Remembering John Hardley in 2017

Blogger Rob Horgan takes us back to the end of 2017, when the second John Hardley Memorial Competition was held by the Fly Dressers’ Guild Wessex Branch…

December saw the second annual competition in memoriam. Woodington Lakes has changed hands for the second time since John’s sad death, and the ‘new’ lodge just does not have the facilities for tying flies before fishing them, so Paul E amended the rules: we could each have just six flies, once one was retired from your cast it could not be used again, also no replacement permitted if you lost one, ergo a diminishing selection. Unfortunately, Sue L-P wasn’t present to defend her title due to a back problem. The competition is won by the best brace; once you have caught your two you must stop fishing … to wait anxiously!

Nine branch members enjoyed a breakfast roll and hot brew, gathered around the glowing chimenea, it was totally brass monkeys weather! An unpredicted frost during the night gave both ponds a ten-mill thick layer of ice. Jim, the new guvnor, fetched his kayak and set to, circling and zig-zagging like an Olympian until all the ice was broken up and there were some clear bits to cast into. Amid much blowing on cold hands and grumbling about madness the whistle blew for the off: two hours fishing to be followed by a barbecue lunch then another two-hour session until the final whistle. Soon rods were bending all along the banks of Spring pond as we all hooked windowpanes of ice, but the first hour wasn’t up before Simon W’s rod bent into a good Rainbow which had taken his mink Zonker pattern. The fight was complicated by all the ice but eventually, the fish was safely netted.

Into the second hour and things were a little easier, the frost had gone from the grass, the patches of open water were widening. Graham S caught next, another Rainbow but of a much heavier build than Simon’s, taking a marabou-tailed lure. Next to score was Paul E using an orange/black Cormorant pattern, followed by Paul H on Kingfisher pond, fishing a PTN variant. Dave H might have had two pulls but wasn’t certain. I felt a tug retrieving a Biscuit Blob thinking it was just another ice bite before I saw the flank-flash under the ice as the fish rolled away. Simon W had a second take but missed, then hooked-up again still fishing the Zonker, soon sliding his second fish over the ice towards him. The whistle signalled lunch, coming none too soon for Peter H, Ken L and Derek L who so far had only caught ice and trees.

Jim and Sian produced an excellent lunch. It was now raining steadily; we were cheered by the prospect of more of the ice melting providing new swims to try. Hands and feet thawed while we ate. At 13.00 precisely we engaged in hostilities once more, except for Simon W who had to wait to see if his brace would do the business. I headed to a part of Kingfisher which had not been fishable earlier. Ken L on Spring caught a Rainbow under two pounds using one of his esoteric lures of dubious but exotic parentage. After the morning session, I was down to just three flies, selecting the Cat’s Whisker. I saw a fish follow, then the next cast resulted in a hook-up; just when I thought I had the upper hand it was gone. “Bother!” I exclaimed “Drat”. The very next cast the CW was seized by a Blue around one-and-a-half pounds, quickly on the bank to my immense relief. Certain that I had glimpsed an inquisitive trout following during the fight I re-cast, and was in straight away. This was a Rainbow just the same size as my first, so my chance of winning was over. Paul H now covered the area my brace had come from and soon was playing a nice Blue but it was hooked in the tail fin, so the fight was a bit awkward. Ever the gentlemen, our treasurer scrupulously released the fish, it being foul-hooked and therefore not a fair catch.

Ken L bent into a second fish, which turned out to be a Blue, and ‘so small and pretty that he released it quickly, unharmed’. Of course, that’s what he claimed, but we all knew he was just being slyly tactical, knowing that a much bigger fish would be needed to get his name on the trophy. Maybe divine justice interfered but no more fish were caught. Even the most diminutive second fish would have sent the trophy Graham S’s way, but at the final whistle there were only two braces to record, mine and Simon’s. My two trout together didn’t weigh as much as his first, so he won by a comfortable margin. Well done, Simon, until next December, when we will need to keep an eye on Ken.

Hand holding a striped perch fly with a color combination of white, black, and olive.

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Two Autumn Hydropyches fly patterns on wine cork.

Written by

Rob Horgan