Fly For Coarse 2017: Winning catches & stories of the year

In a remarkable fifth year, the Fly For Coarse competition  produced a stronger list of entries than ever, including three specimen barbel, huge pike and over a dozen different species in total, from ruffe to zander. In fact, the judging panel of Matt Hayes, John Bailey and Dom Garnett had a heck of a job ranking them.

“Any one of five or six top entries would have been a worthy winner,” said Dom. “Each year the catches get better and harder to judge while, refreshingly,  the ethos continues to be about fun, initiative and skill, not just weight.”

“It was difficult to decide”, agreed Matt Hayes. “All the fish we considered were superb examples of their species, caught with finesse and thought”. So which catches really fired our imagination  the past year?

Overall Winner: 9lb urban barbel
(Angus MacDonald, River Wandle)

“Off the wall and absolutely inspirational” is how Matt Hayes summed up the panel’s verdict on this amazing catch, taken in a highly public location on London’s River Wandle. It definitely had that special extra something, whether it was the setting or the sheer magic and unpredictability the panel were looking for.

Spotting the fish actively feeding, Angus searched his boxes for a pattern that might work. Settling on a Crazy Charlie Shrimp (a fly usually meant for exotic saltwater species) he frantically tied on a 3X (8lb) tippet. The first three casts were ignored; however, at the fourth time of asking, the fly landed just right and the fish took it emphatically.

Just as remarkably, it was landed on a 4wt Orvis Superfine rod in a battle the captor described as “absolute madness!”.  Playing it right beside a busy road and retail estate, a growing crowd watched on in disbelief with one woman actually screaming to add to the drama!  After weighing the fish at 9lbs on the dot, it was carefully released. The winner gets a very special 7′ 6″ 3 custom made glass fibre fly rod, built with Bloke Rods components.

2nd Place Winner: 13lb barbel (Nick Thomas)

specimen barbel on fly
The biggest barbel ever seen in the competition (just over 13lbs), this fish was reward for the craft and dedication of Nick Thomas, a highly skilled angler who has caught cracking chub, carp and other species in previous competitions too. It was caught on one of his own heavy nymphs on summer opening day (June 16th)- and indeed, the first weeks of the season, when the fish tend to be hungry and active after spawning, are ideal for a crack at barbel.

“A fine capture, and in terms of skill this ticked all the boxes” thought Matt Hayes. All three judges thought it was an amazing feat and only pipped to second by a hair’s breadth. Nick wins a handcrafted wooden framed pair of polarising glasses from Old Youth.

3rd Place: 31lbs River Pike (Matt Roberts)

A fish that might have won the whole contest just about any other year, Matt Roberts had this remarkable fish from a relatively modest-sized section of river. Even more satisfyingly, he tempted it on one of his own tied pike flies in pink and lilac. The largest non-trout water pike ever landed in the contest, the panel were suitably impressed. To cap things off, he also landed a 19-pound fish to make it the session of a lifetime!

“I can only imagine how the water rocked when he set the hooks!” said Matt Hayes. “Seeing that thing loom up from the depths of a small river… it’s a really great story”.  Matt Roberts wins a set of Turrall’s flies for coarse fish and an exclusive Fly For Coarse T-Shirt.

Other prize winning entries

Besides the overall top three, there were some fantastic other catches. Perhaps the predator catches really summed up the difficulties the judges had. For example, Matt Healey’s Lake Windemere Pike of 18lbs 12oz (below, left) was also singled out for praise, and Matt Hayes actually considered it of comparable merit to the huge river pike for sheer challenge. “You don’t hear of many pike on fly from Windy” said Matt, “catching fish on bait isn’t easy but using a fly rod – that takes knowledge and guts.

Meanwhile on the Midlands reservoirs, Paul Monaghan had one of the contest’s best ever zander with a fine double figure fish of 10lbs 15oz, while Thomas Finney caught a lovely perch of 3lbs 13oz on a Humungous (above). For those who dare, these venues have some awesome predators to be targeted on the fly.

Carp were also well represented in 2017. Bobby Wright had the best fish on a natural fly, with an inspired 23lb mirror, while Jason Williams caught the heaviest carp in five years of the contest with a 36 pounder tempted on a deer hair mixer.

Not that entries had to be heavyweight species though. Trevor Dyson’s good-sized canal ruffe on a damsel nymph bought a smile to the panel. Meanwhile, the ever innovative David West-Beale had a specimen roach using Tenkara style tactics in a mill stream.

Other entries were hardly less remarkable, including a cracking 11lb barbel for Martin Smith which may have scooped first place just about any other year! All the top ten entries win an exclusive T-shirt or set of Turrall flies.

Final thoughts and further adventures…

While the panel had a tough time judging the contest then, it was for all the right reasons in 2017. Indeed, if these catches were anything to go by, the future seems bright for multi-species fly fishing in the UK.

“I really applaud all the entrants” said John Bailey. “I’ve always wanted to see the divisions between fly and coarse break down and for more anglers to appreciate the crossovers. Throughout most of Europe, these categories hardly exist and an angler is an angler.”

“It was a tough call, but I’d like to send out a huge well done to all the anglers taking part” agreed Matt Hayes. “We’ve seen some excellent angling- but the spirit of the competition perhaps also demanded that neither pure skill or pure luck should win. There has to be some romance and surprise- and it’s not all about the biggest fish for me, but the adventure and the story. This might not be the biggest branch of the sport, but it’s growing and so important. It embodies the spirit of fishing!”

Dom Garnett, author of Flyfishing for Coarse Fish, who founded the competition in 2013, could only add to the plaudits for all entrants. “All I can add is my thanks to all those who got involved, to our sponsors and the panel. It’s brilliant to see anglers continuing to broaden their horizons. There’s a great community out there now, who continue to surprise us each year. I’m sure 2018 will be no different.”

Join in the fun this year…

Which species do you want to catch on the fly this year? There are still so many venues and targets to try for, wherever you live. One excellent place to join the fun is the Flyfishing for Coarse Fish Facebook Group, a great source of tips, fly patterns and more.

Meanwhile, you can find all the current and past catches, along with handy tips and venues, on the website (

Do also look out for Turrall’s range of Flies for Coarse Fish, which cover many species from chub and dace to predatory fish such as perch and zander. If you’ve yet to read it, the book Flyfishing For Coarse Fish is also an excellent guide to all the main species, with tips, tactics and fly patterns to inspire your adventures.


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