To say that the entire Australian team is disappointed with the end result would be an understatement. There was not a lot of conversation in the mini van on the way to Zagreb as we were all pondering what went wrong. I have a few thoughts that I will share with you now.
I felt as though our preparation was excellent and the help we received from Yannick Rivierre was invaluable. Many of us improved our dry fly skills beyond belief and I think some of the Victorian members of the team have now found a new fly fishing passion. Now they just need to find rising fish.
Josh managed to watch many of the top anglers from around the world and believes that if we are in anyway behind them, it is not in skill level. I concur. I was often able to see someone on a beat below or above me and certainly all around me on the lake in the last session and I was often pleasantly surprised. Our intelligence was good but when travelling to a world championships, information is not given freely. Many countries spend years fishing across borders and have a wealth of knowledge and information on their side. Should they share it? Definitely not! Why should they? That is one reason why Australia tries to get to these countries a week before the rest. Once the competition is over, flies and techniques are freely exchanged. This is a far cry from the Commonwealth Championships held in Tasmania where teams were given access to all of the flies by the best competition anglers in the country who were not competing. The World Championships is however, a different competition all together. I will be interested to see how much help other countries receive the next time they are held Down Under.
Having said that, we did have a very good set of flies to use on the rivers and especially in the case of dry flies. Although I was not blessed with rising fish in my sessions, every fish I saw rise was caught and many ate dry flies fished blind. Those who did have a lot of rising fish had no trouble getting them to eat the fly. A caddis or small mayfly immatation was all that was required. The drift of the fly was more important than the actual fly and really, this is not that difficult. Speaking with many anglers from other countries, they often had multiple rising fish in their beats but really did struggle with them. I would have loved to swap some of my nymphing water for rising fish!
Our nymphs were also pretty good. We have now seen the patterns used by the local Bosnian team and they are nothing like ours! Nothing at all. Theirs are far more drab and much larger than our smaller, brighter flies. We thought that ours were working well but perhaps there were more fish than we had thought. Our flies were small with hot spots. We were trying to get as much weight into a small nymph as possible when it appears as though many fish would have eaten a large fly. Considering so many fish were only just over 20cm, that is quite surprising.
Many fish were caught in very fast water by other teams where we struggled to find these. We did however find more than they did in the softer water. This is probably indicative of the sort of places Australian trout lie as opposed to the grayling and trout of Eastern Europe. We tried to get the fast water fish but had no confidence that they were even there. In the end, our beat analysis shows that we did quite well on the rivers. There is the odd exception but now is not the time to discuss a possible reason for this. By "fast water", I am not talking about our fast water. This is water that you can not stand up in. It is raging! Some of it is like the bottom of a weir on Brumbies Creek when the water is running flat out, multiplied by five.
Tippets were around 0.1 in diameter and on the odd occasion, 0.08 for the grayling. Amongst other things, this aided presentation and drift. When nymphing I used the Hanak fluorocarbon for my tippet material to help get the fly deeper and for good abrasion resistance. Tippet lengths were up to six feet long and sometimes longer for sight casting such as that which I was doing in the first session on the Sanica. Leader lengths had to be kept to two rod lengths due to the international rules. That meant I had to adjust the other sections of my leader from time to time to stay within the rules.
I don't like fluorocarbon for fishing dry flies and hence changed to mono on my dry fly rods. At all times, I carried a dry fly rod stuffed down the front of my waders in case a fish rose. It is like a security blanket for me. The other option I tried when carrying a second rod is the use of a very handy rod holder attached to a zinger made by a New Zealand company called Smith Creek. These can be attached to any part of your vest and clothing and allow you to change the angle of the rod you are not using quite easily. As I did not have enough time to use this and become comfortable enough with it to use it in a world championships, I did not use it but it will be firmly attached to my vest from now on.
The 9'6" #3 Hanak Superlight rod was my choice for dry fly fishing while the 10' #2 Maxia and Sage ESN were my choice for nymphing. In one session I had to nymph an extremely deep hole and for that, the Sage 11' #3 ESN remains the best choice loaded up with the Hanak European Nymphing Line in a 0 - 3 weight. I did not find the need to fish any heavier rod weight than this as the fish were really not big enough to fight much and once out of the current, were easy to control. The slightly softer tips on my lighter weight rods also prevented small fish from bouncing off and hence my hook up to landing ratio was excellent. Fly lines were the Scientific Angler VPT which I used in one line weight lighter than the rod as I wanted very soft presentation and good curves. Wind was not a factor in any session. The lighter line does not place as deep a bend in the rod and enabled me to throw the desired curve in the line very easily. Had it been very windy I would have changed the line and therefore adjusted the structure of my leader.
