Western Flyfishing Qualifier sends three to Reno-Tahoe
By Ed Scheff
ESPNOutdoors.com executive editor April 10, 2003
Just two days before this competition began, swirling winds and snow had organizers and anglers praying for warmer weather. But when Mother Nature complied, the mercury shot past seasonal norms and pushed into the high 60s.
By Wednesday afternoon the first of two days of fishing competition the normally clear, spring-fed Henry's Fork had turned a runoff-fueled "coffee-and-cream."
Needless to say, the anglers had a rough go of it: Only five of the 18 anglers in the semifinal round scored a fish, prompting one angler Brian Kimmel of Gallatin Gateway, Mont. to advance to the finals on the strength of his score in a casting competition that preceded the fishing rounds.
The six remaining anglers hit the water today under bluebird skies and temperatures that were expected to reach into the high 60s. Water clarity was again a factor, but that didn't prevent four competitors from finishing their days early with promising catches.
When the results were tallied, Chris King of Redding, Calif., edged Lance Egan of Sandy, Utah, for the win. Both anglers recorded 17-inch rainbows, but King earned the top spot by virtue of his bigger fish in the semifinal round. Lance Stanchfield of Wise River, Mont., nabbed the third spot and the third invite to the 2003 Great Outdoor Games in Reno-Tahoe July 10-13 with a 16.75-inch brown trout.
Kevin Biegler of Mound, Minn., fell short with a 14.75-inch rainbow he caught 12 minutes into today's competition. "I flipped a coin in the boat," Biegler said of his decision to stick with that fish. "I can live the decision."
King went "big 'n' ugly in the soup" with a stonefly pattern he modified with a significant bend in the hook.
"Most stonefly patterns are tied on a straight hook," says the Sacramento River fishing guide, "but if you grab a stonefly off the bank and tossed him in the water, you'll see him bend up. I'm convinced that was the key."
Egan, on the other hand, went small with a rainbow warrior midge, a pattern he designed himself. Working that fly almost exclusively, Egan hooked up with a half-dozen fish in the 10- to 13-inch range including a fish on his very first cast for the second day in a row when time started slipping away from him.
"My game plan was to keep any fish over 16 inches. But when the clock wound down to 30 minutes, I decided to keep the next one over 13. That's when the 17 hit."
As in past Great Outdoor Games Flyfishing competitions, this qualifier featured a unique one-fish format, in which anglers had to determine at the moment they landed and measured a fish whether to score it and end their day, or release the fish gambling that they'd land another one before time ran out.
Nothing illustrated this challenge more clearly than the fates of Lance Egan and 2002 Games angler Whitney McDowell, both of whom fished the same beat at different times during the semifinal round.
On his very first cast Wednesday, Egan hooked and landed a 15.75-inch rainbow. Having established a 15-inch limit for himself before the day started, Egan had only one response when his guide asked what he wanted to do.
"Let's take 'er straight down the river, brother. I'm keeping that fish," he said. After two minutes of work, Egan's day was over. His fish eventually landed him in the finals comfortably in third place.
When Whitney McDowell hit that same stretch of water, she too landed a 15.75 fish early in her flight. But McDowell had already set her target length at 16 inches.
"There are 17-inch fish on that stretch, and I know where they are," she explained later. Unfortunately, that fish turned out to be the last one McDowell would see all day, and the Denver angler headed home knowing that she had held a fish that would have put her in the finals.
The Henry's Fork qualifier marked the first time any Great Outdoors Games Flyfishing competitions put the anglers in drift boats.
"The classic image of Western flyfishing is of drifting down a large freestone river in the shadows of a stunning mountain range," said John Barrett, whose Missoula-based production company covered the event with a team of seven camera operators.
"So it only made sense that our Western qualifier would follow through with that tradition. To that end, the folks at Hyde drift boats were instrumental in handling the logistical challenges of the event. This wouldn't have happened without them."
In taking the top three positions in Idaho, King, Egan and Stanchfield earned a trip to the ESPN Great Outdoor Games in Reno-Tahoe July 10-13. They'll join the top three finishers from the Eastern Flyfishing qualifier (Foster Heatherington, Matt Stedina and Mike McFarland), the top three finishers from last year's Games (Pete Erickson, Andy Fisher and Chuck Farneth), as well as three organizer designees still to be determined.
The ESPN Great Outdoor Games Western Flyfishing qualifier will air on ESPN2 as part of the weekend outdoor block June 14 at 10:30 a.m. ET; it will reair at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET June 20.