THE venues for the 28th FIPS Mouche World Flyfishing Championships in New Zealand were three rivers - the Whanganui, the Waihou and the Waimakariri, as well as Lakes Otamangakau; known as the Big "O" and Rotoaira.
The Hardy Greys England team comprised of myself, Howard Croston, Mick Tinnion, Simon Robinson and Andrew Dixon, with Ian Greenwood our manager.
Some rivers were low due to the worst drought in 100 years, but with another six inches of water in them, we would have struggled to stand up; let alone fish! We were allowed practice on two small stretches of the Waihou and Whanganui rivers, but no practice at all on the Waimakariri or either lake. This was annoying, as Rotoaira is bigger than Rutland and the Big 'O' is fished extensively and can handle the pressure. Still, we figured the host nation wanted a bit of home advantage. And who could blame them?
THE minimum fish size for all venues was 18cm so anything bigger was our target fish. For the first 10 days we practised on the Whanganui river and its sister the Whakapapa. Both produced masses of quality rainbows and browns - some so big you simply couldn't control them. The stuff of dreams!
Our first practice afternoon on the Waihou, saw Howard and I catch 126 fish, but half that failed to measure 18cm. Occasionally though, we'd hook something that disappeared down river like an express train; smashing your tippet like cotton!
The Whanganui was an altogether different proposition. Very few fish failed to measure 18cm and many were well over 31b. It was vital to fish strong tippet material here and even more important to use strong hooks. Many flies tied in advance were on lightweight barbless hooks and these were simply no match for any wild trout over 2lb.
AS practice was denied on the two match lakes, we drove around them. Access was impossible apart from where the boats would be launched. What's more, the locals were tight-lipped about tactics. Obviously, the New Zcalanders were familiar with the lakes, but the Australians, French, Americans and some of the Canadian team had practised before the lakes were officially closed to competitors. We were at a disadvantage. Whoever drew the lakes on the first day would have to fish out of their skin, then feed back as much information as possible to the team.
Both match lakes were choked with Canadian pondweed with trout rumoured to live in the deeper channels within these wecdbeds. The locals normally anchor and fish big dry fly 'bungs' with nymphs suspended beneath. In fact, this was the way many people fished the rivers as well - particularly the big rivers like the Tongariro. The indicator flies were huge, but they do have to hold up some seriously heavy nymphs in a strong, swirling current.
Our two practice sessions on Lake Kuratau produced dozens of trout mainly rainbows with a few browns. We looked for areas with large weedbeds and avoided the obvious fish-holding places like sunken trees and structure, as neither of the match lakes had any.
Fish came on floating and slime lines, with Damsels and nymphs, but a switch to Di-3 lines really got amongst them. Although nymphs produced a few trout, they preferred larger Damsels, Black Taddies and Black Boobies. The Booby was our main top dropper fly when it came to the match lakes. Leaders had to be strong, a minimum of 81b fluorocarbon was required to 'hit and hold' these powerful trout before they weeded themselves.
THE last time I was in New Zealand, we had awful problems sourcing good tying materials. Bringing any fur and feather into the country is fraught with problems, as the customs will probably confiscate the lot. Thankfully, Peter Veniard agreed to sponsor the team with all our tying materials and these were delivered through the strict customs security and awaiting our arrival.
Having fished the southern hemisphere before, I expected trout to want a decent mouthful — and I wasn't wrong either. Even a small trout would greedily wolf-down a large Hare's Ear Nymph on the river in fast water. Many took size 8 Sparklers with no hesitation as they often fed hard on smelt - a small freshwater fish similar to a bleak.
Dry fly had its moments on the rivers, particularly when used in conjunction with nymphs. When we had the official practice on Lake Kuratau or Lake Aniwhenua, the Damsel was a killing pattern, along with the ever-faithful Black Lure. I'd used Black Boobies to devastating effect on the wild rainbows and browns of Canada, Australia and Tasmania - these had the same impact on New Zealand lake trout.
Size was important on the two smaller rivers, as was finer tippet material. Copper tungsten bcadhead flies were the order of the day, with small Pheasant Tail variants and Stripped Quill nymphs proving irresistible. Bog standard Goldhead Hare's Ears also produced and we caught so many fish with these three patterns, we were almost certain they would work in the match on fresh fish.
Day 1 - Session 1 — The Whanganui River
WHEN I arrived, a huge crane was dragging massive rocks out of the river and using them to construct a jetty. Surely this would not affect my beat, which was about half a mile downstream?
