I fly fish for the relaxation and am okay if I don’t catch fish.
However I prefer to at least catch a few fish. Truth be told, I really enjoy catching a lot of fish and the anticipation of a trophy catch is admittedly a big part of the attraction.
I enjoy the solitude of fishing alone on a peaceful stretch of river.
But I also take pleasure in the company of others, the friendly banter and sharing in their excitement when they are landing a nice fish. Sometimes even a light-hearted competition to see who catches the most fish is fun.
I don’t weigh my skill as a fly fisherman against others, mainly because I don’t consider their proficiency important to my enjoyment.
Despite this, I like to share my experiences with others afterwards whether that’s in person or online. This includes proudly talking about or showing off my most recent catches. This almost always results in a comparison of how well each of us did recently.
Recently these conflicts in how I view fly fishing are often in my thoughts because oddly enough I am organizing a fly fishing tournament for the Texas Hill Country. Now understand, I’ve never been one to be even remotely interested in competitive fishing and for the most part I consider fishing tournaments to be the opposite of what I am seeking from my experience on the water.
Maybe this is because as a teenager I was lucky enough to spend one summer fishing with a professional bass fisherman whenever he was scouting a local lake before a tournament. What I took away from that experience was that when you turn your passion into a competitive job, you suck all the fun right out of it. By the end of that summer I learned how to catch a ton of bass while having no enjoyment what-so-ever. It’s a pretty good bet that the whole thing colored my view of competitive fishing.
But here I am, working very hard to set up a very large tournament.
It’s reasonable to ask why I would do such a thing, I ask myself that all the time. The genesis of the idea to organize a fly fishing tournament goes all the way back to the core motivation that created Texas River Bum. Two years ago when I moved back to Texas after 19 years in California, I was taken aback by the lack of information available for people who wanted to fly fish the Texas Hill Country Rivers. This was primarily associated with access since the rivers are almost completely encased by private property. As I began to explore the rivers, I found that even the best available information was often incorrect and decided that I would like to make the rivers more accessible, especially to fly fishers.
I began to survey the Blanco River with the intention of publishing a detailed river guide for it, the first of many guides I hoped. The Texas River Bum website went up next and I started sharing what I was learning. When I started writing fly fishing stories the emails started almost immediately. People would most often say that they want to learn to fly fish or have fly fished before but don’t have warm water experience. The questions were always about location and often about what flies were best. With the knowledge I had I would help the best I could but replying to every email took so much time and I honestly didn’t have firsthand experience fishing all the sections on all the rivers.
What I really needed was a large database of catches showing species, where, when and on what fly that I could make accessible to everyone through an online interactive map. My hope is that it would inspire confidence in new and novice fly fishermen to get out and fish. But before I could build the interactive map I needed a sizable database of catches by fly fishers.
I think you know where this is going. In the end the best idea I could come up with was to hold a Texas Hill Country tournament that produced a lot of catch submissions into the database. After playing with the concept for a bit I settled on a six month long, multi-species tournament. There are 20 species slots and the scoring is weighted to reward far more points to filling an empty slot rather than replacing a fish with a larger one. With size secondary to variety, the contest was solidly in the fun side of competition, but without good prizes I worried that no one would sign up.
If the prizes were too high in value it would cross the competition line from fun to ruthless, too low and no one will enter. I asked friends for months how would they feel about $XXXX amount as a prize for a tournament, changing the amount for each person. Finally I settled on a grand prize with a value of $1,500 and 5 other smaller prizes worth $1,450 in total. Diablo Paddlesports quickly became the first sponsor and one of their Chupacabra kayaks with accessories became the grand prize. The balance seemed right and I guess only time will tell if I got it right.
The last piece of the puzzle would be the tournament website itself. The fly fishers competing would use the site for 6 months and it would absolutely need to be fun for them. My design focused on a highly interactive leaderboard where visitors could “drill down” to see how individual fly fishers were doing and even look at individual catches. Aside from having the main tournament and 3 challenges, the fly fishers would be able to set up their own “tournaments within the tournament” if they wanted. All in all it should be a lot of fun to play around with.
On Saturday, April 14th the tournament will begin. I estimate that there will be about 20 fly fishers competing on the first day and before it concludes it will grow to between 40 and 100. Then if each fly fisher submits 50 fish over the course of the event then I can reasonably expect to build up a database of 2,500 catches. That would be a pretty good interactive map all by itself but if I do this every year then it will become an extraordinary resource for everyone, not just the novices.
So I’m sure some people will take the tournament more seriously than I intended and a lot of people won’t join because they don’t want to be involved in a competition. I could easily be either one of those guys; it’s hard for me to be objective at this point. I do know that it’s not possible to make any event that pleases everyone but I’ve a feeling that the Texas Hill Country 2012 multi-species fly fishing tournament is about as close as I am going to get.