World Fly Fishing Championships underway | VailDaily.com

World Fly Fishing Championships underway

VAIL — The International Sport Flyfishing Federation's 36th annual World Fly Fishing Championship got underway Sunday with opening ceremonies along the banks of Gore Creek.

Bringing the World Fly Fishing Championships to the United States has been the end-goal for organizers John and Jodi Knight since starting the local America Cup fly-fishing tournament in 2008. The Knights have spent the last eight years preparing for the event, visiting the Czech Republic when the world championships were there in 2014, and even donating their Eagle home to the event as a set-up base of operations.

On Sunday, the Knights' hard work paid off with a spectacular opening ceremony. A splendid display, Sunday's event came complete with a domesticated golden eagle spreading its 6-foot wings to welcome the competitors and local legend Helmut Fricker serenading hundreds of anglers with national songs from their various countries on his accordion.

"The Rocky Mountains will provide you many fine trouts, and Colorado will provide you many fine memories," Knight told the competitors during his opening remarks. "Enjoy the scenery, enjoy the waters, and enjoy new friendships."

FANS FROM GYPSUM TO MONGOLIA

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As teams from 25 different countries carried their flags through the streets of Lionshead Village, onlookers gathered to witness the ceremony. Among them was Vincent Valencia, of Gypsum, a lifelong fisherman who learned the sport from his father when he was a kid. He brought his own children, 9-year-old Donovan and 2-year-old Emilio, to witness the ceremony on Sunday.

"We just want them to see different things from different cultures," he said.

Arvin Sukhbaatar, a master's student at Colorado Technical University, said he was proud to see his home nation of Mongolia participating in the fly-fishing competition.

"My best friend is on the team," he said. "I'm so happy I get to see him and the others from my country."

Welcoming the nations to Vail, Town Council member Jenn Bruno said the event and the sport itself pays tribute to the beauty of Colorado.

"We find inspiration in the nature that surrounds us," she said. "As the mother of a 12-year-old fly-fisherman, I'm always impressed by the community of fly-fishing.

"For the next week, we are thrilled to have you join our Vail community," she told the competitors.

Italian Mario Podmanik, the vice president of the International Sport Flyfishing Federation, said he was excited to be returning to Vail for his second visit.

"(Vail) is worldwide known, particularly for organizing alpine ski events such as World Cup races," Podmanik said. "Skiing is my favorite winter activity, besides fly tying, maintaining of my fly-fishing gear, and, of course, counting down the time to the season opening."

AMERICANS AMONG THE FAVORITES

For many of the competitors, the event is their first time visiting the U.S. and Colorado. Charles-Andre Hanin, of the Belgium fly-fishing team, said the event is a chance for him to experience the waters of Colorado, which he has heard so much about.

"I know the event is going to be spectacular fun," he said, "but I'm also hoping we're competitive, top 10 or maybe top 5 would be great."

In the 36 years the International Sport Flyfishing Federation has been putting on the event, it has only taken place in the United States once before this year. That was in 1997, in Jackson Hole, and the U.S. team finished dead last. Now a major contender for the win — the Americans finished second at last year's world championships, their first-ever podium — the U.S. team's major competition will come from Spain, the defending champions.

David Arcay Fernandez, of the Spanish team, said he and his teammates plan on giving the American anglers a run for their money this year. Fernandez is the only member of the five-person Spanish team who has been to the U.S. before this event.

"We will see, we will see," he said with a smirk. "At the end of the competition we will tell you."

Practice takes place today and Tuesday, with the official competition beginning on Wednesday and running through Friday on the Eagle River, the Colorado River, Sylvan Lake and Summit County's Blue River. The medal presentation and closing ceremonies will take place at Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater on Saturday at noon and are free for the public to attend.