2017 World Fly Fishing Championships Slovakia, Report 1 - Preparation.

By Christopher Bassano.

The 37th World Fly Fishing Championships are being held in Slovakia this year ‪between the 5th and 11th of September and more than thirty countries will be competing for the title. The Australian team this year consists of Mark Bulley (NSW), Rick Sunderland (NSW), Tom Jarman (Vic / Tas), Jonathan Stagg (Tas) and myself. The reserve is Glenn Eggleton (Tas) and Garth Jackson (manager (Tas)) along with Craig Coltman (captain (Vic)) round out the group. Our guide will be multiple World and European gold medallist, Martin Droz, from the Czech Republic. 

For those who are unaware how competition fly fishing works, her is a basic summary. 

There are five fishing members from each country and five venues that need to be fished over a three day period. One member from each country is put into each of five groups. If there were thrifty countries, there would therefore be thirty people in each group. This is done randomly.

On the first morning of the competition, each group is randomly assigned one of the five venues on which to fish for three hours. Each angler is only competing against those anglers who are in his / her group and therefore at the end of the first three hour session, each angler has a ranking from one to thirty. One being the angler who won the session, while thirty ranking points means you came last. 

In the afternoon, or rotate to another venue and repeat the fishing process. The third session is the next morning and usually the afternoon is free with the final two, three hour sessions, being held on the third and final day. 

At the end of the competition, the individual award is given to the angler with the lowest total ranking points while the team event is decided upon by the sum total of all the anglers from each country.

The slightly technical part is that in each session, you receive points for each fish you catch plus a further ten points per centimetre of each fish caught. Basically, the most fish in each session wins. It is of course possible to win by catching fewer, larger fish but let's not go there for now as it is rare.

The most important thing is to ensure that you catch at least one fish in each session because if you catch no fish, you will automatically get given thirty ranking points. I.e. If one angler in your group catches one fish in a session and everyone else catches nothing, he will get one ranking point for coming first and everyone else will get thirty ranking points as they didn't catch a fish and handed in a "blank" score sheet. You must avoid the "blank"!

Selection for the Australian team is based on your results over the previous three years of competition fishing within Australia at state and national titles. Selection for Australian teams is currently done 18 months in advance as most world championships are held in the northern hemisphere summers (our winter) and it is felt that six months’ notice is not enough to get time off work for those who have been selected. Therefore, it currently sits at 18 months. The final national championships for selection to this world championships was held in NSW with Glenn Eggleton fishing superbly to win the title. 

Before I go any further, I must say that everything I write in these reports in no way reflects the views or opinions of Fly Fish Australia and is nothing more than a few ramblings of my own. I will try to bring some humour to our trip away while keeping you informed as to our progress. My reports will not be reliable but I will attempt to "pen" something whenever possible. Our team manager will no doubt be posting more official news on our Facebook page when he arrives in Europe.

If you would like to read any of my previous reports from past world championships (Norway and Bosnia), they can be found on the Rainbow Lodge Tasmania web site.

Enough of the formalities. Here is a bit more information about the team members to give you some background.

Mark Bulley was the reserve for the World Team when we travelled to Norway a few years ago. He runs his own building company in Canberra where he lives with his wife and two children. On the competition scene, Mark tries to fly under the radar but it is a pretty hard thing to do when you are the quality angler that Mark is. He is just as happy on rivers as he is on lakes and is always ready to learn. As a travelling companion, Mark is brilliant. He is a great team man and an absolute "straight shooter" if any issues should arise. There is a chance that Mark and I might be rooming together so I am trying to be kind to him so that I don't wake up with a horse’s head in my bed. I also go to bed very late so I hope he is a heavy sleeper.

Ricky Sunderland is another New South Wales angler who has made the team through his consistent performances. Ricky is the only angler in the history of FFA (that I am aware of) to finish a fishing season in Australia with the maximum number of points possible from the previous 12 months. It is the equivalent of the grand slam. I believe he won two competitions in New South Wales and followed it up by winning the national championships in the same season. He then went on to win the Chris Hole trophy a few years later which is awarded to the highest ranked Australian angler at the World Championships.

