WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS VAIL, CO 2016: SESSION 5 BLUE RIVER

Blue River Session 5:

It’s about time I finish my posts on the world championships this year. After this I have a few fly tutorials to get to that I hope you all will find useful.

In this post I’ll be covering my final session on the Blue River. I drew beat 14 on the Blue which was a nice beat with a straight run formed by the convergence of three channels downstream of a couple of islands. The run was heavy at the top with a few boulders and smoothed to a tailout and a shallow riffle at the end of the beat. I went into the session with a basic plan in place to dry dropper the edges, nymph the middle third of the river or wherever the water was heavier, and leave a bit of time at the end to either return to the best spots with nymphs again or to swing streamers through the lower half of the run.

My favorite Blue River picture shot by my wife during the 2012 America Cup

I started on the near side at the top of the beat where the converging channels formed some nice seams. I worked the area pretty hard expecting several fish that never materialized. It was classic heavy Blue River water that the fish usually have a fondness for there but I found out after the session that Julien Daguillanes of France (the soon to be world champion) had done a number on the fish where I started my session. Right before I was about to leave I decided to put a couple of casts tight to the bank in a tiny depression just below the beat marker. I was fishing far too heavy of a nymph rig so I had to lead the flies high through the drift but it wasn’t much of a spot so I figured I’d chuck a few casts there and move on. A couple of casts in I hooked a solid brown that decided to make a break for it downstream. It ended up being a 49 cm brown with a solid kype that took a soft hackle hare’s hear with a pearl rib; a fly that had been good for Pat Weiss earlier in the tournament. It was a good way to start the session though I was hoping for more after fishing the seams at the top of the beat for 20 minutes.

I decided to make a break to the bottom of the beat so I could cross to the other side. There was a bit of shallow riffle water there that I thought might hold a small brown or two so I grabbed the dry dropper rod to give it a go before walking through it and blowing it up. I flicked a cast into the water to get some line out and a little brown trout caught me off guard and took my nymph as soon as it hit the water. I missed…rookie mistake. I figured if there was one there might be more so I crossed to the middle where I could fish back to the bank. A few casts in and I had another small brown that had eaten a trusty cdc flashback hare’s ear; a fly my former Fly Fishing Team USA mate Rob Kolanda showed me for the Blue River years ago. I thought I was onto some water that hadn’t been molested by the earlier competitors so I decided to stay with the program for a bit. There was quite a bit of water with overhanging branches and structure on the bank. It was textbook brown trout water. Unfortunately, either earlier competitors had read the same book or the fish were playing hardball because I covered 50 yards of bank with no further success. It was time for a change.

My Blue River beat with the locations of my fish caught marked by X's

I decided to head to the far side of the river where a series of larger rocks created likely looking holding water. I slowly made my way up the bank fishing the dry dropper in tight and then the nymphs a bit further out. Repeatedly I thought, “There has to be a willing fish there!” About every 3rd or 4th time that thought entered my mind a fish would finally eat. Most of the fish were eating Rob’s hare’s ear below a dry. Half way up the bank a brown snatched the purple chubby Chernobyl that I had changed to since the caddis dry had received no interest. Though the crossings weren’t as long as those on the Colorado River, they added up after a few trips since the Blue was pretty high to wade at over 700 cfs.

When I returned to the far side I started working toward the top third of the beat. On this side of the river the glare was absolutely brutal as it was trending toward late evening. Not only could I not see into the water to find potential holding water, I also couldn’t see the numerous snags that were waiting to snatch my flies. Unfortunately, with my nymph rigs I found plenty of these snags. I was forced to spend an inordinate amount of time re-rigging. I probably wasted half an hour of my session, and who knows how many flies, on this effort. To add to my frustration, there were very few fish coming to my nymphs out in the heavier water where I expected most of my opportunity. I tried dead drifts and swings and induced take presentations. I tried a cadre of flies. I ended up with one fish on the nymph rig on the far side that ate the same cdc hare’s ear I was fishing under the dry. I was happy I had my net on my hip for this fish too since I set the hook and it hit me in the chest, came unhooked, and landed in my net as I quickly flicked up the rim to make sure I caught it. At least I made up for my rookie mistake. Only one more fish (number 7) ate near the top of the run. I had just changed to a peacock butano (get link from blog) and a small rainbow in shallow water near the bank found it to its liking.

After bringing the rainbow to the controller I had a half hour left with a decision to make. There was a bit of edge water on the near bank I hadn’t covered with some access to seams around other rocks in the middle of the river. There was also a sliver of pocketwater on the far side at the bottom of the beat. It was likely to be the least molested of the water but the nearside would put me near my streamer rod if I wanted it. I chose the near side. Unfortunately no fish came to nymphs or dries in water that looked pretty likely. I’m still scratching my head on what I could have changed to have gotten more interest. There must have been something since other anglers found more success than I did.

With four minutes left I ran to grab my streamer rod. I had a di-5 line with two streamers attached; a black over white slumpbuster and a sculpin olive wooly bugger. I started making fairly long casts swinging across the fast portion of the run with my rod underwater to deepen the path of my flies. Five casts in I locked up on a nice fish and let out a “fish on” yell to my controller and dad who were up at the top of my beat. A tense battle ensued with the end result being a stunner 46 cm brown trout coming to the net attached to the slumpbuster. It was an exciting way to finish the session with only 30 seconds remaining and an awesome way to end the tournament with my dad there to witness it. The sector judge Michael Johnson told me my eight fish were the highest he had heard in his travels around the beats in my section of river. I was hopeful for a good placing despite feeling like I should have found more willing fish. Unfortunately for me, most of my fish were small and two anglers with six and seven fish beat my eight on fish points. There were also three anglers with 11 fish and one with 12. I ended in seventh place for the session; not how I was hoping to end. Mikko Rasanen from Finland won with 11 fish followed by Dave Downie from Scotland with 12 and Roman Heimlich from the Czech Republic with 11.

With the tournament at an end the fretting over the placings of my teammates began. I was feeling a bit down wishing I had done more to help us rise to the top so I hoped my teammates had done what I wasn’t able to. I knew we had a chance at silver or gold if we had a stellar session but we also might slide to fourth if we dropped the session. We ended with a mixed session of ups and downs which landed us in 3rd place for a team bronze medal. My longtime friend and teammate Lance Egan scored the individual bronze medal (which he reminded me made me a former bronze medalist when we fished together over Thanksgiving J). My teammate Pat Weiss, AKA the River Jedi, narrowly missed the medals in 4th place. I ended up with a respectable 13th place behind my teammate Native Norm Maktima in 11th place.

It had been a two year buildup to this moment with a lot of preparation and anticipation. Our finish was somewhat bittersweet for our team. When I attended my first world championships in Scotland back in 2009, I would have been ecstatic with a 13th place finish and the team would have been over the rooftops to have gotten a bronze medal. I suppose the fact that I/we can be proud of our finishes in Vail, but not overjoyed, shows we’ve come a long way. Where we once dreamed of medals we now have earned consecutive team and individual medals the last two years. Where other countries once passed over us on the bus they now want to hear how we finished because we’ve earned their respect. Progress comes with hard work and we have certainly progressed. But there will always be a longing for the title of world champions that we missed on our home soil. None of us will likely have that shot again. Congratulations to the Spaniards and the French for keeping it from us.