It was already a hot day at 5:30 AM when the alarm went off. That’s perfect because it was time to turn up the heat. Team USA was in 3rd place with three teams tight on our tail. One blank, bad score or bad luck could move us out of medal contention. This was an unacceptable thought in my mind. To me it would be like going to Guyana and not catching an arapaima. We have two members on this team that have never won a medal on the world stage. Our Captain, Joe Humphreys at 88 years old and our long-time manager and angler, Jay Buchner at 70. It was time to get it done.
I wasn’t particularly happy with my contribution to the team on day one. I scored excellent on my lake session 2 but session 1 was one to forget. In my heart, it was my duty to make up for it. And good news, I had the morning beat on the upper Zezere River and the afternoon on the lower Zezere River. I’d put my river fishing skills against anyone in the world and now I had my chance.
I drew beat 2. A slow moving, crystal clear 500 meter run of the tiny upper river. According to my research, this beat produced twelve fish in session 1 two days ago. I wasn’t sure about session 2. But that didn’t matter. Somewhere in these 500 meters there were twelve fish that had been caught and I had to assume a few more as well that weren’t caught. I had to vacuum this place. Before the gun even went off I set my goal high. I was going land fifteen fish or die.
Armed with my Winston 4-weight Air and my Mastery DT line, I crouched to the ground and attacked my beat. The way I do it is I lean on my net with my left side and make very short casts with my right. I literally keep less than a foot of fly line out the rod tip. My leader is 9’ to the dropper and another three to my point fly. My flies were a Yellow PMX size 10 on the point and a size 12 Elk Caddis on the dropper. These gorgeous browns are small so when a fish takes my fly I don’t fight them. Fighting them only increases the likelihood of losing them. Instead, my short line and leader system allows me to lift back with the rod on the hookset and keep on going. The result, the fish in the net in less than one second!
Imagine this fishing tactic and crawling (crawling in order not to spook a single fish) up a river for three hours. It’s painful on a guy in his 50’s. My back ached, my knees throbbed and my shins bruised. But if there’s fish to catch, and there were plenty, you catch almost everyone. I caught twenty-five brown trout all on the system described above and won the beat. I scored what Team USA desperately needed – a perfect “1”!
Lunch started good. How could it not? I was feeling fantastic about my score and in my brain envisioned Team USA moving to second place. Sadly, halfway through my plate of oversized sardines I got news that Jay blanked on the big lake. And while Mike scored well with a “3”, Scott was in the middle of his group. Ugh I thought. Disaster. Sure enough, instead of moving up we dropped to 4th.
I wasn’t feeling too confident for the team after lunch. My mind calculated what needed to be done to move back up in the standings. I’m an angler not a mathematician and I could only gather one thought – win again – this time on my lower Zezere River session 4.
My 500 meters of lower Zezere were deep and slow. The piece of water was quite intimidating to be sincere. My controller was a local man with an amazing smile but not a word of English. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to tell me my beat stunk or was great. It didn’t matter either way. I had to make it a great or Team USA wouldn’t medal for sure.
During the next three hours I felt no pain despite crawling and wading up to my neck in the river. There was no pain because I found plenty of brown trout. When you compete in the world champs there’s no time for photos so I’ll keep this short. I caught twenty-three browns and won again. The closest angler to me was the Spaniard with seventeen. Bam! If my teammates had good session 4’s also we should be back in this.
The tournament was over now and all I could do was wait for my teammates results. My group of competitors and I were bussed back to the hotel. Jerry, Joe and Mike were waiting. They hugged me because they already knew I had two perfect scores today. Mike scored well in his session 4 with a “2” and it came down to how Jay and Scott did on their lake session 4’s.
The lakes are a long way away so it wasn’t until 9 PM that we heard the rumble of the busses returning. We left our beers at the bar and ran outside. We could hear Scotts voice echoing loud amongst his fellow competitors. Humans talk quiet when they fail. Scott scored an impressive “2”.
Holly cow we were close. I was nervous waiting for Jay to come off his bus. But he had a smile and he was twisting the ends of his cowboy mustache. Looks promising I thought. Sure enough, Jay scored a “4” but more importantly, his Spaniard had an awful session and scored a “7”.
We had a chance. Without a shower or even shoving our gear in our hotel rooms we waited at the bar for the final results of the Worlds Masters Fly Fishing Championships. At 10 PM they came. Team Italy – gold medals. Team France – silver medals. AND TEAM USA – BRONZE MEDALS!!
There was a bit more to party over as well. I was declared the individual bronze medalist. Two medals around my neck in the World Championships – how freaking cool was that? But wouldn’t you know. My triumph only lasted until about 11 PM when the organizers broke the news of a miscalculation. I was dropped to 4th overall by one placing point. That means I needed one more fish or if I caught one 3 cm longer fish.
My drop to 4th bummed out my team more than it did me. Sure, I’d love to be getting two medals on the big stage tomorrow but honestly, I didn’t think a team medal was possible on the plane ride over here. But here we are. All is good.
Tomorrow I’ll end the World Masters Fly Fishing Championships report with photos from the podium. This is an awesome day for the USA. And its time to ice the knees and party all night!