I guess a bear sloshed through the American's beat to interrupt some hot fishing.... Just plain bad luck.
Youth fly fishing tourney was a great success
Competitive fishing is fun but, then again, maybe it isn't.
I witnessed a lot of laughs and camaraderie during the FIPS-Mouche Youth World Fly Fishing Championships, which was staged on four area waters last week. The friendliness grew as the competitors got to know one another.
Tournament co-chairman John Ford said the longer the competitors were together, the more comfortable they were being around each other.
"The change was really evident when the kids interacted with each other on the buses," Ford said. "On the first day they pretty much kept to themselves as they nervously awaited their time on the water. By the third day they were talking, laughing and sharing scores and fishing techniques."
Although the young anglers relaxed on the buses and in the hotel, they were all business on the water. One Day 1, I watched as Vit Pavlacky of the Czech Republic fished his beat on Spring Creek. He worked slowly, but methodically, up his allotted 175 meters of stream, catching seven scoring trout and several smaller fish.
Was seven a good score? He had no way of knowing how the other anglers were doing. When he reached the upper end of his beat, he scrambled up the bank and took off like a jackrabbit -- running the entire length of his beat to finish the final 30 minutes by starting again at the bottom of his section. Sprinting 175 meters is no small feat while wearing chest waders and suffering in the hot, humid air. The dash paid off -- he caught one more trout, to finish with eight.
Fishing was going well farther downstream for Adam Picketts, from Team USA-1. He had five measurable trout when he heard a loud noise and was surprised to see a large bear splashing across the stream in front of him, scaring all of the trout. He didn't catch another fish.
Feeling the weight of his team's favored status, French angler Bastien Femenia became frustrated because little went well fishing his section of Spring Creek. Femenia caught one trout.
Pavlacky finished first in the first session and earned the coveted single point. Picketts took second on this venue and Femenia tied for eighth. Of the 50 anglers, spread out on four waters, 10 caught no fish at all during the first session.
With a first-place finish on the Little Juniata River, Picketts had fished his way into the fifth spot by Wednesday at noon. This gave him a good chance for the bronze medal. Meanwhile, Pavlacky was second and Femenia was 23rd. The top five teams (in order) were Czech Republic, France, England, USA-1 and Slovakia. Only one point separated the top two teams. Team USA-1 had high hopes to medal. The stage was set for a classic finish.
This served as the prelude to the final session, where I worked as a volunteer controller on Fishing Creek, near Lamar. All of the team and individual medal positions were up for grabs.
Sector judge John Novalis assigned me to beat No. 3, a nice section of this mountain limestone stream. I had surveyed the limits of my beat and garnered the necessary equipment -- a clipboard, score sheet, pen and measuring tray -- before the anglers arrived. I was surprised when Picketts stepped off the bus and was assigned to beat 3. I was also a little nervous because I knew how much was on the line for Picketts and Team USA-1. I did not want to drop any fish before it could be measured and recorded.
Bastian Femenia was assigned to the neighboring beat 4. I could feel the pressure like a 100-pound weight. I am certain that Picketts could feel it, too.
Picketts set up camp under a big white pine and rigged up one rod with a double taper fly line, a long tapered leader and a small beetle imitation. He rigged a second rod with three nymphs -- a zebra midge, a #20 red devil and a bead-head green weenie -- the small fly that worked so well for him that morning on the Little Juniata River. He worried over his third choice, the red devil. All flies were barbless and rigged according to FIPS-Mouche rules, with no external weight.
I wondered about the kneepads that he wore over his chest waders, but it was soon evident that he would spend most of the three hours on his knees, practically lying down in the cool water.
Picketts started with the beetle dry fly and, after only seven minutes of fishing, he hooked and nearly landed a nice brown trout. He switched to the nymph rig and was rewarded with a small brown of 180 mm, not long enough to score. Just four minutes later, he had another undersized brown trout, both caught on the green weenie.
Twenty minutes, a second rod switch and about 140 casts later, Picketts had another brown trout. It measured 232 mm. Score one for Picketts. Fifteen minutes passed, and I was measuring a third undersized brown trout.
After that flurry of trout activity, Picketts would fish with intense concentration and an extreme feeling of urgency for an additional two hours and four minutes without catching another trout. Hopes for a personal bronze medal vanished, and I am sure that he felt the weight of responsibility for his team's chances, too.
For the record, Picketts made as many as 12 short, deliberate casts per minute and averaged seven per minute. He frequently sprinted back to the big white pine to change rods. Picketts made approximately 1,260 casts to land one scoring fish. Does this sound like fun or work?
The tables were turned. Femenia recovered well from his opening day performance. His flies landed six scoring trout, and he ranked first. His score helped place the French team one point ahead of the Czech Republic for the gold medal. Pavlacky caught only one scoring brown trout, but it was longer than Picketts' fish and placed him at 7.
Surely, Picketts would have preferred a different ending but he did finish as the top-ranked U.S. angler. Picketts could not control the size of trout that hit his flies. Considering the final ranking -- USA-1 was fourth in the team race -- any U.S. angler catching one more trout or a slightly bigger fish in any session could have brought a medal home for the American team. Had the bear sloshed through the French angler's beat instead of Picketts', the U.S. might have medalled. It was that close. Team 2 finished seventh, which was extremely good for a group of anglers who had not fished competitively before.
I congratulate all of the anglers from both American teams. They turned in a great performance. It was an honor to have this event in central Pennsylvania. Ford's outstanding efforts and the work of more than 100 volunteers were necessary for this to happen.
The FIPS-Mouche Championship also served as a showcase for our streams. The anglers saw more trout in one session than they had previously seen in entire five-session championships. The French captain, in broken English, summed it up well.
"I love your streams," he said with a broad smile. "They were difficult to fish -- but difficult is good."
It was the kind of smile that blossoms when your team brings home the gold.