Tom Jarman is one of the counties best up and coming anglers who fished in his first world championships last year in the USA. Tom has performed very well in recent FFA events and comes into the worlds in good form. He has spent the last few seasons guiding in Tasmania but is now back in Melbourne. He is also a professional fly tier of note and is apparently a regular contributor to something called "Instagram" or "snap chat" or "Pinterest" or whatever these things are called where the male youth of today connect with like-minded females. The amount of time he spends on his phone suggests that he may actually use all of the above and be a very popular user.

What can you say about Jonathan Stagg. If they made a Rocky movie for every world championships that 'Staggy' has fished in, the next one would be called 'The Ghost of Balboas Great Grandson". He is the only person in the group who has previously fished in Slovakia. This was when Slovakia last hosted the championships, in the 1800's. He is an outstanding all round angler who has won the National Titles, the Chris Hole trophy and the Tasmanian State titles on a number of occasions. Much like yours truly, Staggy now has a young family and it is becoming increasingly more difficult for him to get away and represent his country overseas. We would all love to see him win a world championships and get the medal he richly deserves.

Our reserve, Glenn Eggleton, is a retired lawyer but none of us hold that against him. His work ethic is second to none as is his fly tying ability. If there is a piece of fly tying material available in the world, Glenn has three of them. I don't know anyone who fishes or practices quite as much as Glenn. 

He was the world team manager in Norway and the reserve in the USA last year. Next year, Glenn has earned his place in the top five and will travel to the world championships as one of the five competitors.

It is also important to note that Glenn has his lovely wife, Jane, with him. Jane has started competition fishing this year and has already done well. I think she was tired of hearing the sob stories from her husband and decided to show him how to catch fish. She will be an integral part of a ladies team that FFA are hoping to get together in future.

Craig Coltman is the team captain and is the most experienced man in the party. He has previously captained world and commonwealth teams, competed in umpteen World, Commonwealth and Oceania championships and won many state titles. He would be an asset to any team and we are lucky to have him. After having a successful business career, Craig now guides with Rainbow Lodge in Tasmania and spends his winters in his home town of Ballarat where he haunts the Wendouree stockies. 

I have recently seen on Facebook that Craig's forward scouting in Europe has been a successful experience. He has found the best wines, views and food the continent has to offer. It's only the fish we are yet to see photos of.

The final official Australian member of the group is Garth Jackson who runs an architectural / engineering design business in Tasmania. In relative terms, Garth is quite new to competition fishing although he did work as a controller in many competitions before coming to the realisation that he was better than everyone he has ever controlled. He comes from the North West of Tasmania so Europe could come as a bit of a shock to Garth because you don't always have to lock your car and you can walk the streets at night in Europe. His home water is the Mersey River which is certainly the most technical river in Tasmania. This means that his skills are of the highest standard and it won't be long before he is in the top five anglers in the country. He has been exemplary in his managerial role so far although being from the North West, I am concerned about him looking after the team funds.

Our guide this year is Martin Droz. Over rated, useless and rubbish are not words that describe him. His credentials speak for themselves and include a staggering thirteen international medals between 2004 and 2014!

He has individually won:

1st place World Championships 2008

2nd place World Championships 2013

3rd place World Championships 2006

1st place European Championships 2012

3rd place European Championships 2014

Martin has also won four team World Championship gold medals, two silvers and one bronze along with three other European team gold medals! What more can I say except that he has never won the Tasmanian championships so he still has a fair way to go but we will look past that for now.

What do we know about Slovakia?

Not a lot! I can tell you that according to a recent advertisement on Australian TV, Slovakia has faster internet access than we do. That's about it.

On a positive note, Slovakian fly fishing competitions generally have the largest number of fish caught than any competitions in the world. Immediately after the world championships which were held in Norway (2013), the European championships took place in Slovakia. One group of anglers at the Europeans that year caught more fish in their first three hour session than were caught by every angler, combined, for the entire world championships in Norway. Catching 70 fish in a session did not guarantee you a first place in the session!  

