This past weekend was my first fly fishing competition. I’m going to go over the prep work I did for this comp, gear I brought, gear I wish I had brought, how fishing went, my mind set, and the results of the comp. I’m hoping this is the first of many comps for me in the coming years. Hopefully after reading this you too will want to come out and try your hand at competitive fly fishing.
The comp was being held at Paulina Lake. This lake is located in Central Oregon just east of La Pine. The lake is a caldera type lake. These lakes are common here in Oregon because of the ancient volcanic activity throughout the state. Crater Lake is the most famous of these types of lakes. Why is that important? Because it tells you something about the topography of the bottom of the lake and what you might have to deal with. Paulina Lake is a deep, steep lake, 250 feet deep, with an off center point that shallows out at 70-80 feet below the surface. This means the shoal zone of the lake is short and sporadic. There are areas around the lake where it can go from 2’ deep to 40’ deep within 50’ of the shore. As a competent stillwater angler I know that the fish tend to hang in the shoal areas. A shoal is the area where the sunlight can reach the bottom and promote weed growth (usually less than 40’). Weeds equal bugs, bugs equal fish. I have an app on my phone (it’s also a website) called GPS Nautical Charts. This gives me a rough idea of the depth of a lake. I don’t use it to give me exact depth while fishing (you can’t use it at all while fishing in a comp anyway), more so to give an idea on where the fish will be most likely, and places of interest that might hold fish as well, like creek channels, drop offs, flats, points, sunken islands, etc. Between the nautical maps and google maps I had an idea on where I thought the fish would be.
After scouring over maps I went to look up any fishing reports that were available over the years. I tried to match the weather patterns, not time of year with the reports. For example in early July last year we had just gone through a massive heat wave and it hadn’t really cooled down before the next one hit in August. So instead of looking at July’s report from last year I looked at June and May for a better idea of what I might expect. Facebook pages, local friends, other competitors that were able to pre fish and share knowledge, and fly shops/guides are a great place to look when it comes to fishing reports. They can tell you flies, colors, water clarity, fish behavior, stocking reports, and many other things that can help you.
The next place I went was the rules. I already was familiar with the rules, somewhat, from hearing other competitors talk, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t screw up anything and cost me points (more on that later). Just to give you an idea on the rules, you can’t have anything float or sink the fly besides the fly or the line. This means no split shot or tungsten putty and no indicators. No balanced flies unless the bead doesn’t protrude past the eye of the hook. No lead core lines, no anchoring, no trolling, the leader can only be double the length of the rod, you can’t stand to fish or cast, your net can’t be longer than 122 cm, I could go on and on. This just means the way you fish is very specific and takes some time getting used to it.
Then it was on to tying flies to fill out boxes. I was already working on a chironomid box so I kicked it into overdrive to finish that in time for the comp and have time for some bonus flies. Just like river fishing you want different weights and colors and sizes to be able to adapt to different conditions. Some new flies I tied besides the slew of buzzers, were diawl bach patterns. They turned out great and I need more of them for personal fishing and the next comp I do. I also tied up some damsels and buggers that I wanted to have on deck, just in case. I already had loads of flies so there weren’t too many empty spots in my boxes.
The last major thing I did to prep was go over gear. I got a small boat bag for all my fly boxes which was good, but I now know I need a bigger boat bag so I only have one bag in the boat. I got a net that was longer but within regulations. I checked all my lines to make sure knots were good and they were in good shape. I checked reels and terminal tackle to make sure I had it and things were in good order. Mostly just dotting my I’s and crossing my T’s.
I brought a lot of gear. I’m pretty organized. Everything is packed away in collapsible bins and stacked neatly in a corner in my apartment. I made sure I got everything I needed, but of course you don’t bring everything. I learned a lot too and there are things I wish I brought. But here’s the highlights of what I had in my bin:
- Reel 2x (Lamson Remix & Redington Behemoth)
- Spools 5x (Lamson Liquid spools)
- Rod (Echo Lago 6wt)
- Boat bags (Simms small and Plano medium)
- Tippet and tippet tender (fluoro and mono)
- Tippet rings
- Leader material
- Bug spray
- Net (large Measure Net)
If you’re wanting details on anything on the list comment down below or shoot me an email.
The stuff I wish I brought:
- More lines
- Larger boat bag
- High quality seat cushion
- Another rod
- Another reel
- First aid kit
- Signaling device (more on that later)
- Personal PFD
- Multi tool
There’s more on each of those lists, I’m sure, but I can’t think of it right now. If I do I’ll make an edit to the post later
Day of the Comp
The morning started off a little rough. I was a bit early but everyone showed up on time ready to go. We got the boats all rented. We went over the scoring and rules. Then we found our boat partners. I was paired up with my boat partners for both sessions, a rare occurrence. Hann Lee was a great boat partner and I was fortunate with getting a guy I got along with and was easy to talk to. Each session is 3 hours so if I was in a boat with someone for 6 hours, we had to get along. The rough part was right when we were about to start. One of the rental boats wouldn’t start up. This resulted in that team using another boat that wasn’t planned for and unfortunately the replacement boat also broke down in the middle of their session as well. This meant we started a bit late.
Hann and I decided the best course of action would be to work together. We felt it would be the most productive. With these mini comps in your local area, to me, that is the best mindset. Most people are new to the comp scene so none of us have the skills or experience to run away with the comp if you collaborate on flies, lines, locations, or retrieves. I’ve fished with people that have the same line, flies, and location on the water and they have done way better and way worse than me. Sometimes it’s just the unseen mojo that an angler has that either catches fish or doesn’t.
