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We Couldn’t stop at just flies. now carrying everything but the fish!

2014 VMI W&L Tournement Report

How many times has a day on the water led to a lasting friendship?  A conversation with a new acquaintance turns to fishing, a mutual friend introduces you (Did you know so-and-so here flyfishes too?), or any number of scenarios that all end the same way: “We should get out together on the water sometime.”  So you do, and one day on the water turns into several outings a year, evening tying sessions, maybe a crazy road trip or two, and a lasting friendship forged.  A new fishing buddy.  And all it took was a day on the water.

 Fishing brings people together.  At least that was the idea behind the annual VMI-W&L Fly Fishing Tournament.  There’s no fence along the property line that separates Virginia Military Institute and Washington & Lee University, but sometimes it seems like there might as well be a 20 foot wall.  The truth is, the two colleges have little in common outside of geography and history.  The differences are obvious.  Matriculating at VMI means committing to four highly regimented years of military and academic training: living in the close quarters of barracks, always in uniform, not much free time in your schedule.  Expectations (read: rules) for cadet behavior are strict and demerits mean you’ll spend part of your weekend marching them off.  Meanwhile, the W&L students next door lead the “classic” college life: studying on the quad (maybe while working on a tan), many living off campus, and yes there may be the occasional party even on a weeknight.  They work hard to keep up with a challenging curriculum, but they get to play hard too if they can balance both.  College life and cadet life are decidedly different.

 But it’s not like they don’t have anything in common.  When I taught at VMI, there was never a shortage of cadets who liked to stop by my office to talk fishing or hunting for a few minutes, or send me photos of their latest catch.  When I moved “across the hill” and started teaching at W&L later on, it was more of the same.

So over hot coffee and an early morning drive to the stream, my VMI colleague and fishing buddy Lee Dewald and I hatched a plan.  We’d organize a series of introductory fly fishing events jointly hosted by the VMI Fishing Club and the W&L Fly Fishing Club.  Our local Trout Unlimited chapter (the Skyline Chapter) would provide support with members coming out to teach beginners to cast, tie flies, and teach the experienced anglers some advanced techniques.  We’d spread them out over the year along with some service events like stream cleanups, and everything would culminate in the spring with a fly fishing tournament.  The tournament would be a competition among two-person teams: one angler from VMI and one from W&L.

 And there’s that day on the water.

 Everything about the tournament is geared toward teamwork and learning from one another.  Anglers with the most experience are teamed with beginners to level the playing field and encourage teammates to teach each other.  Volunteers from the TU ranks, school alumni, and local anglers serve as ‘officials’ and informal coaches; they stay with one team for the entire day, giving them a chance to work closely together and really watch them learn.  The rules and scoring system emphasize teamwork: for example, teammates can net fish for each other and to receive the most possible points they must score at least one fish from each teammate.Flyfishing-tourney-washington&lee-Virginia-military-inst

The first year nineteen men and one woman came out with no idea of what to expect.  The rain poured, the river swelled, conditions made fish hard to come by, and despite an elaborate scoring system we somehow ended with a tie between two teams.  Students and cadets who barely spoke to each other at the start of the day were slapping high fives and swapping fish stories by lunch.  At the end of the day they were trading phone numbers and making plans to get out on the stream together again the next day, the next weekend, or whenever.

It was just cool.  Damn cool.  So we aimed to do it again the next year.  And then we did it again this year.  Each year, more guys know each other.  Returning anglers consistently request to be paired with their teammates from the previous year whenever possible.  The vibe has a touch more “friendly competition” in it but nobody complains if they don’t finish at the podium.  The venue is ideal – two and a half miles of Appalachian freestone stream on a property managed specifically for catch-and-release fly fishing — and inhabited by some real monster trout. The owner and proprietor of Escatawba Farms generously accommodates us each year.  It’s the kind of place that is accessible for beginners but offers challenges for advanced anglers too.  Though there are a lot of moving parts, the hardest part of this tournament for Lee and me is not being able to fish.  During the fishing sessions I cruise the banks and check in with the teams on the water.  I’ve seen guys go in over the waders trying to net a stubborn fish for a teammate (hey, they signed a waiver.)  When the water is clear, the sightfishing potential is high at Escatawba; I’ve watched the volunteers coaching anglers through cast, mend, and drift as they target a specific fish, sometimes a real beast.  More often than not they eventually hook up, but as is common with beginning anglers a lot of times the fish just comes unbuttoned.  When that happens I don’t see frustration or disgust – I see laughter, high fives, and encouragement to get back in there and hook another one.  When someone nets a fish for his or her teammate, no matter how big that fish is, the response is predictable: unrestrained celebration.  You know how you and your buddies celebrate when you land a good fish?  That’s the scene.  But most of the time these guys just met.

