World Fly Fishing Championships 2022 in Asturias Spain: Session Four on the Narcea River

After the results of session one were posted, I knew session four on the Narcea River had the potential to be very difficult. The Narcea produced the fewest fish throughout the championship of all the river sectors. Session one was won with 10 fish, session two was won with six fish, and session three was won with eight fish. Interestingly, when we walked some of the beats in the town of Cangas del Narcea, there were a lot of fish to be seen in the river. They scattered everywhere as we walked along the sidewalk above. The brown trout were difficult in all of the rivers in the championship, but for some reason the trout in the Narcea seemed the hardest of all.

The day that we fished it during practice I was paired with my teammate Cody Burgdorff. We were there late in the practice days after the short section of practice water had been fished hard by the other teams. From what I recall, I landed a whopping single scoreable sized fish that day and Cody only got one or two more. There was not much to glean from our practice day in terms of what flies or strategies would be best. The few fish we found were in shallow heavy pockets. To add to the informational drought, my teammate Michael Bradley had drawn a death beat on the Narcea in session three which only produced one fish. Cody had done well in the first session so I hoped his information would still be applicable in session four. 

When the beats were read off before the session, I was told I had drawn beat 12. I saw from another competitor’s spreadsheet that my beat had scored two fish (19th place), one fish (16th place), and five fish (5th place) in the first three sessions. Sight unseen, given these results I was not sure what to expect but I hoped I would be able to get to at least five fish to give myself a shot at a good result in the session.

The marker at the top of my beat. 

The weather took a wet turn on day four. It had rained overnight and the rain kept up during the session. The rain would periodically ease for 20-30 minutes followed by another 30 minutes of intense rain. To save luggage weight, I had only brought a lightweight rain jacket on the trip. It was certainly put to the test during the session, and I wish I had opted for my heavier duty rain jacket in the aftermath.

I arrived at my beat with about 50 minutes to go before the session. This put me in a good situation to rig my rods and more thoroughly scout my beat. The scouting time was certainly important in session three and helped me start the session more relaxed and confident. I hoped it would do the same in this session.

Beat 12 was about 300-350 meters long, which was a bit below average length for the long beats in this championship. The riparian corridor was very dense, which made scouting parts of the beat challenging without wading into the water and spooking fish. There was a lot less attractive holding water than the beats we had looked at in the middle of town. The lower 200-250 meters was a long slow canal like section. Most of it was fairly uniform, but there was one identifiable trough near the bottom of the beats which I thought might hold some fish. This location would require long delicate presentations despite the deep water. Those presentations would be difficult because there was no back casting room, and it was too deep to approach the trough and gain a casting angle. I marked it as a possible location for the 3rd hour of the session but not one I wanted to start on.

Looking toward the bottom of the beat. The trough I had spotted underwater was in the right side of the photo near the far bank. 

In the last 150 meters, the river character changed. The bottom of this section featured a long bumpy run of about 20 meters in length which then dissipated into the smooth featureless water below. This run was by far the most attractive water in the beat. Above the run, there was a section of very shallow pocket water that transitioned into a shallow glide where my beat ended and beat 11 began.

After scouting, my plan was to fish the main run for the first 1.5 - 2 hours. Then I would fish the pocket water slowly hoping to pick up a fish or two while the main run rested. Depending on how the run fished, I would return to it to end the session and fish slowly through it again if it was good the first time through. If it was tough, I would drop to the trough at the bottom and see if I could produce a fish or two before returning to the main run for the last 30 minutes.

I set up the same rigs as in my previous three river sessions. To recap, I rigged three rods for the session including a rod for a single dry fly, a rod for a dry dropper on a micro Euro nymph leader, and a rod with a micro leader for straight Euro nymphing. The dry fly rod was a Hardy Ultralite LL 9’ 9” 4 weight with an Airflo Tactical Taper Ridge 2.0 two weight line and a dry fly leader that was a Soldarini 15’ 4x Camo leader which I had chopped and added to until I had the taper that I wanted and a leader that was 2x the length of my rod (19.5 feet). I underlined the dry fly rod to provide better control over casting loop formation and maximum delicacy when the rig lands on the water. My dry dropper rod was a Diamondback Ideal Nymph 10’ 2 weight and my straight nymph rod I switched to a 10’ 9” 3 weight T and T Contact II. Both micro leader rods featured Airflo Euro nymph lines. All three rods were paired with Peux Fulgor semi-automatic reels.

I started at the bottom of the main run with the dry dropper rig. The water looked to be still 4-6’ deep in the lower third of the run before it gradually tailed out into the shallower smooth water below. To fish this water, I changed the rigging on my dry dropper rod to shorten the butt section (0.14 mm Sempe green indicator nylon) and increase the length of the dropper to about four feet to begin. I started with a #10 Front End Loader Caddis holding up a 2.8 mm Gasolina Perdigon on the point.

With all the rain, I knew that keeping my dry flies floating would be a big challenge. The night before I had grabbed a bottle of Loon Fly Dip from my teammate Sean Crocker. The Fly Dip became a crucial help to keep my dry flies floating in the downpour.

