Shiver in the River Competition
Cherokee Trophy waters Feb. 3,4,5 2012
By: Cris Weatherford
After a sad showing and incredible bad luck in the Rumble in the Rhododendron fly fishing competition in November, my brother-in-law Matt and I registered for the Shiver in the River fly fishing competition held on what I think was anticipated to be a cold February weekend. For those of you who like to keep fly fishing to yourself as a way of relaxing and letting the world go by, you can stop reading and go to another blog today. Fly fishing competitions are anything but relaxing.
I spent a few lunch breaks the week before the tournament getting familiar with where fish should be holding and fishing some new spots because until it is your turn to draw, one has no way of knowing what section of the river one will be calling home for three hours on game day. I found fish in some spots but not others. It has been anything but normal winter-time fishing anywhere in the mountains this winter due to unseasonably warm temperatures and lots of rain. I felt pretty good about 75% of the water available to fish for the competition. As usual it would come down to the luck of the draw.
On Friday night I drew Beat 5, which is basically the confluence hole where the Ravensfork and Oconaluftee Rivers merge, to fish in the afternoon session from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. Since not enough volunteers could be persuaded to come stand out in the rain and watch other people fish and measure the fish and write the length of the fish down and what time it was caught and make sure that the honest and rule abiding anglers followed the uncountable FIPS-MOUCHE rules of competitive fly fishing, we were forced to judge each other when we weren’t fishing. We would be judging Paul Bourqc and Chris Lee, reigning Rumble champions and both experienced competitors. Friday night it rained a lot.
Paul and Chris would be fishing Beat 4 which if you have ever fished the trophy waters in Cherokee you have probably looked at it and gone somewhere else. It is just below the confluence previously mentioned and has very little holding water for big and little fish alike. It was a great learning experience watching how Paul and Chris worked the water and how they caught any fish was beyond me. It rained all morning.
By the afternoon the rain stopped and we all took turns guessing if the next deluge would hit before, during or after the afternoon session scheduled for 2:00pm to 5:00pm. We tried to glean as much information about our beat as possible and then headed out to check out the water level and rig our rods. 2:00 came quickly and with our best guesses on the line I started off in the water with a dry-dropper-dropper rig as fishing up to three flies is permitted. After getting my timing down in the back of the pool, Matt and I quickly noticed fish rising to some small flies in the choppy water up higher in the pool. Matt chose the correct size Blue Wing Olives and within 30-45 minutes of fishing we had a fish on the board. The fish would rise for a while and then just stop. In these breaks Matt would fish his beloved Sage 99 euro-style in the swifter water and he too quickly picked up a fish. When the fish in the choppy water would start rising again we would tag out and I would present the dry flies. This worked for the next hour and half and we soon had 6 fish scored. Matt then took a turn with the dries and brought one more in the net. In the last 10-15 minutes I decided to start with the streamer rig. I will usually leave this till the end of the session, because to me it is one of the most intrusive methods and can bugger up the fish. I quickly hooked up with a bigger fish which we needed as most of the fish we caught on dries were smaller, in the upper 20 to lower 30 centimeter range. This one would go 43 centimeters. With 8 out of 9 possible fish scored we felt pretty good about our odds in moving on to the next round.
Our efforts were rewarded with a 1st place finish for the afternoon session and moved us into the second round to begin the next morning at 7:30am. Our success was due in my opinion to us both paying attention to the fish and the water. I feel like a lot of times we get caught doing things because it is what usually works or because of the time of year it is. Normally I would not dream of throwing dry flies in February on the trophy section especially with high water, but the fish advised us otherwise. By paying attention and adapting to what we saw we were allowed to catch fish. In the morning we would draw for our beat to fish from 9:00am to 12:00pm. The nerves began again quickly knowing that much what would happen on the next day would depend on what number came out of the hat.
With nerves strung up and our poles rigged we headed to beat 7 for the morning session. Many anglers assured us that this is a honey-hole. I know it can be as this is often one of the places I stop for lunch because it can be fished from the bank without waders. I also know that it is one of the most fished pieces of the trophy section and that in the previous day at least 13 fish were caught here in about a 12 square foot hole. It would not be easy by any means. This misconception also adds stress because if you don’t produce in such a “gimme hole” then you bombed.
I started in the water again fishing from the Park side and quickly hooked a decent fish, but alas was given the 20 foot handshake. I changed flies a couple times trying to get the right drift at the depth this hole requires. A bit later I hooked a good fish solid with a recently tied Vladi worm. He measured at 49 cm. Matt took over, had a good bite and was broken off. With water clearing and dropping quickly, room for presentation error and tippet sizes dropped. I made a quick search of some of the swifter shallower water with a dry-dropper rig as more Blue Wing Olives were coming up, but no takers were had. We knew where the fish were, it was just a matter of showing the something they had not seen yet and getting them to eat it. I was having trouble fishing this hole from the park side as I normally fish it from the road side. I decided to cross and do what normally works. I caught a 47 cm rainbow on the first cast and made the journey back across the river with the fish to the judge. I went back one more time and came back with a 28 cm rainbow which was promptly disqualified because I made a careless rookie mistake by not de-barbing my hook. The judge did his job despite my pleading for a warning and reduction of points. Matt took a turn while I put myself in time-out and made various self-degrading remarks. After a fishless spell and with about an hour left I asked for a chance to make up for my mistake and crossed one more time. About 15 minutes into my 10 minute timeframe I asked for I hooked another small rainbow, with a properly barbless hook. Matt jumped back in the water and diligently worked over the exhausted pool once more, he found 2 big fish, but was cruelly denied the pleasure of netting them by broken line and a hook being spit out on the proverbial last cast. Three fish would have to do it though we both had our doubts. We tried to hold our heads up for a good effort under tough circumstances. Reports started trickling in about who caught how many from the other anglers. I think by this time we were just hoping for a top 5 finish, just towards the top would have been fine. We were both surprised when at the apex of nervousness; they announced Hensley and Weatherford for 3rd place.
I have to add that all of the competitors are top notch guys and gals. Everyone cheers each other on with minimal chest thumping. Everyone we talked to was willing to offer advice tips because we all want each other to excel at our chosen sport. I would encourage anyone interested in being part of one of these competitions to volunteer to be a Judge. It is a great way to get access to firsthand information and watch some truly amazing fishing in a beautiful place. It is not uncommon to encounter elk, deer, turkey and mink and otters in that stretch of water. The next tournament is scheduled for May 18-20th and the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce Director Mathew Pegg is the contact person for volunteers.
For more information on fishing in Cherokee and surrounding areas please contact us at Hookers Fly Shop. firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-587-4665