Sunday 16th July, 2017
With a week to go before The Junior Troutmasters Final, we decided to go somewhere a little different for a bit of a challenge. George picked Graiglwyd Springs Fly Fishery in Conwy, North Wales, after hearing about it from lots of the Ellerdine regulars.
The journey from Tarporley took about an hour and it was chucking it down when we arrived. The manager was extremely welcoming and gave us some tips on what to try, but also a friendly warning that the recent warm weather would mean we'd be in for a tough day of fishing.
We could see fish moving as soon as we arrived on the banks. The average fish was about three-pounds, but there were a lot of much bigger fish surfacing, and these were significantly bigger. Within a few minutes, the angler to our left had caught and landed two fish - one at 10 pounds and one at 21 pounds!
The lake at Graiglwyd sits below some very tall mountains and gets a constant supply of water entering via springs on the upper bank. The other side overlooks the sea, so it's quite a scenic place, despite originally being a concrete bowl style reservoir. It's naturalised and blended into the surrounding countryside rather well. It's deep. There's a ledge which extends for about 10 feet, and then it goes straight down 40 feet!
As warned, we really struggled in the morning. We tried various things from buzzers and damsels to lures. We got the odd follow and the odd fish that mouthed the fly but didn't get a bite until after lunch. Seeing as the sun had come out, I figured the fish might have gone down deeper, so put on an intermediate with a blob and let it sink. After a couple of minutes of sinking, the line shot away and I was in.
The fish put up an excellent fight and headed down into the deeps several times, making it a challenge to get it back up again. Eventually, George netted it, unhooked it in the water and let it swim away. George was going through the card, trying every possible fly and tactic, but couldn't get a bite.
Later in the afternoon, I managed a second fish - another three-pounder - this time on an orange blob fished about 10 feet below an indicator. However, the scorching sun had made the fishing really tough, and George was getting bored and frustrated, so we decided to call it a day and head back.
Given the size of the fish on offer at Graiglwyd, I'm sure we'll be going back when it cools down a bit.
Final score: Matt 2, George 0.
Saturday 22nd July, 2017
Today we were up in Northumberland for the highlight of George's fly fishing calendar - the Junior Troutmasters Finals. It was George's second year representing our home fishery, Ellerdine Lakes in Shropshire, and he was eager to do his best and get through to the grand final as he did last year.
At nine, George was the second youngest in his heat, and he had some stiff competition, including previous Troutmasters finalists Toby Reynolds and Jake Leake and fish whisperer Alexander Jaffrey, who were all a good few years older. He was, therefore, a tad nervous, to say the least.
In the weeks running up to the Finals, we had been hoping for a bit of wind, instead of the hot, sunny weather we got last year. The wind was present, but unfortunately so was the rain. It rained sideways for most of the match, so the youngsters looked like drowned rats by halfway through.
They must have been freezing, because even their parents, watching often from the shelter of the Troutmasters tent, had got a soaking and were shivering from the cold - despite the plentiful supply of hot drinks from the lodge. While the youngsters were fishing, we had a nice chat with the other parents and caught up with a few of the families we'd met the previous year.
The lake fished brilliantly for George's heat, with most of the youngsters into fish from the start. Although he managed to lose two fish on his first peg, it was clear he was getting lots of interest to his flies. He had a choice of two rods - the Echo was rigged up with a floating line and a worm pattern beneath an indicator, while the Agility was set up with the intermediate and one of my lucky tan apache flies.
Somewhat frustratingly, George was so engrossed in his own tactics that he failed to notice that the others catching around him were doing so because of their faster retrieves. While George stuck at it with the slower figure of eights and short strips, the ones who were catching most were stripping the fly back at speed. He was clearly getting bites, but they weren't sticking, and the faster retrieve might have helped him out, we thought.
At around half time, George switched tactics and put on his indicator rig. After a minute, it bobbed under and he struck into a fish. The fish came off, but it (or another) attacked again as he was retrieving and he was in again. We watched through our fingers as he netted it to get off the mark. From there on, he managed lots of further hook ups. It was tricky to tell how many he'd landed, but we'd seen him connect to maybe eight or nine fish, but also lose a few...
One of the youngsters, Alexander Jaffrey, was fishing spectacularly well from the start. He appeared to be using a small lure on an intermediate or sinking line and was stripping it back quickly. Pretty soon he was in double figures, then he filled a score sheet and had to get another, then he smashed the record for the most fish ever caught in a heat and then he just kept going. It was most impressive! All of the parents were in awe, and his fellow competitors must have been amazed.
By the end, we weren't really too sure how many George had caught and had no idea where he'd rank overall. He'd landed five fish, but said he'd lost loads at the net. When the results were read out at the lodge, Toby had taken fifth place with three fish, so George's five fish haul meant he'd got through, just behind Jake Leake, Matthew Davies and the excellent Alexander Jaffrey. George was over the moon.
They'd all fished well and George was delighted to be going through to the Grand Final again. We got to hear all about the tactics that worked on the way home, and we shared with him our observations of what he and the others were doing well on the way back to the hotel. Tomorrow, the plan was to work the margins more, scale the flies down and pay a little more attention to the other entrants - so if they start catching you can try and figure out what techniques are working.