I waded out as slowly as I could into the edge of the run. The water was smooth and slow, and I was very worried about kicking wakes into the holding water. I did not have enough back cast room to make a standard cast into the run. I ended up ditching my back cast under the branches behind me and using a water load to shoot my casts into the run. There was also an overhanging branch that blocked me from casting into the middle of the run. I had to be careful to avoid the branches on both ends of my cast to avoid making fly flies into tree ornaments. During my second drift, my Front-End Loader dove under from a take on the nymph below and I was into my first Narcea brown trout for the session. The fish was a bit over 30 cm, so it put up a bit of a fight, but I fought it into the net as quickly as I good.

Now that the fish was in the net, I let it rest in the net underwater while I very slowly pivoted and stepped toward the bank and my controller. I decided that since I expected the bulk of my fish to come from this run, I needed to be extremely careful that I did not spook any remaining catchable fish while bringing them back to the controller.

With a big weight off my shoulders only a few minutes in, I waded back out into position. It took another five minutes of gradually working drifts across and upstream before my dry fly went down again. While I was fighting the fish, my controller said, “tu mosca es demasiado grande.” I have picked up just enough Spanish to know that he was telling me my dry fly was too big. I laughed to myself thinking, “I’m in the middle of landing my 2nd fish in the first 10 minutes of the session and you’re telling me I’m doing it wrong?” Given my lack of vocabulary to respond with, I could not reply that I was just using the dry fly as an indicator and not intending it as a fly to target rising fish with.

Looking at the lower half of my run. I caught the two fish on the dry dropper rig downstream of the overhanging branches.

I went back in with the dry dropper rig, but I did not get any other fish after working through the lower 1/3 of the run and adding some tippet. I switched to my straight nymph rod to work two nymphs a bit deeper through the run. I started with a 2.8 mm bead pheasant tail on the point and a 2.3 mm Gasolina on the dropper tag. A couple of drifts in I had a solid take, and another fish was on. I quickly put it in the net for my third fish of the session.

I made quite a few more drifts with the nymph rig below the branches without any more takes. I slid a couple of steps upstream and began making casts above the overhanging branch. The water was a little faster here and my rig was not slowing and settling into the drift with a “downshift” to signal I had reached the lower part of the column.

To get a bit deeper, I switched my dropper tag to a 2.8 mm bead perdigon. A couple more drifts revealed that still wasn't enough of a change so I switched to a 3.3 mm bead pheasant tail on the point. On the very first drift, I had a solid take from another brown trout over 30 cm. It jumped a couple of times, and I carefully slid it toward myself and the net. I was just over an hour into the session at this point with four fish on the board. It was a good start and I felt confident I would find a way to stir up some more action as I fished through the top of the run.

This photo shows the top half of the run. I caught my 3rd and 4th fish on either side of the overhanging branches on the nymph rig. 

So far, a pattern was emerging. The trout in the run were willing to eat confidently but they did not seem to want to move very far for the fly. Each time I made a change to put my flies through a different part of the column, a different part of the run, or switched methods for a different drift, I would get another trout to eat. 

I continued making adjustments as I fished through the rest of the run. I tried casts that went deep under the branch toward the opposite bank. I was certain I would catch some fish there, but my drifts must have been sub-optimal with the odd angle and extra distance. There was not a better spot in the run for cover, but I could not generate any takes despite a lot of effort.

As I slid up the run, the current became predictably faster. The upper part of the run featured the best feeding water. It was still deep, the surface was a bit bumpy, and the higher velocity was bringing more water, and consequently more food past the trout per unit of time. I worked this area thoroughly. I tried different flies. I added weight. I tried dead drifts, inverted drifts, animated drifts, and swung drifts. It didn’t matter. I could not catch a fish all the way to the top of the run. I was honestly very surprised. When I looked at the run during my scouting time, I thought the top half was going to give up the bulk of the trout. I guess I was wrong…for now.

At this point I left my nymphing rod at the run and grabbed my dry dropper and dry fly rods. I started working through the shallow pockets above. In the first bankside pocket above the run, I saw a fish rise. I approached it on my knees and thought through the cast quickly before making it. I laid my dry fly on the water with a pile of slack and the fish rose instantly. I set the hook but drew air. I thought it was big enough to score when I saw it rise initially. When it rose for my dry fly, I got a better look, and I was 90% sure it was a couple centimeters short.

I started working my way through each of the shallow pockets above crouching or kneeling as I went. Similar to the other rivers, the pocket water ended up being shallower than I expected after looking at it before the session. Sometimes clear water looks shallower than it is at first glance. Something about these rivers was making me read the pocket water in the opposite way thinking the water was deeper than it was. Maybe it was just wishful thinking before the session.

