Sunday 3rd December, 2017
We had an early start today for the annual Fur and Feather competition at Ellerdine Lakes. There was a decent turnout to provide plenty of friendly competition, including some England team members, and a good number of juniors, too.
The Fur and Feather really is a competition that anyone can win, as there's a certain element of luck to it. Basically, you can weigh in up to four fish and the heaviest bag wins. Get lucky with a big fish and you could scoop all the prizes.
We got off to a good start by managing to bag a hot peg at the top of Cranymoor, where we were joined by England captain Harry Upton and brother Will. George was first to hook up, with a lovely trout taken on a white zonker, shortly followed by Will.
George lost number two within the first ten minutes, so it was looking like we could be in for a good day of fishing. It wasn't until I copied his short jerk style retrieve that I hooked up too, so clearly, you had to work to get the fish interested.
After another 10 minutes or so, George was into a third fish, after losing number two. This one really did not want to be netted. As owner Ed Upton came over to film the fight, George netted it once, only for the fish to escape, and then do the same thing again moments later. Eventually, the wily trout managed to slip the hook...
I caught my second fish in the first hour or so while copying George's retrieve on the floating line. The second fish took the fly as I was hanging it in the margins, so had presumably followed it in, not that I could see it through the murky water.
Just as it felt like things were getting a bit more difficult, George shouted that he was into a very good fish. A massive boil appeared on the surface and we saw a huge silver flank roll in front of us - it was a salmon! George was unbelievably excited. It was clearly giving him arm ache and the rod was bent double.
As I walked over with the big net we got a better look at the fish and saw its enormous head shaking from side to side in the shallow water. Then it shot away at speed taking all of George's spare line. Amazingly, he managed to stay in contact with the fish and it stayed hooked. Then, just as it looked as if we'd be in with a chance of netting it, it snapped the line!
Poor George was devastated. It could have been the match-winning fish for him. To console him, I sent him back to visit Martin in the shop to buy a couple of extra zonkers to replace the one the salmon had taken, which seemed to help a little...
George's final fish came from the little lake, where the trout were on the top and chasing flies readily. As he cast out the zonker, you could see several trout following it back in.
Often, they'd hit the fly and not get hooked, or George would strike too soon or too hard and pull the fly out of their mouths. Eventually, a change of tactics to adding a dead stop resulted in a hookup and George had bagged-up and caught the four fish he needed.
As I left George to fish on with new friend James Penright, I wandered back over to Cranymoor to see if I could catch my limit. After lots of hard work, fish number three did eventually follow - an average sized rainbow taken on the white apache - but number four seemed nearly impossible.
Harry was getting plenty of interest by fishing zonkers and squirmy wormies beneath an indicator on Cranymoor, but I wasn't getting a touch, even when I tried the same approach. Eventually, when he'd bagged up, Harry kindly gave me his flies! I did get a few bites, including one right at the buzzer, but couldn't hook them, so I only weighed in three fish.
James was having a great time on the little lake. As we looked out of the lodge window we saw him being helped to land a big fish by Harry. We rushed outside to see what it was to find James with a lovely eight-pound salmon.
His three fish haul, which included the giant salmon won him the best fish prize (and two new fly rods!). George came third with four smaller trout, while Will won it with four good sized fish taken from Cranymoor. A great fun day - especially for the juniors!
Final score: George 4, Matt 3.
Sunday, 10th December, 2017
George and I were planning to meet up with young James Penright at Llandegla Trout Fishery in Wrexham, but heavy snow and cold weather meant the roads weren't accessible and the lake had a lid of ice, so we postponed the trip. It was so bad up there that Llandegla shut for the weekend. Even Ellerdine had nearly a foot of snow.
Sunday, 17th December, 2017
Grim weather conditions today. It was due to rain all morning with temperatures hovering just above freezing, so we opted for a quick trip to Ellerdine so we could retreat to the warmth of the lodge if we got too cold.
