If you follow any of the Fly Fisherman blogs or other online fly fishing news feeds you may have noticed a fair amount of press that Fly Fishing Team USA has been receiving as of late. Some of that press has been good some bad. Some of it has been fair and some of it unfair. Many of the observers have been so called “objective third parties” who have commented on how the team has been picked, how it has operated, and our perceived low level of success over the history of the team. To be honest, I don’t know much about what others have said because I believe it’s not worth my time to get angry about something someone may have said or, just as importantly, get inflated by any sort of praise that may happen to come. I prefer to invest my time worrying about how I am fishing and do my best to let the commentary fall where it may. In light of the recent coaching change of George Daniel leaving FF Team USA and being hired by the North Carolina Fly Fishing Team as their head coach, many have wondered about the stability of Fly Fishing Team USA and the organization. There is no doubt that we have our challenges as we are constrained by what founding ownership allows us to do. That being said, we also have much to look forward to and I foresee much greater success for the team in our future and for competitive fly fishing in America as a whole.
If your goals in fly fishing are fame and fortune then you needn’t read on. However, if you want to have an experience that will change the way you think about fly fishing and expose you to the range of human emotion then the rest of this blog may be for you. The following are this entirely biased and subjective author’s five best reasons to try and make Fly Fishing Team USA (and consequently why I believe the team will continue to grow and succeed) and the top 5 things that will make you successful in attaining that goal. They are not necessarily listed in hierarchical order. By the way, if you find this blog long winded or a bit too literary in length I apologize because I just finished reading The River Why and I may wax a bit poetic.
Reasons to try and make FF Team USA:
1. Fishing with and against the best anglers in the country and the world.
Many reading this blog will laugh and say as others have that the members of FF Team USA aren’t the best anglers in the country and that there are far better anglers who could be winning gold medals every year at the World Fly Fishing Championship (WFFC hereafter). To them I say step up. If you think you can hand it to me, Lance Egan, Norman Maktima, Anthony Naranja, Mike Sexton, Rob Kolanda,……….. etc. then do it. Ultimately we/I want Team USA to be winning every WFFC gold medal and if that happens with someone who beats me out to get a spot on a WFFC team then we have succeeded and I have no one to blame but myself for lack of hard work and skill. To those same people I say look up names like Yann Caleri of France, Martin Droz of the Czech Republic, or any number of other fantastic European fly anglers and realize like I have that there is a whole world of fly anglers out there with a better level of overall skill than what this great country has been able to produce so far. We (Americans) are not the best yet but we can be the best if we only will accept and support the idea of competitive fly fishing. For all those who believe that competition topples the foundations of the quiet sport I say look no further than Europe where the tradition of fly fishing is very strong and their entire fly fishing industry is driven by competition. I digress.
2. Representing the USA!
The WFFC is the holy grail of fly fishing for me because of this fact. There is nothing that instills greater pride in me than to fish with the stars and stripes on my shirt. Nothing brings more pride in success and nothing more anguish in defeat. There is also nothing I want more than to stand on the podium with my teammates at the WFFC soon.
3. Becoming the Best Angler you can be.
Sadly, before I began competitive fly fishing I thought of myself as a very capable angler. I have only learned otherwise since. Every session of competition where my ending score doesn’t land me in first place (and plenty of those that have) is an illustration that I missed something. Nothing will motivate you more to become a better fly angler than feeling like you fished a beat as well as you could only to come back and realize that someone else buried your score. Even worse that another angler followed you and eclipsed your score in the same beat of water in a later session. Because of this, the angler I was in 2006 when I made the team was but a shadow of the angler I am now and I hope that what I am now is a shadow of what I will be in another 6 years. The pressure of this game will either break you or refine you into the purest and strongest incarnation of your angling self. Competing for or to get on FF Team USA will make you a better angler, period.
4. The fly fishing band of brothers.
Many of the fondest memories most fly fishers make have little to with the fishing but rather whom they are fishing with. My experience the last 6 years has been no different. Looking back on 4 National Championships, 1 Oceania Championship, and 3 WFFC, my experience has been one of the most heartbreaking and satisfying experiences I think I could have found anywhere. You get to experience the jubilance of a teammate winning a session and the agony over another one’s blank with the team poised for a medal. They get the same experience with you. You work together toward a common goal through grueling days and long nights of laughter and fly tying. To be honest, I don’t have a lot of friends outside of the team and its revolving circuit of competitive fly fishers and I don’t really feel the need for them. The ones I have are irreplaceable because of the experiences we’ve had together and there is nothing anyone could have more in common with me than a passion for and an absolute dedication to competitive fly fishing and the fish that we all seek.
