After years of talking about it, Beardy Paul and I finally decided to try some competition fly-fishing. Ian Barr was running the World Bank Masters at Farmoor in March so we entered the doubles competition.
As I live closer, I had a trip out the previous Thursday to try out the conditions and get some tactics sorted. Whilst the weather had warmed up a little, the water was still cold and, historically, Farmoor takes a little longer to warm up than other waters. I presumed the fish would still be relatively deep so started off with a fast intermediate and a team of flies: a weighted black and green lure on point, a cormorant on the middle dropper and a diawl bach on the top dropper. I started casting into the wind and was into a fish relatively high on the second cast, on the lure, but this proved to be an anomaly as most fish were indeed deep. I wandered around the reservoir throughout the morning catching a few on the lure deep down. As the day warmed up I changed to a floating line and caught several more on the cormorant (also black and green) and the diawl bach, including a double hook up. The afternoon weather was quite mild and there was an early buzzer hatch, so I had another three on deep, black and green buzzers. Nine fish in total which, I thought, was a reasonable haul this early in the season and some good options for the day of the competition.
On the day of the competition we arrived at Farmoor early in the morning to grey skies and solid rain; not the best conditions. We also arrived to find an amazing amount of kit being unloaded by the other anglers. There was no limits on rods and it seemed everyone else had a least three with some guys from Spain carrying racks of seven rods! Our single rod each seemed a little under-cooked by comparison.
The competition would be fished on a catch and release basis across multiple pegs. We had thirty five minutes per peg and then everyone moved around. With five pegs in the morning and five in the afternoon, we had around five hours fishing time. Beardy Paul and I were starting on opposite ends of the reservoir – so much for a friendly days fishing. As we all arrived on our starting peg and stood waiting for the starter horn to sound, there was a palpable sense of nerves and anticipation. With the weather remaining warm, I’d decided to start with a floating line, using a weighted lure on point and a heavy cormorant on the middle dropper, to get the line down, with a diawl bach on the top dropper.
As the hooter sounded, there was a flurry of frantic activity as a hundred anglers got cracking. I got an early fish on the lure, which settled my nerves a little but nothing else on the first peg. As the hooter sounded for the end of the first session, I couldn’t believe how quickly the time had gone. But there was no time to waste; we had five minutes to get to the next peg before the hooter sounded the start of the second session. I caught early, on the lure, but again the takes dried up quickly. I was confident I had the right depth and as fishing just over the ledge that runs around the reservoir about 10-15 yards out. Before I knew it the second session was over and we were running to the next peg. I had nothing on the third and fourth pegs, despite a few changes in fly, but got my third fish on the fifth peg to a black buzzer.
By the time the hooter sounded to end the morning session, I was knackered. I had three fish but people around me were catching a lot more. I caught up with Beardy Paul over lunch and found he’d struggled with one fish.
BP – Yes, not a great start to a fishing competition! I started with a midge tip to try and get down deep but stay with a floating type 3 fly rig but soon realised the midge tip line was not casting well into the wind. I changed to an intermediate and caught 1 on a blob and then proceeded to change through every other line I had in my bag to try and find fish. The pressure of the competition and seeing others catching had made me chase the perfect setup. What I should have done was stick to fishing what I knew would work. In the afternoon I did stick to a floater for most of the time and had better success. 1 in the net, 3 missed and 1 that wriggled off seconds before the final hooter!
The afternoon session started off well with two fish coming to buzzers on the first peg. I missed a couple on the second peg and that was it, I had no more takes for the rest of the day. I got the impression that the volume of angler pressure had pushed the fish out into deep water and out of my casting range. Beardy Paul had managed another fish in the afternoon with a few that got away.
The prize-giving was an enlightening event. The winning pair had caught thirty fish between them with one of the pair responsible for twenty-four fish. He had been fishing next to Beardy Paul and his approach had seemingly been to throw huge casts out into the middle of the water with a sinking line to get down deep and then stripping back snakes with a roly-poly retrieve. You can’t deny it was effective but it’s not a style of fishing that I like, even in a competition.
As a newcomer to competition fishing, I found it strange that you have amateur and professional’s competing side by side. You might argue that there are no pro’s in fly fishing but a lot of the top guys do this for a living; they fish almost every day, are sponsored by big brands and have access to equipment out of the reach of many casual anglers; I could simply not afford to have seven rods rigged with full kit. I appreciate these guys have to earn a living and winning competitions gives them excellent publicity but whether it is ‘fair’, I’m not sure.
Beardy Paul and I had a good chat afterwards. This was our first competition and we both decided it would probably be our last. I have to say the event was well run, the prizes were excellent, it was well-organised and, generally, the anglers there were a good, friendly bunch. However, we both decided that volume of fish was not the reason we go fishing. We both enjoy having a day away from the stresses and strains of work, love being out in the fresh air and appreciate the peace and quiet. While we obviously enjoy catching, it’s the hunt rather than the numbers – finding the fish and trying to imitate something they want to eat. It was hard work fishing this format and there was undeniably a pressure to catch, and catch lots. While the camaraderie was a positive, competition fishing, on this scale, was just not enjoyable, for us at least. To bastardize Mark Twain “it was a good day’s fishing spoilt.”
BP – It was a fun day overall, but I could have quite happily spent the day in a boat having a nice fish and a chat. Chucking out a shooting line and stripping back lures for 8 hours isn’t my idea of a fun day out. Taking part was a great experience and although it wasn’t for us this time I’m sure we might look at other competitions again.