How to get into youth competition fly fishing

Everything you need to know to get started in competitive youth fly fishing so you can enter the England Youth Fly Fishing Nationals.

How to get into youth competition fly fishing
© Fly and Lure
How to get into youth competition fly fishing
Picture copyright © Fly and Lure
How to get into youth competition fly fishing
Estimated reading time 12 - 20 minutes

What are the England Youth Fly Fishing Nationals?

The England Youth Fly Fishing Nationals is an annual fly fishing competition for youngsters aged 12 to 17 and is used as part of the selection process for fishing for the England Youth Fly Fishing team.

The England Youth Fly Fishing team comprises 15 members (14 and 1 reserve). They receive additional training to enable them to compete at International level.

Each year, England, Scotland, Ireland, or Wales, hosts an International match where each country's team competes against each other for the overall winner's prize.

Picture copyright © Fly and Lure.
"I love competition fly fishing. I get to learn new skills and meet people my own age who also love fishing as much as me. It's great fun.", George Clarke

When and where are the Nationals held?

The Nationals are held around the second week of September each year on a large Midlands reservoir, usually Draycote Water in Warwickshire, or Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire.

Picture copyright © Fly and Lure.

What's the competition format?

Like most fly fishing competitions, the England Youth Fly Fishing Nationals is a "loch style fly fishing" event. That means you fish from a drifting boat, rather than from the bank. You also fish to International fly fishing rules, creating a level playing field for all anglers that is easy to monitor.

The competition typically starts at 9:00 and ends at around 5:00pm, with a break for lunch. You'll share a boat with a fellow competitor and a boatman who officiates, but you're in charge of driving and operating the boat for at least half of the match.

Picture copyright © Fly and Lure.

How is the team selected?

Every year a proportion of the current team will typically roll over so there is consistency within the team and the very best are assured their place. Effectively, the performance of these existing team members in the International they fished earlier in the year will guarantee their place the following year.

Picture copyright © Fly and Lure.

That means that there are generally only a handful of places available on the team each year for new members. This varies according to the age of the existing team, since there's an age limit of 17 at the time of the International, so some years there have been more spaces than others.

Basically, if you want to get onto the England team, you're fighting to show you're the best candidate for one of the vacant spots by catching as many fish as you can in the Nationals with the aim of being selected. There is a lower age limit of 12 for qualification. 

Picture copyright © Fly and Lure.

Where can I develop the skills I need to compete?

While a reasonable number of youngsters fly fish, most of them do this on small stillwaters. The Nationals and the Internationals are both held on large reservoirs, lakes, or lochs, and are fished loch style to International rules. Therefore, the single best thing you can do to develop your skills is starting learning loch-style fly fishing techniques on as many large reservoirs as you can.

Where can I learn loch style fly fishing?

Before you start competitive fly fishing or enter the Nationals, it would be worth getting some proper practice sessions in on a reservoir - ideally, Grafham Water or Draycote Water, where the matches are held.

George (now 14) entered his first England Youth National aged 11. Prior to this, he spent a year practicing his loch-style techniques on various reservoirs. Since I didn't know how to do this either, we invested in some lessons from a couple of professionals to get him up to speed.

Picture copyright © Fly and Lure.
"Dad didn't know how to fly fish from a boat when we started so the lessons I got for my birthday were really useful and Tom was an excellent instructor", George Clarke

What coaches do you recommend?

His first lesson was with Tom Bird who runs Draycote Water's fishery in Warwickshire. Tom was excellent and taught George how to operate the boat and how to use a range of sunken line techniques, such as pulling lures and fishing boobies. These lessons can be booked by contacting Tom at the Draycote Water fishing lodge.

Picture copyright © Fly and Lure.

We also did a couple of sessions with competition fly fisher Nick Dunn. Like Tom, Nick has also fished at International level so was able to teach George some other techniques, including dries, blobs, nymphs, fishing wind lanes, and various other things. We'd highly recommend having a lesson with either Tom or Nick to help you get started.

Picture copyright © Fly and Lure.

How can I improve my skills?

There are three main ways. Firstly, you need to practice lots on large reservoirs, ideally using competition legal techniques, so you're confident using them in matches.

Secondly, you should watch the many excellent YouTube videos available from top UK competition fly fishers, who share their skills and knowledge. We would highly recommend both Tim Joyce and Steve Cullen's channels if you want to get some top tips.

Finally, the other way to get better is to start fishing in more competitions, ideally at the senior level. This will not only prepare you for the pressure of the match but also gives you the opportunity to pick up tips from top competitive fly fishers with whom you'll be fishing against from the same boat.

Picture copyright © Fly and Lure.

How can I enter senior competitions?