5. Fishing in fantastic exotic places
Up to this point competitive fly fishing has taken me to Scotland, Poland, Italy, Tasmania, New Zealand, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, California, and will take me to Slovenia for this year’s WFFC. Most of these travels haven’t brought me to the famous and trendy yet wonderful locales that most cold water fly fisherman think of such as Patagonia, Alaska, Kamchatcka, British Columbia, etc. What I have experienced is a wide array of fisheries that have given me the opportunity to catch beautiful fish like European grayling, marble trout, and brown trout in waters where they are actually native. Not only this but in a round about way, because of scoring, competitive fly fishing has taught me to appreciated every fish caught not just the large ones. These competitions have also exposed me to a wonderful variety of water types from the small Tyenna River (we would call it a creek here) in Tasmania to the roaring glacial Aurino Torrent (that lived up to its name) and from the beautiful traditional lochs and pine boats of Scotland to the rugged beauty of Lago di Braies in Italy. I’ve fished water that has given up fish almost at will and water that has blanked every competitor in a session. Rivers raging with mud and floating 60 foot tall hardwoods to gin clear waters where approaching within 40 feet of a fish spelled the end of your chance for the session. You get the picture. I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve also learned just how lucky we are to have the fishing we do in the United States.
The top 5 things you need to be a successful member of FF Team USA:
1. Serious all around fly fishing ability
Being a master of one fly fishing skill won’t cut it. If you just fish rivers you’ve got to be able to fish lakes. If you just fish nymphs you’ve got to be able to fish dry flies and streamers. If you just fish riffles you’ve got to be able to fish flats and on and on. This has been the most difficult part for me because we all tend to favor certain techniques and water types. When I started competing to get on the team, I was as big a strike indicator junkie as you could find.
2. Confidence, Mental Stability, and a Short Memory
Though we compete in a team format, the actual fly fishing is done individually. In order to be successful you must believe in yourself and your approach. Just like any other individual sport, you must be stable enough to forget your successes and failures in each session long enough to tackle the next session with a level head. You are only as good as your next session’s result because consistency is what brings you the bling in this game. Many of the best anglers on or off the team have fallen victim to being unable to recover from a bad session. Resilience is key.
3. Get Over Yourself!
It’s comical how large the egoes are in the world of fly fishing in and out of competition. After all, we make up the thinnest possible slice of the sporting world in this country. If you want glory in fly fishing then you’re going to share it with awfully few people. Heaven knows we all fall victim to pride and arrogance and I’m certainly not an exception. There have been quite a few anglers to come to a Team USA regional beating their chest over the years. Few of them have had lasting success. In time, this game will humble every angler teaching him that someone else is always better at a certain situation than he is. If you can’t live with humility you can’t be teachable and progression as an angler stops. So if you believe you are a fly fishing stud come give competitive fly angling a try. You may actually be a stud but none of us will find out if you don’t give it a try. If you are willing to learn you will find success on some level. If you think you are God’s gift to fly fishing, I bet you won’t feel that way for long.
4. Integrity, loyalty, professionalism, and teamwork
We are ambassadors who represent the USA to the fly fishing world. If you can’t fish with honesty and integrity, be loyal to your team and your country, and conduct yourself with professionalism you need not apply. This is an often overlooked but deeply critical part of individual and team success. We need you to be a great angler and a great person to contribute to the team. Some of the saddest stories in Team USA history arose from internal strife and bigotry. Some of our best successes were a result of the amalgam of great men who happen to fly fish who succeeded because they conducted themselves as a team in a way that we can be proud of and worked together as a collective unit.
5. Last but certainly not least, a supportive home life.
If you are not single, competitive fly fishing will soak up money and time away from your family. If your spouse, family, etc. is not supportive than you won’t be successful for long. No one fishes well when he feels guilty about being there. In this regard, I am among the luckiest of all men. Thank you Julia.
If you feel like you have the preceding qualities and you’re interested in competitive fly fishing, then get after it and come fish.