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Q&A with World Champion Howard Croston

Published: 9th February 2021 | Author: Howard Croston

Howard Croston is a World Fly Fishing Champion (2019) and member of the England International team. He’s also the Global Brand and Product Manager at Hardy. We’re delighted to share Howard’s brilliant designs and angling insights with you.

When did you start fishing?

Hard to remember but I was young! Probably not even 7 or 8 years old. 

When did you first get into competition fishing ? Were you successful from the beginning ?

I started with competition fly casting and had represented England at world level as a caster before I even considered competition fishing. My first “real” competition was a TWFF rivers qualifier on the Tweed and Teviot in the late 90’s  – I entered, turned up and ended up winning. From then on I started to compete regularly until I had the “Full house “ of England caps across all the disciplines. That got me a Euro Team and then a world Team place after that.  

What advice do you have for anybody wanting to get into competition fishing ?

First off just give it a go. It’s a sure fire route to fast track your skills and a great way to meet like-minded anglers. In terms of advice to be successfu,l keep control of your nerves, don’t worry about what everyone else is doing and just fish. I’ve controlled for fairly capable anglers in rivers nationals etc that have completely fallen to bits when they have seen another angler catch a fish or two in quick succession. If you cant take an occasional beating or have the temperament to be able to “fish your way out of a hole” you may struggle with it.  

You have been involved in top level competitive fishing for many years, what changes have you seen over the years?

Mainly I’ve seen the overall standard has improved across all the countries competing at the higher levels. That includes on the lakes. Most teams now have a good understanding of lake & river fishing, where in the past some countries where weak on the lakes in particular. On the rivers a lot of the methods that where once “secret” or at least “well-guarded” are now common place. The main factor to success is consistency across the team and good strategy. The margins are getting ever finer…

Howard Croston with a lovely grayling caught on one of his new nymphs.

Are you seeing any new methods coming through on the competition scene that you think will go mainstream ?

Nothing overly new, just further refinements of the techniques every year. The margins for error are dropping all the time and a single fish is often the difference between many placing points and winning or losing. My 2019 World individual medal came down to 1 or 2 fish margin over 5 days of fishing.

What is your go to “Euro Nymphing” leader set up ?

The Term “Euro nymphing” is now generally applied to any of the longer leader styles of nymph fishing. That said, it isn’t really a good description for any one technique as there’s lots of “European” styles it could be applied to. In the case of long leader “contact” nymph fishing I am mainly using thin (down to 0.14 at the extreme end ) level mono leaders with little to no taper. Whilst difficult to master in casting terms, nothing offers much better drift quality. The actual set up really does depend on the situation I’m fishing in but typically my over all leader is no more than two rod lengths including tippet (so I’m always fishing within Fips rules) for a general day out id be using a 0.20-0.18 main leader and a tippet around 0.12-0.10.

If you could give one tip to anybody that they could work on to make their “Euro Nymphing” technique more effective, what would it be  ?

You should concentrate on the quality of your drift above everything. More accurately, this is to focus on “control” of your flies. Keeping good contact gives you the ability to achieve better drifts and more precise fly manipulation when needed . 

Do you believe there are secret fly patterns out there that that top anglers use? Or, are most of the top anglers using similar patterns and their success comes from angling technique?

Not really secret patterns as such. Everyone has variations they rely on that give them a confidence edge, but there’s truly not that many “secrets.” As new materials appear all the time you can often find an edge to your flies, but secrets are few and far between. 

We’ve added an indicator caddis dry fly of yours called the “ Mass Attack” to our range for fishing the duo/trio method. What lead to the design of this fly? Do you tend to fish this method on a conventional set up or with a long euro style leader? Why?

I use it a lot on the end of a long “Euro” style nymphing leader for the added control and tend to bounce it around quite a lot. There is little if anything “New” in this fly, it’s a variation of a parachute sedge or “Tabanas” with a folded foam tail to help carry heavier nymphs. Although, when you’re fishing it correctly it’s not really suspending the flies below it all that much. The big profile also has a tendency to pull jaded or disinterested fish up particularly in faster water. 

Howard Croston’s Mass Attack Barbless.

We are seeing an increase in the popularity of fishing streamers on euro nymphing rigs. This year, we added a couple of your jig streamers in the range to accommodate the demand. When do you use this tactic and what advice would you have for people wanting to try it?

I’ve fished streamers on my nymph rigs for years. Even when the short line styles where the most popular I often replaced the point fly on a three fly “Czech” style nymph cast with a streamer to pick up extra fish on the down stream hang. This is particularly effective in colored water. I will often switch out to streamers on my Nymph rig when fishing in colored water or when “Cleaning up.” This is when I’m looking for a fish or two I may have left behind on t\he nymphs or even pricked and lost. If you haven’t tried it or you lack confidence with it I would say try it little and often. Some days they just don’t want it, others it’s deadly. Remember, just because it’s a “streamer” doesn’t mean you need to pull it or move it a lot. I have most success fishing it just like a nymph. 

Tell us about some of the other patterns you added to our range this year. Why did you design them? What makes them so effective?

A lot of them are just slightly “different” to the standard. Although I am not a great believer in secret fly patterns, I often think showing them something slightly different, particularly in pressured situations, can be an advantage. I also like contrast and hot spots created from holographic materials in place of solid thread or dubbing. It works really well for me . 

What is your all-time favorite fly pattern?

I’m sorry that’s a secret 😉

You have fished all over the world with your job and competitions. What venues are still on the bucket list ?

That’s a tricky one! I have been really lucky to have fished a lot of my bucket list destinations and captured some crazy fish all over the world, but two that stand out that I haven’t fished for are the Indio Pacific permit and the GT in Saltwater, and a big Hutchen in freshwater (although I have caught smaller ones). 

You are the current reigning Individual World Champion, what would you still like to achieve in competition fishing ?

I would really like to captain England to a world Team gold medal to complete the set. I have a team gold from 2009 and obviously the individual from 2019. So, a Gold as Captain / manager would complete the set. 

Are you interested in getting into competition fishing? Check out this article by Rob Edmunds where he shares some of his tips for getting started.

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