The 2011 World Fly Fishing Championships were held last week in Northern Italy. 21 teams from around the world participated in the Championship. Conditions were quite good on the lake and 3 rivers that made up the competition venues. 1 session was held on Lago de Brais (lake), 1 session on the Aurino Torrent (river), and Isarco River, and 2 sessions were held on the Rienza River. Species available included European Grayling, Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout and Marble Trout.
I had the opportunity to be one of 5 anglers representing the United States of America. The other anglers were: Norman Maktima (New Mexico), Anthony Naranja (Colorado), Devin Olsen (Colorado) and Loren Williams (New York). We were coached by George Daniel (Pennsylvania) and managed by Jerry Arnold (Texas).
The World Fly Fishing Championships are an annual event which travels to a different participating country each year. Participating countries this year were:
Each angler is assigned a group (A, B, C, D, E) with one angler from each country in every group. I was Team USA’s “E” angler. My group started on the Isarco River, then moved to the Aurino Torrent. Day two put us on The Lower Rienza River. The final day we headed to the Upper Rienza and finished the competition on Lago de Brais. My account of the tournament goes like this:
The Isarco River was the second largest river in the competition. Glacial colored, but still good clarity. The water was warmest on this river and in practice the fish had been found in quality water only. Secondary lies were rarely producing. The Isarco held good numbers of wild Brown and Marble Trout with the occasional Rainbow and Grayling.
When I arrived to my beat I was excited to see I had a decent amount of good holding water, and it looked as though crossing in a couple of areas would be fairly easy. Crossing is an advantage since it allows you to efficiently cover both banks of the beat and maximize quality presentations. Once I’d studied my beat I started rigging rods and selecting flies. While rigging I tried to communicate with my controller (I don’t speak Italian) to make sure we agreed on the starting and ending points of my beat and to ensure we were on the same page for start and stop times. In the World Championships you get 5 randomly drawn beats which are fished for 3 hours each. As we neared start time, the first morning butterflies were working on my stomach. Yes, I still get a bit nervous. I believe if you don’t get at least a little nervous you likely don’t care enough to give it your all. With seconds winding down til start time, I unhooked my flies from the hook keeper on my 10 foot 4 weight Z-axis and carefully crouched down near the water awaiting the go ahead. As my controller yelled “START” I carefully cast my nymphs behind a large boulder and a fish quickly accepted my offer. I set the hook into a nice grayling, quickly fought it and brought it to net. As the controller measured it I realized I’d taken a 49cm Grayling on my first cast! Things were looking up! That is nearly a 20 inch Grayling, a fish I’d only taken to 14 inches or so before this trip. I signed off on the measurement and quickly returned to fishing. I was now full of confidence. I covered the same soft edge behind the rock but found no other takers so I moved to the next piece of holding water. The next hour I went fishless… Finally, about halfway through my beat I found a small pod of Browns and Grayling and added a few more fish to my score. At session’s end I had 7 measurable (the fish had to be 22cm to count) fish. Good enough for a second place behind the Czech Antonin Pesek.
The afternoon session had our group on the Aurino Torrent, the largest river of the competition. The Aurino is glacial colored like the Isarco. Many beats were not crossable without a serious swim. Luckily mine had a tailout around armpit deep (I’m 5’ 11”) with current slow enough I could bounce through it only taking on small amounts of water into my waders. This beat was very short, but was the type of competition beat I dream about, a nice drop with 2 to 4 foot depths of choppy perfect holding water as well as a nice tailout and shallow shelf on the far side. As I studied it I was confident there were enough fish in the beat to win the session. I followed a Bosnian who I later learned took 27 fish off of the beat in the morning. I rigged my rods, readied my tackle and had 45 minutes until start time. With the lack of sleep I’d experienced from tying flies and leaders late into the night before the competition I opted to lay down on the bank and try to catch a power nap. I rested around 20 minutes before my anticipation caught up with me. I woke up, again studied my beat and readied my gear. This time as the controller yelled “START” I carefully waded into the tail end of the beat to cover a small depression. It took a few casts, but I was quickly into a decent Rainbow. From then on, I routinely caught fish for the next 3 hours, a good mix of Rainbows, Browns and Grayling. At session end I had 34 fish on the scorecard. Good enough to win the session by 14 fish! Next, a tired bus ride back to the hotel, some dinner and more fly tying to replenish the lost flies for the next day. At the end of day 1 I was in 2nd place individually, but there was still a lot of fishing to do.
