Our good friend and FlyStream regular Christopher Bassano is one of the team representing Australia at the World Fly Fishing Championships 2015. This year, the competition is being held in Bosnia, based around the historic, stunning village of Jajce – the pic below from their website gives some idea of venue! (Go to http://35thwffcbih2015.com/ for more pictures.)
With less than 2 weeks until the competition begins, Christopher has begun sending back reports to his friends and supporters. These are brilliant, but simply too long to reprint here in full. Instead, with Christopher’s permission, we are going to run regular extracts on the blog. Here’s the first instalment:
‘The Australian team consists of eight people: the captain (Jim Williams), a manager (Peter Butcher) and six anglers. These are Mick McKay, Jonathan Stagg, Vern Barby, Luke Barby, Josh Flowers and me. Josh will be the reserve for this trip, having earned his place on the back of winning the national titles in Tasmania. He will take part in everything the team does except the actual fishing on the three days of the competition. As I write this, the rest of the team is arriving in Zagreb before driving to Bosnia tomorrow (3 June) and getting stuck in.
I actually left Australia on 19 May and headed for Prague where I was picked up by the former flyfishing world champion, Martin Droz. For those who do not know, Martin has won 13 medals in the past 12 years at World and European championships – and during this time, he missed two years due to ill health! He is known amongst his peers as being the very best of the best.
I spent four days fishing with Martin on his home waters in the north of the Czech Republic with an eye to getting to know him better. He is coming to Australia in November to hold three flyfishing seminars (which were sold out in six hours) and only having met him once before, it was important to get that time with him. To say that he is pretty good would be somewhat of an understatement and those attending his seminars will enjoy his sense of humour and attitude. He and his girlfriend were wonderful hosts and we wasted no time in getting to the river from the airport or spending late nights behind the tying vice. It was my first trip to the Czech Republic but I hope it is not my last.
As was the case throughout my European adventure, I am constantly reminded what a wonderful fishery we have in Tasmania and no doubt, all around Australia. Although at times there seems to be hundreds and hundreds of fish in small areas, in these European rivers, my nymphs often came to rest on pieces of clothing, bicycles, plastic bags, buckets, snow sleds, caps, shoes, etc, etc. The rivers are often beautifully cold as they are snow fed. The clarity is exceptional but, unlike at home, the water is not drinkable.
Brown trout were the dominant species in Martin’s rivers but grayling were ever-present and at times, we specifically targeted these species as they will make up most of the catch in Bosnia (apparently)…
Martin was keen to get me into a few but I insisted that he catch the first fish while I finished rigging my rod – I was strategically slow to ensure I had less time to embarrass myself in front of him. I rigged quite quickly and in this time, Martin only managed four. Apparently the fishing was slow!! They were small but beautifully marked fish that ate a nymph as if it was a piece of chocolate cake. I did my best to look at least proficient but I don’t think Martin was too impressed with my nymphing technique and after a little coaxing, a few pointers were welcome. I managed to catch a good number of fish over the next few days as we changed rivers just for something different. Interestingly, when fish did rise I found them quite easy to catch, much to Martin’s surprise.
After four days with him, Martin was very honest in saying that my nymphing needed a little work but it was nothing that practice couldn’t fix. He did however think we had a distinct advantage over others if fish were rising. Martin’s opinion was that most river anglers are now concentrating so much on short line nymphing techniques that the art of curve casts and dry fly presentation was being lost to the comp angler. Being so fortunate to live in Tasmania and have access to that wonderful fishery has obviously given us a good grounding when fish do poke their noses out.
On one occasion, a patch of four large grayling were rising next to a supermarket parking lot and they were tough! Unlike trout, grayling do not spook easily but they also like a stealthy approach, small flies and a fine tippet. Martin had a go at them for around half an hour before leaving me to it. After multiple fly changes and cast after cast after cast after cast (you get the idea), I did hook all four fish and landed two of them. All were in excess of 42cm which are big for grayling. What I hadn’t realised is that it had taken me five hours to do! Five hours! Where did that time go?
I was also present when Martin landed his biggest ever brown trout in the Czech Republic, a 45cm brown in some pocket water. A few happy snaps and back it went. I don’t want to ruin his Australian visit in any way by talking about his approach and not doing it justice, so for those who are attending the courses, you will have to wait a bit longer.