On the lake, I used the ten foot, seven weight sage and a range of sinking lines. As always for me, tippet material was RIO Fluroflex for pulling streamers as it has never let me down while others have. More on that later.
Aquaz waders and Korker wading boots rounded out the gear and all served me very well! Needing different soles for different rivers and fishing from a boat, the Korkers were perfect as I could simply change the sole when required. Many of us used these waders and wading boots and they performed magnificently for us all.
Just before I left Australia I purchased another Simms G3 wading jacket as I have never been able to find another one that comes close to this. It was money well spent for me. I just love this jacket and find it hard to fault. Yes, it has a few flaws but fewer than any other similar garment that I have used.
Our nets always have a very large head on them to ensure that the fish goes in every time and that you don't miss one or hit one with the frame. They are not allowed to be over a certain length for competition fishing but this is never an issue for river fishing as the rule is about 1.2m or so. Magnets and bungee cords round out the net attachment system. I actually lost my magnet when getting my net off my back for the second fish I caught in the entire competition! It was stuck and I pulled too hard to get it off my back as the fish was in a good position for me to net it. The D shackle straightened out and it dropped into the fast river. I did not realise until I went to put the net back on my back after measuring the fish! I ended up using the bungee cord and doubling it over across my chest like a sling. It was like that for three sessions before we got another magnet.
The only other useful equipment of note that I used was Sorbent extra soft toilet paper in the last two sessions! That stuff is good but you don't need to go to your local tackle store to get it. Don't forget it though!
In general, the water was very, very cold but the outside temperatures were warm. This meant a simple fishing shirt on top with two pairs of socks and thermals and fleece below. I had the Hanak water resistant competition trousers under my waders so there was no need for thermals for me.
I could write for hours about each river and how we planned to approach it but it would take too long. The beats were so different that the style of fishing was determined by the location in the river. There was not a "one size fits all" approach.
Nymphing is probably the one technique on which we need a little work. We are good, but in European rivers and conditions, we need to become better. It is only a few one percent things here and there perhaps but I feel as though this is the area marked for improvement. We can match it with the best using dries and in many instances, we may well be the best, but subsurface is where most comps are won and lost. Our fishing (in Tasmania anyway) is very dry fly oriented and this will never change but from a competition point of view, it is rare to be able to catch more on dries than nymphs when they are not rising. Our fish are different and will rise to the dry when nothing is hatching. The rest of the world are envious of us and so they should be but it means that when we are abroad, we have to adapt. If it ever gets down to a dry fly shoot out, the rest of the world had better look out.
Catching grayling played a part in the competition and in fact, I think I only caught two trout out of the 38 I got in the first session. Their behaviour is very different but when they are obliging, they are far easier to catch than any trout. When they are being stubborn however, it doesn't seem to matter what you do as they simply wont eat.
So where did it all go wrong for us? The lake!! What a disaster. A catastrophe really. Not one of us caught a fish in that lake during the entire competition. In hindsight we should have spent more time practicing in the practice area but we actually caught a few in practice when the other countries were struggling! The fish were high in the water during practice and "Taddies" along with bright lures were working. We settled on only using two flies rather than three on the lake (the rivers were only one fly anyway) on a very long leader. Catching stocked rainbows has never been a forte of ours. It is in fact, our Achilles heal. It has cost us time and time again. We do not have the opportunity to fish for them like the European countries do. In fact, we never really get to fish for them. In Tasmania, the IFS releases stocking data on their web site as soon as fish are stocked and the locals slaughter them before we get to do any practice on them. They are a different animal all together. Their behaviour, feeding patterns and habits, etc, etc. are worlds apart from our normal quarry. They are nothing like the wild Browns that we are used to catching and miles apart from the wild rainbows too. I am not sure how we are going to rectify this situation. My fingers are crossed that the IFS in Tassie may be able to help us out from time to time. They have always been extremely supportive of us and our cause. I will have to put my thinking cap on because until we rectify this, we can become the greatest river anglers in the world and we will still be nowhere at the end of the competition. Five blanks equates to 140 ranking points over all. When you consider that the Spanish, who won the competition, had a total of 200 ranking points and the Serbs who came twelfth had 344 ranking points, you can see how much of a disaster this is. Then consider that Bosnia, France, Slovenia, Italy and Poland were ALL separated by four ranking points in total at the end of the competition! Four...and we gave away 140 in just the lake sessions! This is an even bigger sore point for me currently as I know that one fish in the lake on the last session would have given me a bronze medal and two, the silver. Had we all been able to catch fish there, the entire competition would take on a different complexion for us. The end result for us was a 17th place finish. This is lower than normal and far worse than we had hoped. Having said that, the inclusion of Serbia and Montenegro (neighbours of Bosnia but never in the championships) and the home team was a real eye opener. They were excellent.
