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You could think of the World Fly Fishing Championships like the Olympics for fly fishing as there are a few similarities. We have a governing body called FIPS Mouche and they have a set of rules that all competitors have to abide by to create an even playing field. These rules have shaped what most people now refer to as European Nymphing. Then there are the anglers, this year 30 different countries brought a team of 5-7 anglers to compete amongst each other for the title of world champion. Each country has a different set of requirements as to how anglers make the team, but most countries use a format that is very similar to what we use here in the US, a point system where regional competitions are held throughout the country leading up to a national championship. The top point earners for the year earn a spot on the world squad. A format like this allows anglers who are consistent throughout the year to rise to the top and it also weeds out the “luck” factor. So, anglers who are competing at the world level are the best that a country can offer.
The Czech Republic breeds good anglers, there is a reason that we often times call this style of fishing Czech nymphing. So the opportunity to travel overseas and fish alongside of the Czech’s on their home waters is a once in a lifetime opportunity that the US team did not take lightly. During the three day competition we fish as a team, there is an angler fishing each venue, each session. The results of each session not only add to the individual standings, but more importantly they add to the team placing points. Months of refining technique, tying flies, and mentally preparing put the team in a modest 5th place this year during the competition. Our goal has always been to break onto the podium, but this year we fell short. This year the home team brought home the prestigious Team Gold (for the third year in a row) as well as an individual gold. The Czechs were the favored team to win and it was great to see soooo many locals coming out and support the team on their home waters.
The venues were spectacular for fishing as each one was unique in its own way and tested the skills and diversity of the anglers. No one technique was king and the best anglers who can do it all rose quickly to the top of the leader board. Here is a look at the venues:
Sector 1 – Valtalva 29 Devils Stones
This is probably some of the most amazing pocket water that I have ever laid eyes on. The rocks are so gnarly that the dark lord must have carved the VW sized boulder himself. This sector required accurate casting and powerful wading on often times polished rocks to produce wild browns in the 8-14in range. One wrong step and you are over your waders or slipping off a rock. We fished lots of nymphs, dry dropper rigs and single dries. Our team dominated this venue as it matches our style of fishing.
Sector 2 – Lipnov Lake
Each competitor got into boats and went head to head with their boat partner to fish for larger stocker rainbows and a mixed bag of whitefish (perch, chubs, and dace). Due to the murky water we mostly fished darker patterns on lines that kept our flies higher in the water column. The hover, midge tip XL, and the CamoLux were the lines of choice for our team and various other teams. Unfortunately these fish did not behave like many of our stocked fish in the states and we struggled with this venue. Any pause in the retrieve and the fish would turn off the rig. So retrieves that were steady like a fast hand twist or a rolly polly retrieve we found to be the best.
Sector 3 – Valtalva 28
Here the river widens and is a series of glides and runs for each beat. The target species were Browns, big stocker rainbows, grayling, and course fish. Again these fish reacted very differently than the fish we have back in the states. Static presentations ie a dead drift was not the most effective way to catch these fish, even when fishing dries. The moment you animated the fly the fish reacted positively. Fishing dries skated, nymphs jigged downstream, fishing in a down and a cross presentation, or streamers were all very effective on this stretch. Beats played a major factor in this venue because of heavy stocking of large aggressive rainbows and also do to the fact that there was a river halfway through the beats that was dumping in super brown water and blew out the lower beats. The team did very well with every beat that we were given because of all the hard work and practice that we put in before the competition.
Sector 4 – Kvetanov Lake
Again this bank lake was a stocked venue with very poor water clarity. The high lines we fished on the boat lake applied just the same to this venue. Bank venues required long casts and lots of fly changes to keep your rig exciting to fish even after the 100th cast. We did settle on flies that were preferred and we changed where they were on the rig and how we fished them.
