In January 2019 I was in a small sports store in Deloraine looking through the fly patterns before heading up for an overnighter on the Western Lakes. My attention was arrested by a thick Scandinavian accent as a fellow sojourner inquired of the store attendant if the Meander had been fishing well and what fly patterns they would suggest. I couldn’t help but chime in, having recently caught a few good fish and always keen to yarn with a fellow angler. As it turned out, the angler was Santeri from Fly Fishing Team Finland and cutting a long story short, this chance meeting led to two full days of fishing the Meander and Mersey rivers together as he scoped the venues prior to the World Champs. Santeri generously took me under his wing and opened my eyes to modern nymphing and other tactics that have become common place in competition angling.
In two great days on the river my eyes were opened to the world of competitive angling. I instantly gained a burning desire to put myself to the test in the competition arena. I knew it would be a sure fire way to meet other like minded fly fishers and fast track my angling ability. It was also the impetus I needed to volunteer as a controller at the World Champs, and my week spent on the Meander River in this capacity was one of the most enjoyable and memorable fishing experiences of my life, and I barely even cast a line!
Fast forward two and half years, and despite having joined Fly Fish Australia as a member and meeting many fantastic people associated with the competition scene, I had still not had a chance to test myself in a real competition. Sure, I had adopted a more competitive attitude in terms of the way I approached the water and the tactics I employed to catch fish. But, due to a whole raft of reasons including COVID and some family tragedies, I just never could quite make a comp. So, when the opportunity to fish the first NSW river comp of the season came about in May 2021, I was ecstatic when all the pieces finally fell together and I made the drive from my home in the Gong to the Snowies on a cool but hope filled Friday morning.
I fished a few practice sessions on the Friday and tried to work out how the river might be fishing and how I would go about it. My approach was not informed by experience, but by many enthusiastic conversations with willing mentors such as Chris Medwin, Erhan Cinar, Craig Dawson, Howard Croston and Ollie Bassett. Like Santeri, they had willingly taken me under their wing and generously shared their knowledge. I caught a few fish in practice and went to bed on the Friday night with a smile on my face as wide as the river and a heart full of expectation. My goals for the weekend were simple- to have fun, to try and catch a fish in each session, and most of all to learn.
The next two days were full- I arrived on the river early each day and left as the sun kissed the range to the west each evening. They were action packed, adrenalin filled, and every bit as eye opening as I hoped they’d be. I quickly discovered it was one thing to watch a competitive angler, another thing entirely to be a competitive angler. The biggest thing for me was the mental challenge. Sure, fishing is fishing, but doing it against a clock where every fish counts and extremely capable anglers have fished the water before you is an excellent way to bring you down to earth. I was forced to concentrate on the small things that make your fishing successful. It encouraged me to read the water carefully, approach with stealth and purpose and most of all, be efficient in my methods. I am a very long way from having any of this perfected, but it was fantastic to start my journey and it elevated my confident approach to all of these things. I met some fantastic people, who encouraged my passion and taught me a lot, and I cannot wait to get back into this arena again. As for my goals, I did manage to land a fish in each session, with 5, 1, 3 and 1 respectively in each of the four sessions, landing me in 18th place overall. I spent time learning from Australian team members like Kerryn Milligan, Craig Dawson and Dave Hemphill, all of whom were so generous with their knowledge and expertise and could not give me enough advice or encouragement. And I had an absolute blast!
It is a wonderful thing to realise a dream, and having had the chance to do this, I am counting down the days until I can do it all over again. My huge thanks goes out to all involved in the administration and facilitation of competitions in Australia, having seen now first hand the enormous effort it takes to put one of these events on. If you are flirting with the idea of fishing a comp, my advice would be jump in and have go- I really believe you won’t regret it! For more information on competition angling or to join Fly Fish Australia, check out the following link: