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A Real Fish Story

World’s best come to Vail for world championships

For most of us, spending the day fishing can melt away stress, brings families together and, just maybe, produce the big one that didn’t get away.And then there are a few who take fishing, more specifically fly fishing, much more seriously. 

If you haven’t witnessed competitive fly fishing on a world stage, here’s your chance. The 36th FIPS Mouche World Fly Fishing Championship is coming to Vail from Sept. 11-18.

It marks only the second time in event history that a U.S. city has hosted the event; Jackson Hole, Wyoming, won the right to stage the championships in 1997.

“For us, this is our Los Angeles Olympic moment to showcase the United States, Americana, our city, state and county and hit it out of the park,” says John Knight, the event’s international organizer. “We want to provide a great watershed experience and give people a big taste of America, and we know Vail will be a wonderful host.”

Competitors – some 400 representing 30 countries – will fish the Eagle River, Blue River, Colorado River, Sylvan Lake and Dillon Reservoir. Fishing venues are divided into five sectors, where each angler fishes for three hours over five sessions.

Away from the water, Vail serves as event headquarters, holding opening and closing ceremonies along with medal presentations – complete with flag raising and playing of the winning countries’ national anthems – competitor lodging and posting of scores.

“We are super excited as a town for this,” says Mark Gordon, who serves on the Vail Commission on Special Events. “The best competitors in fly fishing are coming here, which fits perfectly with our brand. We like to think Vail is the perfect summer vacation destination as well as where to go for the perfect winter mountain vacation.”

Three years ago, Vail was awarded the bid to host the 2016 event. That came after several years of Knight traveling, prospecting, researching and educating in efforts to bring the WFFC to the United States after a long hiatus.

“This isn’t anything new, but it’s just new to this American market,” Knight says. “I’m constantly selling this event to a world of Western-style fly fishermen. They don’t like competition and want to be by themselves. In the same way, we grew up competing, from horseshoes, tetherball, whatever. Competitive fly fishing is on the rise.”

While it’s competitive in nature, it’s not destructive on the environment, most notably the free-flowing rivers and majestic lakes of the Rocky Mountains.

It’s all catch-and-release, with a conversation symposium perhaps the main attraction, highlighting area and global watershed issues. Speakers will be on hand from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Colorado Trout Unlimited.

“This is the real deal,” Knight says. “It’s Olympic based, and it’s not Bass Pro where guys catch for money. It’s all about fishing for your country, and we’re bringing people together from around the world with a good message. The bigger message is about conservation. At the end of the day, if water is clean for fish, it’s clean enough for people. That’s our basic motto.”

At last year’s world championships in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the U.S. earned a bronze in one event and took home a team silver.

This time, the Americans will fish in home waters, where world championship trout waters are fed by melting snow from the Rockies.

“September is a great time of the year,” Knight says. “It’s cooler. It’s ripe, and we have eight different bodies of water that are championship levels. We’ve been preparing a long time to be able to make a bid to bring it here. Now finally, it’s our chance.”

Prior to the world championships, a day that serves perhaps a greater purpose takes place when soldiers get an opportunity to fish with top competitors at “Soldier’s Day,” part of an ongoing partnership between the nonprofit America’s Cup and Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.