Iain Barr reveals the incredible tactical journey towards England's silver medal in the European Championships.
TEAM England set off to Sunnfjord, Norway for the 13th Fips Mouche European Championships in high hopes. The team had practiced on a wild brown trout venue in the North of England and i fished regularly on Eyebrook Reservoir, where the fishing is predominantly on the surface, closely mimicking Norway.
The competition venues consisted of three lake sessions, two of which would be from a drifting boat and one from the shore. The two remaining sessions would be on rivers, fed from the famous Norwegian glaciers. We were solely fishing for wild brown trout as there are no grayling that far south in Norway.
I have been spoilt by some of the fishing venues i have witnessed in my exploits for England, but Sunnfjord offered some of the most stunning scenery I've ever seen. It is locally known as the waterfall Capital of Norway with breathtaking flows of water falling down the hills around almost every bend. The waterfalls, fed by the persistent rain, left us wet for eight days!
My optimism grew as we practiced on the local lakes. Guided by John Kaasa, previously a Norwegian Team member, he told us to expect up to 20 fish in our three-hour session from the boats. I fished with the impressive Jeremy Lucas. We returned with a creditable 14 wild trout all over the minimum requirement of 18 cm. We met for a team brief only to be blown away by the others who had 40-60 each in just three hours!
THIS was the start of the jigsaw puzzle we were to put together and part of our tactical plan to come home with a medal. Never before have I been involved in, such a technical and tactical approach to competitive flyfishing. After swapping partners and lake positions we ventured out for a further three hours. The corner of our jigsaw was fixed in place as we confirmed there were very few trout around the margins where there was a cliff Face. In contrast, like shoaling rainbows, there were hundreds, if not thousands in the shallow bays.
On this practice lake, a local guide told me they net some 10,000 tone of wild brown trout from September 7 to October I every year. They obviously missed some! After several more lake sessions catching obscene amounts of wild trout, the picture become clearer. Steep banks were ruled out but shallow bays, weeds. Trees and any form of structure were areas to target. The trout were looking for mainly terrestrials so overhanging trees were always happy jaunting grounds.
LEADER SET UP
THIS played a major part in our onslaught on Europe. Many of the river experts in our team finished with fine leader material down to 4 lb. I started with 8 lb fluorocarbon and soon found that it made no difference. Seeing how far I could go. I tried 10 lb - still no difference at all. While I was pulling out brown trout two or three at a time, my fellow team member would be undoing knots. This is valuable time wasted when you only have three hours! It was a team decision to fish no less than 61b but most used 816-plus. I used Frog Hair fluorocarbon which has a high strength and fine diameter and landed many 'trios on the 8.8 lb strength. The leader length the team agreed on was 14-16 feet maximum, in contrast to the 22 feet I use here on the reservoirs. We were allowed to fish three flies and the distance between flies was crucial. We also shortened droppers down to four inches maximum to reduce tangles - this did not affect the numbers of fish caught. Slowly we were refining our approach to maximise fishing time in our three-hour sessions.
WE soon realised the trout were attracted to the 'plop as the fly hit the water. Many teams had this method but placing the middle dropper nearer the point fly produced more fish. Mick Tinnion had been catching fish on a local pattern fished on the middle dropper.
I fished the same pattern on the top dropper and had virtually nothing. There had to be a reason. I raised the question about distance between the flies and this Is where the reason lay. Mick had been fishing his Claret Hopper with green tag just three feet away from his mini Humungus or Woolly Bugger on the point. This was tied with a 3 mm gold Tungsten bead to make a vivid 'plop' when it hit the water. I had my middle dropper six Foot away From my point fly. The fish were hearing the 'plop' from the point fly and searching for their next meal. However, within seconds this was already six inches or so down so immediately below most feeding Fish. They were, however, seeing the Claret Hopper sitting in the film, yet to be dragged down by the weight of the point fly in my case, they were hearing the 'plop which was Instantly below them but not seeing the dropper as it was too far away. This was a major part of our jigsaw coming together.
WHEN reservoir fishing, we have all witnessed Fish that take the fly within a spilt second of it hitting the surface. Rainbows are quick, wild browns are much Faster! Team tactics were to cast out and ensure every cast made in the three hours turned over so the leader straightened. As we nipped the line to turn the flies over we kept hold of the line, so we were 'fishing the flies almost in mid-air before they hit the water. I would estimate. In the early part of the sessions, over 70 per cent of the fish came within a second of the fly hitting the surface, vet another piece of the jigsaw was in place.
CHOICE OF LINE
ON the lakes, we soon learnt that there were fish In the top Few Inches and some feeding several feet down on daphnia. Wild brown trout substantially feed on floating terrestrials so we came up with a method of fishing dry fly and the 'plop: Most would opt For the Floating line but we found that this 'bounced' too many fish off. The slime line sitting just a few inches down, helps set the hook better, as the line 'digs'.
In adding a weight to set the hook, Jeremy Lucas Felt he was landing just one fish In eight takes on the floating line! That is a tiny proportion and a mistake many other teams would make. However, Jeremy did master the floating line by fishing it dead slow. Any flies pulled resulted in them bouncing off, but fished dead slow the hook rates Increased for him and this was his confident method.
TO maximise our opportunities we didn't want to miss trout taking the dry Fly so readily off the top. We also wanted to catch those attracted to the 'plop: I started fishing my first dropper. a Bibio Hopper, six or seven feet away from the fly line and I greased this up. I had my next dropper, the Claret Hopper, six feet from this, which I also greased up and then just three foot to a Mini Humungus. Keeping the top dropper away from the end of the slime line and keeping it greased up allowed me to fish it as a dry for at least 20 seconds, while the Claret Hopper stayed dry (or about five seconds and the Humungus fished the drop through the layers. This had all methods covered in one cast, we would start with two dries and a 'plopping' fly. The middle dropper would then be a wet fly or emerger as it was dragged down and the point fly and the Humungus would be a tantalising small fry - a substantial meal to a small wild trout Once it all settled we would then stroke it back slowly optimising our chances of catching more fish in the same cast. More casting and covering the same water wasted time so it was important to hook-up on every cast, which in practice was not impossible!
THE rivers were rising and falling every day as the ran continued to fall So n,u
I have now fished for England 22 times and you never stop learning. Baz Reece, who travelled as our 'go-for: cook, cleaner and general fly tyer found a technique for fishing deep holes in fast water. He used a very heavy sacrificial fly on the top dropper with two small nymphs on the droppers. The heavy fly got the other two more natural flies to the depth required. Once down there he swung his rod downstream so the flies travelled slightly faster than the current. The heavy sacrificial fly kept the smaller nymphs anchored deep and they fluttered freely in the current when a fish took the smaller nymphs, the weight of the heavy sacrificial fly set the hook and the fish was on.
The 'duo and 'trio methods proved fruitful, as did the 'double dry Fly' method. The duo and trio consists of a dry fly on the top dropper with one or two small nymphs fished below it. You often watch for the dry fly disappearing, showing that a fish has taken a nymph. The double dry has to be one of the fastest methods for 'hoovering' a beat. You cast every few seconds into afresh piece of water. Put an imaginary grid In Front of you, stand in one place, cast once into every square, move several feet and repeat the process. This way, no fish is left uncovered. Confidence was high on the rivers but 1 took one extra practice session and had a great three hours netting over 45 trout.
READY TO GO
IN all previous championships the team usually need the full two weeks practice, but alter just a few days we wanted the competition to begin. This team had something special, the refining of casts, leader lengths, choice of lines, approach to beats, choice of flies etc had this team focused and ready. We used the remaining practice to keep refining and building our confidence.
MY first session was boat fishing on Navatna Lake. Fish moved readily in front of the landing stage but l headed for the shallow bays scross the other side. A cliff face came in from the left and the opposite offered small bays and trees! Most boats went right, but one wandered left this was to be the winner of this session, the French angler, who had practised previously over 90 days belore (legal limit before a championship] and found a small brook coming in. He came in with 20 and i with 16 from the other side of the lake. I missed a fair few but this always happens on barbless hooks. I stuck with my game plan and fished shallow bays, taking 10 fish but then I spotted one moving in a wind lane. I picked up a further sir in the wind lanes to finish in second place. We added this to our tactics as we knew the shallow bays and margins would take a lot of pressure and would soon produce very few fish, then wind lanes would be a good back-up plan.
My second session was on the Gaula River. A Slovakian had taken just four fish from the beat before me so I knew I was in for a tough time. I fished the margins with small dries and nymphs taking just one fish as I tried desperately not to spook the wary trout. I turned to the Di-3, a Red Tag Goldhead and a mixture of nymphs and wen on droppers. I fished 'down and across and missed a few fish on my way down. I came to a small pool at the base of my beat and the fun started. Unfortunately I dropped three as I brought them through the fast water towards the net. My only option was to cross the river. I did this but I had a 30 yard sprint through ankle depth water and a 10 yard wade at chest deep to each fish. Twenty two fish later and 12 or so wasted journeys by fish of just a few millimetres, saw me physically exhausted. I had to sit for 30-40 minutes after the match for fear of fainting. This effort and a truly magnificent team performance on day one, saw us finish in sixth place - well within striking distance. Stuart Crofts look a very impressive second on a beat of river which looked devoid of fish and the rest of the team backed this up with solid performances.
THIS involved just one session with a much-needed rest in the afternoon. I drew my second lake boat session and had a great day with an Irish angler. We boated 24 trout, me taking 13 to give me a close third place. But better was to come. England stormed up the table with just 19 placing points (or all five team members. My third was backed by three incredible second places and a 10th. Team tactics refined in practice continued to rally and head us up the table. We were now second, just one point behind the Czech Republic going into the last two sessions. I was tying second individual having finished sixth after day one.
I WAS on the bank lake session this morning as the heavens opened again. Long distance casting was to play a major part in this championships and the bank session was no exception. The controller said that the First guy had 10, then this was followed by two fives. I started with the tried and tested trio of Bibio Hopper. Claret Hopper and Humungus on the point. I missed five fish before netting my First I took a Further four in the First hour then all dried up. Simon Kidd had told of catching fish 40 seconds down on slime lines by just fishing the drop. I tried it and it worked, taking nine more fish to Finish with another second place.
ALL team members were bused off to the final session and news filtered through that England were still lying second and I was occupying top individual. However. I knew we had some tough pegs going into the last session and teams were right behind us.
I was on the joister River, which produced the least fish of all venues. Simon had a tough beat on the Gaula and Vince Brooks had a tough boat session to conquer. The heavy rain continued and the river had risen by two feet since the morning, making my beat dangerous and very fast. I caught a beauty of 32,8 cm on my third cast, but all dried up until I winkled one more out with just 70 minutes to go. I was convinced for blown it as an individual but hoped that this magnificent team would do England proud and cling to the top three. I had been In a team silver medal position in a couple of championships only to slip out of the medals on the last day, and I didn't want to do It again. We had mixed fortunes on the last day as the Czech Republic angler on my beat won the last session only for a fellow team member of his to blank on another beat, on which England did well. Vine Brooks had a solid performance in the boat session: Jeremy Lucas also backed this with a good performance but was it enough?
We sat quietly down to dinner, certain that lightening was going to strike for a third time. A subdued and exhausted Paul Page slipped away to get the results. Head down, the returned to give us the news, then revealed that England had won the silver medal and that I'd won silver Individual, we had beaten the French, two Czech Republic teams, the Polish and many more top countries. I clung to silver individual but owe the very metal and ribbons to the team and management that surrounded me. The Italians squeezed past England by lust 12 points and Jorge Pisco of Portugal edged me out by three points to deservedly be crowned European Champion 2007. Potential sponsors should contact a delegate at www.cefforg.uk.