Fly-fishing’s best do battle | VailDaily.com

Fly-fishing’s best do battle

Preston Utley/Vail DailyScott Robertson casts into the colorado river friday in Dotsero during the international flyfishing competition.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Last Friday wasn’t the kind of day you’d normally pick to fly fish the Colorado.

Heavy downpours the previous evening had churned up sand and the river was running fast and dirty. Ominous clouds rolled overhead and a nippy little wind breezed through the valley.

But less-than-optimal conditions couldn’t stop anglers who hail from throughout the United States, Europe and Asia from casting their lines along a two-mile stretch of the Colorado River located. These dedicated anglers braved the elements to compete in The America Cup International Fly Fishing Tournament.

The America Cup just completed its inaugural competition, featuring 12 five-person teams fishing in four Colorado high country rivers ” the Colorado at Dotsero, the Arkansas above Granite, the Blue River at the Blue River Campground and Ten Mile Creek between Frisco and Copper Mountain. Anglers from the United States were joined by competitors from Ireland, Australia, Poland, Hungary and Japan in the event, which was the brainchild of John and Jody Knight of Minturn, and David Pehle of Howard, Colo.

“It was like the Super Bowl of fly fishing,” said Knight.

The event was born out of friendship. Knight got to know some Irish anglers during a national competition last year. As dedicated fishermen are apt to do, he struck up a conversation about his angling adventures. From there, the idea of an international competition took form.

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“International fly fishing ‘cups’ are major focal points for the sport of fly fishing, tourism, resource protection and stabilization, and international good will,” Knight said. “Currently the United States of America is the only civilized fly fishing country in the world that does not have an international fly fishing ‘cup’ of any kind.”

From modest expectations, the event began to take shape. Aided by a weak U.S. dollar and a strong Euro, international competitors signed up to trek across the ocean.

The town of Frisco agreed to help sponsor the event and river stretches were identified for the competition. Knight said the venues provided great diversity ” a showcase of fly fishing in Colorado can include.

For the Europeans, the event was an eye-opening access experience. “In Europe, everything is private and club oriented,” said Knight. “River access is very, very locked down.”

For the Americans, the event provided a showcase for international fishing techniques. Some of the action looked very alien to the U.S. anglers. One competitor ” Irishman Michael Drinen of Team Emerger ” traveled to the area prior to the contest to conduct a river master class. Then he proved he knew what he was talking about. Drinen won first place honors in the inaugural America Cup.

Drinen’s techniques drew a lot of attention during the contest. At one point he was attired in a wet suit so he could cross the river to fish a preferred location. While the fishing was good, his chosen technique required him to catch a fish, place it in a net and swim it over to the judge for measurement.

All fish caught in the competition were released after measurement. Barbed hooks were outlawed and competitors were allowed a maximum of three flies per session.

Predictably, at the conclusion of each session, the anglers would gather and discuss what the fish liked. The colorful language surrounding fly fishing flew about, with competitors debating the effectiveness of stone flies and nymphs and “turds.”

The competition field included one women’s team and one youth team. The junior competitors were particularly enthusiastic.

“My boys loved every second,” said Richard Formato, coach Youth Fly Fishing Team USA. “First of all, we were all blown away by the quality and diversity of the venues. The streams were jaw droppers, at times intuitive but more often beguiling, and always fun to fish.

“Even greater for my team, was the chance to fish among the world’s greats and to meet, and fish with, their Team USA idols.”

Knight said America is fertile ground for international fly fishing competition. He said the sport is faithfully followed in Europe, much like the Bassmasters series is in the U.S.

But that interest translated over the ocean, he explained, as evidenced by the America Cup Web site. During the weeklong competition, the site tallied more than 52,000 visitors. Typically, only around 100 visit the Web site during an entire month.

After a successful initial event, Knight said the people behind the America Cup are already working to schedule next year’s competition. The trick is finding a fall weekend that doesn’t conflict with other U.S. and European events.

“Now we want to double the budget and do everything bigger,” he said.

And, he stressed, the venues that supported the event benefited in a tangible, ecological way. Before the fishing teams were sent out to a site, volunteers scoured the areas, picking up trash and debris. Crews then returned to the rivers once competition ended.

“We left things better than when we went there in the first place,” said Knight. “That’s what international fishing is about.”

To learn more about the America Cup International Fly Fishing Tournament, visit the event Web site at http://www.theamericacup.com