Ever dreamed of taking part in or even winning a major fly fishing competition? Well Jamie Thomas did just that when he took part in the 2015 Lexus European Fly Fishing Championship! Find out how Jamie won the ultimate fly fishing prize, and the fly fishing tackle and techniques he used to give himself the edge.
As most will be aware the Lexus European Fly Fishing Championship is one of, if not the biggest individual fly fishing competition in the world. It undoubtedly has the most impressive prize in angling with a brand new Lexus RH450 SUV being presented to the winner for a 12 month period. The final for 2015 was to be fished on Grafham Water on Saturday 12 September 2015 and the build up to the event could not have been more complicated.
So, the Saturday before, I am fishing Bewl in an Association of Major Fly Fishing Clubs (AMFC) match for the Soldier Palmers. It was a pretty tough day with only one take all day which at least was nice enough to stay on the line to save the blank! As I was waiting to weigh-in my very tiny 1lb 6oz trout I received a text message telling me I had been offered a place in the Lexus Final due to me being the next placed angler outside the qualifiers on Grafham earlier in the year. Unfortunately, I was 11th in the qualifier with the top 10 going to the final. Luckily for me someone had dropped out and therefore I got the call, so I was in the Lexus Final by default!
So to Grafham… at 1550 acres Grafham Water is the eighth largest reservoir in England and is by quite a margin my favourite. Having been a member of the Soldier Palmers for the last 15 years I have had the opportunity to fish on all the major waters across the country on the competition scene. I have been in the Army for all of that time and on the basis that I have moved location every 2 years, but Grafham has consistently been my local water, although during some of those moves it was several hours away. There are a number of reasons for me having such affection for Grafham but in general it is the fact that it has rarely let me down. The whole experience from the efficiency of the staff to the quality of the fish that are in the water make it my favourite venue by quite a margin.
When it was confirmed that I had been given a place in the Lexus Final that was being held on Grafham Water I knew I would be arriving on the water with some home advantage. With me now scraping into the final, that now made 3 anglers from the Soldier Palmers in the competition, we made a bit of a plan to practice with myself and Lindsay Simpson making a plan to practice on the Wednesday before match day and Paul Calvert on the day before. Myself and Lindsay arrived bright and early on the Wednesday morning with conditions perfect, light winds and almost 100% cloud cover in the morning with sunny spells in the afternoon. It would be fair to say that we left the jetty like two kids on Xmas morning; we knew that a good day’s fishing was on the cards and Grafham did not let us down. By the time we came off the water that evening we had brought lots of fish to the boat from multiple areas and had found a method we were both confident would work during the match. We passed the info to Paul for him to confirm the areas and method on the Friday.
To match day…….as I arrived in the Carpark at 8.00am the cars and anglers were arriving from far and wide. There was a distinct buzz in the air as I got out of the car with small groups of friends and acquaintances probing for information mixed with general banter. The boat draw had been released on Facebook the evening before by John Horsey and I had received a “friend request” from Charlie Abrahams confirming we had been drawn together. I had never had the opportunity to share a boat with Charlie before but one of the things I enjoy most about competition angling is meeting new people and having the opportunity to learn from them during the day out. Myself and Charlie had a bit of a chat during which I told him that this was day 1 of 4 consecutive days I would be fishing and that if he wanted to take the engine I would be grateful. We talked areas and confirmed that we had found the same fish and off we went to get our kit.
To the tactics…. I try to keep my fishing affordable and therefore over the years I have found the Airflo fishing gear to be of high quality, within my price range and with an excellent customer care package after purchase. I fish with almost exclusively Airflo equipment and have inadvertently become a walking/talking advertisement for their tackle, I am sure if you ask most of my boat partners over the years they will confirm just that. Therefore, my set up on the day consisted of the following:
Rod – I fish with an Airflo 10ft Forty plus Nan Tec in 7/8, I have had great faith in these rods over the past couple of years. I have 2 of these rods in 7/8 and a further 2 in 8/9 which I use when I fish in a big wind. The rods come with 2 tips (accuracy and distance) of which I normally use the distance tip. Due to the winds on match day not being predicted to be to strong I fished with the 7/8 and used the distance tip.
Line – In the morning the cloud cover was forecast to be about 80% with the sun making an appearance as the day went on. During practice we found that an Airflo Slow Glass was the best line but we needed to go deeper if the sun came out. I set up on the Slow Glass initially knowing that I would be moving to an Airflo Di3 Sweep when the sun came out.
Leader – As I previously mentioned I keep me fishing tackle affordable and have found that leader material can be a significant recurring cost throughout the season, the only leader I use is Airflo G3 Sightfree which I fish in 10 lb for all my competition fishing. 100m spools with a BOGOF with every purchase, keeps it within my price range. I find that this leader material gives me a good chance of landing any double hook-ups and it is a leader I have utter confidence in. I planned to fish a 4 fly set up with 4ft between my flies and 10ft to my fly line, this is my standard set up for most competition fishing with a 22ft leader of 10lb enabling me to change lines quickly as required.
Flies – I had found during the practice that the fish were coming to 2 patterns, a candy booby or a UV cruncher. So on match day I fished the following 4 flies, on point went the Candy Booby in size 10, middle 2 droppers had a size 10 UV Cruncher each and on my top dropper went a size 12 orange Booby Blob.
Retrieve – During the practice we found that a quick retrieve worked better and therefore on the morning of the match I planned to fish a roly-poly retrieve to the hang. The weather conditions forecast was for 12 – 16mph winds and therefore a roly-poly retrieve would keep me in contact with my flies.
