The Anglian Water Airflo International is THE competition which all six man teams in the UK fish for.. Spending a lot of valuable time and money qualifying for just a week long fishing trip. But to most it means hell of a lot more than ‘just a fishing trip’. It’s where the top UK teams win their place to compete in one of the most prestigious fly fishing competitions ever to be run, starting off as the Benson and Hedges back some 30 years back.
This was my fifth year actually fishing in the nymphomaniacs team and qualifying through to the final at Rutland Water. One of my favourite lakes to fish. I don’t know what it is about Rutland but the quality and quantity of the fish in Rutland just keep anglers coming back for more, if you want the stockies there’s always fish in the main basin and on the opposite side of the scale, the grown on more resident fish in the lake can be found up the arms, the north being my favourite.
We travelled to Rutland Saturday morning, all three nympho vehicles in convoy and ready to hit the water. My partner for the day was Dean and we’d split the lake up into three sections. More or less drawing a line from the bottom of the south and north arm splitting the lake into three main areas. Our area for the day was the basin, we had a few fish from the basin practising for the Lexus a few weeks previous but not enough to keep us there or start a competition there.
This time of year is weird on Rutland, it always seems to blow up and change the fishing, it’s one of the only lakes where a blow really brings the fish on, they lay high in the water and even a slow glass or midge tip is too deep!
We started just outside the jetty and decided to hit the buoy markers all the way down the right hand side, across the dam and the far side up to S buoy at Belgrano. With the wind being high and the sun bright me and dean fished two different fly lines, Dean using the 40+ di 5 and I on the standard sixth sense Di 7. My choice of flies was the ‘Black knight’ double sparkler on the point and an olive blob on the top. I decided to take the colour out of the cast to see if it made a difference to hook up rate and takes. Dean started with a standard pulling cast, a blob, dabbler and a cat booby on the point.
Within the first drift I locked into a fish on the sparkler, a good stocky which fought well and was quickly returned. We worked our way bouncing in and out of the bank until we reached fantasy corner, on the way we seen a few fish caught in one little area, with Dean hitting one and netting one in the same spot. The clouds came over and I swapped rods, I had a fast glass with more or less the same cast setup, two flies, but this time with a fair bit more colour. It seemed that the fish were only responding to brightly coloured flies so I added a sunburst double blob on the point. Within a drift we’d found the stockies and put over 5 more fish in the boat, again to the bright flies.
We worked the dam, taking the boat out into the middle of the basin and drifting in close to the shore, the big wind seemed to push the food and the fish close to the banks, so that’s where the majority of the fish seemed to be. As we worked our way along the dam wall we boated around 15 fish in a few consecutive drifts, moving to another area of the basin after a few fish. It was crawling, with many fish along the buoyed off area of the wall around 50 yards out.
We ended that day with around 24 fish in the boat, with most of the fishing coming to either a fast glass or the 40+ Di 5.
Day two the fishing changed completely. Fishing me and Allen took the boat to the south arm and went looking for some lumps. The day before the guys up the south already found the majority of the fish, and so had everyone else. So we decided to take a bit of time out and go looking for some good fish. Allen nymphed the top of the south at manton, with the new 6 Fast glass mini tip, within the first drift he’d taken two fish to around three pounds, and I, pulling on a di 5 had nothing. The wind was forecast to pick up in the afternoon but it came in early and forced us out of manton. A strong squally wind was tough to compete with so we made our way around into cattle-trough and hideaway. No fish were caught here but the wind was now just above 20mph with bright sunshine. Making our way down the arm we spotted a fish rising at berry butts, we stopped and had a drift. I bubbled one to my fry pattern only for Allen to pull his flies along side and coax it to take! A fish of around two and a half pounds.
By 3pm I was blanking, pulling at this end of the lake was certainly not the way to go! We headed over the Yellowstones and it was like flicking a switch, within the first drift, I and Allen both locked up into a fish. The next few drifts saw us land over 10 fish, it was obvious where they were!
