Saturday 7th January, 2017
Our first fly fishing trip of 2017 saw us arriving at a very foggy Ellerdine Lakes just after 8am. It was dry and mild, but the near windless conditions meant it was going to be a tough day for fly fishing.
The England individual and pairs qualifiers were being held today, so the car park was packed with the UK's biggest fly fishing names, including Iain Barr, and current and former Total Flyfisher editors Andy Taylor and Steve Cullen, who we'd parked alongside.
As Meadow Lake was shut for the England match we got started on Lakemoor and Cranymoor. The usual quiet creep around the margins revealed a shoal of fish by the reeds, all of which seemed too easily spooked by our flies.
We also spotted a monster brown trout - around 15 pounds in weight - cruising the margins. George got close enough to put a few flies in front of it, but it wasn't keen on his fly choice and eventually turned its nose up and swam away.
George was using his #6 Shakespeare Agility rod today with a Barrio GT125 floating line and his infamous Red Rascal pattern, while I was testing out my brand new Loop Evotec X-Grip 690 F with a team of mirage head cormorants.
The Loop Evotec looks a bit quirky, with its octagonal composite cork grip, but it's absolutely incredible to cast with. I started off with a #6 intermediate line, but switched to a Snowbee XS #6 floating line after half an hour, as the fish seemed to be higher in the water than I'd initially anticipated.
It didn't take George long to find and be distracted by the perch and he was several fish ahead of me in a very short space of time. The trick, as usual, was to spot them in the margins and then wiggle the fly just above the substrate and then strike as they swallowed the fly. No idea how on earth he spots them, as I can barely see them, but he's got sight fishing for them down to a fine art.
After several follows to the bank to my FNF Fritz Ellerdine Enigma pattern, as well as a few very short lived hook ups, we decided it might be time to go to the little lake to see if George could catch a few trout before we stopped for breakfast.
Ellerdine is currently being frequented by a bevy of otters which have been reintroduced into the wild just a couple of miles away. They have already consumed hundreds of pounds worth of Ed's fish. Today's unfortunate victims were a big carp, whose scales were littering the banks.
George was fishing a yellow bead chamois worm under his indicator today and was hooking fish after fish. In just twenty minutes he'd had maybe 20 pulls, a dozen hook ups and had landed four fish! All of them fought like stink, but nearly every fish was showing small signs of otter damage, so presumably they've been snacking on the trout as well as the carp.
Things got tougher in the afternoon. While I managed a number of close range hook ups, all of mine came off and it wasn't until I really scaled my fly down that they became more confident. A switch to a size 14 pheasant tail with an orange and green Hends UV dubbed thorax got me a few pulls, again at very close range, as well as a nice fish which shook itself free after a couple of minutes.
I did, at least, manage to escape a blank and christen the new rod, by landing a three pound rainbow on an Apps bloodworm in the last half hour. George, meanwhile, had thrashed me 11:1, which Steve Cullen and Andy Taylor found rather amusing. Andy suggested George should be walking home as a result of this, which is definitely an idea for next time!
Final score: George 11 (4 trout), Matt 1.
Saturday 14th January, 2017
As a change from the frequent visits to Ellerdine Lakes, we thought we'd have a change of scenery today. George once again picked Chirk Fishery, but after navigating some horrendously slippery and narrow country lanes, we found it to be closed, so took a detour to Llandegla Fishery in North Wales instead.
Weather conditions were pretty grim when we arrived, with icy, sleety rain melting the snow on the ground from the previous day. We opted for a short two hour session and stayed in the cafe and had a cup of tea and a sausage sandwich after we'd tackled up, and only ventured outside when the squall had blown over.
I tried a few different lures and nymphs of various sizes and didn't get a touch, and George too was going through the card trying to figure out what the fish were feeding on and how deep down they were. It only took him about ten minutes to figure out they were happy to take buzzers about two to three feet down, and he was soon into his first fish.
I copied his technique and had a pull on my first cast, but I managed to lose mine, just as George was striking into fish number two. While fish number two was quickly landed, number three gave him the run around, heading into a bed of weed. Somehow, he managed to get the fish out without the hook pulling free, and had me in a 3:0 lead...
After getting pull after pull on nearly every cast, things eventually went quiet and the fish went off the feed, and we got so cold we couldn't feel our fingers, so we decided to call it a day and go home to warm up.
Final score: George 3, Matt 0.
Sunday 22nd January, 2017
We were at Westlow Mere in Congleton today in part three of George's "Operation Gold Troutmasters badge." This club-run fishery is really beautiful and the people who run it are among the nicest you'll meet, so we were made to feel really welcome and were given some great advice by the locals.
