World Championships 2018 Italy: Session 4 Upper Sarca River

Quick update before I start the session recap: on Monday November 28th I’m flying out for a fishing trip to New Zealand. I will be gone until just before Christmas. The shop will still be open and our employee Braydon will be filling orders. I will be occasionally available by email but will be in the backcountry without service for multiple days at a time so I may not be able to reply quickly. 

My first fish from practice at this year's world championship. It was a stocked brown I caught in the practice water just above the upper Sarca River venue.

Session Recap

My fourth session in this year’s World Fly Fishing Championship landed me on the upper Sarca River venue near Pinzolo. This part of the river had a high gradient in most beats with large boulders and pocket water being the dominant water type. It was the venue which was closest to the headwaters and the remnants of a glacier that feeds the river. 

Beat 2 on the upper Sarca River as seen from a bridge during practice. 

This stretch of the river was less fertile than the middle venue downstream a few miles. Because of the warm September weather, the melt in the headwaters was causing the river to flow milky with glacial till. Morning sessions had been difficult in the cold milky water until the sun was on the water long enough to bring warmth and a higher metabolic rate to the fish.

The venue was also split between water managed under catch and release regulations in the upper beats and catch and kill in the lower beats. Naturally, if you drew a beat in the catch and release water you had an immediate leg up over the catch and kill beats. I drew beat 22 in the lower portion of the venue in the catch and kill water. At first glance, it looked like great water. There was plenty of holding water. If it had been a section of my local river at home, I would have expected a lot of fish.

The two previous morning sessions in this beat had produced 3 and 4 fish and the one afternoon session had produced 10 fish. These weren’t exciting totals given it was taking 15 to 20 fish to win each session on this venue.

The beat started with some medium depth pocket water near the top. It split into two channels in the middle with a shallow small side channel heading to the river left side and a swift and narrow channel on the right side with heavy pockets. The side channel merged with the main channel near the bottom of the beat in several smaller threads where the gradient lessened a bit back into medium depth and speed pocket water. 

My plan was to fish the heavy pocket water in the middle portion of the main channel first until reaching the top. Then I would fish the nice-looking bottom pockets and the side channel once the sun had reached the water in the last 45-60 minutes of the session. I hoped that the side channel would produce similar results as the shallow pocket water had for me in the previous session on the middle Sarca River venue. 

Given the heavy and small diameter pockets of the beat, I started with a single nymph rig with a squirmy on point. I was not expecting much from the heavy pockets I started in and settled in for a bit of a wait until my first fish. The first pocket I fished did not produce but the tail of the next pocket on the bank quickly produced a small brown trout with an upstream angled cast. After measuring it I returned to the same spot and two casts later another brown trout came from the top of the same pocket. I was pleasantly surprised.

The heavy water in the middle of my beat in the main channel. My first two fish came from a pocket out of the right side frame of the picture. Look closely and you can see the small side channel split off around the island in the left hand side of the photo. 

Suddenly I had much higher expectations with two fish on the board in the first two minutes. Unfortunately, my original expectations soon returned as I fished through the rest of the heavy pockets in the first section of main channel. I changed flies multiple times swapping back and forth between squirmies and the small dark nymphs that had been good elsewhere on the Sarca. However, in the next 40 minutes I did not catch another fish working methodically upriver. Instances like this always are puzzling. Why did two fish come from the same nondescript pocket while none came from a string of much better-looking pockets? It makes me wonder if other competitors just didn’t cover the first pocket well or if I didn’t cover the other unproductive pockets well. I suspect these types of instances will remain secrets of the cosmic fly fishing universe.

When I reached the pockets above the island at the top of the beat, my fortune switched for the better again. The pockets in the middle of the river did not produce any fish but there were several inviting pockets under the trees on the far bank. It required some helicopter and/or bow and arrow casts to trace along the bank under the trees but two more browns came from the bank here and one more by scraping the edge of a rock in a pocket near the top of the beat. 

The pocket water at the top of my beat. I caught fish near the bank in the right side of the photo,

I ran to the bottom of my beat with five fish on the board and my session just over halfway gone. I started fishing the pockets there that were the most inviting pieces of the beat at first glance. The only takes I received were tight along the bank of the island under a tree. Sadly, I missed one of them but landed the other. Given this was the best-looking part of the beat, I would imagine it received a lot of attention in previous sessions but I was disappointed to only catch one fish here. 

The pockets at the bottom of my beat. 

I moved into the side channel with expectations that there would be a lot of fish here based on skinny water results from practice and during my last session. I went back to the dry dropper rod to suspend a nymph in the shallow water. The water was fairly slow despite being boulder laden pockets. I worked each pocket methodically and often crawled from boulder to boulder to hide myself.

The expected piscatorial bounty did not materialize. I landed two fish in the side channel and missed one other which gave me two headshakes before coming off. By the time I reached the top of the side channel I only had two minutes left and spent them at the top of the beat without any more fish coming to net.

I had mixed feelings about the session. I was able to get eight fish where three and four had been caught in previous morning sessions. However, I know there were more to be had. I think I made two tactical errors. 1. I didn’t focus on streamers. Lance fished very well during the afternoon session fishing streamers tight to structure. I think the fish had been nymphed into hiding by the time I got there. While I was able to get fish tight to structure, a streamer may have had more pulling power to the fly in this type of habitat. 2. I should have fished through the side channel a little quicker. Many of the other competitors said afterward that they caught many of their fish in the last 30 minutes in heavy water which they had already fished. I should have saved some time to fish back through the heavy water in the main channel after the sun had warmed the river.

In the end my eight fish earned me an eighth place in the session. Anglers in other sessions on the same beat finished 22nd, 8th, 15th, and 10th. After the session I moved into 22nd place individually. The team had a very strong session overall and we jumped up to 7th place in the standings with one session left in the tournament.