the result of the day’s match, the Army had won by 5oz. The main event of the evening was the presentation of an honorary life time’s membership. This is the first time such an award had been presented and went to one of the Federations founding fathers. Tug Lawson has been a stalwart supporter of the federation since the early eighties. When I joined in 1992 he had been one of the leading figures in the Federation or Association as it was known then. Totally unexpected Tug was very pleased to receive the award and a more popular recipient you would be hard pressed to find. The evening went on in fine humour and to be honest it got a bit messy towards the end, didn’t it Steve Cranston…..lol.
The next day we were to have a boat pair’s match where you fish with your partner. The way it is done is very clever and fair, the top angler from the day before is paired with the bottom rod and so on and so forth. The format is really good to, you must kill your first fish then you can select which fish you kill next. So a bit of a dice chuck but great fun you only really need to catch four fish in the boat to be in with a shout. Conditions were very similar to the day before except the size of my melon which was throbbing big style, I was hopeful the pain killers were going to kick in soon. I had been paired with Brian Perryman and we both thought to head over to the tower to try and pick up something a bit bigger. Steve Cullen was just arriving in the corner as we approached and was very quickly into some sport. We did not stay long as I did not wish to interfere with his day so moved off to give the boils a go. No joy there so it was on to ‘T’ buoy where Jim had gotten the late spurt the day before. Nothing happening Brian was scratching his head and I was rubbing mine! Time to find a friend; we motored over to where we saw a few boats congregating round the sunken island. I shouted across to Derek Sibson and Phil Hooper who had both had some action. Cool we were in the right place then.
Our day flipped on its head the very slightest of breezes kick up and the sport began. Brian was first to get into a cracking fish to get us off the mark and he was not long in getting some more interest. I was registering the odd pluck and had several determined follows but they failed to connect. Next drift was more of the same but I managed to convert one not a bad fish. And so it followed every drift would provide us with a little more sport. In the end we only managed six fish between us but we had a glorious day. Exchanging stories and discussing the state of the world, I really enjoyed Brian’s company such a passionate angler. I packed up with half an hour to go I had drank the last of my water three hours previous and my heed was starting to complain again.
The weigh in was again very quick and Si had the results in no time. We had finished at 1600hrs with the clock going back and many having to travel back to Scotland. The winners on the day were Dave Prince and John Twine who were well clear of the rest of the field. Dave had caught a 5lb Brown Trout that had sealed victory for the pair. Ok the fishing was not as prolific as it most certainly can be at Draycote, but I doubt you would find one person that did not have a ball. It’s not always about the fish and more and more I find it’s about the people you fish with. That’s the boat fishing done for me this year, back to the Grayling and I might manage a wee session on the banks of Grafham. I am told I might catch one or two ;-)