(FF&FT April 2020) - 2nd part
Session Two and the draw would play a crucial role in obtaining a good result. I was bound for the Meander river, a medium sized wenue with a deceptively powerful flow and clear water, well populated with wild browns, but not always equally distributed, as is the norm in river-based sessions, and particularly apparent in the early season Tasmanian rivers. I reconed that I´d need at least ten fish from the session.
My beat was number 4, a good draw as it turned out, with around 400 m of generally very fishy looking water on a fair gradient that created lots of pocket-water over a large substrate bottom. The beat was split about two-thirds of way up by a high bluff that made the access a bit tricky in places, but as I surveyed the water, I was quite hopeful for a good session. Although we had no snow today, the unpleasant conditions persisted with a very strong wind blowing.
Walking the beat
I had ample time to prepare, so spent a good hour walking the beat and formulating a plan. Our river fishing practice, although useful, had not been on representative waters, both the competition venues of the Meander and the Mersey rivers were unique in terms of size and fish stock. What we had discovered in practice, though, was that the fly was not all that important and – as is often the case – good watercraft and approach were key.
I set three rods up, the first being my 9ft 9in size 4 with a WF4 floater and 11ft hand-tied tapred butt section, which terminated in s duo set-up consisting of a large Sedge and a 3,5mm Silver-bead Quill. The fly was a full beat-size too heavy for the water, but was the only way I could even hope to anchor my leader and fish effectively in the crazy, strong wind.
My second set-up was a prototype 10.8ft nymph rod, rated for a size 0-2 line strung up with a level Euro-nymph style line and a long parallel leader of 0,20mm in diametr, ending in a short section of indicator line of 0,17mm with a two-fly rig of a 3,5mm bead point fly and a 3mm bead dropper fly. My third rod was a spare nymph set-up in case I suffered any kind of disaster with my main line of attack.
As the session started, I slipped into the water at the bottom of my beat and sterted to systematically fish all the prime looking areas with my double nymph rig to quickly try and assess the opportunity the good-looking water offered. It quickly became apparent that, although the water looked fantastic, the fish density was either not as high as I expected, or not as well distributed as the water suggested. I struggled for my first také until an accurate cast right under a very low hanging branch into a particularly good-looking pot gave up a nice brown.
As the fish was recorded by Ben my controller (another great guy and keen angler) I reasoned that tight to the banks under and around the heavy deadfall and large rocks that covered the banks may be the way forward. I snipped off my dropper at the knot to improve accuracy, shortened the drop of the point to improve take-detection and restarted in the next likely spot. I fished three or four more good areas under cover for nothing, so back-tracked and worked further out into the river covering any pots and holes I had missed with a combination of a single heavy nymph or my duo rod. The next fish took a nymph on the duo, but on a downstream drift tight to a big rock. As my second fish was recorded I used the time to také stock: I was well into the first hour and with only two fish and a seeminngly low fish population in the beat. I needed to re-plan to have any chance of hitting my pre-session targer of ten fish plus.
I waded out into the centre of the river and started a faster than usual zig-zag wade across the river, working shallow, then deep, then shallow again, switching rods depending on the general water type. After one and three-quarters of an hour , I had landed eight fish, with two others dropped. Comfortable with my recovery so far, I relaxed a little. With a lot of good looking water still to cover, I slipped into a groove that I felt would probably see me reach the mid-teens in the three hours. As the time ticked by, good pot after good pot failed to produce fish number nine, so slighly concerned at the sudden slow down I reached the bluff, and needed to decide on either back-tracking. Or hiking over the hill to cover the last part of the beat that also held a few larger pools. Decision made, I dropped downstream, around the bluff, and from my higher vantage point relised the water had started to colour slightly, this possibly beeing the reason for the slow-down in action. I switched my tippet back to two-fly set-up: both black Gold-bead Flashbacks as the water clarity had deteriorated further. I started to hit the prime looking water with multiple drifts and a slower progression through the good water than I had earlier in the session. This tactical change paid off and quickly fish number Nine, then Ten, and Eleven come in the last 15 minutes of the session from two small areas of particularly good-looking water.
Session over, I signed my last fish and folded my duplicate score-card in four and stuffed in my pocket with the one from the day before, hoping to carry some luck. Elewen fish was less than expected, but certainly not a disaster and that evening placed me fourth in the group and third overall with five place points.
That evening, as we sat at our team meeting, I never really considered my personal position. As a team, England had moved into second place – only one point behind first place, and 16 points ahed to third. All our conversation that night revolved around holding onto that position as a team.
