Ireland, or more specifically, the counties of Cork and Kerry in the south of the country, was selected as the organizer of European Championship 2009. The centre for all the events was picturesque Killarney surrounded by wonderful mountains. The main game fish would be wild trout from two large lakes each divided into two sectors and from the Blackwater River.
The following competitors were nominated for the Championship to represent the Czech Republic: Pavel Chyba, Roman Jörka, Vladimír Sedivý, Filip Apjar and Igor Slavík; the non-fishing captain was the state coach Tomas Starychfojtu and I was the team manager. Following our preparations, we departed on Monday 14 September. For such an important competition, it was better to arrive earlier for the practice camp although this year’s Czech competition calendar did not allow this. There were league competitions held the weekend before departure so our team was in a hurry.
The guys returned late at night from their competitions and met the next day at eight in the evening at Ruzyne Airport in Prague. As usual, we had the issue of too heavy luggage as 20 kg per person is too low for the competition. We arrived after midnight local time at Dublin Airport, picked up the VW Transporter that had been reserved for us and set out for Kanturk town.
Our friend Michael Twohig lives in Kanturk and he arranged our accommodation before the championship, provided all the necessary information and reserved the boats on both lakes. The journey from Dublin was tiring and we all looked forward to our beds. We arrived in the dark at about half past four in the morning. Michael had arranged our accommodation in the small house of his neighbour opposite his own house. When we arrived, the house was fully lit so we could find it easier and the keys were in the door. We unpacked our gear from the car and hit the sack because the first practice day on the Blackwater River lay ahead of us.
Michael picked us up in the morning after breakfast … after dinner. He showed us how to get to the nearest supermarket first and then the closest fishing shop for replenishing our reserves, if needed. Directly from the shop, he led us to the private river stretch of his club. We did not need any permission because Michael had agreed with the owners that no payment was required providing we didn’t fish for salmon.
At first sight, the river was beautiful and we hurried into our wading trousers to go and fish for something. We split into two groups and went out to explore the trout population. We tried all types of nymphs but caught nothing much. Occasionally, we succeeded with the traditional Vltava tag-nymphs. Tomas the coach used his favourite fly-float technique which the fish liked.
When we gathered at the car again, everybody had a suitable trout although Tom had surely caught the most. We agreed to return and try his tactic. We were pressed for time because unknown to us, much more important practice on the lakes lay ahead. Michael arrived in the evening and brought three engines for the boats.
On the next day, Wednesday, we were scheduled to practice in a smaller competition at Caragh Lake, which is about 5 km long. It was permitted to fish right before the competition on both lakes, which was really fair for everybody. We started fishing using the traditional Irish wet patterns prepared at home and we also tried some patterns from Michael as well as the flies purchased at the local shop. Tom urged us not to cast too far from the boat and not to underestimate the hang because trout often attack lifting flies. We drifted on the lake and fished brown trout up to 30 cm long. Kate McLaren was in first from the beginning. However, we kept trying and also mapped the lake.
We gathered in the centre of the lake for lunch and the result was five fish for each fisherman. Last night Michael told us that catching 15 to 20 fish per person in the morning is normal. In the afternoon, nothing special changed in the number of fish and we departed somewhat abashed. Michael visited us in the evening and said everybody had similar results and that nobody knew what had happened.
On the third day, on Thursday, we set up to practice on Leine Lake, double the size of Caragh. We had an excellent local guide, John, who was expecting us in the port in the morning. John had his own boat and we decided Igor would sail with him then switch with somebody in the afternoon. The first and second half of the group departed to examine the western and southern part of the lake respectively. The weather was not the usual Irish weather, but sunny and calm.
We tried smaller flies as advised by Michael and John and we placed goldheads at the tippet. For calm weather, this option was more effective because the traditional wet flies did not work. At lunch time, we gathered again in a bay in the centre of the lake and again, the catch was modest. We switched boats after lunch and departed to the water again. The afternoon revealed the bare fact that there was no way easy here because the catch was almost identical to the morning.
