Orvis UK Saltwater Fly Fishing Festival

Written by: Isobella Ash

This blog was written by Neville Broad, a previous Salt Champion (2016 and 2017) and pro-runner up (2018 and 2019).  If you want to find out more about Saltwater Fly Fishing and how Orvis can help you, he can be reached at Orvis Westerham’s store on Saturday’s. Alternatively contact your local Orvis store or reach out to us on line to arrange a free 101 lesson.  Look out for forthcoming blogs from Neville for tactics on how to target specific saltwater species on the fly.

I recently fished the 2019 Orvis Saltwater Fly Fishing Festival (aka “the Salt”).  This superb event has been run in St Mawes, Cornwall for the past 5 years.  2019’s Salt was only made possible due to a groundswell of loyal anglers on Facebook lauding its merits and Orvis stepping into sponsor the event.  It turned out to be the biggest and best Festival yet with over 80 Bass caught over the weekend, and 42 fisherman in the “Salt” competition.  The sun shone and the fish were biting.

The key themes for the festival were:

  • A hands-on intro to those new to saltwater fly fishing
  • To improve the skills of intermediate level
  • To provide an opportunity for everyone to fish a friendly competition in a safe environment with plenty of fish
  • To ensure catch and release and safe fish handling practices are upheld, and, most of all,
  • To have fun embracing the 50/50 On The Water mind-set.

The most popular outfit was an 8-weight set up with a floating line and a 9 foot fluorocarbon leader.   I opted for two set ups to see me through the weekend – an Orvis Recon 6wt and 9wt set up, each with a Mirage reel.  Though my preference is to use a floating line, I always take spare spools of sinking and intermediates to cover all situations.  Most popular fly choice was a clouser minnow, with a shrimp pattern a close second or indeed as a dropper to the point sandeel imitation. 

Practice Day – Excitement and anticipation

Upon arrival to Thursday evening’s drinks reception I was overwhelmed with the number of anglers’ keen to learn and show their skills.  The was an air of optimism and the vibe of youth ready to challenge seniors in taking the prizes. 

Being a part of the 2019 Pro Team, my first task was to represent Orvis and the festival in an interview with BBC South West News. The evening was completed with Amelia Whittaker (Nearwater Events) introducing the Festival, the Pro Team, and finally arrangements were made for the following practice day.  Anglers were already readily sharing experiences on fly selections, locations, and tactics.

Michael Rescorle and I took charge of the first day’s on the water practice session at St Just in stunning later summer weather.  This is a shallow, narrow estuary typical of the area, where bass chase baitfish into and out of a lagoon at the North end.  It was immediately apparent at this very well attended tutorial that there was an extremely diverse range of anglers to show the venue and the approaches to be successful.  Groups were disseminated per ability and fishing commenced immediately.

What followed was one of the most satisfying parts of the festival – complete novices catching bass in shallow water having taken in some accurately delivered guidance from the pros.  Anglers whose casting ability needed improvement were more focussed on, which was also helped led by the next lesson.  Derek Aunger ran a casting demonstration and clinic in St Mawes that homed in on techniques for casting large flies in saltwater.

The afternoon’s activities focussed showing entrants various potential locations for fishing and how to approach each of them.  Local knowledge coupled with experiences from previous years enabled good communication as to when certain fish should be present at various tidal states. 

The excitement and anticipation was high with new starters looking forward to catching bass on their virgin casts in St Mawes.  Competition rules and regulations were clearly stated and everyone received a fantastic entrants Orvis 50/50 on the water goodie bag.

Competetion Day 1 – Finally there!

An early start for the keenest of competitors.  I left to reach my desired mark with around ten minutes to spare before the official 7am start.  It was a joy to walk in the morning with the sun gently rising above the water with St Mawes in the background through moored boats on the estuary, and the humidity was up with a forecast for a hot day.  I started prospecting with my recon 6 wt and a small chartreuse clouser minnow tied to a 9 foot leader.  With the tide was just starting to ebb I manage to catch my first school bass.  Things then went rather quite and I only saw Blaede Russell land one other bass using similar tactics. 

Should or shouldn’t I change locations?  A constant question in everyone’s mind through the weekend.  After an hour I decided to do a long walk of around 1 mile to reach a second location with a beach that reveals a reef and then soft sand toward low tide.  It proved to be the correct decision and I went onto catch 7 more bass. Some of respectable size, including the largest competition bass which tested my Mirage LT IV drag.

Competition Day 2 – Everyone’s a winner

Robert Thong

Competitors awoke to a more Autumnal and overcast day, an indication perhaps of different fishing conditions.  I opted to fish at the same mark as Day 1, which turned out to be an error. The drop in temperature drove the baitfish and subsequently the bass deeper towards the open sea.

Tom Barclay caught the competition’s longest fish on his second cast – a 53cm Garfish.  Fishing nearby, James Doyle (Orvis) showed his experience, catching a bass, mackerel and pollack on a dark, baitfish pattern – fruits for his adapting to the conditions.

Tom Barclay

Blaede Russel also had an early Bass, and halfway through the morning his decision to stick to a proven location, coupled with switching to a weighted clouser minnow and a short section of sink tip line proved a winner’s combination.  Under the guidance of previous Pro winner, Martin Webster, Blaede went onto catch several more bass to win the competition.  Before the salt, Blaede was a trout fisherman, with minimal guidance he is now a very capable saltwater fly fisherman.

Blaede Russell

Overall Results:

Kilchoman Shield
1) Robert Thong 190 points
2) Thomas Barclay

Field Trophy
1) Blaede Russell 423.5 points
2) Neville Broad

Biggest Fish
1) Thomas Barclay – 57cm Garfish – Harbour Trophy
2) Neville Broad – 44cm Bass – Bass Trophy (donated by BASS Society)

Best Newcomer
Thomas Barclay

Fly Tying – 3 best Flies
Tim Glass

Over 100 bass were caught in total over the weekend – lauding St Mawes’ prowess as a great location to come and learn to fly fish the salt in perfect and safe surroundings.

What a great weekend!  See ya’ll back there in 2020.

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