Comp Fishing – Winning Tactics
2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, the competition fly fishing calendar was decimated by the impact of Covid-19 with almost all competitions cancelled.
So Phil Dixon has my upmost respect for successfully organising the Scierra Pairs. It wasn’t however plain sailing for anyone involved especially the organisers. The final was scheduled to be fished at Llyn Brenig in North Wales, however Welsh Water withdrew their involvement at the last minute meaning another venue had to be found at extremely short notice.
Rutland to the rescue.
Thankfully Anglian Water and Andy Ainsclough stepped up to the plate and provided Rutland Water as a venue for the final.
As much as I like Llyn Brenig and enjoy fishing dries in the margins I knew it would be almost impossible to beat pairs like Russ Owen & Gazza Dixon on a Welsh water at their own game. Rutland changed things and would give us a much better chance, I know the water well and also the big fish holding areas.
My Wife Samantha and my 15 year old son Albert also qualified for the final, so it was a great opportunity for us to practice together and share tactics and methods. With Rutland being a massive 3,500 acres of water, all information would be welcomed and following each days practice we had a “debrief” with flies, areas lines and methods.
The Scierra Pairs is unlike most competitions in that you can fish large weighted flies, rather than be restricted to “international rules” patterns…..for me it’s a game changer and allows you to target bigger fish on alternative methods…..those that only fish international rules patterns are severely disadvantaged.
The stand in.
Unfortunately my regular partner Matthew Griffiths was placed in “Lockdown” and had to miss the final after we had qualified….it was a real shame as we won this event last year on Grafham and fancied our chances again of being in the top five. Still my “stand in partner” Andrew Scott is an absolutely class angler and a great guy, as a pair it certainly wasn’t any weaker and our confidence remained high.
During practice we all found a lot of stockies in the Main Basin from Fantasy Island to Normanton Church and the Sailing Club. These fish were easily caught on “international rules patterns” blobs, small boobies and cormorants, fished on “Tip” lines.
Normally our match plan would be to just catch these stock fish quick and accumulate a 2lb per hour time bonus for each hour of the match remaining…..the only problem was the recent stock fish were very small. They only weighed 1lb 4oz – 1lb 8oz, anything bigger was rare.
This meant a bag of 16 fish was going to weigh 23lb – 26lb plus time bonus.
We reasoned that on a good day we would finish and bag up (i.e. having caught our limit of 16 qualifying fish) by 13.00hrs with a time bonus of 2lb per hour we could accrue an extra 8lb as the match finished at 5pm – this would give us total weight of around 34lb to 36lb
However during practice we all found reasonable numbers of big fish at the bottom of both arms. Albert had browns of 8lb, 7lb and 5lb in just one day. These better fish were consistently holding just off the weedbeds or in the weedbeds and could be caught.
The majority of the resident fish were an average of 2 to 3lb with a good number of 4 to 7lb fish (during practice we had 15 fish over 4lb in 3 days fishing different areas!! )
Scotty and I were averaging 10 to 14 fish a day for around 40lb at the bottom of both of the arms.
The big fish were extremely difficult, targeting them on international flies was pointless, you could hook them on dries but light leaders and fine wire hooks resulted in breakages and lost fish.
We devised a method by fishing 2 large Suspender Minkies, fished 9ft apart on 15lb Masterclass Flurocarbon, deployed on a 3ft Mini Tip or Slow intermediate line. Strong leader and heavy wire hooks gave us a fighting chance with the resident fish, but it was still a high risk: reward strategy with us still experiencing lost fish as they charged through the weedbeds.
We found we could make a cast in or along the weedbeds, “pop” the fly with 3 or 4 short sharp pulls to get their attention and then just leave it static.
After 20 seconds the tip would pull the flies just subsurface and we could figure of 8 them back just above the weed in about 2ft of water. Often large fish don’t want to put there noses out of the water, preferring to take subsurface this method covered all angles.
Think of when you get into a swimming pool, it always feels cold and you’re hesitant. Yet once you’re in the water submerged it feels ok…..it’s only when you try and get out again it feels colder still….that’s how I think trout react, they prefer to feed subsurface if the air temperature is colder than the water.
It was clear to us we had to make an estimated gamble and go for the big fish….high risk, but high reward – we would be heroes or zeros and it was not a strategy for a team of 6 competition.
Most anglers were either concentrating on the stock fish in the Main Basin and Sailing Club or the bigger fish at the bottom of the South Arm, particularly the Hideaway Bay and Green Bank area, as there had been a number of very big fish caught there in the last week.
