The Australia Gold team led the way after day one of the 15th Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships held out of Launceston, Tasmania, in mid-February.
Close behind were Australia Green and Northern Ireland. But with three more sessions to go before the competition ended at noon on Saturday, anyone could still have won and the Tasmanian trout fishery was not making it easy.
The first day was tough fishing on Arthurs Lake, Woods Lake and Little Pine Lagoon, with many competitors unable to land a fish during the two three-hour sessions.
Those who had drawn the river beats on the Meander and South Esk rivers fared better, with most anglers catching fish.
Small dry flies were most productive on the rivers in the morning when the conditions were calm and warm. The wind picked up considerably by the afternoon and grasshopper patterns dominated on the South Esk, while nymphs were more effective in the Meander.
Little Pine Lagoon sorted out the field with only a handful of competitors catching fish during the two sessions. Arthurs Lake also tested the international competitors and the sunny conditions made fishing at Woods Lake difficult.
Scoring was based on the cumulative scores of each team member catching, measuring and releasing trout over the five three-hour fishing sessions, one each on Arthurs, Woods, Little Pine and the Meander and South Esk.
The top 10 anglers on day one were Christopher Bassano (Aus Gold), Tim McClew (NZ Silver), Campbell Baird (Nth Ireland), Brian Hughes (Aus Green), Nigel Juby (NZ Silver), Craig Carey (Aus Gold), Vern Barby (Aus Green), Lubin Pfeiffer (Aus Green), David Chalmers (Scot) and Adrian Leite (S. Africa).
Despite the fact that the competitors take the championships very seriously, there is much more to the event than winning a medal. The Commonwealths are known as the ‘friendly competition’ and many lifelong friendships are formed over the duration of the event.
For instance, renowned expert English angler John Horsey met Malcolm Crosse, chief organiser of the Tasmanian Commonwealths when Malcolm was the controller on a beat fished by John in the 1980s. An immediate bond was formed and they have been great friends ever since.
Australia Gold was still in the lead after the second day, followed by Northern Ireland and England with Chris Bassano hanging on to first in the individual rankings.
Conditions were still testing the competitors with strong winds and rain showers on the lakes. A couple of the entrants found the rivers testing, too, and one life jacket decided to inflate a wader found a deeper hole.
Again, nymphs and hoppers were the way to go on the rivers and Little Pine had its way again, providing few fish to measure.
With one session left on the final day of the championships, Australia had a very good chance of at least one medal. The conditions were again testing as entrants made their final push for medals.
A celebrity event was held at the Launceston Country Club lakes. Among those taking part were winner Tamie Fraser (accomplished fly fisher and wife of ex PM Malcolm), Janet Holmes a Court (patron, Fly Fish Australia), Jo Palmer (Southern Cross News), Bryan Green (Tasmanian Fisheries Minister) and Lachie Hayes, 12.
Conditions made it tough with many redfin caught and only one rainbow trout. In an expo Peter Hayes demonstrated how casting a fly line should be done.
When the computations were complete for all the events, medals were awarded at the dinner hosted by major sponsor Country Club Tasmania. The celebrity winner was Tamie Fraser.
The gold medal went to Australia Gold, Emilio Caggiano and Danny Spelic (NSW), Joe Riley and Craig Carey (Tas), Steve Seclier (WA) and team captain and president of Fly Fish Australia, Craig Coltman (Vic).
England was second and had been considered a threat, given the calibre of its team’s expertise in still-water fishing.
Northern Ireland had an outstanding performance to win bronze, more amazing as members were in their late teens and early 20s.
Tasmania’s Christopher Bassano (Australia Green) won the Commonwealth Championships individual gold medal in his debut in international competition. Campbell Baird from Northern Ireland won silver and John Tyzack of England won bronze.
The Friendship Trophy, given to the team that brings the most to the championships in a social and cultural sense, was awarded the Kiribati team in their maiden international event and first trout event. They adapted well to the fishing conditions in Tasmania and to catching trout, and bagged a respectable number of fish during the competition. – Sarah Graham, Jane VincentReads: 1708