As the awareness of fly fishing competitions increases, so is the controversy about their very existence increasing in North America. Regular readers will know that I have competed a couple of times in the Canadian Fly Fishing Championships; the first time in 2006 when it was held on the Grand and Conestogo Rivers near Fergus, ON and then again in 2007 when held on lakes north of Grande Prairie, Alberta. The second competition was completely stillwater venues and that was a type of fly fishing I had not done much of so there was a bit of a learning curve.
The controversy about fly fishing competitions seems to focus around what many fly anglers call the “purity” of fly fishing. Or, about whether it’s as “enjoyable” as some time in solitude on a river in a non-competition environment. Recently, I’ve come across to articles discussing fly fishing competitions and would like to answer some of the objections that have come up.
The first article I came across was by the About.com fly fishing guide, Brian Milne. He writes,
“And when it comes to fly fishing, I personally like to get away from competition, the hustle and bustle, and the pressures of the real world, so I’m not sure I’ll ever enter a tournament. There’s just something to be said for getting away from it all and spending some quality time on a backcountry lake or stream that’s hours away from the rigors of everyday life.
Brian also links to this article in the Denver Post, which is entitled “Fly-fishing tournament raises bar along with questions.” It’s an interesting article and well worth the read. Some of the comments on the article however, are very negative towards fly fishing competitions. One commenter, “Denverclimber,” posted:
“This is SO bogus it’s absolutely unbelievable!
It’s a way to put money into the sponsor’s, participant’s and representative’s pockets… forget about the ‘competitive sport’ of fly-fishing… this is absolutely ridiculous.
To read about this ‘competition’, make the ‘sages’ and anyone else, who truly enjoys the beauty of fly fishing… totally cringe at this weird so-called competition!”
It’s interesting to me that some fly anglers feel so strongly about being against fly fishing competitions, and probably have never actually been involved or witnessed one. As far as Brian Milne’s thoughts about getting away from the hustle and bustle and therefore a competition is something he is unlikely to ever try, the fact of the matter is that although there is some pressure on an angler in a competition, the ones I’ve entered and been involved with were not that much different an experience than going out on a river on my own, or getting into a boat with a friend.
On the Grand and Conestogo Rivers, there were sections of the rivers that were divided into “beats.” These sections were generally quite long, and only two anglers were assigned to each beat. A coin toss would decide which angler chose the upper or lower half of the beat, and then half way through the three hour session, the anglers would switch halves. On some of these beats, I never saw the other competitor until the half time of the session when we switched.
Perhaps those who have strong feelings against fly fishing competitions have a vision of a bunch of fly anglers all standing together, thrashing at the water. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In the stillwater competition in Grand Prairie, there were several different lakes that were part of the venues. The numbers of competitors were limited in order to ensure no over crowding and the ability to divide up the number of anglers and transport them to the different lakes. So while one group would be off to Moonshine Lake, another group would be off to Spring Lake, while yet another to Kakut Pond (which was stillwater fly fishing from the bank). In other words, not all of the 80 or so competitors were descending upon one lake all at once. As well, the rules are very strict and the boats that contain two anglers each, must remain a specified distance away from each other.
Sure, there is the pressure to catch fish, and sometimes the conditions are tough. When the competition was held in Fergus, ON, for the three straight days the sun was blazing hot, there was on cloud cover, and the temperatures soared into the 90’s with a high humidex level. The competition sessions consisted of two three-hour sessions (one in the morning, the next in the afternoon) for the first two days, and then one single three hour session on the third day.
In Grande Prairie in contrast, there was snow on the ground a couple of mornings when we arrived at the lakes.
The competitions I have been involved in use the very strict Fips-Mouche rules and regulations which govern everything from what is a legal fly, to how far each fly must be away from each other if a multi-fly set up is allowed in the jurisdiction where the competition is being held, to even the maximum size of a bead on the fly.
In my experience, not only did I make some great friendships during those competitions which have continued to this day, I learned so much that has helped me become a better fly angler overall. The sharing of knowledge is one of the things that really impressed me, amongst the competitors. Even though it is a competition, it is held in the “Olympic Spirit,” and competitors can be found actually helping each other out. No one wants to “blank” during a session, and there are occasions where I found a competitor giving me some tips when I was not doing so well – and if I was with a competitor that had not done well, but I had caught fish, I could whisper a tip or two or help put him in a position where he or she might have a better opportunity to catch at least one fish and not “blank” the session.
As far as comments about lining sponsor’s pockets with money, this again is not true either. These competitions also have another objective – to raise awareness about conservation issues in the area of where the competition is being held. There are seminars and speakers who discuss problems and solutions to conservation related challenges.
I am not familiar with the USA Fly Fishing Championships, but here in Canada, there are fund raising activities such as auctions with the goal of raising money to help the Canadian Youth Fly Fishing Team and to promote fly fishing in general to youths.
I would hope that those who feel strongly about being against fly fishing competitions might take a second look at them, find out what really happens, and the benefits that have come about as a result including the promotion of the sport as well as helping to advance conservation objectives.
Your comments of course, are very welcome.
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