Sunday 23rd July, 2017
We arrived back at Thrunton nice and early to give us a chance to watch the end of the final heat and figure out how the fishing was going to be in the afternoon. As with last year's Grand Final, it was obvious that today was going to be a much harder match than that of the previous day.
There had been three qualifying heats for the final over two days and the conditions had got tougher, the fish become wiser and the weather worsened. Fewer and fewer fish were being caught by the competitors, and some of the top anglers from last year, including previous winner Kyle Tully, had sadly failed to catch in their session. Many of them looked, understandably, gutted...
Over lunch, the other juniors told us how tough their heats had been and what had worked for them and what had not. Those competing in the Grand Final were clearly beginning to get very anxious, so I think everyone was pleased when Trout Fisherman editor Russell Hill suggested that they start the match early so people could get away earlier.
As he headed back to the start line to pick his starting peg, George remarked that those trout had seen hundreds of flies whizzing past them for two days solid so were as wary as they could possibly be. He said it was going to be a match where just one or two fish could win it and he was going to give it his best shot.
In these matches, it's often the first fish landed that can win, so the trick is to catch quickly and get your fish in the net sharpish. Amazingly, George was the first to hook up, but sadly his fish had other ideas and snapped him off, losing him the lucky fly... You could see the look of disappointment on his face as the line pinged back at him. He looked devastated but got straight back into it.
Ten minutes later, James Mockridge hooked up to a fish and had it on for a minute or two, when Morgan Wyn Jones, who'd won yesterday afternoon's heat also hooked up. Morgan figured out that getting his fish to the net could prove vital and he had it caught, checked and released before James had got his ashore.
Watching the competition from the confines and shelter of the Troutmasters tent was nerve-wracking. Indeed, one of the competitors mum's had commented that she'd noticed on her Apple Watch that her heart rate was racing and shot up as her son hooked a fish. The youngsters did well to cope under such tough conditions.
The rest of the match was very tense. A few others caught a single fish, then Morgan hooked a second to widen the lead. George was fishing hard, clearly thinking strategically, fan casting, trying different methods and different flies, but had no further luck. He came back in looking really disheartened, but he'd done well to get to the finals and knew if he'd got his early fish he'd have been looking at second place, so I can see why.
The excuse for losing the fish? George says: "I had a really itchy head. I hooked it and my head was really itchy, so I scratched it and the fish got off. I was really angry when I lost it! It would have got me second place."
After the match, England International Scott Nellins and Trout Fisherman contributor Freddy Bainbridge gave the youngsters some excellent tips on approaching competition fly fishing. Scott's advice really was excellent and I learned loads from this myself. He gave away some top advice on the right gear, leaders and flies; explained how to catch more using grids and countdowns and taught us all that we'd been fishing dry flies completely wrong... It was a shame we only had 10 or 15 minutes with him!
Morgan Wyn Jones won the match with two fish, which was top fishing under the challenging conditions. James Mockridge came second with one fish, while Alexander Jaffrey came in third with one fish caught after James'. George even picked up a little prize himself. Freddy kindly gave him a box of special flies for his dedication and perseverance, which was a lovely gesture. Now hooked on competitive fly fishing, I think it's pretty likely that George will be aiming to return next year!
The Troutmasters event was great. Brilliantly run by Sam and Russ from the magazine and expertly hosted by Jill and Chris from Thrunton. Everyone was really friendly and helpful and provided loads of praise and encouragement, which made for a splendidly enjoyable weekend - even if I didn't get to cast a fly myself. Ge
Saturday 29th July, 2017
We'd planned to visit a new venue today, Tree Tops Fly Fishery in Wrexham. However, a closed road en route meant that we got re-routed into the back of beyond. When it was clear that the sat nav couldn't find an alternative route that didn't involve a dirt track, we decided to head to nearby Llandegla Trout Fishery instead.
The weather was slightly breezy and gloomy, so there was only us and two other fly fishers on the lakes. George was trying out some of the new Apps bloodworms given to him by Freddy Bainbridge at last week's Troutmaster's finals, while I was usign some new hothead lures I tied in Ellerdine Olive. George had gone for a floating line, but I was testing out a new sink tip.
The first half hour was quiet with no bites, despite our methodical approach. However, as is often the case, I hooked up while reeling in the line at speed, just as I was about to move spot. It was a nice little rainbow of about two and a half pounds, and it was clearly something of an athlete, giving me the run around for far longer than it should have done.
George decided to switch tactics and try an indicator with a blob on the point and a new buzzer on the top dropper. He had a pull but missed it. The fish were definitely not feeding ravenously today, so we tried moving to the other side of the lake.
A switch to some tiny black hoppers on the Loop rod did the trick for me, after a stunning little brown smashed the point fly. It was unusually spotted for Llandegla, with a smashing pattern of black and red spots.
After a bit of lunch and some coffee to warm up, we tried the upper lake. It was pretty hard going, with the bites few and far between. George had the odd pull to his blobs, buzzers or apps but I was having no interest to any of my flies. Eventually, I managed to catch a third fish - another rainbow - which took my trusty tan apache, but after that it was back to no action for another hour or two. Eventually, we admitted defeat and went after the rudd with our dry flies. At least they were cooperating and I managed a few nice ones.
Final score: Matt 3 (plus 5 rudd), George 0.