Young fly anglers to compete on the world stage

Posted on: June 9, 2017 | Bob Frye | Comments

The old adage says one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

But what about a woman’s trash?

It can be pretty valuable, too. Ask Mike Komara. It’s sending him halfway around the world.

The North Allegheny High School senior-to-be is headed to Slovenia in August as a member of the United States Youth Fly Fishing Team.

There, he and five teammates will try to out-fish high schoolers from 15 or so other countries in the 2017 World Youth Fly Fishing Championship. Squads are coming from Ireland, Scotland, Spain and France to Portugal, South Africa, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, among others.

And for Komara, it all started with an aunt who found fly fishing more appealing in theory than practice.

“My aunt decided she wanted to take up fly fishing,” Komara said. “And then she hated it. So I got all of her equipment.

“And I ended up liking it.”

A chance encounter then set him on his current path.

Fishing Spruce Creek – without catching a fish – on a long weekend with the family, he came across the team running one of its periodic clinics. Intrigued, he signed up for the next such event and made the team.

And now he’s headed across the planet.

At the championships, said team president John Ford, teams compete to see which can catch the most fish. It’s all very structured, though.

Typically, each competitor is assigned a 100-meter “beat,” or stretch of water. They fish that for two hours, Ford said, then rotate to the next one.

Anglers – each of whom gets a turn on every stretch of water, if possible — keep score based on how many fish they catch. The total number of fish caught by the five members of each team determines the champion.

Total inches of fish are used to break a tie.

“Our kids won the gold medal four out of the last five years in the world championships. And they came in second place the fifth year,” Ford said. “So they’ve been really good.”

That takes preparation.

The United States team has anglers from Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, Texas, Georgia and Maryland. They spend a lot of their time fishing for trout – through the Texas youngster has to travel to Oklahoma to do it.

In world competition, though, that’s not necessarily what they’ll encounter.

“Every country has something different,” said Josh Miller of Ross Township, the east region coach for the team. “They might be fishing for stocked rainbow trout in one river. On another it might be wild trout or even grayling or who knows.

“You don’t know what you might encounter.”

Rules can vary from place to place, too. Miller said that in some places, for example, competitors might be limited to using one fly at a time, without any added weight.

In Slovenia, Komara said, anglers aren’t allowed salmon egg or salmon fry patterns.

The team prepares for such things.

“If you’re on a fast, clear river, and you only get to fish one fly, and you have to get it deep really fast, how do you do it? Those are the kinds of things we focus on,” Miller said.

Team members practice in regional clinics whenever they can, Ford said. And the hope going forward is that the team – a sanctioned non-profit – will offer more of them in more places around the country.

They’re one of its chief ways to recruit members, he added.

In the meantime, the anglers fish often on their own.

Team captain Doug Freemann of Philadelphia — who’s taken part in the last two world championships, in Colorado and Spain, and will be in Slovenia, too — fishes three to four times a week to stay sharp.

Komara gets out as often as possible, too.

“I don’t play sports. They never really interested me,” he said. “So for me, this is my football. That’s maybe not the best comparison, but it’s how I like to spend my time. And I can challenge myself and have goals. I can really measure myself against some of the best in the world.”

That’s indeed a unique challenge, Freemann said. Special, too, is getting to represent your country.

That really hit home for him last year at the Worlds in Spain.

Competitors were assigned to buses to travel to their fishing site. An official was taking roll call on each.
Freemann “had a moment” when he realized he was the only American on his bus.

“You’re sitting there and you look around and you realize your’re the guy. It just makes you think,” Freemann said. “It’s really, really special, I appreciate it tremendously now, but I think the older I get, the more I will appreciate it.”

Not just anyone can be on the team, Ford said. There’s more to it than being a good fly fisherman – or woman, for that matter. Girls can compete.

Competitors have to be good young people, he added.

“It’s like any other sport, baseball, football, whatever. You can have people that have good skills, but they’re missing other things,” he said.

Team members are required to take part in conservation work at each clinic, whether it’s a regional or world championship, he said. That’s usually a stream improvement project.

Those on the team now have been judged worthy.

And the ones headed to Slovenia are about to experience something special. It’s really something to travel around the world to fish, Freemann said.

“You find yourself somewhere and it’s all new and strange and the people are all speaking a a different language. And then you’re out fishing and it’s like, OK, this is what I know,” Freeman said.

“The travel and the fishing, it’s a great combination.”

Komara is excited to experience that for himself.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be really fun,” Komara said. “I’ve never been out of the country before, so I think it will be a real experience.”

To get involved

The US Youth Fly Fishing team will hold its own national championship event in Cherokee, North Carolina, on June 24 and 25.

Competitors will fish three waters for wild and stocked brown, brook and rainbow trout. The event will end with an awards banquet.

Anglers ages 14-18 can register to compete. Details are available here.

Youngsters who would like to attend a future clinic held by the team or who would like more information can visit the team website at usyouthflyfishing.com or contact John Ford at johnford@usyouthflyfishing.com.

Bob Frye is the everybodyadventures.com editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or bfrye@535mediallc.com. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodyadventures.com.

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Bob Frye is a storyteller with a passion for all things outdoors. He hunts, he fishes, he hikes, he camps, he paddles, backpacks and snowshoes depending on the season. If he’s not an expert at anything, it’s because he’s passionate to try a little bit of everything.