Anyway, the other teams were predominantly only using one or two flies on the lake as well. The difference seemed to be that they were confident in a technique and would stick with it for three hours knowing that at some point, they would catch one or get a chance. From our point of view, drifting in the literal middle of a gigantic blue lake with no structure anywhere and a depth of what must have been hundreds of feet, our minds were saying, "why on earth would a fish be there?" How can we fish with confidence when we have nothing reliable to fall back on when it comes to experience in this situation?
Some anglers fished in towards the banks which also dropped in steeply and picked a rare fish up. The Finnish competitor in my last session did this and caught two fish and I believe that Malta and Australia's own Steve Varga did likewise and caught a fish in the previous session.
The English did very well in the lake and fished deep and slow with one bright and dull lure. They had a plan that worked and stuck with it. So much so in fact that the line that was used in the lake in the first session was left at the lake and as each angler arrived, he would put it onto his rod and use it for the entire session. Only one Englishman did not catch a fish in the lake and he was the only one to not use the line and technique! In many of the sessions, fish could apparently be seen rising in various parts of the lake. They became boat shy even although electric motors were being used. I suppose when four tungsten bead head flies land next to a fish every time he rises, they soon wise up. The last session was the only one which had wind throughout. The wind was in fact a bit too strong as the boats did not have a keel and were drifting too fast and all over the place. From a weather point of view, the last session appeared to be the best but the fish numbers tell the reverse story. Why? I don't have a clue. If I did, this would be a much more up beat and happier report! The Irishman in my boat fished hard using a tactic that his entire team had employed in the previous four sessions. They had all caught fish. He cast and fished well but not one fish came to this tactic for the entire session. He covered water quickly and pulled hard.
As I have previously mentioned, the rivers were a lottery. The draw was all important. As a general rule, if you drew a number smaller than about 18, you had a reasonable or good beat but with a larger number, it was going to be tough. There was the odd beat in the lower numbers which was not good at all just as some of the higher numbers were good but this was a good rule of thumb. The catch and release areas of the competition area held good numbers of fish where the "catch and kill" or, as Yannick liked to say, "catch and freeze" areas were far tougher. As it turned out, some of the lower beats with flat water had rising fish that would eat the fly well but the numbers were lower. You couldn't afford to make a mistake and expect to do well. This was truly the luck of the draw. The beat analysis will tell us who drew or fished well and who did not but I was certainly luckier than some of the other guys. My first session was my best beat while the afternoon beat was still ok. The Pliva beat the following day was not a good beat and numbers there were low. The Vrbas beat was better than my three fish score in spite of the rain and high water. I think I ran about fifth in that session and perhaps if I had fished well, I may have managed a third place. No doubt the other guys will have an idea as to the quality of their beats but as I was not there to see them, it would be wrong of me to pass any judgement. I can say that most were certainly not "honey holes"!
Sometimes timing is everything and I have just slipped this paragraph in. I have been fortunate enough to talk to Lance Eagen from the USA team. He fished my beat last in the Vrbas. That is the session after I fished it. While I was there, the water was dirty and high and only one fish rose - which I managed to catch. I saw that he managed five fish off the beat after me and this is extremely upsetting. Did I fish it that badly? Those are not the numbers you want to see when looking at a beat analysis. Talking with him however I asked how he managed to find that many fish in that beat. His reply was that the fish were rising everywhere and he cast at rising fish for three hours! I don't feel too bad anymore. The water levels were falling and some rivers are clearly better in the afternoon than they are in the mornings. The Vrbas was one. Staggy had the same experience in his beat on the same river.
