It’s been a whirlwind since getting back from the World Fly Fishing Championship last month. We’ve caught up on the store inventory we had around and found out we’re having a daughter next February. I’ve had two fly patterns picked up by Umpqua Feather Merchants, signed a book contract, narrowly avoided serious injury in a remote car accident at work, played with and polished some techniques and lessons from the tournament, and swung up my first couple of steelhead for the year. Hence, the reasons I’m a bit behind on my posts about the World Championship but I thought I’d better get the ball rolling with a post about our preparations. I’ll take you through each session in future posts like I did for Bosnia.
This year was a momentous year for Fly Fishing Team USA. For once, thanks to John and Jodi Knight, we were finally able to compete on our home soil instead of traveling across the pond to fish unfamiliar waters and fish species while recovering from jet lag. We knew we needed to put our best foot forward in this championship so we traveled a year ahead of time in September 2015, for a long weekend, to practice on the venues since they would be closed to competitors 60 days ahead of the tournament as per FIPS Mouche rules. This practice gave us a chance to build a list of flies and practice the techniques we thought would be most successful in the tournament the year following. Then about a month before the championships we returned to Vail to practice on water adjacent to the venue water. We hoped this practice would help prepare us for conditions as close as possible to what we would find during the tournament while affording us a chance to practice before the international teams showed up en masse to share the water. Because of these practices we only returned a few days ahead of the championship to make last second preparations. It was nice to have a solid working box of confidence flies tied for the venues prior to the championship, though we all added some 11th hour patterns that fished well on some venues.
Based on these practices and prior America Cup experiences, I went in to the championship with a plan for each venue and water type I might encounter. Below was my basic outline:
A Colorado River rainbow during practice
Upper Eagle River: Fish to rising fish or fish streamers in non-descript or skinny water early before the light got high. Fish a dry-dropper in smooth edge water or smooth surfaced tailouts and flats. Euro-nymph any water with bumpy surface currents, high velocities, or depth sufficient enough to hide my presence. Due to the large numbers of baetis in the Eagle and in pump samples during practice, perdigon style flies in blue or olive (Pliva Perdigon) were my confidence flies here along with ginger colored humungous buggers for streamers and shuttlecock or midge dries for any rising fish. Late fly additions to my fly arsenal were a “France fly” baetis nymph Michael Bradley and Josh Miller showed me which apparently Hunter Hoffler originated at the Youth World Championship in France a few years back, a brown and orange perdigon our team captain Bret Bishop had been fishing during practice, and Pat Weiss’ stupid simple pheasant tail which he also cleaned up with during practice.
Lower Eagle River: My plan was essentially the same as the upper Eagle except to add in the squirmy for a confidence fly. From what I heard several other countries figured out the squirmy was good here as well. However, the lower venue was a much lower gradient meandering stretch of water with different holding water and lower fish densities than the upper venue. The beats were all VERY different from each other so I knew going in that I had to be prepared for anything from a nice deep run, to a nearly stagnant deep pool, to inches deep riffles. Therefore, I knew I would need to be flexible to be effective on this venue.
Blue River: The Blue was running high at over 700 cfs during the championship. My plan here was to dry dropper any soft edges I had (which I knew would be diminished with the higher flows) and nymph the likely looking heavier water. I also planned to save 10-15 minutes for a streamer if there was good water for it. In past America Cup tournaments I’ve found that Blue River fish have a fondness for dry flies as well as a fondness for holding in abnormally heavy/deep water. My confidence fly quiver going into the tournament for the Blue included flashback cdc hare’s ears (thanks Rob Kolanda), blowtorches, peacock tinsel perdigons (peacock butano), blue and pink perdigons, front end loader caddis, and a black over white slumpbuster.
The Colorado River a few miles downstream of the competition water.
Colorado River: The stretch of the river on the Colorado River Ranch is fairly featureless compared to much of the rest of the river. The ranch has a lower gradient without much structure to create obvious holding water. The fish here tend to hug the banks around whatever small structure features there are until they get picked on and then shuffle to deeper non-descript water that is tougher to fish thoroughly and efficiently. My plan going into the tournament was to dry dropper the edges, Euro-nymph any current seams away from the bank where the depth was beyond what a short dry dropper could fish well, streamer fish or indicator dry/dropper flatter mid-depth non-descript water, and fish dries to any rising fish that I might have. My confidence flies going into the tournament on the Colorado were front end loader caddis, butano perdigons, dirty politicians, pink collared frenchies, ginger humongous buggers, and olive slumpbusters. A late addition to my quiver was a purple and black chubby Chernobyl ant which our teammate Russ Miller had a lot of success with during official practice on the river downstream of the competition water.
Sylvan Lake: I have had a roller coaster history on Sylvan Lake. The first two America Cup tournaments in which I fished the lake, I struggled to find a consistent success until late in each session and I let myself get frustrated watching Michael Drinan and then his brother Tom beat up on fish from the starting bell onward. My following two experiences were much more consistently positive and I was fortunate to win the America Cup both of those years. Needless to say, there was a lot riding on the finishes my teammates and I were to have at Sylvan. Loch-style lake sessions are always equalizers in tournaments because the element of beat draw is somewhat removed as long as your boat partner is willing to work with you instead of against you. Thankfully, because of our experience on the lake we were confident we had a solid team plan, which came to fruition with finishes in first or second place throughout the tournament for each team member. Past experience had shown us that though there are numerous fish in the shallows at Sylvan, the fish in the deeper bowl in the center of the lake are much more catchable, especially after a myriad of flies and boats has drifted over the fish in the margins. This was a hard lesson I personally learned in those first two America Cup experiences. My teammate Josh Graffam also added greatly to our plan with some flies and techniques he played with in the final mini-session of a friendly tournament he organized on the lake before the 60-day cutoff for competitors. I’ll talk more about this strategy in a future post on my Sylvan session. As a result of Josh’s information and prior experience, my confidence strategy going into the tournament on Sylvan was to fish the deeper bowl of the lake “low and slow” with a di5 or di7 line. My confidence flies were a black “pops” bugger with a chartreuse bead (aka blanksaver pops), a damsel nymph or Rickard’s stillwater nymph, a regular drab black blanksaver (black leech with a chartrueuse bead), a tan “pops” bugger, and a tequila foam arsed blob (FAB).
So there you have it, a quick rundown of the strategies and flies that were in my brain going into the World Fly Fishing Championship in Vail this year. In my coming posts I’ll take you through each of my sessions and the success and failures which followed me along the way.