Sector 5 – Valtalva 27
This sector was the poorest of the visibility for river fishing and the beats for the most part were very flat and waist deep to knee deep. Working the banks for small browns and whitefish was the best technique. To do that we fished a team of wet flies on an intermediate line, dry dropper rigs fluttered downstream, swung nymphs, as well as upstream nymphing. Again this sector was very beat dependent as some beats had large stocker rainbows that would pod up in a 10’x10’ area and drastically increased numbers. In practice we focused on working on these techniques to catch fish in water that we do not typically fish in the US and for fish that we do not typically fish for in the states. We gleamed a lot of new information to bring back home with us to improve catch rates on our home water.
The experience was an unforgettable event for a first time international competitor and fly fishing in Europe is a much, much different endeavor than here in the states. We are certainly luck to have the opportunities to chase wild fish on so many different public rivers, but the Europeans have figured out how to maximize efficiency on the water that they do have. It was very humbling to stand should to shoulder with many past national and world champions from around the globe and break language barriers talking about fishing at home, sharing laughs, and a cold tall glass of Pilsner.
I love the spring time in the Rockies. The weather is changing for the better, the sun is more common than chilly snow flakes, and finally the trout rods move from the garage to the comfort of the truck.
Ahhh, a nice time of year.
Finally you get to try out the flies you have been diligently tying all winter long. The new fly line will see the light of day. Maybe even a new fly rod to initiate.
Spring trout fishing requires more gear than you would travel with the the dog days of summer. You need more than just a light rain jacket, a smallpox of dries, and a 5wt. You need lots of back up gear as the weather does not always cooperate. Sometimes those snow flakes do fall following that picture perfect 70 degree fantasy day. Socks, hats, gloves, heavier rain jackets, 3X, a full assortment of nymphs, streamers and dry flies. You really need so many tools for spring outings.
What you do not need a lot of is fly rods. A fast action fly rod is all you need.
Why would you need the variety of other items but not a full quiver of fly rods?
Because you truly need a rod that can perform all duties. A tip flexing fast action rod will get you in position to accomplish your fishing goals in all seasons. But in the spring when you may dunk nymphs into the stream in the morning, pin point and pea shoot a few technical sippers under overhanging dead fall in the afternoon and finish the day by chucking heavily weighted buggers til the sun sets.
Just the one rod?
During the summer months you may have your presentation rod like the SAGE CIRCA for creeping up behind delicate rising trout. Short accurate casts with a rod that allows landing fish with 6X and beyond. You may keep in the boat a 7wt. SAGE METHOD for plying the depths of the river with ridiculously overweighted streamers scraping the bottom looking for kipe jawed brown trout. But in the spring you may need to apply all three disciplines on any given week, day, or any given run!
That is why I like to have a all around fly rod for the season. I choose the SAGE ONE 9’ 6wt. I live and work on Montana’s Missouri River. I big resource with big winds and big trout. You gotta bring the right weapon for the day. Do I need other rods along for the ride? Oh yeah as I am most often fishing from my Adipose Flow. But if I am walk wade fishing I grab the only rod I need. A good, no a great, all ‘rounder.
I may have mentioned in the past that I was a big fan of softer rods. For 20+ years! Slower, softer, soggier…whatever you may call them. But as I matured as an angler I just felt they did not offer as much as the faster action rods do. You cannot battle the wind as well with said rods. They do not handle a streamer well and when you add a couple split shot to these tools they do not always respond well. If you are wandering around with one fly rod, you better have one that can do it all!
I choose the 6 weight for my river but that may not be the right tool for you. You may want the 4 wt. or 5 wt. with some looking at the 6 wt. or even the 7 wt. Whatever works for you on your particular stream or stillwater.
As I said above wind can be an issue. A stronger tool is something we are all thankful of when this Rocky Mountain beast rears it head. If you are one of those anglers who likes to over line the rod a faster action rod can handle and give you extra horsepower when addressing the often variable spring weather and fishing conditions.
When nymphing the all round rod can give you the quickness to hook more trout. Slower and softer rods do not always have the rapid response time needed to set the hook properly. A better tool for the job.
When you find yourself attaching a cone head articulated monster streamer you need a rod with backbone. Not some Sunday Driver that looks good but does not perform.
