Australia performs well in the 2007 World Fly Fishing Championships
In May 2007 year the Australian Fly Fishing Team departed our shores to contest the 27th World Fly Fishing Championships in Kemi, Finland. Joe Riley recounts the experience.
The road to get there started with State Championships in 2005 from which the qualifiers competed in the 2005 Australian Fly Fishing Championships in Tasmania. The team was selected from the top 15 finishers from this championship and included 2 Tasmanian competitors, Jonothan Stagg of Relbia who won the competition and myself, Joe Riley, who got the bronze medal, both being members of the Van Dieman Fly Fishers Club in Launceston. The other competitors in the competition were Max Vereshaka and Stuart Rees from Victoria and Scott Tucker and Chris Dawson from the ACT, (Chris being the reserve angler). Tasmania was also represented with the Team Captain Jim Davis and Brian McCullagh as Manager, both members of the Hobart Fly Tyers Club, which made four of the 8 member squad Tasmanians.
Fly Fish Australia is the governing body for competition fly fishing in this country and has a goal of Australia consistently achieving a top 10 status for teams in World Championships. In recent years Australian teams have struggled to achieve this goal, so the team was selected in early 2006, plans were hatched and the work began to achieve a great result in the big rivers of Europe where grayling are the main target species, and specialised techniques are used to good effect in catching them.
For me this plan involved a big change in the fly fishing I normally do, a lot less flying up to the lakes with the tinnie, it was river fishing at every opportunity. Fishing with Jonothan Stagg all of the local rivers around Launceston as well as trips to Hobart to fish the Tyenna and Derwent whenever a chance arose. River fishing concentrating on dry fly, short line or Czech nymphing and to a lesser extent nymph under dry, trying to catch as many fish as possible from a self imposed stretch of river.
The team management Jim Davis and Brian McCullagh worked on travel plans, costings, arranging guides, research of the venues and local flies. Included in the plans for this competition was attendance at a Czech Nymphing course in the region of Bohemia in the Czech Republic prior to arrival in Finland for practice prior to the event.
On the 29th of May it was time to fly, Launceston, Melbourne, Singapore, Frankfurt, Linz. Twenty three hours flying time, plus stop overs. At Linz we picked up a hire van and drove to the site for the Czech Nymphing course, the Hotel Rhuze on the banks of the Vlatava River in Rozemberg.
The aim of attending this course was to, hopefully, gain a thorough insight into the method of nymph fishing known as Czech Nymphing. Jiri Klima who is Captain of the Czech Team and regarded by many as being one of the best river fishermen in the world, was the main instructor.
Fishing the rivers in the vicinity of Rozemberg was a bit of a culture shock. At home if you see another angler on a river you keep driving for a couple of kilometres to the next piece of river. In the Czech Republic there are anglers everywhere, but that's not even the start of it, the main pass time in the Czech Republic is canoeing and rafting. In a days fishing you could have anything up to 300 canoes come past you, in front of you, behind you and nearly run over you. In reality though all of this activity does not affect the fishing. Brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, grayling and a few coarse fish like chub and dace all came to the nymphs while the frenetic activity of other fishermen and canoeists was going on all around you.
The learning that was achieved from Jiri Klima and the course as a whole was not great. Some of us had already been fishing this style previously, but what we did learn was about attention to detail. Weights of nymph patterns to obtain precise depths while fishing, leader lengths to assist maintaining contact with the flies and fishing water methodically so you cover all potential holding water was drummed in. Learning to read the water, as to where fish would be holding, are all fundamental issues that we all knew, but we learned even more about during the course.
In my "on water" session with Jiri Klima, he started me on a seam in the river where a side current and a main current met. I started Czech Nymphing it as methodically as I thought I could, after all I didn't want to appear like some rank amateur from the other side of the world. Jiri was telling me "good, good', in broken English and offering me a few pointers as I went. I was getting a few plucks and dropped a couple of fish, so he stepped in behind me and fished over where I had just covered and it took him less than two minutes to pull a Grayling right out from behind me! That really hurt.
Some good practice was had in the five days we spent at Rozemberg and we estimate the team caught somewhere in the vicinity of 1000 fish. It wasn't just the fishing though, the Czech Republic is a beautiful country with friendly people and is very cheap to travel to as it is not yet linked to the Euro. Accommodation and food prices were great, a 500ml stein of a magnificent local lager costs about 28-30 Crown which roughly equates to $1.20 Australian, a meal for the evening will cost about $10 - $15 for two courses. The scenery which was so lush and the architecture which included castles and beautiful old houses on cobble stone roads all made the stay memorable.
Tuesday 5 June, early start for the drive to the airport and three flights to arrive at Kemi in Finland. We were greeted by our guide and a further 4 hour trip in the van to where we had planned unofficial practice, a long day.
