The Beginning of My Fly Fishing Days
From that point on I was invested, I went to a Trout Unlimited clinic where I really got hooked on all of the different techniques to fool those finicky fish. Eventually my mother found a flyer for a United States Youth Fly Fishing clinic. That is where I really learned the art from some of the best fly fisherman in the U.S. It was like nothing I had done before. It took me all across the country and even to Ireland.
It was much more of a finesse technique than anything I had ever done before. The casts I needed to learn and the confidence to be able to place incredibly small imitations into small current seams was something that required months of practice. I also had to learn an entire new aquatic world full of insects, currents, and understanding trout behavior. Those aspects were the easiest part of competitive fly fishing though. The hardest part was being able to adapt to your assigned beat, or section of water you’re assigned too. Handling the immense amounts of pressure with people watching you while trying to use the given three hours as efficiently as possible was daunting.
The Ins and Outs of Competitive Fly Fishing
The competition itself is made up of a certain number of sessions, usually five. Before these sessions begin, there is a beat draw where each angler is assigned five random beats on the sections of stream or different venues. Each angler is then randomly placed into smaller groups, these are the anglers you directly fish against. So, you don’t really fish against everyone. You fish directly against the people in your group, and then are scored after the session against everyone.
Each group then rotates through the different venues, whether they are lakes or streams. After the first session, the fishing gets tougher and tougher because someone is constantly fishing the water you then have to fish during each session. They simply and randomly rotate anglers through the sections, they don’t change them after every session.
So, you constantly have to try to outsmart the fish and be aware of the fact that other anglers have already fished that water.
This makes the best water worse and worse and the “less desirable”, or ugly water, better and better. Pre-fishing had to be for as many possible fly patterns or techniques as possible. The patterns used were all hand tied on barbless hooks and made up four categories, dry flies, nymphs, wet flies and streamers. However, nymphs, which imitate the aquatic portion of an insect’s life, were used around 90% of the time. So, for the most part it was all about finding the right imitation and the action that the fish were keying in on, whether it was dead drifting it in current seams or jigging them.
Using these patterns, the main goal was to catch as many scorable sized fish as possible, eight-inches or 20cm. The total amount of centimeters is then tallied up to see how you placed in your individual group. The groups are ranked in placing points, 1 being the best.. If you do not catch any fish, also known as blanking, then you get the highest amount of placing points based on the number of competitors. The least amount of placing points at the end wins. This is how you are ranked overall, through placing points and then fish points. Fish points are individually assigned per centimeter, on a one to one ratio. If it is a tie in placing points, then you go to fish points to determine the victor.
How This Level of Fly Fishing Competition Helped My Transition to Bass Fishing
One of the biggest experiences from competing at a national level, which has helped me in my bass fishing career, has been the competitive mindset that allows you to handle the tough decision making that goes on in those stressful on the water situations. Being able to put aside the part of you that’s nervous and silence that little voice in the back of your head that keeps saying what could go wrong and just use your instincts to put fish in the net is critical.
This is often where problems arise with newer anglers. When things don’t go exactly how you planned them out, which they never do, then you have to keep your cool and adapt to the situation. Even when you hook a fish you need to stay calm and work efficiently to put it in the boat. Many people go through the work to find the fish, get them to eat, and finally get them to the boat to knock them off with the net.
While competing I had to net 8-20-inch trout on line that ranged from 2-5 pound test.
It really taught me how to play fish out properly and get them in the net. Being around rivers as much as I was, I also picked up the idea that all fish relate to current how to pinpoint areas that have potential feeding lanes where fish will stack up. This can really come into play on large river systems and even in areas that aren’t expected to have current. The wind on most lakes can add current into the mix which can really affect how fish position on all kinds of structure.
One of the biggest things that gets overlooked by new anglers is just having the weight of the rod and reel in your hand for hours and hours a day. Most of the techniques we use in fly fishing require a lot of endurance in your shoulder and forearms. This endurance helps you stay focused on catching fish and being ready to get bit at any moment instead of trying to reposition the rod to rest your arm. When you have to reposition the rod it’s almost like the fish know it. As soon as you have it in a position that is awkward to set the hook, bang you get hit, but you’re not ready and not used to the positioning. Constantly thinking on every cast that you’re going to get bit is crucial in a tournament setting.
