At the turn of each year, it’s both an honour and a thorny challenge to try to rank twelve months of “Fly For Coarse” catches alongside two of my angling heroes, Matt Hayes and John Bailey. Each year there are a whole lot of fish that impress; along with three or four more that leave you dumbstruck. Each year it seems to get more interesting and harder to judge, too. Barbel and zander, for example, were once a rarity. Nowadays, it’s a given we will see a few each season.
Could this “Fly for Coarse” thing be growing? It can still be a hard sell to the mainstream maggot drowning press; but like our entrants, I don’t mind a challenge. The number of fellow nutters I now regularly see out and about has certainly increased, while having been scoffed at by early publishers, Flyfishing for Coarse Fish has now shifted some 5,000 copies. We may be a minority still, then, but bloody hell are things getting interesting.
Looking at the competition entries for 2018, we have so many great examples of what makes this type of fishing so exciting. It was as fascinating and tricky as ever. The panel didn’t always agree either, although we did all accept that our choices had to be about the story and the challenge. It’s not just about “specimen hunting with a fly rod” as Mr Matt Hayes puts it. Actually, this statement of slight danger alone suggests how far we’ve come- anglers now realise this isn’t fanciful, JR Hartley bollocks; it’s an excellent way to fish. Sometimes it’s far and away the best way to fish. But without further ado here are the latest winners and some really fascinating words from Hayes and Bailey.
OVERALL WINNER: 2lbs 3oz Rudd, Jack Welshman
In the final assessment for 2018, it was Jack Welshman’s beautiful rudd of 2lbs 3oz that was deemed the finest catch of all. Stalked in clear water from a South West canal, the captor fooled it on one of his own, simple leaded stalking flies, using a 3wt custom glass rod. It was also the captor’s second fly-caught “two” of 2018.
“It’s an amazing rudd capture; and very definitely the fish that really that jumps out for me” said Matt Hayes. “It’s lovely to see a such a stunning fish from an ‘ordinary’ venue like a canal. The process of sight fishing with small flies is incredibly exciting and I love the element of the unexpected here. It’s a truly special catch.”
John Bailey, no stranger to fly fishing for rudd himself, added: “A fish this size on the fly, from a canal of all places, is something out of the ordinary and really shows the possibilities. They’re such beautiful fish and they really do fight hard on the fly rod. This is inspirational stuff.”
Having fished canals my whole life, I was also impressed by this one. These are not venues where gizzled specimen hunters camp out to for days. It’s real world fishing. It took me over a decade in my own fishing to have a rudd this size on the fly- and the fact that the captor did his own legwork and made his own flies is also impressive. Since day one of the contest I hoped we would be surprised by an outstanding rudd… and here it is. I’m not going to call it a “lump” or a “bar of gold” or one of the other cliches. It’s a thing of absolute beauty; the fish of ten thousand casts.
Jack wins a complete Tenkara outfit, which should come in handy for further adventures on the canals and drains of the West Country!
SECOND PLACE WINNER: 30lbs Pike, Matt Roberts
Another excellent fish, Matt Roberts’ large river pike was John Bailey’s first choice catch and made every judge’s top two. Caught on a 9 weight set up and Matt’s own Black and Chartreuse pike fly, the fish bottomed out 30lb scales. What a catch! We understand the captor not wanting to name the spot either. Looking at the river in the pictures, it looks like a crazy fish for a modest bit of water; the equivalent of finding a bloody T-Rex down your local park.
“My congratulations go to Matt on this very special fish,” said John Bailey. “It’s clearly no fluke, because this is not his first pike of this stamp on the fly. It’s a brilliant example that with determination and the right water, you can indeed catch very big pike on a fly rod. In the wider context, I also think it sends out a great message for angling. We might have got rid of gaffs and gags, but pike fishing can still sometimes appear crude. A single de-barbed hook, with no risk of deep hooking, is definitely a step forward for conservation in my opinion.”
Matt Hayes was also suitably impressed, with some interesting further thoughts to add on the capture. “It’s a wonderful river pike that shows just how effective the method can be,” he said. “I honestly believe that there is no more effective artificial lure for pike than a fly. That might surprise a few people- but once you’ve got the hang of casting larger patterns, it’s deadly.
Even when a fly is virtually still, it pulses and looks attractive to a pike. With other lures, you have to keep them moving. The vigorous motions of modern soft plastic lures, for example, are deadly for naïve or very hungry predators, but with increasing angling pressure on predatory fish, they soon wise up. The only limitations with the fly are the distance and depth you can fish; otherwise it would be my first choice every single time, especially for fish that have seen the usual lures.”
Matt Roberts wins a Cortland Fly Line of his choice.
HIGHLY COMMENDED ENTRIES
So, now we come to the very best of the rest. Not that these were much easier to split! Among other exceptional catches were some other highly impressive fish and genuine surprises in 2018. In joint third place were two other exceptional river fish, both caught in Welsh waters.
Nick Thomas had a cracking chub of 6lbs 7oz from the River Taff. An angler who regularly targets coarse fish by design, his excellent catches and beautifully tied flies have featured in the competition before, and once again the panel were impressed. The fish came from one of his favourite deep holes in the river where he has struck gold before with large chub- and gave him stiff resistance after taking a Barber Pole nymph he’d made himself.
