World Fly Fishing Championships 2022 in Asturias Spain: Session Two on the Pilona River

World Fly Fishing Championships 2022 in Asturias Spain: Session Two on the Pilona River

I left off in my last post after my cold start to the World Fly Fishing Championships during session one on the Caudal River. Thankfully my teammates had done much better than I had and Fly Fishing Team USA came out of session one sitting in 3rd place with an 8 point lead over Canada in 4th. Michael and Cody had both won their first sessions and Lance had also done very well with a 3rd place. I really wanted to help boost our position in session two instead of dragging us down.

Session two found me on the Pilona River. I was incredibly fatigued after the worst night of sleep I have had at a competition since the first Team USA regional I entered back in 2006. Despite the fatigue, I felt I had a solid plan with the info I had received from Michael after his session win the day before. The flies we were using were pretty much the same on all the rivers and I planned on rotating the same perdigon and pheasant tail nymphs. Michael had done well on a red tag dry fly above a dropper the day before, so I added that into the rotation in addition to the same dry flies I had from the day previous. I planned to work the dry dropper to nymph progression in the best water types. If I had enough sections of good holding water, I would skip the frog water in between to focus on the prime lies.

We had seen a few of the beats on the Pilona during practice but I did not have a clear idea of any that I knew were especially bad or good. I ended up drawing beat five. One of the anglers on the bus in front me had the draw and results from the day prior on a sheet. The good news was my beat had put up 20 fish the day before for a 2nd place in the session. The bad news was that Jordi Oliveras from Spain was the angler who had fished it. I knew he would fished the beat very well and made the trout more difficult to catch in the second session. Given this information, I set a mental goal of 15 fish in the session expecting there would be a drop off after Jordi fished it.

I set up the same set of rigs as the day before. 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 switched my dry dropper rod to 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.

Once again, scouting time became a big challenge for me on my beat. After the long drop off, I had 28 minutes to rig rods and scout a beat that was about 600-700 meters long from what I could glean from my controllers. I quickly rigged my rods and got ready to scout my beat. There were several houses and farms which blocked my view of and access to the river on the near bank, so I crossed to the opposite side. I walked up that bank past 100 meters or more of nearly stagnant flat water. After the flat there was a run that still had enough depth and speed to make it more obvious holding water despite the very low flows from the summer long drought.

After seeing the first run, I was blocked from further scouting on that bank by a cliff wall that came down to the river. I also began to feel a poking sensation on my left big toe. I tried to ignore it at first, but the pain became a bit too aggressive for me to feel like I could deal with it for the session. I ended up having to take my packs, waders, kneepads, and boot off to investigate the problem. When I got searching around, I found one of my nymphs had somehow gone down my waders and was sticking out of my toe! Thank goodness for barbless hooks.

While I was glad to have the source of the trouble sorted, the process of taking everything off and putting it back on took about four valuable minutes of scouting time. Now that I was blocked at the run by the cliff, I either had to cross the river there and risk spooking fish in the pocket water above or head back downstream far enough below the run to avoid spooking fish as I crossed. I opted to head back downstream. I then ran/jogged around the farm on the original bank until I could find another access point to the river. Along the way several groups of hunting dogs tried to bark/bite my head off from their kennels and I passed by the biggest pig I have ever seen. It was so fat it had a hard time standing to move out of my way as I strode pass.

Above the farm I found one access to the river at a pool formed by some interesting looking wavy bedrock. I marked that spot in my head as one to spend some time on and continued my way upstream to find a short section of pocket water. At this point, I had about 10 minutes left to scout, and I knew I was at least a three-minute run from my rods at the bottom of the beat. I decided to scout until I had five minutes left and then run back down to begin.

Upstream of the pocket water there was a pocket punctuated run that swung under two overhanging bushes. To get access to see that water I had to hop a gate and run through a small field with a squat pony grazing in it. I ran to the end of the field where the path jumped over some barbwire, and I got on the train tracks bordering the beat to try and scout the remainder. At that point I was around 400 meters from the bottom of my beat. I looked at my watch and found I had already reached only five minutes to go until my session started. I had no time left to scout. I would be flying blind on the last 1/3 of my beat and there was nothing I could do about it.

When I turned around the pony was staring me in the face! I was wishing I could hop on and ride it to the bottom of my beat, but something tells me it was even more out of shape than I was. I slowly side stepped around it and began running back to where my rods and controllers were. The pony started following right behind me. I was really hoping it was just curious and I wasn’t going to end up like a tourist in Yellowstone getting thrown in the air by a bison. I sure wish someone would have been around to film the interaction.

