Going into this competition I imagined fishing in a T-shirt on the banks of the Big Thompson River under a clear blue Colorado sky. I knew that would not be the case when my flight from Seattle to Denver was delayed over 5 hours due to heavy amounts of spring time slop along the Front Range. Plans change and as a competitive fly fisherman you have to be prepared for any number of changing factors on the water. During competitions I have watched rivers double in size during a three hour session, lakes that change from glass to whitecaps, and in Colorado I watched our venue, Lake Estes freeze over in two days.
So we adapted. We changed the venues around in a last minute scramble. The competitors would be fishing a session on the Big Thompson and a session on Mother Lake at Sylvandale Guest Ranch and then the next day fish Lone Haggler reservoir, one bank venue and one boat venue. We would be fishing three lakes and a river over the course of two days to name a winner.
My draw put me staring into a cold, 34 cfs, snowy beat on unseasonably crisp morning on the Big Thompson. I knew that the only places that I was going to find active fish would be in the sunny spots or the deepest water. That was my game plan. I rigged up the 3100-4 ESN with 6x to my team of flies and got to work. I spent the next three hours fishing from my knees euro nymphing with a variety of small hand tied jigged Pheasant Tail variations, small midges, and a few BWO patterns that are top producers. For the first hour and a half I did not touch a fish. They just weren’t away in this stretch I was telling myself. Finally I parked on what was the deepest, darkest, slowest hole on my beat and dredged down deep. Second cast, whack! Brown trout on and in the net! This continued at a rate of about a fish every 5 minutes. I had found my fish and just needed to work them. Once the bite slowed I would mix it up, change flies, and give them something fresh. At the end of my three hours, I had enough fish scored to take a second place in my group.
Mother Lake is a spring fed, brood stocked, muddy bottom, private lake. I would be willing to bet that a trout under 18 inches simply does not exist in there. Managed as a trophy pond Mother was going to be a real hoot. I made my first few casts from the bank using my trusted RIO Midge Tip line fished in a very static presentation with three “buggy” flies. It was not more than two casts before my 7100-4 ONE rod doubled over and a beautiful 24” hen fell victim to a slim chironomid pattern. I thought the rest of the session would be easy. My 15 yard stretch of bank had good structure and I knew that I could find more fish. After 30 minutes of no success with the midge tip I switched it out for the new In-Touch type 3 and began pulling flies right above some weed beds about 8-12 feet down. The fish were so eager to take my offering that I had to deal with 4 clean break offs on 4x. Brutal! By the end of the session I only had 4 fish, but they totaled over 77 inches. A good friend of mine had four as well, but they were 2 centimeters longer. Another 2nd place.
Heading down to the Hag. Boat sessions fished Loch style are my personal favorite. Unlike a bank or river beat, you have freedom to make decisions on where to go on the lake. One can never complain about a bad stretch of water, only poor choices made during the three hours. My boat partner and I decided on the far SW corner of the lake while all of the other boats ran toward the dam. I figured it was either going to be feast or famine for us on this stocker lake. Well with a light chop and the wind at our backs we found a pod of stocker rainbows that provided consistent action. As they say, don’t leave fish to find fish. So we stayed. Fishing an In-Touch type 5 with a fast choppy retrieve and three of my favorite small streamer patterns tied off tags, we had a blast popping 8-10 inch fish one after another. As we motored back into the dock I had a few more fish that my boat partner, but we did not know if the far side of the lake was more productive than were we chose to stay. It turned out that or decision to fish the SW corner paid off as our boat took 1st and 2nd place.
Tired and sunburned I surveyed the bank of Lone Haggler for the final session of the tournament. I decided to stick to my 5100-4 ONE that I fished from the boat over my 7100-4 ONE. Although I would sacrifice distance from the bank I felt that a softer rod would improve my hook to land ratio. The lake decided to glass out as the start of the session and the midges came off when it did. I threw on my midge tip once again and began to pick off rising stockers with a small un-weighted streamer and a diawl bach. Having anglers to the left and right of you makes you anxious as they pluck fish off and you finish a retrieve without a bite. It was time to just fish and focus. I stuck to my game plan and managed 14 fish from the muddy banks of Lone Haggler. I edged out 2nd place by two fish. What fun! After putting down my rod we all shook hands and congratulated each other on fish caught and talked about the ones that got away as well.
Back at the lodge, to my surprise I found out that I was in contention for a medal. I was tied for second place overall and it was going to come down to who caught the most total centimeters of fish over the two days. Well, I fell short so to speak and had to settle for a Bronze medal! What an honor. Regardless who wins or loses at these events it’s about learning new techniques and the shared experience. It’s a great honor to get to fish with so many incredible anglers and learn from each other.
Until the next comp, it’s time to get back out and continue to fish!