And when you come upon that difficult lie with a nose sticking up occasionally, you certainly need an accurate stick allowing you to make the right cast…the first time!
There you have it. The Spring Time will brig so many different conditions and situations when trout fishing the river and streams of Montana, or your local creek or pond. The clothing, outerwear, flies, portable heaters, a Thermos of stew. Those things are hard to put together. The rod? Easy. Just grab your best all ‘rounder and head for the river!
I’m stuffing waders and boots into bags on a Tuesday night in early April, when Jason Jagger blows up my phone with the news.
Jagger, who spends his January through April months guiding in Tierra del Fuego on the lower Rio Grande, describes a river that’s quadrupled in size. Catch-rates have fallen off a cliff, he says. Fishing has turned into searching for anything with a pulse in brown currents, spewing chunks of flotsam and debris. And while it’s great to know guides in far-off places, at this point his words make me yearn for the home I haven’t left.
April in Southern Hemisphere marks the pirouette of seasons from summer to autumn. Fall’s arrival is also the finale for most lodge operations on the Rio Grande. The wear on the guides’ faces shows when I arrive at Kau Tapen Lodge two days later. Talk of girlfriends in Buenos Aires dominates the chatter. Grouse hunting in St. Petersburg, Russia, awaits some. Mayfly hatches in Ireland are on the cusp of combustion for others. The tribes will soon part ways, destined for comforts that exist beyond living in utter remoteness. Over the past month, the deluge of events Jason had relayed has exacerbated this countdown to the season’s close. But for this gringo, it’s about holding out for a miracle in overtime.
Over beers and rod-rigging sessions that first evening, Matthew Solon, head guide at Kau Tapen Lodge, tells me the weather has stabilized. No more rain. Tierra del Fuego’s notorious and nuking wind has mysteriously departed. Although, in a thick Irish accent, he remarks that the fishing still sucks. Days one and two confirm his story. I catch some borderline sea-runs, nothing weighing more than three pounds.
Good news is the river has dropped and water clarity has gone from an Oreo blizzard consistency to a deep tannin color that sparks some measured optimism. That second night, I check the rotation board—the daily list of who’s fishing with whom. It reveals that I’m paired with The Russian, and when we meet on the grass outside the grand lodge the following morning, he’s short on pleasantries and anxious to get rolling. So we load the car for a day of fishing on Max Maimaev’s terms.
Maimaev is one of the top fly-fishing professionals on the planet. In addition to almost 20 years at Kau Tapen, he’s the big cheese on Russia’s Ponoi River—famous for massive Atlantic salmon runs returning to the Kola Peninsula. He’s an expert Spey caster, who has a penchant for the deep wade. And when he opens up, his words stir intrigue into the day with tales of hi-jinx and superlative encounters with asshole French, English, and American clients.
At Dude’s pool on our morning beat, I follow the lanky Russian into the water, up to my nipples. This particular run requires a long bomb to the far bank. So I dig my heels into the riverbed, lean hard against the current, and throw everything into a cast that falls just short. Max implores me to pull more line off the reel. And then more.
“Is this enough?” I ask. He shrugs his shoulders. I proceed. Another cast, a little longer, and my Sunray Shadow fly lands with a standard Skagit “thunk” and begins its slow crawl through glassy water. Lighting strikes at the top half of the swing, and we’re into a good fish.
Russians aren’t known for outpourings of emotion. Take the country’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, for example. He always looks pissed. Even when he’s shirtless atop a horse, or hoisting a massive pike into the air—dude is all business. And at this precise moment, Max is much the same. As I moonwalk back toward shore, my Russian river commander ambles slowly toward the car to retrieve a really, really big net. We land and weigh the fish: a 16-pound hen, as chrome as a freshly polished bumper—and an end to several days of being shutout.
Tierra del Fuego is far from everything, but in this instant it’s the familiarities that strike me: wading deep, lobbing casts in a run dubbed “Dudes”, and that soothing catharsis that stems from finally connecting. I smile, and shout, and practically skip back to the car for the camera. Then I look back at the Russian for affirmation. All I get is a straight face, and something in his eyes that resembles satisfaction.