The fishing practice on both lakes was over and the fishing tactics were not very clear. Everything changed on the Friday on Caragh Lake when Aidan arrived. He coached the guys individually on the boat and taught them how to correctly fish the brownies on the local lakes. His assistance and our learning presented our tactics in a much better light when we used Black Hopper on the top dropper, most often by Vladimír; the middle dropper was used by Kate McLaren with goldhead used on the top.
The last day before the ceremonial opening of the Championship we practiced again on Leine Lake and John and Aidan arrived accompanied by another renowned expert, Martin Feerick, who had come to help us. We had boats for all five pairs and the guys switched to the Irishmen who discussed tactics and taught them the hang. The main aim was to learn how to find the fish not only by the banks but in free water as well and our Irish friends excellently demonstrated this to us. Our catches increased not only due to the change of weather but as a result of the information obtained. All the guys spent a lot of time with us and drove many kilometres just to help us and for this we thank them all very much. The determination of the correct tactics would be a kind of utopia for us, outsiders, without their assistance.
The first official day of the Championship was on Sunday morning and we had to pack up and move to the Championship venue in Killarney which is a beautiful tourist town with a souvenir shop in each corner and broughams are almost everywhere. The ceremonial parade of the grand opening of the Championship was alphabetically ordered and we marched as the first, right behind a band of Irish bagpipers. It was a great experience for us; the bandmaster commanded the start of the parade and they sounded their instruments – it was absolutely astonishing. When the whole parade stopped in front of the podium, speeches from all guests followed and the FIPS – Mou Vice-President Mr Mario Podmanik officially opened the Championship.
The next point of the official agenda was Monday morning; we did not attend but practiced on our river stretch so everybody could try the float fly technique. We regarded this method as excellent for this part of the river. Of course, everything depended on where we would be drawn.
On the first competition day, the guys boarded the buses and departed to their competition spots. Pavel Chyba was fishing first on the river. I was with the coach by the competitor in the river because this was the place where we might be useful to a certain extent. Tomas monitored the drawn stretch of the river and communicated with the competitor. Meanwhile, I walked around other stretches to discreetly find out what the current situation was. Pavel behaved as an experienced professional and ended second with twelve fish.
After the competition, we received an SMS from the guys and their results were quite good. Roman Jörka did the best job – he finished first. Only Igor was unlucky on this day and he finished thirteenth without any fish. However, in the afternoon he fought like a lion in the river although the river was not sympathetic to him either. First, he caught a chub and although this was not an eligible fish it was an unbelievable surprise for the Irishmen. Then, he started fishing for brownies but they all were below the size limit. He finally struck lucky and caught two eligible trout and finished sixth. On the way back to the hotel, Tom and I received an SMS from the guys with great results. When the results were recorded by the organizers in the evening, we were ranked third behind France and the leaders, Italy.
Roman fished on the second competition day in the river. He had achieved great success the day before on the lakes (ranking first and second) and now he wanted to confirm his skills. However, he had some bad luck because he drew stretch 4, where only one fish had been caught in two previous periods. However, Roman showed his quality and turned his stretch upside down and caught four trout – afterwards, nobody caught anything there. Although his excellent performance on a poor stretch resulted in a middle ranking, he kept in touch with the first positions in the general ranking.
Filip was in the river in the afternoon. He drew the spot where the Italian competitor had previously caught nine fish. Filip tried all fishing methods but the fish were cautious and responded to nothing. Finally, he remained calm and caught an eligible trout, which moved him in the stretch ranking higher than without any fish. In the evening, we were pleasantly surprised. We thought that we had been eliminated from the medal competition but the reverse was true.
Four rounds later, we held our third position behind Italy in second and the leaders, France. The results of the individual competitions were not clear so far but Pavel, Vladimír and Roman were very close to the medal positions. The tactics for fighting for the first “Island” medal were fine tuned during the last consultation of the evening. It was agreed that I would leave my river spot and go to Leine Lake with Pavel so that he could discuss tactics and boat sailing with the Irish competitor.
