U.S. Youth Fly fishing team adapts to conditions in international competition

A total of 68 teen anglers representing 12 international teams competed this summer during the World Youth Fly Fishing Championship in Slovenia. The U.S. team placed third in the tournament. (WYFFC2017.COM)

On a mountain river in Slovenia during the recent World Youth Fly Fishing Championship, the U.S. team was hanging on at fifth place entering the fifth and final session on the water. Following a change in long-planned strategy, however, the Americans rallied to a third-place finish overall.

 

In a field that included 68 teen anglers from 12 international teams, Mike Komara, 17, of Allison Park, Pa., caught 16 fish in the last session, bumping the Americans up to bronze medal status.

“The water temperature was not great for trout, and despite all our planning and practice fishing, we had to figure out a new strategy,” said Komara.

The team that traveled to the Savinja River in the Slovenian Alps, about 13 rugged miles south of Austria, was accompanied by assistant coach Josh Miller, of Ross, a Fly Fishing Team USA angler, Penn’s Woods West Trout Unlimited member and frequent instructor at Pittsburgh-area fly fishing workshops.

Taking first place in the Aug. 7-13 tournament were the French teens with a total of 250 fish. The Poles took the silver catching 205 fish, and the Americans landed 190. In individual rankings, U.S. team member Grant Hawse of North Carolina placed seventh overall with 52 fish, and Komara ranked thirteenth with 39 catches. Four of six Team USA Youth members placed within the top 25 in the world championship. Another, team captain Douglas Freeman of Philadelphia, placed 26th.

In international competitive fly fishing, European techniques generically called “Czech nymphing” are standard. Among other rules, no weight may be added to the line — tungsten bead heads and lead are tied into the flies — and leaders can’t be more than twice the length of the rod. Miller used a 3-weight 10 1/2-foot rod on the river and a 10-foot rod in the tournament’s flat-water session. His light level fly line was just 0.022-inches in diameter.

At high elevations, the glacial Savinja River is famous for its trout fishing. The American team planned to fish nymphs, streamers and surface flies when fish were rising.

“We got there a week early and it wasn’t what we expected,” Komara said. “Slovenia was having the worst drought in their history — it got up to 105 degrees. The heat wave made it much harder to fish. Early in the week the river was 85 degrees. It’s a world-class fishery upstream, but we heard resort owners didn’t want the tournament on the upper reaches because they didn’t want the fish to be pressured, to make fishing easier for their clients.”

Two days of rain prior to the competition dropped the water temperature to the high 70s in the lower tournament waters where anglers fished for stocked rainbow trout and the other eligible species: brown trout, grayling, European chubs, barbel, cactus roach and nace.

“It’s kind of a sucker that feeds on river algae and small worms,” Komara said. “We never really figured them out. After each session we’d meet for about two hours at the hotel and compare notes. We had to completely revise our plan.”

The tournament’s pivotal decisions came during the final session.

“I was very lucky to get the top beat,” Komara said. “It was shady and the water was a little cooler. It came over the top of a weir dam … and had the most aerated water.”

Komara and the coaches noticed that an upper-beat tournament controller who had injured his leg was spending most of his time sitting near the bank of a particular run. After approving fish caught by previous anglers, he released them all in the same spot.

“Most of the other people fishing there got one or two trout and some chubs or barbel and moved on,” Komara said. “I stayed on that run and caught 14 rainbow trout right there. I went upstream and caught one 30-centimeter (11.8-inch) chub, then back down and caught another rainbow.”

For 371 inches of fish caught in the final session, Komara earned 12,160 points and his only first-place ranking in five sessions.

About 90 percent of his fish were caught on Squirmy Worm and Hare’s Ear-style nymph patterns, he said. The rest were taken on streamers and dries, which attracted mostly greyling. All of Komara’s flies were self-tied.

“It was good and I got to travel with some of my best friends, but I’d rather fish for wild brown trout,” he said.

Back home, the North Allegheny High School senior finds them in Spring Creek, Penn’s Creek and other waters in the State College area, as well as some little streams near Syracuse, N.Y.

“Outside of the competitions I still do European-style techniques,” he said. “It’s not really what most people think it is. We still use fly line outside the rod tip, still fish dry flies — my favorite by far. But there’s a dynamic aspect to the European style, being able to do a lot of different tactics all rolled into one basic style.”

Some anglers who like to relax on the water think “competitive fishing” is an oxymoron. But Komara say’s he’s competitive in everything he does.

“I used to be a competitive rock climber. I got into fly fishing because I got hurt and couldn’t climb anymore,” he said. “I want to be the best fly fisherman. At this point, though, it’s not so much about being the best as it is having fun.”

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