I doubt there are few fly anglers that have never heard of the River Test it is one of the great English rivers. I have been fortunate to fish this river a number of times when the two-week gap between the end of the Salmon season and the start of the course fishing season allows us mere mortals to get near the river. In years gone by they did hold qualifiers for the English Rivers National which were well attended but invariably not sustainable. I myself have given up on the rivers competition scene and it has been a few years since I last bothered with it. I don’t have the time nor inclination to go into the reason for this here but suffice to say I had my fill of the Rivers Comps. I much prefer going fishing with a few buddies on unpressured rivers and catching a hat load of fish.
Ben Bangham has long had the aspiration to run a pegged rivers match and in conjunction with Jon Hall the aspiration became reality. The inaugural Broadlands Grayling Classic was announced and places were quickly snaffled up. The week preceding the match you were allowed to come and practice for £25, what a bargain. Unfortunately, I could only manage a few hours the Thursday before, or I would have been there all week. I met Tony Baldwin in the car park on the Thursday and it was great to catch up with him, it had been a while. The fishing on the Thursday was just superb, to be fair as I was short on time I just hit all my favoured marks and landed a ream of fish. Great fun and I had to drag myself away to go and pick up my daughter.
An early start on the Saturday morning and I have to confess that I had a restless night’s sleep. I felt like a kid at Christmas I was so excited. I got there along with all the other kids that could not sleep the car park was pretty busy by the time I arrived. It was great to see so many familiar faces as well as meeting some new ones. The whole atmosphere of the event felt relaxed and unhurried. There was a hot drink on the go on arrival and the chefs were beavering away feeding the masses. I popped in the hut to see Ben and get my first beat sorted out. I had drawn beat ten, Ben explained where it was and I was more than a little pleased. This was one of my favourite stretches of the river. I could hardly believe my luck.
When I came out of the hut the whole area was buzzing with anglers greeting each other, a top field had assembled including Howard Croston, Lewis Hendrie and even Davie Parker had been tempted to make the long trip down. It was great to be in such excellent company. The morning was a bit nippy but the sky held the promise of an extremely mild day for the time of year. Toby Merigan from Funky Fly Tying had brought a little mobile shop as well as a very decent 25 year old blend, cheers Toby. The match briefing was a breath of fresh air no hard and fast rules just a simple format that just worked really well. You catch your first fish and it is measured by your controller and recorded. Every fish after that regardless of size as long as it was a grayling was recorded. Anglers were to make their way to their beats and start when ready. The beauty of this is you don’t have to keep tracking across the river with your fish, you simply show your controller you have a Grayling and slip it back into the water. A short session of one hour thirty minutes each I was to be first to fish and was controlled by Hector.
I had looked at the length of my beat and was pretty confident that I was going to do OK. As I am sure every angler will tell you every day is a school day. So after about forty five minutes without so much as a sniff I was left scratching my head a bit. Luckily Hector pointed out to me that I had not fished the far bank. In fact if the truth be known I had not fished particularly well, I had no plan on how to fish the water and was paying now. Once I got one and had it measured I settled a little better. An hour and a half was over in the blinking of an eye, I had ground out nine fish in total. I knew I should have done better but hey ho nine was not bad.
Hectors turn, and my chance to get a free masterclass. He had only set up one rod and it was for double nymph. Hector immediately moved to the middle of the river to access a deep hole that I had failed to cover. A little nervous to start he missed several offers before getting on his game. When he hit his stride though he was on it like stink on shite! To cut an action packed hour and half down Hector netted 22 Grayling including one to 45cm and another two at 43cm. As well as this he hooked at least three Brown trout and lost another two or three Grayling. Outstanding angling, by Hector, but I had heard of a few catches in the twenties as well as a quite staggering 39 fish in an Hour and a half absolutely phenomenal.
Lunch was fantastic anglers drifted in around 1230hrs and a hot or cold beverage was available with a hot all in stew. It was just perfect, again the whole thing seemed unhurried and was very enjoyable. Anglers exchanged stories of their mornings endeavours’ before eventually we were beckoned into the hut to draw our afternoon beats and controllers. I had drawn beat fourteen not one of my favoured bits of water but that’s the luck of the draw. I was heartened by the fact that Tony Baldwin had managed 20 out of it in the morning. I had gotten Jay as a partner and although we had not met in a long time we knew each other from previous Rivers nationals. Jay had done really well in the morning but was super relaxed about the whole thing.
Our beat was only a short walk up stream and was quite a short beat. Jay got off to a flyer netting his first fish inside two minutes of the bell, a cracking fish at nearly 35cm. After that though it got a bit tougher. That was an understatement actually it got a lot tougher Jay persevered through and picked away and had managed six fish with fifteen minutes left. An inspired move for the last bit of time left saw him net another three fish good angling and well deserved bag of nine. My Session I planned to get my first fish from the bank my controller was on then cross the river to access some of the deeper holes. It started pretty well I had rested where Jay had taken his last few fish for ten minutes before heading there to give it a go. After a few casts I managed a reasonable fish with the double nymph. I then proceeded to cross the river. I have to say it looked really good but it did not produce for me. After fishing all the way down the crease for nothing I was again left scratching my head. I decided to fish it back while trying to think of what to do next when I had a little purple patch and took four fish in short order. I was thinking I had found them. But after changing patterns several times it had dried up for me. The last ten minutes I had resolved to try and catch some of the tiny fish and had switched to a size #22 nymph it proved effective. The only thing was the operator error, I missed three of four good offers. I did manage another though to take my afternoon tally to six.
It had been a fantastic day, I had seen a dragonfly, a bumble bee and a king fisher all in glorious sunshine with the river Test as a backdrop and all this at the end of October! When we arrived back at the hut Jon was on hand with a cold beer and there was a selection of cakes for the peckish. The results seemed to take a while but with good reason it was very close at the top. The eventual winner was Hector Rodriguez, whom I had controlled in the morning a worthy winner who seemed a little shell shocked that he had won. A massive well done to him and all the anglers that made this a very special day.
I feel ill equipped to put into words how good this was, Jon Hall and Ben Bangham have started something that is sure to endure. I don’t doubt the hard work and commitment that went into the organisation of this match and I know there were lots of others that had a hand in making this a success. Mark my words next year they will be turning anglers away from this must attend event, simply outstanding.