Our accommodation was our guide Kalle's summer house, the Finland equivalent to a very nice Tasmanian shack. A timber cabin by a lake complete with Sauna and 24 hour a day sunshine. We were that far North that the sun does not set in Summer!
Kalle Auramaa is a competition angler in Finland and had done his homework well prior to our arrival. The competition river the Simojoki was still running high and was not fishing well, so he took us to his family shack to practice the Kuusinki and the Kitka rivers. We had already got a good taste for the fishing while in the Czech Republic, so in Finland we hit the ground running. Here the fishing was nearly all grayling, and lots of them. Czech Nymphing was far and away the best technique, with most days resulting in everyone getting around 30 grayling varying in size from 20cm to 35cm average.
The practice was great and the beautiful big rivers of Finland provided a real challenge, attempting to wade across the heavy flows in preparation for the competition. Some of the highlights of the practice included a wild moose crossing the Kitka river just below Max Vereshaka, this thing was like a draught horse on steroids, absolutely huge. Eating local cuisine Kalle prepared for us including smoked grayling, moose and caribou, and having an evening sauna and a swim in the lake which had only had the ice melt about a month before we arrived in Finland.
One day we decided to travel to the official practice water on the upper Simojoki. At this stage we were used to catching heaps of fish on secluded water so when we arrived at the stretch of river which was about 1.5km long, and had at least 30 anglers practicing on it, we got a reminder of how tough things may have really been. As a team we only accounted for 4 grayling, however Kalle our guide caught another 3 on his own. As far as we could tell though the other teams only caught a hand full of fish so there was no real cause for concern.
As there were stocked rainbows on a lake in the competition we decided to travel to a lake where similar fish were stocked for some practice. It was not a particularly memorable experience. When you are used to Arthurs Lake with wild browns acting like wild fish do, it is an absolute change in technique to chase freshly stocked rainbow trout. These fish live their life in a pen and not like stocking done in Australia where fingerling and yearling fish are released to grow on, these fish are released anywhere between 2 ½ to 4 lb in size. They are used to living in a cage so open water appears to terrify them, they swim around in circles, hugging the bank and stick to an area close to where they are being released. These fish do not know anything about attacking prey items as they only know how to feed on pellets. We all caught fish, fishing slow and deep in one corner there was no rhyme or reason to flies as the fish didn't really know what they were eating. Not what I would ever describe as good fishing.
The time at Kalle's shack was as a whole another good experience which was preparing us for the actual competition. It's not all cheese and crackers though and it is easy to forget how fortunate we are in Tasmania and Australia as a whole for the fishing opportunities we have. Licences for Finland cost 12 Euros a day (approx $20 Australian), they are individual to rivers so if you don't plan in advance which river you want to fish you can't head out until you stop and buy a licence. After a week of $20 a day, a $61 full season all waters licence in Tasmania seems great value.
Unofficial practice was over and the team moved to the hotel for official practice prior to the competition which was now only a few days away. We checked into the hotel Cumulus at Kemi on Tuesday the 12th of June. That evening there was a welcome dinner and lots of talk between old acquaintances from various teams, guarded discussions about practice and the general concerns that the fishing was going to be hard, based on the practice beats everyone had been on.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday each had an official practice session in preparation for the main event. This is where you board the official buses and go to the various practice beats, so the organisers can make sure logistically things are OK and competitors can practice if they still need to. A lot of teams such as the French and Czechs duck out on this practice as they have worked out what they are doing and don't want other teams watching them fish. The official practice was hard, most of the rivers had been given an absolute flogging so it was more a case of having a look at the sort of water we were likely to be fishing on each beat, rather than serious fishing.
The one piece of water everyone wanted to fish in practice was Lake Veitsiluoto. The lake had been closed to everyone for well over a month so no one other than the Finland team really knew much about it. A small section of the lake was made available for practice and yes, those stocked rainbows proved to be about all there was to catch, apart from redfin perch and the occasional pike.
Once again the rainbows were all caught hard against the bank, this time in shallow bays and once again they were all 2 ½ plus pound recently stocked fish. The thing that was going to stand out about the lake was that each boat was to have oarsmen and if the wind was not blowing each boat could be moved on the oars while fishing, by no means ideal for a fair competition. This issue was raised by some teams and was promptly dismissed by the organisers.
So after an official opening ceremony, numerous captains meetings to sort out issues, official practice and other functions it was time for the competition. The afternoon before the first session was spent, tying leaders, cleaning lines, checking gear and tying flies. We had narrowed our list of flies down, however everyone seemed to have gained confidence in a few patterns that they were comfortable with. We had a final team meeting and got ready for the first session, full of anticipation and high hopes for a good result.
