World Fly Fishing Championship 2019 in Tasmania: Session 5 on the Meander River

Tasmania Session 5 on the Meander River

My final session during the 2019 World Fly Fishing Championship was on the Meander River. The river is a tailwater with a boulder laden pocket water stretch below the dam followed by a transition to a lower gradient river with runs, flats, and pools in the valley below.

I drew beat two near the dam. Beat one just above me had been the best beat on the river through multiple sessions earlier in the championship. My beat had scored one fish by Oshima Toru of Japan, 11 fish by Gregoire Juglaret of France, five fish by Pablo Castro Pinos of Spain, and seven fish by John Gummer of NZ in the sessions before me. This suggested the beat was slightly above average but one that I would have to fish very well if I expected to have a shot at the top couple of spots in the river.

The beat was a nice length of around 200-225 yards. This is a lot longer than I’ve had in lots of world championships but a much more fishable length than the 1.5 km beat I had on the Mersey River earlier in the tournament. The bottom of the beat began with about 60 yards of pocket water. Above that was a massive deep and swirling pool banked against a cliff. Above the pool was a long section of constricted runs and pocket water with high velocity and depth. The beat finished at the top with a slower and smoother run and one last section of a couple of pockets.

Given the length of the beat, I thought I would be able to cover all of the better looking spots in my three hour session but I wouldn’t be able to linger in any spot for long or spend much time fishing secondary water like I would in a shorter beat. I budgeted 40 minutes for the pocket water at the bottom, 20-30 minutes for the pool, an hour and fifteen minutes for the suite of runs above the pool, and 45 minutes for the flatter run at the top of the beat.

While I was scouting my beat, I did spot one fish sitting on top of a light-colored boulder near the tailout of the pool. I also had a tiger snake plop onto the trail as I was walking back to my gear. I’ll admit it gave me a bit of a start, but it zipped off into the brush so I didn’t think about it for too long.

The wind, which had been so constant throughout the rest of the championship, continued in the final session. Though the canyon I was fishing in was treelined, the wind funneled through the canyon and gusted at regular intervals. Given the wind, and the predilection for dry flies the fish showed my teammates earlier in the championship, I started my session fishing a dry dropper on a Euro leader. I also rigged a straight nymph rig, a “standard” dry dropper, and a single dry fly rig in case I came upon regularly rising fish.

The pocket water stretch at the bottom of my beat. 

I started in the pocket water at the bottom of my beat trying to get several good drifts in each pocket before moving on. Good drifts were not easy to come by with the wind wanting to treat my rig like a kite. I ended up having to keep my rod very low, tried to fish as short of a line as possible, and used the dry fly to stick the rig to the surface.

I didn’t catch a fish for quite a few pockets. They were the type of pockets that would give up one to four fish each in my home rivers so I was starting to wonder when I would break the silence. I also knew there simply weren’t a lot of fish to be caught in the river judging from prior sessions, so I kept covering pockets hoping to pick up some momentum.

After covering about 2/3 of the pockets I finally had a fish rise aggressively to my dry fly. Ironically it took on a soft edge that looked dramatically less fishy than 10 other pockets I had already covered but maybe this fish hadn’t been bugged by the other anglers before me as a result. It took a lot more effort and time to bring the fish to the controller than I anticipated because the wading was pretty hellacious in the canyon with the large uneven boulders covered in slick algae. At least I was on the board though, even though it was only a 23 cm fish.

Five minutes later I crept over to a large pocket on the bank. It featured a big eddy with a hard seam and a big boulder on the downstream side that acted as a temporary dam for the flow. The light wasn’t especially good for sight fishing but as I slowly approached the pocket, I caught glimpses of a fish suspended on the slow side of the seam. The wind wreaked havoc on my first six or seven drifts, and I was a bit afraid that I had spooked the fish. Just after this thought I tried dapping the dry like a bouncing caddis and the fish violently erupted on my dry fly. When I brought the fish back to the controller, he told me that was the first fish to come from that pocket. This surprised me given how fishy it looked.

I was near the top of the pocket water at this point and I didn’t catch any fish in the remaining pockets. I fished the tailout of the pool next. It had several large boulders at the tailout that created some deep, slow, and challenging seams to fish. I tried both dry dropper rigs in this area, but I knew I needed a couple of rig changes to fish it better and I didn’t have the time for it.

I crossed over the river to the spot where I had spotted a fish during my scouting time. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how much the sun angle would change by the time I reached this area during the session. Shade now covered where I had seen the fish and I had no clue if it was still there. I tried several casts in the area, but a gust of wind caught one of them and crashed my rig on the water near where the fish was previously. If it was still there this sealed my fate.

I crossed back to the river right side of the pool opposite of the cliff. The pool was deep churning and impressive. There were no doubt fish here. However, I couldn’t Euro nymph the good-looking seams on the far side of the river because there was too much eddy water in between which I would need to wade through that was well over my head in depth. I needed quite a bit of time to make a progression of changes to my dry dropper rig to fish the depths. There was no other place on the river like it so I knew any changes I made would need to be unmade later in the session. This kept my tinkering to a minimum.

I ended up lengthening my dropper and going to an indicator style dry to try and fish the deeper water of the pool. I didn’t catch any fish though and saw no signs on my rig that I was in the lower depths of the pool. As a last-ditch effort, I pulled a streamer rig off a rigging foam and tied it to my Euro nymph rig. I was able to probe the depths better with this rig, but I didn’t end up getting any fish to eat it in the bright sun which dominated much of the pool. Before leaving the pool, I threw some single dry fly casts into a vein of current that entered it at the top on the river right side. I thought the overhanging trees here might hide a willing brown trout, but none confirmed my thoughts.