By the time I got back to my rods, my session had started. I crossed the river, skipped the flat water at the bottom and walked carefully upstream to the first run. Two minutes was already off the clock when I got into position, which was definitely was not ideal. I crawled into position to fish the first run trying to stay a good distance away and avoid sending any waves into the holding water.

I began with the dry dropper and a fish swiped at and missed my dry fly on the 3rd cast. A couple of casts later I had my first brown trout on the board after it ate my nymph and I put it into the net as quickly as possible following my lessons from dropping fish the day before. To ensure my net was at the ready, I either placed it in my lap or connected it to the magnet I have on the hip belt buckle of my hip pack. (You can see a video about how I rig my net at this link.)

Looking toward the flat water at the bottom of my beat. My beat ended where the river disappears in the photo. 

The big challenge in most spots along the beat was that neither of my controllers had waders and there was an immense amount of riparian vegetation that limited where they could be. In my first run they had to sit on the opposite bank about 50-60 meters downstream. This meant I had to wade downstream and cross to bring each fish to my controllers. All the while I had to make sure the fish was underwater in the net to allow it to breathe while simultaneously trying to avoid spooking fish by kicking waves back upstream to where I was fishing. Each one of these sequences was a time and energy waster.

I made quite a few more casts with the dry dropper with no result. I then switched to my nymph rod which had a 2.3 mm bead on the point fly and a 2 mm bead on the dropper. Two of my first three casts ticked bottom halfway through and ended my drifts prematurely. Interpreting that signal, I switched my point fly to a 2 mm bead as well. My first drift was taken immediately, and my second brown trout was in the net.

After bringing my fish back to the controllers and carefully returning to the run, I progressed through the rest of it catching a trout that I brought back to my controllers only to have it measure 198 mm and not count! Repeating the process, I had a quick take and headshake from another trout. When it spit the hook, it shot the flies back toward me like a cannon and wrapped my rig irreversibly around my other rod that was across my chest. Oh boy…the doubts were creeping in after yesterday.

I rerigged but left my nymph rod as a single nymph for the top of the run where a narrow seam was better for one fly. That decision paid off as a small but barely measurable trout took my nymph. I left the first run with three fish hoping for more as I continued upstream.

The best water near the bottom of my beat. I caught two fish in the middle of the run about 4-6 feet below the whitewater. The last fish came on a single nymph near the top of the run between the whitewater and the bank. 

The pocket water just above ended up being extremely shallow and I only stopped to fish two spots. A fish that was likely too small to count took my dry in the first spot. I then progressed upstream to the bedrock pool above. I approached it from below on my knees and decided to cast to the lower half with the dry dropper rod. With no response, I knew I needed to get deeper. Instead of rerigging the dry dropper rod, I added a heavier nymph to my nymph rod and cast below a couple of chunky boulders in the middle of the pool. I let the nymph fall and set the hook instinctively when I felt my nymph reached the appropriate depth. A golden flash and crack followed. Damn…I broke it off. I rerigged and added a second nymph for the deeper water above.

I swapped back to the dry dropper and began drifting the foam line on the far edge of the pool. Two casts in my dry dipped just upstream of the boulders where I knew there was a hydraulic cushion and a good lie. I set the hook into some weight and had a ride on my hands. The brown tried to get under the boulders and then ran straight up through the pool. I tried to put the brakes on as much as I could, but it fought through much of the pool and probably did not do me any favors. Eventually I worked the brown into the net and turned around to find that my controllers were nowhere to be seen. Having a bit of a freakout I racked my brain for whatever broken Spanish I could think of and started yelling “donde esta! Donde esta!” After what seemed like an eternity of me yelling and walking downstream keeping the fish in the water, my controllers finally popped up from behind the hedge. The brown ended up being a lovely 427 mm (~17”).

I returned to the pool and began working through it again. I was already over an hour in at this point and feeling pressed for time. Normally I would have liked to work a bit more of a shallow to deep progression. I had a lot of water left to cover though and went straight to the deep nymphs after the prior fish fought through everywhere I expected a suspended fish to be. I ended up getting one more small fish at the head of the pool. The currents were very turbulent there and the flow angled away from my position. This made getting a good drift problematic. I am sure there were more trout to be had in this pool, but I decided to leave it and return if I had time at the end.

Looking toward the bottom of the lower pool in my beat. I broke off one fish below the boulders you can see underwater near the middle of the photo. I hooked my biggest fish just upstream of them in the foam line. 

The top of my pool. The currents here were very turbulent and the drift was difficult fishing from the far bank. I managed one fish in the slow water in the right half of the photo. 

I moved up to the pocket water above and began crawling and casting the dry dropper rig into every somewhat likely spot. On the fourth or fifth one my CDC dry dipped under, and a small trout came at me that was just big enough to measure. Two spots later I had another in the net, but it was just a bit short again at 195 mm.