Day three dawned and I was off to Woods Lake, the largest of the lakes in the event and one that was proving tougher than expected. I had good information from my team-mates who had fished it before me regarding possible areas and I made my call based on the wind , their findings, and the maps we had produced ahead of the event.
As we motored for the far end of the lake, water-spouts whipped down the middle of the lake and frequent storm-force gusts battered the large sturdy aluminium boat of our controller Peter Rasmussen. I had control, and had taken the engine side of the boat, putting my Spanish boat partner, Julen Aguado, on the point; this was a purely tactical decision as it put me closer to the bank-side structure and, hopefully, the prime water of my intended drift.
We motored up wide and slow before cutting in at the top of the wind into the slack edge created by the tree line. As we trimmed the boat, I could see large amounts of weed with occasional clear areas. I was rigged with my reliable Di3 sweep, a McGoo on top dropper, Dabbler in the middle, and a Bitch on point. As we started to drift, I noticed a strip of clearer water on the inside of the main weed line and quickly asked Peter to reverse us further in so I could fish down the „inside“ line. As this was Session Three a fish had been caught late in Session Two in this area I reasoned that the inside line may have been missed or at least not fished as hard in what was quite an obvious area, given the poor wind conditions on the lake.
Within a couple of cast, I had a solid contact and a big brown jumped clear of the water hooked on the top dropper. I played it as hard as possible, fearing the weed, and let out a shout of relief as it folded into the net less than a minute later.
Recorded and released, Peter bumped the boat back in tight as the swirly wind in the relative shelter of the trees was playing havoc with our drift. A few cast later two strips into my retrieve fish number two nailed the point fly and again went airborne towards the weeds, giving me the same „all or nothing“ option. Despite applying maximum pressure this one gave me a few tense minutes around the weeds as it refused to give in. Eventually, and again with much relief, it made the net – a dream start to the session.
Then followed probably the most frustrating three hours of the event so far. No matter what we did, we could not get that boat to drift even remotely straight. The wind in our chosen area became so extreme and variable that we managed no more than two casts each before having to reposition, sometimes we didn´t have time to manage even one! We drifted diagonally, backwards, in circles, left, right, you name it – if I put us close to the bank we were blown into it immediately, if Peter set us up further away, we were propelled out towards the middle of the lake in a heart-beat. Frankly, it was hopeless!
During the constant battle for boat control Julien managed to level the score at two fish each, both taken as the boat swept his flies round in and uncontrolled arc as we battled the wind… not realy a repeatable tactic we could build on!
Suddenly, from nowhere, a brief window of steady wind appeared and we managed one short drift into the bank, we both had two, maybe three, offers to the flies from what seemed to be much smaller fish, none of them actually staying hooked, but it gave us hope for improving conditions. No sooner had we started our second drift then back came the wind, and we rotated 180 degrees and drifted straight into the bank again, fouling the engine. Frustrated beyond belief we made the call to change it, and ran for the far end of the lake with only 40 minutes left.
As we arrived it became apparent this was a mistake, the water had been heavily coloured by a combination of boat traffic and wind that had beaten the water into a mix of weed-filled cocoa, it looked hopeless. We both made speculative casts and immediately both stripped in three strands of broken weed each, every fly catching a piece. After another cast, another three strands of broken weed each, and with time dangerously short and a fairly unimpressive two fish each landed, Julen indicated for me to také control of the boat again for probably our last drift of the session.
Faced with no easy choice I asked Peter to run us as fast as legally possible back to the area we had contacted the smaller fish. As we motored, I re-tied my cast dropping the streamers down to a size 12 hook, and scaling down the middle dropper to size 14 Dabbler. As Peter turned the boat onto the drift, I saw a small fish jump from the water close to the bank. Qickly I stripped more line from the reel to reach it before we again blew uncontrollably out into the lake. Two strips in I felt the také but the line in long, smooth pulls with the rod held low to the water I could tell from the resistance and the fairly weak fight that the fish was on the borderline of being measurable at the very best. As the fish approached the boat I lifted the rod and swung the small brown over the net, and as the fish hit the mesh and the pressure came off the hooks. All three flies blew out of the net.
Peter hunched over the measuring tray trying to get an accurate measurement in the yawing boat – the wait was painful, but eventually 21 cm was announced, and the fish presented in the tray for Julen to check, as it was so close to being under the limit.
Signing for the fish, I quickly started to fish again, but two casts later and our session was over. Three fish I felt not enough, but again I folded my scorecard and stuffed it into the same pocket, hoping for a lucky break. That night, when the results wete posted I was pleasantly suprised to see a 7th place finish, the 21 cm fish saving me six place points. Little did I know, but two days later that 21 cm fish would be one of the three most important fish of my life.