The Road to Gold at the Teva Mountain Games

The Road to Gold at the Teva Mountain Games

Upon popular demand I figured I’d take a second  give you all the story of the 2011 Teva Mountain Games.  The Teva Mountain Games are the country’s largest celebration of adventure sports, art and music held in Vail every June. Professional and amateur athletes from around the world converge upon the mountains and rivers of Vail to compete in eight sports and 24 disciplines for more than $100,000 in prize money.

The fly fishing competition is a two day elimination competition that features both casting and fishing. As competitive as Teva has become almost every angler t is capable of hitting enough targets to make it through the casting rounds and get to the fishing. In any competitive sport, the thin line between winning and losing usually occurs between the ears.

The first year I competed I went about it like a fisherman. Cast the fly to the target as if it were a trout rising along the bank.  I did quite well and made it to fishing and that’s where I lost on the strategy side of things. In a two fly competition you have to choose flies for reasons beyond day to day fishing. That year I fished streamers without really considering  how many fish I miss or foul hook on streamers.

Last year I prepared endlessly on improving my casting mechanics and making my stroke more consistent. I got to the bridge and started off strong on target 1 and then lost focus.  I started missing on target 2 and then went into panic mode still thinking about the cast I just missed as opposed to the cast I was about to make.  I didn’t fish last year and it really stung. Especially since it was on the Colorado which I know like the back of my hand.

This year I didn’t practice nearly as much as last year.  When I did  I tried to be smart about it.  I paid close attention to what I do when I hit or miss accuracy targets.   I developed quick and simple ways to learn from the previous cast and make subtle adjustments. Once I learned what I needed, I’d say “this cast”  instead of going into panic mode fretting about the target I just missed and how many more targets I need to hit to make up for it.

Aside from that I went with a game plan and stuck too it. I really wanted to lay down a long 100+ distance cast but I was only going to give my self one chance because it takes too long to hit that distance and strip in line.  I got the distance on my first cast but didn’t keep it between the lines. If I missed my plan was to throw a comfortable high line speed cast 70-80′ that not even a hurricane wind would blow off target.  It absolutely killed me to lay-up like that but I knew I had to leave myself time to measure and hit the bonus target which was worth a lot more than a cast 20 feet farther.
The semi final round is all accuracy throwing at targets on Gore Creek below International Bridge. Once I got to the bridge I never said I need to hit 12 targets or beat so and so.  I said I needed to hit one target at a time, stay composed and enjoy the moment.   Making the cut off the bridge was a big relief, but the new twist was that because of the water levels we would be fishing a series of 5 ponds and not floating. I would have felt a lot more comfortable on the Colorado, Eagle or Fork but it was simply not an option this year.

I am by no means a stillwater trout guy so I had to do some thinking about this.  I knew I needed to do a serious body count and hanging a chironomid below an indicator didn’t seam like it would produce at the rate it would take to win.  I thought about a bugger of sorts but my last experience at Teva had me a little scared about all the short strikes.  So I decided on a #8 prince nymph “the ocho” and a callibaetis nymph.  I’ve done well stripping the prince in ponds before and I knew no one else would be throwing it.  In comparison to a streamer I felt that the size was a little more bite size and they wouldn’t  short strike it as much.  If I found myself tying on an indicator I could also hang it above the callibaetis. I chose the callibeatis in the event that the ponds might be clear and I could drop it infront of cruisers near the bank.

We were paired up in two’s with a judge who drove us around from pond to pond.  Everyone would get to fish each pond for 45 minutes before moving onto the next.  I was paired up with Steve Parrot from the Quill who I can’t say enough about.  Exceptional angler, a real professional, and a perfect example of sportsmanship.  On our first beat he jumped out on me early with five fish and I left pond one with only 1 fish. I had to will myself to stay with my game plan which was to worry about what I’m doing not how everyone else is doing and not try to reinvent the wheel.  It’s probably good I only had two flies to choose from otherwise I would have been digging through my box tying on different flies every cast!

On our second pond I found a groove and never slowed down for the remainder of the afternoon. Going into our last pond I felt pretty good about my total fish count but a little on edge about the fact that I hadn’t put a fish on the tape yet. I was looking for a 17-18″  all morning and it didn’t happen.   At this point I was going to put whatever the next fish was on the tape even if it was 10 inches!  Twenty minutes into our last pond I hadn’t touched a fish.  I figured that after four rounds of fishing the fish had been put down and almost thought about tying on an indicator but I had to go back to my game plan “don’t reinvent the wheel.” So I kept casting and stripping the prince which at this point no longer looked like a prince nymph.  Finally I got hit by a big fish and suddenly the 5x I just tied on seemed like a bad idea. On the first jump I got a look at her….20+ somewhere between 5-7 pounds. The way this pond was going it was pretty cut and dry; Land the fish and win, screw it up and lose. At that moment I’d rather it had been a 15 incher.  I took a deep breath and rode out every jump and every screaming run no matter how bad my forearm was burning.   I had a few chance to make a dashing grab with the net but the last thing I was going to do was pop it off with my net.  Finally, I got the fish’s head up and eased the net under her.  It was like one of those Antero footballs that you love to catch any day accept for when the fish is a gold medal and  2k in cash and prizes.  The fish measured out at a hair over 20″ and about 10″ wide.  After that I was after some insurance and tied on an indicator thinking I could probably dredge out one or two more but it never came.  Going back I felt pretty good with 16 fish and a 20″ on the the tape totaling 36 points.  Who knows though, perhaps I missed something all day and everyone else landed 40 fish.  Either way I felt good about knowing I stayed with my plan, didn’t miss many fish and only had a few pop off.  As it turned out 36 was enough to get the job done.

I can’t thank Brandon Souccie, Jeff Lyon, and Frank Smethurst enough for all their advice, innovative ideas, and for pushing me to knew levels over the past few years.  Steve Parrott  couldn’t be a better guy to compete with and I wish there was a way all of us could have shared the podium together in any order.  That’s what next year is for!

-Denver fly shop manager, Minturn Anglers

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Justin Nolan

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