For the sessions everyone in the team was separated into their group of 23 anglers and traveled to their respective venues, I was off to Sector 3. My beat was about 150 metres long and about 50 metres wide, there were good rapids in sections on the beat and these were the areas to concentrate on for grayling. One hour of Czech Nymphing through some of the best water and not a touch, I was just beginning to get those nagging thoughts that maybe I was doing it wrong when I had a strong take out of a deep pocket beside a big boulder. A beautiful big grayling came up in the current and into the net, measured at 38 cm, I was on the board.
With renewed confidence I attacked the rest of the beat and finished the three hour session with 4 grayling all mid 30 cm. I thought I'd done OK, but wasn't sure, the Italian on the beat above me had caught 7 and the best was the Frenchman Yann Caleri who caught 11 fish, I ended up 5th for the session. Word filtered back that there were blanks on most sectors and it turned out that there were 34 out of the 115 competitors that blanked.
After session one, Max Vereshaka had done well with a 3rd, I had a 5th, Scott Tucker had an 8th. Australia was placed 7th overall.
Session 2 was on Sector 1, the upper region of the Simojoki. On arrival I was introduced to my controller who told me that the English angler Simon Robinson had caught 10 fish. We walked to the beat and it was a stark contrast to session 1. This beat was no more than 75 metres long, about 25 metres wide and full of cascading rapids ideal for Grayling. Through broken English Peterie my controller was able to tell me that the English angler had not been able to wade through the rapids down the middle of the river, so I was full of confidence that this could be the beat that could see me get a good result, provided I could get through the middle of the river to the untouched water on the far bank.
The session started and it didn't take long, three casts and I got my first Grayling. I didn't need to go far, in fact I was still on the bank covering water out to where I wanted to step into the bottom run so I could work my way upstream, Czech Nymphing was again the technique. I was consistently catching fish during the session, but I could also see that Yann was doing the same, I saw him land a big brown trout as well just to add a bit more pressure. There were a couple of highlights for the session, one was the look on the controllers face, and to him no doubt the look on mine, as I got washed away by the current as I was trying to come back across the river with a small grayling in the net. Although I got a bit wet, I regained my footing and made it back with a 20 cm grayling, smack dab on the minimum size for a scoring fish. (I actually think the controller gave me points for effort and entertainment with my swim down the river). Another was a grayling I caught that was 23 cm and had two very distinctive cormorant marks on it, I got this fish in the first twenty minutes and then again in the last hour from exactly the same spot.
I finished the session with 12 fish, including Mr cormorant mark-scored twice, and one last fish right on the bell. I found out Yann who had been taking plenty of fish to the controller caught 11, and no one had bettered that. I had won my session by the narrowest of margins-the 20 cm grayling that caused me a swim down the river got me in front. Max Vereshaka got a 3rd again and Scott Tucker got a 7th .
After session 2, Australia had two anglers in the top 10, Max in 4th and myself in 6th. As a team we had moved up to 5th place and were right in the hunt.
Day two of the competition was only one session, after leaving on the bus at 7 am and getting back to the hotel for dinner at 11 pm the previous day, a single session was a welcome relief. I had Sector 2 and once again hopes were high as both anglers had caught fish, 11 and 9 respectively on the beat the previous day and had each scored well.
The beat was a cross between my first two, It was about 120 metres long and about 35 metres wide. There were two good areas-a lovely rapid at the top of the beat and some more good rapids down at the bottom. My controller kindly told me that both of the previous anglers had caught all of their fish at the top of the beat and had not fished the bottom end. I started at the top of the beat as did the previous anglers and soon found out why they hadn't moved.
From the middle of the beat to the far bank was some lovely pocket water with good structure and it was full of fish. In the first 2 hours I managed to get 13 grayling, all Czech Nymphing. I then went to the bottom of the beat and got another 3, as well as losing a big fish which broke me off about 3 seconds after I set the hook in a chest deep run. There were some stocked browns in the river over 40 cm, however this thing, for the short time I had it on had massive weight and was more likely to have been an Atlantic salmon as they were running through the river at that time.
I finished the session with 16 fish and another session win, Max Vereshaka was still on fire, he got a 2nd, and Jonothan Stagg got 14th in his group. As a team we slipped one spot to 6th but were still in a very good position, even still in with a chance of a medal. As individuals we still had two anglers in the top 10, Max in 4th and I had moved just in front of him to third.
After three sessions it was apparent that the stumbling block for us was not the rivers, but the lake. Stuart Rees and Jonothan Stagg had managed to get fish on the lake but scored poorly both ending up with 17ths. Scott Tucker had blanked the lake, and on the last day Max and I who up until then had a dream run were yet to go there.
