Sunday 5th February, 2017
The temperature was -5°C when we ventured outside this morning around 7am, and it was so cold the doors on the car had frozen shut, so it took some serious de-icing and a few buckets of warm water to get us going.
We arrived at Ellerdine Lakes in Shropshire around 8am, with the lakes so covered in fog that you couldn't see the lodge. The car park was unusually quiet, bar a few of the usual regulars, and the word in the lodge was that the fishing the previous day had been spectacular.
George opted for his Echo Competition Distance fly rod today, along with a Barrio GT125 floating line with a squirmy wormy beneath an indicator, while I tried out my new 8# Loop Evotec and Loop Opti Intermediate line with a tequila blob on the point and a pair of cormorants on the droppers.
George did his usual trick of casting a short cast along the margins towards the reeds of Meadow Lake and he was into a fish first cast! It took a lot of his line and put up a great fight and we were both surprised to see it was only a few pounds when it neared the net.
My flies were getting zero attention, but George was getting quite a few pulls to his squirmy wormy, even when it was being fished completely static. A short while later, he was into fish number two, but this gave him the slip half way through the fight, so we didn't get a look at it.
After thawing out our frozen fingers by the wood burner, we tried the other lakes and I switched over to my #6 and floating line. There was the odd fishing moving here and there, but not too many bent rods today, and the fishing was surprisingly tough.
Maybe it was the still wintry conditions, or the fog, or just the fact that the competition the previous day had put the pressure on the trout and put them off the feed a bit. Whatever it was, we both struggled to get bites for the rest of the day.
While I switched flies, tactics and retrieves in an attempt to induce a take, George stuck at it with the indicator for much of the day, getting the odd pull here or there and then hooking and losing fish number three.
The afternoon wasn't much better. The sun cleared the fog away and it warmed up to a balmy 4°C to leave a beautiful winter's afternoon, but still the fish proved tough to tempt, so we decided to call it a day and go home to warm up.
Final score: George 1, Matt 0.
Saturday February 11th, 2017
George and I arrived in a snowy Staffordshire at around 10am for our annual pilgrimage to the British Fly Fair International. This year's was bigger and better than ever before, filling three halls with stands selling fly tying and fly fishing gear, as well as the famous tyers rows.
Pretty much every top name in European fly fishing was here today, and George was very much in awe when he spotted his favourite YouTubers Niklas Bauer and a, slightly less beardy than normal, Daniel Bergman who'd flown over from Sweden for the event.
We stocked up on tons of supplies, from packets of Senyo's Laser Dub for my pike flies, to some lovely lateral scale flash, a new pike fly box and countless other bits and pieces.
George put his pocket money to good use by buying 35 flies for a tenner (mainly tiny little dries so he can catch roach on them in the summer), and we met Kevin Porteous on the FNF Fly Fishing stand. George treated himself to some new brown FNF Chewing Gum and a stomach pump to check what his catches have been eating so he can match the hatch.
We also renewed our membership to Corwen and District Angling Club, picked up some excellent tips on tying with craft wool from Dougie Loughridge, caught up with our fly fishing friends and even bumped into my former colleague Peter Gathercole.
We had an excellent time. Getting home was somewhat more challenging, as like a number of others, we'd managed to get our car stuck on the grass. The ground was hard when we arrived, but the snow was melting as we were leaving, and even the 4x4s were getting into difficulty.
Thankfully, Harry Upton (the son of Ellerdine Lakes' owner and an England Youth Fly Fishing team member) and a couple of the Ellerdine regulars, including Martin Cooper, did us a massive favour by trudging across the field to push us free!
Sunday February 12th, 2017
We went back to Westlow Mere in Congleton, Cheshire, today for a little change of scenery, as George is fishing Ellerdine again next week. The weather was a bit grim - only a few degrees, fairly windy and very cold drizzle.
This time we got started in the shallows. George was using his #5 Echo rod and a floating line, while I was fishing my Hardy Zephrus #5. For a change, I'd dug up my Barrio SLX line. It's a #6 line, but this rod is very fast and stiff, so it actually handled it really, really well. A few casts on the grass to see if it worked and the backing knot was shooting up through the guides!
After twenty minutes of twiddling revealed no fish for my blobs and crunchers approach, and George was getting no action on his nymphs or cats whiskers, we headed to the deeps at the top end of the lake. It was much windier up here so casting was a bit challenging at times.
I tried the usual trick of casting out a big fly and letting the intermediate slowly pull it under and I had a fish on first cast. As ever for the Westlow trout, it pulled really well. The water depth here means they often go down, as well as out, so it makes the fight a bit different to the shallower fisheries we usually fish.
Unfortunately, the fish managed to evade the net and break free at the end, then a few minutes later a second fish did the same. Finally, I managed a third a few casts later using the same technique, just in time for a warm up in the lodge.
