During practice, we had scouted a few of the beats on the Caudal River, as we did on all the rivers. Pablo mentioned that the beats in the middle of the town of Mieres were less desirable. These beats were very artificial being a series of man-made weirs sandwiched between the wall from the street in town and the concrete wall from the highway on the other side. There was no shortage of fish in these beats, but the water was shallow overall with no “natural” habitat that most anglers are used to fishing. The two beats that were most dominated by this type of water were beats 7 and 8.
When we got to the bottom of the venue, our international observer, Cato from Norway, began reading off the beats each of us had drawn from the sealed envelope. As luck would have it, I ended up on beat 7. Doing my best to shrug it off, I committed to making the most of the water that was there. The main issue at this point was how long it took to get to the beat. For over an hour, I waited as the bus dropped off controllers and anglers on beats that were downstream. By the time I got to my beat, I had 25 minutes to rig my rods and somehow scout a 700-meter-long beat. I did my best to stay calm, but the adrenaline kicked in and I admit I got a bit frazzled. This is always a struggle in the first session of a world championship, but feeling rushed definitely made it worse.
Waiting on the bus before the session. Is it obvious I'm not a selfie taker?
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. My dry fly leader was a Soldarini 15’ 4x Camo leader, which I had chopped and added to until I had the taper I wanted and a leader that was 2x the length of my rod (19.5 feet). My dry dropper rod was a 10’ 9” 3 weight T and T Contact II and my straight nymph rod was a Diamondback Ideal Nymph 10’ 10” 2 weight. Both rigs featured Airflo Euro nymph lines. All three rods were paired with Peux Fulgor semi-automatic reels.
I planned to cycle through a few perdigon variations and a bland pheasant tail when nymphing. All of them were a size 20. For the dries I had a couple of Spanish style split wing CDC dries and shuttlecocks to try with the split wings in sizes 14-18 and the shuttlecocks in a 20. I’ll be doing tutorials for most of these flies over the next few months so you can all see them if you like. I also had a few junk flies and jig streamers to try if things were tough.
By the time I rigged my rods, I had about 15 minutes to try and look at my beat. One problem was that with the walls lining the river, I would have had to wade through the river and spook fish along the way to scout my beat from the water level. Alternatively, I could climb the stairs out of the river and scout the river from the sidewalk above. I opted for the latter, but my scouting session was a lot less fruitful than usual. The main issue was that 15 minutes is nowhere near enough time to scout a 700-meter beat. I also could not see portions of the beat that were blocked by the trees that were clinging to the base of the concrete wall in spots. I like to dissect the river bit by bit and come up with a plan whenever possible. I try to make mental timestamps of where I want to be within a beat at certain points in the session. However, my scouting session was frantic enough that I basically just found the top of my beat and told myself I needed to be there with half an hour to go so I could circle back to whatever I considered my best water for the last half hour.
What I did see from my scouting was that the beat was a series of about half a dozen short height cemented rock weirs. Only a couple of the weirs had threads of current that were significantly deeper or had higher volume than other current threads that were spilling over. Those were the “hot spots” that were easier to identify but most of the weirs had water spilling over the top in a myriad of places with nearly stagnant eddies between each of the threads of current. The locations where fish were likely to hold were less obvious at those weirs. The water in between the weirs was mostly shallow and flat without much natural structure to create holding water. The fish were still there but they ended up being scattered throughout. One other thing I noticed was that there was almost none of the shallow pocket water similar to the water where I had found fish on the last day of practice. This beat needed a different approach.
The stairs to the bottom of my beat. What a lovely view eh?
The bottom of my beat looking upstream from the sidewalk above.
I started at my lowest weir by working the dry dropper rod first and then the nymph rod. I picked the best of the threads of current spilling over the weir to begin. I crawled into position and knelt to fish the first weir, and each weir thereafter. Fifteen minutes in I had dropped two fish and still had none on the board. After jigging a streamer through the flow with no response, I stood up and grabbed my dry fly rod to fish the flat above the weir. As I did, a pod of fish scattered from the water I had just been fishing below the weir. With that water blown, I moved forward with my dry fly rod in hand. As I stepped onto the weir, another pod of fish scattered from above it. At this point, there was a loud internal WTF???!!! scream inside my head.
