2002 World Fly Fishing Championships in France

It was a slightly surreal experience standing on the banks of the Vologne river in 30 degree heat quietly watching the best fisher men and women in the world flick beautiful lines at small elusive trout. The sunshine, virtual silence and an all enveloping tree canopy only served to heighten the intensity of it all. The only sounds were the rush of the stream, the chatter of forest birds and the occasional urgent swish of an accurate cast. Concentration was acute as competitors tried their utmost to winkle out speckled brown beauties to have them recorded and then returned unharmed to the river.

Misako Ishimura
fishing the Moselle

I had been invited to go over to France for the World Fly Fishing Championships (WFFC) by Misako Ishimura, captain of Team Japan, as their guest and technical helper for lake fishing. It has to be said that never having attended one of these events before, I really did not know to expect. A junket? A sunny fishing holiday in France? A fierce gladiatorial competition where everyone is about as friendly as alligators in a pond? Well no, actually the event was none of these things. Competitors have long exhausting days of intense fishing which leave them drained and though the sun did indeed shine, this was absolutely no picnic. Equally, despite language difficulties, most anglers were very friendly and fishing information was gladly exchanged around the dinner table and at the bar afterwards.

The French had chosen the high mountains of the Vosges region for this 22nd World Championship and the 20 competing teams and their guests were housed in the picturesque alpine village of La Bresse. While part of the fishing took place on Longemer lake for stocked rainbow trout (a comparative piece of cake compared with the other waters!) the main part of the competition was sited on the devilishly clear streams of Vologne, Thur, Moselle and Moselotte. When you first look at these rivers you would compare them with smaller more rocky versions of say the Don or the Tummel but there the comparison largely ends. All fishing has to be done upstream using, depending on your penchant, tiny nymphs or aselection of dry flies sized from 14 to 22. This is stalking trout taken to its absolute extreme. Anglers at times fished on their knees almost belly crawling upstream. Some even resorted to camouflage war paint on their faces as any sudden movement or flash of light saw the trout disappear instantly and any hope of a catch lost forever.
I joined the Japanese team on their 2 practice days before the 3 days of competition proper and experienced first hand the difficult fishing on the Moselle and the Moselotte as well as the less exacting angling of Longemer Lac. Having had only a few plucks at the fly on the rivers but nailed about half a dozen good sized rainbows on the lake I was rather glad not be competing in the main event. Much as I love trout fishing, having to catch fish to order within a single 3 hour session has to be the most difficult thing in the world. It's just not me, but you have to admire and respect those who do it. Instead I turned my attention to two things. First the techniques used by the different competitors and second the excellent Conservation Symposium organized by FIPS Mouche.


Longemer Lac
practice day

Miro of Slovakia sends
a smart line upstream
Regarding tactics, most anglers had a vast array of equipment and flies, Mr Yoshida of Japan even made his own bamboo rods especially for the occasion and well done him for successfully catching trout using cane in what was essentially a hightec competition. However when anglers took to the river it was not so much equipment as subtle differences in fly presentation which made one achieve more than the next. Rumiko of Japan used a small dry fly delicately propelled upstream, Miro of Slovakia had the most amazing fast cast with a red line which he lengthened mid air and then let go with a gentleupstream flick which presented the fly like thistledown. Jerome Brossutti of France - the eventual individual gold medal winner - changed his fly every 3 minutes or less obviously going through a set selection of what looked like small nymphs until he hit upon one the trout liked. On the lake the techniques varied from lure stripping to traditional wet fly and from nymphs or dry fly on floating line. The rainbows were more obliging than the wild browns in the hot bright conditions and it's interesting that the Scottish team fared best on virtually all the lake heats of the competition proper. The majority of anglers appeared to be more at home on the rivers than the lake and my hosts Team Japan were no exception. Nevertheless they all enjoyed the experience even if my rowing left a bit to be desired!
It was not all competition however, for the French organised an excellent 2 day trout conservation symposium, thankfully with a simultaneous English translation. After 30 years away from it my French had become decidedly rusty! In the end it turned out the problems faced on French water systems are not much dissimilar to our own. Pollution, over fishing, loss of trout habitat, acidification of rivers and over grazing have all been common problems. It was good to hear that concerted efforts at solving these threats had already begun in the form of the French 'River Watch' scheme. Unlike our fractured approach to fish conservation in Scotland, the River Watch scheme allows government interests, legislative bodies, fishing organisations and individual anglers to become active in helping to conserve trout habitat in a strongly holistic way. All credit to this scheme, we have something similar in Scotland with Angling for Change but sadly it lacks the clout of the French system.

For the record after the end of 5 days of high intensity catch and release fishing the French won on their home patch (Mais Oui!) taking the team and individual gold medals. However for me it wasn't the competing it was the observing of the worlds finest anglers at work. Simply the best!

About Lesley Crawford

Lesley has fished for brown trout and sea trout from a very early age and her enthusiasm for these beautiful Scottish fish shows no signs of diminishing. She is well known as a leading angling writer and photographer with prodigious articles in a wide range of publications including Salmon Trout & Sea Trout and the Scotsman.

Lesley is a REFFIS qualified fishing guide and arranges bespoke wild trout angling holidays in the Northern Highlands. Her first major book 'Fishing for Wild Trout in Scottish Lochs' (Swan Hill 1996) was a runaway success and the long awaited follow up'Scotlands Classic Wild Trout Waters' (Swan Hill) was published in 2000. Order your copy now. Read more about Lesley atwww.wildtroutfisher.co.uk