Fishermen are known for their tall tales: of finned creatures which got away as they were about to be landed and others which were released – but all seem to increase in size and weight with each telling ... Gareth George adds to the trove of material.

The gauntlet was well and truly tossed down. To the victor, the spoils – and the spoils were the bragging rights as top angler for 2022.

It all began – as most things do – around the bar with refreshing beverages and a few tales being swapped of fishing expeditions and adventures past.

As the night wore on it was impossible not to embellish a few details. All the best anecdotes and stories grew richer in the telling with a shade or two of artistic licence added … Naturally, that led to a few jocular challenges and ultimately is what caused the fish off to happen.

The rules of engagement were hotly debated, dates were set and cheerful farewells were said – but with intent and purpose agreed.

In the opposing corner were colleagues and seasoned fly fishers Rhuan Human and Stuart van den Linden, who despite their prowess with a rod are very much my juniors. (Something they never fail to point out – along with the lengthy status of my teeth!) I give as good as I get by reminding them of their millennial status and the lessons they still have to learn, all of which I’ve already forgotten. But with a single malt fuelled fire in my belly I somewhat stupidly decided to challenge them both to a day’s trout fishing on WildFly waters with the biggest trout winning bragging rights for 2022.

Wouldn’t you be crowing if you caught this sturdy specimen, as Gareth George did?

It was agreed that everyone was to fish from a V-Boat and to make the contest definitive, one had to tie a fly of your own design and fish this single pattern the entire day. A cameraman was to accompany the protagonists, to record any shenanigans and hopefully some action which would make it to the small screen in the next WildFly TV show on Supersport.

It only dawned on me the following morning that I had foolishly given them first choice of dam, which they capitalised on.

I arrived on my allotted water at a respectable hour to discover that recent rains had rendered the dam almost unfishable, the dirty water forcing my hand to select a gaudy fly pattern that resembled no earthly creature.

Within the first hour I was ready to toss in the towel. While paddling back to shore I had a hit from what I suspect was a desperate fish, one which put a good bend in my rod. Surprisingly I was on the board with a beautiful 57cm rainbow trout. With the cameraman filming this on a drone, I suggested a bit of skulduggery involving a scenic flight (for the drone) to the next valley. Stu and Rhuan soon came into view allowing me to see what they were up to – and immediately wished I hadn’t! Over the next 15 minutes I watched them caning the fish, landing numerous trout which I could see were going to eclipse my benchmark.

Although one should never begrudge another man’s good fortune on the fishing front, I just couldn’t face these young upstarts with my hat in hand. Ego is a terrible motivator.

Rhuan Human’s pretty rainbow just didn’t measure up

So shouldering a little too much pressure I 4X4’d to a piece of water that I knew would at least be clean and set about casting in hope of some obliging fish. It took a while before another really good trout was landed of the same size, this time a brown trout.

The marvels of modern communication … it was around this time the cheeky blighters sent me a few pics of their trophy trout. To rub salt in the wound they sent a snap of their celebratory drinks at Notties pub! My thirst for a pint notwithstanding, it was their assumptive toast of victory that drove me to stay on the water. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few decades when fishing in any friendly contest, it is that more casting does not help the cause. It’s imperative to slow everything down, ignore the angler, as it’s only the fish you’re competing against.

And that’s when the first voice note arrived …. damn millennials! Those lads really knew how to mess with my head. Trying to keep some composure, I thought about my next move and picked my rod up to make the cast.

It’s impossible to truly anticipate a strike. This one took me a few seconds to process what was happening. I knew it was a good fish, but only when it peeled line off the reel did the anxiety set in. I knew I had a beast on the other end. Experience has shown that it’s nearly impossible to stay calm in these situations. Just keeping a lid on the panic is a win. Focussing entirely on the fish, I couldn’t even tell you how long the fight dragged on, all I really remember is the jubilation when I scooped it into the net in which it hardly fit.

And nor did Stuart van den Linden’s catch ...

We reconvened that evening to review the day’s events. There was no hiding the young guns’ swagger as they entered the pub, cockily confident they’d taught me a proper lesson. Stuart had recorded his personal best of 62cm and of the 23 trout they had landed, not a single fish measured under half a meter. Small wonder they were buying the drinks and celebrating. Theirs was an outstanding fishing performance!

But I’d be lying if I said I took no pleasure from their crestfallen expressions as I showed them the picture of the behemoth that I had landed at the eleventh hour! Proverbial stunned mullets.

It took a few moments of disbelief and – it must be said – some suspicion, until the salutations followed. Lady Luck had certainly graced me with her presence and for now I held the upper hand, albeit tentatively.

We ended as we’d started, celebrating the good fish caught, despite a desperately ugly fly, remembering that there is never a bad moment when out fishing.