World Fly Fishing Championship 2018 Italy: Final Session on the Noce River

My final session brought me to the Noce River. The Noce is a beautiful river. Though it flows close to a highway, gravel pits, and many large apple orchards, the riparian zone is largely intact compared to the channelized Sarca. You don’t know how close you are to many of the less aesthetic impacts of modern society while you are standing in its waters, which run with a slight milky tinge and were shrouded in mist the morning we practiced there.

The Noce River where we fished it during practice. 

The Noce had produced medium numbers of fish in the previous sessions which had been won with between 13 and 22 fish. It also produced the largest fish of any of the venues in the tournament with brown trout in the 40 – 50 cm range caught most sessions and one 59 cm fish caught by a Slovenian angler.

The water type was more varied here than on the upper two Sarca venues. There were some deep slow canal like sections, occasional pocket water and riffles, large pools, and hard to read bedrock sections. There definitely were some difficult beats made of frog water or unforgiving bedrock riffles but where there was good habitat there were decent numbers of trout available.

I drew beat 20 which had produced 11, 12, 4, and 17 fish for the anglers before me resulting in finishes of 12th, 7th, 21st, and 2nd place. Tom Jarman of Australia had fished it in session 4 before I arrived. He’s a strong angler, who obviously fished well, so I knew there were fish to be had but also knew they would have been well picked on in the morning. Regardless, I knew I had a shot at finishing the tournament well if I could put together a good session. Thankfully my teammate Michael Bradley had found the fish there had a liking for mops and squirmies in the previous session so I had confidence a bit of shock and awe might pull some of the fish who had been pestered out of their hiding places.

The beat started with a shallow riffle which transitioned into a deep run. It then flowed through a short stretch of pocket water and funneled into a deep and very turbulent pool. The pool tailed into a mix of sand and weeds before the beat marker.

We had a fair bit of time when we arrived before the session started so I repeatedly walked back and forth scouting different bits of the beat and trying to formulate the best possible plan for each piece of uniquely different water. I knew there would be lots of rig and tippet length changes in order to drill into the nooks and crannies instead of just casting broad brush strokes.

At the bottom of the beat I had spotted four fish. One was sitting by itself on a slight depression in the sand near the end of the beat. The other three were loosely grouped together around an outcrop of several rocks which slightly protruded from the sand about 30’ upstream from the first fish. The situation felt pretty similar to fishing Spring Creek in Pennsylvania. As a result, I asked myself “what would Pat Weiss do?”

I started with a modular Euro nymphing leader and a single Walt’s Worm with a 2.3 mm bead. I moved into position and crouched just downstream of the trout sitting solo near the end of the bank. I made a cast three feet upstream of the trout and floated my greased sighter to suspend the nymph and slow its descent. I watched the fish for a reaction instead of my sighter.

My first cast went by the fish with no reaction. On my second drift, the fish turned and pursued the fly four feet downstream. My leader and fly started to drag but I couldn’t do anything about it without spooking the fish so I let it drift. The nymph sank to the sand and I watched the trout tilt and take it. I’m not sure whether it was the hooking angle with the trout facing downstream, the drag of the leader, or bad timing on my part, but I set the hook and spooked the trout instead of hooking it. It returned to its holding lie but its behavior was clearly different and it sat glued to the bottom. I tried three more flies before deciding I had to move on and it spooked into the pool as I waded upstream.

Facing my first failure, I crept upstream to a spot just downstream of the other fish I had spotted. I targeted the fish on the left first as it was closest to me. My first cast landed a bit too far to the left and even with the fish. On my next cast I overcompensated and the tippet landed over the fish. It immediately bolted and ran straight through the other two fish spooking all of them into the pool. What a great start!

The location where I spotted the first fish near the back of my beat. It was on the drop off near the left side of the photo. 

The pool near the bottom of my beat with the rock outcrop near the bottom where I spotted several trout. It's hard to see the boiling turbulent nature of the currents in the pool from the photo.

I moved up into the swirling pool. There was a short smooth section at the tail before the boiling currents in the rest of the pool upstream. I re-rigged the rod I had been fishing to a dry dropper and fished it at the back of the tail. Half a dozen drifts in the dry sank and I set the hook into my first fish. I returned to the same area but did not have any more fish on the dry dropper rig.

I switched to a double nymph rig and began manipulating tippet and fly length until I received the occasional tick from the bottom near the end of my drift. It took beads in the 3.3 to 3.8 mm range to achieve depth in most of the pool. The currents were so turbulent that the only way I found I could receive and register takes was by stopping my rod ½ way through the drift. This inverted my sighter downstream and created tension with an underwater arc of tippet that pulled my sighter down when a fish took. Using this method, I caught three fish spaced randomly through the bottom 2/3 of the pool. One of them was a lovely looking 42 cm brown which I would have loved some headshots of if I’d had the time and my nice camera. It certainly kept me a bit worried during the fight on 7x.

The top of the pool had several threads of current ripping into the head. I focused on this area for a while. I changed flies, tippet length, my position, casting angles, etc. but I wasn’t able to find a way to catch any fish here. I wish that I had a fish x-ray to see where I was missing them if they were there.