Day three was much the same, the fish in the north arm had be located by the previous nymphos to fish, so it was just a case of me and Matthew making sure they were still there, and spending some time after some lumps, which unfortunately, again, didn’t come. We worked the top of the arm for some time with nymphs and alike for just one fish. As we headed into ‘the areas’ along the windward side the fishing hotted up. Within no time there were fish following and in the boat, we didn’t spend too much time on these fish as keeping an eye on boats was our main concern. Watching where and how the fish were reacting to pressure.
Competition Day One
Day one I drew one of the Irish competitors, Steve Ellis, an angler who has spent a lot of time on Rutland the last few years with the Emerald Island team. After a brief chat over who’s sitting where and where we wanted to go, it was time to head to the dam. We’d decided the most fish were there so it was a no brainer to start anywhere else. Within the first drift Steve took 4 fish, a double header, first cast! I managed to land two by the time we hit the dam wall, so it was back around for another drift, if we could get in anywhere amongst the 40 boats which followed behind! Getting in on the dam was key, the first drift onto the wall was going to be carnage and it was! Rods bending all over the place until the fish felt the angling pressure and went quiet. From that first drift it was a bit of a struggle, with not so many rods bending. I fell lucky and managed a few fish on the next two drifts to finish my bag at a few minutes past 12! My method was the new airflo di 5 extreme forth plus, a tequila booby and a black blob, fished 12 feet apart on heavy fluorocarbon! Steve managed to bag up at 5pm, so it was into the jetty and wait the hour for the rest of our teams to make their way in.
Competition Day Two
Day two was much the same as the first, 40 boats heading to the dam, and I was in amongst that crowd again, this time with expert fly tier, Lloyd Pallet. The first drift Lloyd took a fish on a tequila blob, and a sweep di 7. After the first drift I think just three fish were netted. The dam had switched off! Our plan was to run from the dam to yellow stones, one of my favourite marks on the lake.
10:45 came and we headed up the lake along with a few other boats who had all had enough of the pressure down the dam. Motoring up we noticed a few boats had already fled the dam as anglers who started there were already fishing at yellowstones. We decided to head to the top end of the bank, towards L buoy to see if we could see any of our team members. Allen was there and called me in indicating that he’d taken four fish in the first two hours of the match. In behind him we go and the boats move off the line he mentioned. Within a drift I locked into a healthy older fish, around three pounds. The next drift, another. I was thinking one a drift would do me fine! As we worked this shore it was obvious with the increasing wind, the banks colouring up and the sun growing stronger it pushed the fish down, or off. We fished this area for a while until we’d enough, I looked to the right and saw Allen sitting on his hands, it was only 1pm! Allen was surly to be first bagging up. After another chat we went to the most consistent area on the bank and sat around that area for the remaining few hours. Not many fish were coming out, I think we saw just 10 all day, but we were just waiting our turn.
The clock grew ever closer to the end time and I still only had two fish in the boat. With just 5 minutes to go my line went tight, I sheepishly played a fish which could make or break it for the team, being 5lb behind second and 20lb behind first! A sigh of relief came after slipping the net under, a quick re-cast as the time was getting tight and it locked up again! This time on the hang and the fish didn’t have much time to fight. Two fish in two cast, great end to the day? Try taking another third cast! Adrenalin pumping the fish was pulling hard, as it hit the surface I gave it no chance to get away and netted the fish right at the death, we had to motor back and had around 10 minutes to spare. Five on a tough day like that was good, I think rod average was just 3.17 in the whole competition! The method was exactly the same as before, an Airflo forty plus line, and two blobs. The ideal combination for stocked fish?
At the weigh in the rumours started to fly, ‘Who’s won?’, ‘It’s going to be tight’ etc etc.. we kept our heads low and hopes high as we stuck our fish on the scale. Comments came that the leaders of day one had let the lead slip, taking just 6 fish to the whole team on day two. Teams such as ACA who done well the previous day also done well the second, making things tense at the weigh in.
It all emerged after the presentation dinner that Team Airflo was third with 49 fish for 120lb 95/8oz, Second, ACA Rio Masters 55 fish for 123lb 141/2oz and Nymph-A-Maniacs 1st with 55 fish for 132lb 53/8oz!
Congratulations to Allen Hughes on taking top rod over the two days, well deserved after catching in such tough conditions! Below are a few images, courtesy of Cliff Waters at www.fishypics.co.uk