This is for all of you whose idea of fly fishing is standing in a picturesque river, on a nice day, peacefully observing nature. Its 8am on a bright January morning and I am doing my best to remain composed in the presence of a bunch of well-armed and obviously well practised anglers who have gathered to take part in the local area qualifying round for fly fishing, the best of whom will go forward to try in the Nationals later in the year. No, no, no – I’m not entered, I have volunteered to be a controller! My mate is in the competition for the first time, however. He has controlled in a Commonwealth event a while back so he is reasonably familiar with the way it works. We are on the Dee at our usual spot so, whatever happens, at least some of the water is known to us. Grayling are the target.
You may well be familiar with this sort of competition but in brief, for those unaware of the rules, for today, each angler draws a number. The lowest number gets first choice of beat for the mornings fishing on one of two selected stretches of water. Fishing takes place from 9.30am to 12.30pm. An hour’s lunch, then fishing continues from 1.30 to 4.30 pm where he gets last choice on the other stretch.. A controller is drawn and assigned to each angler and his job is to take each caught fish from the angler at the bank, note its length using a standard measuring device and log this information on an official capture sheet. The angler with the greatest number of fish wins. If equal numbers are caught, the total length is taken into account as a tie-breaker. I am assigned to one particular young lad and we race off in his car to his chosen spot. On the way we talk about the day’s plan and I discover he was last year’s winner and in the Nationals he was placed as a ‘Reserve’ for the England team. Hmm - this should be interesting.

On the way he points out various spots on the river below us in the valley and somewhere in the conversation the phrase…”we’ll start there and if its no good we’ll jog up to there and try there before moving to that spot….”

“ Jog”!!?? Hold on. Today, I’m supposed to stand on a bank in the sun and count fish. Nobody said anything about jogging. I’m going to watch fishing – I’m not in a cross-country event.

OK, lets see what happens. We arrive at the chosen start and he’s already cursing that a mate has also chosen this spot who has a lower number so therefore he gets to pick the choice spot. We head off 500yds down river and my lad tackles up. I should amend that to ‘loads up’ because the name of the game in this competition is Czech Nymphing – the only game in town these days apparently for this sort of competition. His ties up a team of three – a large lump on a hook in the middle which is the heaviest ‘fly’ I’ve ever seen; an ‘egg’ fly at the top and a red tagged grub on point. Then I noticed there was no flyline….. No, apparently you just join mono (cheap stuff because the chances of losing things is high in this sort of fishing, so no fancy expensive fluorocarbon here) to a bit of braid.
On the stroke of 9.30 he’s in and off. But what’s this? All I hear is ‘g-doosh’ every 10 seconds. Czech nymphing means you let out a couple of rod lengths of braid and lob the team in upstream, go with the flow until its beyond you, strike and repeat. Is this fishing? Apparently, but not as I know it, Jim.

After 10 minutes of nothing, we jog. Back to where we started, to take over a beat from someone else, who promptly moves to where we were. Half an hour of this and there is nothing going on so we pack up, get in the car and zoom off to another set of beats which I have actually fished on a previous visit so I know my way at least. It’s a fair distance to the water from the carparking spot and the stretch is full of other anglers so we go right to the top beat and off he goes again. Talk amongst the others is of slow fishing, with a maximum of three fish landed by someone; only one on average. We have nothing. Last year my lad took eleven in the morning; eleven in the afternoon….so he’s a bit tense and tending to swear a lot by now.

After a while he gets one – it’s a grayling, 27cm. Amen. By 12.30 he has two, both 27cm. There is a lot of moaning and cursing by half-a-dozen anglers on the way back to the cars – fishing has been painfully slow. We race off to the start point for the afternoon and bolt lunch in the company a mixture of some anglers who have fished this stretch in the morning and others, like my lad, who is due to work it in the afternoon. Nice banter between people who all know each other, including the hilarious tale of the after effects of a curry-the-night-before which interrupted one particular angler’s fishing in a spectacular way. We wouldn’t be fishing that particular beat that’s for certain…

At 1pm we are off again (jogging…) to our new start point. It’s about half a mile downstream, down a steep bank to a gravel spit. Plenty of space to set up, re-tackle and wait. At 1.30 I set him off and away he goes, working downriver. As there is no bank beyond the spit I follow some way behind so I can record any taken fish he gives me. One moment I’m walking along the gravel up to my waist, and the next I’m up to my neck and swimming (This is the second time I’ve been for a swim in waders – see another article – ‘Going down for the third time’ to fully enjoy the story my carelessness…).

