Sunday July 8th, 2018
Temperatures have been in the mid-20s since the beginning of June, it hasn't rained for weeks and it's relentlessly sunny, so the fly fishing has been spectacularly difficult. The rivers are low, the stillwaters are too warm and deoxygenated, so the reservoirs are pretty much the only place worth trying. So we decided to pop over to Llyn Brenig for the morning to get our fly fishing fix.
Our trip coincided with the qualifiers for the Welsh Senior team, which takes place over the whole weekend. Yesterday they'd managed to find a few fish on the bank near the old quarry towards Tower Bay, but the fishing had not been easy. Chatter in the car park revealed that several of the competitors in yesterday's match had blanked, and most only managed a single fish. We, therefore, weren't expecting much. A single fish would be a result given the weather.
As it was so hot and sunny we were both fishing sinking lines. George was using a new #5 Di3 on his Loop Evotec, while I was fishing an Airflo Sixth Sense Di3 on my Loop #6. We'd also got a rod each rigged up with a floating line and a 16-18' leader to see if there were any fish taking buzzers or dries. The first couple of drifts through the quarry revealed nothing, but on the third, as we neared the shore, George got several pulls on consecutive casts after something took a fancy to his minky booby.
A few casts later and he was into his first fish! It was a very feisty rainbow of about 2.5 pounds, which pulled really well for its size. Brenig fish fight very hard and, as the water is still relatively cool, they still fight well in the summer months too. As he was getting some action on the minky booby, I decided to copy his tactics and see if I could mimic what he was doing and get a piece of the action.
A few casts later and George had a rather unusual follow. Not one fish but a whole shoal of six or so good-sized perch - all one or two pounds in size - closely followed by a mid-sized jack pike! They were all going for his zonker but as he hanged the fly on the end of the cast they must have spotted us above and all went back to the depths. It was quite a sight. We've seen some great Brenig perch on recent trips, but have yet to catch one of the bigger ones.
As the action was pretty much non-existent on the Tower Bay side we decided to try the dam wall. After a few casts, I took had some interest from a big perch and had a good sized fish follow up my fly and grab it just a few feet below the surface. It was a cracking looking fish with a huge mouth, but a few head shakes later and it was off. Clearly, I should have set the hook harder...
With the temperature now heading to the upper 20s, we were starting to cook in our skins in the boat and the fish were really disinterested. After half a dozen drifts in various places, we decided to give up and head home before we melted in the sun.
Final score: Matt 0, George 1
Sunday, July 15th, 2018
With only a week to go before the Junior Troutmasters finals in Northumberland, we figured it might be wise to get some practice in from the banks of a stillwater. We have been intentionally avoiding small stillwaters in the past two months as it's been so hot and we've had so little rain that they're too warm for trout and consequently are fishing very badly.
Thankfully, there was a bit of cloud cover when we arrived which kept the sun off for the first 30 minutes of our session. We were both using two rods: George was using his Loop Evotec #5 with a Sunray floating line and his Echo #5 with a Di3, while I was using a #6 Loop Evotec with a Di3 and a #5 Evotec with a Barrio Smallstream floating line. Llandegla isn't particularly deep, but we figured the fish wouldn't be on the top, which seemed to prove correct.
I hooked my first fish within the first twenty minutes after it took a tan apache just as I was dangling it into the water to strip off some line to cast. There wasn't really any skill involved, nor a bite, but it did save me from a blank. A few minutes later and George had a fish from the same spot. He'd been fishing a white cat's whisker along the reeds and had hooked into something feisty, which we soon realised was a colourful tiger trout.
After a great scrap - especially given the warm weather - he netted the tiger, took a quick snap and then released it. It went back fine, thankfully, so presumably, there's still a decent amount of oxygen in the water to keep the trout comfortable. We tried a few different methods over the next hour or so, but nothing was biting, so we figured we may as well relax and have a bit of breakfast on the bank!
After we'd been fortified we moved up to the top lake, and I managed to catch a fish on the first cast. Bizarrely, this came to the same "method" I'd used before, i.e. it was a fluke! This time I'd switched to a FAB on the Di3 and had literally just dropped it on the surface to strip off some line to cast when it was immediately snaffled by a rainbow!
From here on the fishing just got tougher and tougher, and aside from my two fish caught on luck and George's, caught on skill, the only other fish we found feeding were rudd. We, therefore, decided to give up on the trout and go for the rudd instead...
Final score: Matt 2, George 1 (plus loads of rudd)
Saturday, 21st July 2018
Today marked the highlight of George's fishing year (and mine, for that matter), as it was the Junior Troutmasters Finals. It's the third year in a row that we've travelled five hours north to Thrunton Long Crag Fishery in Northumberland to attend this excellent event which is organised by Trout Fisherman magazine. The final is split into three heats held over two days each of which contains 12 very talented young fly fishers battling to be in the top four chosen to compete in the Grand Final, who each won their heats held at fisheries around the UK.
