I recently had the pleasure of fishing in the Southeast Fly Fishing League Championship event along with 39 other competitors. If you’re not familiar with competition fishing, the river(s) is(are) split into sections we estimate to hold an equal amount of fish. Competitors have a set amount of time to fish their section, usually one and a half to three hours depending on the competition. Most events are competitor controlled or judged. That means when a competitor is not fishing, he or she is measuring and recording the length of fish for scoring purposes of another competitor. On this event, I judged Michael Bradley, a member of Team USA, for three of his four sessions.
The first session was a long stretch with the bulk of the fish at the top of the beat. Michael worked quickly through the lower section fishing mostly the prime areas picking up eight fish. He then proceeded to land another 19 at the top of the beat. Yes that equals 27 in two hours. What you CAN learn – change up your presentation as much, or more, than the flies you are using if you run into a good number of fish in a small area. Michael dead drifted, jigged, and Colorado drifted his nymphs (working them in a downstream manner). There were even times he paused at the end of a drift and simply let the fly dangle for a few seconds twitching it which fooled a few fish. What you CAN’T Learn – how to subdue trout in a net so they do not flop when measuring them. Out of the 27 fish Michael put in the scoring tray that morning (it also happened the other sessions) maybe one flopped around. It was if they had an understanding between them.
The second session I judged, he was on a section that my partner and I had just finished fishing (it was a two man team event). We had done well and worked the water very thoroughly. Once again, Michael was able to target the area that held the majority of the fish and spent the bulk of his time there. Even though we were on trophy trout water, Michael downsized to 7x tippet and was able to land some fish over 20 inches despite the light line. What you CAN learn – downsizing flies and equipment on heavily pressured areas can be the key to success. What you CAN’T learn – how to land large fish like he does on light tippet. I live on trophy trout water and pride myself on working the technical aspects of landing large fish with solid fundamentals. Michael broke some of my biggest rules like getting the rod pointed at the fish at times. However, his sixth sense for when a fish was going to run hard or lay low was amazing and something that cannot be taught. I believe I caught as many fish as Michael did on that stretch, which made me proud, but that pride would be short-lived.
Again on his last session, Michael and his partner fished water that my partner and I had just worked over. By now, the fish are tough to get as they have had 14 anglers after them for 14 hours over the past two days. We managed to land a few which was good enough for a second place finish for our session. My philosophy fishing this deep, clear, placid pool was to hit every nook and cranny from the tail out to the top and change flies frequently, always showing something different. We tried Euronymphing, dry dropping, and working streamers. Within 20 minutes of the start of his session, Michael had landed more fish than our total and ended up with 12. For his two hours, Michael fished virtually the same drift, hardly moving. He also almost exclusively fished a dry dropper, and only worked two different dries, and two different droppers. What you CAN learn – While fish might be holding all over an area, feeding fish may only be in one place. Michael figured out what line the feeding fish were on and stuck with it. What you CAN’T learn – being fishy. Fishy is intangible, unexplainable. Michael works extremely hard to be as good as he is and Michael is the fishiest of the fishy. That’s a tough combination to beat. Yes, he and his partner won that event. Michael guides trips in Western North Carolina and can be followed and contacted on Instagram at @fly_fish_cherokee or visit www.flyfishcherokeenc.com.
Stephen “Big T” Tomasovich is the owner of Big T Fly Fishing, Outfitter and Ecommerce Fly Shop. Visit them at 106 Grand Ave, Suwanee, Georgia, or look them up online at bigtflyfishing.com