Many people fish for leisure but, everyone has a competitive side. Some choose to nurture this personality trait and compete on a national and global scale, whereas others prefer smaller and more amiable affairs that can be found all over the UK. After competing at a national level with the England Youth team, I found that I fall with the latter. My preference of fishing the smaller competitions led me to Ben Bangham’s ‘BB Fly Fishing winter competition’ held annually at Manningford Trout Fishery. This competition guarantees you a day filled with good friends, great fishing and an even better atmosphere that’s rife with banter. Bangham’s is one that should be in every Stillwater anglers’ calendar.
This year’s competition was no different. The day started with a cuppa, the peg draw and a good catch up with old friends. Although, technically, this was a competition everyone was in good spirits and up for a laugh. No one took it too seriously as our main goal was to have fun and catch some of the spectacular quality fish that Manningford has to offer.
After my peg draw, I thought the day would be tough. My first peg was at the opposite side of Manor lake which is known for the big fish. Not ideal when the competition is catch and release… Yet on the contrary it was an area that dies quickly when pressured so it was a good peg to get out of the way early. My initial set up was a 9’6” 6w with a single pale colour lure on a floating line. My plan for the day was to keep my methods simple and catch at least one fish off each of my pegs. My first fish, a lovely fully finned 3lb brown, came in the first few casts. Fab, blank off! It was quickly followed by a feisty rainbow and then another brown to finish the first session on three fish. Respectable, but not a touch on what the better pegs had produced.
Peg 2 is one of my favourite spots when I have fished Manningford before. It is a corner of the lake that always holds fish and I thought that this would be a very successful session. How wrong I was! I managed one small rainbow, which although meant I avoided blanking, was still very disappointing. However, the end of the competition showed that I had the only fish from that peg all day which made me feel better about my seemingly fruitless result. Peg 3 didn’t bring me much more success either. One big brown of about 5lbs hit the back of my net which meant I avoided the blank but the whole side of the lake seemed to be void of fish! Although, the quality of the fish made it worth it.
Peg 4 again on the same side made me really work for my fish. With most anglers casting to the islands or as far as physically possible I decided to take a different tack. I put a small #16 river nymph under an indicator and focused my attention to the margins by overhanging trees and fish patrolling lines. This change of method put two more fish in my net, giving me with a total of seven fish for the morning sessions.
A brief chat over lunch gave me a better idea of the overall standings with some anglers having had upwards of twenty fish.Yet, not everyone had caught off of every peg which meant despite being beaten on numbers there was still a chance of me placing.
Peg 5 saw me in the hot zone. The top of the lake, outside the lodge, was the place to be in the morning but seemingly not in the afternoon. The fish there had been hammered. I only managed three fish which didn’t feel too bad, considering how many had come out of the same spot in the morning sessions.
Peg 6 was my most fruitful of the day. Armed again with my 9’6” 6w and floating line I tied on a new pattern that I tied up for a laugh. First cast fish number one hit the net, second cast fish number two, third cast fish number three and so on… Until I hooked number 5. After a take that can only be described as a freight train, my reel started screaming and the fish headed for the island. I knew it was big, but I wasn’t sure how big as I didn’t see it until it hit the net a few minutes later. A pristine fully finned 7lb Manningford rainbow. What a fish to top off a fantastic peg! Shortly after its release, I managed yet another big brown and then a good rainbow to finish on eight for the session. After only seeing one other rod bend in the session I hoped that this peg would’ve helped give me a good standing for the results.
My final session of the day saw me net three rainbows which were all pushing 4lb and a fantastic way to finish a most enjoyable day full of laughs and good memories. After catching on every peg, I finished the day with 21 fish. Some angler’s returns were pushing 40 fish. I didn’t think that I had done enough. However, it was concluded that most of these fish came on their first pegs in the hot zones and most had also not caught on all of their pegs which was crucial.
The results were in and I managed 3rd place with my grandfather getting biggest fish with a rainbow of 9¾ lbs. A good result for the Beckwith’s and a competition enjoyed by all who attended.
My favourite methods of fly fishing are dry-fly or sight-fished nymphs/bugs, but particularly during the winter, when fishing on spate rivers, the grayling are usually loath to rise to a dry fly and the water is too coloured, or the light too poor, to see the fish for sight-fishing. It is then that I resort to a range of nymphing techniques. Of which Euronymphing is my most used technique
Frank Sawyer and Oliver Kite showed nymph-fishers the value of the induced take when nymph-fishing and stillwater fly-fishers are aware of the importance of applying movement to lures. However, many of the dry fly anglers that I see appear to rarely apply movement to their surface offerings, believing that ‘dead drift’ is the most effective way of presenting surface flies.
In the early 1960s when I first started fishing split cane was still the most popular rod-making material and fiber glass was just starting to become popular. However my first ever coarse fishing rod was made of ash butt & middle sections with a greenheart wood tip. My first fly rod, bought in the early 1960s, was a second hand 9’ cane rod built by E. Kerry of Lockton, a small village near Pickering.
Presentation is another critical factor in achieving success & grayling are just as unpredictable with respect to this. Sometimes they want a fly ‘on the drop’ & often they will travel quite a distance to take a fly as it slowly sinks. So there are times that it doesn’t pay to fish a fast-sinking, heavily weighted fly.