The top four winners of the USA Fly Fishing Comp.

From Guest Blogger: Rich Redman

Hurricane Irene may have torn up Essex County (NY) roads and some of the rivers, but even after all the flooding and destruction, the West Branch of the Ausable is still a haven for fly fishing. The floodplains and wetlands, along with the rock and boulder habitat are still home to stream bugs and trout. Those same attributes saved the river from destruction, protecting the banks and allowing the waters to rise and recede naturally. The upper river is still wild and free!

A few weeks ago, the USA North Regional Fly Fishing Team was competing in Wilmington and Lake Placid, NY. The top fly fishing competitors of this event move on, with the potential to compete nationally and internationally on the USA team against other countries like Czechoslovakia. This little known competition brings in the best from across the country. I was privileged to work with guys from Montana, Virginia, Philadelphia and a fellow from Toronto, Canada.

The 24 fly fishing guys and gals in the event each had a controller assigned to them. Working as a controller, my job was to make sure the guys followed all the rules of the event. My duty list included checking the leader length, dropper flies, no split shot rule, keeping fly fishers within the beat and maintaining start and end times. I also measured each fish caught to the nearest centimeter which was then recorded and reported in at the end of each morning and afternoon session.

The event was broken down into 4 sections – fly fishing from a boat on Mirror Lake, fly fishing the lake from shore, and fly fishing two different river sections. This allowed the competitors to showcase their expertise in the different fly fishing waters. Each section had 6 beats, or areas marked out that the fisherman was to work in. Flagging was placed along the stream, and marked so the folks knew the upper and lower ends of each 100 yard beat. The 24 fly fishing guys and gals had to fish a beat in each section once for a 3 hour period. Rotating allowed each person to fish each section over the two day event. Expertise is an understatement. Being a stream guy, I requested to work the stream sections.

For two days I watched the best fly flickers there are. Using 10 foot, 3 weight nymph rods, with 20 foot maximum leaders, and dropper flies, these guys slinked over and around boulders, through deep holes and fished every potential hot spot for trout over each 3 hour period. Every fish that was caught was brought to the controller, measured, species recorded, and then released. As Lee Wulff once said, “Game fish are too valuable to only be caught once”. I was privileged to work with 4 great guys who taught me well. They shared their expertise, and every once in a while I could chime in with a thought or two about fishing the beat.

My first morning beat was with Kim Rood of Toronto, Canada. Loop fly fishing equipment was his sponsor, supplying equipment and enabling him to get to this event. Kim was used to fishing limestone calm waters and looked up at me once and said after falling in and getting soaked in the cold boulder and deep scour cut hole, “this is ugly”. The boulder pocket water of the Ausable, with holes, pockets, cuts and channels was new to this fisherman. However, he stayed on fishing with the endurance of an Olympic athlete, never giving in. He fished with the intensity and concentration of a surgeon, knifing his way through the vital pockets looking for fish.

The afternoon beat was with Andy Szofran of Red Lodge, Montana. Andy used a 10 foot rod, with an older Berkley “clicker” reel. By the afternoon, the waters had warmed up a few degrees and the bugs were starting to come off the water. Caddis and a few mayflies were hatching and the action picked up. Andy caught his first one, a 15 inch Brown Trout on a squirrel tail nymph, which is now stuck on my fishing hat, a trophy from the day. Every fisherman loves a hot nymph! Slinging nymphs and side stepping slimy boulders was the prescription of the day.

Day two’s morning beat, was with Sean Crocker of the Philly PA area. The morning round started at 8:00 am. Sean caught his first Rainbow at 8:04am. Not a bad start. Sean used a red and yellow sighter to help see strikes. By 9:05 the black flies were starting to come out, but there were only a few. I would personally find out a few days later that they would be insane!

Roe Bear Humston cropThe afternoon session took me to another section. This beat was down steam of the Whiteface Ski area. This time I was with Robert Humston of Virginia. He spells and pronounces his name “Roe Bear” due to his mother’s French heritage. After chatting a while, I discovered he grew up a few miles from where I did, in Western NY. (Out there we would call him BOB.) Roe Bear is a fisheries biologist so we got to talk science nerd stuff and conservation; it was good. Robert was the Stealth Warrior of the bunch. He had his own style and it was something to see him maneuver around the boulders and pockets. He was slow and methodical, I nick named him the “Stealth Warrior”! Roe Bear placed 4th at the end of the event.

Each one of these guys is a great fisherman, some did better than others, but much of the time it was the time of day, water temperature, and the beat you were on. Some beats were better than others, and it didn’t matter who you were, the fishing was poorer. Many of the guys slipped and fell, got wet and kept on going. One fellow fell 5 times during the first session, but he was into fish and it didn’t matter. Some got skunked, it happens. I called it, “3 hours of humbling hell”. Even the best have reality checks once in a while. When it was all over, the top four guys were; 1st place –Hunter Enloe, 2nd place – Cam Chioffi, 3rd place – Michael Bradley and 4th place – Robert “RoeBear” Humston, my western NY buddy!

At times during the event I realized that I can do much of what these guys did, I slip and fall once in a while, stumble on the slippery rocks, lose flies in rocks and brush, and get that lost in the head light look while staring into a fly box, contemplating what to throw out next. The only difference is that they catch more fish than I usually do. That’s why they are competitive fishing, and I am watching! I got to learn a few of the tricks of the trade, see slinky’s and strickers being used in different ways, and see how each guy has his own style. For me, it was a learning experience that I am grateful for. My fishing hat is full of bead head nymphs as souvenirs, and I got to meet some great people.

Wilmington and Lake Placid are now imbedded in these guys fly fishing souls; they love it here. Some will be back, and I hope to meet some of them on their home turf. Who could resist a trip to Canada, Virginia, Pennsylvania and especially Montana? Looks like I may have a road trip to plan out next year for some Rocky Mountain fly fishing! Maybe Denton Publications will cover my trip; I’ll write articles and take photos of the trip for you!

Fly fishing marketing along with the fishing itself is now in my blood. Maybe I can find some fly fishing company to sponsor me. Now that would be cool! The local sponsor for this event was Evan and Caitlin Bottcher of “THE HUNGRY TROUT” in Wilmington NY, along with UMPQUA, Sage, Smith Optics and the Loon Outdoors Company. The West Branch of the Ausable is a jewel, and like a diamond, our area glitters and shines during these events. This was the second fly fishing tournament this spring in Lake Placid and Wilmington. The towns and local businesses have done a great job supporting these events and we need to support them county wide. The Ausable River is known nationally as a great Fly Fishing Trout Stream, and I am happy to be part of it, market it and promote it! While you’re out cruising around the county enjoying life, support the local business in Wilmington, The Hungry Trout, the Two Fly Shop, along with local motels and food joints.

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