Bosnia Session 5 Sanica River:
Here is my fifth and final installment from last year’s World Fly Fishing Championship (WFFC) in Bosnia. Thanks to all who have voiced appreciation for my previous posts from the championship. With the National Fly Fishing Championship looming next week in Lake Placid, NY I figure I had better finish my series on Bosnia or I’ll never get to it.
Session 5 Sanica River:
When I left off in my last post, I had just finished my fourth session on Pliva Lake and I was headed to the Sanica River. Oftentimes I’m so exhausted, when at a WFFC, that sleep is just about unavoidable on the bus in between sessions. The late night fly tying sessions and difficulties sleeping before the first day tend to catch up with me. However, sitting in first place individually with a 1 point lead going into my last session changed things a bit. While a nap would have been welcomed, for some unknowable reason it was a bit difficult to relax during the bus ride to the Sanica.
The first four sessions had shown a distinct pattern on the Sanica. The top 10 beats were kicking out large numbers of fish; often 40 or more to win the session. However, the further a competitor got from the top beats, the worse their finish was likely to be. Like many of the other rivers in the area, the Sanica was fed primarily by springs. It had very high densities of grayling and brown trout near the main source springs but, as distance from the springs increased, the habitat changed and the water quality suffered from pollution sources. Because of the long length of river it takes to place 28 beats for a WFFC, the venue on the Sanica River encompassed this gradient of change and competitors who ended up on the lower half of the venue knew they were battling for places 10-28 for the most part.
To prevent any foul play, competitors don’t know what beat they are destined to fish at a WFFC in any given session until the time they are dropped off of the bus. While the draw has happened ahead of time, there is always a moment of suspense for each competitor when the envelope is opened and their beat is announced for a given venue, especially in later sessions when the better beats are often known. Given the situation on the Sanica described above, I knew that to have a definite chance at winning individually overall, I desperately needed a beat somewhere in the first ten. But…… beats one through five rolled by and then six through ten……then 11 through 15 and 16 through 20. I ended up down on beat 22. I didn’t know this until afterward, but the previous competitor’s placings had been 21st, 12th, 23rd, and 24th in their sessions. However, even without that knowledge I understood that the beat I had drawn meant my chances were slim to have a shot at winning the individual title or even an individual medal of any color. Added to my own personal pressure was the reality that my teammates were relying on me to provide a good finish for our hopes of a gold medal as well. But having been in disappointing situations in most of my prior WFFCs, I resolved to give it my best approach and effort regardless of my situation.
The mosque behind my beat where I heard the Muslim call to prayer early in my session.
I was dropped off near a mosque, which sounded a call to prayer shortly after my session started. It was certainly a unique experience that I doubt I am likely to have again at a WFFC. My beat had about 50-60 yards of shallow graveled channels at the bottom, divided and slightly broken by large clumps of macrophytes (rooted aquatic weeds). Above it was a large completely stagnant pool, whose depth I can only guess at. At the top was a weir connected to a house where the homeowner had a water-wheel for power. I quickly set up my trusty old 9’ 3 weight Sage z-axis for dry flies and my Cortland 10’ 6” 3 weight for nymphs,and then scouted the beat for the rest of my time before the session. I saw no rises but I did see a few chubs cruise by irregularly in the pool in the middle of my beat.
The shallow weedy channels where I caught most of my fish on the Sanica River.
When the session started, I went to try and catch the chubs first, since they would have scored. I waited several minutes and cast at the only one I saw cruise past. It showed no interest in my cdc ant and I quickly moved to the bottom of my beat. I planned to fish up the bottom of my beat with nymphs for the first 45 minutes to an hour and then decide whether to fish back down it with dries or head to where the weir spilled over. There were a few minor depressions out in the weed beds where I focused my drifts while casting from my knees to try and avoid spooking fish in the shallow water. I caught a small brown quickly on the same pheasant tail that had been successful for me on the Pliva River. However, I had no further success in the next several spots where I expected a fish to come from.
While getting into position to cast to a new potential lie, I saw a nice zebra striped brown trout dart from under a weedbed into the current. I thought for sure that I had spooked it since it was only about 5-6 feet away. But I could still see the back half of the fish and it maintained its small hiding place under the weeds without much change in behavior. I slowly backed up, still on my knees (see tip 9 in session 1 post here), and began to bow and arrow cast drifts into the narrow shelf that dropped past the fish on the far side of the weeds. I switched flies several times finding it difficult to choose a fly that would get over the shallow shelf but still drop quickly enough to get to the fish’s taking depth. After three fly changes, I decided it was time to swing for the fences and either catch the fish or scare it out of the water. I put on a squirmy wormy and on the first drift the fish launched from his lie and inhaled the fly. It was a stunning brown trout nearing 15” with unique vertical markings. I hoped that I had figured something out with the fly change but in the next spot I fished I watched two fish run for their lives at the sight of the squirmy! It goes to show that fish are individuals and sometimes have their own preferences which we need to adapt to if we are to be successful at catching more of them.
