Thursday, May 1, 2014

Can You Believe It?

Organizing a Trout Legend fly fishing competition is one of the requirements of being on the US Youth Fly Fishing Team.  And so, several months ago Douglas contacted me to see what I thought about the idea of having a fly fishing competition on a PA limestone creek located in the heart of the Lehigh Valley.  Being the thoughtful person that he is, he asked a lot of questions and we discussed all the pros and cons of having it there and after much back and forth, it was decided it could be done as long as there were some restrictions on what sections would be included and how many anglers would participate.  So he set it up, and within minutes of the registration opening, the comp was full.  Sixteen anglers would fish 8 beats that would be spread out so that the competitors would not interfere with anyone that might be there fishing for their own enjoyment.

Over the last year or so, Douglas has been slowly indoctrinating me on the competition fly fishing side of the sport. And although I mostly have stuck to more traditional ways, there have been days when I have wielded the long rod, long leader and two fly comp rig and fished it with the effort he expects of me.  I have caught plenty of trout, too, and although it's not anything like how I have been fishing the last 40+ years, I have found it enjoyable. Truth be told, I still prefer the more deliberate pace of more traditional methods with nymphs and dry flies, but its a nice change of pace sometimes, and Doug's enthusiasm does nothing if not compel me to learn more about it.
The event was held Saturday, and I think I can safely say, it was a wonderful day all around for me and the other anglers that attended.  Douglas, his mom, and several others did a great job of putting on this event from start to finish.  I was there to help Doug out and provide support while he fished.  The day before, he asked me to bring my waders in case someone happened to be a no show.  He said all I would have to do would be to control (watch and measure fish caught) an angler during his session.  No big deal.

Here's Douglas going over the particulars with the anglers before the start of the day.  

Saturday morning everyone started showing up at the meeting place by the river at 6:45 AM.  Tim and Joan Flagler were there, too, to film the event and produce a video on a Trout Legend event. Once everyone had arrived, Doug got things started and began the draw, where the participants pick a number from a hat to determine what beats they will fish and with whom they will be fishing and controlling.  Only there was one angler didn't show up. Doug looked over at you-know-who, and said, "Pick a number, you're going to need to control someone.  YOU can fish, too!  If you want." And gave me that look.

So I picked a number and was quickly thrown into the mix.  I found the angler I would be paired with during the morning sessions, a member of the US Fly Fishing team, introduced myself, and before I knew it I had agreed not only to control, but to fish.  I went to my car thinking this was all a dream; it would be over when I woke up in the morning.  But it was morning, my car was real, the waders were mine, the rod, reel and vest were mine, and I was standing in a parking lot just after sun-up about to do something I never DREAMED I would ever do.                  
Being a traditionalist, and one cut from the Catskill cloth, if anyone had told me I would be fishing in a comp before I met Douglas, I would have told them to seek help.  I have been tying flies and fishing all these years in the manner that I learned from reading books and talking to anglers and tiers that are held in the highest esteem by all things long embraced as conventionally correct, and of course, by my own experiences.  I'm not a snob by any means, I just like the traditional aspects of fly fishing, but not to the extent that I think everyone should adhere to whatever it is the elitists in our midst think is our raison d'etre.  It's just fly fishing, we're not curing cancer.  

In the last year +, Doug and I have fished often, and over that time I've come to know much about the comp side of FF, attended a few events, and have expanded my view of all things FF thanks to him. Saturday I was scheduled to fish the first 1.5 hours, and control the second.  I fished my beat for the full session, and got the skunk.  I could tell you I was handicapped by using a leader and set up I had never used, but that would be a cop-out.  I could have easily fished two flies off a "normal" leader, or gone with a dry/dropper rig, and perhaps caught fish, but "when in Rome........

After lunch, I hit the river again with another angler who was on the US Fly Fishing team.  This time I wanted to catch fish, had to catch fish - my competitive side kicked in.  I rigged up my 9ft. 4 wt. Winston with a 13 foot George Harvey style leader, the tippet being about 3 feet of 6X tippet. To this I tied on a #16, dark caribou caddis dry, as I had been seeing lots of caddis during the morning session, and knowing this river fairly well I was certain there would be fish rising in the afternoon with all the bugs on the water.

Sure enough, when I got to the bottom of my beat, there was a nice fish rising along the opposite bank.  I got into position and after a test cast or two, dropped my fly above the rising fish, got a nice drift and the trout came up and grabbed the fly.  I struck late, and the fish turned quickly without my fly.  Not to worry, there were several other trout rising upstream so I set my sights on them and went to work.  At the end of my session, I had raised 7 fish, hooked 4 and landed three. The three I landed were all at least 14 inches, which meant added points to my score, since many of the fish being caught by others were 8-10 inches in length.

Before I conclude, I want to tell you about the angler I controlled after my afternoon session.  For the first hour or so, he fished hard and caught two fish, continually fine tuning his rig.  When he realized he had but maybe twenty minutes to go, he re-tied his set up an rigged it with two, silver bead head, black zebra midges.  Then he went to work, catching 6 trout in the last 9 minutes of his session, and taking third place overall for the day.  He had been adapting his technique and tackle until he got it right.  It was impressive, I can only imagine how well he would have done had he figured it out sooner.  That's fishing.

At the end of the day we all gathered around the meeting place and Doug held a raffle while everyone waited for the results to be tabulated.  As tired as most of us were, everyone shared stories of their day, their successes, failures and compared notes. The only time anyone was competitive was when they were fishing, and only to the extent that they wanted to do their very best and so they elevated their concentration level and covered the water more thoroughly than most of us do on a normal outing.  When the results were in, I placed 10th, Douglas placed 4th overall, but 1st in the youth division.

Without a doubt, I had a wonderful day fishing, controlling, and hanging out with a bunch of passionate folks. All fish caught were released, and the river and it's banks were left cleaner than before we started - the anglers pick up trash and debris before and after their sessions when walking along the stream.  Douglas did a great job.  And I got to experience another side of life, and I am richer from the opportunity.  Believe it.

And a special thanks to Shannon's Fly and Tackle in Califon, NJ, for donating a new 11ft 3wt Grey's Streamflex rod for the winner - Steven Good.

LINK: Shannon's Fly and Tackle

And sharpen your hooks!

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