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I was very fortunate to meet Sam whist fishing the Avon at Adan Staffords birthday bash last year. He had recently taken part in the Big Fish which aired on BBC1 late last year. A very enjoyable show that saw anglers from all diciplines come together to compete for the big fish trophy. Here Sam recounts the fly fishing aspects of the show. I hope you enjoy his story as much as I did.

 

The Big Fish 2016

By Sam Wadman


2015 was rather special for me in terms of my fishing. Being one of the lucky 8 anglers picked by the BBC to take part in their recent show 'The Big Fish' was the angling opportunity of a lifetime. It all started when I casually replied to an advert for participants in the angling press and things snowballed rather quickly from there. After a rigorous interview and selection process I found myself in the hot-seat with seven other anglers and somewhat rather surprised at the fantastic opportunity that was given to me if I'm honest!

I still have to pinch myself now, even though it's all over and done with. I was fortunate to make it all the way to the final and fish in Iceland, Cuba, Laos, Costa Rica, British Colombia and Zambia. It has given me memories that I will cherish forever and I have also made seven fantastic new friends in the process. The camaraderie was just brilliant through the whole adventure and even though we were all from very different backgrounds our passion for angling well and truly united us.

We were tasked with many different styles of angling throughout the series and I was delighted when Lindsay asked me if I would be willing to put together a piece about my experience of the fly fishing we were asked to do. I consider myself an all-rounder in the world of fishing, I love all styles and disciplines as it's the variety that appeals to me. I am quite comfortable with a fly rod in my hand having been taught to cast a line by my Grandfather when I was a lad. Growing up, I mostly cast a fly for trout in our local still waters and reservoirs but these days it is the salt water fly fishing that really excites me.

Iceland was the first country we visited in the making of the show and here we were asked to catch a brown trout on the fly. The venue of choice was Lake Thingvellir which is famous for it's enormous brownies, they are regularly caught in excess of 20lb's here. We were allocated a stretch of shoreline some 150 metres long at most and with 8 anglers and a production crew of around 25 it was rather busy. Factor in the crystal clear water and horrendous weather on the day then it was never going to be easy. The beat was usually allocated to just 2 anglers per day.

We were each supplied with a #7 and #8wt set-up with floating lines, a box of flies, some sink-tips and a selection of leader material. The majority of the flies in the box were streamers of various sizes but there were also a few nymphs and dries thrown in as well. Given the howling 40mph winds and driving rain on the day I chose to fish the heavier set up to help me get the flies out in the terrible conditions.

I had done my homework before departing for Iceland and knew that the locals mostly fished large streamers for thesemonster trout. It made sense to me. The fish got so big because of their diet of small char and sticklebacks so I planned to attack the water with the streamer patterns in my box. The winner of the challenge would be the angler that caught the biggest trout.......Big fly = Big fish....that's the way I saw it. After all, these Thingvellir fish are highly predatory.

It was a slow start, all of us waded in to knee level to help get some line out on the water as the howling wind was making things very difficult. In the painfully clear water, this was our first mistake. For sure the trout knew we were there. It wasn't until a few hours in that the weather calmed and with that we all withdrew from the water and a few fish started to get caught. James was the first to catch a small trout and it wasn't long before word spread that he had caught on one of the nymph patterns we had been supplied with.

As the other anglers switched over to nymphs a few fish started to come to the rods of Emma, Dan and Phil as well. I stuck to my guns and kept fishing the big streamers, it was a bit of a gamble but at the end of the day it was the biggest fish that would seal victory and I felt certain this would produce a bigger fish. Initially, I was fishing in an area with a thermal spring, the water felt warmer and I could see fish topping just out of casting range but could not entice a bite. After seeing a larger fish top further down the beat I made a move and started covering the water, ringing the changes with my flies and working the water. The fish showed again, right in front of me this time giving a real confidence boost.

A couple of more casts later and the line pulled tight in my hand signalling a fish had hit the fly. It jumped straight away as I set the hook, revealing itself as a very nice sized brownie which immediately added pressure to the situation. If I could land the fish then I stood a good chance of winning the first fly fishing challenge of the show. Fortunately, everything held out and I netted a beautiful brownie of 5lb 9oz which was enough to come out on top. I'm glad I stuck to what I believed in.

After all the cold, wind and rain of Iceland we were delighted to be informed our second location was Cuba. Well known for it's fantastic fly fishing on the flats, I was very excited about what might be thrown at us. When you think of Cuba then it's tarpon, permit and bonefish that spring to mind and we were not disappointed. Our first challenge was set down South at Las Salinas on the flats targeting bones on the fly, something I have always wanted to have a crack at. The winner on the day was the angler that caught the most bonefish.

We had a skiff each with a guide, a 7#wt outfit with floating line and a selection of flies, mostly shrimp, crab and small baitfish imitations. The conditions on the day were good as it was a huge tide which meant the fish were on the flats for a good amount of time, however there was a fair bit of cloud cover so spotting the fish was a little tricky. The environment was incredibly beautiful though, being poled along silently by Julio, my guide, was a great experience and we bonded pretty quickly as we both appreciated that this type of fishing is very much about team work.

