In the latter half of 2009 I was asked if I would like to represent England in the first ever International Pike Fly Fishing Tournament to be staged in Finland in April 2010. Although I am not naturally competitive when it comes to fishing, I did win a gold medal clay pigeon shooting in the English team (in the 1800s?!), and I thought it would be rather nice to have shot and fished for my country. As fly fishing for pike happens to be my favourite type of angling, I agreed.
The event was organised by Simon Graham, a South African living in the North of Finland, – ultra-keen pike fly fisher, wonderful fly-tier and general “good egg”. The proceedings were supposed to have taken place, as I remember it, at Replot Island in the north of the country, in the brackish sea water there, but when Simon met us after our short flight from Helsinki, he told us that the sea was still frozen following the very cold and prolonged winter, and that he had been forced to relocate further south at a place called Merikarvia.
After an excellent barbeque at Simon’s and a good night’s sleep at a local hotel, we all set off by car for the new venue, stopping en route to witness the somewhat amazing sight of the frozen sea for ourselves! ‘We’, by the way, included myself and my fishing partner Guy Eldridge (whom I knew by reputation but had never previously met), shown below, plus David Smith and Steve Gait – thereafter known as Teams England A and B. The journey was a pleasant one with very little traffic, and we even spotted three moose along the way – another first!
Our home for the next few days was at the well-appointed Eumer Lodge, which was able to accommodate all the teams, and our hosts Jakko and Olli Ojamo soon made us feel completely at home. They are young, but extremely bright lads who run a very successful fly-dressing materials business, including their now widely renowned brass tubes. They had also assembled guides and boats for the tournament, and rather saved the day!
We practiced the next morning, after an excellent breakfast, and found it pretty hard going, – catching only one or two small pike while generally getting the feel of the place. Thomas, the marketing director of the sponsors, ‘Vision’, and his partner (whose name I can’t recall) seemed to have done much better than us, but we consoled ourselves in that they were local and had their own boat – with a Min-Kota trimming motor etc. They were, however, taking part in the tournament, and I found my competitive instincts beginning to stir. When, halfway through the first morning, Guy and I hadn’t touched a thing, and we learned that the Fins had already had five fish, I simply couldn’t believe it. Things had suddenly become serious, and we fished like maniacs to try to catch up. I can’t recall exactly how it went, but at results time after dinner I think England A were lying in third position behind one of the Dutch teams and, of course Thomas and his mate!
It didn’t help that the pike here were brewing up for spawning, but of course it was the same for everyone, so we pressed on. Luckily the weather stayed calm and sunny, and the venue, it has to be said, was lovely – with shallow water, lots of reedy bays and numerous islands – it all looked very ‘pikey’!
In the evenings we were all friends together and we got on really well with the other teams, openly discussing tactics, flies and so on, and I must say that they really were some very nice guys. Having said that, during the competition, Guy and I fished like men possessed. It became important to me to win, and looking back I didn’t like that side of me at all. I almost found myself not enjoying it, and definitely wouldn’t consider doing any more competitive fishing in the future for that very reason.
On a lighter note, the two teams from Russia never did arrive and it transpired that they were stopped at the border, all totally inebriated and with gallons of vodka on board. We never saw them!
After three days of competition, with one hour to go Guy and I were in the lead and looking good; but the dreaded Fins caught three nice fish in the dying minutes and snatched gold from under our noses. Fair enough, if someone had told me in advance that we would end up with the silver, I would have snapped their hand off, as they say, and all-in-all, as son number two always used to say “it was another good lickle memory!”
One day, I would like to go back to the Ojamo boys’ Lodge. I’m sure there’s plenty of exploring to do in that lovely, fishy part of the world. There must be some giant ‘toothy monsters’ lying beside those exquisite reed beds. Maybe some day? — We’ll see.