2017 World Fly Fishing Championships in Slovakia: Sessions 4 and 5

Thankfully I’ve been doing a lot of fishing lately which has delayed me writing this post. I took a swing up to Yellowstone last week and enjoyed a great trip with my friend Scott Berrett fishing in the park and on the Henry’s Fork. I’ve also been hitting our local lakes and rivers trying to get as much time in as possible before only the tailwaters are fishable through the winter. And if I’m honest, I haven’t been very excited about writing this post because my final two sessions weren’t exactly the finest sessions I’ve ever fished in a world championship and it’s a bit painful to reflect on them. Nonetheless, here is my recap.

A nice Madison River brown trout.

A Yellowstone Cutthroat from a Yellowstone River tributary. 

A nice Henry's Fork rainbow. Apparently fly line has unknowingly become a new fashion statement for me.

Session 4 Dedinky Lake

I rate this session right up there as one of the worst in my competitive career because I had the tools to turn out a much better performance. In previous sessions, our team had experienced some ups and downs on Dedinky Lake, in contrast to our success the prior two years which had greatly contributed to our medals. I had enough information to put the puzzle together but I got a bit frazzled after my session started poorly and the downward spiral of mistakes ensued. My boat partner positioned us by Phil Dixon of England to begin the session, which was a good move considering England had been dominant in prior sessions. From the start he was catching fish at a fast pace. I got a bit distracted trying to match his line and retrieve and missed a few takes that I should have had. Then a fish rose near me. I covered it perfectly with the blob on my top dropper. It blew up on it but I realized during the fight that there was a lot more weight than I expected. As it got closer I could see I had a double with another fish on my point fly, which was a blanksaver. Somehow, I must have lost tension while hand lining the second fish in and it came off. This was the first of too many dropped or broken off fish.

Once we drifted around to the other side of Phil, and the sun reflected off his line, I could see he was fishing an Airflo 3 sweep. I had a line similar to it that was new but I had only tested it while fishing from the bank. I spent the next 40 minutes unpicking tangles instead of fishing. Big mistake, again. Finally, I threw the line back in my bag and put back on the fast glass line I had started with. It wasn’t long before I had a fish take my blob……hard. Unfortunately, I was stripping as it ate and we parted ways. About 10 minutes later it happened……again! I re-rigged and upped my tippet to 2x on the top dropper for the blob. Because top droppers have less leader material between the fly and line, they have less stretch and the takes can be pretty positive at times. Sometimes too positive. I wasn’t expecting such hard grabs from 12-14” rainbows but I learned my mistake the hard way in the session. All the while my boat partner was catching fish with crazy flies below a dry fly, since he had a hard time casting a typical pulling rig. While I sometimes turn to this strategy when the fishing gets tough and fish don’t want flies moving, I didn’t feel that this method was the best way to catch up to the competitors who had gotten a head start on me so I stayed with the pulling rig. Logically I still think that was the right decision, though given my struggles I probably would have done better had I switched.

The fishing slowed for most of the boats around us by the time the second half of the session came and I was in control of the boat. I decided to head to the middle of the lake where no one had fished and the fish would be fresh, even if there was less of them. Within a few casts of our arrival I had a grab and locked up for a few head shakes before the fish popped off. Unfortunately, the fish had received enough pressure by the fourth session that they were easiest to catch in the first few strips after a long cast. Hooking smallish fish at 80+ feet can be a recipe for losing them and this scenario was repeated more times than I care to think about during the rest of my session. Shortly after I did lock into another fish and put it in the net. I knew I was WELL behind most of the rest of the field with only two fish on the board. While I wish I could have calmed down and fished smoothly and efficiently, the anxiety set in and I fished a bit frenzied the rest of the session, which of course led to little mistakes and errors that cost me more fish. Several more times I locked up fish at distance only to have them on anywhere from a few headshakes to near the boat before losing them. It was pretty much what my nightmares are made of. I had enough fish take to finish in the upper third or quarter of the pack, but through breakoffs or just losing fish during the fight I ended with only the two landed fish. This landed me right near the bottom in the session. Given that I entered the session in 12th place individually and some good momentum, I was crestfallen as I watched my chance at a strong finish flying away like a fighter jet fleeing a dogfight. I also felt the guilt of having let my team down in the type of session I’ve fished lakes for years to train for. Needless to say, I’ve been working hard on lakes since returning to try and rectify my mistakes for future sessions.