There will be four river sessions and one lake session in the championships. This is the most common break down of sessions fished and in fact, only once have I fished two lakes and three rivers at a world championships. The lake is usually a token gesture where rainbow trout are stocked close to the competition date and it becomes a "stocky bash". In the past, this has proven our Achilles heel.

The remaining four sessions will be held on rivers which hold trout (Rainbows, Browns, Lake and Brook) along with other native species such as Grayling, Chub, Dace and Danubian Salmon. Often being a schooling fish, Grayling are likely to play a large part in the bag of the eventual winner and these fish usually provide the big numbers.

If you would like to see more information on the venues, the official web site has a modest amount available and can be found at www.wffc2017.com

My next ramble has to mention the sponsors. For those who are unaware, this competition is mostly self-funded. We do get contributions from FFA and our state chapters which are hugely appreciated but we rely heavily on fundraising events and the generosity of those attending our corporate weekends. If you are one of those people or someone who simply sent us a donation, thank you! Our wives really appreciate it! Ha. On a serious note, it would be impossible for the majority of us to attend this event every two or three years without you.

Then there are those sponsors who contribute in other ways. Some give their time to help us improve our skills while others provide much needed equipment. I have some personal sponsors as well as those of the team so in no particular order, many thanks to Sage, Mayfly Tackle, Simms, Spotters, Hanak, Scientific Anglers, Inland Fisheries Tasmania, The Essential Fly Fisher and Fishbone Custom Rods. I will try to highlight some of these products throughout the trip to let you know why they are all so important and such good products. I am no doubt missing some of our sponsors and I apologise for that but I am sure I will remember and add them in along the way.

The Plan

Coming out of a Southern Hemisphere winter, we require some practice before the competition gets under way. The team this year will be meeting briefly in Poland before driving across the border to Slovakia. A short stay in Poland will allow us to chase Grayling on the world famous San River and get rid of the cob webs before going into serious training mode in Slovakia. We are not allowed to fish the actual competition venues in practice but nearby water often produces similar fishing. Upstream and downstream of the competition water is more often than not reserved for "official practice" the two days before the competition starts.

Having Martin Droz in our camp will certainly give us a good psychological boost but unfortunately, he can't catch the fish for us and in the end, it will still be up to us.

I am lucky enough to have had the chance to get to Europe before the rest of the team except for Craig who, as I previously mentioned, is working on his tan as he travels through Europe with his wife, Vicki. 

I have a few days of fishing lined up in Southern France with my good friend and European Individual silver medallist, Yannick Rivière. Yannick is a "technical instructor" rather than a fishing guide, who is based on the Aude River. He has travelled to Australia in the past and held some terrific river fishing clinics, giving us an insight to the "French style" of fishing. The Aude is certainly in the top three rivers I have fished in the world. It is very technical and holds plenty of grayling and trout that love nymphs and dries if they are presented well. A poor presentation is never rewarded but good technique brings about numbers of fish that you wouldn't have thought were possible. I am excited just thinking about this time with Yannick. 

Once I leave the Aude, I will have three days fishing in Slovenia with Yann Caleri. Yann was our tremendous guide last year in the USA. He has now retired from competition fishing but has had six top ten finishes at previous world championships and is currently an advisor to the French youth team who are competing at the world championships in Slovenia (as I write this) and are winning after three sessions. A better person than Yann is hard to find so time fishing with him in the clearest and most picturesque rivers I have fished in (Slovenia) will be another highlight.

From Slovenia I will venture into the Czech Republic where I will fish with Martin Droz for four or five days before picking up Staggy and heading to Poland to meet the rest of the team. Chasing Chub and other course fish will be on the practice schedule with Martin as he has done so much of this in the past. 

I am sure that I will learn a lot over the course of the next few weeks and hope to improve my fishing knowledge and skill.

This should make my next few posts far more entertaining than this one as I may even be able to catch a fish!

The story so far

Leaving home is never an easy thing when you have a young family. Not only are you going to miss your little children and your wife, but you are also leaving the better half to take care of the kids on her own. I know that people have been doing that for centuries but it doesn't mean that it is easy. The entire family have been typically unwell during winter with my girls bringing home one thing after another from child care and school.

The importance of having total support from ones wife cannot be over stated. Being able to concentrate 100% on the job at hand is paramount and for this, I am always indebted. 

