The 2007 National Fly Fishing Championships concluded this weekend in Boulder, Colorado. The competition consisted of fourteen teams made up of 5 anglers each. My regional team was formed from the Western Regional and included 5 guys that traveled from across the US to the Regional event. We had raw talent but lacked experience as a team. Three Team USA teams, the winners of last yearís National Championships, were considered the overwhelming favorites because of their strong bond as a team and their competitive experience. Additionally, three International teams from England, Ireland, and Canada brought world class anglers to the event and were considered next in line for a chance of receiving a medal. Eight U.S. regional teams representing the top anglers from each regional qualifier rounded out the competition. With world class competitors, 4 new teammates and 5 challenging events in unfamiliar waters, this was a huge competitive fishing challenge.
Months before the competition I was elected captain of our team and was responsible for getting our team together. Unfortunately, the anglers on the regional teams are at a huge disadvantage because they are unable to practice together, they have limited competitive experience, and most of the time they are fierce competitors that never know if they are being told accurate information about how their competition fished. It was an overwhelming challenge to bring together four teammates from distinguished fishing backgrounds but with highly individualistic personalities.
In my fishing career, I have experienced both extremes of team unity in competition fly fishing. Last year at Nationals, our teamís captain never contacted us and we didnít even know who was on our team. The captain dropped out after the first day and we were left to our own and ended up finishing towards the bottom. In contrast, this spring I was invited to fish in Australia as part of Team USA. Working as a team, we were able to provide each other with the best patterns and methods for success. The result was that we won the bronze medal at the Oceania Championships- the reward of great communication and teamwork. Because the format of this yearís NFFC event placed a huge value on the ability to work as a team, my job as Team Captain was to convince the others how important it was to communicate so that we could build a bond and trust for each other in order to achieve success.
In competition, that is sometimes easier said than done. Two days before the competition, our entire team met for the first time at a lake for practice. We were stringing up rods and it started; the parking lot turned into a mouth-fight filled with mistrust, anger, and egos fueling the blaze. Other teams watched as we argued and yelled at each other like idiots. Finally, after a few tense moments, all the grievances were voiced and the air cleared. Now, we had a clean slate on which to build a real team. We fished the lake together and talked about how we caught fish. That night we had dinner and the team continued to bond. The next day we practiced on a river and more egos dropped while our attention turned to figuring out the river and its fickle fish.
The night before the competition we met and drew up a game plan for each angler on their respective waters. A late night tying session lasted until 1 AM and was shortly followed by alarms at 4:30 AM. We boarded our separate buses and went off to fish for our team. During the competition we crawled on our hands and knees to get fish, we fell in the treacherous currents trying to get fish, and we even purposefully swam in the water to get fish.
Each day we learned something and each night we returned after competition and told each other of our successes, failures, and suggestions for the next dayís event. After five grueling sessions, the competition was over. We each had great sessions and disappointing ones. But through it all we worked together to do our best. Because of the complexities of the scoring we didnít know where we were in the standings and we wouldnít know until the following nightís banquet.
With the competition over our team went to dinner with the Brits and we talked fishing at the bars and streets of Boulder until 2 AM. Most of the anglers talked about taking a break from fishing for a few weeks or a month. The next day all the anglers were supposed to attend a BBQ at noon. Our team wandered in an hour late, dressed in stinky clothes and wearing huge smiles. People looked us over and asked where we had been and if we made it back from the bars OK. We smiled as we told them we had gotten up early to go fishing and had the time of our lives on a little river in the mountains called Clear Creek that was full of eager browns. I caught my fill of fish and then just laid down on a rock and looked at the stacked boulder mountains, the green pines, and the bluest sky. I watched my teammates fish until they were satisfied and then they soaked up the sun and the river. It was perfect.
That night at the banquet, the anticipation grew as rumors spread that a Regional team might have beaten the Brits. To think that any regional team could topple a squad of experienced English anglers was unthinkable. The awards started, the Gold medal went to Team USA1, then the Silver went to Team USA2, then the Bronze medal went to the Western Regional team. We won the bronze!! The room went crazy-- a regional team had grabbed a medal at the National Championships! We staggered up to the podium, beaming with pride as the medals were placed over our heads. Cameras flashed and people talked. I donít remember anything except looking at the smiles of my teammates and wishing the moment could last forever.
Pictured from left to right Kurt Finlayson, Rob Kolanda, Teo Whitlock, John Roberts, Loren Williams
Inside Competitive Fly Fishing
Western Regional Fly Fishing Team member Kurt Finlayson writes about his experiences at the 2007 National Fly Fishing Championship. Kurt and his team mates surprised several more experienced teams to win the Bronze in the event.