Day 3 for me started on the hardest section of the river, Sector 4. This was the lowest and therefore biggest section of the river and had proved a real challenge to most competitors. I knew that a few fish had come off my beat, twos and threes so I was still confident I could catch. When I got to the beat I knew there was a challenge ahead, this piece of water was 250 metres long and about 60 metres wide and there was good pieces of structure everywhere through it. There was a good three hours fishing just to go through the best water in it once!
The session started and so did the casting, about every 15 seconds for two hours solid and not a touch. That's about 480 casts watching for a little tweak on the leader that could make your year or or completely crush you depending on whether you have kept your focus or not. I had fished the best water maybe only had a couple of little tugs but still nothing definite in the way of a fish. Towards the tail of the beat on the far bank there were a couple of individual boulders creating pockets in an otherwise featureless glide. I was staring at a blank and 23 points against the team when under the side of the second boulder my leader straightened, I set the hook and was in. Not a little grayling this time but a brown trout about 3 lb, my heart rate tripled as this thing took off downstream. I was already on the cut off point for the beat and was not allowed to go further down so I had to play the fish back to me. After several pathetic nervous attempts to net the fish I finally managed to slide it into the net and off to the controller, a 46cm stockie brown trout, once again taken Czech Nymphing.
That was the first and last take for the three hour session. Fortunately for me the brown was the biggest of the single fish caught so I still ranked well, 6th for my group. My mate Yann, who had a beat that no fish had been caught on for the competition did what the French always do, caught a fish, so he was still right in the hunt.
On the way to session 5 at the lunch stop I bumped into Max who was coming from the lake. Max had blanked, unfortunately he had seven fish on, probably more than any other competitor in his group but every one had come off, four of them at the net.
In the 4th session Stuart Rees got a 4th, I got a 6th and Jonothan Stagg got a 14th, Australia was still holding 6th position and we were still in touch with the team medals. Unbeknown to me I had progressed to 1st individually and only needed to catch fish on the lake to be in the individual medals. So close were the scores that Max had slid from 4th to 18th with his blank.
Lake Veitsiluoto. The boats all headed out from the start point to where the fish had all been caught during the competition "In the bay with the bright orange bench seat', probably where they'd been dumped out of the truck. Our plan had been to move to where fish were caught as they were schooled up, in the early sessions this was a great plan. Unfortunately in the last session, the fish had seen that many flies that by the time one was hooked the others scattered. Individual fish were caught here and there, the Finnish angler in the group used his local knowledge wisely and caught 3 fish. Yann did the French thing again and caught 2 fish, and despite everything I threw hard in against the bank I didn't even get a pluck. So with three hours in a boat my delusions of grandeur were over. I figured I had slid right out of the back door and would be lucky to end up in the top 20 individually.
With the exception of Stuart Rees the 5th session could only be described as a disaster for Australia. Stuart had a session win landing 7 fish in his group on the river, while everyone else blanked. The mood was somewhat quiet that afternoon while we waited for the final results to be posted. Sure that Australia had slid out of the top 10 on the back of the last session.
As it was later that evening the results were quite so gloomy. French 1st, Czech Republic 2nd Finland 3rd. Australia 9th and achieving the goal of reclaiming a top 10 position in the world. Much to my surprise I managed a top 10 individual finish ending up 9th. Stuart Rees came from middle of the field to finish 30th and Max 33rd.
From a competition perspective we learned a great deal from attending the 2007 World Championships.
- Australia can match it with the more professional teams on the rivers of Europe providing the right practice is obtained prior to the event.
- While we fish lakes and are generally regarded as very good lake fishermen, stocked rainbows are a creature all to themselves. Australia only managed 2 x 17th and 3 x blanks on the lake which is very costly at the World level of competition.
- Time spent in practice is crucial in gaining the confidence needed to compete at any level of competition.
The French team all fish at least 100 days per season, while the State sponsored Czech team have to fish every day. While this is not possible for us mere mortals practice on rivers at home will still prepare you well for this sort of fishing. Attention to detail and developing methodical fishing practices makes for success.
The French are renowned for their skill at the World Fly Fishing Championships, they have won the last 3 world championships and four of their 5 anglers finished in the top 10 at this competition. When speaking to the members of the their team after the event and asking them what sets them aside, the response was pretty simple. At home they only practice hard fishing, so when you have to go onto a beat where no fish are caught it is that sort of practice that lets you find that one fish.
Australia attending the World Championships and the anglers continuing to learn valuable lessons in fly fishing only make for better fishermen here in Australia as a whole. Czech Nymphing is a very enjoyable way to fish a river and the techniques are relatively easy to adopt providing you can pick up the basics. Hopefully more fly fishermen here will learn these techniques and also consider giving competition fishing a go. The camaraderie you get and the improving you can do in your personal fly fishing is good reward for the time spent fishing a competition.