Report from the traditional fly fishing competition on the River Dee in Wales.
This traditional fly fishing competition took place on the last weekend of November on the River Dee in Wales. A total of 21 3-person teams from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium and the Czech Republic arrived to compete in grayling fishing on one of the best grayling rivers in Europe.
The competition, which has been sponsored for the past few years by the Czech firm Hanak Competition, has its own magic and uniqueness. Much of the magic is provided by the River Dee itself, the picturesque valley through which it runs, and the Welsh countryside in general. Fishermen and women are always welcome in Wales, and I always personally revel in the contentment, peace, and good feeling that come from contact with the locals.
The uniqueness of this competition derives from many factors. In first place is the weather. Until the last minute you never know what the water is going to be like or if the competition will even take place. The notorious British weather and heavy rains mean that especially in winter the water levels can suddenly and significantly change. Another factor is the specific stretches of the River Dee. This is primarily a salmon and sea trout river, and most stretches are owned by clubs which specialize in these fish. Even though the Dee has a very healthy population of grayling, they are not fished intensively in many areas and during competitions you can find yourself in stretches where almost no grayling are caught during other parts of the year. A third factor is the atmosphere of the competition – this match is full of friendly faces, swapping information and stories from moments spent pursuing our common hobby.
The Grayling Festival is a three-round match for three-person teams, where during each round two members fish while the third acts as judge for another team. The organization is managed bravely and excellently around the team of Ken Bathers, and since most teams compete year-after-year the competition always runs without a hitch.
In light of the fact that the Dee has higher water at the end of Autumn and the beginning of winter, its often not possible to fish in all marked stretches, making it important to seek out good positions for grayling along the banks, in pockets, deep pools and even in the shallow currents. The most common techniques are various forms of French nymphing, but other methods can be seen as well, such as using a super-heavy nymph on the tip, and this year I even spied grayling being caught on an orange blob! Successful flies were mostly different types of tungsten nymphs, tied on either classic nymph hooks or nymph-type jigs.
A couple weeks before the start of this year’s competition, the River Dee had ideal fishing conditions – stabile weather and especially a relatively low water lever. All was different, though, the week before the start. Heavy rain in the Snowdonia National Park led to a sharp rise in river waters, and the day before the start the river was extremely high and very cloudy, leading to speculation that the competition would be cancelled. On Saturday, when the contest was to start, the river all of the sudden became almost clear, and the level started to drop. The result was excellent fishing during the first day of competition, with 321 fish caught – the greatest number in one day in the history of the Festival.
Not to have everything too perfect, Saturday afternoon the heavy rain started up again and by Sunday the river was in the same condition as before the start – high and cloudy. The organizers’ decision was obvious – Sunday’s rounds were cancelled for the safety of the participants, and only the two Saturday rounds were counted. The decision was accepted by all, and the main theme of Sunday’s discussion, aside from the high water, was when to hold next year’s Festival. I think that most of the teams will be back…
The results of the Festival are not all that important, but here’s a few statistics:
Number of teams: 21
Number of fish caught: 321
Largest fish caught: grayling, 47 cm (twice)
Most successful three teams: 1. Flyfishingpoint Czech (Daniel Svrček, Lukáš Pazderník, Pavel Adamovský – 32 fish); 2. Wales Ospreys (Hywel Morgan, Scott Nellins, Mark Williams – 26 fish); 3. England Black Gnats (Martin Dixon, Phil Dixon, Michael Dixon – 23 fish)