The Oceania Fly Fishing Championships were held in Ballarat from the 5th to the 7th of November. The competition was staged between Australia, New Zealand and Canada and consisted of five fishing sessions of three hours. Three sessions were held on Lake Wendouree, and two on Lake Fyans. Both of these venues contained existing populations of Brown and Rainbow Trout and in the week prior to competition, additional Rainbow Trout were stocked to increase fish numbers.
Most teams arrived a week in advance to practice on the venues before competition started. The Australian Team were very fortunate to have Vern and Luke Barby (both past national champions, and locals to Ballarat) to help the team find the fish on the lakes and best work out how to target them. The team had two days on Lake Wendouree and two on Lake Fyans to get a feel for the fisheries. We found plenty of fish on both lakes, catching both resident fish and the recently stocked rainbows, which we believed to be the key to winning the competition. Each night after practice, a team meeting was held to discuss successful lines, flies, retrieves, locations, etc.
Heading into the competition the team had a firm plan for both lakes.
On Wendouree, the favoured lines included the intermediate and type 3 sinking lines as well as a floater in calm conditions. Different anglers always favour slightly different flies, but black and olive woolly bugger variants such as the Humungous, Shrek and Magoo were hard to pass, as well as a brighter option such as an orange, coral or pink fly.
The plan for Lake Fyans was to fish similar flies to Wendouree however, we found the fish were generally out wide on the drop offs in deeper water. This lent itself to fishing a type 5 or 7 sinking line.
The competition began on the 5th November with two sessions on Lake Wendouree. It is hard to mention and remember every angler’s story, from each session so I will recap my sessions and mention notable performances by other anglers (I do apologize in advance because I know I will have forgotten some).
Session One – Lake Wendouree
The weather was overcast with a solid northerly wind making for great fishing conditions. In practice we found patches of fish on both the northern and southern sides of the lake, so the big decision was where to fish first. I lost the toss to my boat partner who gained control of the boat for the first half of the session. He decided to take me to the northern side of the lake, a decision I was happy with. About 4 other boats headed north, the others stayed on the southern side of the lake. We fished hard for the first hour and neither my Canadian boat partner Devin, or I had seen a fish. We didn’t see any other boat land a fish up north either. I wasn’t fazed because I felt that if the fish weren’t on the job here, they wouldn’t be on the other side of the lake. How wrong I was! Other anglers, most notably Aussie, Josh Flowers, were all over them. Josh had landed his first fish on the first cast of the session!
Half way through the session we headed to the south western corner of the lake where most boats were fishing. Before setting our first drift, I had already seen the boat next to me land two fish and in the distance, we saw Josh landing another. I was fortunate enough to pick up a rainbow on a small orange beaded magoo while using a clear intermediate line before touching a few others on the following drift. The fishing soon slowed for us and the decision was made to head to the north east corner of the lake for the last half an hour. It was n't long before I lost two consecutive fish, one a nice brown and the other a stocked rainbow. With ten minutes remaining, Devin caught two stockie rainbows on a single orange blob fished on a clear intermediate in the space of two minutes. The session then concluded.
Overall the Australians had done very well with all team members catching fish. Big mention to Josh Flowers who blitzed the first session landing seven fish while his New Zealand boat partner looked on and ended up blanking the session.
Session Two – Lake Wendouree
Conditions couldn’t have been any more different to the morning. The afternoon brought bright blue skies and little to no wind. Conditions such as these often make for very challenging fishing in a competition. For this session I had drawn another Canadian in the boat by the name of Ken, who I thoroughly enjoyed fishing the session with. This time we headed to the south western corner of the lake, along with every other boat in the competition. I started well and what a difference it made! On my second cast I hooked a good fish on a clear intermediate on the same small orange beaded magoo, and sadly lost him at the net. I then sat in the boat watching my boat partner catch three consecutive stockies, two of which ate the blob. I had now seen four fish landed on a blob in a very short period of time.
An orange blob went onto my top dropper and within five minutes I landed my first fish. Another half an hour passed with a few bumps and nudges. I then covered a rising fish and caught him on a small drab black woolly bugger on the point. This fish was a nice brown. Shortly after this, the wind picked up and cloud cover came in. The fishing should have improved but much to our surprise, we didn’t touch another fish.
After the session it was apparent that many of the anglers had struggled, with plenty of them blanking. There were again strong performaces by Josh Flowers and Tim Strong catching two and Craig Dawson winning the session with three. The New Zealanders had a very strong session and took the overall lead in the competition.
Session Three – Lake Fyans
The conditions looked good for Fyans in the morning. There was a strong breeze and some clouds were present. Fyans fished very well for all teams in practice, so it was a surprise to all when the fishing turned out to be challenging. I was again in a boat with a Canadian and was quickly becoming jealous of the amazing fishing they have in their back yard. For this session I fished the usual spots where fish had been caught in practice. I struggled. I fished a type 7 with a blob on the top while rotating black and olive flies on the point and middle. Sure enough the blob struck and saved the blank for me catching a nice rainbow half way through the session. I also hooked a good brown on the hang but it came off after a short fight.
Again, this turned out to be a very hard session with abundant blanks. However, among the blanks, Craig Dawson managed to smash them, catching five good fish. Brian Hughes also found a few with his boat partner, Chris Young and Lubin Pfeifer found fish in close feeding on damsels and managed to catch one late in the session. It was clear that on Fyans you just needed to get one fish.