Meanwhile, perhaps the most impressive opportunist catch of the year came in the form of an 86cm barbel for Jack Briggs. The fish was spotted by accomplished river guide Kim Tribe, before sucking in a small nymph and making hearts miss a beat or three! Armed with just a two-weight rod intended for the local trout and grayling (not exactly the tackle most barbel anglers would choose to put it mildly), the fish tested tackle and nerves to the limit! With careful playing and the calming influence of Kim, however, it was caught and carefully released. “The very fact Jack landed this fish is an amazing bit of angling skill,” said Matt Hayes.
As for the rest of the field, there were plenty of other belters to back up an incredible list. Oliver Jenkinson and Thomas Finney had a remarkable season across Midlands reservoirs, targeting zander by design with considerable success, not to mention some good pike. Hats off to two talented fly anglers who, quite alarmingly, look well under forty. If only we could clone some of this year’s entrants!
Another branch of fly fishing that’s growing rapidly is carp. The past year was no exception, with Richard Gill, Jason Williams and GA Anderson all landing excellent specimens, including a lake record no less! Very well angled, you three.
Meanwhile Joanna O’Hara’s excellent river perch was a fabulous catch on a beaded nymph, while Martin Smith’s streamer caught canal bream also made the highly commended list, with entrants winning sets of Turrall Flies or special Fly For Coarse logo T-shirts.
You can see all the other catches and a final table of the best of them here: http://flyforcoarse.com/2018-gallery/
Further thoughts from the panel…
So, with 2018’s results done and dusted, what were the overall impressions of the panel? And, just as importantly, what might we expect in 2019? Above all, the hope is that more anglers will continue to branch out and enjoy making their own discoveries. It seems obvious that pike and carp are now part of mainstream fishing… why the heck not add chub, perch, rudd and others to that list? It’s certainly not through any lack of willingness of these creatures to grab a fly!
“It’s especially welcome to see more younger anglers making the cut this year, not to mention so many of the top entrants tying their own flies” John Bailey told me. “I think it shows that if you’re bright and inquisitive, and willing to try something different, there is huge potential out there. For angling as a whole, let’s hope that this also indicates a growing appetite for wild angling and more active and interesting ways of catching fish.”
“I’d like to congratulate everyone who got involved, as well as the shortlist” agreed Matt Hayes. “When I’m asked what keeps my enthusiasm burning for angling after so many years, I always answer that it’s the challenge. It’s about exploring new and different methods and the great satisfaction that brings. In this respect, I’d consider these anglers as kindred spirits, because fly fishing is all about the challenge- whether it’s tying your own flies, figuring out different waters or learning new skills.
For me, it has to be about the unexpected and the adventure of it, though, because I don’t want to see fly fishing become yet another way of chalking up PB fish with deadly efficiency. Anglers are cottoning on that the fly can be deadly, but fishing should be so much more than that; and we’re back to that notion of challenge again! If fishing was a video game, these folks would be trying to defeat the bad guys with nunchucks rather than a rocket launcher!
What these guys are doing is the purest fishing experience. It’s the ultimate deception, To fool a fish into thinking something artificial is worth eating, is the ultimate deception. This is especially true when it’s something you’ve made yourself, putting thought into how it behaves and with no assistance from taste or smell. For me this is pure fishing. For that, I share their passion and enthusiasm. Actually, I’m quite jealous of some of their feats, because yet again we’ve seen some amazing catches!”
Amen. I couldn’t put it any better than that myself- and would like to thank Matt and John for their support, along with Turrall Flies and Cortland UK, among others who supported the contest and provided prizes.
Find out more…
I certainly hope the class of 2018 provided some inspiration for everyone. For 2019 I am tempted to shake things up again, however, to get the best out of our growing pool of enthusiasts. I’d like to see even more venues sussed out with flies, daring new ideas and fly patterns, not to mention more of us writing about our experiences rather than just smashing out Facebook updates. This will take time, but it’s damned exciting and will continue to surprise and reveal new talent and ideas, which has to be a good thing.
If you’re keen to learn more, do take a look at the following:
The Flyfishing for Coarse Fish Facebook Group – is a great place for anyone who loves chasing different species on the fly. It’s constantly growing, very friendly and is a great place to share news, ideas and tips. Join us!
www.flyforcoarse.com is where you’ll find catch galleries from each year of the competition, along with tips and some handy flies and venue listings. Look out for news on the 2019 once we’ve established the next challenge and prizes.
My online shop: has signed copies of Flyfishing for Coarse Fish, along with a good selection of Turrall fly patterns specially designed for the various different species, from chub flies to perch patterns: https://dgfishing.co.uk/shop
And finally, don’t forget to keep an eye on my regular Angling Trust blog “LINES ON THE WATER” which has plenty to read and digest for any fishing fanatic. Currently, you can have your say on the close season debate and hear from a whole host of great anglers, from Hugh Miles to Charles Jardine and Keith Arthur, on their thoughts for the coming year: https://linesonthewater.anglingtrust.net/