Scotty and I knew that so much angling pressure and engine noise in practice and on match day would kill the preferred areas in the South Arm. Especially when anglers were targeting resident fish holding so high in the water.
We opted for the North Arm along with just 1 other boat! It couldn’t be better, all the vast weedbeds and holding areas to ourselves.
We didn’t have an exact area to concentrate on, it was just stick with our method fish the weedbeds, keep moving and pick a fish or two up here and there, to hopefully create a bag.
By 2pm having worked Carrot Creek, Armly Wood and Cardiac Hill we only had 5 fish in the bag, all reasonable rainbows.
Scotty then hooked a huge brown off the point of Dickinson’s Bay which I estimated to be 9 -11b, he skillfully piled on the side strain guided it out into open water away from the weedbeds. I had the drogue in and things were looking favourable…..then disaster, the fish decided to run, the fly line jumped up and knotted on itself and jammed in the rod rings. The rod arched over almost butt to tip, the fish never slowed and with a loud “Crack” 15lb fluro was snapped like cotton. We were gutted. No words were spoken for a good half hour as we both sulked and contemplated our next move……spirits were rock bottom and we thought our chance had gone. I passed Scotty my phone and asked him to call the Samaritans maybe they could help ?
My thoughtfulness wasn’t well received and was quickly rebuked, I remember my parentage was questioned a number of times in the ensuing debate.
I thought we should move and try pastures new so we motored a good 800m directly across the North Arm to the Finches in search of better fortune.
A change of fortune.
Scotty quickly hooked and landed 2 fish and his spirts rose, I even think he started to smile again. He joked that I could make it up to him if I caught a huge brown with his fly in his mouth…….at that point I hooked a good fish on the edge of the weedbeds, it stayed deep at first and I could feel the telltale head shaking of a big brown. It eventually surfaced by the side of the boat before jumping 3 times, emotions were off the scale and 5 minutes seemed like 5 hours, it was eventually netted….only then did we realise just how big it was…”f****** huge” according to Scotty….game on!!
Our confidence was now fully restored and we kicked on taking another rainbow on the same drift.
At 3.30pm a big wind lane opened up around 300m out from the Transformer. It was a green light moment for us and we instinctively knew it was an opportunity, especially with the fish so high in the water. We got straight in the wind lane and took another 6 rainbows in the last 40 minutes including one just over 4lb
We finished with14 good fish and started the long motor back to the lodge at 4.20pm….and wondered how the other anglers had caught up the South Arm…..the Basin limits and time bonus weren’t a threat in our minds.
Heading back for weigh in.
Our biggest worry ( in our eyes in terms of the competition) was the pairing of Russ Owen & Gazza Dixon, Gus & Wayne Jones and Iain Barr & Richard Cooper…..all extremely strong pairs and talented anglers who know the water well, could easily bag up with better quality fish in the South Arm even if most people were struggling.
At the boat dock Iain said Hideaway Bay didn’t fish due to boat pressure….they had ended up with just 2 rainbows from the area catching their other 8 fish from Old Hall….Gus & Wayne Jones had a similar story although they did inform us that Gazza Dixon & Russ Owen had bagged up on good fish, not exactly a surprise as we expected it from them.
We were due to weigh in last, Gazza spoke to me as we were weighing in, he confirmed they had already weighed in 38lb of fish plus had a 2lb time bonus for a total bag weight of 40lb and a few ounces.
I didn’t really comment but knew it was going to be very close as our bag based on my estimate was between 40 and 42lb….tense, nervous times for us all.
The big brown was weighed first and it was announced it weighed 10lb 10oz a remarkable fish and a huge bonus we didn’t expect fish of that size, although we fully expected a couple of 6 or 7lbers.
The next five fish were placed on the scales then weighed a total of 15lb 10oz meaning our first 6 fish weighed in at over 26 lb!
We knew the smallest 8 fish were left but they only had to weigh 15lb or more which they did…..just
Our total bag for 14 fish weighed in at 41lb 3oz…giving us the win by around 8oz it was very tight.
On reflection it had been a very strange day, we had lots of luck, all of it bad initially as we lost 6 or 7 fish at the net, and missed good solid takes that normally stick, then when the big fish was lost as a result of a freak tangling of the line it looked a lost cause and that we were really only fishing for pride.
A fortunate huge fish, a huge wind lane followed by no more missed takes or lost fish in the last 90 minutes changed everything for us with our fortune having gone full circle.
My wife and son had like many others found it hard going, but finished 21st overall, which I thought was pretty good for there first national final. Definitely room for improvement but a great experience for them that will undoubtedly learn from.