My controller said the river was good here, but the river was filthy! This was the first time since I'd been in New Zealand that the water wasn't crystal clear. The crane was still working.
The controllers were doing their best to stop the dredging, which had coloured the water putting downstream beats at a huge disadvantage.
My beat had far too much water to cover effectively in three hours. So I started at a lovely fast run, close to the end of my section.
At the signal to start, I dropped my three-fly 'trio' cast into the tail of the run. I had a dry Sedge on the top dropper and four-feet below that a Copper Headed Mary and a slightly bigger Mary four-feet below that. Four casts later my dry fly dipped under and I struck into a cracking rainbow that jumped three times and then freed itself! During the next 40 minutes, I hooked and lost another three fish.
The crane had stopped dredging for the day and the river was just beginning to clear. So I started again at the bottom of my beat, gradually wading upstream. After 45 minutes I took my first fish to my controller. By 10am I'd measured three fish. With two hours left in my session, I set myself a target of 10 fish.
During the next two hours I fished the best session of my entire life. At one stage, I was measuring a trout every four minutes - all taken from the other side of the river and it took me a minute to wade across each time.
Having measured 10 fish, I set myself a goal of 15, and so on. By the time I got to 25 trout, my target had become 30 fish - and I couldn't have dreamt of that number a couple of hours ago! I finished the session with 28 trout and that was more than enough to win the section.
Day 2 - Session 3 — Lake Rotoaira
I CHOSE a Di-3 line with 15 feet of 8lb Rio Fluoroflex leader and three flies. Top dropper was a Green-bodied Black Booby, with an unweighted Dirty Damsel in the middle and a Copper Head Green Damsel on the point.
We'd been told to fish the holes in the weed, but why not fish the deeper water that surrounds the weedbeds? That's what I did. Within five casts I landed my first rainbow of about 41b. Due to the weed, we knew we had to 'hook and hold', requiring confidence in rod, leader and hooks.
Tactics were to cast a decent line - Airflo 40+ Expert Di-3 - then count down for 10 seconds. Two fish took on the drop. A figure-of-eight retrieve was employed; then the flies were hanged at the end of the retrieve for about five seconds for each fly. Four fish took on the hang. I lost only one fish and missed three other takes.
Four fish took the Booby, three took the middle dropper Damsel and three took the point fly Damsel. My tactics of avoiding the weedbeds - and the other boats - had worked. I set my drift behind the other boats and could see everything that was happening, so I knew I was doing okay.
On arriving back at the jetty, my 10 fish had won that session.
Day 2 - Session 4 — Lake Otamangakau
MICK had taken lour fish on the Big 'O' from a specific weed channel. He'd also lost some big fish in the weed. Slime line was best for him, but we agreed that I should start with what had worked for me on Rotoaira.
But, trying to locate any clear water on the Big 'O' was a nightmare - the conditions were cloudy, we could not see through the water. We also realised that in New Zealand, cloud and wind puts fish off the feed - quite the opposite to northern hemisphere fishing.
"Unwittingly, I was in first place overall and fishing to be World Champion in my last session"
For 30 minutes I hooked nothing but weed. But I watched a Swede catch two fish close to the shore, pulling a slime line, so I sped over to cover his drift. I had to fish much faster and started to get pulls from small trout, but I couldn't get them to stick. So I switched to a slime line and put a Black Straggle Fritz Taddy on the point, kept the Damsel on the dropper and, due to the weed, discarded the top dropper completely. At the end of one retrieve I had a cracking take on the hang and bullied a near 5lb rainbow into the net!
I repeated the drift several times and 'bumped' a few fish. Then the sun came out and, feeling that the fish were higher in the water, I discarded the Damsel pattern and changed to a lighter Black Diawl Bach Nymph. First cast, I hit another good rainbow on the Diawl Bach. I'd cracked it ... or so I thought. 1 never had another take.
With one hour left, I gambled for the team's sake. Switching to a floater and three nymphs, I fished for 15 minutes without a take, but in this time a couple offish had risen. Mick had told me they rose in the morning when it was sunny, so I gambled again, with dries. Drifting, I fished these for 15 minutes. Nothing.
With 30 minutes to go, we moved to the other side of the lake where there was a deep channel. I changed to the Airflo 40+ Expert Slime line again with my Diawl Bach and Black Lure combination. First drift across I hit a fish and what a fish - 68.9 cm.
Soon afterwards I caught a 22cm trout and lost two more at the net. I finished with four fish and that big one had helped me beat two anglers who had five trout. I now had two firsts and a fourth placing me in first place overall with two more sessions left.