The Irishman agreed with our proposal that they would both pull at the same end of the rope. This calmed a very nervous Pavel down and the competition could then begin. I watched the competitors using their binoculars from the bank of the beautiful lake although its size restricted my vision. Filip was also in the second competition sector of the lake in a boat with a female competitor from ladies team England 2. I became increasingly impatient until Filip arrived after the competition had finished. He caught one trout which meant he came in seventh place in that sector.
Suddenly, we received a message from the French competitors that Pavel had beaten the Irishman on the boat 13:3 and had skilfully won the sector. Meanwhile, we also received a message from Tom that Vladimír had come third in the river. We received no message from the boys on Caragh Lake, only from the English competitors who told us they were going well at the moment. Now we knew the medals were within our reach again. Pavel´s strong position and great determination as well as his nervousness could be seen on his face.
He drew a French competitor for the last competition in the western sector and was worried about being separated from the fish during his captaincy. We were about to go and see the French competitor to discuss tactics when he suddenly appeared and told us that he hoped Pavel would win and get a good result for his team. It was a great surprise to us and significantly improved my opinion of Frenchmen following the junior championship in Chotebor. Igor, who had had the morning off, arrived at the lake and went to the sector where Pavel had won in the morning giving them the opportunity to exchange information. The “H” hour then began and the competition started.
Tomas arrived from the river where there were no fishing from round six and we went to see Igor. Using binoculars we could see him perfectly from the other side of the lake. Our competitor had to catch at least two fish to manage a good result. After one hour, Igor’s Irish partner in the boat caught a fish and we started to be somewhat nervous. Suddenly, Igor hooked and the fish was there! We burst out rejoicing. Igor spotted us and waved to us hostilely. However, we then lost sight of the boat and returned back to the docks waiting for end of the competition. Finally, Igor fished one more trout – a sea trout, which was also eligible. He was ranked fifth in the sector and now we had to wait to see how Pavel and Roman would finish.
Suddenly, Pavel arrived with six fish and his French colleague with seven fish. Their sector was tied and we did not know his final ranking. Roman was good on the Caragh Lake as well but we were shocked by the message about John Horsey from England. He was ranked first in the sector with nine fish and this made the individual competition more dramatic. We returned back to the hotel and the never ending waiting for the results followed. The results were not ready before supper.
Me and Tom were curious and went to await the results in front of the main office. Suddenly, the door opened and the FIPS-Mou President Paul Vekemans emerged and congratulated us twice: first, for the silver team medal and then secondly, for the European Champion. We ran out to the car park and decided to keep the guys a bit tense for a while. We went into the hotel dining room with stony faces but it was obvious we were bad liars and we screamed: “We’re second!” and we all jumped for joy.
Only Pavel was somewhat taken aback because we did not tell him his results. He looked at me with a question full of excitement: “Jiri, did I win?” Following my “Yes!” his face lit up and tears welled up in his eyes. He was the European Champion! A great atmosphere reigned over the table. No Czech team had ever brought a medal from the “Islands”, especially not from wild brown trout fishing on the lakes!
We looked forward to the final ceremony on Friday and particularly to the awarding of the medals. First, the individuals were declared. The third place for Dave O’Donovan – Ireland. The second place John Horsey – England and then, Pavel’s moment arrived. The European Champion is Pavel Chyba – the Czech Republic! The Czech anthem was played and Pavel saw the world through the most wonderful eyes, the eyes of a winner. Then, our moment came. Poland in third place, the Czech Republic in second place and we stepped forward to receive our medals. France was the team European Champion. The Championship was ceremonially closed and everybody moved onto a final party which we enjoyed very much. However I can’t forget the results of the other team members. Roman Jörka finished in 8th place, Vladimír Sedivý finished in 9th place, Filip Apjar finished in 31st place, and Igor Slavík finished in 45th place.
Repacking and leaving awaited us the next day. We had some time until departure and we decided to visit our Irish friends in order to warmly and personally thank them for their extensive support. Also, I can’t forget to say thank you to all our sponsors for their support because their assistance made our success much easier to achieve…