Location – On discussion with Charlie he had found a concentration of fish near Marlow Stones with me and Lindsay finding a concentration of fish in Church Bay both of which are on the North Shore of Grafham and not too far to travel to get between locations. With Charlie taking the engine he was keen to go to Marlow Stones first agreeing that we could move to Church Bay if we didn’t catch there.
So at 10.00hrs the match started with the 100 anglers spreading from Hill Farm all along the North Shore to the Willows and also some boats heading to A buoy near the south side of the Dam. We quickly arrived at Marlow Stones area with the wind blowing onto the North Shore; we set up our first drift approximately 200m of the shore and started fishing. With only 2 follows between us on this drift things were not looking great; we moved the boat along the shore towards G Buoy and started again. I then had my first fish in the boat taking the UV Cruncher high in the water early in the retrieve, the roly-poly retrieve on the Slow Glass with 2 boobies was keeping the flies within a foot of the surface. We repeated this drift for nothing before moving along the shore now drifting from outside G Buoy into Rectory Bay, as we moved along the shore both myself and Charlie caught a fish each.
As forecast the cloud cover quickly broke and I made my decision to change from the Slow Glass to the Di3 Sweep. Line change done I then took fish number 3 on the next cast proving my tactics, this fish was definitely deeper than the previous 2 and also came to the hang and took the Orange Blob. In every competition there are little moments of luck that an angler needs to be successful; my moment came just before 1200hrs. We had completed a number of drifts and had not had any further action to our boat, we started to see a number of boats making major location moves and it was clear that not many were catching as quickly as they would have hoped. I discussed with Charlie where we would move to next and made a quick decision to have a look over in Church Bay were a large portion of the fleet had gone. We moved to outside Church Bay and quickly realised that it was not fishing well either, so back to Marlow Stones we went. Another few unsuccessful drifts and we started to discuss where we would go next and we agreed that we would head across to the Dam to see what was going on there. Actually we agreed that after this final drift we would move but this drift we would fish it right into the shore, within 20 yards of the shore in no more than 3 foot of water I caught 2 fish in 2 casts both coming to the cruncher on the hang. I was able to watch the fish following the Orange Blob and at the last minute turn and take the Cruncher. We repeated the drift again and I took 2 further fish in the same patch of water 20 yards from the shore, we looked behind and realised that we had no other boats near us and proceeded to repeat drift with the area to ourselves. I quickly moved to 8 fish with Charlie struggling on 1, he was putting his flies in the same area but not getting the same success with me picking up fish in the same area consistently.
Time was moving on and by 1700hrs I had 11 fish to Charlie’s 3, the wind then blew up and we made a decision to move across to have the last half hour between L Buoy and the Lodge Front. As we had some opportunity during the day to talk to other passing anglers it was clear that not many had caught more than 3 fish and that I was in with a real chance of being in the prizes. As we set up our final drift on L Buoy Charlie quickly took his 4th and final fish, in my head I was thinking that I would need at least one more fish and with 15 minutes to go I took a fish on the hang in front of the boat with it being the only fish to come to the Candy Blob all day. We quickly packed up and made our way to the jetty, as we were motoring in Charlie was much more confident than me that I was going to be in the top 3. As we were unloading our kit from the boat the discussions from other anglers were of it being a tough day with most having caught 3 or 4 fish. It was looking good for me.
We were one of the last few anglers to weigh in and as I handed in my card and called out my total bag of 12 fish it was very evident that I was in the prizes, having not seen or heard of other big bags I wasn’t sure of which prize I would get. I met up with my fellow Soldier Palmers, Lindsay and Paul and discussed how the day went. As we sat down in the restaurant waiting for the results, I felt a tap on my shoulder and was asked by one of the Anglian Water Staff if I could come down to the weigh in area. As I walked into the room John Horsey rose to his feet and congratulating me on my win, I had won the Lexus Final with 12 fish for 27lb 4oz and the second placed angler had caught 11 fish for 25lb 12oz!
Each fish caught that day had been important in their own right; however none were more important than that fish caught in the last 15 minutes outside the Lodge. I was quickly ushered outside for some photographs in front of the Lexus before the light faded and then moved back up to the restaurant for the meal and presentation.
As I drove to Rutland Water after the event I had an opportunity to reflect on my day, there were a number of important factors that had contributed to my success and I believe these to be as follows:
- Practice was important; we found a concentration of fish and most importantly a method to catch them.
- I was fortunate to have drawn Charlie Abrahams as my partner for the day, an experienced angler who at the point of realising I was in the prizes made every effort to provide encouragement.
- I got three distinctly lucky breaks! First, we were about to make a drastic move to the dam when I caught 2 very quick fish close to the shore, this ultimately kept us in that area the remainder of the day. Secondly, I caught a fish in the last 15 minutes of the match. As the match was catch and release after 4 fish, this fish was the difference between first or second. Third and finally, the moons aligned. Every single fish I hooked that day came to the boat even after de-barbing my flies, they just stayed on.
As I type this now with the season drawing to a close and only a few minor matches left to fish I know that in 2015 I won the Lexus Fly Fishing Championship with a strong plan and a little slice of luck thrown in, the field of anglers present on that day was very impressive and to come out on top is the culmination of many years of fishing for the Soldier Palmers.
As I have stated earlier, fly fishing is only possible for me if I keep it affordable. I may be a walking advertisement for Airflo fishing equipment but that is only because it’s within my budget and I have utter confidence in its ability to put fish in the boat in any conditions. I can tell you now that 2016 will be no different, I may be driving a brand new Lexus for the next 12 months but the tackle in the boot will still be Airflo branded equipment.