Craig looks at lessons learned from the 2017 World Fly Fishing Championships, many of which can be applied to non-competition fishing.
The 2017 World Fly Fishing Championships were held in Slovakia in early September (early autumn in the northern hemisphere). While I’ve participated in many national and international flyfishing competitions over the years, this time I was privileged to captain the Australian team. Being captain offers a somewhat different perspective to that of a competitor (see FlyStream Facts). I came back from our Slovakia campaign with some fresh thoughts on successful techniques and strategies, most of which are just as relevant to fishing back home.
Prior to boarding our flight to Europe, the team had been concentrating its practice on rivers, as most of the competition in Slovakia was to be held on rivers: namely the Poprad, Vah, Bela and Orava. Lake Dedinky was the only stillwater venue, to be fished from boats.
Prior to World Championships, the competition water is closed and often, there is limited and poorer quality practice water available nearby. With this in mind, we opted to split our European practice time between Slovakian waters and the San River in Poland. This proved to be a good decision as the San provided excellent water to practice both nymphing and dry fly techniques.
The San is in the south-east corner of Poland, not far from the Ukrainian border. It’s a tailwater, with the first 25 kilometres below the dam being catch-and-release. The San is very wide by Australian standards, varying from 30 to 50 metres across. The current flows at a moderate pace, with most of the river wadable. In many ways the San resembles a very large spring creek and it is home to a huge insect population, which generates impressive hatches. Supported by catch-and-release regulations, the fishing for trout and grayling is superb, and the river attracts anglers from all around the world.
During practice, we experienced good hatches of size 16-18 yellow and grey mayfly. This gave the team the opportunity to practice ‘technical’ dry fly fishing using size 18 CDC up-wing dry flies on long soft leaders, tapered to .10 mm diameter. This proved to be very useful, as dry fly fishing turned out to be an important method in Slovakia.
Competition fishing is no different from recreational fishing – if you want to maximise your catch, you need to fish the correct technique for the water at hand. Let the water and conditions dictate the technique, rather than trying to impose your preferred technique. During practice, the team placed emphasis on good technique for the water and conditions, instead of looking for an ‘all purpose’ silver bullet fly or method.
For example, either side of the mayfly hatches on the San, the rises dried up and we had ample opportunity to work on our long leader European nymphing. The emphasis was on slim, Perdigon-style nymphs*, presented on fine tippets – as fine as .076mm diameter. Recent developments in lightweight rods have made fishing very light tippets a more viable option. The lighter tippets allow better presentation and improve sink rate and drifts.
(*Perdigon nymphs are bead-head nymphs with a slick, often resin-coated body, which sink very quickly.)
After enjoying the wonderful trout and grayling fishing on the San River (surely one of the world’s great rivers, which should be on your bucket list if you enjoy technical dry fly fishing) we headed to the town of Liptovsky Mikulas in Slovakia to practice adjacent to the competition water.
This was an opportunity for the team to work out the individual nuances of the local streams and develop the game plans we would take into the competition. The championships are organised so competitors know the order they will be fishing the different venues. However, they don’t know in advance how the river beats will be allocated. Consequently, it’s impossible to develop specific plans for each river beat. Rather, we formed plans based on different types of water – and then took into account the weather, what anglers had fished the beat previously, and what session was being fished.
This is an example of a river plan we used (note that sessions are 3 hours):
1 – Start with the best nymphing water first. (Nymphing is often the fastest way to catch large numbers of fish.) Begin with heavier .10mm diameter tippets and larger, flashier flies; moving to finer .076mm tippets and smaller, drabber flies later in the session – and during sessions later in the competition.
2 – Run nymphs of different weights and colours through productive water prior to moving to new water. This could include using the Squirmy Worm or Gammarus (a scud pattern) in deeper water. However often, simply changing the colour of the bead would produce more fish.
3 – As the fish become ‘gun-shy’ later in the session or later in the competition, use dry flies over shallow water and riffles. (This tactic caught us many bonus fish later in the competition, when other teams were finding it difficult to catch anything. It also played to our team’s strengths: we had some very good dry fly fishers. The result was that our last session proved our best of the competition.)
4 – Aim to fish all your beat in the first 2 hours, leaving the last hour to re-fish the best water again. (While mostly successful, this approach didn’t work on the small, clear Bela River where you only got one shot at the fish, requiring a very stealthy approach. Fortunately, we worked this out in advance.)
5 – Where a beat had been fished previously by a very good angler who caught many fish, it might be necessary to look to less obvious holding spots. This was also a useful tactic in later sessions, as well as in the afternoon sessions. (Chris used this approach in his last session, taking 3 fish from easily overlooked water that no angler had fished during the entire competition – something to think about next time you’re on a heavily-fished river in south-eastern Australia!)