Competition day 2 was a one session day. I drew the Lower Rienza River for session 3. The Rienza is quite small, but has a fair bit of velocity to it. It is also exceptionally clear. The first 2 sessions had been won in beats with good “stockie” water, or water great for holding stocked Rainbows. The rest of the beats were producing only a few fish, mostly Browns but with the occasional Grayling, Marble or Rainbow. My beat was nearly all whitewater. On day one an Italian fished the beat first taking 1 fish, the second angler found 2 measurables. It looked to have 2 good drops, the rest was very poor holding water but I hoped to scrounge up a few fish out of the tiny pockets. Early in the session I hooked a decent Rainbow but lost it on the first jump. With 40 minutes left I didn’t have a fish on the scorecard. 4 Browns had made it to my net, but none of them were long enough to count. Then I landed a 23cm Brown to get the skunk out. Soon after a 22cm Brown was measured. I ended the session with only 2 fish which dropped me to the high teens individually. Team USA was still hanging inside the top 10 and we were still in the hunt for a medal.
The final day of any competition always brings a lot of tiredness. This comp was no exception. Waking up at 4am and going to bed after midnight can only last so long before the body shuts down.
I jumped on the bus heading to the Upper Rienza, last minute of course which stresses Coach George Daniel . (George, simmer down, I’ve never missed a WFFC bus yet!) After my less than glorious finish on the Lower Rienza the previous morning I had some good chats with my Teammates to find out the water types and most productive flies for them on the Rienza hoping to have a better result in session 4. I arrived at the beat, looked over the water, memorized some landmarks to help me know how far along the beat I was and then quickly rigged my rod. This beat looked better from far than it really was. It looked to have 2 nice long drops and a little bit of edge water to pluck some small trout. I hoped the drops would have some stocked Rainbows in them so I could get a few fish on the scorecard. It didn’t. The drops that looked great turned out to be moving too fast and weren’t as deep as I thought although I still covered them well. My fish all came from banks with overhanging brush. Most required bow and arrow casts from a kneeling position to get the flies into the zone and keep from spooking the Trout. At sessions end I had 3 on the scorecard, and I’d dropped 2. A handful of fish too small to measure also came to net. This was good enough to place 10th in the session. Although I wasn’t thrilled with either of my Rienza performances, I was able to keep from blanking and I had the Lake last which is usually one of my better sessions.
Lago de Brais is a beautiful lake, set at the top of a canyon wedged between steep rocky cliffs. The lake had a bit of glacial color to it, but with good clarity. The Trout were all Browns and most were stocked. Early in the competition the lake was producing mid-teens to twenty fish to win a session. In session 4 it only took a handful of fish to win, and many competitors found the lake treating them to a nasty blank. I knew Team USA would have a strong final day, and my teammates needed me to have a great session. I really enjoy lakes, and looked forward to the challenge of figuring out the Lago de Brais Browns. I shared a boat with the Frenchman Thibaut Guilpain. The French are superb anglers, so I knew beating my boat partner would be one of the hurdles of the session. Thibaut won control of the boat first, which meant I’d have control the last hour and a half. He wanted to stay near the boat launch so we had the controller take a few pulls on the oars and then sat waiting for the horn. As the session started I cast toward shore and on my first cast missed a take right near the boat. Knowing how tough the morning session had been I worried that the missed fish would be my only opportunity. Thankfully that wasn’t the case. On cast #2 I hooked and landed a 31cm Brown. Cast #3 brought another 31cm Brown. The Frenchman had put me right on the fish! After measuring and recording those two Browns things slowed down. The rain which was pouring down at the beginning of the session stopped and so did the catching. After about an hour I took a 3rd Brown a bit farther down the bank. At sessions end I had 5 fish to the boat which was good enough for a second place in the session. I was beat out by David Chalmers of Scotland, he had 6 fish. I’d rather of finished with a 1st place session, but was happy with my 2nd. The lake was only a 15 minute drive from the hotel, so I anxiously rode down the canyon hoping my teammates had finished strong. I arrived at the hotel to find George Daniel awaiting my exit from the bus. He was happy to hear of my strong finish and told me of the other good finishes reported so far.
Team USA was eating dinner when the final scores were posted. Suddenly we heard lots of “ooh’s” and “ah’s” from the next room as competitors learned their final placing both individually and as a team. Team USA finished 5th, which barely beat out our previous best score of 6th place in Finland 2007. Team USA is proud to be moving in the right direction, but we are all a bit disappointed since the medal stand is where we ultimately would like to be. Individually I led the Team at 6th place followed by Devin Olsen 11th, Norman Maktima 12th, Anthony Naranja 36th and Loren Williams 73rd. We were 6 points out of a medal, which could be made up with a single fish in several of the sessions. So close!
We worked together well as a Team under the direction of George Daniel and hope to better our result next year in Slovenia!
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