Author Topic: 2008 World Fly Fishing Championships - Rotorua, New Zealand  (Read 1587 times)

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Todd Oishi

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My article on the 2008 World Fly Fishing Championships - Rotorua, New Zealand...

2008 World Fly Fishing Championships - Rotorua, New Zealand

2008 World Fly Fishing Championships & Conservation Symposium
by Todd Oishi

 The North Island of New Zealand has long been considered a Mecca for fly fishers throughout the world. Although New Zealand is renowned for its pristine rivers and lakes that are teeming with trout, it is the stunning panoramic views of majestic volcanoes and lush, sub-tropical forests that made this “Paradise on Earth” the ideal setting for this year’s 28th World Fly Fishing Championships (WFFC).

 Twenty-four countries were represented at this year’s WFFC, which was held in Rotorua, New Zealand, from March 22nd to the 30th. Fly Fishing Canada sent seven fly fishers to represent Canada at this annual championship. Team Canada 2008 consisted of: Terence Courtoreille from Hay River, NWT; John Nishi from Millarville, Alberta; Randy Taylor from Kanata, Ontario; Donald Thom from Cantley, Quebec; Gord Bacon (team captain) from Kamloops, BC; John Beaven from Parksville, BC; and me (Todd Oishi) from Maple Ridge, BC.

 Team Canada’s goal for this year’s WFFC was to place within the "top ten" in the team category. We had high hopes of a respectable finish, as three of our team members had explored and fished the competition venues a year prior to this year’s competition. The information that had been gathered by these individuals provided our team with invaluable insight on tactics, techniques, and patterns that would prove to be effective for enticing New Zealand’s rainbow and brown trout.

The story of New Zealand’s trout:

 Historically, the rivers and lakes of New Zealand possessed no trout until 1867, when Tasmanian brown trout (which were originally imported from England) were introduced into its waters. Being a fairly hardy fish, these trout adapted extremely well and thrived in their new environment. As this experiment was deemed a huge success, additional brown trout eggs were ordered and shipped from Scotland, England, Germany, and Italy. Over the next fifty years, over fifty million European brown trout were released into various rivers and lakes throughout New Zealand.

 1883 marked the arrival of the first shipment of rainbow trout eggs that were sent from North American. Research has been proven that these eggs belonged to a strain of steelhead that spawned in Sonoma Creek, California (a tributary of San Francisco Bay). Eggs from several other well-known North American rivers, such as the Russian River, were eventually sent as well. Eggs from Gerard rainbow trout, which came from Kootenay Lake in British Columbia, Canada, were also selected based upon the rapid growth rate and impressive size of these trout when fully mature.

 With a much longer “growing season” -- in comparison to their cousins within the northern hemisphere -- New Zealand’s trout grew to larger proportions in relatively shorter periods of time. Tagged fish in several of the more productive lakes have been documented gaining as much as four pounds within a single year.

 Trout have adapted so well and thrive within these waters, which make it difficult to even imagine A New Zealand without trout, which leaves me to wonder if during its creation; perhaps God may have been so pre-occupied with the task of sculpting its breathtaking landscape that he may have somehow forgotten about the trout.

Practice waters:

 Lake Kuratau and Lake Aniwhenua were selected as the two official practice lakes for the WFFC. Both lakes are shallow, man-made reservoirs that fish well during the month of March, which is early autumn in the southern hemisphere. Aniwhenua is considered to be a trophy lake and receives a fair amount of angling pressure throughout the entire year. Kuratau has far greater numbers of trout that are much smaller in size compared to those found in Aniwhenua. Being somewhat representative of the competition lakes, the two practice lakes allowed us to successfully experiment with patterns and techniques.

 Catching trout within the dense weedbeds of these lakes involved a tactic that the locals refer to as “fishing the cupboards”. This tactic involves using floating or slow-sinking lines to target the trout that hide in the holes in-between the weedbeds. A stout leader is mandatory as the takes are often savage, and once hooked, the trout bury themselves in the weeds.

 The Rangitaiki River was designated as an official practice river as a result of its large populations of brown and rainbow trout. Often, large trout could be observed sipping dries and emergers while sitting in only inches of water. During our time spent on the Rangitaiki we had several practice sessions that produced well-over fifty trout per angler!