Great – now what do I do? If I start bleating about being wet I am half a mile from the car and a further trip from there to the official car park where my dry kit is. But- a big but- my kit is in my mate’s car and he is miles away on the morning beat with the keys. So that’s a no-brainer. Besides, I cannot see an ex-England reserve appreciating me wanting him to stop fishing to somehow help me. No – I have to put up with it. Luckily (!!) I did not ship too much river: enough to wet my right side down to my legs but not enough to fill the waders up. As fishing was continuing to be slow I had the chance to get out of my soaking top layer and park it on the bank. This left me in my t-shirt, which was wet but quick-drying, given some sunshine. My lower half would have to be a wet suit.

No strikes here so we climb the bank and jog downriver to another spot. My lad doesn’t fancy it so he decides to go to the end point of the stretch, beyond the viaduct. This is another half a mile away, and includes a climb up a steep bank for which he actually apologises in advance for its shittiness. It wasn’t actually shitty but it was certainly muddy, especially in wellyfoot waders that by now were filling up with the water that was running out of my clothes. The squelching as we jogged along was a bit of a giveaway so my lad asked if I had got wet, politely ignoring the fact that I was carrying a sodden jacket and I looked as if I was in a wet t-shirt competition. I calmly confirmed I had had a bit of a spill “…but it was nothing”. Well to be honest, it wasn’t. I wasn’t cold (we were jogging….), the sun was warm and after all, I was in a wet suit.

The next stop was – how can I best describe it – rough?. I can’t say it made the Vietnamese jungle look like the Wyre Forest but you get the idea. To get to the water quickly it my lad went through some well-brambled barbed-wire fencing. I wasn’t having it so I went up the field to a gate and down the other side, which was a mud-trek in itself. By the time I got to the river he was in and fishing. There was no bank anywhere, just destroyed woodland based upon deep mud. After 10 minutes, because I was busy tending my dampness and not watching, I lost him. He was nowhere in sight from where I could see, up- or downstream. Now this beat had a fair old rush on and although it was smooth for about 50 yds, after that it got pretty wild. I called him – no reply. I waded in as far as I dared – no sign. I thrashed about through the undergrowth in the mud and barbed wire for 25 minutes, retracing my sticky steps until I decided that he had gone under. Once that thought got in I could not ignore it – I couldn’t abandon him, go back and when asked where he was merely look up and say “I dunno – I lost him under the viaduct…”.

I decided to call my mate and get a number for help: he had the organiser’s number. Ah, crap – my phone – in my trouser pocket – my wet trouser pocket – but happily it was okay. After a while a very tense voice asked me what was up in a tone which said “I am in the middle of a river, fishing in a competition - what the b…… hell are you doing calling me now?” He didn’t have the number but his controller did. His controller wasn’t apparently wearing waders so was 25 yds away from him on the bank so the conversation was a bit stop start. After about 5 minutes I was trying to write down a number when my lad appears out of the undergrowth. “Nothing there…” he says wandering past, ”…where did you get to?”.

Murder was not far from my mind at this point, after all, we were unseen from the other bank: I could claim innocence…
So the late afternoon settled down to fishing a fixed spot, where he pulled in on average, one fish every 12 minutes for the rest of the time allowed. If he had started there and used all three hours he would have been laughing. I would have been dry.
As it was, after the 4.30 stop, the sun had gone below the hills and I was now shivering. It was over a mile back to the car and we set off at a brisk pace (no jogging) and eventually arrived at the main collection point just as everyone wanted to leave for the results session at local club. I however needed to get dry so there was a delay, followed by a car convoy that got lost until, more by luck than judgement, we got to the club.

The results, on a low scoring day: my lad came fourth and qualified. My mate had caught a few and not disgraced himself, especially as he had used traditional fly-fishing techniques, which he was pleased about (althought this Czech-nymph thing needed some investigation… see other articles) and so wanted to come again.
Me – I’ll gladly do it again, but next time I will go into training well in advance.