More importantly, England were in third place, just two place points ahead of the French, so our brief for the final day was beat the French and we would get a bronze medal at least.
Day 3 - Session 5 — Waimakariri River
THE last two sessions are always the hardest. There have been three of the world's top anglers fishing hard for nine hours before you and, believe me, they often fish every single inch of water.
Controllers cannot enter the water once the session starts, so I had to decide on which bank I wanted him to stand.
I directed him to the opposite bank. Starting at the tail of my beat, I had a 24cm fish on the 'trio' first cast. I walked up the river fishing 'trio' with the same team of flies I used on the Whanganui, but the flies were smaller to suit this particular river.
I measured another fish, but then caught nine under-sized trout. An hour later I reached some deeper, faster water and switched my point fly for a heavier Copper Headed Mary and carefully worked upstream standing against the strong current. I landed two more 'measurers' and almost fell in twice trying to wade across to my controller, who I now wished was on the other bank!
Still wading cautiously upstream, I pitched my dry and nymph combo up above me in the fastest water - a snout broke the surface engulfing my Retirer dry fly. I struck and all hell broke loose. The rainbow stripped 10 yards off my reel in an instant and then turned downstream into the fast current.
I played it with kid gloves, as I was using only 41b tippet and knew it could break me easily. Little by little I got below it and finally landed the leviathan.
With all the commotion, I fished back down the entire beat using Spiders which had caught well during practice. 1 tried to 'dead drift' them with the rod held high, watching the big loop of line for takes.
I had many takes but most fish were under-sized. Occasionally, I'd get a decent fish and the method helped me to 10 fish for the session.
Bui was it enough to beat my French opponent, Bertrand Jacqueman, who was World Champion two years ago in Sweden? I was distraught. Bertrand and the other three competitors on my mini bus had all beaten me.
What I did not know was that the fishing had got much harder throughout and my 10 fish had earned me sixth place in the session. Unwittingly, I was in first place overall and fishing to be World Champion in my last session. Looking back, I wish I'd been aware of this. I'd have altered my final session approach.
Day 3 - Session 6 — Waihou River
I NOW knew that I had to beat Bertrand in my final session to give the team a chance of'pipping' France for a bronze medal. He had a good beat and so did I. Both had produced well in the morning, but that also meant they would be hard in that final session. I set myself a target of at least 12 fish to beat Bertrand. As it happened, we were on the same mini bus and we were also on adjoining beats. We shook hands and wished each other "bon chance" before heading for the final session.
My beat was enormous ~ separated by a hill in the middle, which took four minutes to run over! I decided to start halfway up the second piece of river, which was gin-clear and flowing faster and wider than the River Test at top water level.
Once again, I started with my trusted 'trio' method and caught three trout in my first 15 minutes - my target total already looked realistic. Another came to the dry fly before a barrage of takes from under-sized trout.
I fished up my beat then changed to 'double nymph' to cover the deeper 'pots' of water. I caught two more decent rainbows, but began to feel that my beat had been fished really hard. I cast my nymphs into all the places that might not have seen a fly, but as ex-World Champion Tomas Starychfojtu of the Czech Republic had previously fished my beat, it was a tough call.
Dropping my nymphs into a deep pool I had five takes in five drops, hooking and losing one decent fish. These were nervous trout. They'd probably been fished for and even hooked before. I went to the bottom of my beat and changed back to 'trio'. This produced my seventh fish.
I knew this wasn't enough, so with 30 minutes to go, I made what turned out to be the most important fishing decision of my life. Should I switch to dries and target three fish I spotted rising earlier, or go back to nymphs and fish my beat from top to bottom?
I needed another five fish and dries would probably not produce that. So it was back to triple nymph fished in every nook and cranny I could find, searching for a few fish that hadn't yet seen a fly. I failed to increase my total.
So that was it - seven fish. Bertrand managed nine. I finished 10th that afternoon, beaten by a Croatian who had one less fish than me and a New Zealander who also had seven fish.
"I made what turned out to be the most important fishing decision of my life"
OVERNIGHT, England had dropped from third to sixth place overall, but it had been very tight. For myself, just one more fish in that final session would have secured the World Champion's Gold Medal.
Equal third is still a decent result, even if I don't have a medal to show for it. But I did win a prize for catching the longest fish of the Championships!
Next year the World Championships are in Scotland, four stillwaters and one river. This will be the first time in 15 years that the lake sessions outweigh the rivers. It should be very interesting.