To make a long story short, most of the pocket water was not deep enough to be attractive holding water. There were a couple of pockets where I could fish a 2.0 or 2.3-mm bead below the dry fly but it was mostly dry fly only water as my nymph would have hit bottom quickly if I tried the dry dropper rig. I kept the faith though and fished the dry all the way to the top of my beat. I was pleasantly surprised how well my small CDC dry fly was floating with the Fly Dip treatment despite the on and off deluge. The water soaking up my sleeves was less impressive.

This photo shows some of the pocket water at the top of my beat. This was the deepest and best pocket water but most of it was still only mid-calf deep or shallower. It still looks better to me than it ended up being.

It was now decision time. I had an hour and 15 minutes left. I had rested the main run for about 45 minutes which should have been enough time for the fish to reset. If I dropped to the trough at the bottom of the beat, I would only have about 30 minutes to fish the run again once I returned. I opted for the more confident bet and returned to the run where I started the session instead.

When I reached the bottom of the run, I began the progression again. While I was fishing a dry dropper in the tailout, a fish rose in the dead water on the far bank about 30 feet downstream. I grabbed my dry fly rod and made a few casts, but the currents in between made it a nearly impossible drift. I tried pile casts from the side and downstream drifts feeding the drift slack. Regardless of the technique the dry fly did not drift far before drag set in. The drag put the fish down and it did not rise again. I decided to fish the rest of the run and if I was not catching fish, I would cross in the last 15 minutes and try this fish and the back of the run under the tree from a different angle.

I started fishing my way back up the run again. When the dry dropper did not work, I re-rigged and added a second nymph under the dry. I slung this rig up the run just like I did back in my indicator nymphing days. The rig was certainly a bit different with the micro leader and dry fly as an indicator, but the type of presentation was similar. Sadly, this rig did not change my success and my second time through the run was producing a big fat zero to this point.

Now I was back to fishing the upper half of the run where I had not managed any fish earlier. One thing had changed during the time I had rested the run. A few mayflies had started hatching. At home, when mayflies start hatching, I often observe trout shifting into faster feeding lies at the heads of runs and pools. Thankfully, brown trout respond to the same cues in Spain as they do elsewhere.

As I moved into the upper part of the run, I swapped between perdigons and pheasant tails on the dropper. I also experimented with different weights and flies on the point. When I switched to a 2.8 mm bead perdigon on the dropper tag and a 3.8 mm bead Walt’s Worm with some lead wraps on the point, my rig finally “downshifted” during the drift. With this rig I caught two nice trout in a matter of minutes. I now had 15 minutes left and six fish on the board. What could I do to get another before my time ran out?

Over the previous 10-15 minutes, I had noticed the river rising a bit. It was also getting slightly milky and carrying a lot of leaves. It was time for a worm.

Looking at the top of the run. All the photos were taken before the session when the water was still lower and clear. 

A couple years ago FIPS Mouche decided to ban the Squirmy Worm from competition. I won’t go into the details of that decision because all I have heard is gossip. Regardless, my teammates and I have tried a lot of different materials in the interim to try and come up with a good substitute. One pattern that has worked well for me this summer and fall is a pattern I call the DNA Worm. I’ll be doing a tutorial for it in the next few months, so I’ll have more on how to tie it soon.

I switched to a heavy 3.8 mm bead DNA Worm on the dropper tag. I now had a lot of weight on the rig to combat the rising flows and velocity and the decreased sink rate of the worm pattern. I also started making drifts where I stopped the rod tip halfway through to invert the angle of my sighter downstream. In deep water, this inverted drift slows the flies down and drops them deeper before they begin to swing up in the drift.

Over the last 10 minutes, I caught two more nice fish including a 354 mm brown. They both took the worm at the slowest point in the middle of the drift. Just like the day before, I had around 30 seconds on the clock when my last fish entered my net. I brought it to the controller with an internal sigh of relief. Eight fish was a good score on the Narcea. I do think there were more to be had on the far side of the run if I had crossed over, but I also think I made the right decision to progress up the run with the time I had left.

While I waited for the bus, the rain continued to pour. My controller went to hand me my copy of the scoresheet and he started checking his pockets and gesticulating. I gathered that he had lost the scoresheet somewhere. I did my best to stay calm as I ran back to the river and began searching the soaked undergrowth. Thankfully I found the packet under some trees below the run we had just left. I took a picture of my sheet just in case and brought it back to my relieved controller.

As I entered the bus, I heard multiple scores of five, four, and three fish. The Narcea had been hard again. Then my new friend Martin Dstne’ from Belgium reported that he also had 8 fish. Looking at the scores, I had caught larger fish on average though and broken the tie for the win. It felt great to have two session wins in a row. I felt back to being myself again after the first two sessions didn’t start like I wanted them to. Going into the last session on the lake, I had risen to 12th place individually and hoped to crack the top 10. 

Our team had a good session as well with Lance winning his session, Cody placing 7th, Pat placing 9th, and Michael placing 3rd. Finland and the Czech Republic had also had good sessions though, so we remained in 5th place, four points behind the Czechs in 4th and 15 points behind the Finnish team in 3rd. If we had a good fifth session, a bronze medal was still within reach.