My flights took me from Launceston to Melbourne and then on to Abu Dhabi and Paris. For the international legs, I flew with Etihad for the first time. 

The first thing I noticed was their colour scheme on board. They had a sort of brown and cream striped material on all of the chairs which would look more at home hanging in the lounge of a 1970's house. If you were to renovate a house, you would find humour in peeling back a few layers of wallpaper to find this patterning. The stripes are so close together and "busy" on the eye that if you stare at it long enough, I am sure a 3D picture will suddenly appear.

I freely admit that know absolutely nothing about Arabic as a language but given the choice of staring at the seat covers or an inflight magazine that I could not read, I chose the magazine. The written language may resemble the doodling of my two year old but on closer inspection, it is very neat and appears organised. My immediate thoughts were how precise and thorough the people who established this language all of those years ago, must have been. We talk about covering our bases by "dotting the i's and crossing the t's" but in the Arabic language, they are so exacting that they not only dot the i's, but they dot the u's, the n's, the l's, the m' and every other letter. Sometimes they even dot them twice to be absolutely sure, both above and below the line!

Staring at the seat in front of me had put me into a trance or some sort of hypnotic state and I slept quite well on the fifteen or so hour trip to Abu Dhabi. I did wake briefly to watch "The Fast and the Furious" number 20 or 30. I am not sure how many of these films they have now made but the number would only be exceeded by the number of world Championships Staggy has fished in.

The few hours I spent in Abu Dhabi airport were actually quite good. It was 37 degrees ‪at 7:20am and staring out over treeless, flat desert was a new experience for me. Strangely, it made me feel quite intrigued and I wouldn't mind having a short stop over here when I am next passing through.  

For my final leg into Paris I sat next to a Greek who had been living in Australia for sixty years. Actually, I didn't so much sit next to him as he sat on top of me. I have met smaller people in my time but he was a lovely guy who was excited about seeing some of his family on a small Greek Island somewhere. 

Arriving in Paris, I grabbed my two large, heavy bags and headed to the domestic terminal for my flight to Toulouse where Yannick would be picking me up. A six hour wait was not ideal but I eventually touched down in Toulouse ‪at 23:00. I had now been travelling for 38 hours straight but seeing Yannick again perked me up. We had another one and a half hour drive to his house and the Aude River Valley, south of Carcason. There was plenty to catch up on and he is never short of a story.

Yannick is one of the worlds great practical jokers and you need to be in guard when he is around. I recall him tying people's shoe laces together under the table during his seminars and he loves nothing more than pointing to your shirt and touching it in the middle of your chest, only to flick your nose as you look down to see what he has found. It doesn't work anymore but he still tries it on. The first time I ever fished with him, I threaded the line through the eyes of the rod and went to the back of the car to put my waders on. When I returned, he had tied the end of my line to a tree! 

We were in bed by ‪2am and up again just before ‪7am for our first crack at the Aude River.

The river is dammed controlled and changes height throughout the day. It always starts low, rises and then falls again late in the day. This has a negative effect on the fishing with early and late in the day being the best times. You wouldn't know it however because as usual, coffee is very much on the menu throughout the day and nobody is in a hurry.

On the way to the river we passed a famous castle that had been used during the filming of the DaVinci Code. Apparently legend has it that there is a treasure buried somewhere in the valley near the castle and people travel from around the world in the hope of finding it. The real treasure however must be the Aude.

Every morning we parked in the same place and walked up to the local shop for a coffee. Then another coffee and another. These are also not your typical Australian coffees. These coffees look more like tar and have a similar consistency. They arrive in a tiny mug and you are basically not allowed to have milk with them. 

The task of purchasing a fishing licence on line was occurring at the same time and Yannick was becoming increasingly frustrated with the process. This gave him more time to consume copious amounts of coffee until the job was finally done. Surely he wouldn't sleep for a week after that amount of caffeine?

Eventually we headed for the river and to a spot that Yannick told me, "He had been saving just for me!" He must be a good guide because he talks the lingo! All I needed to hear him say was, "you should have been here yesterday" and my day would have been complete. 