Session Four – Lake Fyans
Over the lunch break team meetings were held and the few that had caught numbers in the morning session openly shared to their teams where the fish had been caught. This was apparent when every boat in the competition headed to one corner of the lake. You could have made a cast and landed your flies on boats either side of you on the first drift. The session started and a couple of anglers landed a fish on the first drift. Having every boat in eye sight meant that you had a fair idea of the number of fish being caught. It was clear that there were enough fish around in this area of the lake and on my third drift I landed a stockie on a gold humungous on the point using a type 5 sweep sinking line.
Half way through the session boats started to move to different areas of the lake. My boat partner, Paul and I decided that this was a good chance to leave the area to do a couple of drifts elsewhere before returning to the hot spot at the end of the session. Paul then landed a rainbow on a type 3 out wide on the other side of the lake. We continued to fish hard for the remainder of the session and returned to our original drift with half an hour to go. Unfortunately, we were unable to find another fish.
Again it was a session full of blanks. Those that persisted in the area where most fish were caught in the morning did best. Craig Dawson again caught fish, as did Lubin Pfeifer, Jason Garrett Jr and Peter Walsh. Geoff Naylor and Steve Chatterton also had big sessions, both winning their groups. The teams competition was again very close with Australia Gold going into the final session with a lead of just five points.
I feel compelled to mention the double header of stocked rainbows that Devin Ramsay of Team Canada landed. Devin hooked his fish and netted what he thought to be the only one on the cast. He took the fly out and pinned it into the carpet of the boat as he measured and scored the fish. It was not until his boat partner, Jason Garrett, asked him what a fish was doing swimming at the side of the boat that he realized he had another one on his point fly! That could only happen to Devin…
Session Five – Lake Wendouree
We were back on Lake Wendouree for the final session of the competition on day three. There were a lot of tired faces at the boat ramp on Saturday morning and thanks again to Royce Baxter for giving the competitors a sleep in. I know that I really needed it. There was a light wind coming from the south and patchy cloud cover over the lake. The session started at 10 am and I was drawn in the boat with Chris Young of New Zealand who was going into the final session leading the competition. I won the coin toss, but this was irrelevant as we both wanted to head straight to the south west corner of the lake to hit the stockies early.
We both started on intermediate lines fishing quite slowly. Chris got his first fish early on a small English style wet. I had to wait a good hour and a half before I saw a fish. Half way through the session I hooked a stockie rainbow on the hang on the blob and lost him while holding the net in my hand a minute later. In hindsight I had put far too much pressure on, trying to slide him into net. These fish had incredibly soft mouths and the hooks pulled out very easily. In addition, the more pressure you seemed to put on them, the more they fought. If you went softly on the fish they remained calm and came quite willingly into the net. I had learnt my lesson and the very next cast after losing that fish, I hooked another. This time I went "easy" on him and he practically swam into the net.
The last half of the session went very quickly for me. Chris and I were doing short drifts over a patch of fish, as were Josh, Lubin and Craig who were all also catching fish. At the end of the session I had landed two and Chris four. This was a good lesson for me as throughout the session we had both only hooked four fish each. Chris had fought his fish beautifully and landed all four, compared to me who had gone a bit hard on the fish and only converted two of them. It was great to see lots of fish caught this session and great that all the Australians had performed well. Craig, Lubin and Josh had all won their groups.
It was both a relief and a great shame that the comp had ended.
The final wrap up had Australia Gold, made up of Craig Dawson, Lubin Pfeifer, Josh Flowers, Brian Hughes and myself, taking out the team gold medal! Individually, Chris Young of New Zealand had won the gold medal and this was well deserved. It was a pleasure to fish with Chris and he had fished very well.
The silver medal went to Australian, Craig Dawson who put in excellent performances in each session and the bronze went to Paul Baker of New Zealand who I also had the pleasure of fishing with.
The Australian Green team was just as instrumental in accumulating the knowledge during our practice sessions which ultimately lead to our gold medal. This team included Tim Strong, Peter Walsh, Steve Chatterton, Jason Garrett and Geoff Naylor. I am sure it won't be long before these guys get their day on the podium.
It was a great competition fished in tough conditions at times and was wonderful to see so many fish caught.
Competitions like this don’t just happen and a special thanks has to go out to Ballarat Mazda for their generous sponsorship of the event. The Mazda BT 50 award was very much sort after and was presented to the angler who caught the brown trout (BT) closest to 50cm in each session while the wonderful BT 50 was on display for all to see. I hope to see Mazda stay involved in the years to come.
Everyone would agree that the organisational skills of Royce Baxter and the generosity of the Ballarat Fly Fishers Club were the main contributors to the success of this fantastic competition. Royce has recently received life membership to Fly Fish Australia and everyone agreed that it is not before time! Fisheries Victoria put in an enormous effort in stocking these waters, not just in the weeks before the comp, but also over the months and year leading into the event. Thank you so much.
Finally, thanks to the Australian Team Captains Chris Dawson and Pat Kennedy for the enormous contributions they made to the team. Bringing so many anglers together as a team from the far flung regions of Australia is not an easy task. They were superb.
Thank you again to the New Zealand and Canadian teams who made the trip over to join us in the competition. I have made some wonderful friends and can not wait to fish with you again in the near future.
Rainbow Lodge Guide