This paragraph is a very important one and I hope that you all take note of what I am saying.
In any competition involving rivers, no matter where it is held, some beats will be great while others will be poor. There is no way around it. Even if they are all good, some will be better than others. In competitions where the caliber of the field is not good, it is possible to still do well from a poor beat. In the world championships, this is much harder as the fisherman on the good beat is going to do well! Basically what this means is that when the draw is done before the competition, about two thirds of the competitors are basically not able to win an individual medal. This is where I hear everyone complain about competition fishing and how unfair it is. Well, stop it. The world championships is NOT an individual event. It is a team event. The most important medal is the team medal. Over five sessions with five anglers, some of your team will draw very well, some average and some poorly. This evens out the field altogether. So even though in some comps you have not got the chance to win it individually, it does not matter. It is usually the man who draws very badly and manages to catch a fish from a spot where nobody has who wins you a team medal. The guys on the good beats should do well. It's your job. If you don't, you shouldn't be in the team. The most important person is the one who draws the worst. In a tough competition, the guy who catches one fish when the others are blanking can make a difference of fifteen places or more. If you have a great beat and dont fish that well, rather than winning you may come fifth. That is only four placings. All non competition anglers (and some competition anglers) view this fishing as an individual thing. At state and national level, it is because it is a selection event for the world, commonwealth and Oceania teams. At the international level, it is not. Nobody can win an individual medal at these events without the help of his team mates. It is a team event and that is the way you should all look at it. Yes, the individual is important because if you win, your team is more likely to do well but it is not the main medal. We all go to these competitions wanting to win the team gold and the individual gold. Of course we do but, we go to them knowing that perhaps one or two people will have this chance while the rest will have the greatest chance to affect the team result and get the team gold.
Basically therefore, the disappointment I am feeling after this competition is two fold. First of all, we did not give ourselves the chance to medal. There were more unfair beats than usual and the difference between a good and bad beat was large. Then, from a personal point of view, I believe that I had the beats to get a medal. As it turned out, I did. It was the lake that cost me. You probably only get this opportunity once in every three competitions so to have had the chance and not capitalised is a horrible feeling. The medal ceremony was the hardest one I have ever attended. The winners were all very worthy and wonderful fishermen. That's why they were there. Standing, watching it all happen with national anthems playing, it is impossible not to think about what could have been.
So, next time you are thinking about how unfair it all is, just remember that from an individual point of view, it may well be but that it is a team event. Having said all of that, this competition was a little extreme as nobody would have guessed how poorly the Italians, Czechs and to a lesser extent, the French would do at the championships.
I have also read a comment somewhere from someone who questions the enjoyment of competition fly fishing when beats, etc play such an enormous role. Well, unless you do it, it is hard to explain the enjoyment. The friendships and memories are ever lasting and bringing a team dimension to an individual sport is very enjoyable. We all learn from each other and leave better anglers. Then of course, who does not want to represent their country? For us, it is like going into battle. We wear the Australian coat of arms on our blazers and take our responsibilities very seriously. You can't put a price on that.
People are also genuinely happy to see those who have tried for so long, be successful. A great example of this is team USA. They have been together as a team for a very long time and their team members have basically not changed. They have had the lows and learned from them, kept working hard and have now reaped the rewards. Next year they may well go one better. Their federation has kept the faith and now they are being repaid.
What about away from the fishing? What lasting impressions do we have? It is not all good. The place itself has enormous potential. It is truly beautiful. Especially if you raise your eyes and look into the distance at the beautiful hills, trees and rivers. The problem occurs when you get close to them and realise that much of the country side is filthy. The litter is extraordinary. There is a total lack of care for the environment. In this day and age, it is unbelievable. Most people agree that it is the people that make the place. Well in this instance, the destruction is so devastating that it wouldn't matter if the country was full of Mother Theresa's, you still wouldn't rush back. It is a throw back to many years ago with people smoking inside and around the dinner tables. The waiters and waitresses are smoking over your food and we walked past the hotel linen cupboard to see the cleaning ladies all sitting inside an enclosed room, puffing away. The towels and linen all smell of smoke. They, of course, don't think anything of it and probably years ago, we didn't either. Now days however it is hard to overlook.