The lowest weir in my beat.
I took a couple of deep breaths, told myself there are a bunch more of these weirs to go, and asked myself, “what can I learn from this?” First, I needed to slow down and fish the best threads of current coming over the weirs a little more. It was cold and drizzly, and the fish seemed less active early on before the mayflies that I expected to hatch later in the session. Second, the water below the weirs was really turbulent and my nymphs were not sinking well. I needed to step up the weight a little bit. Third, I needed to move very carefully, slowly, and keep a low profile despite the length of the beat I had to cover. OK, time to move on.
The next several weirs are a bit of a blur in my brain. I normally remember the sequences in a session pretty well but even the night after the session I could not separate the events at each point along the way. I do know I finally started to catch some fish. I was still frazzled though, and the mistakes began to pile up. Given that I had one of the town beats with a sidewalk bordering it, I had a few spectators watching my debacle as I continued to miss and drop fish. They were also standing directly over some of the water I expected the most fish from. Strangely I could not catch fish under them?!
Yep, another weir. I caught my first fish from the longest thread of white water in the lower third of the photo.
I soon realized that these brown trout were quicker at taking and rejecting flies than any I have come across elsewhere. I had an inordinate number of takes that I missed or takes where I would get a couple of headshakes before they came off. When I would hook fish, they would either do an alligator roll or they would jump frantically and stay out of the water more than they stayed in. Given that they were mostly 8-10” brown trout, these moves were incredibly effective at helping them spit the hook. I tried backing off the pressure but that did not work. I tried being a bit more aggressive and then broke off my 7x tippet a couple of times. Then something else would happen like a tangle from a fish when the controller would let my fish go. I was glad I had prepared a lot of spare riggings on foams but even with spares it still takes time to rerig.
The lack of fish caught during practice was a big hindrance to adjusting to the way these fish took flies and fought once hooked. If the fishing had been better in practice, I would have had a lot more repetition with fish to understand how I needed to adjust my hooksets and fighting technique beforehand. This was one area that was likely a big help for the European competitors who have prior experience on similar waters and fish.
Each time I came to a flat above a weir, I studied it for a few seconds from my knees and a long way to the side of any potential holding water. Occasionally, there would be a sporadic rise to target but mostly I would work a series of fan casts with the dry fly across the river before crawling a few feet forward and doing it again. I found that the fish took shuttlecock midge or BWO patterns in the flats above the weir, but I had more takes on the slightly larger #18 split wing CDC dries as the current speed picked up. Then there would be another weir and I started the process over again with the dry dropper and nymph rods in the turbulent water below the weir.
My controller walking through one of the sections of river between the beats. The riffled water was good for dry flies. In the flats above the weirs the fish were incredibly spooky.
Just as with the nymphs, the small brown trout in this river were the quickest dry fly taking trout I have come across. Even on completely slack tippet, I missed as many fish as I hooked. Several of them took and never got the dry fly in their mouths. Once missed, they never gave me a second chance even after a fly change. I also broke off a couple of larger fish on the 8x tippet I had opted for given how tough the fish were during practice.
During the last 90 minutes, the fishing began to pick up a bit for me. I kept my head cool and began to settle into the session a bit more. The mayflies started hatching and a few more fish began to rise in the eddies below the weirs as well. These rises gave me targets for the dry or dry dropper that I could follow up with the double nymph rig.
During this last part of the session, I also came to a weir that I had identified as being the best of the lot during my quick walkthrough before the session. I took about a half hour to work my way across several of the current threads and thoroughly fish the main flow. I missed a couple of fish in the minor threads which I thought I could come back to later. In the main thread itself, I worked the dry dropper to double nymph progression and caught three fish while missing or dropping a couple more. I also had one of my largest fish in the session find its way under a rock.
This was my best weir in the beat. I caught fish from the whitewater thread closer to the middle and the whitewater near the right side of the photo.
Here is a different view of the weir showing the threads of whitewater current, which were the most productive holding lies in my beat.