Hann asked one of the resort’s employees for any tips and we took their advice. Our first spot was close to the launch and near a chub trap ODFW uses to try and eradicate the invasive tui chub in the lake. I started with a hover line (0.5 ips). I had on a diawl bach, damsel, and fab. This resulted in zero fish. I think mostly because the fish were off. This will make more sense when I go over results. The other problem was using a drogue. Drifting with it was foreign to Hann and myself. The wind being inconsistent and gusty didn’t help either. So I switched my approach. I went with a full chironomid set-up. The bottom fly was a polish pheasant tail and the middle fly was a copper and balck chironomid. I only list those flies because they caught me fish. I was robbed though. The first fish I caught was a rainbow that felt great. The only problem was it was foul hooked. Any fish hooked behind the gill plate doesn’t count. The next 2 fish were kokanee. These were nonscoring fish. The only fish that could score points were brown and rainbow trout. These were the only fish I caught in the first session. After my second kokanee and Hann only getting a grab we moved to a new location. That didn’t help because we didn’t see any action there. The 3 hours burned by so fast. On the slow, long boat ride back I kept thinking we for sure got our ass kicked. There is no way coming back with goose eggs was going to be good. Shockingly only 2 other competitors even caught fish. The first session was won with 2 fish and second place caught 1. Bernie, who caught the single fish, had to be towed in because his fuel line kept coming off his motor and it couldn’t be fixed while on the water. This is where a signaling device would have come in handy.
After rescuing the other stranded anglers who’s replacement boat broke down, re-rigging, and a lunch; session 2 was underway. With fresh boats and new partners, except Hann and myself, we headed out. This time we went to an area where Hann had pre fished a few weeks prior and had success in. This is where I caught my first scoring fish. This session I used a fast intermediate line the entire time. I wish I had used the hover instead, looking back at it. I broke off a fish just a few casts before sticking a small rainbow on a blue flash damsel. The area had lots of fish that would follow our flies up to the boat. We both missed at least 2 or 3 fish on the hang. The spot got crowded due to the proximity to a campground that was full of families with dogs and paddlers. So our plan was to work our way down the east bank because the afternoon wind was now more consistently blowing. It was coming in from the west blowing into the eastern shore. This meant we could drift from deeper water into the weed beds and shallows allowing for multiple shots and hopefully productive water. By this point Hann and I were a well oiled machine. We’d drift into the shore, motoring out 45 degrees into deeper water, deploying the drogue, and drifting towards the shore, over and over again. I could’ve done that all day. This only resulted in one more fish for me. This time on a red and peacock diawl bach. The only complication was one recreator intentionally cutting us off. We had a great drift setup like the last 3 or 4 we already did. We both watched as 2 guys in a pontoon boat, trolling spinners, intentionally cut us off within casting distance. Hann kept throwing up his hand and shouting at them, but they ignored us and kept going. I ended up snagging one of the lines. I stripped it in and they refused to break it off so I pulled in their spinner and clipped it off. I’m not sure if that cost us the session, but I do know that didn’t help. We had 30 minutes left so we went back to the cove that was doing well to start with thinking between the ominous looking clouds and slight sprinkle we thought the kids and kayaks would be out of the water. We were right. We set up a drift that couldn’t have been any better. The only action we got was Hann getting a grab on the hang so good I saw it before he did. The time was up right when the skies opened up and dropped some big desert rain on us. No wind, just those big drops that only happen in the desert or on a nature show.
When we got back to the launch we were the last to arrive. Once we got back it was results time. 4 out of the 7 anglers didn’t catch a fish in the second session. Another boat broke down. The next comp I go to on a lake I have to bring a screwdriver and pliers, at least, for situations like this. Luckily our boat held up great. The other 2 anglers caught 4 and 3 fish. This put me in 3rd place. Now with how scoring works this placed me 4th overall even though I scored 3rd in fish count. The way it works is first place gets 1 point and second gets 2 and third gets 3 and so on. If you catch no fish you automatically get the lowest score and for us that meant 7 points. Like golf you want as few points as possible. So in session 1 I had 7 points and in session 2 I had 3 points for a total of 10. Second and 3rd place each had 9 points but second place caught more fish total. Finally first place had 2 points for coming in first both times. Hopefully that makes sense. To give you an idea on how close it was, if the rainbow in the first session would’ve counted I would have had 5 points and an easy second place. From what I can tell, the scoring is done this way to reward consistent fishing over fluke situations. The same scoring happens in rivers as well. If it was based on sheer number of fish then a competitor could run away with it in a single session by getting lucky with the beat they drew. In the second session the boat that caught the most fish, 7 total, found a pod of fish and hit it perfectly. They had unique lines and were able to find the fish.
The comp was loads of fun! I was extremely glad to go. I met some great people and I’m looking forward to the next one, next month, at Crane Prairie, located west of La Pine . There are still slots available at the time of writing this. If they have filled up, get on the waitlist. I believe 4 people backed out of the Paulina Lake one so you have a good chance of getting in. If nothing else you get to fish all day and meet people who love this sport as much or more than you do. They offer some great perspective. Even though I loved fishing with Hann, I can’t wait to fish with other people in the next one to see how they approach the water. I’ll write about the next one, probably in less detail, but you’ll still get the 411. The next river comp is in September so that will be even more interesting, as I think of myself as a much better and more competent river angler than stillwater angler. But you never know with fishing.
The goal is to get more anglers involved so the community on the west coast can grow. We would love to have 1-2 anglers come out of the PNW and represent the United States at an International event. If you want more details on lines, flies, reels, rods, leaders, styles, the comp scene in general leave a comment below or reach out through the contact page.