This year may have been our best yet.  We had a ton of volunteers including old friends and new ones, the weather was perfect, and the fish were big and plentiful.  We had a lot of firsts this year: first time we had a fish over 24” measured (later followed by a second), our first repeat winner, and (my personal favorite) lots of first trout caught on fly.  After the prizes were awarded, most of the anglers went right back out to the stream to fish until sunset.rainbow

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out all the folks who help make this happen.  The volunteers are the backbone of this tournament, and these folks are the real deal: hardcore fly anglers with centuries of collective experience.  Most of the volunteers are local TU chapter members, and TU has provided funding from both the chapter and national levels through their 5 Rivers program.  We’ve had some nice prizes donated the last two years that have allowed us to give an additional prize for the biggest fish – this year’s winners were nicely styled thanks to support from TheFlyStop.  The schools took a leap of faith from the start and ever since have generously provided funding to two obsessive fly fishermen who started with nothing more than an idea and a half-baked plan to take some kids fishing.

The tournament is a great time, but the best part comes after the tournament.  The clubs at both schools have become more active and organized more stream cleanups, beginner clinics, talks from guest speakers, group outings.  Two past tournament anglers have now joined the board of the local TU chapter, and one of them returned to the tournament this year as a volunteer.  The tournament is the biggest event of the year, but it’s just one of several joint events between the two clubs now.  Recently as I was driving down to the local park, there were packs of VMI cadets out for training runs.  One of them carried a fly rod with him.  When he arrived at the river at the end of his run he set up below a riffle and fished until he was out of time, then he packed up his rod and started the long uphill run back to barracks.

A week after the tournament this year I headed out on a rainy afternoon to steal a couple of hours at a local stream.  I figured the rain would keep other anglers away and I was mostly right, but I saw a lone car in exactly the spot I had planned to park.  I went further upstream and hoofed it back to that spot about the same time the anglers were returning.  I saw the familiar camouflage field dress of a VMI cadet and recognized him from the tournament, but knowing that underclassmen are not allowed to have cars at VMI I wondered who had given him a ride.  A few seconds later one of the W&L club members emerged from the hatchback.  This pair hadn’t fished together at the tournament, but they made a point of getting out together the very next chance they had.  I got their report: they’d had spare and scattered luck, but they were laughing and grinning wide nonetheless.  Just appreciating another day on the water.

Busted.....Broken Fly Rods

   Breaking a rod is more like breaking a bone in your body.  It's painful, uncomfortable, and usually costs a lot of money to fix.  Sometimes they just simply need to be replaced.  When it is being fixed, your usually without it for a long period of time.  Much like letting a broken bone heal.  Once it does get fixed, it never feels quite the same.  There's always something there to remind you of how it got broken, or the pain that was associated with the act of breaking it.
   How it gets broken is always a story in itself.  It never seems to be from actually just fishing.  You never hear anyone say, "I was walking down the street and my leg just broke."  No.  Usually when a rod breaks it's, "My rod was leaning against the car, and the wind blew it over, and then the door slammed on it."  Or, "I was at my hotel room in the Florida Keys, putting my rod together, and when I waved it around in the air, the ceiling fan chopped it into pieces."
   Sound familiar?  I myself have broken way too many rods to count.  Hell, I wouldn't even want to.  I have broken them every way imaginable.  Even the dog ate one before.  Seriously!  But out of all the ways that they have broken, none of them were ever due to proper usage.  Sure, some of them have broke while casting , but only after they've been wacked by a clouser.  And yes, others have broke while fighting a fish, but only after a 300lb Mako deep sixed for the bottom of the ocean, pinning me and the rod against the gunwale of the boat.  None of them though, have ever broke from just fishing.
   But I guess in all actuality, a broken rod IS a good thing.  The one thing I know for sure, is that pretty much the only way it's going to break, is if it's being used.  It sure as heck isn't going to break if it's in the tube, sitting in the back of the closet somewhere.  (Well, at least in theory.)

Rain, Rain, Rain....don't go away!

With the little bit of here and there rainfall that we have received, look for it to make a big difference in our local fisheries. San Diego Water Levels  Yes, the water will be dirty, and the waves will be kicking, but the fish will be breathing a big sigh of relief!  The last time that I checked, they tend to like that stuff.....water.  So even though the rain typically sends some Southern Californians into panic mode, especially on the freeways, just remember one thing....that the fish will be rejoicing and very thankful to breathe fresh air once again!

The Sun is Shining the Weather is Sweet


The Sunfish(wiki link) is a must have pattern for Bass fishing this time of year.  As big bass get ready to spawn, they become very territorial.  They also hate the thought of Sunfish devouring thier your...."But what about the children." they say in a heavy british accent right before they slam your hook.  The weather trend is looking warm and with it will bring lots of activity to the lakes, especially here in California.  When you fish this this pattern, make sure to fish it very slowly, and don't be afraid to cast it into places where the sun don't shine!

Buy a couple dozen today SUNFISH

Fred Hall Show in San Diego-Del Mar

Fred Hall Show

We hope everyone is planning on heading out to the Fred Hall show this weekend!  You can get tickets at event bright  Tons of gear, boats, manufactures, travel, ect.  A great time and a good way to meet some new anglers on both sides of the rod.

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