If you allow yourself for one fleeting second to not think about where the next fish is coming from while walking up a river, you may want to consider where the septic systems are in the houses that line their banks. In Australia, no house would be allowed to be built so close to the waters edge. The answer is that there often is no septic. There is simply a pipe that runs from inside, to the river. One of the Scottish lads was leaning on a pipe at neck height as he fished a small run. In a few seconds, raw sewage was pouring past his face and into the river. All of the rivers are like this. The Vrbas was the worst because it also had industry on the river while most of the others were private residence. The Pliva for example is such a short river and runs out of the ground with such force, that the water remains very, very clear. It masks the issues. It was known as the "nappy" river on my bus while the Vrbas was the "s#€t" river for good reason. In the Vrbas, Pat Weiss from the USA was able to catch a trout underneath a raft of bottles by jigging his fly up and down in the back Eddie. Good angling indeed but come on! Any rivers in which a toilet paper fly is working well is one that I do not have to fish ever again. It is quite soul destroying really because the countryside and water is beautiful. It is being destroyed if it isn't already. I mentioned in my first report that Bosnia is supposed to be the "New Zealand of Europe". You are kidding!! By my calculations, as New Zealand is the second best fishing destination in the Oceania region, it should be the second best destination of Europe. It is not even in the top ten from what I can see. It has enormous potential. Enormous! But let's compare apples with apples here. Whoever made that statement has clearly never, ever been to New Zealand. They are in for a shock when they do.
On the road trip from Bosnia to Croatia, we stopped and had lunch with Amir, our local guide and fly tying expert. Now here is a wonderful man. We had all grown very fond of Amir and he, of us. We presented him with various Australian memorabilia and the food he put on was amazing. Saying goodbye to him was difficult. He was tearing up. He had never spent as much time away from his family as he did while he was with us. That is two weeks. He missed them terribly and they too missed him. Now if for some reason I ever did find myself near Bosnia again, he would be worth making the effort to go and see. He even presented me with clothes for my daughters when I left as he had overheard a Skype conversation one night and knew that it was Sage's birthday the day after I got home. He guides on the Una River in Bosnia. We drove over it on the way back and it does look like it is worth fishing. If anyone is ever in the area, he is your man! I spent two weeks living in the same house as Amir and believe me when I say that the pleasure was all mine.
In a short while, those of us who are going will turn our attention to the world championships in Vail, Colorado, in September 2016. It promises to be a wonderful competition. Once again, private water will be used on some rivers and this ensures top class fishing. Numbers of fish in all competitions held in this area are high. Even the bad beats have fish to catch. It will have three rivers and two lakes. Hhhmmmmm... I wonder which one of those I will be concentrating on?! Most things that the USA do are very good and a competition of this magnitude will certainly be run well. As it is in September, we have fifteen months to prepare and even although we will be coming out of winter when the competition starts, we will have to find waters to practice on during those long, cold days. Beyond that, who knows. For me it may be time to spend more time at home and less money going abroad. The lure of representing your country is however a very strong one. Thousands and thousands of children dream of it and this year, we are the lucky few. Being self funded shortens our careers and this is another reason why those who are kind enough to contribute to our cause are very much appreciated by us all. That can not be over stated. If it didn't cost us as much, we would probably be able to field our best team every year. A few medals would also help!
I must thank a couple of people now that it is all over. Firstly to my team mates with whom I spent three great weeks, a huge thank you. I would go away with you all again at the drop of a hat. Thank you too to those who sent us well wishes while away and of course, to those who gave us gear, financial and in kind support.
The biggest thank you must go to my wife, Krystal, who spent five weeks at home looking after our two year old and eight month old daughters. Always supportive in every way, she manages to stay positive and happy under conditions in which I would struggle. I am very lucky and now enjoying being back with my family.
In summary, the competition was a disappointing one for us. We certainly tried our hardest and have nothing left in the tank. We received warm receptions everywhere we went, made great new friends and reacquainted ourselves with old adversaries. Things didn't work out how any of us would have liked but perhaps that is the sort of thing that makes you want to come back and do it all over again. We are not far off it, I know that.
PS. I will attempt to put captioned photographs up on the Rainbow Lodge Tasmania Facebook page in the coming week. I will also try and get them into any of the forums or sites that are running this report.
If you have any questions about anything that you have read over the past few weeks, feel free to drop me an email and I will get around to it at some stage. All the best everyone. Good luck next season.
Rainbow Lodge Tasmania
To see more photos of the trip to Bosnia please click below: