WORLD FLY FISHING CHAMPIONSHIPS 2022 IN ASTURIAS SPAIN: SESSION Five on Arenero Lake

In this post, I will take you to my last session of the 2022 FIPS Mouche World Fly Fishing Championship in Asturias, Spain. This session brought me to Arenero Lake. Lake was a misnomer when describing this venue. It was a pond about two acres in size that the organizers decided to put 23 bank beats on. Some beats gave you back casting room and access to good water. Other beats provided little to no back casting room and put you in a corner or shallow shelves where the trout retreated away from after being caught or fished to repeatedly. There was one beat that even had a cliff behind it and a lip several feet above the water which you had to stand on. As such, single hand spey casting became important on many beats and each beat required some quick analysis and an individual plan.

Each competitor drew an initial beat that they fished for the first 40 minutes. Based on that initial beat, there was a preset rotation of five more beats that each competitor would fish in five more 40-minute sessions to make up the 4 hours of fishing. In between each 40 minute sub-session, there was 15 minutes to move to your new beat, re-rig if needed, and get ready for the horn to blow.

Rigging before the session. All the photos in this post were taken by our team captain Bret Bishop. 

The “lake” had been stocked heavily with small rainbow trout before the championship. Given the size of the venue, most of the fish were caught or at least pestered in the early sessions. As a result, the numbers of fish caught were much higher earlier in the championship and dropped off precipitously in later sessions. The fishing was also better in the first two or three 40 minute sub-sessions than in the later sub-sessions after the trout had been reminded what artificial flies looked like again. Given this pattern, the quality of your beats in the first few sub-sessions was critical to your overall performance.

With all the rotations, I don’t remember the specifics of each decision I made and when I made it during this session. It has been a bit difficult for me to organize my thoughts and decide how I would write this session review. Instead of a play by play of the session like I’ve done for my previous posts, I will take you through some rough highlights and lowlights and provide my overall lessons from the session. Let’s start prior to the session.

Small stillwater bank competitions are not something we have a lot of in the USA. These types of venues are very common in the UK and Europe. In the USA we have a lot more loch style boat sessions or bank sessions on larger stillwaters. As such, I wouldn’t say that these types of sessions are a strength for myself or perhaps the team as a whole. Going into this session, we had some sessions where we struggled and others where we had done well.

After winning my previous two sessions, I was excited to try and keep the momentum rolling into the last session. If I had a good session, I had the opportunity to break into the top 10 individually and hopefully help my team into the bronze medal position.

There were all sorts of methods employed by the different countries on this lake but there were some common theme. Early on, fishing various lure patterns on shallow lines with fast retrieves was effective, as is typical for stocked rainbows. As the fish became averse to faster methods, slower retrieves or static fishing with a “bung” became the go to for most anglers. Many competitors joked that this venue became the “World Bung Fishing Championships”. For those not familiar with this term, the bung is what they call a strike indicator in the UK. In the world championships, the rules prevent the use of typical strike indicators, so a buoyant dry fly is substituted instead. Various flies were used regardless of the method but the “junk fly” theme was a common one as it usually is for stocked trout.

Waiting for a take in my first 40 minute sub-session.

Given the rotation of the groups between venues during the championship, I followed my teammate Michael Bradley to each venue. Michael had scored a very good 3rd place on the lake in session four. He ended up catching the bulk of his fish with a chenille worm pattern under a dry fly. I had prepared quite a few of these flies in different colors and several bead sizes the night before the session.

My time in the "cliff beat". 

When fishing a stillwater bank session, time becomes compressed and having your rods ready to go is critical. Re-rigging rods during a session is a waste of time when another rod with the rig you want can be prepared beforehand. I rigged five rods before the session. Two of these rods were bung rods with two droppers below. Since I expected to fish the bung method a lot, having the second rod gave me a spare I could go to if I broke off or tangled the first rod. I also rigged rods with Airflo midge tip, slow glass, and Di5 lines to cover a range of depths. I could further alter the depth and methods with these lines by fishing a variety of weighted flies or by fishing a buoyant fly on the point to create a “washing line” rig.

Netting my first fish.

My plan for each sub-session was to start with the bung rig for 10-15 minutes. Based on my results in this period, I would either stick with the bung rig or begin sorting through my other rods based on information from my captain (Bret Bishop) about how other anglers were having success. My execution during the session was not up to my expectation. I ended up catching five fish for a ninth place in the session. Sadly, instead of breaking into the top 10, I ended up finishing 18th overall in the championship. Given the number of takes I had from trout, I had the potential to do well in this session, but some mistakes held me back. This session has been haunting me since the championship and I have been spending a lot more time on a local small stillwater to sort through some details that might help me in a similar situation down the road.

Finally getting a bit of chop in my second to last sub-session.

Now let me cut to my lessons from the session. These are in no particular order.

  • Given the diminishing success over the sessions during the championship, most competitors turned to finer tippet to try and increase takes. Given the size of rods, size of fish, and the direct connection methods often used on stillwaters, I normally fish 2x-4x tippet for sub surface methods. I ended up using 6x on my bung and 5x on my other rods during this session. The adrenaline of the session caused me to be too aggressive with my hooksets. I ended up breaking two fish off on the bung and one on the top dropper of a washing line rig during the session. These breakoffs were avoidable with some adjustments to my hooksets that were hard to make in the adrenaline-fueled midst of the session. Had I landed each of these fish, I would have been looking at a 5th place finish in the session instead of 9th.
  • My bung hookup to conversion rate was poor. This method often has poorer conversion rates that others but in the calm conditions during this session, the trout were very suspicious given all the pressure they had received the four previous days. They took softly and the only way to hook them was to wait until they committed, and the bung went down all the way. Given the long casting distance needed to reach willing fish in most cases, I set hard to remove the slack. In addition to the breakoffs, these hard sets did not convert as many takes. I’ve worked on adjustments to my hookset with this method since I have returned and have had better results.
  • I did not tie enough heavier worms. I mostly tied 2.3 mm bead worms the night before the session. However, I had more takes when I fished a 2.8 mm bead on the point and a 2.3 mm on the dropper. This heavier rig achieved depth and tension more quickly and led to earlier takes. Two of my three breakoffs in the session were on the bung rig. I ended up upping my tippet size to avoid further breakoffs and to avoid losing my last 2.8 mm bead worm. Whether it was due to the tippet change or not, I did not catch any more fish on the bung rig after the switching to heavier tippet.
  • The night before the session, I asked myself if I should rig a straight dry fly rod. The focus seemed to be more on junk flies in prior sessions. It was midnight and I was exhausted so I opted not to rig a dry fly rod to save time and simplify my options. The conditions ended up being glassy calm for half of the session. During these times dry flies cast to rising fish accounted for quite a few fish for a few anglers. I was unprepared for this scenario, and it likely cost me. Given my success with dry flies in some previous small stillwater bank sessions, I’m kicking myself for not having a dry fly rod.
  • Going along with the previous lesson, because I spent most of the session fishing the bung, I did not target rising fish specifically. This was hard to do because I needed to fish a different rod to do it but rising fish are feeding fish and I should have spent more time targeting rising fish with my midge tip or slow glass rods.
  • I was not specific enough when asking about the conditions of the session four when Michael had his success. This was a rookie mistake that I simply didn’t cover the night before in my fatigued state. Michael caught most of his fish in the last three sub-sessions, which was the opposite of the rest of his group. Talking to my captain Bret after my session, he said the wind was much stouter during the times when Michael had caught the bulk of his fish. I suspect the chop provided more wiggling action in the worm pattern leading to more committed takes. There is also more tension under the bung with the wind induced drag which can produce more immediate strike detection. Had I asked a simple question about the weather conditions, I would have understood why I had a bit more difficulty with the bung in the dead calm. I would have rearranged my plan a bit to build in more contingencies in the calm weather including the dry fly rod.
  • I relied on the bung too long in each of the sessions. I normally had about 10 minutes at the beginning of the session when the trout in my beat would show interest in the bung rig. Then they would stop. I didn’t react to this quickly enough and usually waited 5-15 minutes too long to switch to my other rigs. I did catch a fish and had several other takes on my slow glass rig. I would have liked to have used it more in several of the sub-sessions to see if any other fish would have shown interest.

Now that I have covered my lessons, let me finish with some final thoughts and a recap of some other result.

The lake venue was a bit of a farce in my opinion. My result there obviously created some bias, but this venue was way too small to cram 23 competitors on. Some of the “beats” were 12-15 feet wide and you had to cast over the same lane for 40 minutes straight. If you cast to the left or right at all you would be in the beat of the competitor next to you. Lake fisheries are very limited in Asturias and there were no other options from what I was told. Lake venues should be a part of world championships because they test the well roundedness of competitors. However, if a proper lake venue isn’t available, FIPS Mouche should require a 5th river venue. The same situation should apply in reverse in locations where lakes are common, but a proper river venue isn’t available. A thorough review of the venues and projected beats doesn’t seem to be part of FIPS Mouche’s inspection process, however. Otherwise, we might have more parity between beats and venues at world championships. Despite my opinion, which was shared by many other competitors I talked to, I want to thank the organizers for a memorable championship that I enjoyed. I also want to thank the controllers and all the volunteers who gave up their time to make the championship possible.

Our team had a rough session five. The rain during the previous day had taken the rivers from low drought flows to blown out conditions on the Pilona and Caudal rivers. The downstream beats were higher and muddier after additional sources of rainwater had flowed in. Upstream beats still produced fish on these venues, but blanks were common on the lower beats. Unfortunately, Michael and Lance both drew lower beats on the Caudal and Pilona rivers and ending up blanking their sessions. As rough as the lake was for me in session five, I saw video of their water and was really glad I didn’t have to fish it given the conditions. Pat Weiss finished his championship strong with a 4th place on the Narcea River. Interestingly, the rain improved the Narcea from the previous sessions and it produced more fish for the top anglers in session five than it did in session one. Cody placed 3rd in his final session on the Trubia River and ended up placing 14th overall. Cody was our alternate angler in the 2018 championship in Italy, but this was his first year fishing at a world championship so his finish was especially good.

Despite Cody and Pat’s finishes, my mediocre finish on the lake and the two blanks ended up dropping our team to 6th overall. Given how we started the championship, I was confident we had a solid shot at another medal in Spain. That didn’t end up panning out, but we fished hard and remained committed to the goal throughout all five sessions. I want to thank my teammates Lance Egan, Michael Bradley, Pat Weiss, Cody Burgdorff, Jack Arnot, Sean Crocker, and our team captain Bret Bishop for their hard work and help during the championship. I also want to give a sincere thanks to our manager Jerry Arnold whose generosity has made it possible for Fly Fishing Team USA anglers to attend each world championships since 2008.

Thank you as well to my employees Kramer Bookman and Brad Green whose hard work keeps the Tactical Fly Fisher shop going while I compete and travel on a regular basis. And my most sincere thanks to my wife Julia who has supported me through16 years of competing for Fly Fishing Team USA and all of the commitment it takes.

Congratulations to the Spanish, French, and Czech teams for their medals. These teams continue to represent the models for those of us trying to share the podium with you each year. Those outside of competitive angling wonder why these teams are so good. The reality is that the rigorous nature of their qualifying systems produces excellent anglers, and it shows.

Lastly, congratulations to Julien Daguillanes (France), David Arcay (Spain), and Ruben Santos (Spain) for their gold, silver, and bronze individual medals. I fished with Julien for several days back in 2018 a couple years after he had also won the world championship in Colorado in 2016. I can assure you he is a very worthy winner and an incredibly impressive angler to fish with. I have also shared a group with David Arcay in multiple world championships since he won back in 2012 in Slovenia. I’ll never forgot the last second 9” brown trout that allowed me to beat David in the last session of the 2015 championship. That fish gave me the bronze medal and if I hadn’t caught it David would have finished 3rd, and I would have been 4th. We have formed a funny competitive friendship in the ensuing years. I always look forward to getting on the bus and asking David how he did knowing that if I have managed to beat him I have fished very well.

That’s it for this year’s world championship review. Hopefully it won’t be my last. Thank you to all those who have read them and offered positive feedback. I hope you have enjoyed the reviews and that they have given you some ideas for your own fishing.