George would be up against some local friends today - including James Penwright, who qualified at Tan-Y-Mynydd and Harry Forrester who was representing what we view as our home water, Ellerdine Lakes, who George has represented twice before. This year, George was representing another of our local fisheries, Westlow Mere in Cheshire.
Troutmasters is a particularly well-run competition, with parents kept well away from children to keep their performance down to their own skills, not their dad's, and there's roughly one steward per competitor.
Conditions were not the greatest - to save the least. Last year it rained torrentially, but this year - what with the two-month heatwave we've experienced - it was very warm and had been for weeks. Thankfully, there was at least a breeze to add a bit of ripple. It was hard to tell exactly what was going on from the other side of a massive lake, but we know he hooked and lost a number of fish, including one which took the whole leader, braided loop and all, just as he was netting it.
The first fish landed apparently fell to one of George's personal zonker patterns, known as "the orange thing", while the second fell to a CDC and deer hair sedge I'd tied during week! In what was a tense match for the parents to watch from the sidelines, we saw a total of 11 fish caught by the 12 juniors fishing. However, a number of them had blanked, so the fish distribution wasn't even.
I won't steal Trout Fisherman's thunder by announcing the full details, but George and two others all had two fish and the winner had three, so it came down to the times the fish were landed to decide the other placings. We were really chuffed to see George take third, and his friend James take fourth, to put both of them through to the Grand Final.
Harry (and his dad Paul) did a great job supporting George in the morning, so George decided to lend him his lucky fly - the orange thing - to use in his qualifying heat in the afternoon session. We were all hoping that the three Ellerdine juniors - George, James and Harry - would all get through. Unfortunately, the conditions got even worse by the time Harry's group were up and it was an extremely difficult session that was tense to watch from the banks.
We were all willing Harry to win. George had his fingers and every other appendage crossed to try and generate some luck. We were starting to run out of fingernails by the end, but sadly, and despite fishing as hard as he could, the terrible weather meant Harry didn't get through, which was a real wrench. Everyone was gutted...
Sunday 22nd July 2018
We were back at Thrunton Long Crag bright and early to watch the final heat and help prepare George for competing in his third final in a row. Conditions were really, really tough and with 12 fishing, only two anglers caught fish. This led to the grand final being lengthened by an extra hour and a couple of non-qualifying anglers from earlier heats being brought back to the fishery to make up the numbers for the finals! It was obvious from the start that this was going to be a tough one.
Fly fishing legend Charles Jardine did a great job calming George's nerves and gave him and the other juniors some great advice on tactics and the contours of the lake and how they could use that to their advantage. Following his advice, George opted for a long 18' leader on his #5 Loop with a floating line and used a couple of epoxy buzzers to try to get down to the non-stockies holding in the thermocline. That seemed to be doing the trick, as we watched him from the far side of the lake striking into fish after fish at range - though sadly none could be hooked.
George's friend James, however, got off to a great start, catching his fish within just three minutes! Due to the time system used in this match, in which the first to catch has priority in the rankings (rather than the last to catch, as in the qualifying rounds), anyone else was going to need two fish to beat him and that could prove a challenge with the sun beating down and the temperature in the high 20s. We watched as Elliot Guthrie hooked and lost a fish moments later, but then everything went dead for a good hour or so.
George was trying everything he could, working through a variety of dries, tiny natural patterns, lures, buzzers and a range of other things on different lines, different depths and different distances. He wasn't giving up, but you could see from his body language that he was finding it extremely tough going. By the end of the match, two-thirds of anglers had also failed to catch a fish! Many of those we spoke to afterwards didn't get a bite the whole afternoon, so at least George had managed to find some feeders.
The match ended with three anglers each on two fish - Harrison, Elliot and Michael - knocking James on one fish into fourth place position. They'd all done really well in such terrible conditions and we were all really pleased to see James get through, but George was clearly gutted not to have caught himself, despite numerous near misses on the buzzers. Getting to the finals for three consecutive years is not bad going though, and he was the youngest finalist once again. He's got four more chances to try before he's too old.
As ever, everyone involved in the Troutmasters match was superb - from Sam and Jeff at Trout Fisherman, through to the Thrunton staff, Chris, Jill and Stevie, and the excellent and encouraging stewards, and Charles Jardine who gave an excellent casting demonstration at the end. Even James Stokoe turned up to encourage the finalists. With George currently on the way to his second Gold Troutmasters badge of 2018, he is crossing his fingers and hoping next year will be the fourth final in a row.