 In the more remote stretches of the Rangitaiki, enormous fern trees and dense forests of wild, untamed native bush dominate its banks. In these places, the hypnotic sounds of the Cicadas accompanied choirs of unseen songbirds often overpowering the soothing sounds of its rushing waters. These sights and sounds reinforced my belief that this is a rare and special place to stalk trout.

Competition Venues:

 Three rivers (Waihou, Waimakariri and Whanganui) and two lakes (Otamangakau and Rotoaira) were selected as the venues for this year’s WFFC. These venues were chosen based upon their natural, unspoiled beauty and the spectacular fishing that they provide. At times, presenting flies to trout within these venues required great concentration as the breathtaking beauty and grandeur that encompasses these waters was a constant distraction.

 The Waihou and Waimakariri are spring-fed creeks that have gained reputations for producing healthy numbers of small- and medium-sized trout. Their mineral-rich waters transform into vivid shades of cyan-blue as they flow over layers of white pumice gravel and sand. Massive weed-beds found within their waters create an ideal habitat and shelter for aquatic insects and trout.

 The Whanganui River, a wide freestone river, is located in the Taupo - Turangi region. It was selected as a competition venue for its impressive trout populations as well as the larger-than-average size of these trout. The ever-changing gradient transforms the river as it flows through magnificent canyons and wide-open farmland. With an endless supply of shallow riffles, pocket-water, pools and deep heavy-water, it is a river that seems to have been tailor-made for fly fishers.

 Lake Otamangakau (also known as “The Big O”) is a relatively small, shallow, weedy lake. It is famous for producing extremely large brown and rainbow trout and is managed as a trophy fishery. These large trout patrol the edges of the deep channels and weed-beds in relatively shallow water. Situated high in the moorland, it offers a unique wilderness setting with a clear and unobstructed view of Mount Tongariro (an active volcano).

 Lake Rotoaira is several kilometers in length and much deeper than Lake Otamangakau. It is internationally renowned for its trophy rainbows that often exceed five kilograms in weight. The insect life within its waters is quite prolific, which accounts for the rapid growth-rate and impressive size of its trout. The fighting quality and size of its trout made Rotoaira an excellent choice as a competition venue.

 The volcanic mountain ranges within the Taupo - Turangi region are affectionately referred to as “sleeping giants”, even though some are still active. Towering high above the competition lakes, they served as a constant reminder of New Zealand’s turbulent and explosive past. The sight of steam rising through volcanic vents along their rugged slopes added a degree of wonder and uncertainty as we set-foot and cast our flies within their shadows.

The festivities:

 This year’s World Fly Fishing Championship and Conservation Symposium was held over a period of eight days with the opening ceremony; a fly tying contest; two official practice days; three days of actual competition; a conservation symposium; and an awards ceremony banquet held at its conclusion.
 The grand opening ceremonies were held at the Te Puia Cultural Centre in Rotorua, where traditional Maori dancers welcomed the guests who came from all corners of the world to compete at this annual fly fishing championship.
 The New Zealand Open Fly Tying Championships took place on Easter Sunday, which was officially set aside as a day of rest and worship. The fly tying competition was sponsored by Feather Merchants and Umqua, with the intention of showcasing the fly tying skills and creativity of fly tiers from around the globe.

 John Nishi and I represented Canada in this friendly competition. The rules were quite simple; we were allotted sixty minutes to tie three flies: a standard Royal Coachman, Gold Bead Olive Wooly Bugger, and a fly of our own personal design. Once completed, the patterns were judged for quality, creativity and the tier’s ability to replicate the original patterns.

 This was an excellent opportunity to socialize with other competitors while observing their methods of fly tying. A great time was had by all, and in the end, an extremely talented Finnish fly tier took top honours.

The fly fishing competition:

 The potential of encountering extremely large trout at this year’s WFFC added a slight twist, as many of the European competitors were far more accustomed to angling for small grayling and trout. Attempting to use leaders less than seven pound-test was unthinkable and would prove to be a recipe for disaster for many competitors. Stories of snapped leaders and large trout that ran well into the backing seemed to be a common theme of the conversations amongst competitors.

 My first session was on the Whanganui River. While large numbers of small trout can be found within its shallow riffles and pocket-water, the larger trout seem to seek shelter and comfort in the deeper waters. During our practice sessions on the Whanganui, we had several sessions that produced high numbers of trout in relatively shallow water. We felt that we had perfected a winning strategy for this venue.