I then flew to Lyon to meet my good friend Yann Caleri. Yann has represented France seven times in the World Championships and has finished in the top 10 five times! One of the times he did not finish in the top 10 was in New Zealand (Martin Droz won the gold there) where he was actually sitting in the silver medal position after three river sessions and his captain subbed him out for the last two sessions, allowing their reserve to fish the final two sessions! Yann had visited Tasmania last season and was extremely impressed by our fishery. The willingness of our trout to rise to the dry fly was something he had never seen before. We would have little dry fishing on the river Aine outside Grenoble but the nymphing was superb. All of the fish were large grayling with the odd trout and once again, presentation was key.
One day was spent rafting down the river, stopping at the rapids to fish the hot spots while the evening rise was a welcome break. The river is teaming with whitefish and barbel. All of these love eating nymphs and it was nothing to find ourselves fighting a 10 pound barbel in fast water on a two weight. Exciting stuff! Again, the water is crystal clear but it was also frequented by many anglers. The national division one titles were being held a fortnight later and the weekend was the last one in which people could practice on that river. Therefore, we were sharing every rapid with a few top class anglers. The depth of their field was very noticeable. A highlight for me was polaroiding a chub and catching him on a dry caddis pattern. It was like the Western Lakes all the way up to when I realised it was a slimy, stinky chub…. But the take was magnificent!…
As was the case in the Czech Republic, I managed to fall into the river on more than one occasion and come out soaking wet fifty metres downstream. The rivers run with a speed that ours simply do not have and the rocks… they are all over the place and lack any consistency. I did make a note to myself, “Do not try to walk backwards out of any European river no matter how strong the current is. Turn around slowly and watch where you are going”. It sounds obvious but when you are struggling to stand up when side on in the current, the last thing you want to do is turn 90 degrees and expose a greater surface area to the current.
The final leg of my trip before meeting up with the team was a four day trip to Campagne which is about two hours from Toulouse in the south of France. I was staying and fishing with Yannick Rivierre on his home water, the river Aude. I had fished here two years ago with my good friend Tim Strong and we were both extremely impressed. This time, water levels were higher and the river ran with some colour. Fish were more scarce than on the previous trip but this made for a great challenge. Only small fish seem to rise but the larger specimens ate a well presented nymph. Yannick landed a 50cm grayling (basically the equivalent of a ten pound trout) which I told him was 49cm! As my largest was 47, he still has one over me! Yannick himself was guiding every day and only joined me for the evening rise. He had a group of eight anglers each day and had to spread himself quite thinly.
The river is very popular and due to there being public holidays, finding a clear spot was not easy. Now, for those of you thinking that this sounds terrible, don’t. The presence of grayling means that nobody cares. It is possible to simply fish directly behind someone as you walk up the river. The trout may have gone or be sitting very deep but grayling will keep on happily feeding as you walk past and fish. They are in no way scared of you. Sometimes they feed in your wake as you stir up the bottom. They do however, have very acute eyesight and will not eat a fly that has any form of micro drag or a fly that is presented with the leader downstream of the fly.
Fine, fine tippets are a must which increase the likelihood of break offs. The smaller fish also school which can give you many opportunities.It was not unusual in France to be fishing a lovely, long run and have someone jump right in front of you (20 metres away), fish for ten minutes and then leave. By the time you reach that spot, there are fish everywhere. Mind you, you still have to catch them!
Breakfast in France surrounds coffee, chocolate and Nutella while lunch time was all about coffee, cheese, wine and baguettes. Every day we would buy fresh bread, cheese and meat and have a very social and long lunch by the side of the river. Other people would randomly join us and literally bottles of wine were consumed! Lunch could go on for up to three hours or more! Are you kidding me!? They kept telling me to relax because, “this is the French way”. Me, relax? You are joking! I want to fish! I have never spent so much time next to a good river and not seen anyone fishing. Just wait until Yannick comes to Australia next time and at 1pm I will throw him yesterday’s BBQ’ed steak and say, “you can only eat that if you are able to keep casting with your other hand. It is the Australian way.”
That is all for now. My next report will contain more team and fishing updates as well as a few stories I hope.