“A tough day on a remote backcountry river, an entire day without a fish and almost succumbing to a blank day, by sticking to, and believing in the processes learnt through competition and systematically breaking down the water, this fish of the season for Cory came to the net on the end of his #3 Rod. Proving even competition techniques can be utilised in our backcountry environments.”
Competition fly-fishing isn’t for everyone, you are up not only against the fish, but other anglers, the clock, and a designated/restricted area that just may not be to your liking, yet you have to make the most of what you are given, maximize the water you’re dealt, and attempt to pull fish out of already fished water by way of different techniques and approaches. The competition angler is constantly in search of development, and each and every competition session is a learning exercise in itself, therefore by immersing one’s self in the realm of competitive fly fishing much can be learnt that you can amplify in your everyday fishing to ultimate increase your chances of catching fish.
After seven years of dedicated competition seasons, 8 National Titles and four World Championships here are three takeaways that I have learnt by way of competition fishing that I use in my everyday approach to my fishing adventures.
Restricted by time during competition means everything you do during that session, you do as quickly as possible and as efficiently as possible from wading, to tying knots and changing flies. Now when I’m everyday fishing backcountry I am utilizing those skills to fish the water I have faster, more methodically, which results in more water covered, more chances at hooking up the dream fish. While many anglers seek time on the water to relax and unwind, and take in the purity of the scene, there are many times when I am exactly like this, but ultimately we all head out to catch fish and by using your time constructively that creates opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise come across.
Systemizing Your Approach
I am a big believer in a systematic approach and covering water in a pattern like grid. Most anglers I meet on the water see a typical pool, know there is more than likely a fish swinging up there in the head and they go straight for the jugular and throw out a big presentation straight up the middle of the pool, this eliminates the chance of picking up other fish that lie in different feeding zones throughout the pool, while this mainly applies to blind fishing runs and pocket water, this approach can also be applied to sight fishing the clearest of rivers with low populations of resident fish, except you will use your eyes to systematically check over the pool instead of presenting a drift in each zone. The majority of anglers in NZ nymph fishing are presenting a dead drift by way of indicator / nymph or dry / nymph rigs. A fish’s feeding behaviour ultimately decides how successful our day will be and fish are not always taking the dead drift. By systemizing your approach you become consistent in how you target water, and this will become habit. You will vary drifts and patterns will always emerge over a short period that can effectively speed up how you approach the water for a period or rest of the day. For example you may have just delivered eight perfect drag-free-drifts down a run, convinced there is nothing there you move on and as you begin to walk you drag your nymphs which swing across or up through the current and you hook up! You repeat this again the next few drifts and hello it happens again, this is the action the fish want on that particular day. Therefore rather than nymphing you are probably better off swinging flies on a wetline across and down. If we persist with flogging the one technique all day we are leaving the door closed on opportunities. As they say 10% of the fishermen catch 90% of the fish, but I would like to add from my experiences in guiding and watching others on NZ waters only 10% of the fishermen are fishing 90% of the water effectively.
Like all sports, the refinement of techniques and technology advances in gear comes from the top competitive realm and trickles down into the general population. Competition requires fish to be landed fast, and effectively, so that not only is time saved, but the fish is well looked after. I spent most of my younger years flogging rivers around the North Island with the same 8/9 weight that most of us hammered with for years. Then I found the #6 and for the most part this was the only rod I needed. Once I began competing, having to follow other anglers and catch fish that had possibly already seen a fly and were hesitant to take, this meant lighter tippets had to be used sometimes as fine as 2.8 pound on a typical 3-5 pound kiwi trout. To do this effectively you have to use lighter rods designed to protect tippet, but by way of refining my rod angles and letting this technology work for me, it is amazing how big a fish can be landed on light gear in heavy water, in a minimal amount of time. I remember my early days, taking a full ten minutes to land a Tongariro rainbow on 8 pound tippet on a #8 rod and thinking how powerful these fish were. Once I refined my techniques which can be passed on, but really only mastered through time on the water and constant repetition, I now land the same fish in the same runs on the same river in less than one minute on a #3 rod and 4 pound tippet. In addition to that I have learnt to read the river better from these experiences, and often I have already determined where I am going to land a fish before I even cast my first presentation, and by utilizing rod and body angles I am able to do this consistently, meaning less fish lost to a raging current, log, or being wrapped around boulders on the other side of the river.