Conditions for today's trip weren't so great. There was almost no wind and it was freezing cold - about 1°C. It was also alternating between light snow and wet sleet. Perfect for making your fingers so cold you're unable to tie on flies or feel your fly line! Thankfully, there's a warm lodge and free tea and coffee not far away.
We started in the shallows, which hadn't been stocked since last year, to see if we could attract some of the long-term resident fish on tiny black nymphs, as advised by the regulars. Although we saw a few fish moving in the crystal clear water, none of them would touch our flies, so we headed to the deeper water at the top end of the Mere.
Using the knowledge we picked up on our trip last year, we were fishing intermediate lines because the water up this end is over 25 feet deep and the fish are often a good six to ten feet down. I was first to hook up after my Tequila Blob was slammed at distance as I was counting the line down through the depths. The rainbow attached put up a cracking fight, especially given that it was only about 2.5 pounds.
After a quick warm up and a cup of tea, we tried the deep water just below the path from the lodge. This time I put on a pale biscuit pink FNF Jelly Fritz Ellerdine Enigma and cast it out without soaking the marabou first. It floated on the surface for a while, then as the intermediate line sunk, started to submerge. A couple of little twitches when it was a few feet below the surface was all it took to persuade another trout to slam it!
George tried the same thing and he was too into a fish first cast. We seemed to have discovered a technique the Westlow fish were falling for.
George's fish put up a very good account of itself, and he reckons it's the longest fight he's ever had. It took almost all of his line, several times and every time we got the net near it, it would dive into the depths and use all its power to try and stop him from pulling it back up again. He was complaining of arm ache by the end of it.
After yet another warm up in the lodge to escape the freezing cold sleety snow, we got back to business, this time fishing a couple of Tequila Blobs each. Again the killer method was to cast out the flies, let them sink very, very slowly under the weight of the line and then twiddle them back with a slow figure of eight.
The bites were non-existent. One second the line was slack, the next the rod was being wrenched from your hand. In an hour or so, I'd had four more fish to the method and been snapped off by a couple too. The takes were seriously aggressive today!
We were encouraged by one of the club members who run the fishery to have a try at targeting one of the big resident browns, so we replaced the blobs with huge zonkers and snakes. I had a fish hit mine on the surface, which I missed, while George had a couple of browns of 3-4 pound follow his pink snake all the way in. However, although they clearly liked the look of this more than my blobs, they refused to bite it.
Final score was Matt 5 and George 1.
Sunday 29th January, 2017
Today's trip was something of a minor disaster. We left at 7.30am in sub-zero temperatures to head for Loynton Hall Trout Fishery in rural Staffordshire, as George wanted to try and get Troutmasters badge number four of the season.
Stupidly, I let the sat nav guide us there without checking the route. It decided that the best route was down about 20 miles of un-gritted, single track lanes. This was, to say the least, something of an experience in a rear wheel drive Jaguar. When we did manage to find Loynton, it was frozen. Perhaps unsurprising given the temperatures!
Fortunately, as it's only a twenty minute drive to Ellerdine and they keep the lakes ice free all the time, we headed there instead. It sounds like they'd worked hard earlier that morning to clear the ice and they'd done a great job as, with the exception of part of Marsh Lake, pretty much everywhere was fishable.
George opted for a floating line on his Echo Competition Distance #5 rod, while I went for a 6# intermediate on my new Loop Evotec. George picked a very nice epoxy buzzer and I went for an unweighted FNF Jelly Fritz Ellerdine Enigma.
I put a long line out towards the aerator on Cranymoor and was into a fish within seconds of the first cast hitting the water, but the feisty fish managed to slip the hook after a few seconds.
George was having more luck with his little black buzzer, having had several pulls, then a good four pound fish which gave a great fight for several minutes, before throwing the hook at the net. Frustratingly, we missed several chances to net it, but it really didn't like the look of our net and powered away every time we got close enough to try and scoop it up.
After being fortified by an excellent breakfast in the lodge, and thawing out our frozen hands by the wood burner, we got back to it and tried the bottom of Lakemoor. The weather was chilly and still and the fish just weren't chasing. George's static buzzer method seemed much more product than my lure pulling or nymph twiddling. He had several chances at fish, but sadly missed them all.
Our final hour in this whistle-stop three hour session was spent on Meadow in freezing cold rain. Again, no matter what I chucked at them, they weren't interested in it, while George's static flies were getting the odd pull. A very tough day and really, really grim weather, so we headed back early to tie some flies at home in the warm instead.
Final score: a nil-nil draw, but we both lost a fish each.