America Cup brings top fly fishermen to Eagle County
Cast with the pros
- What: Bring your own rod and line and join in an open casting competition. The top caster wins $100.
- Where: International Bridge at Vail Village
- When: From 4-5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 12
- How much: $5 to enter
EAGLE COUNTY — Cam Chioffi remembers wading into the waters of the Colorado River in the final round of last year’s America Cup.
It was the fifth and final session of the Vail-based fly fishing tournament, the largest of its kind in the country, and Chioffi, a 16-year-old angling phenom from Massachusetts, had gone through most of the three-day tournament sitting in first place. But conditions were tough that day, and Chioffi was assigned to an especially dead section of river.
“Only two (sections) were producing fish, and I got one that wasn’t producing anything,” said Chioffi. “I went in and tried everything I had and just couldn’t put a fly in front of a fish, which is what it came down to, so I took a blank (score) in that session, which took me down to seventh place.”
Since that day, Chioffi has gone on to earn some of the top honors in the sport, including two gold medals in the team and individual competition at the World Youth Fly Fishing Championships in Ireland earlier this year. But he still has a score to settle with the Colorado River, and he’ll be back to compete against top anglers from around the world at the sixth annual America Cup, which runs from Friday to Sunday.
While he may be one of the youngest on the water, Chioffi, a high school junior who has been fishing since the age of 2, already promises to be one of the top anglers in the sport.
Besides Chioffi, other competitors include the U.S. Men’s Fly Fishing Team, current world champions Team Czech Republic, the U.S. Youth Fly Fishing Team and past world champions.
And the best part for locals? Amateurs can put together teams to compete alongside the best in the world.
“It’s a world-class tournament open to all teams and nations, and we always have groups of past volunteers who put together a team and do it,” said John Knight, the tournament’s international organizer. “This is the largest tournament of this kind by far in the U.S.”
Showcasing Eagle County
The event is a FIPS-Mouche tournament, meaning it follows the rules of the International Sport Fly Fishing Federation. During the three-day competition, five-person teams break into five groups and five different venues over the course of the tournament. Points are scored per fish caught — the fish must be at least 20 centimeters long, anglers get 100 points per fish and 20 points per additional centimeter over 20.
The tournament is catch-and-release, meaning that of the 2,500 to 3,000 trout that will be caught over the three days, none will be harmed. Medals are awarded to individual winners, as well as the winning team, based on the combination of team members’ points.
Vail’s tournament has grown steadily in prestige and size since its first year, and it has earned Eagle County the bid for the 2015 Youth World Fly Fishing Championships and the 2016 World Fly Fishing Championships.
You’ll catch anglers at some of the best waters in Eagle and Summit counties over the week. Venues include the Dillon Reservoir, Sylvan Lake State Park, Colorado River Ranch, the upper Blue River and the lower Blue River.
“It’s important for me to showcase the diversity of the waters in Colorado,” said Knight. “Sylvan Lake is an alpine setting as opposed to a large body of water such as Dillon Reservoir. They’re very different, which is an important feature that Colorado offers. We have world-class skiing, mountain biking and now fly fishing.”
Chioffi said he considers Colorado’s river and lakes to be some of the best fishing in the country.
“In my opinion, I think they’re the best in the U.S. It’s always a gift to go out there, and we all look forward to it,” he said.
Project Healing Waters
Before the competitors cast any lines, The America Cup will kick off Tuesday and Wednesday with a special program for injured veterans. Project Healing Waters is a regular part of the tournament week and pairs pro anglers with rehabilitating soldiers from Fort Carson for a mountain retreat and a day on the water. With the help of Nova Guides, which provides equipment, food, transportation and lodging, 20 soldiers will gather at Camp Hale and learn the sport paired one-on-one with a pro.
“The goal is to make these soldiers more able to go out and fish on their own. It’s part of their rehab,” Knight said. “It’s not just putting them out there and helping them catching a bunch of fish, but to give them the tools and skills to be able to go do it themselves. We did it last year and it was hugely successful.”