In the afternoon we were talking to one of the club members who run the fishery and he said they'd recently started adding supplementary feed - in the form of pellets - to keep the rainbows in better shape, as the large population of resident browns and coarse fish appear to be out-competing them. When we returned to the water, we'd just missed one of the other club members doing a lap of the lake chucking in pellets.
George was quite excited by this as there were fish rising everywhere. He put on a deer hair fly and hooked up straight away and was missing fish every cast. I thought I may as well join in, so popped on a beasthamer (a sort of klinkhamer with a big foam post) and after a few chucks I too was in. I managed to catch several on this method, though I guess they'd have taken pretty much anything to be honest. It made a fun end to the day for George, and me.
Final score: Matt 4 (lost 4), George lost 7
Saturday 17th February 2017
We were up before 6am today for the Junior and Senior Troutmasters qualifiers at Ellerdine Lakes. Though, seeing as George is significantly better at catching trout than I am, I was merely the chauffeur and gillie.
There was an intimidating (if very friendly) line up of contenders on the junior side of the match, who were all really skilful anglers and great little casters. (Easily better than some of the grown ups elsewhere on the Lakes!)
As usual, it was a pegged competition on Meadow Lake, with entrants picking a score card pre-marked with their starting peg and the sequence they'd follow during the day. George picked peg three as his starting peg, which was situated on the bottom left hand side of Meadow looking away from the lodge.
Seeing as I had made the schoolboy error of leaving his favourite rod at home, I had to lend him my Helios, so he used that with a #6 intermediate line and his Echo #5 with a Barrio GT125 floater.
The floating line set up was rigged up with a black buzzer on the top dropper, a pale biscuit pink blob on the point and an indicator to suspend everything a few feet below the surface. While the intermediate had a nine foot leader and an FNF Jelly Fritz Ellerdine Enigma in size 12.
Compared to the previous year, when it was blowing a gale and raining sideways, conditions this year were a bit more favourable for the juniors who were fishing. However, they did have to contend with a difficult headwind for the first few hours, which led to a lot of tangles.
Thankfully, the indicator bobbed under after ten minutes with a feisty rainbow falling for the buzzer. A few minutes later and it went again, which he missed, then again, which he missed again, then finally he managed to hook number two, this time on the blob.
A switch back to the intermediate while I sorted out a wind related tangle, led to the third fish on the Enigma, and one very chuffed George. He was not only ahead of all the juniors, but also leading the seniors. Though, unfortunately for him, there were a further load of pegs for the others to catch him up.
Peg number two saw another fish fall to the blob, as did peg number three, putting him on a very pleasing five fish. By the fourth peg, he was beginning to lose concentration and get distracted, but eventually hooked up again, but lost the fish after it saw the net. In the final seconds, he missed another chance, so left the final peg of the morning with a zero on the scorecard.
By lunch George was on five fish and eight points, with talented caster Ben on two fish and four points, and Harry and Archie both on a single fish and two points. As ever, after lunch things got an awful lot harder. For George, at least. However, the others really put the pressure on with some superb fishing, making it a very tense finish.
First Ben took a fish, then Harry, then Ben again, then Harry caught another. This put Ben and George in equal running - with both on eight points, but George on five fish and Ben on four. In the closing minutes, a fish for any of the three could have sealed the match, so they all tried hard and looked nervous.
At the lodge we found out that in the event of a tie break it would be the person with the most fish who went through, so today turned out to be George's lucky day, narrowly pipping Ben and Harry to the certificate and the place in the Troutmasters finals. Though he didn't look it, he was seriously chuffed.
Sunday 26th February, 2016
Back at Westlow Mere today for a change of scenery. George was fishing his Shakespeare Agility 9' #5 with a Barrio GT125 floating line, while I hedged my bets with my Hardy Zephrus and #6 Barrio SLX and my Loop Evotec with a #6 intermediate.
We got started on the deep end of the Mere and started off fishing foam post Klinkhamers. George was into a fish first cast, but it took me a couple of misses and a lost fish before I eventually caught. However, two fish in the first five minutes can't be sniffed at.
After a few moves along the bank, we figured we weren't going to persuade any more fish to rise up for our flies, so we both switched over to lures. As with our previous trips to Westlow, our killer technique here is to cast out a relatively buoyant fly on an intermediate and then let it sink naturally.
You can often see the flash of the flanks of the fish as they smash the fly on the drop, or as we found today, they come up beneath the fly and smash it from below. I hooked three in a row which did just that, but they all managed to slip the barbless hooks and break free.
A move to the shallows showed quite how windy it still was at that end, so after half an hour of battling a nasty wind on our wrong shoulders, we headed back to the deeps. After working his way through his fly box, George figured out that orange was the colour and they that wanted it static. He was chucking an orange snake fly at them and fish after fish was slashing at the fly as it dropped, eventually catching a lovely three pounder.
I managed to catch one using the same method, but while fishing one of Martin Cooper's apache flies (thanks, Martin), and then it all went a bit quiet. With nothing moving and no action for the final hour after lunch, we decided to head home to tie some flies in the warm.