It’s April, after all, and it’s time to go home.
Kau Tapen Lodge: www.kautapen.com
Several of our nation’s largest bodies of freshwater reside in Bristol Bay’s trophy trout region. These lakes are nature’s rearing pens for millions of native sockeye salmon juveniles. Adult sockeye spawn in the tributaries of these lakes, and soon after their eggs hatch, the young fry migrate downstream to the lake. They’ll spend up to three years there (one or two for most) before migrating out to sea. That is, if they don’t get eaten first.
The bulk of the rainbow trout in these systems are lacustrine, or of the lake. They spend a great deal of time in the lakes chasing and chowing on the abundant sockeye protein snacks. (I’m not sure exactly how to say this, but here goes). In the process, these piscivorous demons become wicked mega awesome explosions with fins. (I still don’t feel like I’m getting my point across.) I’m trying to say that these trout are the fastest, strongest, hottest fish that I’ve ever witnessed hooked in freshwater. And I’ve spent most of my life chasing steelhead.
There are two lakes and their outlet rivers that host (by far) the most impressive trout; Naknek Lake / Naknek River, and Lake Illiamna / Kvichak River. Like steelhead and salmon the rainbow trout in these lakes are anadromous, but in this case the migrations occur wholly within freshwater. In addition to the spawning migration, the trout migrate from the lake to the river twice to feed. Once in the spring to intercept sockeye smolt on their way to the sea (this one often becomes combined with their spawning run), and once in the fall to take advantage of the spawning salmon. I’m nearly convinced however, that in the latter case these rainbows are so piscivorus that they are there more for the small fishes that are there for the salmon eggs, than they are for the eggs themselves.
That’s when we get ‘em.
Now I’m not saying that these trout are hotter than all the steelhead that I’ve seen, just most of them. Steelhead are extremely varied in their hotness. They vary from slugs to absolute devil fish. Nearly every Naknek or Kvichak fish is a devil fish.
Soon after a short flight from Royal Wolf Lodge where I work, I’m pacing up and down the middle of a gravel island, my heart feels like it’s going to pound out of my chest. I’m shaking my hands and blowing air through puckered lips as I watch my two angler’s speycast large streamers into the Kvichak’s heavy flows. I’ve got a guy on each side of the island. I look like I’m watching a tennis match from the net as I anxiously watch for a hook up. I can’t stand it, I want to yell “Take more steps!”, but I don’t, they’re taking plenty. There’s a hook-up and I sprint the nearly hundred yards to get there as fast as I can, so that I’ll miss as little as possible what is surely going to be an epic battle. I get there and the fish has already run out over a hundred yards of backing and jumped several times. Out of breath, I witness several more runs of fifty yards or better and a bunch more jumps. I can see that it’s not a big one, maybe twenty four inches or so, and I calm down a little.
Naknek and Kvichak fish get big, real big. Indeed, there’s been several fish taken from the lakes in excess of twenty pounds. You couldn’t realistically expect something like that, but fish from twenty eight to thirty two inches aren’t uncommon. The perfect outfit for this game is easily the Sage 7136-4 ONE (I just want to say that these spey rods are aptly named, they really are the ones), a Sage 6012 reel loaded with two hundred yards of thirty pound backing and a Rio Skagit Max 550gr shooting head. I think that this is such a perfect outfit that I have two identical set-ups. I rig one of them with a ten foot sinking heavy Skagit MOW tip and the other with a twelve and a half foot sinking heavy Skagit MOW tip.
Flies? Well, you know the cliché.
Scott O’Donnell is a Sage Ambassador and steelhead fly fishing and spey casting instructor on The Northwest’s premier steelhead rivers with Mike McCune. At the forefront of the Skagit Style of spey casting Scott and Mike are responsible for the Skagit style lines that have been dominating the spey market and the wildly popular Skagit MOW Tips. They’re world renowned for their unparalleled teaching abilities and they’ve been making people better casters and anglers for over twenty years.