Given that a new competition season has started and I’ve got plenty of other things to fill the blog in the coming months, it’s about time I finish my entries on last year’s World Fly Fishing Championship in Bosnia. My session four recap is detailed in this post and I will quickly finish session five in the near future so we can move on to other topics.
Session 4 Pliva Lake:
During practice, it became very apparent that Pliva Lake was going to be difficult during the tournament. The competition and practice sectors were separated by a line of buoys. The lower 2/3 of the lake were designated as practice water and the upper 1/3 was competition water except for a narrow sliver of lake at the inlet where competitors were not allowed to fish during the tournament. Despite several practice sessions, our team caught few fish during practice for the most part until we found some fairly reliable fishing for brown trout on the far side steep bank. However, there wasn’t much bank available in the competition sector that was similar and the wild browns were put down easily during practice after a few boats drifted through. Other teams we talked to and watched weren’t having much success either but we hoped that the competition water was a better section of lake.
The first session was won by Phil Dixon of the British team with five fish. Only five anglers caught more than one fish, including my teammate Lance Egan who finished with three for a fourth place in the session. Half of the field blanked. As expected, later sessions did not get any easier with more blanks and even less fish being caught. I went into the fourth session knowing that I had a rough task ahead of me to score a fish. My teammates had told me that the lion’s share of the fish were caught in prior sessions within the first 45 minutes of the session before the 14 boats over their heads succeeded in putting them down. All of these fish were caught pulling lures (flashy streamer type patterns in UK terminology) on sinking lines from what my teammates had seen. However, both Norm and Josh had caught fish late in sessions by fishing flies static on midge tip lines and trying to tempt the fish who had been wearied by lures zipping past their faces and boats drifting over their heads. Given this information, my plan going into the session was to pull flies early in the session and then switch to nymphs fished static on a midge tip for the last 1.5 to two hours.
When I arrived at the boat ramp the water was glassy. There were a couple of loose pods of fish rising around the area near the buoys where my teammates had recommended that I fish. I rigged first with a slow intermediate line and lures so I could fish shallow and try and capitalize on the shallow cruising fish that were obviously interested in feeding. However, as the boats went out and took their positions during the 15 minute row out time, the fish instantly stopped rising. They clearly knew what was going on after the last several days of harassment by a bunch of world class anglers. However, a few casts in the vast Spanish entourage on the bank erupted as the former world champ David Arcay landed the first fish. Only a minute or two later the British entourage followed suit as Simon Robinson struck the steel home on a rainbow. Then the Montenegrin landed a fish. All of this happened in the first 10 minutes and I was able to watch it all given that my boat and many of the others were packed in a small radius where the majority of the fish had been landed in earlier sessions.
Pliva Lake and the glassy calm that typified the conditions often found there during our stay and the tournament.
I knew I was wasting my time with the shallow line given the disappearance of the rising fish and my feeling that they had descended when the barrage of boats appeared overhead. I made a critical decision at that point to take a few minutes and watch the three anglers who had caught the first three fish, despite the valuable casts I knew I would be missing and the narrow window of activity I expected given the catch pattern in previous sessions. Each of the successful anglers was retrieving with a fast hand over hand rolly-pully retrieve. The angle of their lines, from their rod tip into the water, appeared to be somewhat steep so I guessed they were fishing with medium fast sinking lines. I made the switch to a di5 sinking line and matched their rolly-pully retrieves. Since the sample size of fish caught by my teammates in earlier sessions wasn’t large (but neither was the rest of the field’s) and half were caught static, I stayed with a couple of confidence flies including a Blanksaver (or chartreuse beaded tadpole if you’re from the UK). Fifteen minutes later, as I was starting to really worry that this session was going to turn sour for me, a rainbow blitzkrieged my fly about 70 feet out; early in the retrieve after an extended countdown. That fish leapt from the water five excruciating times on its way to my net. I worried each jump would result in a disconnection but somehow I put the fish on the board. My entourage only consisted of my teammate Russ Miller, so the rest of the lake didn’t have to hear that I’d caught a fish, but I silently pumped my fish in elation and I think Russ must have been doing the same.
With the white stripe off my back, I relaxed knowing that the rest of the session was a bonus. About 25 minutes later, as we drifted away from the pack out into the lake, I literally told myself I had two more casts before I was going to switch rigs and put the midge tip on. On my second and final cast I felt three taps in succession during my retrieve and said under my breath, “please take it on the hang…..please take it on the hang!” And…… it took the Blanksaver on the hang just under my rod tip. My second rainbow was in the net before it even knew it was hooked.
I continued with the DI 5 and lures for a bit longer but I received no further interest and the takes seemed to have dried up for other competitors. I spent the rest of the session chasing scattered risers, fishing the midge tip static, and prospecting the far bank in hopes of a brown trout. These efforts availed me no further fish but the two I had already gotten were good enough for a third place in the session behind Simon Robinson (who had three fish) and David Arcay who had two slightly longer fish. The fishing was tough enough that only nine anglers had caught fish in the session. I firmly believe the critical decision I made wasn't the fly, or location, or the approach. It was the decision to stop and observe other successful anglers and adjust my own tactics to try and match theirs (see tip number 6 in my session one blog post here).
My finish landed me in first place overall individually going into the last session. I had a slight lead over Stanislav Mankov and our own team’s Pat Weiss, who made the courageous decision to sit out the last session and allow Russ Miller to fish, since he had been a witness to the prior four sessions on the lake. Collectively, we felt this gave the team the best chance to have a shot at the gold medal but sadly it meant that Pat was knowingly giving up his chance at an individual medal. Going into the last session our team was in second place; 26 points behind Spain and 27 points ahead of the home team Bosnia I Herzegovina. While we had a shot at the team world championship title, we knew it was a bit of a long one. Heading into the last session on the Sanica River, I was feeling the pressure knowing I needed to do my part to help our team succeed and I also knew that I had an individual shot at a gold medal if the draw fell right and I fished accordingly. It was a long bus ride……