There are two main senior fly fishing competitions to consider: the Scierra Pairs run by Phil Dixon, and the Anglers World Holidays Fly Fishing Championships run by John Horsey. Neither of them is technically open or set up for juniors, however, if you're already competent, you may be allowed to enter if you ask nicely.

The Anglers World Holidays Fly Fishing Championships is an individual competition (like the Youth Nationals) and you'll fish in a boat against a senior competitor, with no boatman. George fished a couple of heats of this competition (aged 11 or 12) and made it to the finals.

Fellow England Youth Team member Alexander Jaffrey nearly won the event in 2021 - beating many big-name anglers! Albert Coales, son of top competition angler Rob Edmunds, has also been fishing brilliantly at senior level.

The Scierra Pairs, as the name suggests, is a pair-based competition and you and your teammate will fish together from the same boat with no boatman. Several of the current England Youth Fly Fishing Team, including George and his friend James, are fishing in Scierra Pairs matches this year to help them improve their skills.

Picture copyright © Fly and Lure.
"Fishing the John Horsey competition was awesome. My boat partners were both really nice and taught me loads. I even beat one of them and got to the finals!", George Clarke

How good do I need to be?

You'll need to be able to fish independently. In the competition there will be nobody there to offer advice or help with knots or tangles, so you'll need to be able to do everything yourself. The boatman is there as an official to check you're following the rules and isn't supposed to help.

It would be very advisable to learn how to fish with droppers. You'll need to be able to fish with a range of lines, techniques, and competition legal flies. Unfortunately, those long-tailed lures, bead-headed flies, squirmy wormies, or snakes, are all banned in competitions, so get used to using what you're allowed to use. You can't use barbed hooks either.

You'll need to be able to operate a boat and know where to fish on a reservoir. While a boatman is present, they're just an official and you're supposed to drive the boat yourself for half of the match. Most reservoirs will give you a lesson if you need some help.

Picture copyright © Fly and Lure.

What gear will I need?

Current England Youth Team Manager, Craig Barr, recommends that members have the following equipment. Not all lines are required, but you'll certainly need a floater, an intermediate, and a sinker or some kind, plus plenty of competition legal flies tied on good quality hooks.

  • A 10' #7-8 or 9'6" #6-7 fly rod
  • A cassette fly reel and spools
  • Floating fly line
  • Midge tip fly line
  • Intermediate fly line
  • Di3 fly line
  • Di5 fly line
  • Di7 fly line
  • Fluorocarbon leader in 7lb to 12.5lb
  • Copolymer leader in 6lb to 7lb
  • International fly guage
  • Waterproof clothing
  • Hat
  • Polarised sunglasses
  • Boat seat (recommended)
  • A wide range of competition legal flies
  • Gink and Xink fly floatant and sinkant
  • Fuller's Earth
  • Boat landing net (often provided by the fishery)
  • Drogue (often provided by the fishery)
Picture copyright © Fly and Lure.

The Talent Pathway

Back in 2017 and before, the Angling Trust ran a Talent Pathway programme. This was designed to recognise up-and-coming youth fly fishing talent and teach them the skills they'd need to compete at National and International level. We were hoping to get George on this, but unfortunately, the Talent Pathway disappeared. However, contacts at the Angling Trust have expressed an interest in bringing it back.

The current lack of a Talent Pathway arguably means the only way you'll gain the skills you need is if you teach yourself, find someone willing to teach you, or if your parents can get you a lesson as a birthday or Christmas present (coaching lessons typically cost £100-200 for a day, so are not at all cheap).

However, while there's currently no Talent Pathway, the coaches at the time did create some superb training videos which cover pretty much everything you'll need to know. Watch these videos a few times and put the advice into practice and you'll be sorted, but we would highly recommend at least one lesson from a proper instructor who fishes competitions.

The competition format

The rules

Strategy and approach

Developing a game plan

Nutrition and hydration

Boat setup

How to use the engine

Drifting

Loch style flies

Pulling lures with sinking lines

Straight line nymphing

The washing line

The bung

Dries

Summing up

How do I enter the England Youth Fly Fishing Nationals?

The Nationals are held in September each year at either Draycote Water in Warwickshire or Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire. Unfortunately, they are typically announced at quite short notice (maybe two or three weeks in advance), spaces are limited, and they're not very well advertised. You'll need to keep an eye out for them or contact the Angling Trust to see if they'll keep you abreast of updates.

There's a small fee for entry (typically around £20, I think) and there are some prizes to win on the day, as well as the potential of a coveted place on the England Youth Fly Fishing team and the amazing opportunity to represent your country at International level.

If you love fly fishing and want to meet like-minded people your own age who share your passion, as well as learn new skills, we'd highly recommend entering.

More information

Craig Barr (England Youth Manager): craig@flashattackflies.com

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