When the first Fly Fishing Team USA Trials were staged in Central Oregon in 2005, event volunteer Lee Ann Ross watched trials competitor Lance Egan catch and release fish 46 times in three hours on a short stretch of the Crooked River.
That same afternoon, she watched another fly angler get skunked in the very same spot, in precisely the same amount of time.
Such is fly-fishing, even for some of the best anglers in the country.
“Everybody really wants to watch how the really awesome fishermen fish,” says Ross, a member of the Central Oregon Flyfishers club. “A lot of people fish the Crooked (River) well, and so they’re like, ‘Let’s see how these guys do.’”
They’ll get their chance to watch when the Fly Fishing USA trials return to Central Oregon this Saturday and Sunday.
Competitors will once again fish the Crooked River, as well as South Twin Lake and Paulina Lake.
Team USA member and former captain Scott Robertson, of Bend, helped to bring the trials back to Central Oregon.
The top three finishers this weekend who are not already on Team USA will qualify for the National Fly Fishing Championships in State College, Pa., in October. The top 10 anglers there will make the U.S. team and will be among those selected for the 2010 World Fly Fishing Championships in Poland.
Several Team USA members competing in Central Oregon this weekend are already qualified for the 2009 World Fly Fishing Championships, set for Scotland in June.
Those anglers include Egan, of Salt Lake City; Anthony Naranja, of Grand Junction, Colo.; Devin Olsen, of Salt Lake City; and Brett Bishop, of Boise, Idaho.
Egan placed in the top 25 in the last two world championships.
Robertson, a local fly-fishing guide, captained Team USA at the World Championships in New Zealand last year. He is hoping to perform well on his home waters.
“That puts the pressure on me,” says Robertson, 49.
High flows on the Crooked River — 1,200 cubic feet per second as of Wednesday — and recent wintry weather on the Cascade Lakes could make fishing difficult, Robertson notes.
“It’ll be hard for everybody,” he says. “I don’t think it’ll be a big-fish-number competition, but you never know.”
“It’ll be really interesting, even at ridiculous flows, to see if they can pull anything out,” adds Ross, who will again be serving as a volunteer.
Anglers were invited to the trials based on their associations with past competitions, Robertson explains. Potential competitors were invited via e-mail, and the first 24 to respond make up this weekend’s field. Two spots remains to be filled, and Robertson says they are open to anybody.
Four groups of six anglers will compete in four different sessions: two on the Crooked River below Bowman Dam, and one each on South Twin Lake and Paulina Lake. They will fish each session for three hours.
Each fish caught by the anglers will be measured and recorded by a controller, most of whom, like Ross, are volunteers from either the Central Oregon Flyfishers or another local fishing club, the Sunriver Anglers. Participants earn 100 points for every eligible fish — a trout or whitefish at least 8 inches long that is released unharmed — and additional points for the total length of the fish: 20 per centimeter. A placing system based on those points will determine the final standings.
On the lakes, anglers will fish two to a boat with a controller on board to record, measure and help net the fish. By trials rule, the boat must be drifting downwind, and anglers must cast downwind. Dragging flies behind the boat is prohibited.
In 2005, the trials were staged on the Crooked River, the Metolius River and East Lake.
“It’s really cool, because you sit there and watch how they fish,” Ross recalls of the 2005 event. “They can’t use any weight. They have to find a certain depth. They look at the water as a grid. They’re very methodical.”
Robertson says competitive fly-fishing is still a relatively low-profile sport, around the country and in Central Oregon.
“There’s been a good response among people in Central Oregon Flyfishers and Sunriver Anglers,” Robertson says. “Other than that, it really has not been exposed to the local fly-fishing community.”
This is the region’s chance to see some of the best with a fly rod.