So the day was upon me, my England senior team rivers qualifier on the river Itchen. Previous practise days had shown me where the pockets of fish were, all I had to do was go and catch them. I wish it was that simple!
I got there pretty early on and drew my number and I had drawn the afternoon session. From looking at the weather forecast it had predicted heavy rain and winds from the start of my session, great!
For the morning session I would be controlling a guy called Richard, for whom this was his first qualifier. He headed straight for where I was going to go in the afternoon, a place where I had picked up a fair few fish.
He didn’t do too bad in this pool and ended up with 6 fish in his session, with a few fish dropped at the net. I could still see some fish in the pool so decided that after the break I would come back to here for the start of my session.
It turned out to be a great decision as most people headed to the deeper pools down below so it gave me some free space to move up and down the river.
I decided to have 2 set ups with me, giving me time to swap from rod to rod depending on the pools. I had my trusty 10’#5 orvis Helios rod with a duo set up, a variation on a hares ear on the point suspended under a klinkhammer, and my 10′ #3 with a French leader. With this setup I decided to start with 3 flies, a large black jig on the point to get my flies down, with 2 smaller nymphs above.
Working my way up the river I was finding it hard, the fish obviously spooked after the morning session. Most of the things I tried failed, when I decided to try a fast and shallow stretch of water that I hadn’t seen anyone fish earlier. It looked to be a great move as a fish came straight up for my klink on the first cast. In this competition only fish over 20cm count and thankfully this one measured 24cm! I was on the board!
It looked like I had found the spot as in the next cast the klink went shooting under seconds after hitting the water and I was into a fish… Unfortunately this was a brown trout and these don’t count, grayling only! Only a few casts later and again I was rewarded with the klink going under. The fish held deep, making me think it was a brownie, only to then appear on the surface and a flash of its large dorsal told me this was a grayling. Into the net the fish came and another fish over 20cm, 28cm to be exact.
I felt confident by this time, but then I dropped 2 fish during the fight and it knocked me a little bit. But I knew I just had to keep going and I would find more. I was hearing rumours that not many fish were being caught downstream so I still felt I was in with a chance. I decided to move and give this stretch a rest for while. I knew a few holes that held a fish or 2, and if no one had caught them earlier I had a chance.
First chuck with the French leader set up in a fast section and the leader held still in the current, and as I lifted I felt a kick! Unfortunately the fish came out the water pretty quick and I realised it was way too small to measure. I still felt like there was a fish in here and the next cast I was rewarded as a 27cm grayling took and was in my net, I love it when it all comes together! I carried on working through the pools back up to where I started with no luck, I was really starting to wonder if I had made the right decision to fish the top.
As I stepped in the start of the original beat I saw a flash under the surface and it didn’t look a brown. I chucked my nymphs just above and bang I was in, a small grayling but thankfully measured 24cm so that put me on 4 fish for my session. I’m not sure what it was, but it felt like there was more fish in here, and the next cast confirmed that. The leader shot away and a fish went ballistic, it felt like a big brown as it started shaking it’s head and shooting downstream violently. Then I caught a glimpse just as it shot down past me, it was a huge grayling! A quick run downstream following the fish and I had landed it! Ecstatic doesn’t cover how i felt when I had it in the net, and with a measure from the controller he told me it was 38cm! Unfortunately for the rest of the session I didn’t connect with another fish over 20cm and ended with 5 fish.
Walking back to the start to meet up with others I heard stories of people with just 1 and 2 fish, but that someone had 10. I just had to keep my fingers crossed that I had enough. With a new format this year being used, it’s unsure how many people from this group will qualify but it looks as though it’s going to be the top 6.
We all waited nervously for the results and they were announced. There had been a 10 and 7 caught in my session, and 3 people on 5! Had my large fish earlier done enough? You bet it had,my name was read out in 6th place, I had done it! All the practising and fly tying over the past few months had paid off and it looks as though I will be in the final next year.