 During my session on the Whanganui, I was fortunate to score twenty-five trout using various nymphing techniques. Focusing on the areas that held smaller trout had certainly paid off, but even though I had caught the second highest number of trout for my group, several competitors that had caught lesser numbers had scored higher points as a result of catching a few of the larger trout.

 At the end of Day One, we were off to great start as Donald Thom had taken first place on Lake Rotoaira and recorded the biggest fish after two sessions of competition (624mm). Team Canada caught a combined total of 111 measurable trout on the first day and had finished fourth place in Session Two. We currently sat in ninth place overall; trailing only five points behind third place Team Italy; three points behind Team France; and only a single point behind Team England and Team USA who were tied for eight place.

 On Day Two I fished the Waihou and Waimakariri Rivers. The depth and power of these spring-creeks is quite deceiving, which made the task of wading and getting my flies down to the appropriate depth extremely challenging at times. Short- and long-line nymphing proved effective for covering trout that sat in shallow riffles and pocket-water while swinging and pulling streamers through the deeper pools produced fish as well.

 At the end of Day Two, the standings in the "middle of the pack" were still very tight. After four sessions, we were now tied with Team USA for seventh place; sixth place Team Slovakia was only a single placing point ahead of us; and Team Italy fell three points behind us. We were hopeful of another strong performance on our final two sessions.

 On Day Three, my morning session was on Lake Rotoaira. Although the overall size of Rotoaira can be fairly intimidating, we knew that the best fishing would be found in and amongst its massive weed-beds. Fishing was slow, but half-ways through my session I landed a 528 mm rainbow trout, while the Australian competitor in my boat landed his first fish just as time expired.

 During my afternoon session on Lake Otamangakau I couldn’t believe my luck -- or lack of -- as the first five trout that I measured were just millimeters shy of scoring and I broke-off a fairly large trout courtesy of a submerged tree branch. Eventually my luck changed when I landed two decent rainbows and a brown trout that measured 457 mm.

 During final day of competition, Team Italy finished strong and shot ahead as we dropped one position behind Team USA, which left us with a ninth place finish. Although we had drawn a few tough beats, and had caught a fair number of undersized fish and lost others that could have possibly made a slight difference (par for the course), we were satisfied with the final results, as we had achieved the third highest finish for Team Canada in over twenty years of competing at the WFFC.

 In the end, Team Czech Republic was awarded the team gold medal; Team New Zealand was awarded the silver; and Team France the bronze. The individual gold medal was awarded to Martin Droz of the Czech Republic; the silver medal to Julien Daguillanes of France; and the bronze medal to Tomas Starychfojtu of the Czech Republic. Donald Thom finished as the “top rod” of our Canadian Team, with an impressive sixteenth place overall.

 At the conclusion of the 2008 WFFC the statistics were amazing to say the least: the average fish length was 255 mm; John Horsey of Team England won the biggest fish award with a 689 mm trout; and an impressive 4270 trout had been recorded during the competition. Team Canada had also set a new personal best, with a combined score of 247 trout.

 Later that evening during the closing ceremony’s banquet, we raised our glasses and celebrated our team’s ninth place victory with as much zest and enthusiasm as the medal winning countries, for we knew in our hearts that we had ALL given our very best effort...

Notes from the Conservation Symposium:

 This year’s international conservation symposium was a well-attended event, with “Rotorua Lakes Ecology and Restoration Program” being the main theme. Several key speakers and biologists gave presentations about the negative impact that agriculture and farmed animals have on New Zealand’s rivers and lakes.

 Although the speakers focused on water quality issues, the topic that seemed to generate the most discussion was that of the plague of the rivers in the South Island... Dydimo!

 Dydimo -- frequently referred to as “rock-snot” -- is a freshwater algae that forms thick brown mats on plants, rocks and other objects that are found along the bottom of rivers and streams. The thick blankets of Dydimo suffocate the river bottom and destroys habitat for invertebrates and other organisms that are a major part of the trout’s diet. Without these valuable sources of food, the trout will eventually starve or leave in search for less infected waters.

 Currently, there is no “environmentally-friendly” solution for controlling the spread of Dydimo, so New Zealand officials are aggressively enforcing and educating anglers and boaters to check and clean or thoroughly dry their equipment when traveling between waterways. Anglers that are intending to visit New Zealand are strongly encouraged to visit for more information on this subject.
For me, the quality of a trout is not measured in inches or pounds, but rather by the journey and circumstances that allowed our paths to cross...