Session 5 Vah River

I drew beat 11 which gave me some news that could be bad or good depending on the way you look at it. Back in session two, Sebastien Delcor, the soon to be bronze medalist, obliterated the beat catching 57 fish during his session. This told me there were plenty of fish in the beat which was a good thing. However, after that session the fish were likely pretty worked over and the fishing definitely dropped off in the results, though something tells me Sebastien could have found a way to catch plenty of fish again if given the chance. I knew that going into the last session the fish would not come easy and indeed they didn’t.

The Vah was a mid-sized river and was one I was a bit worried about going into the tournament. It was less intimate than the Bela or Poprad where I was able to cover all of my beat until I found fish. I knew that part of the challenge would be deciding which parts of my beat to focus on where there would concentrations of grayling, which tend to group together in shoals or pods. I started at the bottom of my beat where there was a short stretch of shallow water with a few pockets on river right. I positioned myself in the middle of the river here and crawled my way up so that I could fish both sides without spooking fish. My teammate Lance told me that a squirmy had been good on the Vah for him in the session prior so I started with a squirmy and a drab hare’s ear we had fished on the Vah during practice. I caught a couple of fish right away, including a couple of trout, but I had a sneaking suspicion that the fish had been fished to with squirmies in prior sessions because they were not reacting to it as positively as I had hoped. After the session, my controller confirmed my suspicion. I switched flies a few times but still only began with three or four fish from this area. Granted, it wasn’t an obvious piece of water but I was hoping it would give up more fish than it did.

The bottom of my beat where I started. Most of the fish in this area came from the far bank in the photo.

I slid up into the deep run above. If this were a river dominated by trout this run would have been a magnet that both fish and fishermen would zero in on. The back end of the run was deep and fairly slow and sped up as it neared the shelf at the top of the run. I quickly fished the back half of the run with a dry dropper rig and nymphs but no fish came to the net. As I came to the top of the run I was hopeful that the odd trout or grayling would be there. Unfortunately, in addition to fish there were several unseen snags there that took my rigs connected to 7x. I did catch a trout and a handful of better grayling here by repeatedly switching between more “standard” nymphs like quill perdigons, blowtorches, hare’s ears, and a squirmy. I would first fish the nymphs when I moved and then change to the squirmy to see if I could get a reaction bite. The dry dropper rig also produced a couple of fish from the far bank where I could stall the rig on the slow side of eddy seams. These are some of the best spots to use this rig in my opinion because the eddy seam can grab the upper portion of tippet on a nymph rig and pull it out of the eddy. The only problem with fishing the top of the run is that I either had to wade across the river at the top of the run and spook the water I was about to fish, or I had to run my fish ~80 yards downstream to my controller where I could cross at the bottom of the deep run. I chose the latter and for about 45 minutes I was running a track meet as much as I was fishing.

The deep run in the middle of my beat. The fish I caught here were congregated on the far bank near structure.

After I fished the run I moved up into the shallow fairly smooth riffles at the top of the beat with about 50 minutes left. There were two depressions under trees on the river left bank here and some very shallow riffled water on the river right bank. I fished dry flies up the shallow bank and switched to nymphs for the depressions. I had four fish eat my cdc ant on the shallow bank, but only two of them connected. The takes only occurred if I put my ant within inches of the bank. Any more than 6-10 inches away and there was nobody home. Where I was disappointed with this section of river was in the depressions. While I was scouting my beat, I expected these depressions to be hotspots where I would catch a good number of my fish. Something tells me Sebastien caught plenty of fish here. However, after lots of fly changes, approaching from different angles, and bow and arrow casting under branches, I only brought two grayling to the net, one out of each depression, and missed a couple more.

the riffles at the top of my beat. The depressions were under the shade on the far bank and the few dry fly eaters were within inches of the near bank in the photo.

With 15 minutes left I decided to head back down to the run and nymph my way back through the top of the run where I had caught most of my fish. A couple minutes in my rig became dearly departed so I re-rigged with a single piece of tippet and a streamer with the hopes of catching a trout or two to end on. Unfortunately, none materialized and I ended the session with 14 fish and a mediocre 11th place in the session. It was a disappointing way to end my world championship. However, the experience overall has reminded me that there is always more to learn in this game and it rarely is just the technical side but also the mental training that needs to take place in order to consistently rise to the top. I have a nice fire lit under my motivation to train smarter and harder so that I am prepared for next year’s competitions and hopefully the World Fly Fishing Championship in Italy.

Thanks for reading my recaps from this year’s world championships. I hope you enjoyed them and found some nuggets of information that will help your time on the water. In the coming weeks and months I’ll have more technical posts, rod reviews, and probably a tutorial or two so stay tuned to the tacticalflyfisher.com blog.