I decided to give this weir a rest and fish the water above to the top of my beat before dropping back to the weir to end the session. The water above was the fastest and most broken of the beat. I originally thought it might be my best shot at shallow pockets to nymph when viewing it from the sidewalk above. On closer inspection, there were very few larger rocks to create obvious holding lies and the water was even shallower than I thought. I did fish my way through it with a dry fly and rose a couple of fish out of small cushions in the current.
I finally made it to the top of my beat with about 25 minutes left. I then circled back down to the weir I had rested. I made the same progression across the weir but a little more quickly while switching up my nymph patterns. I caught several more fish to end the session with 14 fish.
I was pretty crushed after the session. I can never remember having such a poor conversion rate between takes and fish put in the net. I have no idea how many fish I missed or dropped but it was more than half. When at home, I am disappointed if I drop a fish or two a session. Conversion rate is something I have worked on for years and I feel like it is a strength in most instances. As I got on the bus and began talking to other anglers, it was clear they had experienced similar issues. Unfortunately for me, many of them had created a few more takes or landed marginally more of them. My 14 fish landed me a 12th place for the session. I knew my chances of an individual medal were over at that point and I felt I had let down my team. I spent a long sleepless night that night trying to ask myself what I could learn from the session and apply to the remaining sessions.
I wish I could simply blame the beat for my finish, but I cannot. There were fish there. The water type was not easy, but Jyrki Hiltunen of Finland and Sean Dempsey of Ireland were able to pull 6th and 4th place finishes off the beat in the last two sessions. I certainly could have come closer to those placings had I fished the beat as well as I am capable. Overall, the beat averaged a finish of 11th place. I was worse than that average at 12th place which is never a statistic I want to have. Beating yourself up does no good in the long run though and you only move forward if you take your lumps along with the lessons they give you and get ready for the next challenge.
Upon reflection, my main lessons were:
- 1. I had made an error in the choice of one of my rods. At home, I have enjoyed the tippet protection and reach of the Diamondback 10’ 10” 2 weight, especially when fishing outside of competition on larger rivers. The night before this first session, I switched my choice of nymphing rod to the 10’ 10” 2 weight to focus on the reach benefit in the low clear water. However, this rod has a bit more swing weight and recovers slower than my shorter 10’ nymphing rods or the 10’ 9” 3 weight T and T Contact II. I felt myself rushing my cast a bit under the adrenaline of the session which led to me being out of sync with the rod’s recovery during my cast. This in turn led to some inaccuracy. I also felt my hookset reaction was a half second too slow for the lightning quick small browns with the extra length and swing weight. The night after my first session on the Caudal River I made the decision to switch my dry dropper rig to the Diamondback 10’ 2 weight and swap my straight nymph rod over to the 10' 9” 3 weight Thomas and Thomas Contact II. That choice really benefitted my casting and hook sets over the next three river sessions.
- 2. Keeping with the theme of hookset reaction time, I noticed I was not retrieving enough slack during my dry fly drifts. At home I had been allowing some extra slack to lengthen my drag free drifts. However, it takes a split second longer to remove that slack when setting the hook. This delay was critical with the fast Asturian brown trout. I started stripping slack more attentively in the last half of my first session and my dry fly hookup rate became noticeably better.
- 3. I talked to my team about the issues of landing fish that night. Michael told me he landed fish best when he got them in the air as soon as possible and moving toward the net. Several other teammates reported the same. This gave the trout less time to jump or alligator roll and spit the hook. It also reduced fighting time, which is better for the fish on release as well. However, it can only be done with fish about 10” and under so the size of each fish must be evaluated instantly.
- 4. I decided that I would be better off stepping up a bit in tippet size. Even if I drew a few less takes and my drifts suffered marginally, I would spend less time rerigging and avoid the mental crush that a breakoff creates. After the first session, I switched my nymph and dry dropper rigs from 7x Trouthunter fluoro to 7x Cortland Fluoro (which is visually about a half size larger). I also switched my dry fly tippet from 8x Cortland Fluoro (which is truer to size) to 7x Trouthunter Fluoro. After this switch, I do not remember breaking off another fish during the remaining river sessions despite landing a few fish up to 45 cm.
Next time, I'll take you to the Pilona River for session 2.