Fly-fishing tournament off to a big start | VailDaily.com

Fly-fishing tournament off to a big start

WOLCOTT — The America Cup fly-fishing competition got off to a whopper of a start Friday, with perfect weather, a new venue and, of course, big fish.

Fishing for the first time along the private banks of the Eagle River in Wolcott, competitors reeled in fish all morning, afternoon and into the evening on the first day of the three-day tournament, which is hosting 180 competitors and 16 teams from around the world in Eagle and Summit counties this weekend.

"You could tell it was pros out here fishing today," said Woody Kiehl, a guide with Vail Valley Anglers who volunteered as a sector judge for the event.

Kiehl is quite familiar with the venue, as Vail Valley Anglers is permitted to run guiding trips along the banks of the Eagle River in Wolcott. But this weekend, competitors in the America Cup International Fly Fishing Tournament have the area all to themselves, a nice change of pace for the annual event.

"It's great these guys don't have to share the area with the regular guys out here fishing," Kiehl said.

Competitor Norm Maktima, of Team USA, agreed.

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"We've had tournaments where we're dodging kayakers, fighting with locals, trying to cast between whitewater rafters, but today we didn't have to deal with any of that," Maktima said after the competition wrapped up Friday.

"I can't tell you how excited I am that we're able to use the Jouflas land this year," said tournament founder John Knight. "It really sets us up well heading into next year, when we'll host the World Youth Fly Fishing Championships, and in 2016 when the World Fly Fishing Championships will be held here."

67-CENTIMETER TROUT

Maktima, who, at 34, has been a professional guide and fly-fishing competitor for half of his life, said he caught the largest fish of his competitive career on Friday, a 60.5-centimeter rainbow trout.

And it wasn't even the largest of the day.

"A 14-year-old (member of the USA Youth Fly Fishing Team) pulled a 67-centimeter fish out of the river this morning," said event official Chuck Nash. "It looked like it weighted half as much as he did!"

Michael Yelton, of Lake Lure, North Carolina, said conditions were pretty much perfect, except for a 30-minute period of muddy water which passed through Wolcott at around 2 p.m.

"It dingied up for a minute, but passed through pretty quickly," he said.

Nash said the peaks of the Sawatch Mountains, visible from the Eagle River to the south, were white at the start of the day, leading Yelton to believe there could have been some fresh runoff muddying the waters. But Kiehl said it was more likely due to some construction underway at nearby Eagle Springs Golf Course, just up river from the America Cup venue at Wolcott.

Nash, himself an avid angler, said in watching the competitors on Friday, he has some ideas of where he may try to fish.

"I'm going to see if I can get out here in a couple of weeks," he said, with a gesture toward the Eagle. "It's great to pick up some pointers watching these guys, but seeing how the pros do it makes me think maybe I'm a better fisherman than I was giving myself credit for."

3 HOURS, 46 FISH

Yelton, Maktima and the rest of the competitors who fished the Eagle River on Friday will head to different venues today and Sunday. The tournament also takes place on the Colorado River near Dotsero, Sylvan Lake in Eagle, and Dillon Reservoir and the Blue River in Summit County. Competitors fish each venue for three hours, then move on to the next. Their total number of fish caught, along with the lengths of those fish, will be calculated to determine the winner.

"I've seen an 8-inch fish determine the outcome of a tournament," said Jay Buchner, a Team USA staff member and volunteer at the event.

At the Eagle River venue Friday, the most fish caught by a competitor was 46.

The America Cup will crown an individual champion, as well as a winning team, on Sunday. An awards ceremony is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Evergreen Lodge in Vail.

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