During that week there were two heats of the Hardy competition, the Association match for the Major Clubs event and the first of our regional qualifiers for the England teams for next yearís home internationals. All in all, quite a busy time for the Bristol Water staff.

At the start of the week the lake was fishing really well, with plenty being caught in a variety of areas. As has been the pattern in the past few seasons, slowly fished buzzers and diawl bachs seemed to be the best tactics, though some anglers opted for lures such as "blobs." Top spot without a doubt was the false island and, on most days, the majority of boats out on the lake congregated around this area. It strikes me as odd that any lake with a large number of fish has just one or two spots where they feed avidly! I feel sure it is the "boats attracting boats" syndrome. I reckon that if the majority of boats all went to another area and fished hard, then a similar number of fish would be caught!

I was out both Tuesday and Wednesday guiding anglers that had never fished the lake, and I went nowhere near the false island, yet had great sport. On Tuesday my two clients, both new to trout fishing, caught several trout on dry fly and had really good sport in just trying to recognise the signs of feeding fish. It is amazing how anglers who are used to the water, the ripples, or calm patches that trout make, plus the general signs of fish feeding on the surface, take all these aspects for granted. At first on Tuesday the feeding trout were obvious, but as the day developed the fish moved much more subtlety and were thus more difficult to see. At one stage I virtually gave up pointing out trout for I am sure that the guys with me thought I was having them on!

We had a go at the pike once the casting was a bit more relaxed and it was great to see two newcomers to the "gentle art" of fly fishing also manage to latch into a brace of pike each. On Wednesday, which was the first day of the Hardy competition, I had an afternoon boat with a client and again I took him well away from competitors. Stephen caught his first and second Chew Valley trout: the first being a beautiful brown trout and the second an even more impressive rainbow. Both fish were covered and fell to small dries. The evening rise that night was a revelation; it is many a year since I have seen such an amazing hatch of buzzers for that long a period. There is no doubt the lake is in good health at present and the fish are packing on weight. The fighting quality of all of the trout I have caught is also worth mentioning; it is probably a sure sign of the healthy environment that the lake is providing at present.

It was disappointing to see so few teams competing in what was once such a great competition as the Hardy. Two of the clubs that I belong to, Bristol Reservoirs and Blagdon Fly Fishers, didnít bother to enter this year. Maybe this is because there are too many competitions around at the moment. Do any readers have views on this subject? If so, feel free to email the editor or me directly on martin@troutguide.co.uk

Saturday was the Major Clubs event on Chew for all of the divisions. This is now a very big match and there are no prizes at stake. Is this the way forward? The weather had changed very much for the worse and, in horrible conditions, fishing was much tougher. My team, Bristol Reservoirs Fly Fishers Association, fielded a strong line-up which included match secretary Mark Withyman, along with top locals John Horsey and John Braithwaite. Yet they could only manage fourth place. This is indicative of the tough conditions as you would normally put both Johns in the top list of most events on Chew!

On the day Rutland were by far the best team and their four anglers caught a creditable 23 trout weighing an impressive 56lbs 2oz. In Sean Cutting they also had the top bag for the day. Limits were hard to come by, but Sean caught his with plenty of time to spare and amassed a seven-pound time bonus.

The Queen Mother team proved that practice certainly helps towards achieving a good position by coming second with 20 fish, but they were nearly 20 pounds behind in weight! Bewl Water came third with 18 fish, whilst Bristol caught 16, to lead Grafham on 14, and Fish Hawks on 11.

Sundayís eliminator was fished in even worse conditions and there was a long discussion as to whether it was safe enough to go out. Fishery manager Bob Handford gave the go ahead, but several of the anglers still had doubts and tried to talk organiser Jeff Loud into cancelling. One of the aspects of match fishing is that you have to take whatever weather is thrown at you, so all had to go ahead. In the end almost everyone who boated a fish won through to the next round, though the unlucky men were John Braithwaite and Gary Haskins who missed out by ounces. Mark Miles also has an agonising wait as the nominated reserve.

One of the qualifiers was Chris Kettlety who fished with senior citizen Norman Chown. Norman lives abroad during the winter and returns when it warms up to try to get into the England team again; he fished for England several times in the sixties and seventies. The seventy-eight year old found the going tough and decided he had had enough by three oíclock. Chris, who caught one good fish of 2lbs 14oz, decided against going back out and went home not expecting to have qualified. Imagine his delight when Jeff Loud telephoned him to tell him of his qualification later that night!

Other qualifiers were; John Horsey (who had top weight), Mark Withyman, Lee Senington, Keith Brown, Dave Green, Alan Cottam, Dave Monks, Nik Long, and Tony George.

I get to fish my qualifier towards the end of May. By then I hope there to be fish feeding on the top during the day and not just in the evenings as at present. Iím off to the tying bench now; I need to get a few more patterns in my box. One of the aspects of guiding so much is the way your fly box gets depleted so quickly!

Tight lines,

Martin Cottis