The lakes were only partly clear of ice when we arrived, so we fished in one of the open patches on Cranymoor. We both tried our lucky with some of Martin's white apaches to start with but there was nothing interested, so we switched to fishing static, which I find extremely dull. We tried a variety of blobs, buzzers, nymphs, crunchers and even squirmy wormies, but nothing was interested.
After a quick warm by the fire with a sausage sandwich we tried our luck on Meadow. The top end of the lake, nearest the lodge, generally fishes very well but even here the fish proved hard to tempt. Everyone was struggling and the fish really weren't on the feed much, making for some very challenging fishing in really horrible conditions.
After another warm by the fire, to dry off from being soaked by the icy rain, we fished the top of Lakemoor. Again, this is generally a decent place to catch at Ellerdine, especially along the reeds. George was hedging his bets and using two rods - with a blue flash damsel on the Echo with the intermediate line and some buzzers on the floating line, while I had scaled down to a pair of size 14 nymphs.
Apart from one follow by a brown of about three pounds, neither of us had a touch all day. As the rain set in again, we decided to call it quits and go home to sit in the warm instead...
Final score: Matt 0, George 0
Saturday 23rd December, 2017
Seeing as the river level on the Corwen gauge had dropped back to a fishable 75cm, we headed over to Carrog to fish the Pen-y-Bont beat. This lies opposite the St. David's beat we tend to fish - and is where I caught my first salmon last month - but it includes a lot more bank space and loads of extra water to fish.
We arrived at Carrog Bridge around 9am, and managed to get the last two available pegs for the beat. We started off on the stretch immediately upstream of The Grouse which joins CADAC's Wharf beat. This is a fairly safe stretch to fish from the bank, with a couple of feet right off the edge. However, we couldn't find the grayling on this stretch so decided to head downstream towards St. David's.
There were some great spots to fish further down the beat. I tried a bit of French nymphing in a few spots, fishing a variety of grayling jigs and Czech nymphs, but didn't get a touch. George was fishing off the bank so was using an indicator with a couple of flies beneath - a pink perdigon and a small red squirmy wormy. He was having fun, but like me, wasn't getting any bites.
We decided to keep moving down river to see if we could find the fish. George was covering the slower, deeper water in the pools and the margins, while I was covering the faster water and going a bit further out. However, despite a couple of tiny taps, which might have been fish, nothing was biting.
Opposite St. David's there were a few great spots to fish. When we're fishing St. David's from the opposite side, it's generally this water that we're keen to reach, but there didn't seem to be many fish in it today. A switch to smaller natural patterns failed to get any extra bites, so did swinging spiders and wet flies. Even George's trusty squirmy wasn't working.
Seeing as the wind was picking up and the temperature was dropping, we were starting to get really, really cold, so decided to stop for some cake and a cup of tea. We were both looking forward to this, but as George watched the Jetboil it failed to deliver the goods. Perhaps next time I will remember to bring a full bottle of gas... Nevertheless, the cake was good and George drank the milk we'd brought for the tea, so it wasn't the end of the world.
At the bottom end of the St. David's beat we bumped into CADAC members Dylan and Derek. Derek had caught a few grayling further downstream and kindly invited us to fish the stretch where he'd had success, but we couldn't persuade them and the wind was really starting to make French nymphing a really tricky technique. While we were there, Dylan found a very big freshly dead sea trout - a good 10 pounds in weight - so obviously there are still some good fish in the area.
After a final try at the bottom of the beat, still with no luck, and the howling wind now making things really cold and uncomfortable, we decided to call it a day and go back to the car to warm up. Conditions were tough and the fishing wasn't easy, but it was great to fish some new water and enjoy the always spectacular scenery Carrog offers.
Final score: Matt 0, George 0
Thursday 28th December, 2017
Conditions today looked perfect for a spot of grayling fishing, so we headed back over to Carrog in Denbighshire first thing. The hills around the Berwyn Arms were covered in snow, so was the road, but it thankfully wasn't too bad in Carrog and we managed to get down the track without putting the car in a hedge.
