Friday, June 1, 2018

Project Healing Waters Annual Fly Shop Bass Tournament

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) is a national organization dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military personnel and disabled veterans, primarily through fly fishing events and outings. The Rocky Mountain Northwest region has a very strong presence and participation. Long-time Anglers Fly Shop customer Terry Kowalis is a Board Member for the Boise Chapter. Terry has come up with several fundraisers for the organization, including "Fishing the Governor's Pond," and the "Fly Shop Bass Tournament", both a huge success in 2017. 

The Fly Shop Bass Tournament is just like it sounds; a bass tournament where the local fly shops compete against each other at a private lake in Star, Idaho. Each fly shop sponsors a team of 3 at $400 a boat. Idaho Angler, Three Rivers Ranch and Anglers Fly Shop each sponsor a boat. The winning boat that catches the most fish, receives an awesome trophy (see picture below) and bragging rights. Last year Three Rivers Ranch took home the trophy with 28 bass.

Last year Team Anglers wasn't far behind with 24 bass. We thought we had the dream team; world renowned angler and creator of the Pico Spider, Erik Moncada. As well as world famous fly fishing guide and chicken egg collector, Derek Peterson. Then of course myself, previous Alaska fly fishing guide and Bob Ross fan, Ryan Spillers. We put up a great fight, but one of our team members did not pull his weight in the boat, only catching 2 bass the entire evening. I won't name names, but for some reason, Erik Moncada was replaced this year by Ken Burkholder; world renowned Eastern Idaho guide and oboe player. Would Ken prove himself worthy of holding a place on Team Anglers? We would soon find out! 

We arrived to find ominous clouds approaching, promising a dicey start to our tournament. Regardless, Team Anglers would be ready for anything, and this year we were determined to win! 

The teams launched their drift boats and readied their gear and rods.

However, before the battle began, it was time to eat a delicious barbeque feast catered by Garden City's famous, Cutters BBQ. 

Terry's wife Marcy thanked us all for coming and reminded us of the great cause this event was helping. 

We all scarfed down our delicious BBQ sandwiches, talked a little smack to each other and then headed down to the boats. 

We all rowed our boats out into the center of the pond where Terry was waiting to give us a "shotgun" start, minus the actual shotgun. 
"I'm thinking we should start in that corner over there." Ken whispered and cocked his head to the side, hoping no other team noticed.
"Me too." I replied, using the oars to angle our stern towards the corner we intended to hit first.
Terry's wife Marcy spoke up. "On my go, ok? Ready?... GOSH, it's a nice evening!"
Everyone pulled hard on the oars, falling for Marcy's false start. We all chuckled and got ready again.
"Well GO everyone!" She shouted.
Everyone pulled hard and headed in opposite directions, hoping their chosen location would give them a good start to the tournament. 

Derek was in the bow of the boat first and Ken the stern. Both anglers casted with intensity and focus, knowing we didn't want to receive John's disappointed look if we lost this year.

After about 150 yards of bank with no takes, we began to worry. Derek and Ken were both throwing relatively small flies and stripping them at a medium pace. It had been 20 minutes without even a sniff from a fish. Anxiety began to take hold of the boat.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Derek set the hook on a fish. He battled it like a bass pro, practically skating it across the water and into the net.

"Alright, we're on the board. That took way too long." I said, concerned with how the rest of the evening might go.

Ken switched flies and was soon into a bass himself. Followed by another, and another. Ken racked up 3 bass in a short amount of time on his new fly.
"They're right on the bank, Ryan." Ken said as we switched spots in the boat.
I placed a cast next to a stick just poking out of the water. Immediately I felt the funny line movement of a bass sucking in the fly and swimming off. I leaned forward then set the hook hard. Slack line came back at me, revealing a missing fly on the end of the line.
"Gosh Ken, what pound line are you using? I broke him off right on the hook-set."
"6 pound Maxima Fluoro."
"I guess I better settle down then. You have another one of those flies?"
Ken shuffled through his stuff and handed me a different fly. "It's close but the technique will be the same."
My very next cast produced a large Bluegill.

We kept pounding the banks without much success. We only had a total of 6 fish to the boat in about an hours time of fishing. As we rowed out of a cove, Idaho Angler rowed in. Immediately we heard them hootin' and hollerin', a sure sign they had hooked a fish. Then we heard it again, and again and then again. At the bow of their boat stood Tom Governale, a local warm water fly fishing guru. I knew he would be a threat! Idaho Angler had chosen it's team well this year. A couple minutes later we heard them again. Concern flooded our faces.
"What's that 6 fish in the last 10 minutes? Tom is kicking our butts!" Derek said in dismay.
"We better figure something out fast." Ken replied.
I had tied up a couple flies with this tournament in mind and had Derek tie one on. He was soon into a bass.

As quickly as it had worked, it stopped working, leaving us scratching our heads.
We continued around the pond, depressed and concerned. We imagining the disgusted look John, our team sponsor, would give us.
Derek and I switched rods and I tried the fly I had tied. I missed 2 fish before I connected on the 3rd.

"I think this technique works, we just have to fish it slow." I said, handing Derek one of the flies. "Fish it with a strike indicator on. It will force you to fish it slower and suspend your fly, giving it more action."
Derek tied it on and looped a strike indicator on as well. 
"Wow, that was cool." Derek said, quickly into a fish.

We began to pick up bass regularly. 10, 11, 12... Our numbers were climbing.
"Ken, you need to fish. I'll row." I said, urging him.
"No. You've got the hot hand right now. Keep it up." He replied.
"Ok, Ken!"

Derek and I kept racking up the fish. 16, 17, 18... It appeared we had cracked the code. We wondered how the rest of the teams were doing. 
Derek finally convinced Ken to fish and it didn't take long for him to start catching bass. We even had our first double. Soon followed by another double!

24, 25, 26... The fish kept coming. The sun was approaching the western horizon, telling us the hour glass would soon be empty and the tournament over. It also told us the fishing would only improve with the fading light.

Ken moved to the bow of the boat and continued to catch fish.

The focused, stressed face we had seen on Ken earlier in the evening had now been replaced by a joyful, childish grin of delight. We were now at 38 fish, a number we imagined would be hard to beat. 
Terry came around the corner in his boat. "Time to call it quits. Meet back at the ramp."
"Ok." I said still anxious, remembering how many we had seen Idaho Angler catch earlier.

Back at the ramp we all gathered in the waning light. 
"Ok, Three Rivers Ranch, how many did you end up with?" Terry asked.
"Like 8!" They replied in dismay.
"Ok, and Team Idaho Angler?"
"26!" Lewis said proudly. "Although, no thanks to me. It was best I stayed on the oars." He and his team laughed.
"Nice. How about Team Anglers?"
"38." Ken responded quickly and proudly.
"Wow! I guess it goes to Team Anglers this year."

Terry retrieved the trophy as the fly shops all shook hands and said their goodbyes. Terry handed the trophy to John, and Team Anglers gathered for a photo.

So you might be wondering, what fly cracked the code? If I told you it was a hand carved and painted balsa wood popper would you believe me? I didn't think so...