VAIL — The World Fly Fishing Championships are returning to the U.S. for the first time since 1997.
And if you’re reading this paper, then the venue is probably one of your favorites.
When local resident, fisherman and tournament organizer John Knight received the news that he had won the bid to make Vail the venue of the 2016 World Championships, he couldn’t believe it at first.
“I was ecstatic, incredibly excited,” he said. “It’s been big a goal of a lot of fisherman and myself to bring the World Fly Fishing Championships back to the U.S. And from there, to bring it to Vail was really a win-win.”
Knight is the organizer of the America Cup fly fishing tournament, held annually in the Vail Valley in September, which is also an international event. His expertise in running that event helped spur the selection of himself and Vail as the hosts of the World Fly Fishing Championships, which represents the highest level of competition in the sport.
“To win a bid for the United States is a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in a very long time, and it’s a testament to the package that John puts together,” said America Cup competitor Ben Metcalf, of State College, Pa. “At the highest level of competition, it’s a very Euro-centric sport.”
An event for everybody
Metcalf has assisted the America Cup’s nonprofit efforts, which last year enabled the tournament to be able to donate $5,000 to Project Healing Waters.
“Last year anglers from all over the country and the world came in and helped wounded soldiers who were part of the Project Healing Waters program,” Metcalf said. “People from the European championships working with United States soldiers who were just back from Afghanistan or Iraq — it was something to see.”
The town of Vail funds the America’s Cup and from their perspective, the entire event is something to see. But then again, with its multiple streamside venues it isn’t necessarily that visible, which is why the town is particularly impressed with Knight.
“Due to the town’s relationship with John and his success in past events, we know that he knows how to put on a good event,” said Clare Hefferren, Vail’s event liaison consultant. “(Knight) is open and willing to activate with the town and bring the fisherman and their guests off of the streams and into the village ... we’ll take fishing events and not only have them out on the river, but do clinics and competitions in the village to expand the spectator population.”
Hefferren says that draw from the competition venue into the town is something the town of Vail’s Commission on Special Events examines when they’re deciding to hand out funding.
“That’s a key initiative of the CSE this year,” she said. “It’s what we call activation. Bringing people from the external fields, specifically athletic events, and also making sure folks know they’re going on, people that just happen to be walking through come to the event, and creating some local buzz as well.”
The next generation
Hefferren says personally, as a budding fly fisherwoman in her own right, she’s excited to see how involved the youth of the sport will be in the World Fly Fishing Championships’ return to the U.S.
“In any sport, you’re looking for the next generation, and how to build excitement for the sport in future generations. That’s exactly what John Knight is doing,” said Hefferren.
Before the World Fly Fishing Championships arrive in 2016, the juniors version of that event will be held in the same Vail venue one year earlier.
Knight said he was nearly as excited about that event as he was about the big show.
“There’s some incredible talent out there as far as the kids are concerned, so it’s going to be a real treat to see the future of the sport right here in our town,” he said. But before he can cook up any of this delicious, fresh-caught action, Knight will need one key ingredient: volunteers.
“It will be like volunteering for the World Cup at Beaver Creek,” he said. “You’ll get a Gore-Tex jacket with the logo embroidered on it, and you’re fishing will improve as a result of spending a day with these guys.”
Knight said the best way to get a good volunteer gig is to practice up at the America Cup, which happens every September here in Vail.
For more info or to get involved, visit www.theamericacup.com/volunteers.