We only fished one lake session. In some respects, Lake Dedinky was really a token venue, with the fishing provided by rainbow trout which had been stocked just prior to the event. It was a typical, unattractive stocky bash; the sort of fishing we fortunately don’t see much of in Australia. However, it is common in Europe and the UK. This leaves Australian teams at a disadvantage because stockies behave differently to wild fish. As one example, making noise in the boat is not necessarily a bad thing – it can cause stockies to come over and investigate! Try that on a wild brownie in Tasmania…
This part of the Slovakia competition is probably the least interesting to regular anglers. Still, to succeed in international competition, successful ‘stocky-bashing’ is necessary and as a team, we are gaining more experience at it. In Slovakia, we had very good advice from our technical advisor, Martin and this helped Mark to win the first session on the lake. An important result; however, the lake was still where we were weakest overall.
Frustratingly, we found it difficult to consistently catch the lake stockies. For example, Mark won the first session fishing drab flies slowly. Yet the next session was won in a different part of the lake by an angler pulling two Blobs (bright orange flies!) fast. As I said, we still have a lot to learn about stocky bashing.
Developments in Gear
One of the things competition fishing does, is keep you up to speed with useful new gear. As touched on earlier, a new generation of fly rods is allowing us to fish much finer diameter tippets than previously. When dry fly fishing, most of the team were using 2 weight 9’6” Hanak superlight rods. For nymphing, the team used this rod, a 10’ version, and/ or the Maxia 0 weight 10ft. These very light rods allow delicate, accurate presentation, and protect the light diameter tippets.
All the Australian team used the Scientific Anglers Variable Presentation Taper floating line for their small dry fly work. This proved an excellent line, enabling accurate presentation with a range of different casts.
On the fly front, dry flies are getting smaller, with CDC used extensively in their construction. Nymphs are often tied on jig hooks, with bead-size being proportionally larger in relation to the size of the hook and body of the flies (see Stewart Dick’s Rethinking Nymph Fishing – Ed. ) And again, as touched on above, the nymphs are less scruffy and more streamlined in the Perdigon style. Small additions of UV, flash and hotspots; plus bead colour and size, were all popular topics when the team discussed nymphs. In fact, during the World Championships, when it came to nymphing strategy, our team spoke frequently about nymph weight and colour, but seldom about matching the hatch! It’s all about catching the fish’s attention with a nymph that’s behaving correctly, at the right depth.
For lake fishing, most anglers used 6 weight 10’ medium/fast action rods. As rod design continues to improve I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a move to lighter 5 weight rods; especially for European conditions where there isn’t as much wind as we often experience at home. Competition lake fishing continues to utilise a wide range of lines, embracing floating through to DI7; in both density-compensated and Sweep designs. This focus on line sink rate and design in the ruthless, results-driven world of competition fishing, is certainly food for thought when it comes to our recreational lake fishing back home.
The Slovakia World Championships confirmed my conviction that good flyfishing technique is paramount to success. Fish the appropriate technique for the type of water. Use as light a leader as possible to aid in better fly presentation. When nymphing, fish slimmer, smaller nymphs over larger scruffy patterns to aid with presentation and depth control. And most importantly, vary fly and bead colour to ensure the nymph catches the fish’s attention.
These principles and others I’ve outlined above, are as important for recreational anglers as competition anglers. As our population increases, there is more fishing pressure on our rivers and streams, especially those close to our major cities. The Steavenson, Rubicon, Goulburn and Tyenna come to mind. Recreational anglers who are prepared to fish lighter and finer, placing emphasis on good technique, will catch more fish. I regularly hear fellow anglers asking what fly a successful angler caught his fish on? But the canny will ask, how was the successful angler fishing?
FLYSTREAM FACTS – THE 2017 AUSTRALIAN TEAM
Australia’s team consisted of five anglers: Jonathon Stagg, Christopher Bassano, Tom Jarman, Mark Bully and Rick Sunderland; with the team reserve being Glenn Eggleton. The Team Manager was Garth Jackson, Team Support Jane Forster, and our Technical Advisor was Martin Droz. Yours truly was Team Captain.
I’m often asked about the roles of Team Manager and Team Captain. The Manager’s role is to take care of logistics such as accommodation, transport, registrations, licences and a myriad of small non-fishing related matters, allowing the anglers to totally focus on their fishing. The Captain’s role is like that of a coach in a AFL team. They’re responsible for all fishing-related matters: training, techniques, and the strategies to be used during the competition. A less obvious yet equally important role is managing angler welfare – ensuring anglers are in good mental and physical health prior to and during the competition. This can easily be overlooked and is very important.
FLYSTREAM FACTS – 2017 RESULTS
The Australian team put in very solid performance, finishing 5th in a field of 30 countries. This is our best performance in Europe to date. The podium was populated by the usual teams: France 1st, Czech Republic 2nd, Spain 3rd. The home team, Slovakia, finished fourth.