Efficiency on New Bodies of Water
Also, being able to be efficient with the allotted time. Making good decision, practicing knots, knowing how to keep gear to make it easily accessible, rigging up rods with the right equipment, etc. All of these things cut down on wasted time to allow your bait to be in the water as long as possible. Towards the end of my fly-fishing career, the fly-fishing world was starting to lean more into lake style fishing competitions.
I had competed on a few different lakes and done very well for the little experience I had.
All of the lakes were smaller and weren’t as hard to put a plan together. The real challenge was figuring out what retrieves to do to get those fish to eat my flies. It was a big part of starting to get my mind into trying to help map out fish on a larger scale though. Even though the lakes we fish now can sometimes be considered inland oceans, the experience I gained from practicing on ponds and small lakes helped to make the decisions on how to break down water efficiently.
What I had to Learn During the Transition
Many people think that all fishing is related and they all overlap. I’m here to tell you they do to a degree, but they are not even close to the same thing. It was very difficult going from knowing the fish were in this 200-yard stretch of water to trying to figure out an entire lake. This is where the transition was tough going. From trying to figure out what the fish are eating, to having to now focus more on trying to find the fish. When I was gearing up for a competition I never worried about where the fish were, they were trapped in whatever river or stream I happened to be fishing. I merely had to figure out the how to catch them.
I now have to focus on the how, where, and why they are where they are. This was a big part of the game that I didn’t fully understand until I started bass fishing. Trying to take a couple of bites and trying to use the area, temperature, structure and time of year to help take massive bodies of water and make them smaller.
Another challenge during the transition was going from trying to catch as many fish as possible during a session, to trying to catch the five biggest fish I possibly could. That takes some getting used to, because you might be getting 100 bites a day, but if they are all 1.5 pounds, then you’re not bringing home any trophies.
So, it took a lot of getting used to going from feeling like a king catching 50 eight-inch fish a session, to getting five big bites all day.
Changing the Gear I Use
What was also tough, but my favorite part in the transition, was going from 2-5 pound test to fishing with 15 pound on average and then even using 65 pound braid. I was really comfortable with a spinning rod in my hand, but now I had to get used to using a baitcaster and using heavy line. There were many days where I just picked up a rod and a small container and just casted for an hour or so a day. I never really used the reel while fly-fishing for anything other than a line holder.
The rod was the important piece, now the rod and reel were both vital for all kinds of different techniques. Before, I could use one rod and leader setup for most of my techniques, now I needed dozens of different rods and reels to try and have the best advantage for each technique. I was used to having a quick sharp hookset and playing fish and now I am ripping lips to flip them into the boat ASAP.
Getting used to really setting the hook and pulling those fish in as fast as possible was interesting but definitely more exciting.
I also had to learn the knots that held up the best under this kind of pressure. I hadn’t really had any experience with braided line up until I got involved in bass fishing. There were a lot of mornings where I would wake up before work and sit in front of the TV just working on getting new knots tied faster and better.
Going From Standing in a Stream to the Deck of a Boat
Another big thing that I had to learn was everything boat related. If I wanted to reposition my casts in fly fishing, I would just move my feet or my arm. I looked at running a boat as something anyone can do and I was very wrong. It takes practice to get the feel for running a trolling motor, how to maneuver to get the proper angles, and how to set up on different spots in different weather conditions. Especially when trying to make precise casts while putting the boat in position, or if you break off, catch a fish, etc. There is a lot more going on that takes some time and practice to get used to than meets the eye. There are the problems that every boat eventually has, over time you have to learn the tools you need and how to fix everything you possibly can on the fly.
Overall, the transition was tough and is still ongoing, but the learning curve is my favorite part of the game. Knowing you are on the right fish and on something no one else is on is an amazing feeling. So for anyone out there going through a transition from one game to another, stick with it and put the time in.