Looking above the pool into the pocket water above. I expected a fish in the larger pocket just above the pool, but I only got fish in the shallower pocket water upstream. 

Above this section of pockets was the run that went under a couple of bushes. I don’t have any pictures from this point upstream in the beat since I had to take all my pictures after the session, and I had returned to the pool below at the end of the session. I will say that this run looked to me like some of my best water. It had just enough depth and several likely looking seams that were under the trees where the brown trout would feel comfortable.

I fished my way into the run very carefully. I caught one trout at the tailout below the trees to put me up to seven fish. With about 90 minutes left in the session, I was a bit behind pace to my goal of 15 for the session. I slowly worked my way through the run switching rigs and using bow and arrow and helicopter casts to put my flies in every nook I could under the trees. I did not manage another fish in this run. I am not sure if Jordi really put the hurt on them here or if the hydraulics were less friendly for holding trout than they looked. Either way, I could not get a fish to eat. Both of my kneepads had straps break in this run as well. I spent the rest of the session with them flopping around wondering whether I should ditch them or not.

From this point on it was decision time. I had reached the end of the water where I had been able to scout before the session. Upstream there was a tree lined flat that got progressively deeper. There was no way to wade through it to see around the corner. I hopped out of the river and began running upstream.

I ran until I could hear flowing water through the trees. Jordi must not have fished here the day prior, or he found another way to access it, because there was no trail to the river. I crashed through a chest high tangle of vines and thorns to the river shredding my waders as I went.

When I broke through the riparian vegetation, I came to an extremely deep pool. The current was flowing onto my side of the river. I would have liked to cross and fish it from the other side, but the pool was over head height deep for a long way downstream. I stayed on the near bank which forced me to make directly upstream casts. I ended up catching a fish on the dry dropper and another when I switched to the two-nymph rig. Both fish were suspended in the upper half of the column. I quickly worked my way deeper with the nymph rig but could not manage any more. I wish I had been able to drift from a different angle and spend more time covering the pool. I had an hour left though so it was go time.

A cliff along the pool blocked me from wading upstream so I ran back out the trail through the thorns to the train tracks. I kept running until I saw a faint trail through the brush to the river. When I arrived, there was a slow shallow run. This spot said single dry fly, but I had left that rod downriver earlier and there was no getting it now. I knew I would have to get too close to fish this slow run with both of my other rods, so I moved upstream. There were some shallow pockets before one last run that was a bit less inviting than the first run at the bottom of the beat.

I crawled up the pockets in my floppy kneepads casting the dry dropper to each as I went. I caught one trout on the dry fly a few pockets in and missed another on the dry in the next pocket. I worked my way up to the run at the top and began the progression from dry dropper to nymphs again. Each rig produced one fish in the final run to give me a total of 12.

At this point, I had 15 minutes before the session ended. I hopped back on the tracks and began running downstream hopping over gates and fences as I went. I wanted to go back to the first run, but I knew I would only have about 5 minutes to fish it if I did. I chose the pool just upstream instead where I would have more time and less of a process for bringing fish to the controllers.

I reached the pool with 10 minutes to go and began to speed fish through it. Sadly, I did not manage another fish. I ended the session with 12 fish which ended up placing me 7th in the session. I had managed to improve my strike to netted ratio during this session a lot over the previous day. However, the combination of fatigue and a poor scouting session made me less sharp and hampered my decision process. I had also made some dumb mistakes that led to multiple tangles that cost me time.

After the session, I talked to the controllers and tried to ask them a bit about where Jordi had fished. Apparently, he caught his first four fish in the flat at the bottom of the beat. Given how spooky the trout were in practice in this type of water and how long the beat was, I chose to skip this water and all the similar water above. This may have been another mistake which would have added a fish or two. I have been fishing as much of this type of water as I can at home since the championship to have confidence to lean on down the road.

I was not thrilled with my session, but I felt a bit of upward momentum. I also reminded myself that I was incredibly lucky to be fishing in a World Fly Fishing Championship. Many anglers would have loved to be in my wading boots, so I took a moment of gratitude to remind myself of that while I waited for the bus.

If I look at the rest of the championship, it still appears that I fished this beat fairly well. It produced five fish in the next two sessions for Craig Dawson of Australia (14th place) and Jari Heikknen (12th place) of Finland and a blank in the final session for Robert Maxwell after the rain had made the river muddy. The average finish for the beat (including my 7th place) was 12th place.

Thankfully my teammates had another good session as well. Pat had finished 6th on the Caudal, Michael finished 5th on the Trubia, Lance finished 7th on the Narcea, and Cody finished 5th on the lake. After session two we were still in 3rd place with a 14-point lead over Finland. 

Back to blog