Interestingly, Yannick is not a typical guide as Australians would know them. He is more of a technical advisor. People do not come to Yannick for him to take them fishing and to catch fish. They come for advice on small details to improve their fishing. For beginners, it is simply "how to cast" while more advanced anglers would come to him for tiny details such as angles of approach, downstream presentations, etc. He spends no time trying to get his clients to catch fish and all of it trying to improve the facet of their fishing that they need the most help with. I quizzed him extensively about it and considering he does this for more than 230 days in the year, there clearly is a need for it. He was adamant that if someone wants to catch fish, the road runs directly along the river and they can stop wherever they want and catch fish. That is not his job. His job is purely a technical one.

Having said that, if I didn't catch a fish, he was going to have one pissed off angler on his hands!

We chatted about the differences in approach and technique between Grayling and Trout as we walked through the bush on the way to the rivers bank. As all good hosts do, Yannick insisted that I fish first while he watched... and laughed. Fortunately, it wasn't long before the first beautiful grayling was hooked and landed and many more followed soon after. Perhaps he had been saving this spot for me after all. Some lovely brown trout followed before we moved up to the next run where apparently, "a really big grayling lives". This guy must have been reading my book of guides sayings! I was informed as to the slot in the river in which the behemoth lives and my nymphs finally drifted well enough to get eaten. A small grayling of about 27cm came to the net and Yannick went for saying 52 on page 23, "That is unusual. Normally there is a big fish there". I didn't care. It was just lovely to be catching grayling again with a good friend in the knowledge that guides are the same all around the world

Yannick left me for a couple of hours in the middle of the day to fetch Eddie from "Fishbone" and returned for a late lunch and a coffee or ten. Lunch was the usual French gathering with cheese, baguettes, tomatoes (the best I have ever eaten), wine, pate and an array of salami. It is an event in itself. If I wasn't wanting to go fishing, I would have enjoyed it even more but these things drag on and on and on in France. Once every has consumed enough food to last them the rest of the day, it is time for a couple of coffees. A slow stroll to the local shop ends in a very social affair as people sit outside drinking and drinking some more. I have grown to become accustomed to it and my initial intense frustration is now only mild frustration. 

The afternoons fishing was again, very good and ended in an excellent dry fly session right on dark. Unlike the fishing at home where fish eat dry flies all day and for any excuse, fish in this part of the world prefer nymphs. It is not until darkness starts to fall that they get an intense burst of activity with trout and grayling rising freely. There is no clear increase in the amount of fly life at this time of the day. It seems as though the fish suddenly feel more at ease rising and less vulnerable. For whatever the reason, the dry fly fishing is excellent at last light and not brilliant before that.

Who is Eddie?

I mentioned that Yannick left me to fetch 'Eddie from Fishbone' earlier on. Those who know me will also know that I am lucky enough to be a Sage guide. I have used their rods for decades and continue to do so. Why wouldn't you considering what great rods they make. No matter who you are however, you cannot make every sort of rod available. The Sage range is already extreme but as a competition angler, sometimes there is not a rod in their range that will do what I need it to do. That is not because they have a rod that doesn't perform well. On the contrary, they perform brilliantly but they cannot make every weight rod in every length. The market is simply not big enough. For that reason, if I need a rod to do a job and Sage don't have it within their range, I am forced to look elsewhere. A recent example was that I needed a long and light rod which was very forgiving when using light tippets. I was after a 9'6" #2. Sage did not make the rod I was after and I settled on the Hanak Superlight and it has been a wonderful choice.

Eddie custom builds rods on various blanks and Yannick had put me in touch with him following our discussions about the need for a very light and long rod that will help me catch and land more fish in Slovakia. We don't need to use particularly fine line in Australia and the fish we catch require a fair bit of backbone in the rod to fight and get a good hook set. For catching small grayling, the opposite applies and we could be using line as fine as 9X. Eddie was my man as he made me a 10'2" #0 with a carbon grip for increased sensitivity on a blank perfectly suited to the task at hand. Sage make a beautiful #0 but it is too short for effective Euro nymphing and suits small creek dry fly fishing. Yannick has been working with Eddie for some time now to help design rods for those that want a customised rod. Eddie lives in Belgium and had flown in for a rod testing day over the weekend where people came to try and test his rods while checking out the various options he provides to customise his rods. It is always lovely to "talk shop" with anyone who is passionate about his work and our conversations reminded me of those I had previously had with Australia's premier cane rod builder, Nick Taransky.  

