The first ever Orvis Saltwater Fly Fishing Festival took place from Friday 4th September to Sunday 6th September 2020 in Chichester, with 60 angler’s taking part in the opening festival. The fishing marks across Chichester, Hayling and Thorny Island provided perfect weather and excellent fishing for more than 60 rods. With bass, mullet, garfish, mackerel and even a dover sole landed on the fly, the winning species ranged from a 53cm thick-lipped mullet to a 66cm Garfish.
One thing is for sure, when the idea was born it certainly never crossed our minds that we would be bang, slap in the middle of a global pandemic. We started having conversations, crafting how the event would look and launching social media in 2019 and then Covid struck. The event had gone live on the orvis.co.uk website and the bookings were coming in steadily. We had our four trusty guides in place and the festival organisation seemed to be on track. And then Coronavirus happened. As we went into global lockdown we had no idea how the future would unfold. We refrained from posting pictures on social media as just thought that photos of happy people fishing might remind us of what we had temporarily lost. We worked with what we had as we hid ourselves away and focussed on online projects with Orvis such as the Orvis Virtual Mayfly Festival and the Orvis We Love Dogs Festival. After the Angling Trust’s magnificent campaign started to unfold to get us all back fishing again, we saw a glimmer of hope.
We will be eternally grateful for Orvis giving us the green light to go ahead in a much-adapted form and then the hard work started all over again. The guides help and advice was invaluable and we had weekly Zoom calls as well as a dedicated WhatsApp group to share ideas and as they popped up. We reengaged with the social media, keeping the FB and Instagram up to date.
Emma and I realised that our current schedule would simply not work as the safety of all competitors had to be our priority. We’d planned a full events program for non-competitors and competitors alike as well as a large social event booked on the Saturday night with streetfood and a band. We had to take a completely different perspective. One thing was obvious, people wanted to be there, see their friends, make new ones and hone their saltwater fly fishing skills. So, we focussed on the competitors and what we could realistically provide for them. We reconnected with our sponsors to see if they would still like tol support the festival even though due to Covid-19, it was now in a different form.
We had to split registration into 4 half hourly allocated slots when competitors came to the Orvis Chichester Store and registered, collected their score cards and their fabulous goody bags. Chilgrove Gin set up a pop up bar and mixologist, Tom Larbey, created the ultimate gin and tonic for the competitors.
Our sponsors were some of the coolest brands in the fly fishing arena from YETI to Arcade belts to Stance socks to BUFF UK and Fulling Mill gave each competitor a set of their new saltwater flies being launched next year. We had just enough goody bags for the competitors and guides as they were in demand.
We used our go to content team again – Chris Sayer and Tom Young who sprinkled their usual fairy dust magic over the images and the Instagram for the weekend and Andy Ford made a film for On the Bank.
The Orvis Chichester team managed the flow of people through the shop brilliantly and gave everyone fish nick names to use over the walkie talkies.
The most special part of the festival for me was the sense of community that grew with people sharing information, stories and experiences over the weekend. The OSFFF WhatsApp group is still bubbling away with everyone sharing their love and tips on saltwater fly fishing.
Masterclasses were held on the beaches for beginners and veteran anglers alike with a group of four expert festival guides, covering a range of different saltwater fly fishing tactics.
Winners of this year’s festival included Martin Small, Rick Lilly, Steve Richards, Rodney Wevill, Jethro Binns, Andy Miller, Dan Hunwick and Archie Godman-Dorington, who all headed home with Orvis prizes for their efforts in the competition.
Prizes awarded from Orvis included a Helios 3 rod, Clearwater Rod and the new Recon Rod model across competition categories including ‘Longest Bass’, ‘Longest Mullet’, ‘Longest Other Species’, ‘Most Number of Species’, ‘Junior Angler’ as well as prizes for Runner’s Up across the first four categories. The Orvis Cup for the Most Sporting Angler was a special prize in the shape of a David Miller Painting ‘Grey Mullet’, awarded to Dan Hunwick.
Brian Campbell-Kearsey, Head of Marketing at Orvis UK, said: “We are delighted to have hosted what turned out to be a magical weekend for 60 angler’s who attended our inaugural Orvis Saltwater Fly Fishing Festival. The event seeks to celebrate the fantastic saltwater fly fishing we have on offer across the UK’s coastlines, which is so accessible to amateur and professional anglers alike.
He continued, “After what has been a difficult year for everyone, our team are happy to have successfully hosted a safe and social event for anglers who attended to practice, learn more and make new friends in the fly fishing community. We ensured the festival was Covid compliant and all made to feel safe with the polices put in place in the store. We are looking forward to building on this next year and hope to see many more new faces.”
Orvis UK will be announcing the dates for next year’s festival in the weeks to come. For more information, please email Emma Sandham on email@example.com.