It was very exciting and the anticipation was intense. I constantly scanned the surface of the water looking for any slight disturbance or irregularity, any nervous water indicating that there were fish present. I had tied on a fly known as a 'Crazy Charlie', my pre-trip research had informed me that this is probably the most successful bonefish fly going. Imitating a small shrimp, a favourite food item of the bones , it made sense to me. Julio agreed with my thinking too.

Poised on the front of the skiff, fly in hand, it wasn't long before we started to find small groups of bones. Some were clearly in transit, heading somewhere at speed, possibly spooked and we ignored these fish. It was the ones nosing around in the sand and tailing the surface that we tried to stealthily creep up on. Julio did a great job of getting us into a good position and I made a few casts at some of these fish, accuracy was everything and the retrieve was critical. Julio informed me that short, sharp strips with small pauses between them were essential for getting the attention of the bones, making the fly very shrimp like in the process.

With the pressure of the cameras rolling it took a few casts until I got my eye in. On about my third shot at a fish I hit the mark 2 feet in front of a fish and started my retrieve. Instantly the fish turned and followed the fly. I watched it eyeing up my offering before curiosity got the better of it and it hit my Crazy Charlie. With the line going solid in my hand I instinctively set the hook with a firm tug. Raising the rod, the fish realised it had made a mistake and made a dash through the mangroves for the open water. The excess line flew through the guides before engaging with the clutch and then the reel went into meltdown. The fish took all my fly line and 40 yards of backing in a matter of seconds. It was exhilarating stuff watching the line cut through the surface of the water as the fish made a dash for freedom. For their size they fight incredibly hard and of course being in the shallow water of the flats they try to put as much distance between you and them as they possibly can. Catching bonefish is an amazing experience and one that I wanted to do again immediately my first of the species had been unhooked and returned. It's addictive!

Over the course of 2 hours, I had perhaps twelve shots at fish, hooking five and getting three to the boat for my final tally. The two I lost made a bee-line for the mangroves and both threw the hook by wrapping themselves around the gnarled root systems. The winner on the day was Emma who managed to catch four.

The next bit of fly fishing we did was in British Colombia and what a place to do it. The scenery out there is quite simply breath taking and for our second challenge we went far up into the wilderness of the Upper Pitt River on jet boats to fish for the legendary sea-run bull trout. This was bear country and with the turquoise, glacial melt water tumbling down through valleys of unimaginable beauty we really had been spoilt.

By this stage it was the semi-final and we were split in to pairs to fish two different beats on rotation. Supplied with #8wt tackle, floating lines, sink-tips and a box of streamers we were well kitted out. The water was flowing very fast and was not particularly deep, it was a tricky river and we were fishing right in the middle of the day in bright sunshine further adding to the challenge.

It was imperative to get the fly down in the fast flowing current to where the fish were laying up so fast sink-tips and heavy streamers were the order of the day. I was the first into a fish which happened to be a small rainbow and didn't count unfortunately. I had found a few fish sheltering behind a log jam and got a few more bites quickly hooking into another which was the target species but only around a pound and a half in weight. James and Jo also had a fish each up to around 3 pounds in weight but sadly none of the double figure specimens that the river is famous for made an appearance that day. It was Jo's slightly larger fish that sealed victory for her.

It was a tough day and I felt a little disappointed with the results. It would have been great to see one of the bigger fish as the small ones were really very beautiful. I certainly feel I have unfinished business in BC and would love to return one day to spend some quality time there. I reckon they have some of the best fly fishing the world has to offer.

The final was set in Zambia and we had the opportunity to fish for Tigerfish here. Catching one of these on the fly, as it turns out, was to be my nemesis. The final challenge was to catch a tiger on a lure, on bait and on the fly. A box of clousers and deceivers on an #8wt set up were our tools for the fly fishing.

The fishing was super hard in Zambia, it was mid-winter there and water temperatures were down, low season for tiger fishing. The fish were sluggish and the guides predicted it would be possible to catch on bait but very tricky on the lure and flies. And so it was. Over two full days between the three finalists we caught only seven fish. I managed to get one on bait on the first day and it then took me four hours of continual casting to get one on a lure leaving me an hour to catch on the fly which I failed to do. I was a little disappointed, as I'm sure you can imagine, a tiger on fly for me probably would have made all the difference to the final result. That's fishing for you!

Making it to the final was always the goal, to see the experience through in it's entirety and get round all six countries. Being given that fantastic opportunity and taken round the world on an incredible fishing adventure was the prize in itself. I think all 8 of us were winners.

The evening after the competition was over and James had been awarded his trophy, we all went out fishing for fun just to unwind and relax. I was then awarded a fantastic consolation prize....the biggest tiger of the week! Coming in at a little over ten pounds in weight, I really can't complain. I went home smiling I can tell you.....small mercies and all that!

Tight Lines :)