The river with a bit higher than on our last visit, with just under 77cm on the Corwen gauge, but it was still very fishable at St. David's. We started in our usual spot about half way down the beat, with me going for a few grayling bugs on the French nymphing outfit and George doing a spot of indicator nymphing. After a few runs through the stretch and moving around and across the river we moved to see if we could get a bite upstream.
As the river was a bit higher and flowing a bit quicker, we figured the grayling might be in the seams and slacker water at the margins, so tried nymphing here. However, despite covering a few hundred metres of bank, neither of us had a touch. Even covering the deeper, faster water further out from the bank failed to get any attention.
After a couple of hours of hard fishing, we were starting to get very cold, so decided to stop for a cup of tea to warm up. Thankfully, we'd actually remembered to bring enough gas for the Jetboil this time. It's a shame though that, as it reached boiling point, we realised we didn't bring the milk and tea bags. George had a cup of hot water instead, which still did the same trick, even if it wasn't quite as refreshing as a mug of tea!
After refreshment, we tried the middle area, fishing both the slacks, the faster water, the far bank and the margins. I'm pretty sure we covered all of the water we could, but despite what seemed to be ideal conditions for grayling - to us novices - we couldn't get a bite. Facing impending defeat, we figured we may as well just go and explore the stretches of St. David's we'd not previously fished before.
The very bottom of the beat has steep banks with deep water right next under your feet. It's primarily a spot for salmon and sea trout anglers using spinning gear, but we managed to try a bit of bugging from the bank without catching too many trees. A bit further along there's more room for casting. Here, there's a lovely bit of water where we've watched trout and grayling rising in the spring and summer months.
At the very bottom of the beat it opens up a bit more and there's another large expanse of fishable water. We tried our luck with the indicators, the French nymphing and even swinging some wet flies through what looked like prime grayling water. However, apart from one short-lived hook-up, we didn't get a bite all day. Nonetheless, the weather and scenery had been fantastic, so the lack of fish wasn't too bad.
Final score: Matt 0, George 0.
Friday 29th December, 2017
With the temperature hovering around zero and it chucking it down with horrible wet sleet, we decided to head over to Ellerdine Lakes so we could make use of the lodge if it got too cold. It fished well the previous day and apparently 50 anglers had fished, so the lakes had received lots of fishing pressure and the car park, unsurprisingly, was busy once again.
We took one of the free spots at the top of Meadow Lake and were both fishing white zonkers on floating lines. I had a good fish swirl at the fly on my second cast, but it failed to connect and didn't come back for more. George also had a pull early on and had several fish moving in front of him, but after twenty minutes and only a couple of pulls each, we decided to go in for a cup of tea to warm up.
We tried the top of Cranymoor next. I had a fish take my fly off the top at distance, but slack line in my cast meant that my strike didn't hook it. George was trying various flies and working the margins. We tried all the likely looking spots using a variety of retrieves, but nothing was biting for us.
After breakfast the sun came out which make it feel a little less grim than before. We wandered over to left bank of Meadow, next to the track, so George could fish his zonker along the reed bed. It worked, as he had a good fish hit the fly after a few casts, but it too failed to get hooked.
Meanwhile, I'd switched to a tungsten headed white apache to see if the fish were down a little deeper due to the sun. A few casts with a jerky retrieve resulted in a flash of a silvery flank as I was hanging the flies at the end of the cast. I watched as a salmon of about six pounds smashed the fly and then shot off at speed. For a good five minutes, it was powering up and down the lake trying to slip the hook. Eventually, it ran outwards towards the middle of the lake, where it reached a weed bed, causing the hook to pull free.
For the rest of the afternoon we tried Lakemoor, Marsh and the little lake, all to no avail. George had a few pulls on the little lake, but nothing was biting with gusto and we went him with another blank. It's turning into one of biggest blanking streaks of the year. Fingers crossed that our luck changes next year!
Final score: Matt 0 (lost a salmon), George 0.