Leaving France

My time in France disappeared quickly as we drank coffee, talked, drank coffee, ate, drank coffee and fished whenever we could fit it in to this busy coffee drinking schedule.

Every day held new surprises and wonderful fishing. My largest grayling was just over 42cm with two others over 40cm falling to the dry fly. 

Under Yannick's tutoring, I was quickly reminded of the difference between the feeding behaviour of trout and grayling and regaining this understanding has been invaluable.

Yannick is always very quick to point out some of my many fishing flaws, all of which I hope to work on in coming weeks.

On the second last morning, I set up a beat for Yannick and gave him two hours to fish it as if it were a competition. Again, this proved valuable as he managed to land 14 fish (one trout and thirteen grayling) along with a few under sized.

With it staying light ‪until 21:00 and the best dry fly fishing occurring right on dark, it is not ideal for eating dinner at a reasonable time for those of us who are diabetic. Fortunately, there was always somewhere still open as a fair had come to the sleepy village and on one occasion, a local band decided to set up on the Main Street and entertain us. I don't think they will be a big hit any time soon and I am pretty confident of that even although I am basically tone deaf. English songs were getting screamed out by a band who don't speak any English. This is not a good combination but the mussels and French fries that were served almost made up for it.

Our final evening in France was spent catching fish in the dry fly and heading back to Yannick's little lodge in the hills to eat, you guessed it, baguettes, cheese and cold meat. With ‪a 06:00 flight out of Toulouse the next morning and that being an hour and a half drive away, very little sleep was had.

Arriving at the airport and checking in is always a nervous affair when you are travelling with two large bags of 23kg and the allowed amount is one bag of 20kg. While the lovely Rebecca from the flight centre in Devonport had managed to arrange the two bag allowance for my flights into Toulouse and then again from Slovakia to home, these internal flights are not possible to get sorted in advance.

At the check in desk, I happened to find myself faced with a young French lady who had just been to Australia and loved it. She travelled around the east coast and had a particular fondness for Hobart and the south of Tasmania. Of course, I quickly informed her that had she travelled north from Hobart, she would have liked it even more! It was on her bucket list and the friendly banter helped me to get my bags on board at very minimum cost and without fuss. Thank heavens I didn't have to weigh my 16kg carry on!

The plane was delayed out of Toulouse to Frankfurt which meant my connection was to be tight. The plane touched down and went to terminal A while I flew out to Ljubljana from Terminal B. At home this would be a walk of 50 meters. In Frankfurt, they should have been connected by another flight.

I raced off the plane and ran across the terminal, up and down lifts and eventually made it as I heard the air hostess say my name when the gate was closing. I had made it! Unfortunately, my bags had not!

Flying into Slovenia is always a great experience. The views are wonderful and the memories of amazing rivers and fishing are etched in my mind forever. It is exciting.

I didn't really expect my bags to make it unless they had helicoptered them between my flights in Frankfurt. I would have been happy to be wrong on this one but alas, the carousel stopped, all bags had been taken, nobody was left in the baggage arrival hall and I was officially, "gearless". I had four days in my dream river fishing country and had nothing to use. A similar experience when flying into Zagreb two years ago had taught me to carry my insulin in my hand luggage and I had enough for the next few days but I couldn’t fit a rod, reels, flies, tippet, waders, boots and my insulin into my carry on. I am beginning to wonder whether I would have been better off without the insulin and taken my fishing gear. 

Anyway, that is an update of my trip so far with the Slovenia leg ahead of me. I will be flying to Prague from here and will try to send an update then.

Christopher Bassano

Head Guide

Rainbow Lodge Guided Fly Fishing Tasmania

Australian Fly Fishing Team Member

To read report 2 please click the link below:

2017 World Fly Fishing Championships Slovakia, Report 2 - Preparation.

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