I moved into the pocket water upstream. There were several good-looking spots behind rocks and in between weeds. Most of them drew blanks however. I only caught one trout from a pocket that I switched flies three times in because I was confident there was a fish there. In talking with Tom Jarman after the tournament, he said he also only caught one fish in this stretch. I’m still puzzled as to why there weren’t more. It looked better than it fished. 

The pocket water stretch in the middle of my beat. 

I waded up to the run above hoping to add a little spark to my session. There was a pocket at the rear of the run created by two boulders in a row spaced about 8-10’ apart. There were knife edged seams on both sides of the pocket that were moving quickly but in between the seams the pocket was slow and smooth and 2’ – 3’ deep. It was the perfect place for a dry dropper on a Modular Euro-Nymph Leader as I could place the rig in between the seams and allow the dry fly to suspend the nymph in the slow center currents. It can be hard to get a regular Euro-nymph rig to park in spots like this without tippet catching the near side seam and pulling the rig downstream too fast.

The first fly I had on the rig drew no takers so I changed to a black perdigon with a couple of turns of uv krystal flash for the collar. This fly dropped to depth in the pocket quickly and I landed three browns in quick succession. I finally felt I’d found a few fish who had been unmolested by previous competitors.

The run above looked like one of the better locations in the beat when I scouted it. As I started nymphing the lower half I quickly realized there was little friction near the river bed. The run was composed almost entirely of smooth bed rock and my rig never slowed as it sank near the bottom like it would in a river with a cobble bottom. I still had to work it thoroughly though in case I was able to find a nook that held a fish. The far side eddy looked inviting also but produced no fish with nymphs, a dry dropper rig, and a streamer fished through it. 

The run at the top of my beat. 

My last chance in the run was near the top. Here I had to kneel under overhanging tree branches to get into a good position. My only casting option was a side arm water load cast as the branches above my head prevented a conventional oval cast There was a drop off here but the slightly turbid water made it difficult to estimate how deep it was. I found the drop off by altering the length of my casts. When I hit the sweet spot my nymphs drifted over the shelf and traced the bottom. If I was too long I hooked up on the shelf and if I was too short my rig sailed over the heads of the fish. Even though the bottom was still bedrock, the drop off was abrupt enough that the void of space created slowed current with several fish stacked tightly near the depth change. I ended up landing four fish near the drop after some weight, tippet length, and casting changes to ensure I covered any fish holding water well.

At this point I had about 30 minutes left in the session and returned to the bottom of my beat. I approached carefully but did not see any fish sitting on the sand as I had at the beginning of the session. They clearly hadn’t recovered and returned to their prior lies. I decided to spend 20 minutes fishing the back end of the pool again and then run back to the shelf at the top of the beat to end the session after it had been rested a little.

I re-rigged my nymph rig to add tippet length for the deep pool. About 10 drifts in I set the hook and a large golden flash appeared. I was momentarily psyched but then a bit crestfallen when I worked the fish closer and realized it was a local native chub. It didn’t count despite being 55 cm long. I landed it as quickly as possible and returned to fishing further up the pool. I worked back and forth and landed a small trout about 10 minutes later. It was the size of the trout I had originally sight fished to so I hope I was able to land at least one of the fish I had originally spooked even though it wasn’t in the manner I intended.

My last pass up the pool I worked the far bank. I wasn’t able to find any more trout though I did manage to lose a nymph rig and a streamer on tree roots. I ran back to the top of my beat with about ten minutes left. After re-rigging for the shelf, I quickly hooked a nice trout but it immediately took to the air and threw the hook. At least it was my only dropped fish for the session. Two casts later I landed another smaller trout. I worked the shelf and the eddy on the far side until the end of the session but did not catch any more fish.

I ended the session with 14 fish on the sheet. I figured that number would place me well but was really happy to hear from the controllers that I had won the session. David Arcay of Spain was 2nd with 13 fish and Antonin Pesek of the Czech Republic was 3rd with 11 fish.

The team had a really good session as well. Michael, Lance, and Russ all finished 3rd in their sessions and Pat Managed a solid 8th in his. With that session we jumped from 7th to finish in 4th place overall. It wasn’t the medal finish we were hoping for but to have started the day in 10th place and finish it in 4th place, it was a great team effort.

I ended up finishing 14th individually which was certainly respectable after starting in 89th after the first session! Michael Bradley finished 21st, Lance Egan finished 24th, Pat Weiss finished 25th, and Russ Miller finished 33rd. I don’t think I’ve seen another instance where four out of five anglers were in the top 25 (with the fifth not far behind) and the team didn’t receive a medal. It just goes to show how stacked the medal winning teams were at the top of the standings.

Congratulations to Spain, the Czech Republic, and Italy for the gold, silver, and bronze medals. Congratulations to David Garcia Ferreras of Spain, Jyrki Hiltunen of Finland, and Andrea Pirone of Italy on their individual gold, silver, and bronze medals. Jyrki’s medal was the first for team Finland, though they’ve finished 4th numerous times. Many thanks to Jerry Arnold for his continued support of Fly Fishing Team USA. Without Jerry we wouldn’t be able to afford to send our team each year. Thanks to Bret Bishop for fulfilling an important and largely thankless role as team captain and to Cody Burgdorff for doing a great job watching the lake as our alternate angler. Lastly, a big thank you for the support of wife Julia and our two kids at home who let me keep chasing this crazy dream.

I hope you enjoyed my review of this year’s World Championship. Now I’m off to New Zealand……