After switching back to the pheasant tail, I fished up the rest of the slightly broken water at the bottom of my beat with no further success on the nymphs. I decided I would fish back down with dries and then head to the top of the beat and let the bottom rest in case I wanted to return later. During practice, we found that the fish in the Sanica had a sweet spot for CDC ant patterns and as I fished down the water I had just nymphed through, I quickly had interest from grayling in water only inches deep. I missed or lost the first two fish but three grayling followed to put five on my card a bit over two hours into my session. At this point I jogged to the top of my beat where the weir spilled over. I expected some more fish on dries and nymphs here because it had the deepest and best looking holding water in my beat. Unfortunately, I only missed one fish and landed another in this water. I’m not sure whether I fished this section poorly or if prior competitors had fished this holding water so much that the fish refused to cooperate. With time waning, my captain Bret Bishop spotted a fish hanging just above the weir along the concrete wall. He guided my casts to it and I had several that he said were spot on but the fish showed no interest.
I had three minutes on the clock left at this point and six fish on the board. I knew that it might come down to one fish to make or break my shot at an individual medal. I made the decision to head back to the bottom of the beat. I sprinted down and somehow re-aggravated a knee injury I’m still paying for in the process. With two minutes on the clock I speed fished through the first few spots that had held fish earlier. About six casts in, a nine inch brown trout sipped in my ant. I waited as long as my nerves would allow and set the hook with only 7x connecting the two of us. I babied that fish into the net as much as I dared and with 30 seconds left I had my seventh fish on the board. As the math worked out, that fish (all 9” of it) gave me a bronze medal. Without it, the former world champ David Arcay would have slid into 3rd and I would have been fourth. It’s amazing how many competitors I know who have had fish like this come to them in the waning moments of sessions. When it comes down to one fish, as it so often does, you have to make every moment and cast count. You have to believe that the next cast is the one that will reward you with a fish all the way until the ending bell sounds. I can’t describe how grateful I am that I made the decision and the cast that brought me that one last fish in Bosnia, the fish that made all the difference.
My two favorite pieces of metal. The individual bronze and team silver from the 2015 World Fly Fishing Championship in Bosnia.
It’s taken me ten years of competing for Fly Fishing Team USA and seven WFFC to realize my goals of a team and an individual medal. I’ve fished with some incredible teammates and against so many amazing anglers from around the globe along the way. Each competition I’ve fished in has launched my understanding of fly fishing forward. I’ve learned more from other competitors than I could have learned during multiple lifetimes spent fishing alone or outside of competition. The memories I have of these experiences and the continual education they have provided me have stoked a fire that is a long ways from being doused. But whether my competitive future is full of successes or failures, I am proud and simultaneously humbled to have been a part of the first USA team to win a medal (silver) at a WFFC and to be the second USA individual to have won a WFFC medal (Jeff Currier won bronze in 2003 in Spain). Though many anglers and teammates have influenced my development along the way that are too numerous to name, I have to say thanks to my teammates Lance Egan, Josh Graffam, Pat Weiss, Norm Maktima, and Russ Miller who are the real reasons for our team medal and my individual medal. I need to say thanks to our captain Bret Bishop for all of the duties and coaching he takes care of with no applause. I have to thank our team manager and benefactor Jerry Arnold. Without Jerry none of us would have been in Bosnia or any of the WFFC since Scotland in 2009. Lastly, I thank my wife Julia and son Levi for their support of me through all of the time away from them, both at competitions and during my own practice at home. Without your willingness and support, my dreams wouldn’t be possible.
The Star Spangled Banner!
And now, I’m off to nationals in Lake Placid next week to join my teammates in pursuit of team gold. Afterward, we’ll have a new Fly Fishing Team USA roster and the final roster for the WFFC team, which will be fishing on our home soil in Vail, Colorado this September.
The 2015 Fly Fishing Team USA World Fly Fishing Championship silver medal winning squad. Captain Bret Bishop, Anglers Russ Miller, Devin Olsen, Pat Weiss, Norm Maktima, Josh Graffam, and Lance Egan. manager Jerry Arnold, and John Knight, organizer for this year's World Fly Fishing Championship in Vail, Colorado.