The pool in the bottom half of the beat. 

The next set of runs and pockets was different than what I had already covered. I tried the Euro rig dry dropper in several seams, but in general the water was deeper and faster than what I could fish effectively with this rig. I still hadn’t gotten a fish to eat a nymph during either of my river sessions to this point but I switched to my straight nymph rig with a hot spot pheasant tail on the dropper and a metallic light pink bead crossover nymph variation on the point.

Looking at the runs and pockets above the pool. 

I ended up having to increase the length of my tippet and make both flies a bead size heavier than I would have in less windy situations. After I made these changes I occasionally ticked bottom and noticed my rig slowing during portions of the drift that meant my flies were in the zone. I didn’t get any fish from the first run above the pool but when I neared the top of the next run, I caught a brown on the dropper. I caught one more fish from a heavy pocket another couple of spots upstream, which moved my total up to four fish at this point.

The fast water below the flat run at the top of the beat. I caught a fish in the pocket below the large boulder on the far left side of the photo. 

he next spot I tackled was the flatter run near the top of the beat. I only had about 20-25 minutes left when I reached it. I wish that I’d had 10 minutes more to make a few adjustments within it, but I had taken a bit more time in some of the water below than I’d planned for. This run was on the cusp of being fast enough to nymph but slow and smooth enough that suspending nymphs under a dry was more attractive, especially with the wind.

Given the short amount of time remaining, I didn’t focus much on the water near to me as I often would. I only put a few token casts in it before hitting the deeper foam lines and seams along the far side of the run. On my first pass through I caught a smaller trout. I knew there had to be another fish or two in this run though as it looked to be the best larger area of holding water in the beat. I re-rigged to make the tippet from my dry to my nymph about 4.5’ long. On my second pass the deeper rig paid dividends and I hooked and landed a 445 mm (17.5”) brown. It was quite a bit bigger than the other fish I’d been landing so I made sure to stay smooth and careful to avoid breaking my 7x tippet.

The smooth run at the top of my beat. I was only able to pull two fish from the run. 

I still thought there would be another fish in the run, but I hadn’t caught any as the session bell was approaching. When my controller told me I had two minutes left, I cut the dropper back to 2’ long and made a few quick steps to the one remaining fishy looking pocket at the top of my beat. The pocket was in shade, but I was standing in bright sunlight downstream. This made it nearly impossible to see my dry fly on the water as my eyes weren’t adjusted to the difference. On my third cast some sort of sixth sense told me to set the hook near the back end of the pocket. When I lifted there was a fish on though I’d had no discernible visual indication of a take. I landed the fish and brought it to the controller with about five seconds left in my session. This gave me a total of seven for the session.

The short piece of pocket water at the top of my beat. My last fish came from near the trees on the right which was in the shade at the end of the session.

I’m still not sure how to feel about this session. I did a decent job of staying efficient. I didn’t make any obvious mistakes and I landed each of the fish which I hooked. Yet I still feel like I could have siphoned another fish or two during the session. What nags at me is I don’t have any real ideas about what I should have done differently within the allotted time.

My seven fish placed me a decent 7th place in the session. Talking to other competitors, the sun warmed the water downstream in the valley and this resulted in rising fish and more willing targets. Cory Scott of NZ won the session with 12 fish followed by Tom Jarman of Australia with 10. Both of them were near the village of Meander and said the rise had been good in their beats.

Our team closed out the championships with another mixed session. Lance Egan placed 3rd on Penstock Lagoon, Pat Weiss won his session on Woods Lake, Josh Graffam finished 7th on the Mersey River, and Russ Miller blanked Little Pine Lagoon. This session kept us in 6th place as a team. Unfortunately, Josh’s last session meant he finished in 6th place and narrowly missed a medal. I ended up finishing 20th individually.

Overall, I left the championship with mixed feelings about our results. Before the championships, I really felt like we had a good shot at a medal as a team. We’ve put in a lot of hard work to improve our game on lakes, in addition to rivers, for the last ten years and in the championships where we have medaled our lake sessions have shown this. Perhaps if the conditions would have been less gale force dominated things might have been different but it’s also true it could have swung the other way as well. I also really wanted to see Josh get an individual medal given he was poised to on the last day. When I was in grad school, Josh came and stayed with me almost every other weekend in Fort Collins. We fished and learned together and became good friends. Josh has chosen to retire from competitive fishing so I really would have loved to see him ride off into a metallic sunset.

In the end, I left the championship with a renewed commitment to finding and patching holes in my fly-fishing game. I certainly hope my teammates feel the same way. As long as that’s the end result, I suppose there is always a victory of sorts to celebrate.

Before I end this post, I want to make sure to thank the folks who made the championship possible. The organizers worked very hard to put on a good championship and they did a great job. Thanks to Jerry Arnold. Without his financial generosity our team would not be able to attend the championships each year. Without Jerry, I also wouldn’t have had the opportunities to compete which have led to me writing this blog and running Tactical Fly Fisher. Thanks to Bret Bishop for all the administrative work you put in as team captain. It’s a thankless and invaluable job and we owe you a lot for what you continue to do to support Fly Fishing Team USA. Thanks to my teammates for working hard at home and abroad to be the best anglers you can be. I share a lot of pride with you in our success and a lot of motivation when it’s been lacking. Lastly, thanks to my wonderful wife Julia. You enable me to pursue this crazy sport which I love and put up with a lot to support my dedication to it. I can’t thank you enough.